Everyone is to be allotted their fifteen minutes of fame. I find it amusing that so many think it is their right to have it. I don’t know this for a fact, but I believe that those who have already died by my hands have yet to have their due, so as a gesture of kindness, I will dole out what they should have already had.
The good detective does not wish for fame or fortune. He seeks little but to survive his meager existence and, just maybe, find a way to someday smile again.
Well, Ben Simeon, will you work with me or against me? I think with me. All has been prepared for you. I’ve been watching you. I see the panic in your eyes. You lack the confidence you need to find me. You know that, don’t you? You are scared. You are afraid of me. I know that and loathe you for your fear. But don’t worry detective, I will help you through the days ahead. I will give you what you need to stay the course.
Ben had never intentionally been on television before. Oh sure, some reporter would come up to him at a crime scene and ask a few questions, which he was normally able to avoid or answer quickly and move on. But to actually stand in front of a camera in a newsroom talking to thousands, perhaps millions of people mad him uncomfortable. But his comfort was the least of anybody’s concern at the moment. Right now all anybody cared about was getting the names of those that were either dead or missing. Ben had to do this, and he would.
He met with John Abernathy and Lisa Adams before the scheduled program and found himself impressed with their comfort level in front of a camera. What the hell, he said to himself. If they can do it, so can I.
Everyone was in their places as the clock slowly ticked toward the hour.
The man by the camera finally said, “Quiet! Lisa? Detective? Five, four”—with his fingers he finished the countdown—three, two, one—then pointed to Lisa Adams.
“Good evening. I’m Lisa Adams, and this evening we are bringing you a special report that hinges on the edge of the extraordinary. With me this evening is Detective Benjamin Simeon from the Santa Cruz Police Department to follow up on the information we alluded to last evening. It involves the disappearance of several people who have been, for the past two years, missing with little information to go on. Detective Simeon has been asked to be a part of this program so that we can bring you as much information as possible. Detective,” she cued, “tell us what you can about this most bizarre case.”
Ben took a deep breath, looked first at Lisa, then back to the camera. “Yesterday morning, I received a note from a man who identified himself as Mr. Smith. The contents of the letter indicated that approximately two years ago, several people went missing and that he had information as to their whereabouts. He—at least for now we are assuming it is a man—he indicated that he was responsible for abducting them and that if we, the police, cooperate and do as he requests, he would identify the missing people and give us their locations. This broadcast is part of his demands. By having me come before you and making this a public forum, so to speak, he has promised to communicate with us and let us know who these individuals are and where they can be located. Additionally, he has requested—actually, he has required—that I head this investigation. And even though I believe that there are more experienced and qualified professionals to lead the investigation, for now, at least, we are willing to follow the requirements set forth. However, let me make it perfectly clear that I am not working alone on this, and as needed any and all necessary help will be brought in to assist. My hope,” Ben continued, “is that this has met his preliminary requirements, and as such, he will follow through so that we can reunite these missing persons with their families.”
Ben stopped, feeling somewhat relieved that he had got it out and was finished.
Lisa, however, wasn’t finished with him.
“Detective Simeon,” she started, “as you know, KRIC-TV, or more specifically station head John Abernathy, also received a letter from Mr. Smith. And Mr. Smith was quite emphatic that we provide full disclosure as to the contents of the information he sent. For example, he mentioned the name Amanda Douglas. Could you let us know what you have discovered thus far?”
Though Lisa Adams asked nicely, it irritated Ben that she would try to pry more out of him than what he was willing to give. The camera, focused on his face, caught the look. But she was right. And for him to avoid her questions could start a major shit storm.
“Yes,” he said. “The letter did mention Amanda Douglas specifically. As best we can tell, he did so in order to prove that he was on the up and up. To prove his point even further, he put in the envelope a necklace that has proven to be hers. He was concerned that we would not take him serious enough without some sort of proof. Mr. and Mrs. Douglas have been contacted and are aware of what we are trying to do. They are being fully cooperative and want their daughter back.”
Realizing Ben’s reluctance, Lisa prodded further.
“Do you think that Ms. Douglas is still alive, detective?”
“I’m afraid that we don’t have any proof one way or the other. At present, all we have is a necklace.”
Ben had tried to skirt the real question, but Lisa wasn’t about to let him off that easily.
“Did the letter state anything regarding that issue, detective?” She knew that he didn’t want to go there, but he had to follow through. This was important information, and she was going to take it as far as she could.
“Yes,” Ben admitted reluctantly. “The letter said that she was dead. That he had killed her. However, I must emphasize that we cannot confirm anything at this time.”
Ben was getting concerned now. Lisa was going further than he wanted to go by a long shot. He had to bring this to a halt quickly. He was also getting pissed because when they spoke before going on air, Lisa had told him specifically that she would not step over the line.
Before Ben could say anything more, Lisa Adams asked, “What did it say about the others?”
Lisa knew instinctively that this was coming to a close. She was walking a tight rope and wanted to get this last question in before she lost him completely.
“Until we get further information from this guy, I am going to hold any responses regarding further information contained in the letter. I ask that you and everyone listening to be patient. I can assure you that if Mr. Smith wants our cooperation, we will do whatever we can to find those missing. Understand that this is a police investigation, and we will conduct it accordingly. I want to thank everyone for their cooperation and patience. Once we have a better idea as to what we’re dealing with, we’ll let everyone know. Thanks.”
Ben left the stage as quickly as he could, before anything else was asked. At that moment he was pissed and wanted to hit someone.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Lisa said calmly, “as you can see, this is a complex case for the police. They are concerned about the welfare of both those missing and the families involved. We will continue to follow this case with you as closely as we can and will bring you any information as soon as possible. For now, we will go to a station break and will return with the local news.”
The station went to a commercial. Lisa jumped from her desk to catch Ben before he left the building.
“Detective!” she cried out, as he was about to exit.
Ben wasn’t in the mood to talk to her or anyone else.
“Ben!” she hollered again. “Please stop.”
Ben stopped and turned to her. “I think you’ve asked me enough questions for now, don’t you?”
“I had to do that, Ben,” Her voice was pleading for him to understand. “I know that we’re supposed to follow your lead on this. I know that it’s police policy not to give out any more information than is absolutely necessary when it comes to an active investigation, but I know what was said in those letters. I know what he’s trying to do here. I also know that if you don’t cooperate, he’s going to walk away, and there’ll be a lot of very upset people demanding to know why you didn’t do what’s required. I don’t think anything’s been compromised by what I asked. By doing what we did, we’ve set the stage for more information than what may’ve been given otherwise. If I’ve overstepped my boundaries, I’m sorry. Just don’t walk away angry. This is as new to me as it is to anyone. I will work with you. Please just work with me.”
Ben wasn’t very happy at that moment, but he could see her position. After a moment of reflection, he realized she might be right, at least on part of it.
“Look, I don’t like getting surprises when it comes to people’s lives. You want to stay on this, then stick to the script and do things the way I say. I’m the only person specifically required to be on this case, and I don’t even like that. Smith said that we had to get the media involved. He didn’t say that it had to be with you or your station. If you don’t follow the directions I set, your ass will be on the outside looking in.”
Ben turned and walked out. He had to get some air.
As Ben drove back to Santa Cruz, he thought about the interview and his subsequent discussion with Lisa Adams. He had managed to calm himself down before arriving and figured that whatever the captain and everyone else had to say—no matter how bad—he would be fine. Right now the most important thing was getting information from Mr. Smith, and he would take whatever heat might come his way.
It surprised him, however, that instead of berating him for screwing up, they were—to a man—impressed with his composure and how well he had controlled the interview. He didn’t tell them about his parting words with Lisa Adams. He would talk to her privately and apologize.
Back in his office all Ben could do was wait. There was nothing left for him to analyze or review. There was nothing left but silence. This was the part he hated the most: waiting. He wanted to be out arresting bad guys for selling drugs or rape or just plain being stupid.
Ben had been staring out his window, watching the rain fall for who knew how long. He had thought about going home and trying to get some sleep, but knew that as soon as he did, something would happen. So he just resigned himself to being at the station for the duration.
It was almost midnight when Ben’s phone rang.
When he picked up the phone, he expected one of his fellow officers would be asking for an update. Instead, it was a woman’s voice that responded to his answer.
“I have information for you regarding Mr. Smith,” the woman said.
Ben’s hairs stood up on the back of his neck.
“There is a dumpster behind Bill’s Surf Shop on Ocean Avenue, she continued. “Inside there is a package for you. You have thirty minutes before the salvage company comes to empty the container. Good luck.”
The line went dead.
Ben called Captain Black to alert him. They both rushed to the specified location, making other calls on their way. They wanted the entire area closed off. But even taking this step, with the rain and general bad weather, the odds of getting anything good to work with were slim.
Just as the phone call had suggested, inside the dumpster was a package addressed to Ben. It was a plain white envelope with a computer-generated sticker label. They waited for others to arrive to protect the location before leaving the alleyway. It took less than a minute. Within five, you would have sworn that the location was being protected for the President himself.
By the time they got back to the department, everyone had been notified was and already waiting to see what the package contained. Ben was careful to keep his gloves on in hopes that prints might be on the envelope or inside it. Neither he nor any of the others believed that would happen, but you had to check it out. Inside was a letter. The information it contained was exactly what they had expected but hoped against receiving.
Dear Detective Simeon,
I saw you on the news this evening. Was it just me or did I detect a sense of nervousness on your part? Lisa Adams, on the other hand, covered for you quite nicely, don’t you agree? I also noticed some hesitation on your part to give the public all of what I had requested. Had it not been for her quick thinking, you would have failed me, and I would have had to do things I would just as soon avoid for now, if you get my drift. Anyway, for now at least, I will consider your part having been played. After all, you are a little green regarding all of this, and I don’t want to be too hard on you just yet. I will consider it part of your learning curve. These second chances will be rare.
Now for my end of the agreement, I will tell you where to find poor Amanda Douglas. I will also give you the names of the others. However, it is up to you to locate the families and their whereabouts. In time, I will give you all of that. For now, it will just be the names.
First, let me tell you how Amanda died. Her death was slow, I assure you. However, in her case the “how” of her death isn’t nearly as important as the “why”. That, of course, is your first clue as to who I am. Her death was caused by disease, not necessarily one that I gave her. Rather, I merely facilitated her catching it. Once infected, I kept her isolated. I assure you, I fed her and did everything I could, except medicate her, to keep her alive as long as possible. Please don’t misunderstand my purpose for that. I didn’t want her to live; rather, I wanted her to die slowly and painfully. I wanted her to know exactly how a slow, deliberate, diseased death would feel. She knows why because I told her. Someday, maybe you will know too. The most interesting thing was the hope she held that you—or should I say the police—would find her before she died. She held that hope of living as long as she remained conscious.
Her location is conveniently marked on the map provided. You need not rush. I am quite sure that what little remains of her will be of little use to you now.
Now, on to the list of the others:
1) Robert Benjamin
2) Samantha Jones
3) Jose Herrera
4) Larry Appleby
5) Gary Sloan
6) Jim Hewlett
7) June Albright
8) Cynthia Carter
As I told you before, these individuals may not all be located in California. Unfortunately, you will need the assistance of the FBI now, and I am afraid that from now on you may have a little more difficulty controlling the case. However, let me assure you and the FBI that if you want the locations of these people, they have no more choice than you did as far as doing what I say.
So what do we do now? Actually, it really is simple for you. Find Amanda Douglas, and see what you can see. I do hope you have a strong stomach. She isn’t nearly as pretty as she once was. Tomorrow night, go on the air and tell the world what you have found. They have a right to know. Soon I will tell you more.