Through the Eyes of Death

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Chapter 10

The laws of the universe state that sometimes the weak have more power than the strong. Water and wind appear fluid and fragile. They appear weak. Yet when nature applies her wrath through a storm, these weak and subtle forces can topple the best man can construct.

There is a storm blowing and a tsunami rising in the distance. These forces will bear down on the so-called powers, which believe they control what I will do. Yet the powers I have set loose will dominate and destroy all they perceive real. They cannot stop the weak from controlling the strong.

The remains of Amanda Douglas were located exactly where Mr. Smith had indicated on the map. The only way to positively identify the body was through dental records; little remained of the body. Some skin, no clothing, no visible signs of trauma in the remains. Ben had also taken the precaution of bringing in the infectious disease people to make sure the body had not been exposed to a highly contagious strain.

As stipulated, Ben notified the public on the next evening’s news. He was becoming a national figure over night, every news station carrying the story from coast to coast. Even overseas, the investigation and Ben’s face were becoming recognized. He was getting his celebrity status, and he hated every minute of it.

The authorities were going crazy trying to control the media, but having no luck. Mr. Smith was getting exactly what he wanted: the world watching this case. Soon Mr. Smith would state his purposes for doing what he was doing. For now, he was staying on course. He knew that he had to have patience. Mr. Smith was a very patient man, and he would not rush his plans.

After the announcement was finished, Ben was exhausted. Having taken only catnaps for the last two and a half days, he wasn’t sure he could even drive to the station and back safely. He had asked Sue Garrison to go with him to San Jose and was glad he had. She was somehow a comfort to him. She seemed to know just what to say to calm him down when he felt like he was going to explode. He asked her to drive back, hoping that she wouldn’t be offended if he rested his eyes. She wasn’t.

When they got back to the station in Santa Cruz, Sue had to wake Ben from a deep sleep. She even waited twenty minutes in the parking lot just to give him as much time as she could. When his cell phone rang, Ben didn’t even hear it ringing, so she answered it for him. She looked for the number as the call came in, but the screen indicated that the number was blocked. She answered. There was a woman’s voice on the other end. “This call is for Detective Simeon,” she said. “I can only speak to him. It’s about Mr. Smith.”

Sue shook Ben awake from a wonderful dream where he and Sue were sitting on a beach together, talking and laughing. When he heard her voice, he thought he had misunderstood something they were discussing in the dream. This can’t be right, he thought. Then he realized that Sue’s voice seemed frantic. His eyes opened, and he realized that he was not on the beach, but in his car. Sue’s urgent voice took Ben from a dream state to merely groggy.

“What is it?” he mumbled. “I was having a great dream. Damn it, I hate that.”

“It’s her!” Sue exclaimed. “It’s the woman! About Mr. Smith!” Ben wasn’t hearing everything she was saying. She had to get his attention quickly. The only thing she could think of was spilling her soft drink in his lap. That seemed to do the trick.

“Jesus Christ, Sue! What the fuck’re you doing?” He tried desperately to get away from the cold that was quickly engulfing his crotch.

“She’s on the phone, Ben,” Sue said, trying to keep the mouthpiece covered so the woman couldn’t hear her. “The woman. About Mr. Smith. Here.” She handed him the phone.

Ben, realizing what was happening, took the phone. “This is Detective Simeon. Can I help you?”

“At midnight tonight, you are to go to 2701 El Camino Real in San Jose and check the mail. Don’t bring anyone with you. There will be another package in the mail slot of Apartment D. Do not open it before midnight. Doing so will be considered a breach of our agreement, Detective Simeon.” With that she hung up, not even giving Ben the chance to ask any questions.

He sat staring out the car window for a full minute, still in something of a daze. Sue stayed quiet. Ben looked at her, the wet spot in his lap finally starting to warm.

“Couldn’t you have thought of a nicer way to wake me up?”

Sue stared at him for a moment, and when she saw the smile start to curl on his lip, she burst out in much-needed laughter. It was infectious.

When the laughter died down, questions popped into Ben’s mind. Why did she use the term our when she mentioned the agreement? Is she the real Mr. Smith? Does he have an accomplice? Was she being coerced into making the calls? Ben didn’t have the answers, just more questions.

“How the hell did she get your cell phone number?” Captain Black did not really expect an answer. “What kind of connections does this guy have that we aren’t giving him credit for?”

Cheryl Johnson had been studying the earlier correspondence from Mr. Smith. With the phone call and how they were being manipulated, she was sure that, whoever this person was, he was smart. This was particularly important because she was also sure that he was being motivated by something in his past. It was more than just having an ax to grind. It was more than a vendetta that needed correcting. There was something else—something at the core of all of this. He was seeking closure for an event in his life, she thought. Something driving him was so important that he would set his emotions aside to do this in a methodical, calculating manner.

There were hundreds, even thousands of ways for a criminal to screw up a crime scene. No matter how careful a person was, evidence always got left behind to give the police something to work with. This case was no different…except that the clues they were able to find seemed to be left intentionally. In other words, the clues they had so far were there because he wanted them to be found. There were hairs left on Amanda Douglas’s body that didn’t belong to her. A quick look under the microscope showed they were canine. The Douglases didn’t own a dog, so the clue was a big question mark. There was also a yellowish sticky film found on her left hand that they’d had analyzed; it had come back as a mixture of corn syrup and starch. Mr. Smith had known they would be found, and these items would tell them something. Only Cheryl Johnson couldn’t get a handle on what they meant. Was he trying to tell a story with the clues? Was he trying to misdirect their investigation? Or was he leading them around by the nose?

Something else was bothering Cheryl Johnson as well. Something was going on that she didn’t even want to consider. Nearly everything that had happened to date had been specific—calculated, in fact. Even though every aspect of this case was available through research online at the local Internet café, this guy was acting as if he were investigating the crime scene before they arrived—like a cop. The idea could only lead her to conclude that this guy had to have been involved in law enforcement at some point.

“Gentlemen,” Cheryl started at the next meeting, “I think we have to consider something critical at this time.” Though she didn’t want to tell them everything, she felt compelled to give them something to bring them in the direction of her thoughts. As she told them the basics, she knew that she had to look deeper into the possibility that Mr. Smith had been—or still was—a part of law enforcement.

“So if this person has had experience in law enforcement,” Ben asked, “where do we start to look?”

Special Agent Smythe spoke up. “First, we can’t go off half-cocked with this direction and eliminate all other possibilities. Cheryl is right. It makes sense that an intelligent person, using the Internet or public libraries, could have learned most of what has been done so far. Criminals will generally use the path of least resistance when it comes to the tools of their crimes. Let’s look at anyone who has been terminated from law enforcement for cause, as well as anyone who tried to get into law enforcement and was rejected.”

“That seems like one hell of a big list to me,” Ben said. “With all due respect, shouldn’t we try to narrow the field down a little? And are we just talking about local police, or do we expand to state and federal law enforcement as well?”

Walter Conley agreed. “I think we should start with all local departments then expand to the federal agencies, including the DEA, ATF, and FBI. The list will be huge, so what we’re going to need to figure out is how to eliminate names and narrow down the field. I will take care of getting the data sorted, and then we can narrow it as we go along.”

“What about the run-of-the-mill, regular criminal types?” Willie Mason asked? “Isn’t it possible for us to get a profile compiled that we could use to narrow down to someone other than ex-cops? I would hate to think that this asshole is one of us.”

“Right now I can’t narrow anything down,” Cheryl Johnson admitted. “Of course we can look into previous convicts that may have had a similar pattern. However, I believe that whoever this person is will not show up. I believe that Mr. Smith is off the radar and new to our screening process. But we can’t leave any stone unturned.”

“So what do we do about tonight?” Captain Black asked. “I don’t like the idea of Ben going on this trip alone.”

“I agree with you, captain,” Agent Smythe said. “I can’t allow Detective Simeon to do anything alone, even if it means losing contact with Mr. Smith. We’ll have to set up a team to cover the area so that we can keep the risks to a minimum. Those are our procedures, and we are going to do this by the book.”

“Just hold on now,” Ben said. “The woman said that I’m to go alone, so I’m going alone. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you guys screw this up because you have your procedures. Besides, I haven’t seen anything in your books or mine that addresses a situation like this.”

“You don’t really have a choice, detective,” Smythe said, a bit of a smirk on his face. “You don’t really think you’re in charge here, do you? This is now a federal case under our jurisdiction, and you will do what we say, and how we say to do it. Do I make myself clear on this?”

“When did this become a federal case?” Ben asked. “I was under the impression that Amanda Douglas was a local, and we don’t have any other bodies to make it federal.”

“Normally you would be right, detective,” Smythe rebutted. “But, the names on the list Smith gave us prove that at least a couple of the people missing are from other states. That makes it our turf. And after talking to my boss, we’re stepping in. You don’t have any choices here, detective. So get over it.”

Ben pondered the man’s words. He stood. “You know, Agent Smythe, you’re absolutely right. This is your case. You go pick up the package, and then you go on television and tell the world how this is now your case and what you’re going to do about the fact that you have such a hard-on about being in charge that you don’t care about doing what’s necessary for the families of those missing. And while you’re at it,” Ben continued, “tell your boss I said he can shove his book and his rules up his ass!” Ben turned and left, slamming the door to the conference room so hard a commemorative plaque fell off the wall.

Captain Black stood. “I don’t know about you folks, but I think you need to talk amongst yourselves and determine who is really in charge here. It isn’t you,” he said to Smythe, “that’s for damn sure. Hell, it ain’t even us. Right now, Mr. Smith is in charge, and it’s going to stay that way as long as he wants it to. And there isn’t a damn thing you or I can do about that. So let us know when you get off your perches and get your high and mighty heads out of your collective asses. Until then, you can do whatever you want. We have a city—ever so small as it may seem to you—that needs our attention.”

Ben had known that sooner or later there was going to be a power struggle. What he didn’t want was to hurt all those families by quitting on them. They were depending on him to get answers about their loved ones. How was he going to do that when he couldn’t even do his job?

Captain Black had waited a full five minutes before stepping into Ben’s office.

“You calmed down yet?” he asked Ben, a slight grin on his face.

“Hell no,” Ben replied matter of factly. He didn’t even bother to look up at the captain, and the smile had been missed. Ben didn’t realize that the captain was actually proud with the way he had handled the situation. All Ben knew was that, as of this moment, he was now out of the loop. He had stepped on some powerful toes five minutes ago, and they would not take it sitting down. Hell, as far as he knew, he was right next to being out of a job for losing his temper like that.

“Look,” the captain said. “Stop beating yourself up. If they want to pretend to be in charge, then let them. Frankly, I think they deserve all the shit that’s going to rain down on ’em. Right now they need you a lot more than you need them.” He paused a second. “You did the right thing. Maybe a little stronger than necessary, but you did the right thing. There can only be one person in charge. It’s either you or it’s them. They have the right and the power to call the shots. It’s a federal case now, and there isn’t anything we can do about it, so why don’t you go home and get a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Thanks, captain. I think that just might be a good idea.”

The captain left his office, and Ben sat at his desk alone. He wished he could take back his words, but that wasn’t something he could do. No matter how hard he tried, how much he wished for it, there were no rewind buttons to push. He thought about going to Smythe and the others and apologizing for his outburst, but second-guessing himself, decided to just let things alone. The FBI was much better suited at this kind of work anyway. He was about to put on his jacket and leave when he heard a tapping on his door. Standing in the doorway was Cheryl Johnson.

“Do you have a moment, Ben?” she asked politely.

“Sure. Look, I’m about ready to get something to eat. Care to tag along?”

“No thanks. This won’t take long.” She paused. “I just got off the phone with Washington. I gave them the abridged version of your response to how this case should go. I’m not too comfortable relaying the director’s response, considering that his language was even more explicit than yours. Anyway,” she said after another pause, “the director wants you in charge of this case, so long as it’s prudent to do so. He feels that everyone stands to lose big if we alienate ourselves from Mr. Smith. Now is not the time for us to be so power conscious that we lose sight of what is really important here: the families. Right now we need to focus on getting what we can with regard to the missing persons. Later, we’ll concentrate on finding Mr. Smith. That is, if you’re willing to stay on the case.”

“What about your friends in there?” Ben gestured toward the conference room.

“They’re talking to the director as we speak. I’m sure that when he’s finished, they’ll be more than cooperative. That also goes for the SFPD and any other local and state departments we need cooperation from. So,” she concluded, “will you stay on?”

“Let me explain something to you, Cheryl, before I agree to anything. I don’t want this case. I never wanted this case. Frankly, it scares the shit out of me to handle something of this magnitude. You guys are much better equipped to handle it. If it were left to me, I would drop it in a heartbeat. I don’t like all the attention. I don’t like being led around by the balls. I’m sure as hell not looking to feather my cap. I like what I do. I have a simple job, and I’m good at it. I moved back here after my military stint because I didn’t want to be dealing with shit like this.”

The frustration was starting to boil to the surface now, Cheryl knew that he needed to vent and let him continue.

“I like the simple life this town has to offer. I don’t know why this asshole picked me for the job. I sure as hell didn’t apply for it. I want out.” Ben stopped long enough to catch his breath. “I do want out. But I can’t, can I? I can’t because he won’t let me. You can walk anytime you want. But you know what? If I quit, someone I care about may die. He so much as said so. Yeah, I’m in. But you keep Mutt and Jeff off my back. Just let me do my job. I’ll do my best not to screw things up for you. Is that a deal?”

It felt good to get that off his chest.

“It’s a deal, Detective,” Cheryl replied. She extended her hand, and they shook as if making a pact. What Ben wanted more than anything at that moment was a hug, but that wouldn’t be appropriate. He let her leave.

“Damn,” he said, mostly for his own benefit, but loud enough for her to hear. “I just blew my chance of getting out of this mess. Now what the hell am I going to do?”

Cheryl Johnson knew the turmoil he was feeling inside. “I think the answer will be given to you when our friend decides it’s time.”

Ben had work to do, but he needed something to eat first.

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