There are many aspects of life that can be done without thought. Everyone, at one time or another, fails to realize how dangerous an act is.
There is beauty in living a life without remorse. Consequences happen for every action taken. You don’t beak the laws of gravity by stepping off a 20-story building. You confirm it.
Every action I take, even the smallest act of the day, is done with me being fully aware of the consequences and my willingness to accept them. My anger is derived not from paying the price, but rather not fully predicting all possible outcomes. I take it personally when someone, on that rare occasion, does what I hadn’t thought of first. In my world, such failures can be fatal.
Carmel Valley Road, east of the Carmel Valley Village, was just as windy as Ben remembered. And Cachagua Road was as dreadful as Lombard Street in San Francisco, only miles longer. By the time Ben and the others had successfully found the remains of the two heads and returned to Santa Cruz, it was almost noon.
Taking the trip up Highway 1 had always been one of the most beautiful strips of road to Ben. The ocean was more calm than normal for the time of year. And even though the sky was gray, the sights from the overlooks were breathtaking. It was hard to imagine the horror this creature was flaunting before such a beautiful location.
Ben knew that for the FBI to confirm the identities they would be helpless in getting what they needed everything that Mr. Smith wanted him to say to the public before the six o’clock news. In his mind, it was totally incomprehensible to tell the world of the horrendous things required. But to do so without the supporting evidence necessary would be a gross injustice for everything he believed to be right as a law enforcement officer. Ben wasn’t political by nature; however, he believed that police work was one of the finest careers any man or woman could have. He believed in what he was and what law enforcement officers did on a daily basis. He didn’t ever want to place public servants in a position of looking bad in the public’s eyes.
Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place, he thought. Mr. Smith knew how this was going to play out. He knew that Ben couldn’t give out false or unconfirmed information. He’s setting us up to take some major heat on this, and I’ve got to find a way of defusing the situation before it gets out of hand. Ben found that he was talking to himself a lot lately. He hoped it wasn’t an early warning sign of a mental breakdown.
“Do you have a few minutes, Ben?”
Ben looked up from his desk and saw Sue Garrison peeking around the doorframe.
“Sure. What’s up?
“I’ve been thinking about what’s going on and have something of an idea that could get you past this evening’s news without hurting your position too much.”
Ben had been feeling more comfortable discussing the case with Sue than with anybody on the task force. He realized that telling her about what was going on was beyond normal protocol. However, as much as he respected the members of the task force, Sue was more like a pressure valve. He also knew that she would see things from somewhat of an outsider’s perspective and, at this point, anything would be considered a blessing.
“Anyway,” she continued, “if you can give me a few moments, I’ll explain it to you. But first, do you know any police officers in Sacramento that you can trust?”
“Sure. There’s an old military buddy of mine that just got put on the drug unit in Sacramento. His name is Corey Fox. We keep in touch on a fairly regular basis. Why?”
Now his curiosity was starting to get the better of him. He could see by the look in her eyes that whatever she had in mind would be devious. He liked that.
“Okay. Here’s what I think we could do.”
With that, she explained her thoughts in detail. She knew that to make it work, everything would have to be handled just right, and the timing had to be perfect.
Ben asked several questions along the way, but when she was done, he said, “Let’s do it. I don’t know if it’ll work, but it’s a hell of a lot better than anything I’ve come up with. I’ll call Corey and get things started with him. Hopefully, we still have enough time to make it happen. You call Lisa at KRIC-TV and make sure she has the time to meet with me at least an hour before the program starts. Then we’ll meet here again in about an hour. I need to rest my eyes for a few minutes.”
Sue thanked him for listening to her and hurried off.
Ben got on the phone with Corey and was glad that he was willing to help with what he called “a little project.” He would be back in touch as soon as he could finish what had been asked of him.
“What’s this about, Ben?”
Corey, like everyone else in the world, knew what was going on. However, he would do whatever Ben asked if possible. Ben told him nothing of the plan. Just what he needed done.
For the first time since he started working on the case, Ben felt, at least in some small way, that they actually had the upper hand on Mr. Smith. He also decided not to share the information with anyone. Even though he hadn’t given it as much thought as he knew he should, his conversation with Cheryl Johnson was still hanging in the back of his mind.
Corey Fox had only been with the Sacramento police department for three years, but his meteoric rise in the department had not been matched in more than thirty years. His arrest record since joining the Sacramento PD almost matched that of the rest of the department’s narcotics division. What made him even more outstanding was that his methods were so thorough that, to date, every one of his cases that made it to court ended in a conviction.
Corey and Ben had been partners in the military’s Criminal Investigation Division and together solved many difficult cases. Ben had saved Corey’s life during a case where the suspect had managed to sneak up on Corey from behind. If not for Ben’s ability to outthink the suspect and stop him before getting off that shot, Corey would have been the recipient of a fine military funeral with a 21-gun salute. There wasn’t anything that Corey wouldn’t do for Ben, and he’d been reminded of that when Ben called.
“I owe you, buddy,” Corey had said to Ben as they readied to hang up. “Whatever you need on this, I’ll make it happen.” After a moment he added, “I’ll see you soon. And Ben? Be careful. This asshole is a real nutcase. I think he’s gunning for you.”
“I know what you mean, my friend. Thanks.”
Corey had hung up the phone and gotten to work on Ben’s special assignment.
It took Corey but a few minutes to confirm that Mrs. Appleby was home. When he arrived, she was waiting anxiously for him. It didn’t take her long after introductions to get Corey to give her the news she had been dreading all this time. And even though they didn’t have the dental records back yet, she knew that her husband was dead.
Mrs. Appleby sat quietly for several minutes. At first all she could do was mourn. Surrounded by her own thoughts, a tear fell slowly down her cheek. Then came more tears and the sobbing which so often followed the reality of death to those in waiting.
Corey felt terrible to be the one to bring her such news. Unfortunately, that was a part of the job. He hurt for her loss yet knew that, based on what Ben had explained to him, her difficulties were merely beginning. He was glad that he wasn’t the one that had to tell her the rest.
“There’s more isn’t there?”
Corey could tell that the lady’s mannerisms were still that of a victim’s wife, yet he could sense that she was changing. She needed to know the details, and she was starting to straighten her back, as if to face whatever Corey might tell her.
“What do you mean, ma’am?” Corey had found over the years that the best approach was often to listen rather than speak if you wanted to control a conversation.
“You know exactly what I mean, young man.” Her voice was getting stronger by the moment. “You know something that you aren’t telling me. I’ve been waiting for two years to find out what happened to my husband. I have been told that he had a lover. I have been told that he wasn’t the man I thought he was. I have been through every possible scenario regarding what happened. You can tell me,” she pleaded. “Please tell me.”
“I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been through, Mrs. Appleby,” Corey started. “And you’re right. I do know some things about this that I haven’t shared with you. But to tell you the truth, I’m not the person that you need to be asking these questions.”
“Then who is? I want to know everything. I want to know everything right now. You know my husband was a very important man around here. I can make you tell me with just a single phone call.”
She was angry now. Too much time had passed. Too many unanswered questions had occurred over these two years for her to sit back and wait for some street cop to be evasive with her.
“Ma’am, that call won’t be necessary. Let me explain something to you. I have been given two sets of instructions. First was to bring this information to you immediately. Second was to bring you to the man that would be able to best answer any question you have about what happened. And that is what I am here to do. Actually, there is a third thing. I was told that because of the sensitivity surrounding this case, I was to tell you only what I have and, no matter how much you insisted, to refuse allowing you to know any more because it might be construed as hearsay. And ma’am, if I know anything, I know that what you need now are facts, not hearsay or rumors.”
“You’re right, young man.” She seemed to be calming down. “I most certainly don’t want rumormongers having a field day at my or my husband’s expense. I’ll get my coat, and we can leave right away.”
“Well ma’am, there’s just one more thing you might need to know.” Corey was walking a fine line, and he knew it. “You might want to pack a small bag for an overnight stay.” He cringed even as he said the words. He knew that she was too used to getting her own way to let this just slide by.
“For what? Just where the hell’re you taking me?” she demanded. “Or is that privileged information as well?”
“I know that this is highly irregular, Mrs. Appleby.” Corey was trying his best to find the words to keep her from bolting to the phone. “However, your husband’s death—or should I say the circumstances surrounding your husband’s death—have taken on some very irregular qualities. That’s why it’s most important for me to get you to the man who can give you everything firsthand. The trip will only be a few hours from here. Your husband’s remains weren’t found locally, and they were just found a couple hours ago. This is a highly sensitive issue we’re dealing with, and we’re asking that you have the patience to wait until we get there before discussing this any further. Please, ma’am, is that something you will help us with? I promise, I know the man that is in charge of your husband’s case. He promised that he would tell you anything and everything. He is an honorable man, Mrs. Appleby. You can trust him. I assure you.”
Corey was hoping that his pleadings would do the trick and get her to agree. Fortunately, they did.
“Alright,” Mrs. Appleby said. “I’ll go with you, and I won’t pry for more information. At least not right now. I need to call my daughter. She’ll want to be there with me. Also, you better not be giving me some line of shit. I may be getting old, but I can guarantee you that you had better be straight. And this mystery man friend of yours had better know what the hell he’s doing, or I’ll have both your asses up on charges and, believe me, any one of my friends will put you behind bars just by my asking. Do you understand that?”
Mrs. Appleby was one mean woman when she was cornered, Corey thought. But, what the hell? She was going and that was all he needed to accomplish for his friend.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “Loud and clear.”
Without another word she turned on her heals and headed for the study to call her daughter. She knew her daughter would try to be strong for her. She also knew that it would be her daughter needing help the most.
By six o’clock that evening, Ben had already had a long and difficult meeting with Mrs. Appleby, an intricate meeting with John Abernathy and Lisa Adams, and a short, much appreciated reunion with his old buddy, Corey Fox.
But one of the most difficult aspects of the day was meeting with both Cheryl Johnson and his captain/partner Donald Black and putting them off to his plans for this evening. He knew that, in doing so, he risked alienating himself from their good graces and whatever support they might give to him. But in order to pull this thing off for the greatest impact, he had to do it this way. Time was crucial, and as it was, he didn’t have enough to do what was needed, let alone get a committee of people to agree on something that they would shut down before he even got started.
“Five minutes, Ben,” came the call from Lisa as she walked toward the soundstage.
Lisa had been shocked when Ben presented the plan to John and her, not because she didn’t like it. Quite the contrary, she loved the idea. It was also, like so many other aspects of this bizarre case, something that you could never anticipate with even the best of minds. Now it was time to put this in front of the public and see just what they thought about it.
Ben walked in and was given a microphone for his lapel. The time was now or never. Let’s do this, he thought to himself, attempting to convince himself that he was doing the right thing.
Again the countdown started. Lisa’s now nationally known face came to life on screen as the world watched.
Somewhere close by in a darkened office, Mr. Smith smiled in anticipation of what he knew would be said.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Lisa began. “As you now most likely know, we have been asked to participate in an extraordinary situation regarding a serial killer, the victims he allegedly murdered, and his promise to identify their whereabouts should police cooperate with his demands. So far, the police, headed by Detective Benjamin Simeon of the Santa Cruz Police Department have met each of the requirements of the man who calls himself Mr. Smith. We have been told that because of this cooperation two more victims have now been announced and the location of their remains divulged to detective Simeon. The two victims were Judge Lawrence Appleby from Sacramento, California, and Christian Carter from Stockton, California. The two men were reported missing two years ago, and until now, no clues were ever discovered to tell the police what happened.
“Now I want to turn this program over to Detective Simeon for his updated report. Detective Simeon, what can you tell us about the most recent victims and the communication you have received from Mr. Smith?”
This time Ben was prepared. This time he had notes to work from and a sequence to follow so that he could make sure that nothing necessary was left out of what he was required to say.
“Good evening,” Ben said. “As many of you know, either through this program or the newspapers or whatever your source, a man claiming the name of Mr. Smith contacted my office a few days ago and illuminated a strange story about murders, missing people, and his involvement. At first we thought it was a hoax. We are now convinced that it’s real. This case is cruel and inhumane seems a given, but in order to continue receiving information on the other victims he has reported, we must now tell you the circumstances involved with these two latest names. Let me warn you, the information I am about to tell you is both graphic and horrific. Please use the utmost discretion for those of you with young children.”
Slowing his pace a little, Ben took a deep breath before continuing.
“Last night we received a letter from Mr. Smith that indicated that the remains of Judge Lawrence Appleby and Christian Carter were buried in Monterey County. We were given directions to the site and found what appeared to be the partial remains of the identified men. Dental records were checked and confirmed that they indeed belonged to the two men in question. Unfortunately, the only physical remains of the two men present were the skulls. The letter indicated that the rest of the bodies were dumped in the Pacific and would not be recovered. Mr. Smith stated that the method used to kill the victims was with a knife, and even though the specifics of the wounds are not necessary to detail, I can say that, according to the letter, he used methods of torture. Their deaths did not come quickly.”
Ben stopped and looked at his notes. He was at the no-return portion of the program. If he continued, there would be no turning back.
“Mr. Smith stated in his letter that the victims had been in a sexual relationship. Additionally, he stated, and we believe, that the reason for their deaths had to do with more than their lifestyle issues, but also something to do with their work. According to Mr. Smith, the judge was involved with some sort of misconduct or deceit and was involved as well in a cover up. Usually, these matters would not be brought out until all of the evidence has been collected. However, the letter required that it be brought out for you to know that Judge Appleby and Christian Carter were less than honorable men.”
“Excuse me, detective,” Lisa interrupted in a timely fashion. “Are you trying to tell us that you believe that Judge Appleby and Christian Carter were homosexual and sexually involved with each other?”
“That is what I am saying, as required by Mr. Smith. I do not have, nor am I offering, any opinions as to their relationship. I am only required to present it to you.”
“And can you give us more detail about the misconduct, or should I say ‘deceit’ and ‘cover up’, that you alluded to?”
“Actually, the specifics of that aspect of their lives are still undergoing investigation. I can only say that we are confident that the information we have is reliable and when the investigation is completed will be brought to you as soon as possible.”
“Have the families of the deceased been notified?”
“Thus far there are no known next of kin for Christian Carter, but we are still looking. Mrs. Appleby and her daughter have been notified, and Mrs. Appleby was made aware of her husband’s death. Needless to say, the family is taking the news very hard. They have been through a lot over the last couple of years. This only compounds their grief.”
“You have stated to the world that the two victims were involved sexually and in sort of uncompromising behavior. It would seem to me,” Lisa said it as if it were a surprise to Ben, “that it would be best if someone from the family could respond to these allegations.” Lisa was on a roll now and playing her part perfectly. “So in light of everything you have said, we now have Mrs. Appleby in the studio to respond to these allegations. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to Mrs. Lawrence Appleby.”
Lisa stood and extended her hand to Mrs. Appleby as she entered the room and sat next to Ben. He played his part by looking surprised. Ben also shook her hand and whispered condolences and thanks for her strength and willingness to participate in the program. She was an attractive woman in her late-sixties and stood with composure. Her hair was well maintained with only a slight graying. Ben didn’t know if it was natural or if it came from a bottle.
“Thank you for being here, Mrs. Appleby,” Lisa said. “I know that you have heard what Detective Simeon said. Would you like to comment on his remarks?”
Regardless of the enormity of the situation, Lisa was actually finding herself enjoying her part in the drama. She felt a pang of guilt for those feelings, but she rationalized them as being normal and would deal with them later.
“Of course I want to comment on them,” Mrs. Appleby said. “They are ludicrous, slanderous, and I want everyone to know that my husband was a good man and a loving husband. These accusations are not what anybody truly believes. They are the words of a madman. This person is a lunatic and is trying to manipulate you into believing that whatever he says is the gospel. Well it isn’t true.” Looking at Ben, she added, “These people have to do what they are told by this crazy man. They have other families like mine that they are doing their best to help. I don’t blame them for doing what they’re doing. But I have not been given any directives from him and will tell you once and for all that I will spend every last dime of my money to find whoever this Mr. Smith is and bring him to justice.”
Lisa was in awe of the woman’s composure. She had just been given the worst news possible, yet she spoke with authority and grace in spite of the tragedy. She was right up there with Eleanor Roosevelt as far as Lisa was concerned. Mrs. Appleby was an inspiration to women everywhere.
“I want to thank you for being here, Mrs. Appleby,” Lisa said. “But mostly I want to thank you for your candor and willingness to come forth at this most difficult time.” Looking to Ben, she asked, “Detective Simeon, are there any other comments you have for us this evening?”
“Actually, Lisa, I don’t have any more comments,” Ben said. “However, Mr. Smith stated that if I have any questions, or should I desire to communicate with him, that I should take this opportunity to do so. So to you, Mr. Smith, I ask this: if you have already punished the deceased, then why are you still punishing the living? Also,”—Ben’s anger started to rise—“if you want your message to be brought to the public, why don’t you let us help you with your memoirs? I would personally like the pleasure of dotting your I’s and making sure your T’s are crossed. Step forward and be recognized. I am sure you will get a fair trial before we fry your ass.” For Ben to show his anger like that was, in his mind, a mistake. But, he couldn’t help himself. There was this woman sitting next to him who had just been brutally assaulted by this freak, and Ben had to say something in her defense. He hoped that his actions wouldn’t get somebody else killed.
Mr. Smith was stunned by the way the detective had altered this session. He was infuriated by the blatant disrespect he was getting from Ben Simeon, and having the Appleby woman on the air had destroyed everything he had wanted this airing to accomplish. Somebody was going to have to pay for those actions. Somebody was going to have to die.