Through the Eyes of Death

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Chapter 18

Everyone has an angel—watching, protecting. I’m sure you didn’t expect to hear me say that, but I believe it’s true. I’m not saying it’s an angel from God. I personally don’t understand the whole heaven and hell dynamic. But, I do believe in angels.

An angel is a spiritual guide, a poltergeist of sorts that inspires direction of our actions. Angels bring awareness to us all that should be accepted, and in all matters, followed. Some call it a sixth sense, but whatever causes it to manifest, it’s a gift to be used, not ignored.

Cops, at all levels, are aware of their angels. They call it “a gut feeling.” It’s the same by any name. The person who never sees danger loses sight of their angel or ignores it by claiming advanced intellect. These are fools.

Believe in your angel. It will guide you to prosperity. But more importantly, it can save your life.

Before Ben could bring himself to discuss his personal past and his theories to the group, he needed a dress rehearsal. Sue Garrison was going to be the unlucky person to hear it all. Maybe if he purged himself in front of one person, repeating it to others might not be so difficult. But, if he faltered on the dry run, he thought he would just have to think up another way of getting it out without crying like a baby.

He called Sue on his way back to the office and asked her to meet with him at the Ocean Club, a little restaurant down by the beach off Ridge Road. He would go there sometimes when privacy was important. This time of year was great because the tourist trade was slow and few people went there during the day. When he arrived, Sue was already there, waiting out front. She’s beautiful, Ben thought to himself. A man would have to be a fool not to notice her. Where does that leave me?

Sue smiled when she saw him walking up to her. She extended her hand. “Detective.”

Ben politely returned the gesture. “I would say that after this morning we can pretty much dispense with formalities, don’t you think?” He smiled.

Sue had wondered how Ben would respond, given the last time they met. She was concerned that he might have taken offense, that somehow this meeting would be anything but pleasant. But when she saw the smile after his comment, she burst into laughter. She was so relieved that she couldn’t control herself.

When she calmed down, Ben suggested they go inside. He knew he had much to talk about, and time was limited.

“Look, Sue,” Ben began. “There are some things of a personal nature I need to discuss with you. I’m concerned that talking about them might jeopardize our working relationship. I would prefer that if you have any concerns about mixing business issues with personal issues, you tell me now, I’ll keep it to myself and deal with them in some other manner.”

“Ben,” she said warmly, “whatever you want to discuss with me is between you and me. And that means business or personal discussions. Talk to me.” Sue believed he was about to discuss them and the possibility of romance. What she heard was much different.

“To one extent or another, everybody on the force knows about what happened to my wife and daughter,” Ben started. “I don’t know what you know about the situation, but I need to talk to somebody about it because I think it now has something to do with why I was selected to be the lead on the Smith case.” Ben could see the blank stare on Sue’s face and wasn’t sure he was getting through. “You do know what happened, don’t you?” It was the first time Ben had ever her so confused.

“I’m sorry, Ben. I know what happened to your little girl and wife. I just thought we were going to be talking about something else, and my mind wasn’t registering what you were saying. Please go on.” She was sure that Ben must have noticed the disappointment on her face. Fortunately, for her, Ben had other thoughts on his mind, and the subtle expression escaped his notice.

“What were you expecting?” Ben asked. Now he was confused.

“Never mind, Ben. Just talk to me about what you were saying. What do your wife and daughter have to do with Mr. Smith?” Now that she was past her personal agenda, her curiosity was getting to her.

“Actually, it doesn’t. But now I am beginning to think it does.”

Ben was talking riddles, and Sue looked like her eyes were going to cross.

“Sorry, I know that didn’t make any sense. Let me start over. Ever since I got the first contact from Mr. Smith, I’ve been asking myself, over and over, why me? If he is as smart as everybody seems to think he is, then it doesn’t make any sense. I certainly wouldn’t be a challenge to him. It would be like catching a guppy with an ocean rig. Reeling it in wouldn’t be that much of a test, and beating me wouldn’t give him a real sense of accomplishment. Also, I thought, if his purpose is to embarrass law enforcement, then again, why me? I’m just a pimple on Lady Justice’s butt.”

Sue was amused by the colloquialism.

“What I’m saying is that hurting me, or even the department for that matter, wouldn’t be sufficient for the impact of a murderer of this magnitude. He could have gone anywhere, with any police force, at any time. There had to be something more. I just couldn’t figure it out. All this time we’ve been concentrating on the link between the victims—and I’m sure there still is one—but I think at least part of the puzzle has to do with me and why I was brought in to run it.”

Ben had gotten all of that out, but needed to catch his breath.

“Okay,” Sue said, trying to get a handle on what Ben was saying. Ben had a big head start on her and she needed to do a little catching up. “I can understand the ‘Why me?’ part of what you’re saying. You’re right. It doesn’t make any sense for this guy to go after you when there are bigger and better scenarios that would be more intelligent. Maybe I’m being slow right now, but I still don’t get what any of this has to do with your wife and daughter.”

“At first, neither did I.” Ben was in overdrive now. “But today when I went to find Samantha Stewart’s body, he left a message that put it all together for me.”

“What did it say?” She didn’t want him to skip anything.

“It was in two parts.” Being able to discuss this with somebody, verbalizing it out loud now, made more sense to Ben than ever. “The first part was, ‘Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster.’ The second part was, ‘and when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.’ Don’t you see what he’s saying?”

Ben was hoping for a glimmer of recognition from her to indicate her understanding. It wasn’t there, and he wanted to shake her, get her to understand the significance of the words.

“I’m sorry, Ben. To me it sounds more like a threat than anything else.”

“Of course it does,” he said in frustration. “But don’t focus on that part of the message. Look again at the first part. Whoever fights monsters needs to be careful not to become one. He knows my monster. He knows what I went through. He’s saying that he understands what I went through with my wife and daughter. And the only way he could truly know would be to experience it himself. Now do you see what I’m saying?”

Sue was finally starting to understand what Ben was talking about. “Yes,” she said, “but couldn’t he say the same thing to any of us or anyone in a profession who might become jaded with his work?” She understood his words, but now needed to think this through.

“Of course he could,” Ben replied, “but that would be too simple for him. Besides, I think he would be more inclined to think that those of us in the profession would be doing our jobs, not fighting monsters. It would only fall into the category of a monster if it somehow became personal. I think that whatever put him over the edge was a personal tragedy. Something he couldn’t fix using conventional means or was rebuked for trying to do so.”

“Even so,” Sue began, taking up the role of devil’s advocate, “people have personal tragedies all over the country. You still haven’t said what it is that makes your circumstances unique enough to be the one chosen.”

She hesitated saying that. She realized that to Ben there was no greater tragedy than the one he’d had to face personally. She expected him to take offense, but he didn’t place anything more on it than a friend talking to another friend about a difficult situation. He also understood how difficult it had been for her to ask.

“At one point in my life,” he said slowly, thoughtfully, “there was no greater pain than the one I was dealing with. No matter what problems others encountered, they were insignificant as far as I was concerned. I was myopic and couldn’t believe anyone’s pain could be worse. In time—a lot of time—I started to realize that there were people out there who hurt as much as I did. I came to an understanding that the only difference between their suffering and mine was the amount of time each of us had to start the healing process. The fresher the wound, the greater the pain. Then I started to feel guilty when I recognized that someone else’s suffering was greater than my own. I wanted to keep Kim and Betsy’s deaths so close that they were always on my mind. I thought that by trying to heal, I was somehow being disrespectful to their memories. It got to the point that the only way I knew I was alive was by the amount of pain I felt. It wasn’t that I had to work at it or anything. It came pretty easily actually. The hard part was letting go of the pain. They were everything to me when they were alive, and I had no idea how to fill the void once they were gone. Every time I tried, all I could see was a black hole where once there was life and love and beauty. To me, pain was the best way to fill that void.”

Ben hesitated. Sue remained silent. She had no idea what he must have gone through. And if Mr. Smith had experienced something just as tragic, then she was beginning to understand how he might have resorted to such a way of life, especially if there was no other way to get the justice he believed necessary.

“I’m sorry, Sue. I shouldn’t be going on like this. I just wanted to tell you what might be going through this man’s mind. I think the reason he picked me is because I fit as closely as possible to the one person that can truly understand his own loss. Yes, there are thousands of tragedies every year, but he picked me because I fit the criteria of the one person closest to his own.”

“It’s alright, Ben,” Sue said with the greatest sympathy she had ever felt for another person. “I’m glad you felt like you could talk to me about it. I’m sure that bringing it up again is harder than anything I can imagine. I hope you know that you can talk to me.” A tear was welling up in her eyes. She hurt so much for him at that moment that all she wanted was to hold him in her arms and tell him that everything was going to be all right. “Have you told anyone else about your thoughts?” She wanted to be the first person he came to for everything, then felt guilty about being so selfish.

“No, I needed to talk to someone I could trust, someone that I knew wouldn’t judge me for what I went through or try to kick me off the case because of what may now be a personal link between me and Mr. Smith. I also came to you because I needed some advice as to how to approach it with everybody else. You’re smart, Sue, and I respect your opinions.”

If anyone were ever trying to win her heart, they’d need to say the exact words that Ben had just said. She felt as if her heart was going to burst. On one hand, she felt joy at Ben’s words. On the other, she felt so much sorrow for the pain she now understood he was feeling. She wasn’t sure what she could do, but if he needed her, the one thing that was certain was her commitment to be there for him.

Her face was flush. She thought that Ben—and anyone who happened to walk by—would know her very thoughts. She didn’t care. All she cared about was doing whatever she could to help this man.

“Thank you,” she said. “Of course I’ll help you. Any way I can.

Ben looked deep into her eyes and could see, beyond all doubt, that he could trust her. There was something about Sue that touched him in ways he hadn’t felt for years and never thought he’d feel again. He felt his face flush, not from embarrassment, but something far more primitive. Before he knew what was happening, he reached over and held her hand. No words needed to be exchanged. They both understood what the other wanted, what the other needed. Another time, another place, they would be heading for the closest bed and making passionate love. Now was not the time or place. Hopefully, he thought, that would soon change.

“Yes, sir. I understand, sir,” Cheryl Johnson spoke into the phone, Agent Conley listening in. “No, sir, I don’t know how we are going to be able to do that and still keep him communicating with us. I’m also concerned that he’ll start killing again if we try to do that.” She hesitated, listening to the director’s banter about how to get the FBI in control of the case. “I’ll see what I can do and report back to you this evening. Thank you, sir. Goodbye.” She hung up the phone, slowly placing it back on the base. She looked over to Conley. “We have a real problem here. If Ben wants to continue going by the directions of Mr. Smith, we’ve been instructed to take over the case. I don’t think the director fully appreciates the implications of that action. What’s your opinion, Walt?”

“I think you already know my position on that,” Conley said. “I think that Ben is a nice enough person. Actually, I’ve grown to think of him as an okay guy. He isn’t cut out to do this, but he’s okay.”

“Why don’t you just say what you really think, Conley?”

“Okay, I think keeping him in charge is a total mistake. He doesn’t have the experience or the expertise to handle anything of this magnitude. We should remove him from the case and take it over before things get totally screwed, even more than they already are. If you won’t do it, then I will. Let me take the heat from the locals. That way you can keep your relationship with them and be there if we have to go back to this arrangement.”

“I’m not worried about Ben and the local police,” Cheryl responded. “I’m more concerned with what Mr. Smith is going to do about it. He seems intent on controlling the tempo. There are still several bodies out there that haven’t been found, and he won’t give them to us if we choose to do what you suggest. And what about other victims that might suffer as a result of our actions? There’s certainly a strong likelihood that he’ll kill again. He may have started already, but I think he’s waiting so that we’ll play his game. If we stop playing, all bets are off, and I think there’s going to be blood on our hands.”

“Like you said, there’s a strong chance he’s going to kill anyway. Maybe if we shake him up a bit, he’ll make a mistake and then we can stop him. If we keep doing what we’re doing now, where he has the time to plan and work his way through each new person, he won’t leave any more evidence than he’s left with the others. It’s your call…but we have to take a new position on this, and we have to start now.”

“All my training and everything I know agrees with what you’re saying,” Cheryl said, so soft that Agent Conley could barely hear the words. “However, my heart, my gut tells me that we’re wrong. Simeon is more than just the lead on this case. Somehow he is the case. I just don’t know how. The director wants us to lead, so we’ll lead. But let’s tread lightly regarding Ben. Somehow he’s the link to any success we might eventually have.”

“Alright,” Conley replied, “but let me be the ‘bad cop’ on this. You need to be able to stay as close to him as you can.”

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