Are you tired, my friend? Do you remember your training and what sleep deprivation does to a man? Do you recall what it’s like to sweat in freezing conditions or shiver from the heat? Your mind creates delusions, and you begin to wonder what’s real and what’s false.
You’re starting to feel the pressures of loneliness. Is depression soon to follow?
Do you know how close I am? Can you feel my eyes watching your every move? Did you know that at any time I could reach out and touch you?
You are closer to the truth than ever. You are on the right path. When you succeed, will you also fail? These questions and more will soon become evident.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Ben asked Corey Fox as they disembarked from the helicopter. “I thought you were in the drug business?”
Corey smiled at his friend. “I heard what was going down and volunteered to come pick you guys up. Hope you don’t mind too much.” He finished as they shook hands.
“Not at all,” Ben said. “It’s nice having a friendly face around these days. Let me introduce you to some of the team.”
Ben made the introductions. He was surprised, yet happy, that Corey was able to be close by. He wasn’t sure how Corey had managed to do it, but Ben was certainly glad he had.
Corey led them to the car and gave them a brief update from his perspective. It would take about 15 minutes to get to the place where the bodies had been found. Corey told them about the aspects of the scene that were already familiar. His next remark, however, bothered Ben a great deal. Corey told them that the governor wanted to talk to Ben personally and insisted that he go to the mansion as soon as they were finished at the crime scene. Ben hated politics and hated the idea of having to deal with a politician, especially this politician. Their history was mostly associated with what had happened when his daughter was killed. Ben’s experiences proved beyond a doubt that politicians would tell you anything, but remain true only to their own agenda. Unfortunately for Ben, his needs and those of the governor didn’t exactly run along the same path.
When they arrived at the house, it seemed as if there were a hundred cop cars, ambulances, and other special service vehicles at the scene. Most of the officers were outside and made a path for the car as it approached the house. Ben and the others left the vehicle and approached the guards at the entrance, who requested ID’s before letting them enter.
Inside they were introduced to the crime scene unit chief, the chief of detectives, and the captain of the Sacramento Police Department. It didn’t take much to see that this was a high profile situation, and Ben couldn’t help but wonder if anybody here was actually in charge.
Cheryl spoke up, asking what Ben was thinking. “Who’s going to be lead on the investigation?”
“I am,” the burley chief of detectives, said. “From what little I know about this Smith character, it’s more likely than not that my part will only be as a figure head.”
“Why do you say that?” Ben asked.
“Come with me.” The chief turned and headed up the stairs to the master bedroom. “From what I’ve been able to ascertain, the only person in charge is your man, Mr. Smith.”
Cheryl didn’t like the label “your man,” but decided to keep quiet about the comment.
When they got to the bedroom, the chief said, “We decided to keep everything blocked off until you got here. Normally, after the medical examiner gets done, we remove the bodies. But because of this guy’s involvement, I decided to wait till you got here. I wanted you to see everything as is. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Actually,” Cheryl said, “I’m glad you did. Pictures aren’t nearly as reliable as the real thing. This is the first current murder we’ve had a chance to look at with this guy, and we need to see everything. Maybe there’ll be something here that we weren’t able to find with the old cases.”
“Don’t hold your breath, Dr. Johnson,” the chief said. “We’ve been over this place from top to bottom and haven’t found one clue that we can hang our hats on. The guy’s a frigging ghost, if you ask me.”
“What about prints?” Captain Black asked. “Anything there?”
“Sure,” the chief replied. “Lots of them. But odds are that none of ’em belong to the perp. Detective Simeon,” he continued, “this I believe, is for you.” They walked over to the windowsill. On it was a box about twice the size of a shoebox. There was a message scripted on the box that read:
FOR DETECTIVE BENJAMIN SIMEON ONLY SANTA CRUZ P.D.
THE FOUR MOST IMPORTANT DAYS OF YOUR LIFE WILL NOW SAVE YOURS.
I’M WATCHING YOU!
At first glance, the message was written in what might have appeared to most as reddish brown ink. They were told it was blood, probably from one of the victims. The color had been changed from a bright red to the brownish black they saw now. When forensics finally got their chance, it was confirmed.
“More than likely written with one of the old fountain pens used to suck ink from an ink well or bottle back in the ’40s and ’50s,” said Captain Black, the only person in the room old enough to actually remember the existence of such items.
“What do you think it means?” Ben asked Cheryl.
“Actually,” she said, “with this guy it could mean anything. It could have something to do with a part of his later plans. It could mean that he’s nearby. It could mean that if you get too close to finding out who he really is, he has something planned for you where those dates will have meaning. Which one of those—or any of the several I haven’t thought about yet—could be the meaning. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”
“Has anybody checked this thing out for a bomb,” Captain Black asked.
Nobody really expected there to be one at this point. Mr. Smith seemed to have some sort of fetish for a more personal touch. Blades seemed to be his way of solving problems.
“We haven’t touched the thing,” the chief detective said. “Trust me, the governor has been all over my ass to do so. ‘We’re wasting precious moments overlooking a clue that could help find my daughter,’ he said to me. But, I’m not gonna be the one to screw up anything with this asshole. He wants you, and that is what he’s gonna get as far as I’m concerned.”
“This guy is really pissing me off,” Ben muttered under his breath, putting on latex gloves.
He opened the box.
The instant Ben started lifting the lid, he realized that he had made a mistake. There was a click, then a whirring that sounded like a flash camera recharging sent a chill up his spine. Ben stopped, expecting an explosion. When that didn’t happen, he lifted one corner and saw a timer, now ticking backwards from two minutes. Attached to the timer were several wires that led to a detonator attached to a large block of what appeared to be C-4. The timer had two rows of numbered buttons reading from 1 to 10.
“Everybody get the hell outta here!” Ben yelled.
At first, everyone in the room just turned and looked at Ben to see if he was crazy or if they could get a better idea of what he was yelling about. When it registered, it took about 10 seconds for the room with about 15 officers milling around to turn into one with just four.
“How the hell do we disarm this thing?” Ben asked the others. Captain Black, and Corey stood there, looking at the device.
“I don’t know,” Cheryl said. “We don’t have enough time to figure it out.”
“Then get the hell out of here,” Ben repeated. “You, too, Captain.”
“Forget it,” he said. “You stay, then I stay.”
“What about the box lid?” Sweat was starting to bead on Corey’s forehead. “Maybe that’s what he meant when he said that the four most important days of your life will save your life. Which four days is he talking about?”
: 51 … :50 … :49
“I can’t think. Wait! He must be talking about when Kim and Betsy died. That has to be it.”
They were becoming panicked at this point. The clock looked as if it was racing to kill them, and they had no way of stopping it from happening.
“That’s only two dates!” Cheryl said, louder than necessary. “What are the other two most important dates in your life?” She watched the clock tick down.
:33 … :32 … :31
“I don’t know!” Ben had never realized before that the deafening sounds he heard were all in his mind. “The only thing I can think of is the day Kim and I got married. What else could it be?”
Cheryl closed her eyes for a moment and took in a deep breath, which allowed her to calm down after a few seconds. Then her eyes flew open. “The day your daughter was born!” she screamed
:24 … :23 … :22
“What order?” Ben reached for the buttons.
Ben started pushing buttons.
April 23 was their wedding date, so he pushed the numbers 2 then 3. August 15 was Betsy’s birth date; he pushed the 1. The 5. July 5 was the day Betsy died. He pushed 0 then 5. Finally, December 26 was the day that Kimberly committed suicide. He pressed the 2. 6.
:11 … :10 … :09
The clock was still ticking. He pressed enter. The clock didn’t stop.
:6 … :5 … :4
Ben looked up at Cheryl and Captain Black. “I’m sorry,” He whispered. Then Ben closed his eyes.
:2 … :1
The ringing of the alarm startled all of them, and Cheryl screamed as if there were a searing pain shooting through her body.
The bomb had not exploded.
They started laughing a nervous laugh that only those who had escaped death would understand.
After about thirty seconds the alarm died, and the room became as quiet as the death it represented.
After taking a couple of minutes to re-gain their composure, Ben and the others went out to let everyone know that it was all right for the moment. He decided that the bomb squad needed to take a closer look at the box before doing anything else. The exception was the envelope he discovered lying against the inside wall of the box itself. Ben took it with him as he and the others left the house. Even though he had noticed it earlier, the letter wasn’t nearly as important as when Ben thought everything was going to blow up. Maybe the next time I open a bomb, he thought, I’ll check the message for clues on how to turn the damn thing off.
Ben, Cheryl, and Captain Black asked for and were shown to a quiet place nearby, where they could examine the contents. Corey followed, and no one objected.
Dear Detective Simeon,
If you are reading this letter, then I can assume that you had a safe trip to this lovely city. There are several issues that we need to bring to those who wish to circumvent the design of my plans. As you are already aware, I will not tolerate interference with its design or its execution. It seems that there are those who do not learn as quickly as you. For those individuals, it became essential to take the step that brought you here. Should it be required, please inform those perched in their ivory towers that I am quite prepared to take additional steps to teach them who it is that is actually in charge of this case. I trust that you will speak with them as fervently as necessary regarding this point.
My requests have not changed. There is a message that I intend to make to the world, and you are my messenger. The disappearance of Special Agent Smythe became necessary because you attempted to modify the rules. Now it seems that others want to change the players, and that is unacceptable. The difference is that the governor’s daughter is not yet among the dead. I do not want her, nor do I care if she lives or dies. Those choices are to be made by someone other than either you or me. The governor himself must choose whether his daughter lives or not. I will set the guidelines. Should he see to it that they are met, he may yet see his child again. Should he fail, he will have to settle for only a few leftover parts. Please tell him this for me.
Since the FBI has not been willing to cooperate with you—they do seem to have a mind of their own, don’t you think? —I have decided that if they ever expect to find Agent Smythe, they must change their ways and allow you to do what you are instructed to do, or one of them will receive a special package similar to the one you have just enjoyed. Of course, the results will be quite different, I assure you.
I am sure that very soon you will be rushed to the governor’s mansion to discuss what has happened to his daughter. I am also sure you will discover the blood on the box lid is hers. I drew it from her body with a syringe, as she lay helpless on the floor. Use it as proof that I have her. However, she will remain alive so long as he cooperates with you. If you are not on the news as you have been instructed, his daughter will be the next person to receive punishment.
As for the little package you received, I have no intention to harm you...yet. This is our game, detective. You are an important part of the message that must be told. Do as you are told and nobody else has to die before the world hears it. And once again, instruct your partners that I will keep my word so long as they play by my rules.
I trust that you are doing well and hope to meet with you soon.