I am not the monster you believe me to be. Oh, I know that I do things that appall you, but deep down, haven’t you thought the same things? Haven’t you been angered enough to wish someone a slow painful death? Of course you have. So don’t blame me if you haven’t the will or the courage to follow your desires.
I am the master of my own destiny. You, on the other hand, will sob for your own shortcomings in time. If I cared enough, I would pity you.
I don’t hide who I am out of fear. Many know the “real” Mr. Smith. And even though they fear what I do, enough admire my talents and wish they could emulate that which I achieve.
By the time Ben, Cheryl, and Captain Black finished working the crime scene, they were all exhausted, but the adrenalin from the earlier experience hadn’t quite worn off yet. Mr. Smith was proving once again that he was someone with diverse capabilities.
Most criminals, Ben postulated, stuck to one method for killing their victims. They were motivated by certain events, and those events usually dictated the pattern of the violence chosen. Mr. Smith, on the other hand, was choosing his methods based on something much more elaborate, and thus far he hadn’t tipped his hand about the methods or means he would be using next. That the bomb hadn’t exploded took nothing away from the fact that the ability for detonation was there.
Another thing that kept surfacing in Ben’s mind was that the problems he and his counterparts were dealing with were self-inflicted. They were causing their own problems by sticking with traditional methods of operation. Ben thought if Mr. Smith knew these rules and methods, it would only seem logical that he was creating situations in which the law would, in essence, have to fail, thereby giving rise to the next murder or other acts of violence.
Ben’s belief in Mr. Smith’s abilities didn’t keep him from wondering about the bomb. Was it a real bomb? Would it have gone off if someone other than he had opened the box? These questions needed answering. Those would have to be answered by the bomb squad. They were important because the answers would also answer the most important question facing Ben at that moment: Was Mr. Smith saving Ben for a personal encounter that would lead to his own demise? The very thought of having to face this guy sent chills up his spine. Yet, of all the possibilities Ben could envision, that was the one that he would prefer.
The trip to the governor’s mansion took about twenty minutes, escort and sirens clearing the way. At that hour, Ben couldn’t imagine it would have taken all that much longer without the sirens and lights.
The stately mansion was nestled in a large gated area surrounded by a grove of trees and flowers blooming out of season. The fact that they now had a security level greater than the President himself was an indication as to how serious the situation was being taken. Ben wondered if the governor would remember him from their previous encounter. Seven years was a long time to remember a stepping stone, especially one you turned your back on to get where you wanted to go.
But Ben remembered. He remembered the aspiring district attorney who had stopped at nothing to get the highest political position in the state. It hadn’t mattered that a young girl had been murdered. It hadn’t seemed to affect the governor one way or the other that he was responsible for letting the murders of a nobody cop’s baby girl get off with a slap on the wrist. The DA had gotten another conviction, another notch in his conviction belt. The justice Ben needed had come at the hands of those Ben didn’t even know. How would all of this weigh into his decision as to how to help this man? What demands would he now place on Ben that the governor wouldn’t accept himself when the situation had been reversed? Then it dawned on him: what if Mr. Smith knew what had happened? What if the governor’s daughter had been selected because of what had happened to Ben? What if these killings were all because of what had happened to Ben’s family? Were they somehow connected? If so, how? Were these even the right questions to be asking right now?
For now, Ben had to think about dealing with the governor’s daughter, but he had to check it all out. Now he suspected Mr. Smith was exacting justice and revenge for them both.
“This is all your fault!” the governor yelled at Ben the moment he and the others walked into the room. It seemed that Governor Alexander had indeed remembered Ben after all. Or was he just blaming him for the way the case was progressing? Maybe if they had found this person before it got to this point, his daughter would be safe right now, preparing to go into politics.
“Would you like to clarify that comment, sir, before I respond?” Ben shot back. He wasn’t to blame for anything, and he didn’t care whether the politician liked him or not.
“If you would have been more active in catching this sonofabitch instead of sitting on your thumbs, my baby girl would be at home right now instead of…I can’t even say it.”
The man was totally distraught with grief and needed a scapegoat. Ben just happened to be the most convenient target.
“Governor Alexander,” Cheryl interrupted, “my name is Dr. Cheryl Johnson with the FBI. I think we need to focus our attention on what we can do and not at whom to blame. Frankly, sir, the only blame that can be given lies on the shoulders of Mr. Smith. We need to bring you up to speed on what we know and what our plans are.”
“That monster has killed my little girl!” the governor shouted. “I want him found, and I want to watch him fry. Do you hear me, Ms. Johnson?”
“Yes, sir. I hear you very well. I know what you’re going through.”
“You don’t know shit about what I’m going through!”
Cheryl didn’t respond to the accusation. “We’re here because we’re the best hope anyone has of finding out who he is and how to catch him.” Cheryl paused for a moment. “And just so you understand, sir, I think we all believe your daughter is still alive.”
The governor had sat down on the stuffed sofa and placed his head in his hands. But when Cheryl told him her thoughts, the governor looked up with incredulity. “How could you know that? He doesn’t leave people alive. He kills them all. Isn’t that what he’s done so far?”
“As best as we can tell, Governor Alexander, he has never had any motivation to keep anybody alive. Until now. He thinks that he can use her life as a playing chip to keep his agenda on track. He intends to make a statement, and you, sir, seem to be the ace in the hole for him.”
“How could you know that?” The governor was afraid to get his hopes up, but he needed something to grab hold of that he could possibly use to believe his daughter was alive.
“Detective Simeon from the Santa Cruz Police Department was brought here because Mr. Smith has some kind of grand scheme for him. In the house where your daughter was taken were a package and a note. The package contained a bomb.” When she saw the startled look on the governor’s face, Cheryl held up her hand and explained that it hadn’t detonated. “There was also a note left by Mr. Smith. Right now there are only four people who know about the note. You make five.”
Ben pulled the note from his pocket and asked the governor to leave it in the plastic. It hadn’t been gone over for prints or any other telltale signs yet. They gave the governor time to read it and waited for his response.
“How can you trust someone like this?” he said indignantly. “The man is a cold-blooded murderer, and you want me to believe that he’s telling the truth about anything? That’s ridiculous.” He shoved the note back to Ben, walked behind an oversized cherry desk, and sat down.
“Actually, sir,” Cheryl replied, “I think we can trust him not to kill her, at least for now. We’ve been watching, reviewing, and analyzing everything he’s told us up to this point, and so far as we know, he has not deviated from the truth once. He has an agenda and wants us to stick with it. So long as we do that, he’ll stick to his.”
“Then how do we know that she’s even alive right now?” the governor asked.
“I think he’s already anticipated that question,” Ben said. “I believe we’ll get some kind of message over the next 24 hours that will prove that she is. He doesn’t want her. He so much as said that. She isn’t all that important to him. If you—if we don’t get into a panic, we just very well may get her back for you alive.”
“What guarantees do I have from you, detective? How do I know that you’re even capable of not totally screwing this up and getting her killed…if she isn’t dead already?” The governor wasn’t known to beat around the bush, but there wasn’t a soul present that could believe he was so obtuse.
“I won’t screw this up, governor.” Ben tried to hold his temper. “As for my word…” He paused, then said, “I can guarantee you that my word means more than anything you could ever comprehend.” Ben looked straight into the governor’s eyes. It was a look that took the man by surprise. He knew the look was coming from someone who knew more than he was supposed to know about how things really worked.
“Do I know you from somewhere?” he asked Ben. Something was now starting to formulate in the governor’s mind, something about this cop from Santa Cruz that reminded him of something he couldn’t quite grasp.
“A long time ago, Mr. Governor,” Ben replied. “Another time, another place. For now, let’s just concentrate on what we can do to help your daughter.”
“What can I do to help?”
“Just make sure we can do our jobs, and keep everybody out of our way,” Ben said flatly. “I think I have an idea how to identify his next moves. If I’m right, we may actually have a chance to catch Mr. Smith.”
“And save my daughter.”
“Yes, sir. And save your daughter. We’ll keep in touch.”
When they left the mansion, both Cheryl and Captain Black wanted to know what was going on with Ben. He seemed to be in some kind of trance. They wanted to know about the history between the two men. Ben told them only enough to get them off his back. He had work to do, and they would just have to wait before he brought them up to speed.
Do you know who I am, Ms. Alexander? Do you know what has happened to you? My name is Mr. Smith. Yesss, Ms. Alexander, the very same Mr. Smith you and the entire world have been hearing about on the news. The very same one that has killed and tortured and been telling a certain detective where to find those bodies. I am that very same Mr. Smith. And now, young lady, it’s your turn. Now it’s time for you to decide if you are going to live…or how you might die.
Ms. Alexander, I know you can hear me. I know you are awake. You need not worry about seeing anything right now. I have your eyes taped shut. I also have you restrained so that you will not do anything so stupid it will get you killed.
You are not required to speak. I really don’t care to hear what you may have to say. However, I have things to say that you may very well be interested in hearing. I implore you to listen carefully and remember my words. They could very well save your life.
There is a strong possibility that you are going to die. This will happen because your father is a greedy and stupid man. He is the reason your mother is dead, you know. And he will be the cause of your death as well. Oh, don’t get me wrong. To the world he will be a caring and loving father that wants his little girl brought home safely. But we both know that what he does behind closed doors is entirely different. He’s going to exploit your disappearance. He’s going to take advantage of this tragic event so that he can further his career. At least he will try to. And because of his greed, you might die. I just wanted you to know that, Ms. Alexander.
Of course, there are other ways for you to die. You could die by your own hand. You could try to escape. What you need to know Ms. Alexander is that this entire place is set with lethal traps that will either kill you instantly or slowly and painfully. Any attempt to move from where you are right now will cause one or more of them to bring your life to an end.
Then again, someone could try to save you. Should they get so far as to find your location, which is possible if they’re smart enough, they will kill you in their attempt.
Any of those means is entirely satisfactory as far as I’m concerned. I really hope that they do find you. It would mean so very much to me to see you die by the hands of your saviors.
However, let us not digress so much into those things. You are here for a reason. You are here because I want your father to do something for me. I want him to help me expose something that he and many of those in power try to keep secret. The price for his cooperation is your life. Tell me, Ms. Alexander. Will he let you live and sacrifice his career? Or will he let you die as he did your mother?
My bet goes to the greed. What about yours?
You will be here for a while. You may be here for a few days. Then again, you may be here for a few weeks—that is entirely up to your father. I have no intension of caring for you. I will give you enough food and water to last you for the duration of your stay. You are in a cage within a cage. The inner cage is yours to explore. The outer cage is entirely for containment purposes. All you need is inside the inner cage. There is no light for you to see. You will need to feel your way. How you spend your time is up to you. You may even try to escape. I will not be here to stop you. But listen carefully, because I will only say this once. You may live through this if you and your father cooperate.
Now. For the rules. The food and water you have been supplied with will last you—should you be conservative—about two weeks. I’m sorry but there are no toilet facilities, so you will have to work that out on your own. Outside the cage there are motion sensors, laser light sensors, and noise sensors. Yelling may get you noticed. It will also get you killed. I suggest you keep your voice down. At the end of two weeks, all of the devises will shut off, and you will be free to leave without harm. You must decide when you have been here long enough.
Now you are going to go to sleep. I will then remove your restraints, and you’ll be free to do what you will. I do hope, for your sake, that you can manage more patience than you have been reputed to show. By the way, should your father decide not to comply, it won’t matter how much patience you have.
Are you are a believer in God, Ms. Alexander? Do you think that your immortal soul is destined for a place beautiful and serene? Do you somehow think that this God of yours will protect you from someone like me? You may be right, you know. Others have believed what you believe, but they were wrong. Their God failed them. Those brave souls are now dead. However, I don’t have any desire to change you or your beliefs, so you may want to spend as much of your time in prayer as possible.