Every game, whether in play or in life, has three parts.
The Beginning: This is the part where everything is set into motion. Call it the discovery phase. Here you learn about the tools you will need. You identify the players, including their strengths and weaknesses. You open with a gambit to determine how each player will respond. Once you understand its flow, you move to the next part.
The Middle: Seldom when you take on an opponent can you know everything about him. You can narrow him down to options and alternatives, but you can’t know exactly how he will respond until you put him into play. It’s during this exercise that he will tell you what you need to know to succeed. Will he run and hide? Or will he attack? Is he intellectual? Or does he believe that he alone needs to handle everything? It’s at this time when you can decide your winning moves. Your opponent actually decides his own fate. He will tell you, always, what will be necessary to exploit his weaknesses. With that knowledge, it’s time to play.
The End Game: It is exactly as the name implies. Depending on your opponent, this final stage will happen, and you will accomplish your objective. It may take but a few actions or many. Each situation is different. Be patient. Be diligent. Be observant. Your enemy will always assist you in achieving your purpose.
It’s now time to move into that final phase. My quarry is in place. I know what he will do and how he will respond. So what? Do you know my real objective? Do you think I want to see my detective fail or even fall on his sword? You would be wrong. Watch the master work. See how deception can indeed be a beautiful thing.
“Okay, thanks.” Ben hung up the phone. He had been looking out the window of the helicopter at the passing town lights as they headed back to Santa Cruz. He turned back to the others. “That was the bomb squad people. They said the package was put together with a triggering switch set by remote control. They theorize that if someone other than myself would’ve opened the box, it would have detonated. A lot of people could have died tonight.”
Ben leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He wondered if the others could possibly realize what he was thinking or how he was feeling. He wondered if they really cared.
Ben was on an emotional roller coaster and thought that if he lived through this it would be some kind of a miracle. He had given up on God and the idea of miracles a long time ago. He thought that if there were a God, He must be a cruel puppet master. Otherwise, why would he allow someone like Mr. Smith to even exist, let alone do the things he did?
They arrived back in Santa Cruz and entered the station parking lot. Reporters and news media swarmed them from everywhere. With all that had happened over the last few hours, word was out that Ben was back on the case, and they were desperate to hear from the local hero. For reasons Ben couldn’t understand, the public perceived him as the one they could believe and trust to solve this atrocity. They needed to hear from him. They needed someone in whom to rest their hopes.
Without asking anyone’s advice for how to approach all of this, Ben stopped at the top of the steps and turned to the reporters. He needed them to understand what they were up against. He needed them to understand that, after all was said and done, Mr. Smith might not be captured without their help.
When Ben started to speak, everybody got quiet.
“I want everyone here to know where things stand as of now,” he started. “As you know, Frances Alexander, the governor’s daughter, has been kidnapped. We’re now certain that the person responsible is the same person who calls himself Mr. Smith. We also believe that Ms. Alexander is still alive.” Ben paused. He wanted to make sure his words were exactly what he wanted to say. “I have a confession to make. Right now we have no idea who Mr. Smith is. Thus far he has committed murder and kidnapping on a scale that is unsurpassed. Not because of the number of victims, but because of the way he has been able to do this and leave virtually no traceable clues for us to use in his apprehension. I’m not telling you this because we have no hope. I’m doing so because we need your help. Someone out there knows who this person is. Someone other than Mr. Smith has been contacting us, letting us know where some of the letters can be located. My guess is that you are doing this because you are being forced to comply. You are fearful of death, either for yourself or for a loved one. Personally, I don’t know what I would do if I were in your shoes. Even as a police officer, if I were to have to do something because of what this person was saying to me, I don’t know if I could trust the police to protect me or not. Mr. Smith has proven to be an extremely resourceful, intelligent individual who has no qualms about killing. What I can tell you is this: until he’s captured, your life and those of your loved ones are in peril. I can’t promise anything other than my commitment that if you help us, we’ll use every resource available to protect you from the guy terrorizing you and those you love. Only you know what you’re up against. What I know is that when this person is finished with you, there will be absolutely no incentive for him to let you live.”
Ben didn’t wait for any questions from the reporters. He immediately turned and walked into the station house, hoping that the mysterious woman who had been contacting him from the beginning had heard his words.
Jennie White had been listening. She knew exactly whom the detective was speaking to. She knew he was right. She knew that she and her son were going to die. She needed to figure out how to get to him and prayed that if she did, he could indeed protect both her baby and herself. She didn’t know how to do it, though. She knew that Mr. Smith would kill her if he could, and she believed he could. And if she did manage to get to the police, Jennie would have to tell them everything. At the very least, they’d put her in jail. In either case, everything she wanted in life would be destroyed.
But Jennie hadn’t been the only one listening to the plea for help. In a darkened room not far away, Mr. Smith had watched Ben Simeon’s plea. He knew that Jennie would break eventually. He knew that she was weak and that he would kill her and her son. But did he have the ability to use her one more time? Would she be able to respond to his demands this one last time? Should he even try? That was what he loved about this game. There were always some elements that could not be controlled one hundred percent of the time. A decision had to be made, and it would be the end of Jennie White and her son, no matter which he chose. Of course, he could use another like Jennie, he knew. But over the years he’d learned that the fewer involved, the fewer he’d have to kill to clean up after himself.
Ben had decided to wait until returning to tell Sue Garrison she was a member of the team. In his mind, she had always been a part of it. Now he needed to discuss the reality of what might be in store for her. He told Sue that he wanted to go for a walk, that he needed to get some air and he would really like her company. Not only would the work be more difficult, there was also the very real possibility that her life would be in danger. They walked and talked for the better part of an hour, discussing the case and the part she would now be playing.
“I understand what you’re saying, Ben, but, realistically speaking, I don’t see my risks being that much greater now than they were before. If you think that just because I’m going to be working with you that I’m taking some additional chance, I don’t see how. If anything, my risks diminish. At least being a part of the group, I’ll know everything that everyone else knows. I’ll have more information to work with when it comes to taking care of myself. Otherwise, I’d be in the dark and not know when he might be coming after me.”
“I hear what you’re saying, Sue, and you may be right. I just wanted you to know what you’d be dealing with. I don’t want you taking any undue chances.”
“I understand, but if we’re ever going to catch this guy, we have a lot of work to do. Too much for you to try doing it alone. Let’s get to work.”
Ben had told her his plans for finding the killer. What he needed to do required her to put some information together outside the traditional scope of information gathering. She needed to look into every known victim killed thus far. It wasn’t just the people that had died; she needed to discover everything she could about the people closest to them—all of their histories and who, besides the victims, had suffered the most from their deaths. Though detailed and time consuming, the plan was actually quite simple: find the ones that would have been involved with his personal losses. Then see if they were being duplicated in the life of somebody else. If Ben were correct, then he could understand the why behind the murders. More importantly, if he were lucky, he would also know who it was. Maybe—just maybe—they could get lucky enough to stop this guy once and for all.
There was a war at hand. Ben knew that now. He knew all about war. He had lived it for years. He had lived it in the military, but he had also lived it right here. If there were going to be a war, then he needed to prepare for it. He needed to have the tools and the team to win. He knew what to do. He hadn’t started this war, but if he had to be a part if it, he would fight with every ounce of his being. It was time to start doing what he’d been hoping to avoid.
Ben watched Sue leave as she prepared for the job at hand. He walked to his office and picked up the phone to make a call that nobody, even Sue, would ever know about.
It was nearly five in the morning when the killer startled Jennie awake. His hand was firmly placed over her mouth. The sharp, cold steel of the knife was again at her throat. The difference this time was its location. When Jennie had seen Ben on the news—seen that he believed her life was over—she had decided that, at least for a couple of days, she would go to a hotel with her son and get away from the intruder in her life. She’d thought she would be safe. She hadn’t known that he would be able to find her easily. He was there on top of her, holding her tightly against the bed. She didn’t know he’d secreted a GPS locator in her purse. He always knew where she was.
Her son was next to her on the other bed, fast asleep.
“If he wakes up, Jennie, you both die. I suggest you be very quiet. Do you understand me, Jennie?”
She hated how he called her by name over and over again. She hated it, but would never tell him. It made her skin crawl.
Jennie shook her head slowly. Her body was shaking, and she couldn’t get it to stop.
“Listen very carefully, dear Jennie,” the man said in a hoarse whisper. “It wasn’t very smart to try getting away from me. That is what you were trying to do, isn’t it? Get away from me? I was hoping I would be able to trust you, Jennie. I thought you would want to save the life of your son. But it seems that you are not as smart a girl as I thought you were. I thought the last time we were together, Jennie, that you understood that you couldn’t escape me. I thought the little marks on your beautiful breasts would remind you that you are mine, to do with whatever I choose. Now you leave me no choice. Now your son must die, and you are going to watch that happen. You are going to see the horror on his face as the pain I inflict washes over him. You are going to see the pain that you have caused, Jennie.”
He paused to let his words would sink in. He felt her fear. He smelled the terror ooze from the sweat pouring from her body.
The room was dark, and Jennie could not see the smile that crossed his lips.
Her voice refused to comply on her first attempt to speak. The second try wasn’t much better, but she finally gurgled a plea. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve done everything you’ve told me to do. Tell me what you want me to do for you.”
“Do you think your life means anything to me, Jennie? Did you think I would hesitate to kill either of you? You know who I am. You are not a stupid girl, Jennie. That is one of the reasons I decided to use you in the first place. You are smart, and you have a lot to lose. Do you think the police can protect you from me? They can’t protect you. I am inside the law. I am immune to their rules. I can see everything they do and how they do it. Do you believe me, Jennie?”
Jennie’s mind was racing. She understood very well that the man hovering over her was capable of anything. He worked by a standard that was nothing short of the worst the devil himself could muster. She didn’t know just how far into the police he could get, but she did believe that he was able to find out things most people were incapable of discovering. The one thing she knew for certain was that her time on earth would quickly run out if she continued doing for this monster everything he wanted her to do.
“I don’t know anything,” she started, “except that I want my son. I know that if I don’t do what you ask that your going to the police is the least of my concerns. I know that you’ll kill us both. I’ll do whatever you want so that we can live. I’ve done everything you’ve wanted and will continue to do whatever you want. Just let us live. Please!”
She said it louder than she should have. Her son rolled over and started mumbling in his sleep. Jennie was starting to panic when he suddenly stopped talking. The room became silent once again.
“I have one more note for you to give to Detective Simeon,” he finally told her. “If everything goes the way I’ve planned, you’ll no longer have to do anything for me. Do you think you can do this one last thing without screwing up, Jennie? Do you think you are capable of following my rules this one last time?” The voice was hissing at her now. Though she couldn’t see his face, she smelled his breath as he leaned in mere inches from her.
Jennie shook her head affirmatively. She needed time to figure out how to escape this monster. She wasn’t sure how she was going to do it, but she knew that both her life and the life of her son depended on her being smart enough to figure it out.
“Good,” he hissed. “When you wake in the morning, there will be a message for you to deliver. I expect you to do your job well, Jennie. Your life depends on it. Both of your lives.”
He removed the knife from her throat and started to rise. This time, instead of placing the cloth over her face and making her fall to sleep, he crossed his chest with his right arm, made a gloved fist and then hit her squarely with the back of that fist on the side of her face.
Jennie never saw it coming. She felt the impact, the pressure, then everything went black.
Not for a moment did Mr. Smith trust her beyond this last job. He would kill her tonight, he thought. He would kill them both. They were no longer useful to him, and she was his weakest link. That would end tonight.
Ben heard the knock on his door just as he hung up the phone. It was Cheryl Johnson, and she didn’t seem very happy.
“You’re holding out on me, Ben,” she said accusingly. “You know something that you’ve been holding onto, and I want to know what it is.”
She sat down in the chair facing him and crossed her arms. She had a look of determination that gave Ben the impression that she wasn’t going to take some sort of superficial excuse from him this time. But Ben wasn’t in a hurry to let her in on his thoughts…at least not yet.
“Would you mind being a little more specific, Cheryl?” Ben hoped she would lead him in a direction away from his guilt.
“You know damn well what I mean, Ben!” she said in a huff. “When we were at the governor’s place, you said something that, at first, I thought was just your way of giving the governor something to hope for. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. I’ve concluded that you really do know something that you’re not telling us, something that could be critical to this case. I want to know what it is.”
Ben thought about her words for a moment, knew that she hadn’t left him a whole lot of room to squirm. He decided that telling her part of what was on his mind was necessary. He wasn’t sure why he was being so paranoid with her, but something told him that to discuss the truly vital aspects of his thoughts would be a mistake. Ben was right, but for the wrong reasons. He didn’t know that someone not far from where he was now standing could hear almost everything he said.
Sometimes even the paranoids have their reasons.