To make change, one of two things must happen: repetition or significant emotional impact. No one in the killing business has the luxury of the time it takes for repetition. It’s one and done.
That, of course, leaves significant emotional impact as my only resource for the changes I seek. The problem, as I’m sure you can see, is that with politicians and billionaires around every corner, anything, including murder, can be minimized and made insignificant.
They cannot minimize me any more. The story is too big. The eyes are too open to squash my resolve. Now they have to change. The emotions are too high and the lights too bright to hide in the shadows. Let me teach you how you, too, can be heard and make a difference.
It was a few minutes before eleven in the morning when Ben got the call. Lisa Adams was talking so fast that Ben had to calm her to get her to repeat what she’d said. He told her to stay where she was and not touch anything, he would be there in about 45 minutes. He grabbed Cheryl Johnson, and with the sirens blaring it actually took them less than 30.
Ben was now of the opinion that his ratty police car could make the trip on automatic pilot. He had made the trip to San Jose more in the last week than he had in the last two years.
When they arrived, Ben could tell that Lisa was anxious. Several other patrol cars were already on location. Ben had called ahead to the San Jose police captain and told him to make sure that nobody else contaminated the scene. Before Ben could ask her anything, Lisa rushed up to him and put her arms around him. She was shaking, holding on for dear life.
“Are you alright?” Ben asked. He didn’t understand why this was getting to her so much. All he knew was that another letter had shown up. What he didn’t know about was the package also delivered or its contents.
“No.” Lisa’s breathing was ragged, like she was about to hyperventilate.
Ben motioned for one of the officers to escort Lisa aside, then walked over to her car. On the passenger’s seat were a letter and a package. The package had been opened. Apparently Lisa’s curiosity had gotten the best of her. Ben put on the usual rubber gloves to avoid contaminating the scene any more than it already was. He opened the package; inside was something Ben might normally have been shocked by: a woman’s left hand. These weren’t normal times. The index finger had a ring on it, and Ben recognized it immediately as the one described by the governor. It was the ring his daughter had been wearing when she was taken.
Ben closed his eyes, dreading the call he had to make. He had to concentrate on the work ahead and figured that he would put the call to the governor off as long as he could. He picked up the package and placed it into a large plastic bag. He would have forensics confirm identification as soon as possible; he would make the call then. That would buy him some time.
Walter Conley and Captain Black arrived on the scene soon after. They made arrangements to acquire a location for the team to review the letter and any other new information.
Corey Fox was close when he got a message that he needed to go to KRIC-TV in San Jose instead of the Santa Cruz Police Department. Captain Black had been contacted by the California state chief of police and told to place Corey on the team; it was a direct order from the governor. By the time Corey arrived on the scene, the meeting was just getting underway, and Captain Black had yet to tell Ben the orders. Corey would say he was just fashionably late.
“Welcome, Corey!” Ben was surprised by his friend’s appearance, but let it pass. He figured that Corey had somehow managed to get away, and Ben could certainly use his friend, no matter the reason.
Corey found a seat in the small conference room, and Ben began the meeting. In front of him was the new letter; actually, it was a copy of the original made after being opened and placed in plastic. The original had been sent to the labs for inspection. Ben read the letter to the group.
Dear Detective Simeon,
Once, again we have to make an impression on those who falsely believe that they are in control of this state of affairs. Once again, it seems that the arrogance of our leaders has proven to be predictable. Once again, they have managed to cause more harm than good by sticking their Pinocchio where they do not belong. You would think that by now someone would decide, for the good of society, that position does not automatically equate to intelligence. I am concerned that no matter what I do, the message will never be discovered.
Time is running out for us all, detective. Soon, I will be forced to take steps more far-reaching than those you have already witnessed. Death will reign across the land, and you will be complicit because you have been unable to make people understand why this is happening. You will be responsible for my actions. Not because you haven’t found me—that is something I don’t believe you will be able to accomplish. Rather you will be responsible because you have not spoken for us and others like us. Somewhere inside, you know what I am saying. How many more will have to die before you speak the truth and teach the world what needs to be taught? You have the power to stop the killing. Seize that power and make life better for us all.
I have missed seeing you on the television. Did you enjoy your short break? I am sure you needed the respite. However, we have much to do, and as I have already declared, time is running out.
I have a few surprises for you over the next couple of days. The first is what you have already received. The package contains both truth and fiction. You must decide quickly if you will believe what you see or trust your instincts. You know me. You know all about what it is that makes me do what I do. A life hangs in the balance, and it depends on you being able to make the right decision about what you have received. Save her if you dare.
The second is this: don’t be so certain that what you see is reality. Many of those you believe you can trust, you cannot. Look around you, Detective Simeon. Look into the eyes of those you trust, and ask yourself if they are truly trustworthy. Will they be there for you when you have to make choices at the critical moment? Some of them can; however, some cannot. You must decide which of those present you can trust with your life.
Third, you must forget about the governor’s daughter. She is safe and unharmed. The governor will try to hurt you, and he will try to remove you from working with me. You must trust me and know that I will guide you through this maze unharmed. I will save you from the supercilious officials that believe in nothing but their own ways. If you fail in your instincts, you will lose more than you can possibility imagine. We are at a junction in the road. Which way will you travel? Whom will you follow?
Your message tonight will be simple: tell the world which path you will follow. Tell the public what you know and what you believe to be true. Your words will decide what I do next. This will be your only chance to impact my actions. Either way, I will succeed. I look forward to hearing your message.
Now, about the life you can save. There is a young woman who needs to meet you. She has disappeared recently and believes she has died. You can bring her back to life. The only suggestion I will give you is to look in the mirror and ask yourself this question, “Which of these girls would I really want to save?” This girl’s location is hidden under a porch mat outside her back door.
You have until 5:30 to save the girl. I will wait for your answer tonight on the six o’clock news.
I wish you and the girl the best.
The room was quiet for an unusually long. Finally, Ben spoke.
“Okay, it looks like the intensity level has been raised a notch or two. Does anybody have any suggestions?”
“Does he actually expect us to stop looking for the governor’s daughter?” Conley asked. “That is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard.” He was talking more to himself by that point, But the nodding of heads around the room left little doubt that most agreed with the assessment.
“I think I can answer that,” Cheryl responded. “He doesn’t expect us to stop doing anything we’ve been doing from the beginning, and that’s the point. We’ve been doing things the way we have been because of trusted and tested methods of solving crimes. But no matter how good these methods are, they’re inadequate when the person causing the crimes is familiar these very methods. He seems to know we’re going to fail because he’s setting us up to fail.”
“How?” Captain Black asked.
Instead of waiting for Cheryl to answer, Ben interrupted her. “By using false leads that will take us anywhere but where we need to go. By using trickery and planting evidence that will lead us in the wrong direction. By giving us so much information that it will be next to impossible to narrow down our prospects. He’s been throwing so much at us and creating time constraints that take our focus away from him. And now he’s forcing our hands. Correction—he’s forcing my hand. Inevitably what he wants is for me to make changes in how crimes are investigated, laws changed—I’m not sure what just yet. The other thing he wants is a showdown with me. He wants all of you to do what you’ve been doing all along, and he wants me to follow a different path. He wants me to turn my back on traditional techniques of law enforcement, and he wants you to turn your backs on me.” Looking directly at Cheryl, he added, “Well, Cheryl. You’re the shrink. Am I right?”
Cheryl’s eyes had been focused on Ben from the moment he started talking. She knew where he was going with his comments. She just wanted to know how strongly he felt about them. When she saw the look in his eyes, she knew what he was going to do. She knew that he was going to have to go this alone. He had no more choices. He was going to follow Mr. Smith. It was their only hope of success. She also knew that the governor, her boss, and anybody else that could possibly have a say in the matter would never allow it. She couldn’t help him, and neither could anybody else.
“Yes, Ben. That’s exactly what he’s saying. He wants us to make changes and knows that it won’t happen unless there are extreme circumstances to force us to do so. The part that bothers me is his willingness to destroy lives to make that happen. The other is sitting back and watching as he destroys you, Ben. He’s had everything planned from the beginning. He knew how we would think, act and move. He’s set the stakes high enough so that we have no choice but to follow his lead or destroy our careers—not mention killing whoever he needs to make his point. He’s now planting doubt by insinuating that some among us are traitors and that our moves are subject to second-guessing. I don’t like this, Ben. I don’t like this at all.”
Cheryl was trying to find the words to change Ben’s mind. She was trying to figure out a way to protect him from this monster, even from himself. And Ben thought about her words carefully. She was making sense, and he could tell that she was being loyal to him. She was not one of the traitors mentioned in the letter, he thought. What he didn’t know was who was. That bothered Ben. Mr. Smith knew way too much for his liking. Ben wondered how much he knew and how much he was guessing. Were they—correction, was he—so predictable that this person could read his mind and actually know what he was thinking?
“So what do we do now?” the captain asked. “It’s your call, Ben. No matter what any of us has to say, it’s your ass on the line. So tell us what you want to do.”
The room grew quiet. Nobody wanted to interrupt Ben as he thought about how they would proceed.
“There is a girl out there that we have to find, Ben whispered softly. “It has to take a priority even over the governor’s daughter. Maybe the governor’s daughter is alive, or maybe she’s dead. I don’t know.” His voice grew. “But I believe that someone will die soon if we don’t find her. I want everybody focusing on this new person. I want a list of every missing girl within a 50-mile radius of San Jose between the ages of 12 and 25 over the last thirty days.”
“Isn’t that range a little too narrow?” Conley asked. “We usually go back over a longer time frame, have a larger age range and a wider distance from the base area. I just think we need to cover all the bases.”
Ben listened as the agent spoke. He knew that his decisions would be challenged and challenged often. Instead of waiting for the problems to escalate later, he spoke to Conley now.
“Agent Conley, maybe you didn’t hear what Ms. Johnson just said regarding how things have to be from now on. I have to make choices, and I have to make them by myself. It’s my ass on the line here. We only have a few hours to save this girl’s life, and we don’t have the luxury of doing things the way you’re used to doing them. Mr. Smith is not a tolerant man. He’s going to kill a young woman in just a few hours. You have only two choices really: either do things as I say or get the hell out of here and figure things out on your own! Believe me when I say that I could really use your help and cooperation. What I can’t afford right now is having to explain myself to you or anyone else for the choices I make!”
Ben knew he was coming down hard on the agent. He also knew that from this time forward there would not be any room for democracy.
“I am only going to say this once. This is for everyone in this room. Do what I say or leave. I can assure each of you that I have valid reasons for what I am about to do and what I ask you to do for me. But it’s important for each of you to understand that this guy wants to fry my ass. He’s going to do everything in his power to take me down, and that goes for anyone with me. He may even have plans to kill me. And given his track record, I’d say there’s an above average chance that he’ll succeed. If any of you decide to continue working with me, your lives and careers are definitely at stake. You can handle this however you like. I’m the only one who’s been instructed to do things his way. I’ll be breaking from tradition in my approach to capturing this sonofabitch. There’s going to be a tremendous amount of heat from everybody as this goes on, so if you want to do things your way, please feel free. Everyone in this room outranks me. I can’t tell any of you what to do. So unless someone is going to try firing me again, I have no choice but to do what I think is best from this point forward.”
“We know what you’re saying, Ben,” Cheryl said. “We also know what the risks are. I can’t speak for anybody else. That would be presumptuous. But I, for one, am willing to do whatever needs to be done to stop this man.” She looked around the room. “I ask each of you to voice your commitments so we can get to the work ahead of us.”
Each of them agreed to put everything on the line. Nobody wanted Ben to have to work alone or let the brunt of responsibility fall exclusively on his shoulders.
“I want to thank all of you,” Ben said. “Frankly, I think you’re either loyal law enforcement officers or really, really stupid. I’ll reserve judgment about that to some future date.” Everyone laughed, and the tension was broken, at least for the moment. “Now, get me that information and let’s go save this girl.”
The group spoke for another ten minutes before each left to do their specific assignments. Cheryl waited until everyone had left to speak with Ben alone.
“Do you think you can find her?” She wasn’t as concerned about the answer as she was his state of mind. The pressure, she thought, has to be enormous on him. She wanted to see if he was up to the task.
“Actually, yes, I do,” Ben replied with exceptional confidence.
“Why do you think that?” She wanted to understand where he was coming from. They hadn’t been able to do anything positive with the perpetrator up to this point, so why was he so confident now, she wondered.
“That’s easy. We’re going to find her because he wants us to find her. And more important, we’re going to find her alive. He knows that we’re desperate for clues. He knows that if she’s dead, she won’t be able to give us the information he wants her to give us. She has information that he absolutely wants us to have, and that’s why we’re going to find her. He’ll kill her if we don’t show up in time. But to him that merely adds to the drama of his game. He also knows that he has given me enough information to lead me right to her in the nick of time. The bastard has an uncanny awareness of how the system works. I don’t like what he’s doing, and I know that, as a shrink, you’re going to think I’m nuts for saying this, but I have to tell you that I’m impressed with this guy’s intelligence.”
“Then what do you think he meant by his comments regarding the disloyalty with us?”
“I’ll tell you what I think it means. He wants me to trust the way he trusts. He wants me to trust no one but myself. He wants me to second-guess everything I do. He wants to play me the same way he plays his victims. Is there a traitor among us? Maybe. But the threat isn’t that the traitor will go to him. The threat is that the information will go to someone else. Maybe the governor. Maybe your bosses. Hell, the information could be going to the President himself for all I know. Right now the most important thing isn’t for me to worry about covering my ass. The important thing’s to save a girl’s life. That’s all that matters right now. But if you’re wondering if I’m going to follow this maniac blindly. That’s what you’re concerned about, isn’t it? The answer is no. I’m going to use him just like he’s using me. And somehow—I don’t really know how right now—but somehow, I’m going to nail this bastard.”
In the lab there was something new. There was evidence that might just help them find Mr. Smith. So far the evidence didn’t match anything in the FBI files. It was something unseen to the naked eye. It was so small, yet a huge first clue.