It’s time for you to stop thinking, detective. It’s time you started feeling. You can change the lives of millions if you would only let go of what you’ve been taught.
You are a leader among men. It’s tragic you’ve shaded yourself behind your pain. I know you wouldn’t believe me, but you could be the President. You could rule the world if we worked together and you allowed me to clear your path. You have an iron will and a pure heart. The world needs a man like you to guide it to a better place—A place where someone like me would never be needed.
For now, though, feel your past and let go of your pain. Your future and the future of those you care for are depending on it.
Mr. Smith had taken every step possible to see to it that if Ben followed his path, he would find the girl. He wanted her found. Even more, he needed her found alive. He certainly wasn’t a man of God, but he had faith. He believed in the laws of the universe. He had faith that when he woke in the morning, the sun would rise. He had faith that if he fell from a 20-story building, gravity would be confirmed. And right now, he had faith that Detective Benjamin Simeon would find this girl. Somewhere in the deep recesses of his being, he had faith in this man. There was a kinship that had started to mature between them. He was now starting to understand the mission. He was the only one who could understand. In his own warped and twisted way, he was glad knowing the detective. Maybe the world would learn from them both. Yes, that was something he had faith in as well.
It was shortly after three o’clock, and Ben was sitting at his temporary desk in San Jose. But just like every other time he had sat down over the last hour, it didn’t last long. He had to do something. He didn’t know what it was, but time was running out, and there was a girl’s life in the balance.
The phone rang, and Ben was told that the list he had requested was ready. Everyone was meeting in five minutes to review the missing persons that qualified. He called Sue Garrison at the Santa Cruz precinct and asked her if they had heard anything new regarding the material he’d gone over with her earlier. He had told her about the letter and filled her in on the meeting, and she had told him about the evidence discovered and the lack of a solution from the FBI. The momentary good feeling disappeared when she told him the last part. He wanted to know if she had any suggestions. She surprised him with her theory. Ben told her to run with it, make sure that she told no one what she was doing, and call him as soon as she got the answer.
When they were ready to hang up, Sue wanted to make sure he was okay. The question wasn’t coming from a co-worker. Ben was already beginning to understand the differences in her tonal signatures. She was asking as a lover, and the thought sent a warm feeling through him.
Tonight, Jennie White and her son were going to die. Her part is finished, and they are no longer useful. It’s a shame, Mr. Smith thought. He briefly thought about letting her live. It was a very brief thought. She would be able to identify at least some aspects of who he was with some degree of accuracy. She had never seen him without a disguise, but she would be able to provide details that would help the cops narrow their search. That, of course, was a risk he was not willing to take.
So tonight, my dear, you will never again have to worry about your son or yourself. I will end your suffering. And because you have been loyal, I will make both of your deaths as painless as possible. That is the least I can do for you.
“So what do we have?” Ben was being handed the list of candidates to look over.
“Given the parameters you’ve established,” Agent Conley began, “there are thirteen girls that meet your criteria. I took the liberty of expanding the constraints of ages, distance, and length of time to go back over what you established and came up with another list for you to at least consider.” He handed the list to Ben, showing no signs that what he had done was anything less than doing his job.
Ben held the new list in his right hand and compared it to the one he had requested. The new list had 38 possibilities, and the thought of trying to tackle a job of that magnitude within the given time was more than Ben could handle.
“If you will please, all of you, take this new list and hold it up in front of you with both hands,” Ben said, addressing the group. He looked around the room, demonstrating what he meant.
They looked at him, not really sure what to expect. Eventually, they followed his lead.
“Good,” he continued. “Now grasp it firmly, and tear it up like this.” He started ripping the list first in half, then quarters, then into small pieces. Without any concern for the opinion of his fellow team members, he threw the confetti at the FBI agent. Conley jumped up from his chair and drew back his fist to strike Ben. Cheryl intervened and got between the two men.
“Sit down!” she yelled at Conley. When he hesitated, she repeated her words. “I said sit down!”
Reluctantly, Conley did as he was told.
Turning to Ben, Cheryl said, “Just what the hell do you think you’re doing? The man was only trying to help and you act like that? If you expect us to work with you then you need to treat us with the same respect you expect from us.” She was only inches from Ben’s face, her face flush with anger.
Ben couldn’t help but think about the old movie line, “You’re cute when you get angry.” Instead, he smiled. “If you would be so kind as to take a seat, I’ll explain myself to all of you.”
Reluctantly, Cheryl sat down.
“There are a couple of reasons why I just did that. First, I thought I’d made myself clear at our last meeting when I said that if you folks are going to work with me then it has to be my way. To a person, every one of you said that you wanted to be a part of the team and would do whatever I said so we could catch this sonofabitch. I wanted to see if you really meant it or were just pacifying me for the moment. I guess I got my answer.” Ben’s face was flush with anger, but he was able to control his anger to make sure his words would not only be heard, but also understood. “Second, if you think that pissed you off, then you’re going to be in for a rude awakening when this whole thing starts to unfold. Third, and this is probably the most important, I asked for the parameter the way I did for very specific reasons; they’re called logistics. We have a girl that, as far as we know, is still very much alive. The killer has never told us a lie we’ve been able to verify, and we can’t take a chance thinking he’s changed now. The governor’s daughter may or may not be alive, but we have to go with what we know and act accordingly.
“Logistic number one: we only have so much manpower. Logistic number two: we only have until 5:30 to find her. Logistic number three: if we go outside the radius specified, given the first two logistics, we won’t be able to get to her before the deadline. My friends, once she’s dead, she’s dead. The clock no longer matters. If she isn’t on the list, she’s going to be dead anyway. Mr. Smith wants us to find her. If that’s the case, he isn’t going to make it impossible for us to succeed. This is a test for us all—not by me, but by Mr. Smith. He knows every detail of what we do and how we go about doing it. He knows how long it takes us to do our jobs. By running two separate searches as you did, Agent Conley, the extra twenty minutes could be the difference between life and death for a victim. Or maybe even one of us.
“So, Dr. Johnson, I don’t know if that helps you with my rationale and, frankly, I don’t give a damn if it does or not. What I do know is that when I ask for something, I expect it exactly the way I ask. Any questions? If not, then let’s get to the job at hand. We’re running out of time.”
When Laurie Brady woke, she was totally confused. She expected to be dead. Yet if she was dead, why was she hurting so much? The room was dark—not totally, but dark enough for her to be disoriented. Her arm was hurting as never before. She couldn’t move, and as she woke further, she realized that she was being restrained. Her eyes focused, eventually finding a luminary object about ten feet from where she was lying. It was a clock, and it was counting backwards. At that moment, it read 2:13:17; the 17 represented seconds and they were counting down. What they meant, she didn’t know.
There was now less than two and a half hours to go before the deadline. The group was looking to Ben for answers.
“We start by calling each one of the missing girl’s homes,” Ben said. “Ask whoever answers to lift the mat and see if there’s anything there. Make sure that if anything is there for them not to touch it. We’ll send someone to pick it up.”
“What do you want us to do if there’s no one home?” the captain asked. “This is heavy traffic time, and getting to everyone is going to be a logistical nightmare.”
“I know.” Ben knew that to get the job done they would have to go outside the task force. “We’ll need a coordinator to work with the local police and have them go door to door for us. Just make sure that all of ’em use proper techniques when handling the envelope. Captain Black, I want you to handle this. Conley, I want you to light a fire under the asses of forensics. We need something that we can work with, and so far they haven’t given us shit. Tell them that if they can’t find anything with what they have, then go back over everything again. There’s something there, and I want them to find it yesterday. “Cheryl.” Ben looked at her. “You need to help me figure out what to say to the world. I’m going to do this his way. All of you need to know that. I’m going to need everything on each one of the victims. He gave me one clue. He said look in the mirror and ask myself which one of these girls I would really want to save. I’m sure that one of them just might stand out and make sense to me. Let’s get started, people.”
When Sue Garrison looked at the prints that Ben had sent to her, something seemed different from the prints she reviewed on a regular basis. When she heard that the feds hadn’t found the information they were looking for from either the NCIC or Interpol, Sue realized what she had suspected. The prints were too small for an adult, and she hoped her suspicions were correct. She decided to look into the possibility that whomever they belonged to had been taken for child recovery and not yet logged into the system.
In San Jose, her hunch proved correct. It took a while to find them, but they were there. Sue was ecstatic. This could be the first real progress on the case, and she wasn’t about to discuss it over the phone. She had to see Ben to give him the information personally. Besides, she couldn’t help but want to be there when this all went down.
The meeting was over, and the team had dispersed to their duties. Besides Ben, Corey Fox was the one person left in the room. Ben was pleased to see him, especially after the captain told Ben that Corey was now part of the task force. He liked Corey—respected him. Under other circumstances, Corey would be beyond reproach. Yet with this case, something was different. Ben didn’t have time to worry about why, at least not yet. He would talk to his friend, asking him directly. “Okay, Corey.” Ben looked into his friend’s eyes. “What the hell’s going on? Why are you really here?”
Corey had been asking himself this same question from the moment he’d volunteered for the assignment. How would he answer Ben when the question was posed? And he knew it would come. Ben’s skills as an observer had improved. Corey had not expected the question to come so soon…or so blatantly. Corey answered the only way he could: honestly.
“I’m here to spy on you.” Corey could have answered in more detail, but to do so would be uncharacteristic. He wanted to see whether Ben would accept his response or fly off the handle. If the latter were the case, he would have no choice but to suggest that the governor put together new different team.
Ben paused to take in his friend’s words. It didn’t take him long to realize that Corey had been placed in a difficult situation. It was a position that he himself wouldn’t have wanted to have to deal with if the roles had been reversed.
“I’m assuming that the governor put you up to this,” Ben said. He had, after all, expected the governor to do something along these lines. “What did he promise you?” Ben was testing his friend. The answer Corey had given him was a little too prepared for Ben’s comfort. He figured his friend was telling the truth, but he wanted to find out just how much he could still trust Corey, given the stakes.
“Actually,” Corey replied, “he wanted to offer me a lot. You know, a high position and all that. And of course, I accepted his offer.” Corey waited a moment, then broke into one of his patented smiles. Just as suddenly, his smile faded, and his face became quite serious. “Before you get too worked up about it, I decided that I needed to do this for a far greater reason. He was going to get someone in here to do this anyway. I figured that I could at least control the information that flows to him and cover your ass as best I can. So I volunteered. I told him that if he tries to send in anyone else, you’d know that the guy would be his lackey, and the information might be tainted. That maybe you might not be as forthcoming with information. I, on the other hand, could get information from you that you might not be ready to give to stranger. Besides,” he continued, “if I can get something out of it, too, then what the hell.”
Both men laughed.
When the laughter died, there was a short pause, then Ben said, “Welcome to the team, my friend.” The men shook hands, then pulled into a big bear hug.
They separated, and Ben looked at his friend. “I want you to report to the governor just like clock work. But I want you to discuss whatever you’re going to tell him with both Cheryl and myself before you do so. We’ll give as much as we can, but I’m not going to make this a political fiasco or a way for him to get himself elected President. That clear?”
Corey thought he wouldn’t have it any other way. “You da boss man.” And he gave Ben another of his shit-eating grins.
The clock was counting down from 2:00:13. Laurie Brady still couldn’t see anything beyond the red glow of the clock. She still couldn’t move, and her left arm ached more than anything she’d ever felt in her life. She wasn’t dead; she knew that now. Why she wasn’t dead was still a mystery, but she wasn’t dead and that was all that mattered for the moment.
At 2:00:00 Laurie felt a shock to her system as a bell clanged in her ears and bright lights flashed on to blind her. Her eyes had been fully dilated due to the dark, and she had not expected them to come on. The pain that shot through her head was worse than any headache she could imagine. For a moment, she forgot about the pain of what she would soon discover was a severed hand.
It took nearly five minutes for the pain in her head to subside. The lights were so bright that they literally penetrated her eyelids. Her head had been restrained so she couldn’t move it to avoid them.
Now squinting through her cracked lids, she saw that she was in a large room, maybe a warehouse. The pain in her left arm forced her to look in that direction. Tears came to her eyes as she now saw what she had started to suspect. The fiend, whoever he was, had taken great care in making sure that she could see her raised arm even through eyes that were all but closed.
Tears began to fall, and then she sobbed. She was not going to be frozen to death, as this madman had told her. She was now sure she would die a much more horrible death. She forced herself to look more now. The clock showed the time left for her to live, and even if it meant that she would die in pain, she wanted to see everything that those precious moments would offer.
Laurie Brady looked straight up. At first what she saw didn’t make any sense. She saw the bar above her. She also saw the posts, or what she thought were posts, standing to either side of her head. But it wasn’t until her eyes focused on the shiny, smooth metal blade that her senses registered her fate. Laurie screamed with all her might. She screamed, prayed, and then screamed some more.
As Ben reviewed the information on the missing girls, the calls started coming back from officers throughout the targeted territory. So far, everyone had drawn a blank. There were no notes or envelopes, as had been described by Mr. Smith. Ben realized that time was running short. Wherever the missing girl was located, they would need at least an hour from the time the envelope was located until they could reach her. Ben was having doubts that they would reach her in time.
Three times now Ben had reviewed the list. Three times he had drawn a blank. Nothing was making sense, and it was becoming more and more frustrating. He had placed the last known addresses on a map to get a visual at each missing girl. The map showed no pattern that he could ascertain.
Almost as if something was guiding his eyes, he looked at one of the addresses that seemed familiar. It didn’t make any sense just yet, but he started looking closely at an address in South San Francisco. What is it? Ben wondered. What is so special about that address? Ben was transfixed on something that didn’t seem to mean anything.
Cheryl walked by his door and poked her head in. “Any luck, Ben?”
“Come here a second, Cheryl. Help me out.”
As she walked closer to Ben, Cheryl saw his map and the pins he’d used to mark each girl’s location. “What’s up?” she asked, still taking in the transformation of the room since she had last been in there less than an hour earlier.
“I can’t put this thing together, Cheryl. He said that I should pick the one that I would most want to save. I’ve read every one of these folders several times now, and none of them seem to stand out over the others. I want to save them all. The way it’s going right now, I don’t think I’m going to be able to save any of them.”
Cheryl could easily read the frustration and terrible burden Ben had placed on his own shoulders. She needed to help him, and the only way she knew how was to get him away from what was directly in front of him. She took his hand and tugged lightly for him to follow.
They walked to the other side of the room, and she pulled out a chair for him to sit. She made sure that when he sat, Ben was faced away from the map.
“Talk to me, Ben,” she said softly, looking into his eyes. He was tired. He was scared. But Cheryl also knew that she had to help him past the block he had placed in front of himself. “Tell me about your wife and daughter.” She knew when she said it that it would shock his system. She had no choice. There was no time for diplomacy. He held the key to that one child, and she had to help him find it.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Ben demanded. “I don’t want to talk about that right now. This fucking job is hard enough without bringing that shit up.”
“Maybe that’s exactly what you need to be thinking about right now. You’re trying to find this girl based on what you know about her. The answer isn’t there. The answer has to do with your wife and daughter. There’s something about them that holds the key, and you’re the only person that knows the answer. So what is it?”
“I don’t know.” His voice still showed signs of irritation.
“Yes you do. Now what is it? What do you know that you’re hiding deep down inside?”
Under most circumstances, this tactic could easily backfire on her, but something told her that the man wouldn’t run from his feelings, not when someone’s life was at stake. Ben would endure whatever pain he had to suffer to save the life of another.
“I tell you I don’t—“
He remembered. At that instant he knew which girl had to be saved.
Ben jumped from his seat, ran to the table, and looked directly at the pin placed in South San Francisco.
“This is the one. This is the one.”
“How do you know?” Cheryl inquired. “Because Kim and I got married just a block from where this girl lives. He wants me to remember that. He wants me to feel his loss. He wants me to remember my pain so I can identify with him.”
Ben made a call for the nearest officer to go to that address. He knew there would be a note; he only prayed that they could find her in time.