Maybe you could think of me as a Zen master. Or Buddha. I enjoy eastern philosophies the most. I don’t much care for Taoism; it’s a little too broad-stroked for my taste. With Zen you are taught to respect everything and everyone. All life is important. I like that. I believe everyone has a purpose and at least some value. Of course, that value can be measured in many ways.
I value the fact that each soul I take teaches me something unique. Even the worst among us can teach us how not to live.
My purpose places me in a unique position to discover the essence of man. I will, in time, share with the world all I know. The knowledge I share will teach man the value of life and the fear of death. Through my eyes you will gain the wisdom of the gods. With that knowledge, you will grow immeasurably…or cower in fear.
“What the fuck is the use being the governor of California if I can’t even protect my own daughter?”
Even though his private office was nearly filled with government officials, including the captain of the state police, Governor Jack Alexander wasn’t yelling at anyone in particular.
“It’s been nearly 24 hours since she was taken!” he continued. “Is there anything new that we can do to find her?” The man looked as if he hadn’t slept for days, and his mannerisms were turning sourer by the minute.
“Not yet,” the captain said. “I wish I could give you better news, sir, but the truth of the matter is there’s virtually nothing for us to go on. Sir, I’ve been involved in this business for nearly forty years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. There’s always something for us to go on. There’s always some sort of evidence. And I know that I should be giving you something positive to focus on. I’ve known you for a long time, sir, and if I know anything, I know that you want the truth, especially now.”
“If I ever hear otherwise, I’ll cut you off at the knees,” the governor replied. “So what do we know so far from our man Fox? Have we heard anything yet?”
“We got a call from him about an hour ago. Seems they got a new note from Mr. Smith and have been given some new demands.”
The governor turned sharply and looked at the captain. “Was there anything in the note about my daughter? What are the demands? Is there a ransom involved? Is she alive? Why the hell didn’t you tell me as soon as you got here?”
“Hold on a second, Mr. Governor.” The captain held up his hands. “Corey—uh, Detective Fox, I mean—just got to the location as they were preparing for a meeting with the task force. All we know at this point is sketchy, and I was waiting for the next call when I’ll have some facts to give you. He should be calling soon, and when he does we’ll know exactly what we have to work with.”
The governor was about to speak when the captain’s cell phone rang.
“Excuse me a second, Mr. Governor. This may be that call.”
Everyone in the room was quiet as the captain answered the phone. For several minutes the captain said “yes” and “uh huh” and “I see.” Finally he said, “Okay, let me know what they find and call me back in two hours.” He closed his phone and looked to the governor. “According to the note, your daughter is alive. It seems that Mr. Smith plans to keep her alive for now, which is very good news, sir. At least that gives us some time to put this together and find her.”
“What else?” the governor demanded. “What haven’t you told me?”
“It seems that Mr. Smith is sending Detective Simeon on a chase to find another victim that’s apparently still alive. He promises to keep your daughter alive as long as he plays the game. If he deviates from the directions he’s been given, he’ll kill Frances. Right now the task force is concentrating on finding this other girl.”
“Sonofabitch!” the governor yelled. “You’re telling me that they’re trying to find some whore instead of looking for my baby girl? Is that what you’re telling me? Who the hell is she? Why’s she so fucking important to take a place ahead of my daughter?”
“They don’t know, sir,” the man replied. “That was the purpose of the meeting. To figure that out and try to save her before time ran out. They also believe that if they can find her alive, she may be able to give them some clues that will help them find Frances and Mr. Smith.”
“God damn it, captain! Don’t they realize that for every minute they waste being led around by their dicks, the harder it’s going to be to find my daughter?”
“Mr. Governor,” the captain replied softly yet firmly. “with all due respect, these people are very good at their jobs,” The governor was extremely emotional right now, and the captain had to keep things from blowing up. “They haven’t forgot about your daughter, sir. They’re doing everything humanly possible to find her and bring her home safe. Mr. Fox will be calling us back in a couple of hours to give us another update. Let’s wait until then to see what progress they’ve made.”
“Two hours,” the governor said, pointing his finger at the captain. “I want you back here in two hours. Tell me what they have. And let me tell you this. If they don’t find the bitch by then, they damn well better have a good fucking reason. You got that?” he yelled. “Now get the hell out of here and do something that resembles police work!”
In all his years as a police officer, the captain had never taken that kind of abuse. He wanted to lash out at the governor, knock some sense into the man, but he realized that would be useless, and the governor would probably have his shield if he did. He turned to leave. As he was walking out the door, the governor yelled again.
“Find my daughter! You hear me? Find her!”
Sue Garrison was racing to KRIC-TV, not realizing that Ben wouldn’t be there. She knew he’d be absolutely thrilled with the information she had for him. Traffic was heavy this time of day. Hell, she thought, traffic was almost always heavy. She couldn’t help wonder why so many people from San Jose worked in Santa Cruz and so many people from Santa Cruz worked in San Jose. Why don’t they just switch jobs and save themselves all that commute time? The economic and oil consumption benefits alone could save enough to fund some third-world country’s budgetary needs.
Her mind was wandering and as she started going around a sharp curve; her car slid, and she almost lost control. That brought her mind back to the job at hand. If I don’t get there alive, I won’t be of much use to Ben, now will I? She slowed down and concentrated on her driving. She needed to see Ben. When Sue arrived, she was told that she had just missed him. He had figured out which girl was in Mr. Smith’s custody, and they were trying to locate her before she was killed. Sue had no choice now but to call him and tell him over the phone. She didn’t like that idea. Something told her that doing so might be a mistake, but not doing so could cost them even more.
When Ben answered the phone, she couldn’t believe how much she’d been missing. She had been focusing so much on her assignment that she’d set aside her feelings for the man; now that she was talking to him, those feelings came flooding back.
“I found it, Ben,” she said excitedly. “I have the information with me and brought it down. I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.”
“Where are you now?”
“I’m down here in San Jose. What do you want me to do with it? I still don’t think we should discuss it over the phone.”
Ben thought for a few seconds. “Take an officer with you and watch for any activity. Do not—I repeat—do not apprehend. I will get back to you when I’m done here. Okay?”
“Okay. Is there anything else I can do for you, Ben?”
“Yeah. Be careful. We’re running blind right now, and I don’t know what we’re going to be getting into here. If my hunch is right, he’s going to be close. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
Sue smiled. I would walk on fire for this man, she thought. Anything he wanted she would do for him. “I’ll be careful. But you better follow your own advice. Besides,” she continued, “I’ve got big plans for you.” She laughed a wicked laugh.
Ben smiled, knowing immediately what she had in mind. The thought kept him smiling until he turned onto the road Laurie Brady had lived on till she turned up missing.
The clock was now down to 53:33. Laurie knew she was going to die. Her eyes had adjusted to the light, and the tears had stop flowing. Now she could do nothing but wait.
Laurie believed in God and was resigned to meeting Him soon. She prayed that there would be no more pain. She wanted to see her mother and father just one more time to tell them that she loved them. She wanted to thank them for the love they had given her. And she also wanted to apologize to them for not being a better daughter.
Laurie was calm now, calmer than anyone had a right to be under these conditions. Her life had been short, but she had lived more in her few years than most do by retirement. She wasn’t sad anymore. She was going to a better place, and that thought brought her comfort.
It took Ben less than ten minutes to reach the residence of Laurie Brady’s parents. They had been called in advance, and they were home. Since Laurie’s disappearance, they had refused to go out and socialize, and they were eagerly awaiting the detective when the group arrived.
Ben was almost at a dead run as he approached the Bradys’ door. When Mr. Brady opened it door, Ben slowed down just enough to introduce himself and rush past the man toward the back of the spacious home.
Cheryl Johnson wasn’t far behind and stopped to talk with both parents.
“What’s going on?” Mr. Brady watched the detective rush past.
“Mr. Brady, my name is Cheryl Johnson. I’m with the FBI. If you could just hang on for a couple minutes, we’ll tell you why we’re here and what it has to do with your daughter. It might be possible that we have a lead. Detective Simeon, the man who just rushed past you, is going to look, and see if we’re right.”
“My daughter?” Mrs. Johnson said. “Where is my daughter? What’s going on?” The tone of her voice was frantic. Her husband grabbed her and held her.
“First things first,” Cheryl said. “We aren’t sure that we know anything new yet, but we’ll know soon if we can help you find her. Please stay here, and let us take a look. It will only take a minute or two.”
“What are you looking for?” Mr. Brady asked. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
Ben came in. “I have it,” he said to Cheryl. “I was right. You need to stay here with the Bradys. The location is at least thirty minutes from here, and we have less than forty-five before time runs out.” He turned and started running out of the house, yelling over his shoulder, “You fill ’em in and I’ll call you when we get there! Also call Captain Black and let him know what’s happening.” Ben figured he would never get used to calling the man by his first name, so why fight it?
“All right!” Cheryl yelled. “Just be careful!”
The last words fell on a deaf Ben Simeon. He had already closed the door and started the engine of the powerful police car.
Ben often complained about the ugly tan vehicle he had to drive all the time, but at the moment he was glad to have the large V-8 engine propelling him down the road. The motor wasn’t green, but it ran like a banshee. The sirens were blaring. The screaming in his head was much louder. He heard his wife’s sobs and his daughter’s cries for help. Ben cursed the bastard for making him remember; he thanked him for giving this child a chance to be saved.
Ben knew where he was going. He also knew how little time was left to get there. There would be cops at the scene before he arrived; they’d been given strict instructions not to enter before Ben got there. He hardly saw the traffic he was rushing past. The air was cool, but Ben was sweating profusely. He had to make it. He just had to.
Sue Garrison had little difficulty finding the place. It was a bad neighborhood, one of the worst in San Jose. A large percentage of the city’s arrest logs were filled from perpetrators within a 20-block radius from this very spot.
The cop riding with her was only two years out of the academy. Yet in their brief discussion on the way to the place, she’d discovered that the young man—though a little too eager—seemed competent. She just hoped he was as quick with his actions. There was only one way to find out, and she didn’t like the prospect of his being tested under fire.
After parking in front of the building, Sue did a quick study of the building’s layout, a four-plex. She thought she had it figured out which apartment was the one she wanted. The sky was turning dark earlier than usual. The clouds were thick, and fog—atypical for San Jose—was starting to engulf the area. There were lights on in the apartment, and occasionally she saw the shadow of someone walking past the window behind translucent drapes.
Sue wanted a closer look. Ben had wanted her to do nothing to spook the people, but she needed to make sure that she was watching the right place and the right person.
“Stay here,” she told the officer. “I want to get a closer look and make sure we’re on the right target.”
“Don’t you think we should wait here?”
“Maybe, but I need to make sure we’ve got the right one. You stay here and keep an eye on the front and that window.” Sue pointed at the upper window on the right. “I’m going to check the back and see if there’s any way to exit without our seeing it from here. Keep your radio on, and if anything happens or if you spot anybody, let me know immediately. You got that?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the young man said. “Just stay in touch. I won’t be able to see you.”
“If I’m not back in ten minutes, call for backup.” She quickly looked around and darted across the street.
Sue wasn’t crazy about what she was doing, but this was too important to be guessing. She had a picture of the child and his mother that she’d gotten from police files. The mother had a record for drugs and prostitution. All that meant to Sue was that the girl was streetwise and would be able to spot a cop in a second. If the girl sees me, Sue thought, she’ll probably run. Sue had to be extra careful.
As she headed around the building, Sue thought she heard a strange noise. Because the buildings were so close together and sound traveled in strange patterns between them, she couldn’t tell if the noise had come from in front of her or from the street she had just left. It was a noise she had never heard before. The closest she came to recognizing the sound was one she had made up in her mind. It was like the shattering of glass—but not quite—and the quick release of a pressurized gas container. She only heard the noise once, stopping to see if it would happen again. It didn’t, so she proceeded. Everything was under the watchful eyes of the clock, and time right now was unforgiving.
Sue moved up the steps in the back of the building. She thought that maybe—just maybe—she would be able to get a glimpse of the woman and child. That would be enough to let her rest at ease until Ben or whomever he sent as reinforcement showed up.
Her hunch paid off. Close to the back door near the steps was a window covered by sheer drapes. The window, however, had a break in the lower left corner. As the breeze blew, it parted the curtain just far enough for Sue to see the boy sitting on the floor in front of the television. Moments later she saw the mother walking out of what Sue suspected was either a bedroom or the bathroom. The boy looked up and smiled at his mother as she walked by him, and she stopped, leaned down, and kissed him on the top of his head. Sue turned and quietly left, going back the way she had come. At least now, Sue thought, I know I have the right place.
It was time to call Ben. Sue wanted to talk to him before she got back to her young and temporary partner. She dialed the number using the quick dial preset in her phone’s memory. When Ben answered, she was relieved to hear his voice, but she could tell by the way he spoke that her timing was not good. She just let him know that she was at the location they had discussed and that she had seen them. For now, she wouldn’t discuss how she’d managed to see them.
Ben was on his way to the missing girl’s location, and they were only seconds away. Sue would wait to hear from him. Before she could say goodbye, he hung up. He was at the location now, and he didn’t have time for talking. He would make it up to her later, he thought.
Sue looked around the building’s corner and up and down the street. She waited for a minute so that an approaching car could drive past. She was crossing the street when she noticed that her partner was resting, leaning back in his seat, his head lying on the window. He had moved to the driver’s side. That angered her. The arrogant little shit, she thought. If he thinks he’s going to be driving when I’m around, he has another think coming. Her temper flared up at his laziness. He would definitely get a piece of her mind on this one.
Sue snuck up from behind the car to catch him off guard. It wasn’t until she was almost at the door of the vehicle that she saw the small hole in the window. Blood oozed from behind the young officer’s ear.
Sue reached for her 9 mm Glock with her right hand under her jacket and her phone with her left hand in her coat pocket. She pushed redial on the phone and looked around as she put the phone to her ear. The clock could not have ticked more than five times from the moment she first realized what had happened to the moment the phone reached her ear. But she never heard Ben answer the phone. She never knew that he was angry at being disturbed at this critical moment. She never saw what happened before the world around her went black.