A man’s character is defined by his ability to endure suffering. One of my gifts to mankind is searching for and revealing the character of a man. I seek truth, but not for truth’s sake. I seek truth to exploit it for myself or for those I serve. Yes, at times I serve a higher good. Today the higher good is exposing many wrongs that need righting.
I have watched the man for a very long time. He is a man of honor, high morals, and, yes, character. He sees himself unworthy of praise. I will expose him for what he is: a good and noble soul.
Santa Cruz is a surfing and skateboarding Mecca and a beautiful seaside resort community. It is not a crime capital by any means. Though crime is not unheard of, Santa Cruz is considered one of the safest places in the world to live. Now, it stood to be the center of one of the most publicized and horrific crimes in history.
At 39, Ben had been with the Santa Cruz Police Department for over 14 years. He went through the policy academy after spending four years in the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division and graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in psychology and social science. He completed all the requisite steps to be a detective after a scant six years.
Standing over six feet tall, he wore his reddish blond hair in a surfer dude fashion more indicative to where he lived and his undercover assignments than the position he held with the department. His two hundred pounds were cut like a man who wasn’t afraid of the gym, but his time off recovering would require a few extra reps to get his body where he liked it.
Ben never considered himself to be the most intelligent detective in the world. In fact, he never really thought of himself in any grandiose manner. He saw himself as an ordinary man performing a service to his community as best he could. The only real accomplishment of his career, he believed, had cost him six weeks of recuperation on medical leave because of a couple of .45 slugs.
A young woman by the name of Leslie Andrews had sought him out, claiming that someone was trying to kill her. She didn’t seem to know who it was or even the motive. All she could do for certain was express her sincerity.
After reviewing her case with his superiors and other detectives, he was told that Ms. Andrews was some kind of nut case, or at least someone trying to get attention, and that he should drop the whole thing and stick to the case log he already had on his desk. On the surface there wasn’t anything to go on. Everything about the case pointed to being just as his cohorts had suggested. However, Ben had a feeling that something was going on and that he should stick with the case, at least for a while. To Ben, Ms. Andrews wasn’t crazy; she was a scared young woman who needed someone to listen and take her seriously.
It turned out that the girl’s life was indeed in danger. Apparently her ex-boyfriend, though incarcerated for twenty-five to life, could not accept that Leslie was moving on and putting her past—and him—behind her. In order to make his point, the ex-boyfriend sent ex-con David Spreewell on a lethal errand.
Because of Ben’s actions, Leslie Andrews would live, Spreewell was dead, and Ben had healing scars on his left thigh and abdomen from the gun battle mementos of his heroic actions. That was six weeks ago. A psycho wasn’t what Ben was expecting to come back and face.
Driving Highway 17 from Santa Cruz toward San Jose can be dangerous enough with a clear head. The majestic trees and beautiful landscape are breathtaking to the thousands of tourists that visit the area every year. But the winding mountain road traversing this backdrop is the site of a dozen accidents or more every month. The last thing Ben needed was to be driving Highway 17 with winter rain and stress. His head certainly wasn’t clear. Even during off-peak traffic hours, the road was always treacherous.
According to the SFPD, Amanda Douglas was listed just as Mr. Smith had indicated. According to the information from the computer files, she was a 17-year-old, single, white female that U.C. Berkeley had accepted for the fall term. She had gone missing almost two years earlier after a night out with friends. She was last seen at a movie theater where she met with two of her girlfriends. Her car was never found. There was no evidence of a crime, and no plausible suspects were ever identified.
Her parents lived in Pacific Heights, one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of San Francisco. Not surprisingly, there was no criminal history for the girl or her parents.
Amanda’s parents were surprised by Ben’s call. They had not heard from authorities about her disappearance in almost a year. Each time they had called the detective in charge, the only response offered was, “We’ve had no further developments.”
A year earlier Arthur Douglas, the girl’s father, had hired a private investigator to see if any new leads could be unearthed. Nothing had. So other than continuing with the P.I., Arthur Douglas and his wife Sharon were left with no other strategy to pursue to find their daughter.
When Ben asked Arthur if they could meet, his reply was quick.
“There is nothing that we could possibly be doing that would be more important than discussing my daughter’s case. When can you get here?”
“I can be there in an hour,” Ben said.
“My wife and I will meet you at our home. Do you have the address?”
After confirming that his information was current, Ben left the station and headed north to meet with Amanda’s parents. He only hoped that what he was about to discuss with them was incorrect and that the necklace he now carried had nothing to do with their only child. But his gut told him that it was hers. Though forensics found no prints or evidence of any kind on the jewelry, her parents would know right away if Amanda had been wearing it the night she disappeared.
When he arrived at the Douglases’ home, he had to be checked into the gated community. Both of Amanda’s parents were waiting for him on the front porch. Watching them as he approached, Ben could see their expressions changing from hope and expectation to those of grim despair.
After introductions, the Douglases invited detective Simeon into their three-story Tudor style home. Ben couldn’t help wonder what a person could possibly do for a living that would earn him enough to pay for such luxury. Even the topiary shrubs and trees were trimmed immaculately into a forest of animals. It was his first ever sighting of leafy green bears, deer and other assorted flora and fauna. It reminded him of a Stephen King novel. However, that thought didn’t make him feel any better. He knew that if the daughter had been missing for ransom, these people could pay it without a flinch. And though they were proper enough, Ben thought he knew that they didn’t care about anything other than the information he might have to offer. He quickly decided on the direct approach.
“The night Amanda disappeared, what can you tell me about the clothing she was wearing?”
Sharon was an attractive forty-something woman. Her clothes were Channel and her shoes Prada. She was the first to respond.
“I was talking to her just before she left the house. She was wearing jeans and a light blue silk blouse. I remember very well because of our discussion before she left. You see, detective, the blouse was very thin and rather revealing. You could easily see her brazier through the material. I’m not a prude, detective, and Amanda is not a promiscuous girl, but sometimes, like most girls her age, she likes to dress in a manner that could be construed as sexy. I feel it prudent that parents need to explain how others might interpret such actions. I don’t want her to get hurt because the wrong message is being sent out.”
Ben noticed the mother’s use of the present tense and her belief that Amanda was still alive.
She continued, “I tried to tell her that she needed to be careful.”
“How did she react?” Ben asked.
“She just laughed at me and told me that I was being too old fashioned. I know that maybe sometimes she thinks I’m a little overprotective. But now I wonder if I was protective enough?”
“What about jewelry?” Ben asked. “Do you know if she was wearing any jewelry that night?”
“Amanda has quite the collection, Detective Simeon,” Sharon responded. “However, since graduating from high school a few weeks before she disappeared, she only wore one set of jewelry. A necklace and earring set that Arthur and I gave her as a graduation gift. She didn’t even wear any of her rings anymore. She wanted everyone to see what she got. She was very proud and didn’t want anything else to distract from that set. She graduated near the top of her class and wanted everyone to know that if a person works hard, they can receive awards that are appropriate to those efforts.”
“She sounds like a very smart young lady,” Ben said keeping his comments in the same present tense Sharon used. “I know that it has been some time since you last saw them, but could you describe the jewelry or recognize the pieces if you were to see them again?”
Arthur spoke up this time.
“We can do better than that! We have a photo of them. The set cost almost twenty thousand dollars. So we took pictures of them for insurance purposes. I still have one of the pictures in my insurance file.”
With that said, he got up from the divan and left the room. Moments later he returned and handed Ben the photo.
Ben studied the picture for several moments. He instantly recognized the necklace in the photo; it was identical to the one he possessed. His problem was figuring out how to ease the pain he knew they would feel as soon as he informed them of such heartbreaking news. What could he tell Arthur and Sharon Douglas? He was positive that the letter he had received this morning was indeed truthful. He was now sure that their daughter was dead. He knew that he was dealing with a monster intent on playing him and every other police officer for everything he could. Ben had to say something to them and bring closure to their grief.
Without removing the necklace from his pocket, Ben said, “Mr. and Mrs. Douglas, this morning I received information that might help us determine what happened to your daughter.”
Sharon grabbed Arthur’s hand and at first seemed joyous. Soon, she realized that the news was not going to be good.
“I needed to speak to you so that I could get confirmation of some newly discovered evidence,” Ben explained. “What you folks have told me has validated this information. I am sorry to say, as the facts now stand, we have good reason to believe that your daughter is dead. This may seem premature because we haven’t found her body yet. What we do know is that someone is anonymously claiming to have knowledge as to what befell Amanda. As proof of his sincerity, he sent us the same necklace you showed me in the picture. You must have so many questions for me right now, but unfortunately I have very few answers.”
Sharon was sobbing, and Arthur was holding her close to him.
“What else can you tell us, detective?” Arthur asked in an almost whispered voice.
“I wish there was more I could tell you,” Ben returned. “Right now the information is so new and bizarre to us we had to address it right away in hopes that it was a hoax. That may seem terrible to you. But, frankly, a hoax would be the better alternative to what we’re addressing. For now, all we can do is check everything we’ve been told before we can do or say anything else. All I can say right now is that if the new evidence is right, which I suspect it will be, we should have some answers for you within the next forty-eight to seventy-two hours.” Ben knew that the letter’s timeline was shorter than that. Nobody minds if the time estimate is beaten in these situations, but holy hell would be raised if it took a minute longer. “I need you folks to be available over the next couple of days. I may need to get in touch with you. Right now, I am going to have to get back to Santa Cruz and figure out how we pursue this. There is still the slimmest of possibilities that she is still alive.”
Ben regretted his words as soon as he spoke them. The girl was dead, and there was nothing he could do about that. Seeing these loving parents crushed by his own words, he yearned to offer some hope to which they could cling.
“I will be calling you tomorrow to give you any additional information I can, or sooner if something happens before then.” Ben stood to leave. He couldn’t avert his eyes from theirs. It was at that moment he realized that there was a fine line between hope and despair.
“Do you know how she died, detective?” Sharon asked, having regained some of her strength. “Do you think someone murdered her?” Now the anger in her rising voice was becoming more evident.
“We believe this to be a homicide. But I can’t provide more details yet. As soon as I know for sure, you will be the first I contact.” Ben felt like he was giving an Ask-the-8-Ball answer.
Sharon Douglas was really getting pissed. Ben had seen it before. She wanted to scream and hit someone or something, but all she could do was wait one more time for the news she had dreaded hearing for the last two years.
Ben got into his cream-colored, unmarked car. He had always detested the vehicle as pathetically obvious, underpowered, and poorly maintained. He began to think that he and the car had a lot in common. He placed a call on his cell phone.
“Black here,” came the curt answer when the captain picked up the phone.
“It’s Simeon, sir, I just left the Douglases’. Bad news. It was the daughter’s necklace. I even have a picture they gave me from their insurance file.”
“Alright, Simeon. Get your ass back here right away. In the words of my wife’s more literate friends, the excrement is fast approaching the rotating blades.” With that, Captain Black hung up, not even waiting for a reply.
Ben knew exactly what the captain was talking about. The worst possible scenario for a criminal investigation was taking place. This was going to be a multi-jurisdictional, multi-state investigation with state and federal agencies trying to solve multiple homicides. At the helm was a local cop who was being manipulated by a self-confessed serial killer.
“Talk about a clusterfuck,” Ben said aloud with nobody around to hear his words.