All plans are fluid. I’ve discussed this before, yet it bears repeating. I’ve discovered over the years that some people indeed have the proverbial nine lives. Now the final phase has begun. Not everything I wanted to say to the public has been said this time around. However, I did get to bring about the most important aspect of what I wanted to accomplish. I got the eyes and ears of the world to take notice of the way things are being done. Questions will be asked and answers demanded, and that more than anything else is satisfying to me. I will be back to finish what I’ve started. But for now the time has come to do what needs doing.
How did they find her? I wonder. She only knows what I want her to know and has seen only what I wanted her to see. She has been faithful and obedient. She has said nothing to draw attention to herself. Her fear was too great for her to risk going to them. I have proven my abilities to her, and she wouldn’t risk her son’s life with that bunch of fools. For them to have her is no longer a concern. They can have her, and her life will always be to walk straight. This is the lesser result and will cost me time I wanted for this project. However, her living can also be useful. She will be valuable to me one more time.
Maybe I have underestimated my friend the detective. Maybe he is smarter than I have given him credit. Maybe he truly is worthy of my friendship. Maybe in time I can use him again for my quest. We will see. If he continues to obey, and if he is smart enough to find the answers to the next enigma I pose, then he truly will be worthy.
Ben was heading to the spot where Sue had last contacted him when the call came in. It was Captain Black, and he had some bad news. Sue was unconscious, and the young officer she was with was dead.
“What the fuck happened?” Ben said frantically. “She was just supposed to be there to watch a potential witness!”
“I’m not sure,” the captain said. “I just got here and found her. It’s a real mess here, Ben. Get your ass over here.”
“I’m already on my way. Is she going to be alright?”
“I think so. The ambulance should be here any minute.”
Ben’s mind was racing and so was he. “What about the girl and her son? Do we have them?”
“Yes. Look, Ben, I’ll fill you in when you get here.” The captain hung up, and Ben pushed the old Chevy as hard as he could.
What had gone wrong? More importantly, Ben thought, what the hell is the captain doing there? How did he even know Sue was there and who we’re looking for? I never told him. This isn’t making a whole lot of sense. He shouldn’t be there.
It took Ben less than three minutes to get to the scene after hanging up. He was getting out of the car when the ambulance arrived. Captain Black was kneeling over Sue, holding her head off the ground, as he rushed up to them.
“How is she?” Ben asked. “Is she breathing? Is she all right? What the hell happened?” There were a hundred questions Ben wanted answered, and he couldn’t get them out fast enough.
“She’s alright, Ben. She’s breathing okay, and her pulse seems normal. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. I thought at first that she had been shot or something like the kid over there.” He looked over toward the car. “But I didn’t find any wounds. I think she’s been drugged with something.”
Ben and the captain were asked to move aside as paramedics rushed to the fallen woman.
“Where’re the girl and kid?” Ben asked, looking around for them.
“They’re up in her apartment,” the captain replied. “I had two officers go up and detain them. They’re alright.”
“Then what the fuck went down here, Captain?” Ben turned to face the man. His anger was getting the best of him, and he knew he needed to get it under control quickly. He couldn’t believe what he was thinking. And if it were true, the captain would pick up on it right away.
“I don’t know, Ben,” the captain said flatly. “I just got here, and this is what I found. I called in for help, and those guys were only a couple blocks from here.” He gestured toward the officers in the apartment.
“Alright. We’ll talk about it later.” Ben decided it was best to change the discussion and focused on the work of the paramedics. Moments later, Sue started to move a bit. A minute later, she was responding to questions from the paramedics.
Ben knelt beside her, and she looked into his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Ben,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I let you down.” There were tears starting to well in her eyes. Ben was just grateful that she was alive.
“Shhh,” he said. “Everything’s fine. Don’t try talking right now.”
“You don’t understand,” she said. “I left the kid alone for a couple of minutes to go check on Jennie White and her son. He was dead when I got back. He was waiting for us, Ben. He was waiting …for…usss…”
Sue had passed out again. The paramedics told Ben to get out of the way so they could take her to the hospital.
“Is somebody going with her?” the paramedic asked as they placed the gurney into the back of the ambulance.
Ben was conflicted. He wanted badly to go with her and be by her side when she woke, But Jennie White was a major priority, and he couldn’t let her out of his sight, at least not now. He had to stay. He couldn’t let anything happen to Jennie, if for no other reason than to make sure that the officer’s death and Sue’s efforts would have some meaning. He didn’t want Sue to be alone either, and sending the captain with her was not an option. He wanted the captain around. He wanted to keep his eye on the man who was out of place here.
“Sir?” the driver asked again. “Are you coming or staying?” The man was impatient and wasn’t going to wait much longer.
“Go!” Ben said harshly. “Just make damn sure she gets the best fucking treatment known to man! She’s a cop.” Ben took in a deep breath and pulled out one of his cards. “Here,” he said. “You call me when you get to the hospital.”
The driver took the card and said he would keep him informed if there were any changes. They closed the doors and left with sirens blaring.
Ben twisted sharply toward the captain after the ambulance turned the corner. “Come on. We have a witness that needs to give us some answers. I’m tired of fucking with this maniac.” He quickly headed to the apartment.
The captain stood there for a second and smiled. He was quite proud of his student, never more so than at that moment. Everything is going to work out just fine, he thought, then stepped hurriedly to catch up with the detective.
Ben was just about to enter Jennie White’s apartment when his cell phone rang. It was Lisa Adams from KRIC-TV. Ben had completely lost track of the time and now realized that he was supposed to be at the station to make a statement. Ben cursed himself for the oversight, but realized that Mr. Smith had set this up; he knew that Ben would be running at a maddening pace.
“What can I do, Lisa? There’s no way I can get there right now.”
“Do you see Mr. Smith having any problem with us doing a telephone interview?”
“No,” Ben replied. “As a matter of fact, that would probably work out just fine. Make the arrangements and call me back in five minutes. I have to make one call, and then I’ll be ready.”
Ben didn’t wait for Lisa to respond. He just hung up the phone and started dialing Cheryl Johnson’s number. He knew that she would be at the hospital with the Brady couple, but she would be able to talk about this for a couple of minutes.
Before he pushed the send button, he told Captain Black to wait with him before they went in. There was an interview he had to take care of, and Ben didn’t want the young woman and her son to be intimidated by having too many cops staring at them. He also wanted to keep an eye on what the captain might have to say, and he didn’t want to be distracted by outside influences.
When Cheryl answered her phone, Ben reminded her that they had to talk about what to say on the news. The time had come to respond to Mr. Smith’s letter, and he wasn’t exactly sure what to say.
Cheryl thought about it. “Tell them that significant changes have taken place over the last couple of hours—information that you wish to discuss with the public and will very soon. However,” she continued, “circumstances prevent you from elaborating for the next two to three hours and, with the TV station’s approval, will be brought to them live as soon as possible.”
“What about the issue Mr. Smith wanted me to talk about? You know, the part about me following his lead. How should I handle that?”
“Make a special announcement to Mr. Smith,” she suggested, “stating that you will do everything in your power to follow his guidance and await further instructions.” Cheryl paused. “And Ben? Tell him that you appreciate him saving the girl’s life as well as your friend’s. Your praise should make him take a pause about how he might do other good deeds.”
“You think he gives a shit about me praising him?” Ben asked.
“Actually, I think he needs it more than he even knows. I don’t know if it will actually help or not. What I do know is that we should try it to see if it will make any difference to him. Let’s try it and find out.”
“Okay, Doc. You’re the shrink. I’ll do what you think is best.”
Ben got a brief summation on the Brady girl. He was ready to call Lisa back when the phone rang again. It was the paramedic telling him that Sue had arrived at the hospital; she was conscious again and seemed to be doing okay. The doctors were with her, and Sue was asking about him.
“Tell her that I’ll see her real soon,” Ben said. “And thanks for the follow up.”
Ben hung up and made the call to Lisa. She was ready, and the newscast was already running. Ben had been waiting for about thirty seconds when Lisa came online. “Detective Simeon, you are now on the air and from what I’ve been told have an update on this extraordinary case you’ve been heading.”
“Yes, Lisa,” Ben started. “First I want to thank you for adjusting your schedule.” Ben paused to collect his thoughts. He wondered what he sounded like to viewers with this phone connection hookup. “There are several important changes that have occurred over the last couple of hours. I’ll give you a brief statement now and then get back to you sometime over the next few hours. I’ll not be able to take any questions, and I ask everyone to please be patient.”
Ben lasted all of about three minutes and told everyone that he would be returning soon with more specifics. He finished by saying, “And now I have a message for Mr. Smith. You have allowed a young woman to live, as well as one of my fellow officers, and for that I am most grateful. In your letter you asked if I would be willing to follow your lead. Because you have been so gracious, I want you to know that I’m willing to do as you ask and await your next communication.”
Ben hung up the phone. He felt like he was going to be sick for having to play this game, but he knew that he didn’t have a choice.
Jennie White was scared. She had come to realize what she was a part of now. She was in trouble, and she didn’t trust the cops. They were going to take her son from her. She just knew that, and she didn’t know how to prevent it from happening. What she couldn’t figure out was why they hadn’t arrested her and why they hadn’t taken her to the police station.
When Ben and Captain Black entered her apartment, Jennie White almost jumped out of her chair. She knew who Ben was because of the television, but the man with him made her skin crawl. Something about him seemed wrong. She didn’t know what it was, but she knew he was a man to be feared.
“What’s going on here?” she demanded. “I know my rights, and you don’t have any right being here and holding me hostage.” She figured her best approach was to attack and keep the cops off balance, a technique she’d learned from all those years on the streets.
Ben looked at the woman. He thought she was younger than she looked. He’d been around long enough to know that this woman was like a she-bear, doing anything to protect her cub. Her son was sitting beside her, curled with his knees up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them. He was rocking gently back and forth, and Ben could tell that he, too, was scared. Probably, Ben thought, because of his mother’s agitated state.
“Other than being here in your home, Ms. White,” Ben asked, “has any one of my officers said or done anything to bother you or your son?” His voice was calm, and he spoke softly to the woman. This woman might be their only real chance of discovering the identity of Mr. Smith. He also knew that he could lose her quickly if he tried to push her too hard or too fast.
“Isn’t that enough?” she replied, still on the offensive.
“I’m sure it is,” Ben said. “But you know why we’re here, don’t you?” He let the words hang for a moment before continuing. “You’re in a difficult position right now. You’re in way over your head. You’re scared and—“He paused—“you don’t like or trust cops. How am I doing so far?” He wanted to see her reaction, and he wanted her to have something—in common—for them to agree upon.
“You’re damn right I don’t trust you guys, and for damn good reasons too.”
“Let me tell you something, Ms. White, so there won’t be any misunderstandings here.” Ben wanted to set up a foundation for trust, and the best way to accomplish that, he believed, was to be honest with her and treat her like she was somebody important. All too often, he had discovered over the years, police officers took the tough guy approach and alienated themselves from witnesses. Ben knew that you could always fall back on that tactic if necessary. But in cases of this magnitude getting help would come easier if both parties were on the same side. “We are not here to arrest you for what you’ve done. We’re here to ask you for your help. You’re a smart lady. I can tell just by looking around that you’re working hard to make a decent life for you and your son, Ricky. I don’t want to take that away from you. If anything, I want to do what I can to help you get your life back where it was before this ‘problem’ started.”
Ben intentionally did not bring up Mr. Smith by name. He wanted her to bring it up, and he didn’t want her to be shocked by his stating it prematurely. He needed her help, but more importantly, he needed her to trust him. That wouldn’t happen if she perceived him as a threat, even if that threat was from someone other than himself.
“What problem are you talking about?”
She wasn’t going to give in too quickly, Ben realized. So, he thought, let’s see how she reacts to this.
“I know you think you’re clear from any wrongdoings, Jennie. May I call you Jennie?” Ben didn’t wait for an answer. “You’ve been careful not to leave any evidence that could be linked to you. Do you know how we came about getting here? Do you know how we connected you to this ‘problem’ we’re both dealing with?”
“Well,” she said coolly, “I’m not sure what problem you’re referring to, but go ahead.”
“He did,” Ben said, looking at Ricky. “He led us here. You see, Jennie, we were given a package—a very disturbing package, I might add—that came from someone very bad. Now this isn’t the first package we’ve received from this very bad person. But this one came with several fingerprints of your son’s all over it.” Once again, Ben paused for effect. “Any idea how those prints got there?”
Jennie was quiet. To let the vastness of the state of affairs sink in, Ben was going to let her stew on the answer as long as she needed. She knew they weren’t going to let her go. She was now caught between a mass murderer and the institution of law enforcement. Both could destroy the life she was trying to make for her son and herself. The cops, however, might be able to protect her. Mr. Smith would surely kill both her and her son. One way she had a chance. The other way she did not.
“You can’t help me,” she said in defeat. “He’ll find me and my baby, and he’ll kill us. And there isn’t a damn thing you can do to stop him!” The tears flowed down her cheeks as she became more and more aware of the hopelessness of her situation.
“Why can’t we stop him, Jennie?” Ben wanted to comfort her, assure her they could protect her. But there was something about her statement that gave him pause; he decided to address her concerns first. Ben also realized that Mr. Smith was no ordinary criminal. He was exceptionally intelligent and seemed to have a vast knowledge of forensic science. Maybe she knew something that would help him understand how he happened to acquire the information.
“Because he knows everything!” she blurted out. “He sees everything! He hears everything! He knows everything! If he wasn’t so evil, you’d consider worshiping him.”
“How does he know so much, Jennie? Do you have any idea how he gets his information?”
“I don’t know,” she said sarcastically. “Nobody thinks about worshiping me.” She paused. “He seems to be everywhere. I tried to run away from him and hide. I told no one what I was doing or where I was going. I used cash to pay for my room. I used a fake name. I did everything I could think of to hide from him, and this is what I got for my efforts.” She pointed to the bruise on her face. “He’s gonna kill me, you know. And he’s gonna kill my baby, too. And you won’t be able to stop him!” The tears fell as she leaned over and placed her head in her hands.
Captain Black knelt down in front of her and softly said, “Soon, Jennie, all of these problems are going to disappear. We’ll make sure that you and your son are taken away from all of this.” The captain forced a smile as he looked at her, then up to Ben. “We should probably take them out of here, Ben.” He rose and walked to the window, looking out at the street. Several police cruisers had gathered where the young cop had been killed.
Ben watched the captain intensely, wondering if what he was seeing in the man was real or just a matter of circumstances.
“Jennie,” Ben said, “I know that you’re scared. You have every right to be. But no matter how bad you might think it is with us, it’ll be a lot worse for you and your son if you didn’t try to help us catch him. At the moment every law enforcement agency in the country is trying to help us find this guy. Your help could stop him from hurting anyone else. We can protect you and your son. You just have to trust me when I tell you that I won’t let anything happen to either of you. I want you to grab a few things for you and Ricky, and then let’s get out of here. We have a long night ahead of us, and I want to get started as soon as we can. Will you help us, Jennie? Will you help us catch the bastard who’s trying to hurt you and your little boy?”
Jennie looked into Ben’s eyes and saw a man she thought she could trust. She wasn’t stupid enough to let her guard down, but being around him was certainly better than thinking about who might show up in her bedroom later that night.
“I’ll help you,” she said reluctantly. “Only you.” She looked to the captain, wondering what it was about him that gave her the creeps. “I won’t talk to anyone else. You also need to know that I don’t know all that much, but I’ll tell you everything I can if it will help. And you got to protect me and Ricky from that creep. He’ll kill us if you don’t! He already knows you’re here. He knows I’m gonna talk. He’s gonna kill us if you don’t stop him.”
“I’ll stop him,” Ben said with more confidence than he really felt. “Whatever it takes, I’ll stop him.”
Ben held out his hand. She took it and stood. Jennie White looked into his eyes and, for the first time, wanted to believe that he could. That somebody could actually stop the madness.