What are you up to, Detective Simeon? Can’t you see the similarities between us? Why do you hate me? I have allowed your lover to live. Should I consider that a mistake? Should I correct that mistake?
It is not for me to change the nature of man. My duty rather lies in exposing man’s true nature. We all have the capacity for evil. The self-righteous take what they will and annihilate lives when necessary to get what they want. They never look back at the carnage they have created or the families they have destroyed.
Sue was awake and sitting up in bed when Ben came into the room. She was still groggy from the drugs, but not so much that she could ignore the conflict in her head. She had caused a young officer to die. She had failed to protect the witness. She was so afraid that she had let Ben down, and she wasn’t sure how she would ever be able to make it up to him.
Ben didn’t say a word when he entered the room. He just walked over to Sue and put his arms around her, holding her tightly. She didn’t say anything. She just held him and cried.
“I’m so sorry,” she said through the sobbing. “I am so sorry.”
“Shhh,” Ben whispered. “You have nothing to be sorry about. I’m just glad you’re safe.”
“I let you down.” She broke his hold and looked into his eyes. “I got that boy killed.”
“No, you didn’t,” Ben assured her. “He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It wasn’t your fault. Now stop blaming yourself.”
“So who’s to blame,” she asked. “Who do I give the guilt to?” She was having a difficult time accepting Ben’s words, but she did appreciate the effort.
“There’s only one person to blame, and you know that. Maybe you can tell me who he is. Tell me what happened.”
Sue repeated what she had already told the others. When she finished, she still didn’t realize the implications of what was being considered a random act of violence. Captain Black had implied to Ben and the other officers that Sue was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. He’d said she must have scared the offender from sticking around after he rendered her unconscious.
“Sue,” Ben said, “can you tell me with as much detail as you can about the last few moments before you went black?” Ben had thought carefully before asking the question. He wanted the words asked just the right way.
“I’ve told you everything I can remember.”
“Close your eyes.”
She did as he asked.
“Now think about that moment and tell me what you see.”
“I see the car,” she said. “I remember seeing the officer. Hell, Ben, I don’t even remember his name.”
“That’s okay, Sue. It’s Jimmy Bailey. Now tell me about the car.” He didn’t want her to get distracted.
“I saw Jimmy on the driver’s side.” Sue was trying to picture the scene with as much detail as possible. She wanted desperately to help. She told everything she remembered about the scene and what she had done in minute detail. “I remember being pissed off because I thought he was being lazy. Can you believe that, Ben? The kid’s dead, and I’m thinking about how to reprimand him.”
“That’s okay, Sue. You didn’t know what was going on. Stop blaming yourself. Blame won’t make anything better. I want you to focus. Did you hear anything? Did you hear cars? Did you hear voices? Anything?”
“Wait,” she said. “I did hear something. At least I think I heard something. Maybe it was a dream. I don’t know.” She opened her eyes.
“What did you hear?” Ben sat up at attention.
“It seems weird now,” she said, “but I thought I heard a voice say, ‘This is my gift to you, Ben.’ But that doesn’t make any sense. Does it?”
“Maybe. Close your eyes.” He didn’t want to lose track of what he was going for. “Did you hear anything else?”
“No.” She was getting tired, but didn’t want to stop if there was anything she could do.
“One last thing, Sue. Tell me if you smelled anything.” Ben wanted to explore what she remembered from all of her senses. He had used this method many times before when he was in military intelligence. He was hoping for something. Anything.
Sue wasn’t remembering anything, but being able to rest her eyes was certainly a relief. She was just about to doze off when it hit her. It was the smell! The overpowering smell of Red—the men’s cologne. Her eyes flew open, and she looked at Ben.
“What is it?” He wanted the answer yet was afraid of it.
“Red,” she said cryptically.
“What’s red?” He was thinking about the color and what it had to do with anything.
“Not red,” she said. “Not the color. The cologne Red. I smelled it just before I blacked out.” The words black and Red came together. “It’s the cologne that Captain Black wears! I remember smelling it just before I was knocked out. I would know that cologne anywhere. He is the only man I know who wears it. I remember asking him about it and was going to get you some as a gift. I really liked it. Isn’t that weird?”
The whole thing was weird to her at that moment. But then she didn’t know everything that Ben knew. She didn’t know that he’d been at the scene before anybody else. She didn’t know that he was becoming more and more convinced that he knew Mr. Smith’s real identity. She didn’t know that the voice she’d heard was real, that her life had been saved because of their love for each other. But Ben knew. He heard the message loud and clear. He knew what everybody wanted to know. For now, at least, he had to keep what he knew to himself.
It wasn’t a random act of violence at all. Mr. Smith had killed again, and nobody knew it. He had also let someone live. Ben was so grateful for the life spared that he was having a hard time feeling anything for those lost. Mr. Smith wanted Ben to realize that he was not only vicious, but in some sick way, compassionate. Ben thought he knew this evil man.
God, he hoped he was wrong.
The story had now grown worldwide. Lisa Adams was the most recognized face in the media. It was the story of stories. Every station, every newspaper wanted to get the scoop, and they all wanted her to tell it. This story was her ticket to anywhere. She knew it, and it scared her. She hadn’t earned it, and that was what was so frightening.
“Why is this happening to us, John?” Lisa wanted to know. “Why did he come to us instead of one of the more powerful stations?”
“You don’t think I’ve been wondering this myself?” Abernathy replied with a question of his own. “I can’t sleep at night because of that very question. But I have an idea about that. Something that has made more sense than anything else I can come up with. I think he came to us because he wants us, the underdogs, to have a fighting chance in the world. He could have gone to any of them, and they would have jumped at the story. They would’ve given the case to their top people, and they would’ve told the world. Instead, he came to us because he knew it didn’t matter who he told. His message would spread to the world in a very short time. This way, it’s his way of doing some good for the less fortunate. He’s trying to show us and everyone else that he’s not totally about destruction. He’s more concerned about the nature of his actions. He wants us to see that we’re all capable of both good and evil, that even the most sinister and monstrous have the capacity for good.”
“If that’s true,” Lisa said, “then doesn’t it also hold that we’re all capable of destroying the lives of others in truly evil ways? Is he saying that I’m capable of killing another human being? Even you, John?”
“If my philosophy about the man is correct, then yes—that’s exactly what he’s saying. I’m not saying that I agree with him, Lisa. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m just as confused as you are. Our ratings have grown ten-fold over the last several days, and yet our expenses have changed little. We’re both enjoying the benefits of this mad man. I’ve made more in net profits for this station in the last week than I did in the last year. And I would give it all away to have the killing stop. Between you and me, I’ve thanked God for having this man come into our lives. I’ve actually hoped that it wouldn’t stop too soon. Don’t you see, Lisa? I’ve actually become the monster that he exhibits.”
“That’s not true, John. Don’t ever say that. You’re the most caring person I’ve ever known. You’re not a monster. Not like that. Jesus, John, how can you even think that?”
“Lisa.” Abernathy went to the girl and held her hand. “I’m not saying that I’d go out and kill a bunch of people to get what I want—I’m saying that maybe his message is that we’re all capable of being destructive. Maybe he’s saying that we need to re-examine ourselves and look closely at what it is we’re willing to do for the things we want. The mere thought of wanting this to continue is not so different from giving our blessings. Maybe we aren’t willing to do the acts ourselves, but hoping they continue is, in of itself, our desire that others die in order for us to get what we want.”
“Jesus, John!” Lisa turned and walked toward the window and looked out into the darkness. “I never thought of it that way.”
Abernathy let her think about it for several minutes. Then Lisa turned back to her mentor.
“Then that makes me just as evil, doesn’t it? I’ve been so wrapped up in what’s going on. I’ve been getting the attention and all the notoriety and have been enjoying it so much that I’ve been giving my approval for what Mr. Smith is doing. I’ve been saying all along that this horrendous creature is bad, while all along taking everything he’s giving me. Just how sick are we?”
“There is an upside to all of this.” Abernathy approached her. “We’re not like Mr. Smith. Granted, we harbor some of his qualities, and God knows the nature of man. The difference is how we act on our thoughts. This responsibility has been given to us, and there isn’t much we can do with it other than go along and maybe help bring him down. But when it’s all over, we’ll need to look closely into our own hearts and decide for ourselves what’s right and wrong. This man, for all his destructiveness, may actually give us a chance to do a lot of good for a lot of people. It isn’t about fame or money or glory, it’s about giving and helping those in need, and we can make a difference. We—you and I—have been blessed because of this tragedy. It’s up to us to use what we’ve been given in a manner that will help as many as we can. Lisa, you’re a wonderful girl. Let this situation make you an even better person by seeing not only the evil that man does, but the good that can come from it if you look hard enough.”
Lisa looked at her mentor and, as tears filled her eyes, hugged him and thanked him for being her friend.