I wonder, detective: do you think much about death? Does it wake you from your sleep at night and leave you in a cold sweat? Are you like the mouse caught in the grasp of a playful cat? The cat doesn’t want the mouse to die; it merely wants to play. But the mouse doesn’t understand the game, does it, detective? The mouse only wants to be left in peace.
It’s an interesting game to watch. The cat’s claws are razor sharp and will cut or puncture skin, causing the blood to ooze from its prey. The cat will pick it up and carry the mouse and taste its blood, making it more desirous of the game. The cat will then loosen its grip to release the rodent. The mouse thinks it has managed to free itself and, once again, live. Then, just before it has a chance to find a secure place to hide, the cat will pounce on its prey, carrying it back into the open, exposed and vulnerable once again.
You are my mouse, Detective Simeon. You think you know so much about me. It is true that you know enough to be afraid of me, but you cannot escape me. When you think you are free and run to safety, in truth you are running directly toward where I have sent you. Watch and learn, detective. I will take you further in the short time we are together than you would ever have been able to go in a lifetime.
I will free you from my clutches soon. But will you be free this time? Or will you once again be heading where I send you? We will see.
Ben entered the room to find Jennie White pacing the floor. She had laid Ricky on a small, overstuffed couch that was used on occasion to reduce stress for key witnesses. There was a new advancement toward psychological approaches for gathering information, and the San Jose Police Department considered themselves a cutting edge unit.
Jennie had a look of confusion and dismay on her face. She certainly didn’t like the position she was in or what she now realized she had to do.
“I need you to protect Ricky and me!” she blurted out. Her eyes were red from crying, and her arms were folded across her chest. “You’ve got to keep him from hurting my little boy.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do since we first met, Jennie,” Ben said sympathetically. “I just can’t do it—at least not the best way possible—without your help.”
Ben wanted her to see that they were indeed on the same side. Maybe for the first time in her life, Jennie was being given a chance to be on the right side of the law. What strange bedfellows we make, she would later think.
Jennie lowered her eyes. “I know. You just don’t know how difficult it is for me. You don’t know what I’ve been through with people like you. I mean...the policemen I’ve known haven’t exactly been what you would call model citizens, you know?”
“You’re right,” Ben admitted. “There are some men—and women for that matter—in any organization of this size that will try to take advantage of desperate people. We try to get rid of them when we can. Unfortunately, we haven’t been totally successful. But that isn’t me, Jennie. You see. I know some of the things that’ve gone on during your life. I know some things about the drugs and the prostitution you were arrested for. But I’m not here to judge you. I don’t know what caused you to start. I know even less of why you decided to stop. What I do know is that just like the police, there are good and bad people in any profession, even the one in which you were involved. There are some folks that do what they do out of no choice of their own and truly want to get out of the racket. We’re not all good, and we aren’t all bad. But, right now all we have is each other. And I’m willing to take a chance with you if you’re willing to do the same with me.” Ben paused. “So what do say, partner. Do we have a deal?”
He held out his hand to shake hers.
Jennie looked at the man she would have called an enemy. She extended her hand. “Okay, partner,” she said, somewhat reluctantly. For the first time in longer than she could remember, she smiled and actually felt like things just might work out after all.
Ben led her to the desk and helped her with her chair, like a gentleman.
“As of now,” he said, walking around the table to the other side, “you’re going to be under constant supervision. Most of the time, the police that are with you will not be an inconvenience. But for the next few days, they’re going to seem like a bunch of overzealous babysitters and constantly underfoot. Be patient with them till they get to learn your routines. Can you do that?”
“What about you?” she asked. “Will you be watching me? How do you know that you can trust anyone here?”
“The men and women I assign to this will be hand-picked by me,” Ben explained “They’ll be given specific instructions as to how to take care of you. Most importantly, they’ll take orders from no one but me. I’ve watched the same TV shows you’ve watched. Nobody is going to screw up and go off duty because of some anonymous caller. If the order doesn’t come from me, they’ll stay put. Is that okay with you?”
“Sure,” she said. “It might be nice having men fall all over themselves protecting me for awhile.”
She was turning light-hearted, and it felt good for them both. Ben returned her smile.
“I’m going to step out again for a few minutes,” he said. “Is there something we can get you to eat or drink while I’m gone?” He smiled again and, as if endowed with ESP, followed with, “Non-alcoholic.”
She actually did want a stiff drink. Her nerves were shot, and she could have used something to calm them a bit. “Maybe in a little while. We’re okay for now.”
Ben left her and Ricky and went to find Corey. For some reason, just thinking about it made his stomach do a flip or two.
There wasn’t much more Cheryl Johnson could do at the hospital. Mr. and Mrs. Brady were resting, and Laurie was still in surgery. There were two officers guarding the operating room, and one was keeping an eye on the parents. She explained to the officers that she was heading over to the police station and that if anything new happened or if Laurie came out of surgery they should call her right away. She told the Bradys that she would be available, but had some things to tend to. They should let the officer know if they needed anything, and she would be there as soon as possible.
She left for the stationhouse, and it took her all of ten minutes to get there. She had been at the police station for several minutes when Ben walked out from his discussion with Jennie White.
“How’s it going?” Cheryl asked, concerned with the elevating pace of things and Ben’s welfare. She also needed to get brought up to speed on what he had found out from Jennie.
Ben shook her hand. “Actually, at least on this front, things are going well. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get her cooperation, but she seems to have come around. We’ll need to spend some time with her soon.”
He was about to say more when he contemplated whether to let her in on his theory about Captain Black. Ever the psychologist, she immediately picked up on the hesitation.
“What is it?” she asked. Though she and Ben had only been together on this case for a short time, Cheryl had managed to get to know Ben’s body language pretty well. She knew that something more than the ordinary issues was bothering him.
Ben thought about it. He didn’t want to do alone.
“I have a problem,” he said. “Actually, I think I have a problem that I’m going to need some help with. We need to find Corey Fox and go somewhere very private.”
“What is it, Ben?” Cheryl knew he would tell her what was on his mind when it was time, but she didn’t think it would hurt to ask. Her basic belief was that reluctance to try guarantees failure. To Doctor Cheryl Johnson, failure was seldom a viable option.
Ben spotted Corey not far from where Ben had left him.
“In a moment,” he said. “There’s Corey, and he needs to hear this.”
Ben led Cheryl to Corey, and with nothing more than a nod, Corey joined the little caravan to an unoccupied room. The room itself was not much bigger than a closet, but Ben could not wait for a better time or a more appropriate location. He had to deal with these issues now and get the cards on the table.
“Cheryl, this is Corey Fox. You met him briefly at the radio station before we all had to take off. Corey and I go back a long ways, all the way back to several years in the military together. Just to bring you up to speed, Corey’s been sent here by the governor to spy on us.”
Ben was curious how Cheryl would react.
“I was wondering who’d get the honors,” Cheryl said calmly.
“You knew?” Corey asked.
“Not really,” she replied. “But I did a profile on the governor several years ago. One he doesn’t know about. He’s a control freak of the highest level. He’s the kind of person that would dictate the type of underwear his staff would wear if he thought he could get away with it. Then you place a family member in peril, and you have a ready-made recipe for him to take steps that will assure him of any and all information and the ability to circumvent anyone who might get in his way. This would be the first logical choice. If you ask me, he’s already putting together a replacement team for the lot of us if he doesn’t get what he wants when he wants it. I don’t envy you, Mr. Fox.”
“Damn, she’s good,” Corey, said to Ben.
“There’s something else,” Cheryl continued. “The governor’s a dangerous man. There’s been no proof to this point, but there’s a lot of speculation that he’s gone so far as to eliminate threats. Permanently.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” startled, Ben looked at Cheryl.
“What it means,” Cheryl started, “is that the governor runs most of his campaigns unopposed. Don’t get me wrong: there’s always a person from the other side to vote for, but the strongest opposition generally backs out at the last minute and is replaced with a second-string candidate. They usually leave for personal reasons. However, one of his opponents died in a manner that has yet to be explained to most people’s satisfaction.”
“Well, isn’t that just peachy,” Corey said sarcastically. “Next thing you’re gonna be telling us is that he has a legion of hitmen just waiting to pick us off one at a time.”
Cheryl was not about to answer a comment of that nature, but the shrug of her shoulders and the slight sideways turn of her head let both men know that she was not giving them the full details of what this man was capable of. But words weren’t necessary in this case…they knew what she meant.
From personal experience, Ben realized knew the governor was a cold and calculating man. He also knew that, for the moment, there wasn’t anything he could do about it. He decided to stick with what he did have some control over.
“Okay, Cheryl. Here’s the deal. I’ve put together some pieces of this puzzle that has me questioning my own sanity. I think I might know who our Mr. Smith is. I hope I’m wrong.” Ben paused a moment. “But if I’m right, we’re gonna have one helluva scandal on our hands.” Ben paused again to collect his thoughts. “Right now, all I have are tiny pieces of information leading me to one person. Corey can add whatever he’s just found out in a few minutes.”
“Whoa!” Cheryl said. “You think you know who he is?” She could not believe what she was hearing could be right. Ben certainly had her full attention now.
Ben took a slow deep breath and exhaled to calm himself down. It didn’t help much.
I’ve told you from the beginning that I think we need to look at someone active in law enforcement,” Ben began. “When I brought this before the group, there was one person that seemed to think it was a waste of time. Do you remember that?”
“Yes,” she answered. “Actually, if I recall correctly there wasn’t a lot of positive reinforcement from anyone, but there seemed to be one voice over the others. I’m not sure, but I think it was Captain Black. There was a lot going on, so you’ll have to help me out here.”
“Okay,” Ben said. “There are several items I need to cover, but I tell you what. Let’s move to this evening. Sue was posted at Jennie White’s apartment on my orders. You aren’t aware of this, but we found a set of prints on the last package that were unidentifiable.”
“I realize that,” Cheryl said, urging Ben to continue.
“They didn’t show up in any of the databases, so Sue and I talked about a different possibility because there was something unusual about their size. She did some checking at the local child protection data centers and discovered that they belong to Jennie’s son, Ricky. I made it clear to her that she was to tell nobody what she found. I told her to find Jennie and not tell anybody where she was going or what she was doing. I thought there might be a leak, and I wasn’t willing to take a chance if I was right.”
Cheryl jumped in. “So Jennie is the delivery girl? Why the hell didn’t you tell me this sooner?”
“I wasn’t sure at first,” Ben said. “I wanted to have her location confirmed and her actions monitored. I only found this out when we were trying to locate Laurie Brady, and at the time, she was a greater concern than Jennie was. I didn’t want anything or anybody getting to Jennie before I did, and I wasn’t going to do anything about it till we took care of Laurie. Sue is someone I trust enough to do that. I would have sent you, but you were, if you’ll recall, a little busy at the time yourself.”
Cheryl knew when she was being played. She knew that Ben was trying to defuse the situation and not insult her. She could have pushed the matter further, but decided against it. There was something else she wanted to hear about.
“When Laurie was located,” Ben went on, “all of our attention was focused on her safety. I didn’t think it would matter if we got to Jennie an hour or two later. I knew she was at home with her son and probably wasn’t going anywhere.” Ben paused, reflecting on the evening’s events. “Look, I know now that I was wrong. Maybe if I’d done something different that young officer might still be alive. I have to live with that.”
Cheryl saw the look of guilt on Ben’s face, heard it in his voice. “Nobody knew what would happened, Ben. You can’t beat yourself up over it. Anybody else would’ve probably done the same thing.”
Ben was quiet. The others waited for him to continue.
“Anyway,” Ben started again, “the first officer at the scene, at Jennie’s apartment, was the same one that rejected the idea of looking at active police during our meeting. When I talked to Sue a little while ago, she assured me that she had told no one. So, my question is, if only Sue and I knew about the girl, then how is it that this same guy just happened to be the first one there? What was he doing there?” Ben waited to see if she was processing all this. “And yes,” he interjected, “it was Captain Black.”
“I’m not going to speculate,” Cheryl said. “There could be several reasons. But go on.”
“At first, we weren’t sure if the incident with Sue and Jimmy had anything to do with Mr. Smith or not. But when I talked to her, she remembered a couple of things that led me to believe beyond a doubt that it was him. First, there was a verbal message that, in essence, told me that saving her was a gift to me. The second thing Sue remembered was the odor of his cologne. Sue called it “Red.” I don’t know much about it, but she seemed to remember that the only person she knew who wears it is Captain Black. It isn’t something you notice around here all that much, and it has a very unique fragrance about it.”
“So far,” Cheryl interrupted, “you haven’t given me much to work on. Everything you’ve said could easily be explained and wouldn’t hold up very well in court. I don’t mean to play devil’s advocate, but what you’re suggesting could easily cause a lot of damage to an innocent man. And if you’re wrong, get us all fired.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Corey chimed in. “Maybe we should all just drop the whole thing and forget about it.” Though calm, Corey’s voice was infected with sarcasm. “But—.” He strung out the word longer than necessary. “Before we cast the whole idea aside, Doc, how do you explain the fact that Captain Black has been within a few miles of each of the victims recovered so far and was also in the vicinity during the times they went missing. Now, we don’t know if that’s the case with all of the victims Mr. Smith identified, but so far, we’re five for five. Oh, and that also includes the young lady we just admitted to the hospital: Laurie Brady. Also, it’s just come to my attention that Captain Black, in one capacity or another, has had contact with each of the victims or a family member.”
“Sonofabitch.” Ben whistled a long sigh.
“Where the hell did you get that information?” Cheryl wasn’t upset because he had the information. What angered her was that he had it and she didn’t. Cheryl’s mind was racing with the possibilities.
“I can’t tell you that,” Corey said. “All I can tell you right now is that the information is verifiable. Once the rest of the checking is complete, I have a strong suspicion that Captain Black is going to have a lot of explaining to do.” Corey looked at Ben. “Sorry, buddy. I know he’s been a friend of yours for a long time. I hated being the messenger.”
“Thanks,” Ben said. “I hated asking for it.”
“This is going to make for one helluva mess.”
Cheryl was stating the obvious. This was the first time Ben had seen the woman out of character, almost acting human with emotions and corresponding character flaws. Ironically, it almost made him smile.
“This goes nowhere,” Ben said. “I have a TV show to do and two witnesses to interview. I want to meet with the two of you this evening. We have a shitload of details to work out, and like it or not, you guys are right in the middle of this shitstorm. Welcome to the club.”
Ben told Cheryl to make the arrangements regarding the television report; he would meet her at the station. He also told her that she would be getting a lot of written questions from reporters; she would need to go over them and decide which ones he should and should not respond to. Cheryl had not heard of anything like that being done before, but she thought she could handle it without too many problems.
Ben asked Corey to go with him to see Jennie. He knew that he couldn’t be with her one hundred percent of the time, and he wanted someone he could trust to back him up.
“Just like the old days,” Corey said with a smile, patting Ben on the back as they walked.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “Just like the old days.”
Ben was happy to have his friend with him. He wasn’t happy about the circumstances and what they could do to everyone he cared about.