So far, detective, you have, for the most part, been predictable. Only twice now have you surprised me. Neither was a shock or disruption to my plans. However, you are better than anyone else I could have chosen. Don’t make the mistake of believing you have me figured out.
I am so close to you that you would be shocked if you were to know. Your successes will be rewarded. I will not go back and kill the lovely Jennie White. You have won that piece. Enjoy it. She knows so very little, and hopefully your spotlight on her will keep you focused away from your goal. At least she’ll keep you away until I want you to find your killer.
Jennie did not waste the time alone from Ben. If she was going to do this—actually help the cops—she needed to get her story straight. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t be honest. To her, it meant making sure she told them everything she could remember. Jennie has never been a halfway sort of girl. Maybe she was a little obsessive-compulsive, or maybe she just liked being thorough. In either case, she wanted to make sure to help as much as she could. She knew that holding back anything could get her or Ricky killed. That just wasn’t something Jennie was willing to risk.
She asked one of the officers if he would get her a piece of paper and pen. She wanted to jot down some notes about Mr. Smith. She also wanted to keep notes of her involvement. She figured that the best way to make sense of it all was to just let the information flow and then put the pieces in order when she had thought it through a little later.
When Ben returned, Jennie was already on page two and on a roll. She was concentrating so hard she didn’t hear the two men walked in. When she glanced up, she jumped.
“Jesus Christ! You scared the shit out of me.” She looked at Corey. “Who’s this?”
It wasn’t as derogatory as she’d been earlier, but Ben could tell she wasn’t really excited about the guest.
“Jennie, this is Corey Fox. Corey and I worked together for several years way back, and we’ve been through a lot together. He’s the one person I can trust to cover my ass in a crisis.” Ben paused. “I can say that because he already has. He’s tough under fire, and I need him to help me make sure that you and Ricky are taken care of when I can’t be with you myself.”
Jennie still wasn’t sure that it was such a great idea, but she extended her hand and shook Corey’s. “I’m sure he’s already told you what a pain in the ass I am.”
Corey kept a straight face. “He did sort of mention the similarities between you and hemorrhoids.” He then broke into an infectious laugh.
Ben and Jennie joined him, and the room lightened considerably.
After a few moments of levity, Ben decided it was time to return to serious matters. Of course, there was no easy way to transition to the subject at hand, but he had to do what he could so Jennie White wouldn’t become too afraid.
“Jennie, why don’t you tell us, from the beginning, how you got involved in all of this. I’m going to hold any questions till later. I just want you to tell me what happened.”
Jennie took a deep breath, looked at Ben, to Corey, then back to Ben. She started talking, almost to herself, as she closed her eyes.
“I can do this. I can do this.” She opened her eyes. “As you know from my record, I used to be a drug addict and a prostitute. I’m not sure which actually came first, the drugs or the sex. I guess it would be the drugs if you look at it as a paying job for me. Guys I used to date always seemed to have crack or speed or coke or something else to get high on. We would get together, get high, and then I’d fuck them—err, have sex with them. After a year or so of that, my appetite for the stuff got bigger than my dates’ supply or my ability to pay for it. That’s when this guy approached me about giving me some money if I would do him and a couple of his friends a favor. You know, party with them. That happened a few times with them and other guys they introduced to me. Once I got started, the money was good, and it was hard to stop. I had enough money to get what I needed and to keep a roof over my head.”
Jennie stopped a minute, and Ben let her catch her breath.
“Everything was going fine,” Jennie continued, “or maybe I was too screwed up to know that it wasn’t going fine. Then I got pregnant. I thought for about two seconds about having an abortion, and then I got real. I was gonna have a baby and knew right then and there that I had to clean up my act. So I quit. I got off the shit. I quit being a pro and found some shit work to pay the rent. Things got tight a coupla times, and I didn’t have any choice but to do some tricks. I didn’t want to, but that was what I knew. I didn’t have the education to get a better job.” She paused again, remembering. “You know, there are some guys who actually want to make it with a pregnant lady and will actually pay extra money to do that. There are some really strange fuckers out there. Anyway, the last time was about five years ago. I haven’t done that or the drugs since.”
Jennie was starting to struggle a bit. She knew she had to get into the part that actually wanted to hear.
“I don’t know when it happened. Maybe a year ago. I was walking home when this guy—I don’t know who he was or even where he came from—anyway, this guy grabs me from behind and pushes me into the alley and turns me over a trash barrel. I’m thinking he’s gonna rape me. Instead, he puts a gun to my head and says to stay where I am, that he’s a cop and is going to search me for drugs. Now I’ve been frisked before, but this wacko went way above and beyond the call of duty. First he took my bag and went through it. When he didn’t find anything there, he threw it against the wall. I was wearing a halter-top, and he pulled it up to expose my tits. I wasn’t hiding anything so there wasn’t anything to find. I’m sure he knew that before he looked. He just wanted to embarrass me and scare me more than I already was. I’m not sure that was possible, but that’s what he did. I was also wearing slacks, and while I was bent over the barrel, he pulled my pants down. He had me spread my legs. He didn’t check me out at first. He ran his hands over my bottom for a long time. Then, before I knew what was happening, he put something up inside me. I didn’t know what it was, but he left it there for a few minutes while he leaned over me and pressed himself against my ass. I was so scared I couldn’t stop shaking. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped rubbing himself on me. He reached between my legs and pulled that thing back out. I was never so scared in my life. I didn’t know what was going on. I tried to scream, but my throat was so dry that nothing came out.”
A tear trickled down Jennie’s cheek. The anger Ben felt was strong, and he had to get himself under control. He could tell she was a strong woman and would get though this, but he didn’t like putting her through more than she already had. He handed her a tissue and encouraged her to continue.
“Thanks.” She took the tissue and wiped her eyes and nose. She took a deep breath. “After he pulled this thing back out of me, he leaned over me from behind again and put it under my nose. ‘Smell this, you cunt,’ he said. ‘Do you know what that smell is? It’s you. It’s your pussy juices, and it’s all over this very incriminating bag of cocaine. Do you know what I’m going to do with it?’ When I shook my head no, he said, ‘I’m gonna bust your ass and take you downtown. I’m gonna lock your ass up for a long time and see that you never get to see Ricky again.’ When he used my son’s name, I almost freaked. Don’t you understand?” She looked at the detectives. “The sonofabitch knew my kid’s name! I would’ve done anything to make sure he didn’t take Ricky from me.”
“It’s okay, Jennie.” Ben looked to Corey, then back to her. “Everything is okay now. He’s not gonna take Ricky from you. I promise. Tell us what happened next.” Ben’s stomach was turning, and he could almost tell what she was going to say next, but wanted her to tell the story.
“I begged him not to do that,” she whispered. “I told him I would do anything he wanted if he would just leave my baby alone and not take him from me. He said, ‘I know you will. And you’ll do something for me soon.’ I didn’t understand what he was talking about when he said soon. I told him that I’d have sex with him if that’s what he wanted. He just laughed at me and said, ‘I don’t do worn-out cunts like yours. If I pick some fruit, it has to be cherry. And I never ask for it. I just take it, use it as long as I want, and throw it away when I’m done.’ I was so humiliated. I felt like he could see through to my soul, and he wanted me to know that. I don’t know how I kept from just curling up in a ball and dying.”
Jennie sat quietly for a long time, her arms folded across her chest, rocking in her chair.
Ben and Corey just looked at the girl in disbelief. Neither of them could believe that she had been dealing with this man for over a year and had somehow stayed alive and reasonably sane. This woman’s stronger than both of us put together, Ben thought.
“I never felt so degraded in my life,” she finally said. “I thought for an instant that I just wanted to die. Then I realized that I might die anyway. You know something?” She looked directly at Ben. “There’s absolutely nothing that cures the desire to die quicker than the prospect it’ll actually happen. I’ve known since that first night that some day this monster was going to kill me and Ricky. I thought about going to the cops, but if he really was one of you guys, all that would accomplish would be to cause our deaths sooner. I may not be the smartest chick around, but I figured that one out pretty quick. I didn’t have any choice but to do what he wanted. He told me that he was going to keep the bag as evidence, and if I kept my mouth shut, he’d let me go. I had no choice but to agree. Then he put the gun to my head, cocked the pistol, and pulled the trigger. That click was the loudest, most horrifying noise I’ve ever heard in my life. I couldn’t help myself; I started crying, and the next thing I knew, he was gone. I must’ve laid over that barrel for another ten minutes before I got enough strength to move and get dressed.”
Jennie stopped talking and just sat there rocking. Her arms were still folded over her chest, hugging herself.
She was coming apart, and Ben knew it. She needed a break, a change of scenery. He decided that the best course of action was to find some place away from the station that was both safe and more comfortable for her and Ricky. Ben gave her more tissues and told her he’d be back in a few minutes. He looked to Corey and told him to wait with her.
FBI Agent Walter Conley had caught up with Cheryl at the TV station and seemed agitated. It was his opinion that he’d somehow gotten left out of the loop, and he was demanding to know what was going on.
“Look,” Conley said, “I know that you out-rank me and I can get my ass in a sling for this, but damnit, Cheryl, I need to know what’s going on. Maybe you can afford to let this thing get personal, but I can’t.”
“Personal?” she said indignantly. “You think I’m getting personal? You’re right, Walter. I do out-rank you. And if you think for a second that this approach is going to get you in my good graces, you better rethink your beliefs.”
“Look, Cheryl.” Conley backed down his tone. “I know you’re a pro at your job. I guess I’m just frustrated that there are so many things going on and I’m totally in the dark. I want to nail this asshole. Richard Smythe is my partner, and we’re acting like his disappearance doesn’t mean shit to anybody. I’m sorry about pushing, but I can’t seem to get anywhere with Detective Simeon. He’s like … out there. Do you know what I mean?”
“I’m not going to defend the detective,” Cheryl said, “but I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes right now. I’ll talk to him and see if we can all get together and bring everybody up to speed.”
Cheryl thought about Conley’s words carefully. The man was being totally out of character. Something was wrong. It wasn’t his words so much as his mannerisms. She’d known Conley for years, and no matter how much pressure he was under, he never lost his cool. He’s getting pressure from somewhere else, she thought. She wasn’t positive, but she suspected she knew where it was coming from. She also knew that if she was right, he could end up jeopardizing the operation.
“I tell you what,” Cheryl said. “Ben’s supposed to be here within the hour. How about we all get together and talk after his TV appearance. Maybe we can get a strategy in line for us all.” She knew that it wouldn’t be enough for him so she added, “I’ve been over at the hospital checking up on Laurie Brady and her parents. Right now I’m sort of in the dark as much as you are. Ben seems to be quite capable, but things are moving very quickly right now, and we all need to step back and take a closer look at the information we’ve been able to put together.”
Conley seemed to accept her remarks and told her that she needed to keep in closer contact. He reminded her that they still had a missing agent, who was probably dead, but might actually be going through torture at this moment. They needed to stay focused on that as much as anything else.
Cheryl nodded her agreement and watched him turn and walk away. She couldn’t help but wonder who was pulling his strings and just whom she could trust now. Obviously, she thought, the list is getting smaller and smaller.
Her phone rang, and she turned her attention from Conley to the caller ID. She smiled when she saw the number.
Ben told Cheryl that he was having Jennie and her son moved to a safe house and would be at KRIC in about twenty minutes. He also told her a shortened version of Jennie White’s story. Cheryl could say little in response. She was trying her best to stay detached from what she was being told, but admitted to Ben that she was having difficulty blocking the image from her mind. She couldn’t help but put herself where Jennie had actually been. She shivered at the thought.
Corey Fox would be in charge of the transport so Ben would have time to get to the station and get the announcement out of the way. With everything happening so quickly, Ben was concerned that something was being overlooked, and he needed Cheryl’s help to get things organized.
Cheryl asked if Ben thought it would be okay to bring Conley up to speed.
“Do you trust him?” Ben asked.
Twenty minutes earlier, Cheryl would have said that she did unequivocally. Now, she had reservations. She made the mistake of shrugging off her feelings.
“Yeah,” she said, “I think he’s a good agent and will do whatever necessary to help.”
“Then go ahead. I’m sure we can use all the help we can get. See you soon.”
Ben hung up the phone, wondering if Cheryl needed to be reminded to keep the info about Captain Black out of the update. He decided not to call back. She was smart enough to know what was and wasn’t appropriate.
“I wonder how Sue’s doing?” he said aloud. There wasn’t anyone around to hear him.
Ben went back to meet with Jennie and Corey to discuss the arrangements. When he entered the room, they were talking and laughing as if they were old friends.
Jennie looked up at Ben when he entered. “I didn’t know that cops actually had a sense of humor.” She laughed.
“Well, to be honest, neither did I.” Ben looked at Corey. “So when did you become a cop?” Ben thought it best to keep the discussion light-hearted. The girl has had a difficult life. Everyone needs a reprieve occasionally—this girl more than most.
Ben told the two the arrangements for the safe house. He took Corey aside, told him to keep him posted when they got to the safe house and if anything new came up from his “friends.”
Corey had no problem understanding. Corey said he would make another call as soon as he got the girl and her son set up.
Ben thanked him and told Jennie that he’d be back soon. If she needed anything, let them know.
Ben left and headed for his car. He had an appointment to keep and a world to inform. Something inside told him that this case was going to get a lot worse, and it was going to happen soon.