Through the Eyes of Death

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Chapter 35

I’ve said it before, but it will say it again: we live our lives based upon lies. We are taught from our youth things that superficially appear to make sense, but upon further examination, discover to be false.

Practice makes perfect.

How many times have we heard that very phrase? It’s a lie. Practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect. Practicing any other way will teach you how to do things wrong—permanently. If you have believed that lie all of your life, what else do you believe based on an incomplete paradigm?

Open your eyes and challenge everything you believe.

The governor was alone when his private phone rang. He picked it up on the second ring. The only person that could be calling that number was someone he had personally contacted. Someone who would give him the real inside information.

“What is it?” the governor asked. He had been sitting awhile, but something the caller said made him stand up. He walked to the corner of his office and stared out his window at the evening’s lights. “How sure are they of this?”

He listened for another minute. “When will you know for sure?”

The governor was getting more agitated by the minute. He was glad to hear this news, but a single piece of information was sometimes worse than no information at all.

“Make damn sure that someone is on him at all times. I’ll get the papers together to make sure you have access. And keep this to yourself. I don’t want to compromise anything by you being too pushy. Just stay low.” The governor hung up and stared at the wall. His hands went to his face and, for a brief moment, the governor began to weep.

When the caller hung up, he cursed the governor. “What the fuck does he think I am? An amateur?” No one was around to hear his words, but he felt good saying them. It would be nice to tell the man to his face what an asshole he really is, he thought. But for all of his incompetence, he is powerful and certainly influential—nobody to take lightly.

Getting critical information was something the governor wouldn’t be able to do himself. Getting on the inside took experience and intelligence. The governor might be experienced at fucking people over, he thought, but he sure as hell isn’t intelligent.

When Ben arrived at the TV station, throngs of reporters and cameramen were awaiting. He had to drive slowly into the parking lot to avoid hitting anyone. When he got out of his car, he felt like a hundred microphones were shoved in his face and maybe twice that many questions asked all at once.

Ben turned toward the crowd and held up his hand to quiet the group. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be making a public announcement in about fifteen minutes. If you’ve submitted your questions to the station, I’m sure that they’ll be answered as long as they don’t compromise the investigation. Thank you all for your patience and understanding.”

Ben walked to the door of the station and entered. His comments seemed to do little to suppress questions from being asked. They all hoped for something more. They all wanted the inside scoop.

When Ben entered, Lisa came rushing up to him, wanting to make sure he was okay, wanting to know when he expected to be ready to go on air. He said he’d ready in about fifteen minutes; he needed to speak to Cheryl Johnson. Lisa led the way to where Cheryl was sitting, poring over dozens of letters and questions.

“I sure am glad you’re the one doing that.” Ben grinned.

“Don’t try to mask your anxiety with humor, detective.” Cheryl looked up at him. “Remember who you’re talking to.” She looked at him seriously for a second, then smiled. She laughed when she noticed the perspiration forming on his forehead.

“I swear, Doc,” Ben finally managed to get out. “I honestly don’t know which is worse—dealing with a madman serial killer or doing an interview on television when you know the whole damn world is watching.” He tried to laugh, but gave up trying. It was a lost cause.

Cheryl smiled at him. “The good news is that you can now be classified as normal. Public speaking is ranked as one of the top three anxiety-producing causes known to man.” She smiled again. “Now doesn’t that make you feel better?”

Ben made a vow to never get involved with a shrink; they knew too damn much to ever relax around.

“So what do we have, other than what we already know?” Ben glanced at the papers in front of Cheryl.

“More good news,” Cheryl said with a straight face. “As long as you tell absolutely everything we know about every victim, witness, and suspect, and leave out no details, you can probably get by without having to answer any of these questions.” A slow smile crossed her face.

“Cheryl, I don’t know if I can contain myself with all this positive information you’re dishing out.” Ben appreciated her attempts at helping him relax, but the time was near, and he had to get what he needed.

Cheryl sensed the subtle change and handed Ben the stack closest to the door.

“I think these are the ones that will be okay to answer. I don’t think these others will be appropriate. At least not now anyway.”

“Thanks. Don’t go away. We need to get together afterwards. There’s a lot we need to sort out, and I’m running out of gas.” And in a mock condescending manner, “Oh by the way, make sure we have plenty of coffee. You know, make yourself useful.”

He laughed, and Cheryl took no offense. Just so he didn’t get too big for his own ego, she said, “Bite me. You can get your own damn coffee.”

Ben laughed. Cheryl put her arm on Ben’s shoulder and walked him out. Lisa Adams was waiting to escort him to the news area. Cheryl noticed the girl throwing her attention Ben’s way. She understood Lisa’s fascination toward Ben; she even understood her own.

The world listened intently as Ben told of finding and freeing Laurie Brady from her prison. He described her injuries and that she was still in surgery at the moment. He spoke of the governor’s daughter and his expectations that she would be found alive. He covered the case of the missing FBI agent, and he said they now had a witness being interviewed. Though some new information had come to light, there was nothing concrete to reveal Mr. Smith’s identity. He asked anyone who believed in prayer to do so—the governor and all of the families of the missing victims would appreciate it.

Ben took just over 25 minutes outlining the information, detailing plans they had for continuing parallel investigations, and answering the questions. He could have talked hours, but he knew the longer he took doing this, the colder the case was getting. He concluded by asking anyone who knew something about the cases to call.

After Ben left the podium, Lisa Adams took over expressing her appreciation for the positive comments from people all over the world.

When she finished, she approached Ben. “I just wanted to say thanks for all of your cooperation. If there’s anything else I can do to help, just ask.”

“Lisa, I’ll do whatever I can to close this case. Right now I can’t think of anything, but I’m not bashful, and I’ll let you know if anything changes. I’m just sorry that you’ve gotten so close to the killer. I don’t know why he picked you any more than why he picked me. We’re both in difficult and dangerous positions. I just want you to be careful.”

“Do you think he’ll come after me?” For the first time it seemed to dawn on her that she might be a target of this crazed killer.

“Actually, I don’t think so.” He said the words and believed them. “He seems to be creating bonds with those who help him accomplish his objectives, whatever that means. If you want us to place someone with you till this is over, I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem.”

“Would you mind if I keep that possibility open? I don’t know why I’m not more concerned about him than I am, but for some reason, I feel the same as you. I don’t think I’m a target. I just hope it’s not too late if the feeling changes.”

“I’ll make it a open invitation. As a matter of fact, sorta as a compromise, I’ll have someone drive past your place on a regular basis. It won’t hurt having someone in the neighborhood. Is that okay with you?”

“Thanks,” Lisa said. “Actually, I like that idea a lot.”

As Ben left, Lisa watched the man walk away, wondering if there had ever been a news event with had a larger international audience. She didn’t think so.

Walter Conley was with Cheryl when Ben got back.

“Nice job,” Conley said. “It always amazes me how events out of our control can take someone from obscurity to national hero.”

The comment wasn’t designed to flatter Ben as much as it was meant to get Ben to recognize Conley’s existence. Conley was accustomed to being on the fringes of the limelight or even in the middle of it, but never relegated to insignificance as he was now. He didn’t like it, especially coming from some redneck, backwoods cop like Simeon. Conley would show them that he, too, could make a difference. Soon, he thought. Very soon.

“Thanks,” Ben said. “I don’t really see myself as a hero, but I appreciate your kindness.” Ben didn’t realize the animosity searing beneath the agent’s words. Ben had more important things to consider than an FBI agent’s ego, but this oversight would come back to haunt him. He should have known, he would think later. But how could he know. He was having a difficult time just keeping up with all the players.

“So where are we?” Conley asked. “How sure are you that Captain Black is behind all of this?”

The words rocked Ben back to reality. Cheryl had told Conley, and Ben felt stupid for not having called her back and telling her to keep that information out of her conversation with her fellow agents. Cheryl saw his reaction and now realized that she had made a mistake. She knew she’d overstepped her bounds, and if she could take it back, she would. She expected Ben to go ballistic. He didn’t.

“Agent Conley, that information wasn’t supposed to be given to you until we had further confirmation one way or the other. A good man’s life is at stake here, and I don’t want to compromise it unless we know something irrefutable. The man has been a close friend of mine for a long time, so if you’d please keep it quiet till we know for sure.”

Ben was working hard at holding his temper. Conley was grating at him, and he would just as soon send him back to Washington or wherever he came from. There was nothing he could do about what was done. The best approach for now was containment. He hoped it would be enough.

“You are one arrogant sonofabitch,” Conley said briskly. “Just who the hell do you think you’re talking to? I’m an agent with the fucking FBI, and you have to tell me things like this. Unlike you clowns from the hills, we do happen to know how to do our job. And, I might add, I damn sure don’t give a rat’s ass if he’s a friend of yours or not. If he’s the one—or if he’s suspected—we have a job to do to bring the sonofabitch in and question him. Isn’t that right, Ms. Johnson?” Conley looked at Cheryl.

“Actually, Agent Conley,” Cheryl replied, “under other circumstances I’d be only too happy to agree with you. However, these are not usual circumstances, and Ben here isn’t obligated to tell either of us squat. We’re here by his invitation and can be removed with one phone call. As much as I hate to admit it, we have very little power or control over this case. So, just so there won’t be any miscommunications here, keep your mouth shut and stay the hell out of Ben’s way. Do I make myself clear?”

Ben’s mouth dropped a little. She’s a feisty one, Ben thought.

He was about to speak when his phone rang. It was Corey Fox.

“Hey, Ben. What do you know about the deaths of Captain Black’s sister and niece?”

“Nothing much,” Ben admitted. “All I know is that his niece died about three or four years ago in an accident, and his sister died about a year later from some kind of allergic reaction to her medication. Why?” Ben didn’t know where Corey was heading.

“Well,” Corey said, “that’s not what really happened. It seems that his niece died from a drug overdose. She was into some pretty rough shit, and it killed her. According to my sources, the captain didn’t want a scandal so he pulled a few strings and had it reported that she died in an accident. Anyway, it seems his sister was so overwrought with grief and guilt for not preventing it that she ended up committing suicide. Nobody was ever brought in as the niece’s supplier.”

“Jesus Christ, Corey.” Ben was trying to catch his breath and understand the magnitude of the information Corey had just dropped. “Are you sure about this? I mean…” He stopped to collect his thoughts, but everything was just too confusing. “Sonofabitch.”

“Ben, you alright?”

“Yeah,” Ben replied slowly. “Yeah, I’m alright. Where are you?”

“I’m still with Jennie and Ricky. What do you want me to do?”

“Keep digging,” Ben said. “In the meantime, get some people on him and watch him. Make sure they don’t let him out of their sight.”

“There’s something else, Ben,” Corey said hesitantly. “It seems that the captain bought an old, shutdown construction site about ten miles east of Soquel. We didn’t pick up on it right away because it was bought in his niece’s name.”

“Okay,” Ben said, “get a team up there and check it out. And listen carefully, Corey. Nobody is to go into any of the buildings. I mean nobody. Do you understand me?” Ben didn’t trust anything any more. Too many people had died already. He sure as hell didn’t want to be the cause of any more deaths.

“I understand. Do you still want me to stay here or should I go up there and check it out myself?”

“You go. Just make sure you don’t do anything until I can get there myself. I have a bad feeling about this, and I don’t want anyone getting hurt. And Corey?” Ben said. “Thanks. I know how difficult telling me this must have been for you.”

Corey passed on that. “What do you want me to do about Jennie and Ricky?”

“Shit. My mind is going too fast to keep up with myself. I need you to get two—no, three cops over there to watch her. Pick them at random, and don’t accept any volunteers. We may be on the right track here, but we can’t take any chances. Place two outside and one inside. Then go to Soquel. I’ll meet you there as soon as I can.”

“You okay, buddy?” Corey asked it with the affection that can only come from somebody who has been through war and seen the blood of his comrades.

“I’m okay,” Ben said. “Really, I’ll be fine. I’ll see you soon.”

Captain Black didn’t like what was going on. He was tired and needed rest. His mind was playing tricks on him, and he wanted to make sure that if he was needed he’d gotten a couple hours sleep. He thought about driving back to Santa Cruz, but didn’t want to be so far away from where he might be needed most. He didn’t like the drive to get there, but more importantly, he wanted to be close in case Ben needed him.

He left the hospital after seeing Sue and drove a few blocks up the street, checking in at a chain economy hotel. Ben knew how to reach him if he was needed, and the captain knew he was doing the right thing. A weary mind makes poor decisions he thought.

He laid down on the uncomfortable bed and quickly fell asleep.

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