Through the Eyes of Death

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Chapter 5

Fools run amuck when their pride meets fear. You do understand what that means, don’t you? Surely you, of all people, can appreciate an intellectual mind. I heard you speak once. Your voice was so strong, and you seemed to have so much confidence as you stood in front of all those people. Yet now I see you shaking, trembling in fear. It’s as if you know beyond doubt that your power was a ruse and your strength was based on lies. You see that, don’t you? You are weak, just like everyone else that walks this world. You may have been elevated above others, but now you see that you, too, are small and weak to those that wield a power even greater than your own. Your downfall was your arrogance. Your pride was false. Now even you can see how foolish you were, and all that have suffered by your hands will be avenged.

Man has little knowledge of the soul. Science dictates that there is no proof of its existence. Only the meek, those of faith, can appreciate the existence of something greater than themselves. Only they understand, even if only a minutely, that we mortals are finite.

Today I begin separating the wheat from the chaff. Today those who believe in God will appreciate what tomorrow brings. The rest will fear for their next breath.

The six o’clock news caused a huge response from those watching. The station had aired a teaser about the next day’s announcement. The police station had to call in extra officers to cover the phones. As per the collective agreements between those working the case, Ben was to be insulated from the press. The one call he did take was from Arthur Douglas who, as expected, was irate. He swore at Ben with such venom that Ben was sure that if he didn’t defuse the situation quickly, Arthur would have a heart attack or a stroke or something. Ben asked that Douglas and his wife drive to Santa Cruz so he could bring them current on all matters and assured him that the police were doing everything they possibly could to find his daughter. Though not happy, Arthur agreed to leave right away.

Ben sat at his desk wondering how to handle the situation. He decided the best approach was honesty. The Douglas family had been through too much already to cheat them from the truth.

There was a light tap on the door. Sue Garrison opened it and tentatively peered in.

“May I come in for a minute?” It had taken her twenty minutes to work up the nerve. But she cared for Ben, and though she wasn’t sure how he felt for her, she had decided that if there was ever a time when she needed to assure him of her support, now was that time.

“Sure, Sue. Come on in,” he replied. “But close the door please.”

Ben had had one hell of a first day back at work. He was tired beyond anything he could remember. Yet seeing Sue made him stir to full attention.

“What can I do for you?” he asked, trying not to show the tiredness he truly felt.

“Look, Ben,” she started. “You know this place as well as I do. Nothing is sacred about what is happening. We all know what’s coming down. But I’m not here to talk about what everybody knows or thinks. I’m here to tell you that you are a very special person and that I believe in you. I know you’ll find this guy. More important, though, I wanted you to know that if you need someone to talk to, or even just sit with, I’m here for you. I don’t want you to think that you’re ever alone.”

Ben thought about her words. It took longer than it probably would have under normal circumstances but, as tired as he was, it didn’t all sink in right away.

“Sue,” he finally said, “I don’t know what you heard. However, whatever it was probably doesn’t come close to the reality of the situation. I like you. And even though it’s unprofessional to say this, I like you more than what would be considered acceptable on the force.” Ben couldn’t believe he was actually opening up to her. “But before we take this any further, you need to know something. If this case goes the way most people think it will, when it’s all over, I’ll either be dead or, at the very least, out of work. Right now, being close to me may not be a wise career move. You need to know that.”

“I see. So what you’re saying is that I would be better off looking the other way when you’re around. You think that if we were to get closer, maybe even go out, that I’d be risking my career on the force. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes.” He frowned at the tone in her voice. “That and maybe more. This person, this Mr. Smith, seems to want to make somebody suffer. For whatever reason, I seem to be the cop du jour. I don’t want anyone, especially you, hurt because of this.”

Inside, Sue’s feelings for Ben deepened. Her admiration elevated. “Well, Ben, I can certainly see where you’re coming from. There’s just one small problem with your rationale. I don’t run from problems, and I sure as hell don’t hide when someone I care about needs me. So you get something clear right now, just so there’s no misunderstanding: I don’t give a rat’s ass what you have to go through. I care about you. Whatever that means to you, if you need me, I will be here for you.”

Without waiting for him to respond, Sue turned and left.

Ben sat at his desk trying to figure out what had just happened. Of all the things that had happened this crazy day, this conversation was by far the best. He smiled and promised himself he would continue this discussion soon.

Unfortunately, Ben didn’t have much time to reflect on Sue. Arthur and Sharon Douglas were being led to his office. Ben felt his stomach flip. This was not going to be good.

John Abernathy and Lisa Adams sat in Abernathy’s office at the station contemplating the turn of events. The dark mahogany antique desk, the ornate furniture, and even the beautiful paintings Abernathy had collected over the years, which usually calmed his nerves, did nothing to ease his mind. Both were in turmoil. Both realized the impact of what was unfolding before their eyes. Not only were they going to be leading the local networks but maybe with the right kind of promoting, they could become a leader in the national markets as well. The exposure alone stood to generate millions of dollars of unexpected revenue for the station.

The conflict was the tightrope they would have to walk to protect the relatives discovering the fate of their missing family members. In Abernathy’s mind, it fell under the auspices of responsible journalism. More importantly, it had to do with ethics. John Abernathy was an ethical and compassionate man. He understood what these families were going through. His wife had died only three years earlier. His pain, he knew, couldn’t come close compared to these families’. They had been looking for two years for someone they loved. Now, it seemed they would have to deal with the deaths of those same family members. No, their grief would be much worse.

“So what do we do now?” Lisa wanted to know. She respected her mentor immensely for his compassion. She was young and beautiful and mature beyond her 26 years.

“I’ve talked to the owners, and they’ve talked to the various networks,” Abernathy explained. “Everybody is chomping at the bit for the rights to this story. We just have to wait until they decide what to do, and then we’ll go with what they say. Tomorrow morning I’ll be going to Santa Cruz to meet with Detective Simeon. Hopefully, we can garner some ideas from him on how to present all of this. In the meantime, we’ll do as instructed by Mr. Smith. Keep announcing what we know.”

“Do you think they’re actually going to cooperate?” Lisa asked. “Considering the police’s history of not discussing active cases with the media, do you really believe they’ll be straight with us?”

“From what I know so far, I don’t think they’re going to have any choice.”

John Abernathy knew that they were sailing in uncharted waters with the nightmare Mr. Smith had dumped into their laps. But, this was the first time in years he had felt alive and excited about his work. No matter how good it made him feel, he knew that all of the good happening for his business was coming at the expense of those who had suffered.

Captain Black was coming back from his meeting with the district attorney when he noticed Ben staring out his window, looking into the darkness.

“What’re you staring at Ben? Thinking about the case?”

Actually, at that particular moment Ben’s mind had drifted back to his conversation with Sue, he said, “Yeah, the Douglases just left, and I’ve been trying to figure this guy out. You know, why me? Why now? Why here in Santa Cruz? What’s he really want? It has to be more than what he’s said so far. Who’s he really trying to get at? Is he looking to hurt someone or enlighten us about his personal problems? I know he’s on some sort of power trip, but what’s he trying to prove? Hell, Captain, I don’t even know where to go with this thing. It scares the hell out of me that somehow I’m going to screw this whole thing up.”

“What?” Black asked. “So you think that somehow if this goes bad that you’re the one who gets shit on? You think that somehow all of this rests on your shoulders? Look, I know that I can be a hard-assed boss. I know what people call me behind my back, and frankly, I don’t give a flying fuck what people say. What I will tell you is this. You’re not going to be taking the flack on this alone. I can’t speak for the SFPD or the FBI or anybody else for that matter. What I will tell you is that I’ve got your back on this one. I thought about assigning someone to work with you. We have some good people, and any one of them would be an asset to you. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that both of our asses are on the line here. So congratulations, Ben. I’m your new partner for the duration.”

“I’m honored sir. I can’t think of anyone else I would want with me.”

Of course, Ben felt his mouth must have hit the floor when he heard the news. This is getting worse by the minute, he thought. Ben didn’t have anything against the captain. Quite the contrary, he respected the captain above all others in the department. But the captain hadn’t been in the field for at least ten years. Ben knew he had put together one of the best arrest records in Northern California when he was doing fieldwork. What worried Ben more was how in the world he could open up and say what was really on his mind. The captain would never go for that. Did he really want to help the case? Or was Captain Black just looking for a way to cover his own ass by keeping a finger on everything? God, this thing is less than ten hours old, and I’m already getting paranoid.

“A couple of things before I go,” the captain said. “Since we are going to be partners, you won’t be calling me sir. My name is Donald or Don or Black. Second, you’re the lead detective on this case. I expect that you’ll piss me off. Probably often. However, while we’re working together on this, I expect you to have your own ideas and opinions and thoughts. You’re a smart kid and I expect you to be straight with me. Finally, we’re in this mess together—win, lose, or draw. Until this is over, I’m stepping aside and Lieutenant Bennett will be acting captain. He’ll hold down the fort while you and I try to fix this mess. Understood?”

“Yes sir—err, Don. I understand.”

Ben had heard the words and thought for a second that the captain was a mind reader. On the other hand, he didn’t believe for a minute that the captain would relinquish his authority to anyone.

With that piece of business out of the way, Black turned and left.

Ben turned back to the window. He watched the winter rain falling as it always did this time of year. In Northern California it rained three months out of the year. The rest of the time the sun shines. Rain is appropriate, Ben thought. He would hate to waste a beautiful summer day on a man like Smith. His thoughts drifted back over the day. Though he was confused and concerned about most of it, there was a peace inside that lifted his spirits.

Then he thought of Sue and smiled.

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