Through the Eyes of Death

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Chapter 7

Killers like Dahmer and Bundy offer something grotesque or unimaginable. You read about these and other psychotics and use them to scare your children into behaviors you can control. The Boy Scouts’ motto comes to mind: always be prepared. These psychotics are random in their hunt and should never be allowed to continue breathing. There is nothing redeeming about what they do, and they offer nothing of value in living. They are examples of the lowest form of the human condition.

I, on the other hand, use death for a more noble cause. Only through the experience of death can one truly see the value of life. Your quandary is learning to teach your children or loved ones how to avoid getting caught in my web. You can’t. There is no way to stop a killer like me. I do nothing random. I leave nothing to chance.

The advice I offer is to live a good and meaningful life. Remember daily that the only time promised is the present. Enjoy each moment as if it were your last, so perhaps on that day we meet, you will die without regret.

SFPD detectives Bill Anderson and Willie Mason met with FBI agents Walter Conley and Richard Smythe at 7 a.m. before driving back to Santa Cruz. They each voiced concerns regarding this strange case. Though the SFPD and FBI were noted more for antagonizing each other than mutual cooperation, this case possessed conditions that would virtually place both normally lead agencies into secondary roles. It was not only unprecedented, but also unacceptable. It didn’t matter that this so-called “Mr. Smith” was willing to go back into hiding and keep his information to himself. To allow the two organizations to be reduced to minor roles in this investigation would cause incalculable damage to each department’s reputation.

FBI agent Walter Conley was the first to speak.

“Gentlemen, let’s dispense with the niceties this morning. Special Agent Smythe and I spoke with our district supervisor and have been informed that allowing this local cop to run the show would amount to nothing less than a mockery. A small-town cop doesn’t have the expertise, experience, or technology to accomplish anything productive. Furthermore, going along with this fiasco would set a precedent that could cause unparalleled complications with wannabe criminals in the future. It’s a case where this joker is holding us hostage, and you already know our position about hostage situations. We do not negotiate.”

“However,” Smythe added, “as we stated yesterday, the FBI has no jurisdiction thus far. But speaking with one of our best forensic psychologists, we were told that Mr. Smith would bring us into the case soon. He’s trying to goad us into looking like fools, and if we aren’t careful, he’ll succeed. I believe we should all tread very lightly here.”

“We haven’t had a lot of encouragement from our department heads either,” Willie Mason admitted. “They think we should be polite and courteous and stay the hell out of it as best we can. They hate the idea that Santa Cruz is controlling this outside their jurisdiction and above their heads. However, getting this girl’s remains is more important than a turf war.”

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s bullshit, Willie, and you know it!” Anderson boomed. “I’ve worked this case for the last two years and’ve sat with the family. I can’t’ in all conscience, just sit back and watch this thing blow up. Maybe you guys don’t give a shit about the families, but, by God, I do. I won’t just sit back and hope this clown from Santa Cruz can figure things out. He may be a good guy, but he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground about a case like this.”

“Who the hell does?” Mason retorted. “This Smith guy is breaking all the rules about how this is going to play out. He knows he’s making us step across jurisdictional boundaries we aren’t willing to go beyond. And until we get a better handle on it, I think we just need to be prudent as to how we approach it. There’s more at stake here than just what we want or the Douglases, for that matter. Law enforcement, at its very roots, is at stake here. I, for one, am not willing to lose my career or the reputation of our agencies over this asshole.”

“Gentlemen,” Smythe said, “we are getting off track. We all know what’s at stake. We all know how unusual this case is. What we need to do for now is take a cautious approach, assist when and where we can, and then wait and see how it unfolds. For now, I suggest we ride with it and let Detective Simeon have the spotlight. Frankly, I don’t think he really wants to be in charge. If, somehow, he manages to make things look good, it’s good for us all. If he screws up, then the blame will be on him exclusively. It’s too early to make any decisions at this point. Can’t we at least agree on that much?”

“I agree,” Agent Conley said. “Gentlemen?”

“Agreed,” the two from the SFPD said.

“Okay,” Conley concluded. “Let’s head south and see what, if anything, we can accomplish.”

Lisa Adams got very little sleep that night. Her mind was racing as she thought about the possibilities of what she was about to embark upon. It had the makings of the most important news event of the millennium. At first all she could think about was what she could gain from a story of this magnitude. Around 4:30 in the morning, however, it dawned on her that this wasn’t about Lisa Adams and what she could achieve. It was about all the people whose lives had been torn apart by this man who called himself Mr. Smith. It was about the lives of people who lived in fear and worry everyday because of tragedies that affected them. The very people we ignored because it’s happened to somebody else. Millions of people would watch and wait everyday to find out who would be discovered next. Millions would sit on the edge of their chairs hoping and praying for families they didn’t even know. All of those people would be listening to her voice, depending on her to bring this information to their homes. She became so scared about the enormity of her responsibility that she ran to the bathroom and threw up. Lisa Adams was growing up.

At her desk, Lisa was finding it impossible to concentrate. When John Abernathy entered her office, she didn’t realize he had done so.

“Scared?” he asked.

Abernathy’s voice startled Lisa, who quickly straightened in her chair, embarrassed that someone had caught her in the act of self-doubt. Realizing it was her mentor, Lisa allowed herself to relax.

“I don’t know if I can do this, John,” she said. “I know I’m supposed to be this tough bitch that nothing affects. I’m supposed to be strong and make people believe that I will somehow come up with the answers they’re looking for. But I don’t know if I can. I just don’t know if I’m the right person for this.” Her eyes started welling with tears, yet somehow she held them back.

“I know just how you feel,” Abernathy said. “All my life I’ve been waiting for something of this magnitude. For years I kept myself going because I thought I would get my break and that I, more than anyone else in the world, could handle the story. Now, for the first time since I got into this business, I realize how small I am. However,” he continued, “I’ve been thinking about you and who would be the best person to handle the anchor. For what’s going on, I could have anybody I want. But you want to know something? I know now that the only person that can do this is you. Not because of your experience. Hell, nobody’s experienced anything like this. Well, maybe a war correspondent, but I’m not even sure about that. Anyway, you belong here. Not because of your looks. Not even because of your wit. You are the best person to handle this because of your heart. You feel for these families. You hurt when they hurt. I want you to express anger when you feel angry. I’m not looking for some robot without compassion. I want your fire standing there and being brutal, not only with this Smith fellow, but also with the cops. You’re the one person that can accomplish the results we need. You know what’s right and will do everything you can to make the truth come out for everyone to see.”

A tear trickled down her cheek. “Having you say that means more than you could possibly know, John.”

Abernathy moved closer and wiped the tear with the back of a finger.

“I believe in you, young lady. I know that you’re perfect for this. Now get yourself cleaned up and ready. We have a long day ahead of us.” He turned to leave, then paused. “I’m heading up the hill to Santa Cruz. I’ll keep you posted.”

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