Through the Eyes of Death

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Chapter 8

There are many methods of producing a victim. Physical harm is the manner most publicized. For this moment, I choose instead to focus on fear as an alternative when victimizing my prey.

To incite fear, all one needs do is discover that which a people most fear losing, then take it away from them. At the very least they must perceive the loss to be imminent. For those I kill, they know I will be taking their lives. Fear rises to the surface without effort. The challenge is small and offers me little to learn.

Today I choose to embark or a new theory. I want to test an assumption that exposes whether death is man’s greatest fear. I wish to challenge my sufferer. I want to observe the outcome of other losses to determine the height and breadth of his fears. When other facets of his life are uncovered and threatened by extinction, how will he respond?

Small men fear many things. They are dead long before the stench of their rotting flesh permeates the world. The strong, however, provide a better challenge. They appear to fear little. They strut with their chests out and heads held high. They only fear losing control. My work today is watching strong, brave men and women lose what they cherish most: their dignity. I have a query. If they lose what they prize most, will they run like cowards? Or will they fight to regain what they have lost?

It was time for a meeting of the minds. Ben knew that all eyes would be focused on him.

Over the years he’d led many investigations. I’m not a rookie, he thought. He had led cases involving murderers, pedophiles, bank robbers, and a plethora of other bad guys. It wasn’t the leadership that bothered him. He just didn’t want this responsibility. For now, at least, he knew he didn’t have a choice. He had been thinking all night long about what he was going to do and how to approach the rules placed before him by Mr. Smith. Whatever was said on the surface, he knew the other agencies did not like or want him to be in charge. Big city detectives and FBI agents didn’t get where they were by being wallflowers or pacifists. They were strong, forceful people with big egos, and somehow Ben knew he had to control their behaviors, or at the very least their aggressive tendencies.

Everyone entered the conference room having already been briefed in writing with what was known, which wasn’t all that much. This meeting was designed to plan strategy for the upcoming days and who would play what parts.

There were three new faces in the meeting: a forensic psychologist from Quantico, Lieutenant Sam Bennett from SCPD, and John Abernathy from KRIC-TV. It was the first time in any of their histories that someone from the media—any media—was allowed to participate in a strategy session. Ben believed that this was the first of many things that would fall from the purview of normal, ruffling feathers along the way. There was a reason why the media was always left out. In a long-standing, hostile relationship between the two sides, the police have long known that the media’s desire is to inform the public about all affairs they deem important. They believe the public has the right to know everything about anything or anyone, and they will do whatever necessary to make that happen. It was a noble thought as far as Ben was concerned. Even the courts upheld that basic truth. Of course, Ben reminded himself, it didn’t hurt circulation for those same noble souls. Boy over the years the police had experienced too many situations where knowledge in the media’s hands interfered with ongoing investigations and gave the bad guys too much of an advantage. The mere prospect of solving a case where the media was involved decreased exponentially.

Ben knew that Mr. Smith was going to get the media involved, and there was nothing he could do to prevent that. On the other hand, if the media was going to be a part of the process, he figured it would be easier to control what goes out if they understood the dynamics of the process itself.

As one of Quantico’s best forensic psychologists, Cheryl Johnson had been flown in by the FBI to assist with the case. She was considered some kind of wunderkind, having received doctorates from the prestigious Harvard Law School and Washington School of Psychiatry in D.C. before the age of twenty-three. She had decided to focus on forensic psychology. She believed that knowing the worst that man had to offer would make all other aspects of solving crime easier. Though the others in the room had not been told of John Abernathy’s participation in the meeting, Cheryl Johnson had expected him. Ben had talked to her privately just before the meeting and she requested that she be the one to introduce the purpose Abernathy’s presence.

“These guys are not going to like it one bit,” she had said. “I have worked with Smythe and Conley before. They will fight you every step on this. However, if I suggest it as my idea, they might object, but I think I can clear the way for you. Just understand something, Detective Simeon. If anything happens or should go down a path that I believe to be detrimental to the case, or if anyone becomes jeopardized because of his involvement, I will insist that Mr. Abernathy is taken out of the picture and that any and all repercussions fall squarely on your shoulders. For now, at least, you might be right…even though every facet of my studies and work history tells me otherwise.”

“I appreciate your candor as well as your support,” Ben had said. “I know you’re going out on a limb. Thanks.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Detective Simeon. This could still very easily come back to bite you in the ass.”

Ben had thought her words both eloquent and spot on. He knew this was not going to be a good day. All Cheryl Johnson had accomplished was to confirm what he already believed.

“Now that everybody is here,” Lieutenant Bennett said starting the meeting, “there are a few items that we need to go over that were not listed in your reports.” Sam Bennett was a no-nonsense, no-frills sort of guy. He was short by normal police standards, but made up for his vertical shortcomings with a mile-high attitude. Everyone who knew the lieutenant respected him. “The first will be to introduce to you Dr. Cheryl Johnson. For those unfamiliar with Dr. Johnson, she is one of the FBI’s most highly regarded forensic psychologists. She will address her thoughts about the perp, Mr. Smith, and what we can most likely expect from him. She also has some ideas regarding the man’s profile based on the information we’ve received thus far and his most likely path in the near future. I know that Mr. Smith has insisted on Detective Simeon to head up this investigation, but for now we don’t have much to investigate. Until we get more to work with, we need to explore every avenue we may face. Hopefully, that’s where Dr. Johnson comes in.”

With that, Bennett stepped aside and Cheryl Johnson moved to the head of the room.

“Here’s what we know so far,” she started. “Mr. Smith gives us the impression that we are dealing with a man. And though that would also be consistent with the profile of a serial killer, for now, at least, we will not make any specific assumptions about his gender to the public. However, for the sake of simplicity, I will use the male supposition. I just want to make sure that until we know otherwise, we will look into both genders.

“Next, this is a very eclectic group of officials with varied histories and backgrounds. I cannot possibly know on such short notice what each of you know—or don’t know—about forensic psychology. That being the case, I will assume you have a basic knowledge and ask that, should I say anything you don’t follow, you do not hesitate to request clarification. This is not the time to be diffident, gentlemen. There is no place for pride here, and everyone needs to be working from the same page.”

Captain Black raised his hand.

“Yes, Captain. How can I help you?”

“ Dr. Johnson, I don’t mean to start all of this by coming across as stupid, but my college major was P.E. and there wasn’t one jock who ever used the word diffident. So if I am going to agree and not be something, I’d like to know just exactly what I’m agreeing to. If you don’t mind.”

Everyone chuckled, but the captain remained dead serious. Ben liked that about the man. He understood the difference between ignorant and stupid. Ignorance was merely a lack of information that could be easily rectified by asking questions. Stupid, on the other hand, was different. The captain was not stupid.

“Thank you, Captain Black,” Dr Johnson said. “I appreciate that you are not diffident. You have the courage to admit that there are things you don’t know. You are not timid, which is what diffident means, and so far exhibit what this task force needs: an understanding that we are in uncharted waters and don’t have all the answers.” Then looking around the room, “You should all learn this lesson.”

Cheryl Johnson did not want to belabor the issue. “That being said, I believe Mr. Smith is actually a white male between the ages of 35 and 50. In this particular case, we should consider him to be above average intelligence. For reasons unknown, he has an ax to grind with law enforcement. I say that because of his approach, how he’s taunting us to catch him. Unlike many serial killers, Mr. Smith doesn’t have a problem with killing. What I mean is that many serial killers have complex delusions that run counter to their own standards of normal behavior. Mr. Smith has no such delusions. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that he’s delusional at all. And unlike many serial killers, he doesn’t want us to find him. I state that because, with most, their delusions create significant inner conflicts. Most serial killers want the pain in their minds to go away. In order for them to get caught, yet not just give up, they’ll spin an elaborate web for us to navigate in order to circumvent capture. Again, Mr. Smith has no such problems. In front of each of you is a copy of the letter he sent to Detective Simeon. I want you to take a look at the highlighted parts. The first highlight shows us that he is mocking us, and the quotations around the word “crime” indicate that, in his mind, no crime has been committed. This may mean he doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong, as would be the case with most psychopaths. Or—and I believe this to be the case here—he believes himself to be above the law. He has another motivation even beyond trying to make us look like fools.”

“Like what?” Willie Mason interrupted.

“I don’t know yet. If we can figure that part out, then we just might have our biggest and best clue as to how to catch him. One thing that is important to him is that we believe what he tells us. To tell a lie would be counterproductive to his cause, whatever that might be. On the other hand, because of his perceived intelligence, we can assume that he will leave holes in what he tells us so that he can continue with his plans without degrading his position.”

She paused to make sure everybody was keeping up.

“Now, part of his grand scheme is to include the media.”

“And I just want to say for the record that getting them involved will be suicide for the integrity of this case and for all of us,” Special Agent Smythe said. “I just want it to be perfectly clear to everybody that the agency does not like or agree with allowing the media to know anything other than basic, fundamental aspects of this case. Anything beyond that could corrupt our advances and, in essence, allow Mr. Smith a virtual escape route should we catch him.”

“How so?” Ben asked.

“Assuming that we do catch him,” Smythe explained, “it might be virtually impossible for us to keep him behind bars because of our inability to get a fair and impartial jury. Going public with this from the beginning will get national attention, therefore hindering our abilities to prosecute. As I said, I don’t like it, and I don’t agree with it. What you do for now is up to you. So far this is still considered a local matter, and the FBI is here merely for support. I just want all of you to be warned. You aren’t going to get much help from us if you choose to go in that direction.”

Cheryl Johnson continued. “Well, then, with that being said, I guess this is about as good a time as any to introduce to you to John Abernathy, station manager of KRIC-TV in San Jose.”

Abernathy tentatively raised his hand in acknowledgement.

“Mr. Abernathy was asked to be here today because, not only did Detective Simeon receive a directive from Mr. Smith, but he did as well. Mr. Abernathy’s directive was one in which he was given the choice to participate in the story or watch it on some other station. Enough information was given in the letter to indicate that Mr. Smith is going to have the media involved come hell or high water. It also had the kind of information that would create havoc for us should we elect not to bring in the media. So at least for now, we don’t have any choice. Mr. Abernathy has agreed to work with us and do exactly as we ask in order to maintain exclusive rights, both now and in the future. Maybe—just maybe—this could be a blessing in disguise. We’ll have to wait and see. For now,” she said, “we’ll just have to take this case as it comes. Ben. Comments?”

“Thanks, Dr. Johnson,” Ben started.

“Please call me Cheryl. All of you.” She smiled at Ben, then throughout the room. “This may well turn into a very long scenario, and we might as well drop some of the formalities.”

“Thanks, Cheryl,” he repeated. Ben caught himself staring at her for a moment, admiring her smile. Suddenly he became self-conscious. “Right now we don’t have a body to work with or much of anything, for that matter, ’cept the ramblings of what could be construed as a madman. However, as easy as it would be to accept his being insane, I can’t see him as being stupid. Therefore, right now what we need to do is work on our approach for the six o’clock news. As Cheryl indicated, for now at least, we have to play his game. Once we have Amanda Douglas’s body, maybe forensics will be able to give us something substantial to work with. Mr. Smith indicated that should we elect to cooperate with him, he would let us know of the other eight victims. Somehow, I believe that at least one of them will lead us to this guy. He was right in his letter when he said, ‘with technology today, every crime leaves a clue.’ He will make a mistake or maybe has already made one he doesn’t know about. We’re going to find him.”

The air in the room felt heavy and cold. There was no question that each and every person in the room could have asked a hundred more questions that could have led them right back to where they were.

But, Ben was right about one thing: they didn’t have anything to go on yet. There was no reason to ask questions that could not be answered. They all had work to do. There would be plenty of time to ask more questions later. Ben assigned everyone their short-term duties, then the meeting was closed. After everyone left, Ben went to his desk and laid his head down. He wasn’t feeling confident. He hoped, for everyone’s sake, that he wouldn’t let them down.

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