The tires of my Black Camaro screeched to a stop outside Portland’s Central Precinct on 2nd Avenue. I ripped the key out the ignition, and threw the door open, knocking the police cruiser parked next to me.
I climbed out and ran for the door and up the stairs.
Tom’s office was in the back, a glass cube with black vertical blinds. I swung the door open, giving Tom and his guest a fright.
“Paul, are you ok?” Tom asked, seeing the panic on my face.
“He called me. He’s watching Lilly and my parents in Orlando. The son of a bitch called me!” I shouted, my left hand resting on my service gun, and the other pulling on my hair.
“Have you called Orlando PD?” Tom asked, standing from his chair behind a large dark wood table.
“Yeah, I did. They’re on their way to pick them up now. He was watching her Tom. He knew what fucking color ice cream she had.” My voice broke, and I swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Calm down Paul. Did you call your parents? Do they know what’s happening?”
“Yes, I called everyone! He’s coming back, Tom.”
“Then he’s only making it easier for us to find him, But, Paul, you need to sit this one out.”
“No! No way! Please, Tom, don’t do this to me.” I looked him square in the eyes.
“You’re too close to this, you know that.” He said, placing his hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t bench me, not with this. I know him better than anyone, and I am the only person who has seen his face. I can do this, Tom, Please.” I begged, my voice filled with the sincerity I felt inside.
“Fine, but then you need a partner. Someone that will watch your back, and make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”
“Fine, whatever. Who do you have?” I asked.
Tom turned to the dark-haired Hispanic man in a suit, still sitting at his desk, “As it happens, Detective Rodriguez just joined us from San Diego. I was going to partner him up with Jones, but I think you two will work well together.”
Tom turned back to Rodriguez, “Eli, this is Paul Mason, and you just landed your first case. Paul will brief you on everything you need to know.”
He turned back to me, “Paul, Eli will be the lead on this. If you get crazy, you’re off the case, understand. He will report to me. This is too high profile for us to fuck it up. You hear me?” Tom asked as I paced his office.
“Loud and clear!”
Eli stood from the desk and came over to me, his hand extended, “Hey Paul.” He said, waiting for me to respond.
Tom glared at me with his ‘behave’ eyes, and I shook the man’s hand, “Hey. You ready to do this?” I asked.
“Just need to change out of this suit.”
Eli turned back to Tom, “Thank you, Captain Raymond.” He said, shaking Tom's hand.
We left the office, and I went to my desk in the corner by the window. Eli headed towards the locker rooms, and I shook my head after him.
The last thing I need is a partner getting in the way. This time that fucker dies!
I hit the spacebar on my keyboard, to wake my computer up, and logged into the Police department’s internal system. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and connected the wire. I reached for my desk phone and dialed the extension for digital forensics.
“Hey, Paul,” A woman’s voice answered.
“Hey, Gail. Can you run a trace on a private number on my cell?” I asked in a rush.
“Oh, I’m fine thanks, Paul, how are you?” Her sarcastic voice echoed.
I clenched my jaw, but sighed, “I’m sorry. How are you, Gail?” I asked.
“I already told you I’m fine, how many times are you gonna ask?” She said with a smile.
I half grinned and dropped my head into my free hand.
I heard her tapping on the keys, “Ok, so the call came in from a burner phone, won’t get a number off it, but I might be able to get you a location. Won’t be exact, but within three miles.”
“That’s perfect. One more thing, could you send a team out to my place, have them do a sweep?”
“What are they looking for?” She asked.
“I don’t know. Anything. Cameras, mics, whatever he could use to spy on me.”
“Okay, sure. I will send a team out today.”
“Thanks, Gail,” I said, making a point of speaking calmly and politely to her. She was a pain in the ass most of the time, but one of the smartest kids with a computer I knew.
I hung up the phone, and Eli walked up to my desk. His suit replaced with a pair of dark jeans, a black t-shirt, and a thin leather jacket. His shit-kickers, like mine, tied tightly into a double knot.
“What’cha got?” He asked.
I looked back at the phone on my desk, “Nothing yet. Gail, in DF, is running a trace on the call. Might get a three-mile radius of where he called from.”
Eli sat down at the chair next to my desk, “You wanna brief me on the case?”
I stood up, unclipped my phone and shoved it into my back pocket, “Not here,” I said, pulling my jacket off the back of my chair.
Eli followed me back to my car, climbed into the passenger side, and frowned at the Barbie sun shields on the back windows, “You got a kid?”
I looked in the back, “Yeah.”
We pulled into traffic, the aircon blasting in the car. I reached into the backseat and grabbed the thick file laying on top of Lilly’s picture.
I handed it to Eli, “That’s everything we know about him. There is no ID for this guy, his prints didn’t bring anything back. Facial rec had no hits, and his DNA isn’t in the system either.”
Eli flipped through the folder quickly and turned in his seat to look at me, “So he’s a ghost. Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
I looked at him, biting my tongue to not swear at this prick, and looked forward. There was a service road coming up ahead, and if he wanted to hear it all, it was best I wasn’t driving.
I turned off and parked under a bunch of tall Pine trees, killed the engine and got out the car.
Eli followed me, shutting the door, and stood on the other side of the car, waiting.
“I caught the case. The first murder. A young family, two kids, on the east side. That’s where it all started. I won’t go into details, you can read that in the files, but it was a fucking mess. He was waiting in the house for them, cooked them dinner, cleaned up, set the table. He even did the fucking shopping.” I paused, remembering the gruesome mess I walked into when the call came in.
“That’s why they called him the Dinner Time Killer. The food he prepared, it was restaurant quality, expensive wine, exotic fruit and fish, stuff like that,” Eli said.
“Yeah, he likes to cook. To make you eat it, then cut it out of you, and feed it to the next person. That’s what happened here. He started with the dad, fed it to the mom, then he turned on the kids,” I stopped.
“Jesus! What the fuck!” Eli said, coming around the car to me.
“That’s when he became obsessed with me. He was watching me work the case, and got fixated.” I pulled out a pack of cigarettes from my jacket pocket, and lit one up, sucking in the harsh, familiar burn of the strong smoke.
“He came after you?” Eli asked, nodding his head in understanding.
“Not at first. First, he taunted me. He did the same thing to my neighbors, bragging about how he managed to do it under my nose, while I was at home.”
“That takes balls, man,” Eli said, gesturing to the smokes in my hands.
I handed him one, then the lighter, and continued, “A week later I got the call. He went after my sister and her family. Lilly survived because he didn’t find her. She was born deaf and slept through it all. When she was little, she used to hide in this trap door closet thing she had in her room so much, that my sister made her a bed in there, with lights and pictures and all that. The only way to get into it was through a pink tent, and he didn’t know she was there.” I sucked on the cigarette again, swallowing down the lump in my throat.
“When I got there, Lilly was laying next to my sister and her older brother, in a puddle of their blood, crying. I thought she was dead at first until she called out for me. She was two years old. Her brother was only five.”
I watched Eli shift in his place, unsure of how to respond to that.
“About a week later he came after me and my wife, Addison. I got home from work and found the table set in silver, and flowers and wine…”
I sucked the smoke again, “I should have known something was up in that moment. Addison couldn’t cook toast, let alone all the food that was on the table. When I got into the lounge, he came up behind me and drugged me. I woke up tied to the dining room chair, Addison tied up in front of me, and he sat at the head of the table, eating, drinking, smiling… I did everything I could. I begged, I bargained. I tried to fight, to get out of my own God damn cuffs, but I couldn’t.”
I stopped to take a breath and kill the bud under my shoe. “When he started cutting into Addison, I just wanted him to kill me. Tom showed up at the door to bring me papers I needed for court the next day, and scared him off, but Addison didn’t make it. I found out she was pregnant from the coroner’s report. I don’t think she knew either, it was only two weeks old.” I pulled out another smoke and lit it. “He’s been on the run, until now,” I said, looking at Eli.
His eyes were watery, and his smoke burning out in his hand. “We’re gonna find him Paul. No matter what it takes. And when we do, you kill him. You put a bullet into that sick fucks head and we deal with the consequences later.” I nodded slowly.
Maybe he isn’t the worst partner in the world. God knows no one else wants to work with me.
"This guy is smart. He knows what he’s doing, and he was always two steps ahead of me. I checked with other cities, but they’ve never heard of anything like this. All I know about him is in that file. It’s not much though.” I said, pushing the dark memories of the past deep into the far recesses of my mind.
“Then we just gotta be smarter. We go back to the beginning, and we find his mistake. Everyone makes a mistake.”
“We have his prints all over the house, we have his DNA. I saw his face. He’s not scared. He knows we won’t find out who he is.”
“We don’t need to know who he is, we just need to know where he’s gonna be. You said he was watching you, in your house? Have you swept for cameras?”
“I requested a sweep of the house by forensics. They’re working on it now.”
“And Lilly? You said she was in Orlando with your parents. Is she safe there?”
“For now. Orlando PD picked them up a few hours ago and are keeping them safe. They will be escorted back to Portland tomorrow.”
Eli nodded, “Good. But I don’t think her coming back here is a good idea. He wants to hurt you. To use the only thing you care about, to get to you. If Lilly is here, she’s a target.”
“He will find her anywhere she goes. He found her in Disneyland, and no one knew she was going, not even my parents until the day they left. I’m not an idiot, I know how to keep her safe.” I snapped.
"Hey, I never said you were. But you need to consider the fact that he was never there in the first place. That he has been here all this time and bringing her back to Portland could be exactly what he wants. We have a good sketch of him that went countrywide. It’s too risky to go to a public and secure place like Disneyland, with a watchlist in every cop’s hand.”
“Then how did he know? Lilly never eats blue ice cream. Not once, until now. He couldn’t have guessed that. Someone was watching her. If not him, then who. He didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who had friends.”
“You know, I took my son to Disneyland once, about a year ago. I remember telling my wife that they went a little overboard with the surveillance in there, but she told me its to keep the kids safe. There are hundreds of cameras, pointing at everything. I doubt the park has a tough firewall, like the Pentagon. Won’t be hard to hack in and watch.”
I considered this for a moment, and killed my smoke, “Come on, let’s get back to the station. Run this idea past Gail, see what she thinks.”
We climbed into my car, and I spun the tires around and headed back to the office. Eli’s words ringing in my head.
Could he have been here all this time, under my nose? Watching me? Watching Lilly? If so, then what the hell was he waiting for?