Within

A Novel

Charles Prandy


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination and are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Copyright © 2015 by Charles Prandy

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the author.

Cover image by Ronnell Porter


Other Books by Charles Prandy

Jacob Hayden Series

The Avenged – Book 1

Behind the Closed Door – Book 2

The Game of Life or Death – Book 3

Within – Book 4

Stand Alone Novels

The Last of the Descendants

To be notified of future works by Charles, please go to www.charlesprandy.com.


Prologue



He opened his eyes, looked at his hands, and didn’t recognize them. The hands were pale with gangling bony fingers and large blue veins snaking underneath the skin. He extended the fingers and saw long black razor-sharp fingernails.

The hands felt sticky. He smelled the strong stench of rusty iron and turned over the hands to see that the palms were painted in blood. He looked along his arms and saw that his sleeves had been ripped and shredded.

Then he looked around and noticed that he was in an abandoned room with graffiti-filled walls and a dusty concrete floor covered in trash. A large dingy blanket hung over a window with a few candles providing dim light to the room.

He didn’t know why, but an impulse overcame him, and he raised his palms to his lips. He inhaled the rusty smell, opened his mouth, and let his tongue glide along his palms until the blood covered it. He closed his eyes and swallowed.

Then he heard a whimper.

He turned around and, there in a corner, he saw a woman with short brown hair stripped down to her underwear. She lay on the floor with duct tape covering her mouth. Her arms and feet were tied with a noose, and her body was ravaged with open wounds.

She looked at him with desperate eyes full of despair. He knelt down and brushed some of her hair away from her face, seeing dark smeared eye liner covering her cheeks. He should have been surprised, but he wasn’t. The woman whimpered again. But instead of pulling the tape from her mouth, he glided the tips of his fingernails along her face, menacing with torment.

She started to cry, but he didn’t feel sorry for her. Instead, he laughed. His voice didn’t sound the same; it was deep and muffled, which didn’t surprise him.

“You’re going to die slowly,” he told her.

Then he lowered his right hand to her neck and pressed his long nails against her flesh until they punctured the skin.

The woman cried through the duct tape, “Plee . . . no!”

He pushed the nails deeper until blood gushed from the wounds.

The woman cried in agonizing pain.

He removed his blood-soaked hand from her neck and then stood up and watched as a puddle of blood filled the floor just behind her head.

The woman tried to wiggle free to no avail, and the more she moved, the more she squirmed in pain. As he watched, he knew that death was ready to take her. In the final few seconds of her life, her body jerked a couple of times and then it stopped. He stood there for a moment and took in the reality of what had just happened. He then knelt back down and looked into her vacant eyes that stared unblinkingly back into his. He removed the duct tape from her mouth, leaned forward, and pressed his lips against hers.

“You are just the beginning. They will soon believe in me.”


MONDAY


One



The first swipe of the machete came close to taking off my right arm. The second swipe was aimed at my throat, but I moved out of its way by mere inches. The blade started coming in more rapid successions, each nearly touching my flesh. I bobbed and weaved like a skilled fighter avoiding a deadly knockout blow. The man wielding the machete wasn’t a professional swordsman, but his movements were fluid enough that a slip-up on my end would cost me my life.

I’d gotten separated from my team and was caught off guard by this maniac. He’d knocked my gun out of my hand as I was raising it to defend myself. The room was semi-lit. The walls were thick, so no one could hear what was going on, despite the fact that there were teams of investigators in the tunnels of the metro rail system.

A worker had found the mutilated bodies of two women who’d been missing for three weeks in a storage room underneath the streets of the nation’s capital. WMATA, or the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, had its own police force, but since the bodies were discovered within the District of Columbia, we also had jurisdiction over the case. I, along with Detective Patricia Jennings and a couple of other detectives, were sent down into the tunnels to check out the scene.

I’d ridden the trains hundreds of times, but it was an eerie feeling actually walking through the dark tunnels. The smell of decaying flesh was evident before we even got to the storage room. As a homicide detective, I immediately knew what the smell was, but it’s not something that anyone can ever get used to.

The bodies of the two women were unclothed, and they were stuffed in lockers. Their once-smooth skin was now flaky. Rigor mortis caused their flesh to turn black and blue. The pictures we had of the two women showed their vibrant smiles and beautiful features. In their current state, though, they looked nothing like what the pictures portrayed.

The city had been in a panic over the past couple of months as women—fitting the description of those we’d just found—had gone missing. Including the two in the tunnels, we’d discovered the bodies of seven women scattered across the city.

The madman before me swung the machete again, grunting and panting with each swing. I noticed that each movement was slower than the previous, which meant he was running out of steam. When I ducked, I spun around him and threw a punch to his lower back. He acted as if he barely felt it, probably due to all of the fat that covered his body. I stood six feet, three inches tall, and weighed a little over two hundred and twenty-five pounds. The man-beast wielding the machete was built like an offensive lineman for a football team, standing close to six feet, six inches tall and probably weighing over three hundred pounds. He looked like Rubeus Hagrid, the big guy with the long beard from the Harry Potter movies.

I punched him again in the same spot, with little effect. He spun around and swung the blade toward my neck again. I ducked and stepped back as far as I could. The man finally stopped swinging the machete and looked at me. He was breathing hard, and with each breath there was a deep hoarseness that nearly felt like it was vibrating against the floor. He held his arms out a little, gripping the machete in his right hand.

I held my fists in a fighting position. My eyes were wide open, and my lungs heaved to catch my breath. I didn’t want to look away from him, but I wondered why he’d stopped the attack all of the sudden. Then I glanced to my left and right and knew why. I had backed myself into the corner of the room. The only way for me to get past him was to literally get past him, and he knew it.

“You’re going to die today, pig,” he said.

His voice was deep enough to put fear in anyone’s heart. Mine was no different. He looked like a giant holding a large blade ready for the slaughter.

“You never should have come after me, pig.”

His eyes were deep set into his head, and even with the dim light of the room, I saw the evil in them.

“You don’t have to do this,” I said. My voice held no confidence because I knew he wouldn’t stop until I was dead.

I had no weapons to defend myself, except for my hands. And I wasn’t strong enough to do any real damage to him.

He slowly raised the arm with the machete. His breaths came a little faster. He was ready for another onslaught. I steadied my feet and tightened my fists a little more. I didn’t have many options, but the ones I did have, I needed to do them well.

His eyes widened right before he swung the machete again. He opened his mouth, and what sounded like a lion’s roar erupted from deep inside his body. His massive arm moved gracefully like he was hunkering down to chop a piece of wood. He swung with enough force that the blade would have cut me right in two—that is, if it had hit me. I sidestepped to my right and threw all my weight into a kick that crashed into the man’s right knee. He screamed and the knee buckled, but he had enough balance to slice the blade into my right arm.

Sheer, hot pain shot through my body. The big man fell but continued to swing the machete back and forth so that I couldn’t attack him again. Blood oozed from my wound and stained my shirt. Every time I moved, my shoulder and neck screamed with pain.

“I’m gonna kill you, pig,” he said again.

He somehow found the strength to push himself up. His eyes were intently focused on me. Spit flew from his mouth as he fought through the pain to stand. Now at his full height, he raised his arm again, ready to swing.

I looked around the room. I needed something to defend myself. My right arm was no good, and if he got ahold of me, I’d be done. He started swinging the blade in a crisscross motion while hobbling toward me.

I moved to my right, and he moved with me. Same with my left. He mirrored my movements until he was close enough to lash out at me. He swung, and the blade came within centimeters of my chest. It tore through my shirt and came back around for another swipe. I’m not sure how he missed the second time, but he did. I angled my body just enough that when his arm was raised, I threw a punch into his right kidney with all my strength. He barely budged, but it must have done enough that his swing was off.

I darted out of reach to the other side of the room. He gathered himself and turned around. A smirk crawled along his face because he probably knew I had nowhere to go. And I knew it too. The door leading out of the room was locked, and he had the key.

“Well, pig, this is it for you.”

He raised the machete again, in what he thought was probably the last swing before I was dead. And he may have been right, until I finally saw my gun lying on the floor right under my nose. I’d been too focused on him to realize that the gun skidded in this direction.

He saw what I saw and charged at me with a fury I’d never seen before, swinging the blade in a crisscross fashion again. I lunged for the gun. I couldn’t raise my right hand, so with the gun in my left hand, I just started squeezing the trigger. Blast after blast, bullets hit the man’s chest, but he continued charging. It wasn’t until the clip was empty that he finally stopped in his tracks and just looked at me. Then he dropped the machete and fell forward, like a tree falling to the ground.

I still held my arm up, and I stayed that way for several seconds longer. Finally, I dropped the gun and slumped against the wall, sliding down to a seated position.

“Jesus.”

If this is any indication of what the rest of the week is going to be like, I want to take my vacation early.


Two



The forecast called for rain all week. Heavy rain. The D.C. area was in the path of the beginning stages of a nor’easter, evidenced by dark grey clouds that had been covering the sky for the past day and a half. Rain fell off and on during the early morning hours before the sun came up, and by the time I was out of the hospital, we were in a downpour.

My arm required ten stitches to close up the wound. The machete cut me on the outside of my tricep, just below my shoulder. The same ER doctor who stitched me up a couple of months ago from a bullet wound to my shoulder was the same one who stitched my arm.

“Detective Hayden,” he said, “have you thought about changing your line of work?”

“I could ask you the same question, Doc.”

He looked at me and smiled, and I believe that he understood where I was coming from. We all have a calling on our lives, and until we’re forced from that calling, that’s what we’ll be.

My arm was numbed up and I was on painkillers, so I could actually move it around without too much pain. Pat waited for me in the waiting room, and when our eyes met, she gave me the kind of look that a mother gives a child who did wrong. I probably shouldn’t have separated myself from the group when we were in the tunnels, or I should have at least let someone know that I was venturing off. We didn’t get a chance to talk when I was found in the room with the swordsman, but from what I’d been told, once I started shooting, everyone ran to the sound of the gunshots.

Pat drove me back to the station where Captain Hellsworth wanted us in his office ASAP. When we arrived, he appeared to be engrossed in whatever report he was reading. His office door was open, but he didn’t realize we had entered. Captain Hellsworth looked like he could have been the model for the J. Jonah Jameson character from the infamous Spider-Man comic books.

“Captain?” I said.

He flinched a little at my voice. “Jesus, Jacob.”

“You wanted to see us?”

He nodded to the chairs in front of his desk for us to sit.

“First off, how’s the arm?”

“Sore, but I’ll live.”

He looked inquisitively at Pat who shrugged her shoulders without saying anything.

“This is kinda becoming a thing with you,” he said. “You seem to find yourself in situations that the rest of us don’t.”

He paused and rubbed his eyes.

“So what happened?”

“To be honest, Captain, I don’t know. Guy came outta nowhere. He blindsided me when I went into that room.”

Captain Hellsworth looked over to Pat, “And you?”

“Down the hall with the bodies.”

“Press is going to have a field day with this,” he said. “Seven abducted girls. Seven dead bodies. And we still have two more that fit the M.O. who haven’t been found.”

He rubbed his eyes again.

“You did what you had to do, Jacob. Your life is more important than that scumbag’s. But now we don’t have any leads on the other two girls.”

“Once we I.D. the guy, maybe we can pick up their trail from wherever he lives,” Pat said. “Talk to neighbors, friends.”

“I saw into that guy’s eyes,” I said. “He has no friends, and I’d be surprised if he has neighbors.”

“He has to know people,” Captain Hellsworth said.

“I didn’t say he didn’t know people. Just not friends or neighbors. I’ll call down to the morgue and see if we can get prints run ASAP. Hopefully this guy’s in our system.”

“You need to go home,” Captain said. “You just got your arm nearly cut off. Pat can follow up with the prints.”

“I’m fine, Captain. Just a little flesh wound. There’s nothing for me to do at home except think about this case. I’m already here. Really, I’m okay.”

Captain Hellsworth looked at me for a second before glancing over at Pat. He wasn’t a man of many words, so usually when he spoke his words were chosen and pointed.

“Okay,” he said. “I.D. this guy. But, Jacob, no more.”

I nodded, acknowledging what he was saying. Over the past two years, my life and career had taken drastic turns. Mostly for the worse, and some for the better.

Pat and I stood up and left Captain’s office. When we got back to our desks, Pat turned her chair around and faced me.

“I’ll make the call and see if we can I.D. our guy.”

“Okay.”

I leaned back in my chair and faced my computer. The screen was black with the exception of the Windows logo bouncing back and forth on the monitor. Pat turned around and started clicking on her computer. I watched her for a second to make sure that she wasn’t looking at me, and then I looked down at my hands. They were trembling slightly. Truth was, even though I told Captain and Pat I was okay, deep inside, I wasn’t. I’d nearly lost my life a few hours ago. That had been a running theme for me over the past two years. But this morning was too close for comfort.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say there was an invisible target over my head, and unknown forces were throwing darts at me to see who could hit the bull’s-eye first. Lucky for me, so far their aim hadn’t been the greatest. But it seemed like it was getting better.

I heard Pat on the phone, and then she was silent for a spell before she looked back at me. She had a smile on her face and her eyes were lit up.

“We got him?” I asked.

“We got him.”

I stood up from my chair and stepped to Pat’s desk, pushing my hands deep into my front pockets.


Three



The guy’s name was Baldwin Lanceport, and his last known address was that of a rundown house on the northeast side of the city. Records showed that the residence had been in foreclosure proceedings for over three years. When we pulled up to the front of the house, it looked as if no one had resided there in a long time. The neighborhood itself appeared as though it hadn’t been taken care of. Most of the front lawns were overgrown with weeds and in need of a cut. The rooftops on many of the houses were worn and dilapidated. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this was a street the city forgot existed.

A waist-high chain-link fence separated us from the front yard. I looked at the house before crossing into the yard, and an eerie feeling suddenly overcame me, like death was near. The house was two stories with worn-out green siding covering the exterior. The lower level windows had bars covering them, presumably to keep intruders out. But the way my mind was moving at the moment, I thought the bars might be there to keep someone from escaping.

There were two teams of us, four detectives in total. Pat and I walked to the front door, while Detectives Al Rowen and Jonathan Mitchell walked around the back. As we neared the front porch, I got the sense we were being watched; not by someone, per se, but by something. Maybe the house, as ironic as that sounded.

I lifted the door’s heavy knocker and banged it three times. Each time, I felt the vibration of the metal against the wood run through my hand. The sound of the banging echoed throughout the house as if there was nothing inside to absorb the sound, nothing more than the blankets we’d noticed covering the windows.

“Police,” I said sternly. “Open the door.”

I reached for the doorknob and found that it wasn’t locked. Pat and I pulled out our weapons, and I slowly turned the knob and pushed open the door.

“Police.”

As we entered, the house’s stale and musky smell came upon us. Along with that smell was another aroma that I was all too familiar with. Working homicide, there are certain stenches you can never confuse with anything else, like the coppery and metallic odor of blood. The smell was instantaneous, which caused my mental antennas to immediately go on high alert.

Stepping through the doorway was like walking into a house of horrors. The lights were off, and the house was dark because of the covered windows. We kept the front door open while each of us went to a window and pulled down the blankets, immediately letting light into the front of the house.

There was no furniture, as I’d expected. The walls were covered in dirty wallpaper that looked like it hadn’t been changed since the seventies, and the wood floors were in bad need of restoration. Immediately in front of us was a set of stairs leading to the second floor, and as I glanced up, a chill rushed through my spine as I could only imagine what horrors awaited us.

Pat and I cleared the front of the house and then moved to the back. The décor was no different, and the kitchen didn’t look suitable to cook a meal in. Pat found the back door and motioned for Al and Jonathan to come in.

“Shitty house,” Al said.

“You guys know what that smell is, right?” I said.

“Yeah,” Jonathan said. “Smelled it as soon as I came in.”

“See if this place has a basement,” I said. “Pat and I will check the rooms upstairs.”

Everyone nodded. Al and Jonathan drew their weapons and went looking for a basement. Pat followed close behind as we slowly took the stairs to the top floor.

“I don’t like this, Jacob,” Pat said.

“Me neither. This house creeps me out.”

At the top of the steps were five closed doors: two doors on both sides of us, and one directly in front of us. There was only a little light seeping up from the opened front door. I nodded to Pat that we’d open the door in front of us first. She nodded back and moved to the right of the door while raising her weapon toward it.

I turned the knob, pushed the door open, and stepped back. The room was a small bathroom. Pat reached for the light switch but it didn’t work.

“Probably no power in the whole house,” I whispered.

I stepped into the bathroom, but it was too dark to see anything. I knew there was a toilet, tub, and sink, but I couldn’t make out any details.

“The front windows at this level had blankets covering them too. We take them down, we’ll get more light up here.”

“We’ve got flashlights in the car,” Pat said.

“I’d feel more comfortable clearing the house first.”

We quickly moved through each bedroom and pulled down the window coverings, which brought in much-needed light. Each room was bare of furniture with the exception of dirty, worn-out mattresses.

“Have fun sleeping on those,” Pat said.

“I can only imagine what funguses are living inside them.”

The top floor was cleared, so we lowered our weapons and took a little time to study each room. The closets were empty, the floors were dusty, and cobwebs hung from the top corners of every room. I didn’t notice any blood spatters, but CSI could use luminal—a special kind of light—to detect blood that’d been cleaned. However, judging by the dustiness of the rooms, I didn’t think anything had been cleaned recently.

Just as we finished looking through the last room, I heard someone calling my name from downstairs.

“That’s Rowen,” I said.

We hurried down the top-floor steps and then rushed to the basement. As we went down the basement stairs, I saw a light; I thought was strange given that the rest of the house didn’t have power.

“Rowen,” I called from the steps.

“Back here.”

At the bottom of the steps was a hallway that took us either left or right. The light was coming from the right, as was Rowen’s voice. The hallway was narrow, and the end opened on a room that looked similar to a dungeon. The walls were the cinderblocks of the house’s foundation, and the floor was chipped concrete. From the ceiling hung three light bulbs that attached to what appeared to be a generator at the corner of the floor.

When we entered the room, Rowen and Mitchell had their backs to us, so I didn’t immediately see what they were looking at. Then when I stepped closer, I paused, my eyes shot wide opened, and my hand immediately covered my mouth in an “Oh My God” kind of moment.

Pat said it out loud, “Oh my God.”

Near the top of the wall hung a chain, and at the other end of the chain was a metal noose wrapped around a woman’s neck. The woman hung limply from the noose. Her legs were bent and her feet were touching the floor, but she wasn’t moving. Her face was beaten and bloodied. Her clothes were torn and ragged. Her arms hung by her side, and her hands were covered with blood.

“Jesus,” I said. “Pulse?”

“I checked,” Rowen said. “Didn’t feel one.”

I stepped closer to the woman and looked her up and down. She had bruises on her arms, and her hands didn’t have fingernails. I cringed at the thought of what she must have gone through. I stepped back and turned toward my group. I was about to say something, but Pat’s voice stopped me in my tracks.

“She’s not dead! Her hand just moved.”

I turned around and caught the faint movement of a finger.

“Get the paramedics here now!”

I quickly moved and lifted her so that she wasn’t dangling from the noose any longer.


Four



Across the room, there was a metal table with all kinds of devices and tools fitting for a doctor to perform surgery. Within the tools there was a ring of keys. The metal noose around the woman’s neck was clamped together by a lock. Pat brought the keys over and tried each one until we heard a click. The noose unlatched, and Pat removed it from the woman’s neck.

I gently laid her down on her back. Her pulse was weak, but she was definitely alive. Her stomach rose and fell slightly. Her right index finger, the one that alerted us that she was alive, continued to slowly move up and down. Her hair was long and dark. Both eyes were swollen, and her upper lip looked like someone had inflated it with air.

“Paramedics are on their way,” Rowen said.

I kneeled over her and looked her up and down, wondering what would cause another person to do this. I scanned her arms, and when I looked at her hands I realized why they were so bloodied. Her fingernails were missing, and there were small puncture wounds on her palms.

“She’s different from the other girls,” I said.

“How so?” Pat said.

“Look at her. The other girls weren’t like this. They weren’t beaten like this.”

Pat knelt down and examined the girl. “They weren’t. It’s rare to find a victim beaten like this, which makes me think this was personal. He knew her.”

“Or she simply pissed him off some kind of way. But I agree, I think she knew him.”

I turned and looked toward the chain in the wall and thought of how she looked when we came down. She was hanging, but her feet were touching the floor.

“If this was personal, it wasn’t an impulse overreaction. She was either beaten and then hung, or hung and then beaten.”

I looked back down at the woman and then returned my gaze to the wall where she was hung.

“The way she was hanging from the wall means that he didn’t want her to die right away,” I said. “He wanted her to suffer and die slowly. She’d probably been here for a couple of days, standing. Once her legs got tired, they weakened, and as they weakened they bent. The more tired she got, the more they bent until she was hanging from her neck. Her neck wouldn’t have snapped, but her airway would have been cut off slowly until she lost consciousness and eventually died.”

“Sick bastard,” Pat said. “He didn’t think we would be there today in the tunnels. He probably expected to come back and either finish her off or watch her die.”

“Or she could have been an afterthought,” I replied. “He could have figured he did what needed to be done and then moved on to the next ones without thinking twice about her.”

Rowen came back and said that the paramedics should be here in a few minutes.

I looked back down at the woman. Ever since my wife’s murder, I saw violence through a different lens, especially when it came to a woman. Most cops become numb to what we see, but for me it was more personal.

While Pat, Rowen, and Mitchell searched around the room, I concentrated on the woman. I wanted to help and take away the pain, but I couldn’t. Kneeling next to her was the next best thing I could do. But then she did something unexpected. She moved her lips. They parted and closed as if she were trying to speak.

“Are you trying to say something?” I said.

That got everyone’s attention. Her lips moved again.

I told Pat, Rowen, and Mitchell to be quiet.

“What is it?” I said.

Her eyes didn’t open, but her voice became a little stronger.

I leaned in closer. I could now smell the staleness of her breath as she spoke again.

“What’s she saying?” Pat said.

I raised my head. “More girls. She’s saying there are more girls.”


Five



What does it mean when you look into the mirror and the reflection looking back isn’t you? Matthew Gray was asked that question last night in his dream. He wasn’t one to think anything of dreams or try to interpret their meanings, but that was the question he remembered when he woke up in the morning. Maybe he remembered the question because of the way he was woken up. It was the last thing he heard right before the dream suddenly became sexual. There wasn’t a scene change where he was thrusting inside of a beautiful woman; rather he felt the intense desire to have an orgasm.

When he opened his eyes, he saw a blond woman’s head slowly going up and down over his penis. He didn’t have a chance to move her away, nor did he want to, before his eyes clenched tight, his mouth formed a capital “O”, his toes stretched out, and the build-up of immense pleasure strained to be released. The feeling lasted a few seconds and then his body relaxed again. What a way to wake up.

“Damn,” he said, “you need to sleep over every night.”

The blonde looked up and smiled, “Be careful what you say. I tend to take things literally.”

“Well, how about three nights a week then?”

“We’ll talk about that later once your brain comes off its orgasm high.”

Orgasm high was the correct word choice, Matthew thought. At that moment, if he had a million dollars and she asked for it, he probably would have given it to her.

“I’m gonna hop in the shower,” the blonde said. “You’d better hurry up and shower too. Big day ahead.”

Matthew looked at the clock and nearly jumped out of bed.

“Shit! How the hell did I oversleep?”

The blonde laughed uncontrollably. “You’re so cute when you get excited. Don’t worry, Matt, I changed the time on the clock. Just messin’ around.”

“You shouldn’t mess like that. Nearly gave me a heart attack.”

“What better way to wake up those brain cells of yours? Now you’re all pumped up, which will help your presentation. How much is on the line again?”

Matthew smirked, “You know how much. Don’t think that I haven’t gotten the subtle engagement signals over the past few weeks.” 

The blonde touched her chest and gestured as if she was playfully surprised by the comment. “Moi, make subtle engagement signals? You’ve gotten me confused with one of your other women.”

“Yeah, maybe you’re right. Must have been Claudia from the other night.”

The blonde picked up a pillow and threw it at Matthew.

“Whatever,” she said, smiling. “No other woman’s going to make you feel the way I do.”

Matthew leaned over and whispered into the blonde’s ear, “You’re right. You’re the best.”

The blonde leaned back and looked into Matthew’s eyes, “Good answer.”

They kissed passionately, and then the woman pushed Matthew on his back. She perched seductively on top of him and licked the left side of his cheek.

“We’ve got a little time. I want some more.”

“Ah, I’m gonna need about ten minutes. Men weren’t designed like women. We need time between orgasms.”

“No you don’t.”

“How about five?”

“How about now?”

Matthew focused on the blonde’s full, perky breasts and hard nipples. He started to feel himself rise. “Okay, now sounds good.”

“Thought you’d see it my way. And when we’re done, there’s something I want you to do for me.”

“What’s that?”

“I’ll let you know later.”

“No argument there.”

They kissed again, and before Matthew knew it, his brain was searching for that orgasm high.


Six



More girls. I kept hearing the woman’s faint words in my head. More girls were hidden somewhere, presumably in the city, either dead or scared for their lives. The woman we found was in no way able to tell us where. Her condition was dire, and I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it through the night. After the paramedics took her away, we tore the house inside and out, looking for clues as to where the others could be. We found all kinds of evidence that told us the story of Baldwin Lanceport, and that he was a psychopath who had probably been killing people for a long time. How many, we may never know. But we didn’t find any clues as to where the other girls could be. So far, our only hope rested on a woman who may or may not live through the night.

We spent nearly two hours in the house, and after deciding that we’d found all we could, Pat and I left to head back to the station. On the way, we got a call that a woman’s body had been found at an apartment community. By the brief description, it didn’t appear that her murder was related to the Lanceport murders.

The apartment community was run-down, as is sadly the case in many low-income areas. Pieces of trash were scatted throughout the parking lots, and fields of grass that were supposed to be green were covered with large patches of brown dirt. We drove to the back of the neighborhood where it seemed most of the tenants stood in groups outside of the yellow police tape trying to get a glimpse of what happened. Police cars, along with the coroner’s van, crowded the front of one apartment building.

Pat and I stepped out of the car, and a uniformed officer told us the body was in the basement of the building. The basement was two stair levels below, which was one level under the ground floor apartments. A small laundry room with three washing and drying machines was adjacent to the room with the dead girl’s body.

“Two creepy rooms in one day,” Pat said. “Poor girls.”

I nodded my agreement.

The dead girl was in a large storage room. A blanket hung on the wall, and there were candles around the room that must have been responsible for the vanilla scent in the air.

“When was this called in?” I asked.

“About thirty minutes ago,” the uniformed officer said. “I was first on the scene.”

“Who found her?”

“One of the tenants. They came down to put something in here and saw the body.”

“If this is a storage room, then that door must be locked, right?”

“I’d suppose so.”

“So whoever killed her must have access to a key.”

A male voice with a Spanish accent spoke from behind. “Not necessarily.”

I turned around and saw a fair-skinned, heavyset man standing in the doorway.

“And you are?”

“Property manager. This door is supposed to be locked, but kids in the neighborhood know how to unlock it.”

“Why would kids want to come down here?” Pat asked.

“Sex, drugs, who knows? Tenants have complained in the past about kids being in here.”

“Did you do anything about it?” I asked.

“Changed the locks. But every time I did, I got more complaints. So I stopped changing the locks and would just apologize whenever a complaint came in.”

I turned back around to the dead girl’s body on the ground. She was in the far corner of the room, and she wore no clothes except for her underwear.

“I’m going to need the names of everyone who lives in this community,” I said to the uniformed officer.

Pat and I moved closer to the girl’s body. Her eyes were open, as was the case with most traumatic deaths. She had bruises along her body and large puncture wounds on her neck, which appeared to be the actual cause of her death. Her body lay in a pool of blood.

“She bled to death,” Pat said.

“Looks that way.”

I looked closer at the puncture wounds and then placed my hands near them.

“Look at this,” I said.

I placed my fingers over the wounds.

“Does it look like I could have just dug my fingers into her neck?”

“You’d have to have some pretty long and hard nails to do that.”

“Right.”

I let my fingers hover for a few seconds before moving them away. Then I asked myself, could someone really dig their fingers into another person’s flesh to cause this much bleeding? The thought lingered, but the answer would have to come from the medical examiner.

“So the question we have to ask ourselves,” Pat said, “is: If this door stays locked except for some kids breaking in to do each other, who outside of this neighborhood would know that this room was down here?”

“Fair question. And it hasn’t been that long since she was murdered. Can you smell the candles?”

Pat lifted her head as if she were searching for the scent. “I can. Vanilla?”

“Think so. If you knew this room was here, it’s reasonable to assume that you wouldn’t worry about someone else coming down during the middle of the night. This place is creepy enough as is, so I don’t think it gets too many visitors.”

I looked around the room again and took as many mental notes as possible. The placement and smell of the candles further confirmed my theory that whoever was down here wasn’t worried about someone else coming in. Why would someone place and light candles if they were in a hurry? Answer was, they weren’t, which was scary because it meant they were calm—and, in some respect, they were used to killing.


Seven



We spoke with two residents from the apartments above the basement, and neither heard or saw anything. We spoke with the woman who found the girl’s body, and she was still in shock from what she’d found. She’d seen kids down in that room in the past, but they never bothered her, so she never complained about them.

We were on the third floor knocking on doors. Lucky enough, residents were home, but no one could give us any information about the murder. I knocked on apartment 3C, and the apartment door behind me opened. A short Latin woman whose width and height were proportional to each other peaked through the cracked door.

“Policia?”

“Si,” I said with my limited Spanish. “Policia.”

I took out my badge and showed it to the woman.

“She no there.” Her accent was thick and her voice was shaky.

“You mean the resident of this apartment? Where is she?”

“She gone.”

“Everything okay, ma’am?”

The woman’s facial expression didn’t change. Her big eyes stared into mine. In her hand she was holding rosary beads with a small cross attached.

“She gone.”

I looked at Pat. It was obvious that this woman was scared of something.

“Can we come in and talk with you?”

The woman nodded and slowly backed into her apartment.

“Is there anyone else home with you?”

“No.”

“Do you mind if I take a quick look around?”

“No, no mind.”

The apartment was small and cluttered. I held on to the handle of my sidearm as I looked through the bedroom and bathroom. No one else was in the apartment.

The woman motioned for us to sit down. She moved clothes from small couches and placed them on a table near the cluttered kitchen. On the walls were pictures of who I assumed were family members. One of the pictures was of Jesus with a halo over his head.

The woman saw me looking at the picture and made sure to point it out.

“Christo,” she said.

I nodded.

She brought the rosary beads to her mouth and kissed the cross. I noticed that her hands were shaking slightly.

“Ma’am, is everything okay. Do you need help?”

“No, no.”

“Do you know why the police are here?”

She nodded. “Si. My friend, she saw something.”

“The woman from across the hall?” Pat said.

The woman nodded, “Si.”

“What did she see?” I asked.

The woman lowered her head and brought the rosary beads back to her mouth. Her hands started shaking a little harder.

“She knock on door late at night. She come here cause she scared.”

The woman paused and raised the beads back to her mouth.

“Why was she scared?”

“I scared too.”

I leaned forward in my seat. “You don’t have to be scared. The police are here. No one can hurt you.”

The woman nodded.

“Where is your friend? Is she in danger?”

“No. She left. She went to son’s house.”

“Where’s that?”

“Maryland.”

I nodded and made a note.

“So what did your friend see that made her knock on your door last night?”

“She say she saw someone. She coming from work and she saw him.”

“Who’d she see?”

The woman looked down and kissed her rosary beads one more time. When her eyes rose, there was a conviction in her voice that momentarily raised goose bumps across my arms.

“El diablo.”

I looked at Pat and then back toward the woman. “El diablo? You mean the devil?”

“Si, si.”

“Your friend told you that she saw the devil last night?”

“Si.”

“Why does she think she saw the devil?”

“He bloody. He grab her. Look into her eyes. He say, I coming. You will believe.”

I took notes, and after the goose bumps dissipated, I couldn’t help thinking, There’s a nut on every corner.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

The woman gave us the name of her friend and the name of her son. Regardless of the devil talk, we may have someone who’d seen the killer. I gave the woman my card and told her to call me if she could think of anything else.

In the car, Pat said, “So what do you make of the devil talk?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Someone scared her. She probably thinks she saw the devil. You saw the rosary beads. Bet the other one is as devout as this woman.”

“And if he had blood on him in the middle of the night, her mind may have just gone to one conclusion.”

“If you haven’t heard so already, you’ll learn that the devil is in the middle of everything.”

“I’ve heard my share of devil stories.”

I fired up the engine and drove away from the parking lot. El diablo, I thought again. What a way to start a week.


Eight



Oversleeping wasn’t a new thing for Rachel Melton. She was approved to switch her hours so that she didn’t have to come in as early in the morning, which should have helped her arrive to work on time. It didn’t. At the age of thirty-six, she still liked to party hard like she was twenty-six. She drank last night, not enough to get totally drunk, but enough that she couldn’t drive herself home. She met a guy who she made out with at a bar, and he also offered to take her home. If it weren’t for her two friends being with her, she probably would have taken up the offer. Story of her life.

When she finally woke up, her head throbbed slightly. She didn’t have the nauseating feeling that came along with a hangover, but it took a minute or so for the room to stop spinning and for her to realize that she was going to be late for work again.

“Shit. I’m going to get fired.”

She slowly removed her blanket and sat up, her headache pounding harder.

“Why keep doing this to yourself?”

She rubbed her temples, hoping that would help with the headache, but it didn’t. She remembered bits and pieces of the night, like kissing a guy whose face she couldn’t see. She remembered taking pineapple shots and smoking weed. She remembered sitting in the back of her car laughing hysterically at her friends’ corny jokes that otherwise wouldn’t have been funny.

She finally stood up and walked to her bedroom window, which faced the front of the house. She looked outside and saw that her friend’s car was parked behind hers in the driveway. Not unusual, she thought. They each stayed at the other’s house whenever they got home too late, which made her think that they must have gotten home really late this time, given that they had to work today.

Rachel walked out of her bedroom and checked the guest room, expecting to see her two friends sound asleep on the bed, but they weren’t. The house was quiet. She didn’t hear them making noise downstairs in the kitchen, so she thought that maybe they’d fallen asleep on the couches. She gingerly made her way down the stairs, recently refinished to match the dark wood of the main level floor. They weren’t sleeping on the couches.

“Jen, Sandy?” She called out.

No response.

Maybe they took a cab home, she thought. Wouldn’t be the first time. Only problem was that Jen’s car was blocking hers in the driveway. She went into the kitchen and found a bottle of Motrin. She took three pills and downed them with water before heading back upstairs to take a shower. She figured she’d call for a cab once she finished. However, because of her headache and light hangover, she didn’t notice that Jen’s keys were on the floor right next to the front door that was slightly open.


Nine



He was already in the house. He saw her walk down the stairs and look around. He then heard her call for her friends, and then go back upstairs shortly after. The metallic and salty taste of blood filled his mouth. He let his tongue glide over the top ridge of his teeth and felt their razor edges. Blood was fresh on his hands. His fingers were stained a deep red. As he moved toward the steps, he heard the heaviness of his breath going in and out of his body.

He grabbed the banister. His thin, pale skin once again revealed thick, dark veins snaking through his arms. His footsteps were quiet and fluid as he walked along the hall. He heard water running in the bathroom. He stretched out his fingers before touching the doorknob, and then he scratched a part of the door with his long fingernails.

The door opened slowly, and he was immediately met by his own reflection in a mirror. His eyes were the color midnight with a swirl of white in the pupil, and his teeth had the jaggedness of a chainsaw. His loose hair was stringy and stripped of color. The skin covering his face was thin, and he had the scars of someone who’d seen many lifetimes of wars and the evils of humanity.

Whatever sound he made entering the bathroom was covered up by the running water of the shower. He heard her humming. A white shower curtain was the only thing separating them from each other. With his left hand, he slowly pulled the shower curtain back and saw her standing under the showerhead rinsing shampoo from her hair. White streams of bubbly soap ran down her naked body. Her breasts became perked when the cool air hit them, which made her pull her head back and wipe her eyes.

She blinked when she saw him and then let out a scream that could have broken a window, had there been one in the room. She quickly tried to step back, but she slipped from the wet surface and hit her head against the wall. He looked down at her lying in the tub unconscious with water from the showerhead beating against her face. He turned the knob, and the water stopped immediately. He looked at her for a moment before moving. Such a beautiful creature, he thought. He slowly bent down and moved away the hair that covered her face. He then grabbed her hand and interlocked his fingers with hers. He felt the warmth and wetness of her skin, and for a second he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Then he moved his fingers and let the tips of his nails glide along her palm until he found his hand wrapped around her wrist. He turned her hand over, and with the next swift movement he made, he heard a snap. Rachel suddenly opened her eyes and screamed again.

“Shhh,” he said to her. “The pain won’t last long.”

He did the same thing to the other wrist, causing Rachel to scream even louder. Then he picked her up and carried her to her bed.

Her body shook, and her eyes were opened wide and glossed over.

“You’re cold.”

He covered her with the bed’s blanket.

“You won’t understand this,” he said, leaning close to her. “But you were chosen.”

She didn’t answer. Instead she whimpered and cried.

“Do you know why you were chosen?”

Through her sobs she said, “No.”

A deep and gritty chuckle came from his throat.

“Do you know who I am?” he said.

Rachel quickly shook her head.

The same chuckle came again.

“I am He.”

Rachel didn’t respond.

“You still don’t know?”

Rachel didn’t respond again.

“You and I will see each other again. When you open your eyes, there I will be.”

He then gently placed his hands around her neck. The tips of his fingernails glided across her skin.

“When you open your eyes, there I will be.”

Then, with a quick movement, his long, sharp fingernails punctured her neck, and blood gushed onto the pillow.

Rachel screamed. His hands clasped and squeezed. Her body tried to fight back, but within a few minutes, whatever life she had seeped out of her.

He pulled his hands away from her neck, and blood dripped from his already red-stained fingers.

“Because of you,” he said, “they will believe in me.”

He then leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers.


Ten



The woman who saw the alleged killer was visibly disturbed by what she had seen. Her son lived in Wheaton, Maryland, about fifteen minutes outside of D.C., in a small ranch style house off of Georgia Avenue. When Pat and I entered the house, the woman was sitting in a rocking chair, holding rosary beads and saying something in her native Spanish language. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but the words sounded repetitious like she was reciting something over and over again. Her son said she’d been like that ever since she arrived.

“How good is her English?” I asked.

“Not too good,” the son said. “But I can translate.”

I looked at the woman and smiled, hoping to get a smile in return, but I didn’t.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m Detective Hayden, and this is Detective Jennings.”

The woman looked at us but continued saying whatever it was she was saying.

“I understand that you saw someone last night.”

She brought the rosary beads closer to her chest.

“Can you tell us what you saw?”

Suddenly she stopped rocking and talking. She looked to her son and said something in Spanish.

“My mother said that she’s never going back home.”

The woman said something else.

“She said that I have to go and get her things.”

“Why is she so scared? What did she see?”

The woman shook her head and started rocking again.

“Ma’am, it would really help us if you could tell us what you saw. The more we know, the better chance we have of catching the person who committed the crime.”

The woman stopped rocking again and leaned forward in the chair. “You cannot stop him,” she said through a thick Hispanic accent. “Only God can now.”

I looked at Pat and the son and then back to the woman. I couldn’t help with the sarcasm, but I said, “I’d at least like to try.”

The son actually chuckled.

The woman gave him a stern look and then said something in Spanish.

“My mother said that the man’s eyes were black and evil. She said that his skin was ghostly white and that his teeth were sharp and jagged.”

I started taking notes but then stopped at the last description.

“Sharp and jagged?”

The woman nodded.

She continued speaking again. The son looked at his mother before translating.

“She said that his hands weren’t human.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“She said that his fingers looked like long knives.”

“Who does she think she saw?” I asked. I knew the answer but wanted to hear it from her mouth.

The woman shook her head. “You no believe. You think I crazy. But I no crazy. I saw him. I saw his eyes and smell his breath.”

“Ma’am, who did you see?”

“El Diablo,” she said with a certainty that made no mistake. “You no believe. But you will.”

We stayed for a few more minutes and then thanked them for taking their time. Pat and I went back to the station and worked through the devil talk. We asked each other questions, trying to find holes in the answers. What did the witness actually see as opposed to what she thought she saw? How did a man have fingers that looked like knives? The description all but sounded like Freddy Kruger was on the loose.

The hours slipped away from us because before I realized it, the sun was setting on the city, and I had an engagement to get to. I decided it was time for Jayden Davis, the FBI agent I’d been seeing for the past few months to meet my in-laws for the first time. I know it’s out of the ordinary for the girlfriend to meet the parents of the deceased spouse, but Mama J and Pops have been like my surrogate parents ever since mine passed away some years ago. And after Theresa’s death, we became even closer.

I picked up Jayden from the FBI’s Hoover building. It seemed like every time I saw her, I saw something new and more beautiful about her that sent goose bumps crawling along my skin. It was more than her caramel-colored skin, more than her silky dark hair, and even more than her soft, full lips that got to me. It was the essence of her spirit that drew me to her. We kissed briefly when she entered my car, and for a second I forgot where I was.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey back.”

“I’m a little nervous.”

“They’ll love you. They’re probably the coolest people I know.”

She smiled and lightly patted my knee, then she leaned over and gently rubbed the tip of her nose against mine. “You’re the coolest person I know.”

My foot accidently pressed on the gas pedal, causing the engine to rev pretty loud. Good thing the gear was in park.

We both laughed.

“We’d better get going before we won’t be able to,” I said. “A couple more nose rubs like that and we’d have to make an excuse as to why we were late.”

She didn’t answer, but the way her eyes caressed mine spoke magnitudes louder than any words she could say.

Damn, I thought, I should have picked her up earlier.


Eleven



Matthew Gray stood in his bathroom with his shirt off, looking at himself in the mirror. His younger years were spent playing three of American’s biggest sports: football, basketball, and baseball. And now at the age of thirty-five, his body still showed proof of his athleticism.

He’d been home for a little more than thirty minutes. Parts of his day he remembered well, and the other parts not so much. As he stared at himself, he thought about his dream and the question that was asked of him, What do you do when you look into the mirror and the reflection looking back isn’t you? He focused on his eyes, wondering if there was someone else inside.

He turned on the faucet and dipped his hands under the cool water. He splashed his face and noticed that his hands didn’t smell of their natural scent. He brought his fingers to his nose and sniffed. He couldn’t make out the smell, but it definitely wasn’t usual. He placed his hands under the water and grabbed the bar of soap, rubbing until the soap lathered. He brought his hands back to his nose; the smell was better, but the other scent was still there.

Could it have happened again? He wondered. There were times when he was younger that he would black out, and when he came to, hours had passed. Had that happened again? He tried to think of his day and what he’d done. He remembered everything in detail, but for some reason he didn’t remember coming home. As he rinsed off his hands, he realized that he didn’t know what time it was. He looked around the bathroom as if it were his first time there, and then rushed out to find the clock next to his bed.

The time couldn’t be right, he thought. How long had he been home? How long had he been in the bathroom? His heart started to flutter, and his head felt a little light. Matthew wasn’t sure what was going on, but he knew something wasn’t right. He found his phone in his front pocket and dialed the first number that came to mind. Four rings later, a voicemail came on.

“Hey, it’s me. Call me when you get this. Gotta talk to you.”

Matthew put the phone back in his pocket and then lay down on his bed.

“Not again.”


Twelve



An hour into the dinner, I smiled and laughed with everyone else. I was glad that Mama J and Pops took a liking to Jayden. I knew they would, but nerves have an interesting way of creeping in and raising doubts. The ambiance of the restaurant created a perfect setting for our little gathering. The lights were dimmed and the tables were filled with customers. I caught Pops laughing a little too hard at some of Jayden’s jokes. Mama J caught on too, and from time to time she nudged his midsection with her elbow.

However, as much as I wanted to be all in with the conversations, my mind kept returning to the devil talk. What was the likelihood that the devil was really in D.C. killing women? Zero. What was the likelihood that someone thought they were the devil and was killing women in D.C.? From my experience, there’s a screw loose in just about every human being, so that gives me a suspect pool of just about every male in the area.

“Jacob?” Mama J said.

When I looked at her, I noticed the entire table was looking at me.

“Huh? What?”

I looked over and the waiter was looking at me too.

“What’d I miss?”

Pops, Mama J, and Jayden started laughing.

“He asked you twice if you wanted desert,” Jayden said.

“Oh, sorry. Nah, I’m good.”

The waiter dipped his head and then left.

“You had the look of a man deep in thought,” Pops said. “Usually when someone’s that deep in thought, something must really be on their mind.”

“Just thinking about work again.”

“The many adventures of Detective Jacob Hayden,” Jayden said. “Tell us what this one’s about?”

“Boring stuff really. Nothing you guys would find interesting.”

“I sit around with this big lump all day,” Mama J said smiling. “I’m sure it’s more interesting than watching reruns of Seinfeld.”

She looked over to Pops and rolled her eyes.

“Well, if you really must know, I was just thinking about the devil.”

That caught everyone’s attention.

“Thinking of changing sides?” Pops said.

“Nah, you already beat me to it.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” Mama J said.

We all laughed.

“So why the devil?” Jayden asked.

“A witness claims she saw him.”

“Do you believe her?”

“Of course not.”

“So why think about him if you don’t believe her?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. Something’s not sitting right with me.”

“So then you do believe her?”

I was about to respond again, but then I hesitated as I thought about the question.

“It’s impossible to believe,” I said.

“Really? Why so?” Jayden pushed on.

I looked over, and Mama J and Pops sat with smirks on their faces apparently enjoying the back-and-forth banter.

“Come on, you don’t really believe in the devil, do you?”

“Doesn’t matter if I believe or not. You obviously do. That’s what you’re struggling with.”

“That’s not what I’m struggling with.”

“Okay, then, detective, what are you struggling with?”

I wasn’t sure if she was messing with me or not, but I decided to play along.

“Okay, Agent Davis, if you really must know, someone went to great lengths to make themselves appear as though they were the devil just to kill someone. I’m worried that if someone is that psychotic, to go through such trouble to do what they did, that person isn’t finished killing.”

“So you think there will be more?”

“I do.”

Jayden took a sip of water and then gently licked her lips.

“Don’t be so quick to say that the devil didn’t do this.”

She didn’t smile or make a humorous comment afterward like she normally does, so I decided to end the conversation with a sarcastic question, wholly expecting to invoke a smile.

“Ah, did Agent Davis have a run-in with the devil?” 

Her response wasn’t what I expected and nearly made me want to pick up my face from the floor.

“Actually, Jacob, I did. You see, the thing is, when you look into the devil’s eyes, you know without a shadow of a doubt, that you’re seeing pure evil.”

In my mind I was thinking, Check, please. But all I said was, “Oh.”  


TUESDAY


Thirteen



At 4:29 in the morning, the heavy band of storms from the nor’easter that dumped inches of rain in the D.C. area over the past couple of days lightened up just enough that Scott Tremble felt comfortable doing his routine five-mile run before work. Yesterday morning he’d had to settle for the treadmill, which he loathed, and he already made up his mind that if the rain wasn’t heavy this morning, he’d run outside.

He tied up his favorite Nikes, zipped up his windbreaker, and stepped out the front door of his brownstone located in Georgetown. The first half mile was spent setting his pace and making sure his breaths came in and out evenly. His six-foot-five-inch frame allowed for long strides against the wet pavement that splashed water every time his feet connected.

He was making good time. He checked his watch that monitored his speed and heart rate and saw that he was running at 5.7 mph. If he picked it up to 6, he thought, he could make it home in an hour. So the stride of his legs extended further the faster he ran. In the sky, he saw the faint beginning of light entering the darkness. Usually by the time he finished his run, the transition from dark to light would be nearly complete.

His run also gave him time to think of his busy work schedule. He owned his own law practice, and had made a name for himself by successfully winning a case against a major insurance company that no other lawyer wanted to take. The judgment brought in millions to his client and gave him instant stardom in legal circles, which also brought many new clients seeking his services. Scott was a daredevil in the courtroom as well as in life. So when common sense would say not to run in a wooded area alone in the dark, Scott scoffed at common sense and figured no one would want to bother a man of his size.

He checked his pace again. He couldn’t run as fast now that he was running through a wooded path covered with tree debris and other natural obstacles. From time to time, his feet slipped on mud, but he kept his stride long and fast. The light rain that had been falling for nearly an hour turned heavier, almost returning to the thunderstorm-type weather of the day before. Large drops found their way past tree leaves, causing Scott to pull up the hood of his windbreaker. As he did, he heard what sounded like a second set of footsteps matching his stride. He turned his head, not expecting to see someone, but when he did, his body quickly went into defense mode as a long arm reached to knock him over.


Fourteen



When Scott Tremble turned around, He saw the surprise and fear in his eyes. He swung, but Scott ducked just enough that the long fingernails missed by inches.

“What the fuck?” Scott said.

Scott turned and ducked so quickly that the momentum caused him to spin around, trip, and fall over debris in the path.

“What the fuck?” Scott said again.

Scott swiftly turned over and hopped to his knees in an effort to crawl far enough away that he could jump to his feet. When Scott turned his back, He leaped in the air and threw his right knee into Scott’s back. There was a cracking sound and then a holler from Scott’s mouth that could wake the dead. Scott fell flat on his stomach, smashing his face into the muddy ground. He reached for the back of Scott’s neck and with great force yanked Scott to a standing position.

Scott’s legs could not hold him up, and he fell again. He reached down and picked Scott off the ground, all six feet, five inches of him, and brought Scott to eye level so that his feet dangled away from the muddy trail.

Scott gasped in agonizing pain. He brought Scott’s face close to his and sniffed his skin.

“Do you know why I chose you?” He said.

Scott didn’t respond. A sound like a wounded dog—not quite a moan but not a holler either—escaped his mouth.

“I know who you are,” He said. “I’ve known you for a very long time.”

Scott’s eyes couldn’t hold his gaze.

“I chose you because of who you are.”

He let Scott go, and when Scott fell to the ground, he screamed in pain.

“Do you know who I am?” He said.

“Help me,” Scott mustered.

He knelt down and grabbed Scott’s hair, forcing him to look into his eyes. Rain fell harder over them. A thunderous boom echoed in the sky, so loud it made Scott’s body flinch.

“When you die and open your eyes, you will see me again.”

Then He pressed his long nails into Scott’s neck with such force that he nearly severed Scott’s head from his body.

The thunder boomed again, followed by a bright streak of lightening.

“Now they must believe in me.”


Fifteen



I heard her voice say my name. It was as sweet as anything I’d ever heard. The softness of her tone made me smile before I opened my eyes. She rubbed the top of my shoulder with the tips of her fingers, sending goose bumps across my arm. Then she placed her arm across my waist, and I felt the tenderness of her breasts against my back. The sounds of heavy raindrops beat against my window, and I rubbed my fingers along the palm of the hand that rested on my waist.

“I woke you, didn’t I?” Jayden said.

“Yes, you did.”

It was our first night together. After the restaurant, I thought Pops and Mama J were going to come back to the house and stay the night, but they decided to make the trek back to Maryland. Before we parted ways, Mama J hugged me and whispered in my ear that she was happy for me and that Jayden seemed like a sweet woman. Pops and I slapped five and gave each other man hugs, and he said that he’d call me soon. I knew what that meant. He liked her too.

Jayden and I stood in front of the restaurant looking around like two high schoolers not sure what the next steps were. I was planning on having my in-laws spend the night, but since they weren’t, my plans were thrown off. We both kept looking at each other and then shyly looking away. I think we both had the same thing on our minds, but we were either too shy to say it, or too dumb.

Finally, I said, “Do you wanna come back to my place?”

My heart was beating fast. If she said no, I’d feel like the biggest fool for suggesting it. It wasn’t all that late yet, but asking a woman to come back to my place at that time didn’t mean I wanted to give her milk and cookies.

She reached for my hand and squeezed it as she said, “I’d love to.”

My eyes widened, and if it wasn’t for the fact that she was holding my hand, I probably would have run for my car. When we got to my house, there was an awkward silence between us for a couple of minutes. Was I ready for this? Was she? She’s the only woman I’d been emotionally attached to besides Theresa. As I looked into her eyes, I knew that once our lips touched, it was going to be more than just a sexual experience. We were going to make a connection.

I rubbed my thumb over her cheek and watched as she tilted her head back slightly and closed her eyes. She was ready, and so was I. We kissed, slowly at first and then more passionately. We stood next to the couch in the living room. We still had on our coats, which were partially wet from the rain. Then something changed, like a switch had suddenly been flipped. In her. She pulled back from the kiss and placed both of her hands on my face.

“I’m going to fuck the hell out of you, Jacob Hayden.”

I suddenly froze, not sure how to respond. “Huh?”

She winked, and if I wasn’t hard already, I was then.

We started on the couch, then moved to the stairs, then to the upstairs hallway, and then ended in the bed. I had to tell Henry, my large chocolate Lab, to look away a few times because he seemed too interested in what we were doing. He kept tilting his head in that way dogs do when they see something confusing to them.

By the time we were done, we both passed out. I didn’t hear her voice again until she said my name a few seconds ago. I turned around and smiled. She smiled back.

I tilted my head up and said, “How’d you sleep?”

“Must have been good. I don’t remember falling asleep.”

I tilted my head up again, “I kinda have that effect on women.”

That made her smile again. She looked around the room. “Our clothes must still be downstairs.”

“Must be.”

“Why do you keep lifting your head up when you talk?”

“Morning breath.”

She laughed out loud.

“And right about now, yours is kicking,” I said.

She breathed in my face.

“Yep, kicking.”

“Does that mean you won’t kiss me?”

“Of course I would.” I leaned in and gave her a big kiss on the cheek.

She leaned in and kissed me on the lips, which I must admit aroused me again, morning breath and all.

I was about to get on top of her when my phone rang. I looked at the clock. It was too early for a casual call, so I knew it must be work related.

“Hello,” I said.

Pat was on the other line. “Jacob, more girls were killed.”

I closed my eyes and sighed.

All I said was, “Okay.”

“Pick you up in thirty minutes.”

“Okay,” I said again.

Jayden saw the sudden change in my demeanor. “That bad, huh?”

“More dead girls.”

“Jesus.”

“And it’s only Tuesday.”

I removed the blanket and stood up. Whatever excitement I was about to have was now put on hold.

Hello, Tuesday.


Sixteen



When Dr. Sarah Adams opened the front door, Matthew Gray stood on the other side under a large black umbrella. His dark, wavy hair was partially wet, and his black-rimmed glasses had specks of rain on the lenses. She stepped back, allowing him to walk in. As he did, she leaned in for a kiss, but he ignored the affection by walking past her.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“Sure, come on in,” she responded sarcastically.

The door closed behind her, and she followed Matthew to the kitchen that was in the front of the house.

“Got anything to drink?”

“Sure, apple juice in the fridge.”

“No, something stronger. Vodka?”

“At this time of the morning?”

“Forget it.”

He started pacing back and forth in the middle of the kitchen.

“What’s wrong, Matt?”

“I don’t know.”

He couldn’t stop moving.

“I called you last night,” he said.

“When?”

“I don’t know. You weren’t home. Were you out?”

“Are you my father now?”

“Jesus, Sarah, I needed to talk to you last night.”

Sarah leaned against the rear wall and folded her arms.

“Matt, what’s this about? You know that ever since we became intimate I can’t be your therapist anymore.”

Matthew continued his pacing.

“Is that what this is about? You need counseling?”

Matthew didn’t answer.

“Are you having the dreams again?”

He stopped pacing, and she knew that must have been the trigger.

“When did they start again?”

“I don’t know, a week ago, maybe two.”

She moved away from the wall and reached for Matthew’s arm.

“Raise up your sleeve.”

“Nothing’s there this time.”

“Let me see.”

“Jesus, Sarah, you just saw me yesterday morning. Nothing’s there.”

“Humor me.”

Matthew unbuttoned the cuff of his sleeve and rolled it up, revealing the smoothness of his bare forearm.

“Okay, that’s good at least.”

“What about the dreams?”

Sarah shook her head, “I can’t do this, Matt. Not again. I can refer you to a good therapist. But I can’t be part of it. We’re too close. I’m too close to you.”

“So you’re saying I have to go through this alone?”

She held his hand and interlocked their fingers.

“No, never. I’ll be there for you. I just can’t counsel you. It’s not ethical. It’s not right.”

“You weren’t concerned with ethics when we were screwing in your office, or on your couch, or on your desk, or yesterday in my bed.”

“That’s not fair, Matt. We were different people then.”

Matthew removed his hand from hers and leaned against the counter with folded arms. He hung his head, and Sarah couldn’t help feeling sorry for him.

“Look, forget it,” he said. “Just tell me what to do and I won’t ask another favor.”

The therapist in Sarah wanted to dive into his beautiful mind and try to sort out what was causing the dreams to return. But the lover in her only wanted him to hold her in his arms.

“For now, practice the meditation we’ve talked about. I’ll see if Dr. Stanley has time to squeeze you in this week. He’s familiar with your case, so the transition should be smooth.”

Matthew nodded.

“Don’t worry. We’ll get through this,” she reassured.

“I know. You’ve been there for me in the past, so I know you’ll be there in the future. This whole thing has just gotten me all messed up in the head again.”

Sarah rubbed his arm and then kissed him on the cheek.

“You know, maybe it’s not too early for that vodka.”

That caused Matthew to smile. “Just point me in the right direction.”

She did, and when Matthew turned his back, Sarah smiled too.


Seventeen



Rain, rain, go away, and please come back later in the year, I thought. Rain had been falling over the D.C. area for nearly three days. As Pat pulled up to the house, I couldn’t help but think that just thirty minutes ago I was in bed with a beautiful naked woman, and we were about to go for round two. But instead of engaging in a possible sexual marathon, I was about to enter a house with dead bodies. Talk about going from one extreme to another.

The rain didn’t stop neighbors from huddling outside. People were gathered past the yellow police tape in bunches with umbrellas covering their heads. The human mind never ceased to amaze me; even in the midst of a downpour, people would be willing to stand outside and get wet just to fulfill their curious nature.

Inside the house, CSI technicians were busy dusting for prints and taking pictures of various rooms. Pat and I went inside the garage first, where two dead girls lay on their backs in the middle of the concrete floor. I stood over the bodies and immediately noted that they didn’t have puncture wounds on their necks, but their shirts were shredded, and the darkest of the bloodstains were near each victim’s heart.

Pat knelt down and looked at the bodies and then motioned for me to come to her side.

“They went out last night. Look at the hand.”

She pointed to a stamp on the back of one of the girls’ hands that read, “Admitted.”

“And look at their clothes,” she continued. “Sleeveless tops and tight jeans. The killer could have come home with them from wherever they were. Chances are, they were at a bar or something.”

“Do bars usually stamp someone’s hand?” I asked.

“Got me. Been a while since I’ve been out like that.”

“Same here. I know the clubs do.”

“How many clubs are in D.C.?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “There may be a way to narrow what type of club they went to. Let’s find the keys to the two cars in the driveway. Turn on their radios and see what stations are programmed. That’ll give us a clue as to the type of music they listen to, and we can check which clubs in the city play that kind of music.”

“So you’re sending me back out in the rain?” Pat joked.

“Someone has to stay inside and look for clues.”

She rolled her eyes and then stood up.

“Where’s the third girl?” I asked.

“Upstairs.”

I left Pat in the garage and made my way to the upstairs level. More CSI were dusting the rails and doorknobs. I entered the last bedroom at the end of the hall, where other detectives were huddled around the bed. As I walked in, I was immediately shocked at the amount of blood on the bed. Detectives Rudy Sanders and Carl Monroe were talking to each other. Both men were taller than me, but their builds were opposites of each other. Rudy was built like Mike Tyson in his prime, while Carl was built like the elastic man. A few months earlier they’d helped me with an incident at my house when a Russian gangster kidnapped my neighbor and was waiting for me to come home. I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened had they not been there for me.

“What’s up, guys,” I said.

“What’s up, Jacob. Just another homicide in D.C.,” Carl said. “But this one takes the cake.”

“Her wrists were broken,” Rudy said, “but there doesn’t appear to be any signs of rape.”

I didn’t need to stare too long to see that the woman’s neck had been punctured like the woman from the apartment building.

“Jesus, what’s with the guy and necks?” I said.

“The girls downstairs didn’t have the neck wounds,” Rudy said. “Why do you think that is?”

I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t have a clue. Why kill one in the same fashion as the girl from yesterday, but kill the others differently?

“Maybe they weren’t the intended targets,” I said. “Maybe this guy has some sick ritual he does with people he chooses.”

“So they were more of an afterthought?” Carl said. “Wrong place, wrong time?”

“I don’t know. I’m just digesting it like you guys.”

I turned from the girl’s body and looked around the room.

“Did we find a point of entry?” I asked.

“Front door,” Carl said.

“Pat thinks they may have been out last night. One of them has a stamp on her hand, like they give at clubs.”

“Makes sense,” Rudy said. “They bring some sick fuck home, and he ends up killing them.”

I nodded, but I didn’t agree with the theory.

I continued looking around the room and then made my way to the window. The outside crowd had grown a little larger. In my years on the force, I didn’t recall coming to this neighborhood, so presumably the residents weren’t used to seeing police in this capacity.

Most of the crowd were covered with umbrellas, but there was a guy standing without one. He wore a long black raincoat with a hood covering his head.

“Do you guys subscribe to the theory that sometimes the killer stands in the crowd of onlookers?” I asked.

“I do,” Rudy said. “Some of these wackos get their rocks off standing right underneath our noses.”

“I do too,” I said. “That’s why the guy in the black raincoat intrigues me.”

Rudy and Carl moved toward the window.

“It’s raining hard as hell and he doesn’t have an umbrella,” Carl said.

“Maybe he likes the rain,” Rudy said.

I continued looking at the guy’s face. He finally looked up toward the window, and when he realized we were looking at him, he smiled and then turned and started walking away. It took a second for my brain to rationalize what I had just seen. Then the description of the killer came to mind from the Hispanic woman’s words: his teeth were jagged and sharp. When the guy in the black raincoat smiled, his teeth were jagged.

“Shit.” I turned around and darted out of the room.

Rudy and Carl were right behind me.


Eighteen



People outside were surprised when they saw me run out of the house. I darted out of the front door like I’d been shot from a cannon. I heard voices saying, “Look” and “Oh my God.” When I got past the front yard, I looked toward the spot where the man with the raincoat had been standing, but he wasn’t there.

Carl and Rudy stood next to me, and all of us intently scanned the crowd.

“See him?” I asked.

“Nope,” Carl said.

“He turned and left,” Rudy said.

Pat was already outside in one of the cars. She rushed to my side like she didn’t want to miss out on the action.  

“What’s up?”

“Look for a man in a black raincoat with a hood.”

I saw Rudy jump up like he was on a pogo stick. “Got him.”

He pointed to our right. My eyes immediately caught the tail end of the black raincoat about a block and a half away. My feet started moving before my mind finished analyzing what it had seen. I was in a full-blown sprint within about three seconds. The black raincoat man must have heard the splashes of our feet against the rainwater because he looked back and then started running.

The closer I was on him, the more I saw the nature of his size. He was a big guy. And he could move.

“Stop,” I yelled. “Police.”

Either he didn’t hear me or he didn’t care.

He turned right onto the first block he came to. We were in a neighborhood of houses, so his options were limited as to where he could go. I heard Carl on the radio asking for backup.

Adrenaline pumped through my veins, and the longer I ran, the faster I became. I was close to him. I could hear his heavy breathing and grunting as he was trying to outrun me.

“Stop,” I yelled again.

He turned his head and then tossed something from his hand. I was close enough to dive, and was getting ready to, when he suddenly did something that I think only a gymnast could do. While in full stride, he leaped in the air, spun his body around, and threw something at me. The whole sequence only took about a second, but if I didn’t know better, I’d have sworn his body slowed like he was in The Matrix. I was forced to let up and dodge whatever it was he’d thrown. Remarkably, he completed his spin and landed in the same direction he was running.

“What the fuck was that?” I heard Rudy say from behind.

The raincoat man continued running. Now I was a little apprehensive. I kept up the chase, but I wasn’t sure if I should tackle him or not. I caught up to him pretty quickly and knew that the others had my back. So, as I was nearly on top of him, I dove onto his back and brought him down. We slammed onto the sidewalk, and my momentum brought him rolling on top of me. He wiggled for a second, but then Rudy, Carl, and Pat had their weapons drawn and yelled, “Freeze” and “Don’t move.”

I guess something about seeing handguns in your face might persuade you to be obedient to the commands of police officers. I quickly moved him off me and pulled his hands behind his back, securing his wrists with handcuffs.

I took a deep breath as I sat on the sidewalk with heavy rain falling all over us.

“You okay, Jacob?” Pat asked.

“Yeah, just give me a second to catch my breath.”

Rudy and Carl stood the raincoat man up. He was big. Rudy and Carl stand about six, five, and raincoat man had them by at least two inches.

“Why’d you run?” I asked.

“You were chasing me.” He had a deep voice that sounded like Lurch from the Addams Family.

“Why didn’t you stop when I said we were police?”

“How’d I know that you were police?”

“You saw us in the house. You smiled at me.”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“He tossed something before he threw something at you,” Pat said. “I’ll go back and get it.”

“What’d you toss?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders again.

I finally stood up and brushed myself off like that would help with my wet clothes.

“You know you messed up, right?” I said.

“I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Police cars finally arrived at our location.

“Quick question. Where’d you learn to move like that?”

“Circus.”

I nodded, “Figures.”

Carl and Rudy led him to the police cruiser and put him in the backseat.

I looked over and saw Pat bend down and pick something off the ground. She looked over at me and raised her hand.

This is gonna be an interesting day, I thought.


Nineteen



Two things the raincoat man did wrong: tossing a snack bag with a crack rock in it on the ground and assaulting an officer of the law by throwing a Chinese star at me. I thought the Chinese star died out when the ninja fad went away, but apparently they’re still out there.

“How long have you been on crack?” I asked.

We had him in one of our interrogating rooms. Because of the nature of the crimes and his mere size, we thought it best to keep him handcuffed while questioning him.

He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. Couple years.”

“Your I.D. says that you live on G Street in Southeast, but you were on the northwest side. What were you doing there?”

“Taking a walk.”

“From Southeast?”

He nodded.

“In the middle of a rainstorm?”

He nodded again.

Crack is a powerful drug known to have people doing things they normally don’t do. But it’s also a debilitating drug, meaning people who are crackheads usually deteriorate right before your eyes. This guy didn’t look like a typical crackhead. He was still rather strong and fast, as evidenced by the way he ran from us. And also athletic. But his teeth were a problem for me. They were jagged and rotten, like he hadn’t been to a dentist since he was born. So if a religious woman coming home from a long work shift suddenly saw a man in the middle of the night with blood on him and jagged teeth—and he was possibly high on crack—would that give her the impression that he was the devil?

“Do you normally take walks like that in the rain?”

“Depends.”

“On what?”

“If it’s raining.”

I shook my head. Smart-ass.

“Do you know why we were at that house?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting. Shed some light for me. Why were we there?”

“Because someone got killed.”

“Why do you think that?”

“You’re homicide. You could be sniffed out a mile away.”

“Were you ever in the house?”

“I wasn’t.”

“Sure about that?”

He smiled. “You think I’m the killer, right?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know. I’m just asking some questions.”           

“Maybe the better question to ask is: Did I see someone coming out of the house the other morning?”

“Why would you have seen someone coming out of the house the other morning if you were just taking a walk this morning?”

He smiled again, showing off the mustard yellow monstrosities that were his teeth.

“Okay, you got me. I wasn’t going for a walk this morning.”

“Really? I totally believed that you were.”

“Well, I was going for a walk, but I was going home when you guys saw me.”

“Back to G Street?”

“Yeah.”

“Why were you in the neighborhood?”

“Let’s just say that a gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.”

“What are you saying? That you were hooking up with someone?”

“If you want to put it that way. Sure.”

I couldn’t help it, I blurted out, “With teeth like that?”

He scrunched his brows and frowned, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing.” I rolled my eyes in disbelief. “So someone can give you an alibi that they were with you the entire time?”

“Not her. I was with one chick most of the night, but then I went to another chick’s house afterwards.”

“What the hell kinda dating site are you involved in?”

“Not like that. One was personal, the other business.”

“Crack?”

“Hey, the best customers are out here.”

I nodded. And, unfortunately, I had to agree. In some parts of the city, users don’t go to dealers, the dealers come to the users. But I wasn’t sure I was buying his explanation. He only had one rock on him. If he was a dealer, he would have had many more.

“So why don’t you tell me what you saw, and we’ll go from there.”

“It was the sickest shit I ever saw. Guy looked like king of the vampires or something.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean he looked like a vampire. I nearly shit my pants when I saw him. I ducked behind a car, and when he passed, I hauled ass back to the girl’s house.”

“What’d you see?”

“His hands man, they were like razors and they were covered in blood. And he had these freaky-looking eyes.”

“Were you high when you saw him?”

“As a kite. But I sobered up quick. When you see something that like—I don’t know—it makes you not high anymore.”

His hands were cuffed in front of him and resting on top of the table. I looked at them and noticed they were trembling slightly. Either he was in need of another fix or he was genuinely scared.

“Did you tell your girl what you saw?”

“No, I knew she wouldn’t believe me. I mean, we had just shot up and then I’m going to come back and say that I saw a vampire. She would have laughed in my face.”

His demeanor started to change. His massive size didn’t seem as intimidating anymore. Was he telling the truth? Did he really see what he thought he saw? Or was he covering up for what he’d done? Ninety percent of our human communication is non-verbal. Our body language tends to tell more of a truth about us than any words we can say. His body language was telling me that something he saw had truly scared him.

“Okay, sit tight for a little bit,” I said. “You’re still not out of trouble, but maybe you’re not going to be in as much trouble.”

Raincoat man nodded, and I turned and left.

So now I’m chasing the devil or a vampire, I thought.

Okay.


Twenty



Cellars are usually cold. Much like an unfinished basement, they’re used primarily for storage. The owners don’t take the time to clean up the cellar since they don’t spend any quality time down there. Cellars are dark spaces where spiders and cobwebs live in the corners of aged concrete walls that don’t experience the same kind of exposure that their above-ground counterparts do.

Cellars are also the rooms of the house where children fear the boogeyman lives, and where the horror of hauntings originate. If someone were to walk down into this cellar, they would see him, standing just beyond the dim staircase light. His breathing sounded like the ghastly gust of a howling wind that was ready to snatch up a soul with one deep inhale. If you looked far into his eyes, you would see a shell as hollow as the room in which he stands, a shell that once was the life of a beating heart. 

Who was he? And what did he want?

He paced the floor back and forth, for he knew that his time was coming. He heard their voices from the floor above. He didn’t know what they were talking about, but it didn’t matter. When the voices died down, then he would enter. But for now, he waited.

He sniffed the air. He still had the smell of coppery blood on his hands, but the smell wasn’t as strong as the staleness of the cellar’s walls. The longer he was in the room, the stronger the smell became. It was like a fungus growing slowly and expanding around him.

The smell was making him impatient. He stretched out his fingers and swung his hands backward and forward, allowing his long fingernails to cut through the stale air. Then he clenched his jaw and instantly tasted blood.

He stopped pacing as he realized that the voices were becoming harder to hear. They’d moved to another room in the house, and he knew it was time to leave the cellar.   

He faced the dimly lit staircase, and the beginning line of a smile slowly crawled along his face. The smile wasn’t due to joy, but rather the opposite: hate. Hatred for the world. Hatred for humanity. But more importantly, hatred for existence.

When his foot hit the first step, a quick pulse of energy surged through his body. With the next step, the surge became more powerful, and by the time he reached the top, he truly believed that he was invincible.

And as the doorknob turned and the door slowly opened, a flood of light filled the cellar. He was hunting once again.


Twenty-one



The alibi for the raincoat man came back airtight. Both women he claimed to have been with corroborated his story, and the brief time when he walked alone from one house to the next was only minutes apart. He wouldn’t have had the time to kill the women in the way they were killed in the short amount of time he was alone. Nevertheless, he still assaulted an officer and had drugs on his person, so he was still looking at possible jail time.

Back to square one. Which really was no square because I had no clue who or, dare I say what, I was chasing. Four dead women in the span of twenty-four hours, and two of them had severe puncture wounds on their necks. And now I had two witnesses who claimed to either have seen the devil or a vampire coming away from the crime scenes. Didn’t make sense.

As I sat at my desk, the phone rang, and it was a nurse from the Washington Hospital Center. She said that Tanisha Bentley, the girl we found hanging from the basement wall of Baldwin Lanceport’s home yesterday, was awake. And she was calling to say that if I wanted to come speak with her, I should do so soon. I hung up the phone and was in my car within a minute or so.

More girls is what I thought of as I drove to the hospital. That was all Tanisha had been able to mutter. More girls. There were a thousand questions I wanted to ask, but only two made the most immediate sense: How many? And where are they? I was hoping beyond hope that she’d be able to tell me.

At the hospital, there were four nurses sitting behind the nurse’s station, and all of them were either typing on their computers, monitoring their screens, or writing on pieces of paper. I cleared my throat and showed my badge.

“I’m Detective Hayden. Nurse Caroline called me a little bit ago.”

The young nurse sitting closest to me smiled and said that she was Caroline. She stood up and walked around the nurse’s station and escorted me to Tanisha’s room, four rooms down the hall.

“She’s been up for a little over an hour,” Nurse Caroline said. “She’s weak but stable.”

I thanked her and entered the room. There were two beds in the room, but Tanisha was the only patient. There were all kinds of cords hooked up to her, and a consistent beeping sound indicated the machine was monitoring her vitals. She didn’t look any better than she did yesterday, but her one good eye was open and she blinked when I was in her range of sight.

“Hi, Tanisha,” I said as I showed her my badge. “You probably don’t remember me, but I’m one of the detectives who found you yesterday in the basement of that house. My name is Jacob.”

She blinked and shook her head, and with a raspy and weak voice she said, “Thank you.”

There was a single cushioned chair in the corner of the room. I looked at the chair and then back to Tanisha, “Do you mind if I sit and talk with you for a few minutes?”

“No, I don’t mind.”

I pulled over the chair and took a seat. I looked her over as she lay in the bed, and the first thing I noticed was that her hands were covered in bandages.

“How are you holding up?” I asked.

A tear fell from her opened eye, “I don’t know. Everything hurts.”

“You’ve been through a lot. But that monster can’t hurt you anymore. You’re safe.”

“He’ll never stop.”

My brows furrowed. “You haven’t been told?”

She shook her head no.

“Baldwin was killed yesterday morning. We caught up to him in the Metro tunnels.”

I thought she would be happy to hear the news, but her reaction was not what I expected.

She shook her head, which appeared more out of sadness than excitement, while more tears streamed down her face.

“You don’t understand,” she said.

“Help me understand. Yesterday when we found you, you said there were more girls.”

She turned her head and looked out the window.

“Are there more girls out there? Did he kidnap more girls?”

She shook her head again and began sobbing.

“Tanisha, if there’s anything you know, please, help me.”

“I can’t. He’ll find me and kill me.”

“I told you he can’t hurt you anymore. He was killed yesterday.”

“You don’t understand.”

“I want to understand.”

I moved the chair closer to the bed.

“Tanisha, there are a lot of worried families out there who are looking for their daughters. If you know where they are, you need to tell me.”

“I don’t know where they’re at. I just know that there’s more.”

“How do you know?”

She looked away again. She seemed to have found something to fixate her eyes on outside the window.

“Tanisha,” I said again, “how do you know?”

With a slow and raspy breath, she said, “Because I helped catch them.”

My eyes widened, and I nearly fumbled my words when I spoke again.

“What do you mean?”

“It was me. I lured them in.”

“You helped kidnap those girls?”

She nodded.

“Then why were you bound to the wall?”

“Because what we were doing was wrong. I threatened to go to the police if he didn’t release the other girls.”

I sat back in my chair. Pat was right, I thought. He left Tanisha there to suffer slowly and die because she was more personal to him.

“Do you remember where you picked up the other girls?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember what they looked like?”

“Yes.”

“Why did you and Baldwin kidnap the girls in the first place? What was it about them?”

She shook her head again, “You don’t understand. You keep saying Baldwin, but he wasn’t the one who kidnapped the girls.”

“Sorry, right, you said that you did.”

“I helped.”

“I’m not following.”

“Baldwin was a brute, not a brain.”

The light finally went off in my head. “Are you saying that you helped someone else kidnap those girls?”

She shook her head, “Yes.”

“And it wasn’t Baldwin Lanceport?”

“Yes.”

I briefly closed my eyes and then rubbed my temples with my two pointer fingers. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“How many other girls did you kidnap?”

“I don’t know.”

“Best guess.”

“Five.”

“Are they alive or dead?”

“I don’t know.”

“Best guess.”

There was a long pause and then she said, “Dead.”

“Who’d you help?”

“He’ll kill me.”

“Who, Tanisha?”

“A monster beyond your wildest dreams.”

I shook my head. Where have I heard that before?


Twenty-two



I gave Tanisha a couple of minutes to compose herself. She started crying hysterically, which caused her heart monitor to go crazy, which in turn brought in Nurse Caroline. She told Tanisha that she needed to calm down so her blood pressure didn’t rise, and then told me that I shouldn’t do anything to get Tanisha excited due to her current condition. After a couple of minutes, Tanisha calmed down, and then I went back to asking her more questions.

“Try to stay calm with these questions, okay?” I said. “I understand that what you went through was very traumatic, but I need you to help me so I can find these girls.”

Tanisha nodded.

“Who’s the third guy?”

“I don’t know his real name. We just called him Dark.”

“Dark? Because of his skin color or something?”

“No, because he was dark, like in his personality.”

“What’d he look like?”

“Like he just stepped out of a Brooks Brothers catalog.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he’s a beautiful man. Dark hair, big eyes, broad smile, and a body that every woman wanted.”

“But his personality is dark?”

“Not on the surface. That’s how we were able to lure them in. He was very charismatic on the surface. But his soul was a different story. Once we had them, he just changed. His eyes became hollowed and his smile stiffened. Even Baldwin, as big as he was, he didn’t mess with Dark.”

“And Dark was the brains? He’s the one who orchestrated everything?”

Tanisha nodded.

“What was his reasoning for kidnapping them?”

“I don’t know.”

My brows furrowed. “You don’t know? Don’t bullshit me, Tanisha. You helped him. Obviously you know something.”

“I loved him. At first. It was supposed to be just a game between us. See who could convince a girl to come home with us. The first one felt awkward. She was willing to have a threesome. I wasn’t sure if I could really do it. But I loved him, so I agreed.”

“So you lured girls with sex offers?”

“You’d be surprised, Detective, at how easily they agreed.”

“So what happened after they agreed?”

“The first time we did it, we had a threesome. The girl stayed the night. The next morning Dark said that he was taking the girl home. I didn’t think anything more about it until a week later I saw her face flash across the news channel, saying that she’d been missing.”

“You sure it was the same girl?”

“Yes. She was the first woman I’d ever slept with, so I remembered exactly what she looked like.”

I nodded and continued taking notes.

“When I told Dark what I saw, he told me that he and Baldwin killed her.”

“Just like that? He just came out and said it?”

“That’s how he is.”

Tears started rolling down her face again.

“He told me that if I said anything he’d kill me. He said that I was a part of it, and that if he got caught the police would arrest me too.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“Over a year ago.”

“And you have been helping him ever since?”

She nodded.

“Did you actually see him kill any of the girls?”

Tears fell harder down her face. “Yes.”

The heart monitor started beeping faster again.

“They begged me to help them, but I didn’t. I was too afraid.”

“Calm down,” I said in a gentle voice. “Calm down.”

I gave her time to calm down before returning to the questions.

“Is Dark the one who beat you and chained you to the wall?”

Tanisha nodded.

“Where does he live?”

“He’s gone, Detective. You won’t find him.”

“Let me worry about that. Give me his address.”

She did, along with another place where they took some of the other girls.

“What’s going to happen to me?” she asked.

“Right now, you need to get better. The courts will decide what happens to you. But for now, I’m going to assign an officer to stand by your door for a few days.”

She nodded as more tears fell down her face.

“Thank you, Tanisha. You did really good today.” I said. “But before I leave, I need to ask. You said that you don’t know Dark’s real name, yet you said you loved him. How could you fall in love with someone whose name you don’t know?”

“I asked myself that same question over and over again.”


Twenty-three



Dr. Robert Stanley sat on a cushioned black chair across from Matthew Gray. He was a distinguished-looking man who wore his beard close to his skin, and his dark brown hair fell slightly below his ears. When he spoke, he pronounced every syllable to every word and often hung on to the last letters of the word. Matthew found it odd that Dr. Stanley spoke this way, but he was the head psychologist of the practice, and according to Sarah, he knew just about everything there was to know.

“Mr. Gray,” Dr. Stanley said, “Sarah told me you’ve been having dreams again. Tell me about them.”

“You can call me Matthew.”

Dr. Stanley nodded. “Fine. Matthew it is.”

Matthew cleared his throat and then searched his mind for a beginning point. “The dreams started when I was around twelve years old. They were kind of like out-of-body experiences. At least they felt that way.”

Dr. Stanley nodded, and Matthew saw that Dr. Stanley was mentally engaged with him.

“The dreams were like it was me, but it wasn’t me at the same time. I don’t know. It’s kinda hard to explain.”

“Just take your time. I’m sure you’ll find the right words.”

Matthew cleared his throat again. His palms were slightly clammy, and his heart raced. The only person he’d spoken to about this was Sarah, and even then it took him a little while to warm up to her.

“So, in these dreams I’m full of rage. I don’t know why I’m so angry, but I am.”

“Possibly some kind of repressed emotion,” Dr. Stanley said.

“I don’t know. I don’t have anything to be angry about. I’m not an angry person.”

Dr. Stanley smiled and then nodded his head, which Matthew took as a sign to continue.

“Have you ever seen the show The Incredible Hulk?”

“The television version? Yes, of course.”

“There was an episode where David Banner thought he could control the Hulk through dreams. Each time he dreamed, he tried to build barriers around the Hulk, but each time the Hulk kept escaping them.”

“I’m familiar with the episode.”

“That’s kind of how it was for me, but the opposite. Each time I dreamed, the anger was trying to build barriers around me. Almost like the anger was trying to keep me from waking up, so that it could be me.”

“So, you could see this anger as a separate entity from you?”

“Sometimes. Like I said about the out-of-body thing.”

“What did the anger look like?”

“I saw it but couldn’t see it. Like it was blurred out or something.”

Dr. Stanley rubbed his chin. “Interesting.”

“And then there was always this question.”

“Question?”

Matthew nodded. “What do you do when you look into the mirror and the reflection looking back isn’t you?”

“What do you think it means?”

“I don’t know.”

“Who was asking you the question?”

“No one. It was just a voice.”

“Was it your own voice?”

“No, not mine. Just a voice that I’ve never heard before.”

Dr. Stanley rubbed his chin again before speaking.

“And Sarah said that the dreams became physical?”

“One time, yes.”

“How so?”

“One time when I woke up, I had cuts along my forearms.”

“And the last dream, did you have cuts along your forearms?”

“No, not this time.”

“Hmm. And you said that the dreams started when you were around twelve?”

“Yes, I believe I was around that age.”

“That’s around the age of adolescence. Young boys begin the transition to manhood. Hormones in our bodies start to change. We even start to see a transition of our emotions. So I find it very interesting that the anger, as you describe it, was prevalent in your dreams back then.”

“Again, I don’t know why. I wasn’t angry as a child.”

“Maybe you weren’t. But something within your psyche held back repressed emotions that were causing your dreams to be angry.”

Matthew shook his head, “I don’t know what.”

“Neither do I. But that’s what we’re going to try and figure out.”

Dr. Stanley leaned forward in his chair, rested his elbows on his knees, and interlocked his fingers together.

“Tell me, Matthew, what were your parents like?”


Twenty-four



Two hours had passed since I interviewed Tanisha at the Washington Hospital Center. While I was at my desk, the hospital called and informed me that shortly after I left, Tanisha went into cardiac arrest and passed away. The injuries she sustained were too much for her body to handle. After I hung up, I sat in my chair for a few minutes without saying anything. Even though I didn’t know her, and she did some terrible things, I felt sad in a way I hadn’t expected.

When we’d found out that she was actually still alive at the house, I didn’t think she would make it through the night. But for some reason she was allowed to live long enough to tell me that the real person behind the kidnappings wasn’t Baldwin Lanceport, but a man named Dark. A believer would have called that an act of God. A skeptic would have said it was just blind luck that I was able to get to her before she died. Whatever it was, it gave me a new lead in a case that I thought had pretty much died with Baldwin Lanceport.

I put the name Dark into our database, and only three hits came back. In two of them, the name Dark was part of a longer name, and the third man looked nothing like Tanisha described. I put a call in to our forensics team to see if they could put a rush on any prints they pulled from Baldwin’s house. I was sure Mr. Dark would have left his prints all over that place, and hopefully he’d be in our system.

The next thing to do was to hit the pavement and see if I could get a lead on who this Dark really was. But before I did, I made a call to a reliable informant of mine who had given me incredible information last year that brought down a corrupt judge who was also smuggling weapons.

“What up?” Turtle said. His voice sounded lazy, but not from being sleepy.

“I know you’re not high again?”

Turtle coughed and cleared his throat. “Jacob?”

“Don’t you look at the number before answering? At least try to act like you ain’t high.”

“Sorry, man, one of those days.”

Turtle was a young man in his early twenties who I’d known for a few years. The first time we met, I was actually trying to bust him for selling weed. He took off running, and the only reason I caught him was because he darted in front of a car that clipped him and hurt his leg. The kid had all the upside in the world, but as I’d learned, you can’t help someone who isn’t ready to help themselves.

“So what’s up, Jacob?”

“I was just given a name. Hope it’s someone you’ve heard of before.”

“You know me, I know everyone in this city. And if I don’t know them, I know someone who does.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.”

“Come on now. Who’s your boy, Jacob? I’ve come through before. What’s the name?”

“Dark.”

Turtle hesitated, which immediately raised the alert level in my head.

“I don’t know about this one, Jacob.”

“Why? Who is he?”

“Never met him, but people talk.”

“So what are people saying about him?”

“That he’s straight loco. Crazy as hell. I don’t mess with crazy people.”

“Crazy enough to kill?”

“You talking about girls, right?”

“I am. What have you heard?”

“Damn, Jacob, of all the people you want to ask me about, you gotta ask me about Dark.”

“You sound like you’re scared of him?”

“Like I said, I don’t mess with crazy people. They’re too, what’s the word, crazy!”

“Don’t make me have to get outta my seat and come over there and raid your crib, okay. Just tell me what you’ve heard.”

Turtle said something under his breath, but I just let it go.

“I heard that he’s been kidnapping girls. But it’s not just that he’s been kidnapping them, it’s what he does to them once he’s got them.”

“Why didn’t you call me with this before?”

“Man, I’ve been going through some things. Mom’s kicked me out of the house. My girl left me. I got fired from Walmart.”

I rolled my eyes. If I could, I would have reached through the phone and wrapped my hands around his neck.

“Look,” I said, “sorry to hear about that. I’ll swing by and we can talk later. But now I need to find out where Dark is.”

“I don’t know where he stays.”

“I was given an address, but it turns out it was a dead lead.”

“Sorry, man, but I don’t know.”

“But I’m sure you know someone who does?”

Turtle hesitated again.

“Turtle!”

“Okay, okay, I might know a guy who knows a guy.”

“I’ma call you back in thirty minutes.”

“Okay.”

“And Turtle?”

“Yeah?”

“Why’d you get fired from Walmart?”

“Ah, man, they just trippin’.”

He started to say more, so I just hung up. Another thing I learned is that when someone doesn’t take responsibility for their own actions, there’s no point in listening to what they have to say.

I’d call him back in thirty minutes and let him re-explain why he was fired.


Twenty-five



I called Turtle back exactly thirty minutes later, and true to fashion, he had the information I needed. Regardless of his personal problems, or the fact that he just seemed fine coasting through life on a cloud of weed, he had never let me down. I used to always bunker down on him about getting his life together, but I noticed that the more I did, the less he listened. So now I just let my life be his example, and I know one day he’ll come around.

I hung up with Turtle and turned around in my chair. Pat sat at her desk looking as beautiful as usual. If she ever decided to leave the police force to become a model, I doubt she’d have a hard time getting work. But as I’d told many criminals, don’t let her looks fool you. She’s as tough as any man I’d ever been around.

“Baldwin Lanceport wasn’t the guy behind the kidnappings and murders.”

Her eyes widened, “What do you mean?”

“The girl we found at the house. Her name was Tanisha, and I met with her this morning at the hospital.”

“Really? And you didn’t call me?”

“It was a last-minute type thing. The hospital called and said she was awake, but that if I wanted to talk to her I needed to hurry over.”

“Why hurry?”

“She passed away shortly after I left.”

Pat’s face suddenly looked pale. I’m sure she felt the same way I did. It’s not every day you find someone chained to a wall looking the way Tanisha did. You wouldn’t be in the right frame of mind if you didn’t feel some kind of compassion for her.

“I know. Hit me the same way,” I said.

“Poor girl.”

“Ever hear the name Dark before?”

Her eyes started looking around, and I could tell she was searching her mind for the name.

“Not as someone’s name. Who or what is Dark?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. Tanisha told me that she was the one who lured the girls to this Dark guy.”

“Oh my God. Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack.”

“So who was Baldwin Lanceport?”

“According to Tanisha, he was the brute, not the brains.”

“And the girls?”

“There’s definitely more. Are they alive? I don’t know. But we need to hurry up and find this guy.”

“I’ll run a name search.”

“Already did. No match. And I put in a call to forensics asking for any prints from Baldwin’s house ASAP.”

“They had all that equipment there, but I didn’t notice any gloves. So prints will probably be all over the place,” Pat said.

“Good point. Hopefully he’s been printed in the past.”

“So where do you want to start? I know you’re not going to just sit and wait on forensics.”

I smiled. “You know me too well. I’ve already gotten a lead.”

“Do you want me to drive, or you?”

“I’ll drive. You scare me a little bit.”

We both laughed and headed to the car. Fifteen minutes later, we were in front of an apartment community that looked as though it needed a serious restoration. Turtle told me that a guy named Mr. Syrup would know how to locate Dark. Where do these people come up with these names? The apartment community wasn’t the projects, but it was as close to the projects as they come. And I’m sure Mr. Syrup didn’t get his name because he liked pancakes.

Mr. Syrup’s apartment was on the ground floor, near the rear of the building. Before knocking, I gave the area a once-over. The apartments all had balconies, so his apartment would have a sliding glass door with a patio. There wasn’t too much going on at this time of day. Nighttime would be a different story. I knocked on the door. Not too heavy as to alert him that we were police. After a few seconds, no one came to the door, so I knocked again a little harder. I was about to knock a third time, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a Caucasian male run from the back of the building.

“Shit, he’s running.”

Pat and I took off after him.

This guy was nothing like the big guy with the bad teeth we’d chased earlier. He was scrawny and frail with thick bushy hair and big dark-framed glasses. He almost looked like he should be doing a science project rather than running from cops. I caught up to him with no problem and tackled him to the ground.

“What are you guys doing?” he said.

Pat wrapped his wrists with cuffs and we stood him up.

“Mr. Syrup, I presume?”

“Wrong guy. My name is David.”

“David what?” Pat said.

“Ugh, Smith.”

“David Smith. Pretty original,” I said.

“Look, I know my rights. You guys just can’t chase me like this. This is police brutality.”

“Why’d you run when I knocked on your door?” I said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just going for a jog.”

“Really, in this neighborhood?”

He wore blue jeans with a brown button-up shirt and no shoes.

“Pat, you know many people who go jogging with no shoes?”

“Fools. That’s about it.”

“Yeah, I think only a fool would jog with no shoes. Are you a fool, Mr. Smith?”

“I don’t have to talk to you guys.”

“You’re right. You don’t. But here’s what I can do. I can let you go. But, see, I have to go to the station and do some paperwork. Paperwork involves me calling people. I can say, “You know, I was talking to Mr. Syrup earlier today, and he told me some very interesting stuff.” Then that person would tell another, and then another. See where I’m going with this? By nightfall, everyone will know that you’ve been talking to cops and your syrup business will be shit.”

His demeanor suddenly changed. Living in neighborhoods like this, everyone knows that being a snitch is like a death sentence, or in Mr. Syrup’s case, an immediate loss of revenue.

“What do you want?” he said.

“Dark.”

“Dark what? Dark roast coffee?”

“Don’t bullshit me. Where can I find him?”

“Look, man, I ain’t looking for no trouble.”

“And you won’t have any if you give me a location.”

“I don’t know where he lives.”

“And I thought you would be helpful. Okay, I’m going to un-cuff you. But I’ve got to get back to the station and start making some calls.”

“Look, man, I don’t know where he lives. But I know where he hangs out.”

“Where?”

“Place called Dreams.”

“How do you know him?” Pat said.

“He’s a client.”

“Client,” Pat said sarcastically. “I love how these guys make it seem like they’re professionals.”

“Look, that’s all I know. He contacts me when he needs some stuff, and I meet him there.”

“When’s the last time he contacted you?” I said.

“Five days ago.”

“What’s the trend?”

“Every five days.”

I pulled out my card and gave it to Mr. Syrup.

“You call me as soon as he calls you. And I mean as soon. If I don’t hear from you then your name is going all over the hood wire. Got me?”

“Yeah, got you.”

I un-cuffed Mr. Syrup and let him go. One thing about being a detective is that you have to be able to get a good read on people. I doubted this was the place he actually lived, and once I got Dark, I’d pass his name over to narcotics. Mr. Syrup would call because he’s a wimp. I liken him to the Internet thug who sits behind a desk, all the while splatting hate from the comforts of his own home without threat of personal confrontation. The last thing Mr. Syrup wanted was his name associated with the police.

As Pat and I headed back to the car, my cell rang. I saw it was from the station.

“Detective Hayden.”

“Jacob, it’s Hellsworth.”

“What’s up, Captain?”

“A body was found in the trails off the C&O Canal. I need you and Pat over there pronto.”

“Okay, we’ll be there shortly.”

“This body has the same wounds as the others in the neck.”

“Jesus. Is she alone?”

“It’s not a she this time.”

“A male?”

“Yes. So get over there right away.”

“Heading over now.”

I hung up the phone and told Pat what Captain said.

A male, I thought. Definitely a twist in the story.


Twenty-six



The rain fell harder, and the temperature dropped. It didn’t take us long to get to C&O Canal trail, where the body of a tall white male, was sprawled across the path. Blood was everywhere near the body. The rain made it difficult for forensics to get any footprints due to the mud being smeared together in a lot of places.

“Guy’s name is Scott Tremble. He had his wallet on him,” a uniformed officer said.

“Any money, credit cards?” I asked.

“All there. This definitely wasn’t a robbery.”

Pat and I walked closer to the body. The punctures on his neck were consistent with the other two women, only his appeared deeper. Maybe he put up a fight?

“How tall would you estimate him to be?” I asked Pat.

She looked him up and down. “I don’t know. Taller than you.”

“Right. He probably is. And he’s dense. Look at his build. He’s a big guy.”

“So you’re thinking the killer is a bigger guy?”

“I don’t know.”

I looked up and down the trail.

“So, our killer doesn’t just get a hard-on for women. He likes men too,” I said.

“And size doesn’t intimidate him,” Pat responded.

“Apparently not.”

I walked down the trail a little until I got to a spot where the mud became mushier.

“He was surprised here.”

I pointed further down the trail.

“The ground is unbroken until he got to this point. He was probably running in stride, and then something happened here.”

Pat looked back and forth. “He was caught from behind. They tussled a little, and then he was killed over there.”

I nodded. Judging from the way the ground looked, a fight definitely ensued.

“So where’s the connection?” I said.

“Two women and a man. He doesn’t fit the profile, if we think the killer was only going after women.”

“So why him? Why go after a guy as big as him who could have put up a fight if he wasn’t taken by surprise?”

“Maybe he likes a challenge.”

“That’s a big challenge.”

“Maybe he is the real devil,” Pat said.

I gave her a “Really?” look, and she smirked. But that comment got me thinking.

“What was it that the first Hispanic lady said? ‘I’ve come so you will believe.’”

“So whoever he is, he believes that he’s here on a mission or something.”

“What does he want everyone to believe?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. What would any fanatic want people to believe?”

I tossed the thought back and forth in my head for a few seconds.

“That he’s real,” I said.

“We don’t even know who he believes he is. We’re going off descriptions of what others claim they saw.”

“But so far, the descriptions are similar, and from two people who couldn’t be more opposite from one another.”

“So, do you think the killings are random?” Pat asked.

“I don’t know. Whatever he wants us to believe, he thinks that we’ll believe it through murder. Doesn’t make sense.”

We stayed at the crime scene for another thirty minutes. My shoes were soaking wet, as were the bottom half of my pants. We stopped by my house on the way to the station so I could change my shoes. Good thing too, because Henry had that look in his eyes that pretty much said if I didn’t want a mess on the floor, I’d better take him out.

When I’d left earlier that morning, Jayden was still in bed. I gave her money for a cab and told her that I’d call later today. When I went to my room, I found that she’d made my bed and left a single red rose in the middle with a hand written note, “You’re Great!” I couldn’t help but smile; my heart was growing for her more and more each day.

I carried the rose downstairs where Pat was waiting for me.

“What’s the rose for?” Pat asked.

“It’s a thank you rose.”

“From Jayden?”

“Yep.”

“She left a rose for you?” she smiled.

“What’s with the smile?”

“Oh, nothing. Just, isn’t that something a guy normally does?”

“What are you saying?”

She raised her hands in defense, “Nothing, nothing. Just wondering who wears the pants in this relationship.”

“What, you don’t think I do? Of course I do. I … I do.”

“Okay,” she said. “If you say so.”

My cell rang just as I was about to say something else.

“This isn’t done yet.” I raised the phone to my ear, “Detective Hayden.”

“Yes, Detective, this is Jeremy Wilson.”

“Who?”

“Ah, Mr. Syrup.”

“Oh, the syrup guy. What’s up?”

“Dark just called. He’s going to be at the Destiny club tonight. I’m supposed to meet him there.”

“Okay, great. I’ll call you back in a little bit.”

“So, you’re not going to say anything, right?”

“Hey, if I get my guy, you’re off the hook.”

I hung up and told Pat who that was.

“Looks like we’ve got to get the crew together,” I said.

We left to go back to the station. As I shut my door, I thought about the rose. Of course I wear the pants.


WEDNESDAY


Twenty-seven



12:07 a.m. was what my watch read. The club scene was just starting to liven up. A line that seemed to be a mile long stood along the sidewalk in front of Destiny nightclub. Women wearing short skirts and low-cut shirts appeared to have priority over the women who weren’t dressed as provocatively. Guys who fit the mold of an A-list Hollywood actor walked right up to the front door and were let in without having to wait in the mile-long line. Three large men wearing shirts a size too tight stood outside of the doors and were given the privilege of letting in who they wanted and when.

Mr. Syrup gave us a pretty general description of what Dark looked like, and quite honestly, any one of the Hollywood-looking guys could have been him. I sat in an unmarked car across the street from the club, along with Pat and Mr. Syrup. Carl and Rudy were in another car a few spaces behind us, and we had another two teams a block away.

We’d been sitting in the car for over an hour. Mr. Syrup said that Dark didn’t usually arrive until after midnight. I was still waiting on the prints from Baldwin Lanceport’s house to come back from forensics; so, as of now, all we had was a confession from a dead woman and the name Dark. What we needed were prints to put Dark in the house, but since we didn’t have them, we planned on getting him on buying narcotics from Mr. Syrup. I still couldn’t believe I was calling a grown man “Mr. Syrup”.

“Something’s wrong,” Mr. Syrup said.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. He would have contacted me by now.”

“You said usually not until after midnight. It’s just past midnight.”

“You’re nervous,” Pat said. “Take a deep breath and calm down. Has he stood you up before?”

“Never.”

“Okay, then he’ll be here.”

Fifteen minutes passed. The other two teams around the corner said they hadn’t seen anyone fitting Dark’s description walk by them yet. I had to admit that I was starting to get a little antsy. Maybe it was the outside energy. On this particular block there were four different clubs, and each had lines waiting to get in. The vibrating sound of the bass coming from the establishments was pumping my adrenaline. I had to mentally talk to myself and calm my nerves.

I looked in the rearview mirror. Mr. Syrup was looking up and down the street, presumably trying to get the first glimpse of Dark. We had him wear black-framed glasses that had a microphone and camera built in to catch the transaction going down. Lucky for us, Mr. Syrup wore glasses, and Dark had seen him in them before. So, wearing glasses tonight wouldn’t raise any suspicion.

“I’m telling you, he knows something’s up,” Mr. Syrup said.

“Just relax,” I said. “Be patient. Things don’t always happen right on time.”

“But this is my neck that I’m sticking out. If he thinks I’m involved with the cops, I’m a dead man for sure.”

“Walk me through it again,” I said. I wanted to get his mind off the waiting. “Tell me how it usually goes down.”

He took a breath and then looked toward the front of the car.

“He usually sends me a text with a code word. That word allows me up to the VIP room. The room is sick man, all kind of girls and whatnot.”

“Spare me,” Pat said.

“Oh, sorry. Once I’m up there, I hand him the stuff and he pays me. I usually hang up there for a little bit and have a drink with him, and then I leave. I try not to stay too long.”

“Why not? Sounds like heaven for you,” I said.

“The guy creeps me out. He’s a good paying customer, and I do what I need to appease him, but I don’t like the vibe he gives off.”

“How long have you been his supplier?”

“Not long. A few months. Maybe half a year.”

“And every five days this is how you meet? You’ve never seen him outside of this club?”

“Mostly. Sometimes he’d have his girl meet me. But mostly it’s here.”

“His girl?”

“Yeah, pretty chick named Tanisha.”

I looked over at Pat when Mr. Syrup mentioned Tanisha’s name. I didn’t tell him that she was dead.

The car fell quiet for a few seconds. Then, because of the quiet, Mr. Syrup’s phone beeped loud, which startled me. He picked it up and looked at the screen.

“It’s him. He just gave me the code.”

“We’ve been here for an hour and a half. Did you see him walk in?”

“No, I didn’t see him.”

“Doesn’t matter now,” Pat said. “He’s in there.”

I radioed the other cars that we’d just made contact. The plan was for two teams to go inside. Once the deal was done and Mr. Syrup was safely outside, we’d grab Dark.

“Ready?” I said to Mr. Syrup.

He gulped, and his eyes were wide. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

“Okay, then. Let’s go get us Mr. Dark.”


Twenty-eight



Turns out one of the big bouncers wearing a shirt one size too small was an off-duty cop named Will. I didn’t know him well, but well enough that when he saw Pat and me together, along with the other two detectives, he knew we weren’t there to party. He let us in as if we were some of the important people who didn’t need to wait in line. It was actually good that he worked at the club, because he could be in the VIP section without any suspicion and could help escort Dark out smoothly.

Once inside, the energy was more vibrant. The bass from the techno music vibrated through my body. The main floor was open to two levels, and the upper level had a balcony matching the perimeter of the lower dance floor. On either side of the dance floor were two bar areas that, along with the crowded dance floor, made the whole bottom level appear as if it were one giant sea of people. Neon blue-and-green lights made everyone’s eyes and teeth glow like they were aliens from another planet.

The VIP section was on the third floor, and from how Mr. Syrup described it, it was big enough to fit close to one hundred people. One detective stayed on the ground floor, and the rest of us went to the second level. Once there, I told the second detective to stay near the steps to the third level. When it was time to take Dark, I’d send Will down to bring him up.

Will led us up to the third level. We let Mr. Syrup enter first, and then Pat and I entered a few minutes later. There was a small bar in the VIP room, where a beautiful brunette with a rather healthy chest stood behind the bar. Pat and I stood near the bar and mingled with each other as if we were a couple. The same music from the main club also came through the VIP room’s speakers.

Pat leaned in close and put her hand on my shoulder.

“Which one do you think he is?”

Mr. Syrup didn’t immediately walk up to anybody. When he entered the room he looked around and then slowly started walking to the back of the room.

“Hard to tell. There’s a group of guys back there. What does a psychopath look like?”

Will stood near the entrance of the room, looking like a bouncer as he waited to check anyone trying to enter.

I kept my eyes on Mr. Syrup while also trying not to be obvious that I was there watching him. He walked past one guy who I thought was Dark, but then he didn’t stop and acknowledge him. Finally, he walked to the other side of the bar and gave me a glance that said, “He’s not in here.”

“Think he’s on to us?” Pat asked.

“Not sure what’s going on.”

I placed my hand on Pat’s waist and pulled her a little closer.

“I know this is what you’ve been waiting for,” I joked. “I see how you’ve been checking me out.”

Pat rolled her eyes, but she leaned in and showed a little affection by rubbing my arm.

“So we’re a couple tonight?” she said.

“Everyone else is in here. We don’t want to stand out.”

“I feel like we’re about to be in the middle of Eyes Wide Shut.”

That made me laugh. Most of the people in the room were couples, or at least that’s what they appeared to be. And most of the people were extremely good looking. If GQ and Vanity Fair were looking for prospective models, they’d have no problem finding them in here.

“He looks nervous,” Pat said.

“I know. I want to go over there and tell him to chill out.”

Mr. Syrup was now sitting on a barstool. I looked away, letting my eyes drift around the room. Pretty much everyone was enjoying themselves. Men were flirting with women, and women were flirting back. There was one couple that looked too comfortable in the back corner of the room. The man was sitting on a chair, and the woman was sitting on his lap. If I was a betting man, I’d say she was doing more than just sitting down.

“A bunch of freaks in here. That’s what this is,” I said.

Pat nodded. “So I’ve been checking out the guys in here, and none of them have even paid any attention to our guy.”

“If he’s in here, he’s being real careful.”

“He’s not in here.”

“So where is he then?”

“Somewhere else.”

“So, if he’s not in here then he’s probably downstairs. And if he’s downstairs, then he probably saw us come in with Mr. Syrup.”

“Which means he made us,” Pat said.

“Which also means he’s probably long gone.”

I motioned for Will to come over.

“Do you recognize most of the people in here?” I asked.

“Most. They’re the regulars.”

“Ever hear of the name Dark?”

“Once, and that was just in passing. Someone said a guy named Dark was here.”

“Okay, thanks. If you ever hear of him again in here, give me a call.”

We shook hands, and then I motioned for Mr. Syrup to leave. Outside, the rain had lightened up to the point that we didn’t need umbrellas.

“If you don’t mind, Detectives, I think I want to take a cab home.”

“Okay,” I said.

“So I did my part. I’m off the hook, right?”

“You did, Mr. Syrup. You’re off the hook. For now.”

We shook hands, and Pat and I turned toward our car.

“You aren’t really going to just let him go, right?”

“Of course not. Let’s let him get a cab and see where he goes.”

“You think he’s going to see Dark? That this whole thing was a facade?”

I smiled. “Would you ever trust a guy named Mr. Syrup?”

“Hell no.”

“Neither would I.”


Twenty-nine



One month ago, seventy-two-year-old James Stewart, Ph.D. retired from St. Luke’s Academy boarding school as the school’s teacher of religious studies. The boarding school was nationally known for its strict academics and preparation for what they called “future world leaders.” Dr. Stewart had been with the school for twenty-five years and was once an acting principal during a transitional period.

His only family was his wife who passed away twelve years ago to breast cancer. Her battle was long and well fought, but in the end, God had a better plan for her, Dr. Stewart told friends and colleagues. Now that he was retired, he had begun reconditioning his body to stay up later because he didn’t have to wake up any longer at 5:30 in the morning to get ready for school. He was a big fan of movies and spent his evenings getting familiar with On Demand movies that he never got around to seeing when they were in the theaters.

At 12:37 a.m. he’d just finished watching The Theory of Everything, the movie about Stephen Hawking. Dr. Stewart turned off the cable box and television, and then he stood up to stretch. His mind started working, thinking about what he was going to do in the morning. When he’d told friends and colleagues that he was retiring, the consistent advice he got was to keep himself busy. One friend told him that if he started sleeping in and getting lazy, he’d be dead in six months. The sleeping in he didn’t mind, the being lazy he wouldn’t let happen.

The day he retired, he’d purchased an expensive Cannondale road bike. Cycling had always been a big part of his life, so his present to himself was a new bike. The heavy rain over the past few days hadn’t allowed him to ride outside, but he bought a trainer that he could mount the Cannondale to and do a twenty-five-mile ride indoors. Exercise, check.

Next, he thought about the novel that he was planning on writing. Outside of being a teacher, he had a passion for writing. He’d written short stories, some of which had even been published with various magazines, but nothing to the extent of writing a full-length novel.

While stretching his arms and legs, Dr. Stewart heard a clicking sound coming from the basement. It sounded like the basement door had just opened. He instinctively looked at the digital clock on the cable box and saw that it was 12:45. His mental antennas immediately started going off, putting his mind in defense mode. Did someone just break into the house?

Before he became a scholar, and during his early years of college, Dr. Stewart made money through street fighting; or a better way to look at it was he placed bets on himself that he could defeat the other person. Most of the time, he’d won. There were times that he’d lost, but those were few and far between. He was a good fighter and very instinctive, and the reason he won so many fights was because he trusted his instincts and his talent.

He never backed down from a fight. However, at seventy-two years old, he knew his limits. His biceps were still thick and bulged when he flexed, but they didn’t have quite the power they once had. The once-quick reflexes that had allowed him to dodge any punch he saw coming, were now delayed by a second and a half. So when he heard what sounded like the downstairs door opening, a part of him wanted to pick up the phone and dial the police. But another part of him, the part that eventually won, told him that this was his house and if someone had indeed broken in, then he needed to beat the crap out of whoever it was.

The first thing Dr. Stewart did was sit and listen. He stayed quiet. If someone was in the house, they’d eventually make some kind of noise. His eyes looked toward the opening to the downstairs. The staircase leading to the basement was dark. His heightened senses let him hear every creak the house made. His own breathing sounded like his ears were in his lungs and he heard the intricate detail of his breaths coming in and going out.

After sitting for close to a minute, he didn’t hear anything coming from the lower level. Maybe what he heard came from somewhere else in the house, he thought. It was possible. He and the house were nearly the same age, and older houses, like older people, could make unexpected noises. He sat for another minute, and when he didn’t hear anything else, he decided either he was just hearing things or the house was making one of the creaky noises it sometimes made. So he let his mental antennas die down, relaxed, and stood up.

In the kitchen, he stood over the sink to wash out the cup and plate he’d used during the movie. The faucet ran, and he hummed a tune that he remembered hearing earlier in the day. When he turned off the water and stopped humming, the hairs on his arms immediately stood up. His eyes widened and he grew stiff. His fingers were like vice grips on the wet plate, and he knew, in that instant, that he wasn’t alone in his house.

The breathing that he heard was close, and he could smell the musky body odor from the person standing behind him. His first thought was that he regretted not calling the police. His second thought was that he didn’t want to turn around. The breathing didn’t sound like it came from someone pumped with adrenaline; rather, the breathing was calm and steady. Whoever stood behind him wasn’t nervous, in a hurry, or worried about what they were doing. Dr. Stewart understood this kind of breathing because that’s how he had trained himself to breathe when he fought. He knew at a young age that between two fighters matched skill for skill, the one with the clearer mind and the controlled body would win the fight. The person standing behind him was in control of their emotions.

“You know I’m here,” the deep baritone voice said. 

“Why are you here?” Dr. Stewart said.

“It is time.”

Dr. Stewart slowly turned around. Whatever he thought he would see was nothing compared to what he saw.

“Dear God,” Dr. Stewart said.

“Yes,” he said.

Before Dr. Stewart realized it, his pants became soaked from his own urine.

“Doctor, I’ve been waiting a long time to see you again.”

“I … I … don’t … understand. We’ve never met.”

“Yes, Doctor, we have.”

Dr. Stewart’s mind raced through his life. Mental images came in and out, searching for anything that looked like what was standing in front of him. He’d never seen eyes so full of death and emptiness. He’d never seen hands that could kill with a single swipe. He’d never been so afraid that the mere sight of something like this could cause him to wet his pants.

“What do you want?” Dr. Stewart found the courage to ask.

“For you to believe.”

“Believe in what?”

“In me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will, Doctor.”

Dr. Stewart’s body trembled harder, so hard that he couldn’t hide the fact that his hands were literally shaking. He wasn’t sure how much longer his legs would support his weight, and he worried that he might pass out.

“Doctor, look into my eyes. Look at my face. Tell me what you see.”

“Please, I don’t know what you want.”

“Look at me, Doctor, and tell me what you see.”

Dr. Stewart did what he was told. He couldn’t think clearly, but he tried to focus on the eyes and the face. The eyes themselves appeared hollow and void of a soul, but the shape of the eyes triggered a memory in Dr. Stewart’s brain. Then he looked at the face, the outline of the jaw, the boldness of the nostrils, and the broadness of the forehead. Another memory flashed through his brain, and Dr. Stewart’s eyes suddenly widened.

“Yes, yes, Doctor. You know why I’m here.”

“Dear God,” Dr. Stewart said. “It’s you.”

“Yes, Doctor. I am He.”

Before Dr. Stewart could say another word, He raised his hands and drove his sharp nails into Dr. Stewart’s neck. Dr. Stewart fell to the floor and didn’t take another breath.


Thirty



The rain had slowed for a little while, but now it was heavy again. My windshield wipers were on their fastest speed, and even then it was difficult to see in front of us. It was like every time the wipers went one way, a blanket of water covered the windshield again, making driving at a decent speed nearly impossible. Mr. Syrup’s cab was three cars in front of us, and luckily everyone driving on the road had the same problem.

“Why do you think he played us?” Pat asked.

“Why not? Between the cops and a psychopath, and he knew the guy was a legitimate psychopath, who would you go with?”

“The cops, myself. But that’s just me.”

“And you aren’t a lowlife. That’s the difference.”

“It amazes me how these guys think they can always outsmart us. I mean did he really think we would just say, ‘Okay, Dark didn’t show up, have a nice life?’”

“What did Forest Gump say? Stupid is as stupid does.”

“You’re corny, Jacob.”

I smiled because it was true, I am corny.

The cab drove for another five miles until it turned into the J.W. Marriott. The cab stopped under a covered driveway, and Mr. Syrup got out. He didn’t look around suspiciously to see if he was being followed, so I guess Pat was right that these guys think we’re easily outsmarted.

“Pretty fancy place for a serial killer,” I said

“Only thing better would have been the Bates Motel.”

We stepped out of the car, and it felt like I walked into the shower with my clothes on. Pat and I ran to the driveway’s covering. We watched Mr. Syrup walk casually through the lobby like he didn’t have a care in the world. Once he was out of view, we stepped inside. The lobby was elegant and expansive, with marble floors and columns opposite each other running along the length of the hotel. The lobby was three levels deep, becoming an atrium, and each level mirrored the other.

“How many rooms do you think this hotel has?” Pat asked.

“I don’t know. Few hundred.”

D.C. is one of the few cities in the country that’s not allowed to have buildings taller than 130 feet. So the tallest buildings only have thirteen floors.

We walked over to the large front desk where two employees stood on the other side. One was looking at her computer, and the other was writing something down. The one on the computer looked up and gave us a big smile.

“Yes, can I help you?”

We showed her our badges, and the smile immediately disappeared.

“A guy just came through here a few seconds ago,” I said.

The woman looked around the lobby.

“Caucasian male, about five-ten, wearing blue jeans and a black jacket.”

“I’m sorry, Officer, I wasn’t paying attention.”

I looked toward the other woman, and she looked up from whatever she was writing.

“Yes,” she said, “I saw him just come through.”

“Did you recognize him?”

She shook her head. “No, sorry. We see so many people come through here. I don’t recall seeing him before.”

I sighed and let out a breath of air.

“Can you check the name, Jeremy Wilson?”

The woman in front of the computer typed in the name.

“Sorry, Officer, no Jeremy Wilson.”

“Can you try Jeremy Syrup? I know, ridiculous name.”

“Sorry again. No Jeremy Wilson or Jeremy Syrup.”

“How about just the name, Dark?”

The woman’s brows furrowed, and I could tell I was starting to worry her.

“No, Sir. No Dark.”

I looked toward Pat. “What do you think?”

“He could be under any assumed name.”

“How about the name, Tanisha Bentley?”

The woman typed again.

“Sorry again. No, Tanisha Bentley.”

I knew it was a long shot.

I stepped back from the desk and looked around the lobby. Something struck me as odd, but it took my brain a few seconds to register what it was. With the front desk to my back, I realized that the elevators were to my right just around the corner. We lost sight of Mr. Syrup when he entered the lobby, but I was sure I saw him go left. I walked toward the elevator area and saw an employee mopping. Near where he stopped was a yellow sign that said wet floor. I approached the employee and showed my badge. For a split second, I thought he was about to run. Maybe he thought I was there for him.

“How long have you been mopping here?”

“Just a few minutes.”

“Did anyone get on the elevator?”

He shook his head. “No one.”

I thanked him and turned around. I started walking back toward the front desk but stopped in the middle of the lobby. Mr. Syrup went left. There were two levels below us and on the wall next to the steps was a sign for a restaurant. It didn’t take long for my mind to register what he’d done. I yelled across the lobby to the women behind the front desk.

“Is there an exit from the restaurant?”

“Yes,” said the woman at the computer. “From the kitchen.”

My eyes met Pat’s, and we instantly sprinted for the steps. I took them two at a time until I was on the lower level. Pat was right behind me. There was a hostess standing next to a podium in front of the restaurant.

I raised my badge, “Where’s the kitchen?”

The hostess nervously pointed around the corner. We ran for the kitchen, and when we entered, I asked the first person I saw where the back door was. He showed us, and when we got there, the door opened to an alley behind the hotel.

Pat and I looked around. Next to the hotel was an office building. The rain was coming down so heavy that it made it difficult to see ten feet ahead of us.

“See anything?” I said.

“Nothing.”

We ran to one opening of the alley, and just by chance we heard tires squeal from the other side of the alley, and an engine revved like it was about to drag race. By the time we made it to the other end, whatever car made the noise was gone.

“I can’t believe this,” I said.

“Shit,” Pat yelled.

“How in the hell did this happen?”

“He played us for fools.”

“He couldn’t have known,” I said.

“He knew enough.”

We walked back inside the hotel soaking wet. If we were dogs, we’d be whimpering in defeat with our tails between our legs. If Forest Gump was real, I wonder which one of us he’d call stupid is, and which one he’d call stupid does.


Thirty-one



When Dr. Robert Stanley’s phone beeped and he heard his secretary say that his next patient, Matthew Gray, had arrived, a sense of excitement and curiosity filled his emotions at the same time. Before his secretary notified him of Matthew’s attendance, Dr. Stanley reviewed Matthew’s intake sheet. Matthew was thirty-four years old. He had a clean medical history. Both parents were deceased. No recent brain trauma of any sort. As he continued skimming, he found nothing that would raise a red flag.

Yet Matthew was having dreams. Dreams that Dr. Stanley eerily related to.

The office door opened and Matthew entered with a pleasant smile. The two shook hands, and Matthew took a seat on a two-cushioned couch.

“How are you today?” Dr. Stanley asked.

“Fine. I’m good, thanks.”

“How’d you sleep?”

Matthew curled his lips and briefly looked toward the floor. “Dreamed again.”

“How about we start there. Were they angry?”

“Yes.”

“Can you gauge the intensity of the anger, like on a scale from one to ten?”

“This time it wasn’t as intense. Probably a five.”

Dr. Stanley nodded and wrote down notes on his notepad.

“Are you having these dreams more frequently?”

“Been nearly every night for the past week or so.”

“And when you had them before, how frequent were they?”

Matthew shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Maybe once or twice a month, if that.”

“So, let’s look back over the past week or so.”

Dr. Stanley cleared his throat.

“Can you think of anything that you may have done, or anyone you may have come in contact with that would have triggered the dreams?”

Matthew shook his head, “That’s what I’ve been thinking about. My routine has been normal. I see the same people and do the same things.”

“Okay. So let’s go back to the dream. What was it about?”

“This time it was a little hazy. I was back at my middle school. I don’t know what made me think of middle school. I haven’t thought about it for a long time. Anyway, I was in class and some of the kids started making fun of me. I was sitting at my desk and I was starting to cry, and that’s when the anger came in.”

“As a separate entity again?”

“Yes.”

“Could you tell what it looked like?”

“That’s the hazy part. I knew it was there, but I couldn’t see it. It was like if I looked at it, it moved out of my eyesight.”

“Did anything happen?”

“Everything became dark. The room started shaking and I heard kids screaming. Then the lights came back on and I was alone.”

“What happened to the kids?”

“I don’t know. I woke up a few seconds later.”

“Interesting that you were back in middle school. When we last spoke, you said the dreams started happening around your middle school age.”

“That’s the earliest I can remember.”

“And there’s nothing you can remember that caused the dreams to start back then?”

“I don’t think so. I was like any typical kid.”

“Did you get picked on?”

“Not out of the ordinary.”

“How about from teachers?”

Matthew shook his head. “No.”

“This next question is going to be a little odd, but I’m trying to find the root of the anger in your dreams.”

“Okay.”

“Were you ever molested?”

“Jesus, no.”

“Okay, but something, somewhere in your life, caused these dreams to start.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Dr. Stanley. I can’t think of anything.”

“May I suggest something?”

“Sure.”

“Sometimes when something happens that’s so traumatic, our brains shut off any memory of it to protect us.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that can happen.”

“Sometimes those memories are lost forever. It’s like our brain created a vault with a combination that could never be decoded. But there are other times when, through hypnosis, we can find out what the memory was protecting us from.”

“So if I’m hearing you correctly, you want to hypnotize me to see if something happened to me as a kid?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know about this. I don’t think I can be hypnotized. I mean, don’t you have to believe in stuff like that?”

“Hypnosis is really just an altered state of consciousness. There’s no magic or hocus pocus involved.”

Matthew shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay. When?”

“How about now?”

“Now? Really?”

“No time better than the present.”

“I, uh, wasn’t prepared for this.”

“Would you feel better doing it tomorrow?”

“Yeah. I’d like to talk with Sarah a little before I get hypnotized.”

“Okay, I understand. We’ll schedule for tomorrow at the same time.”

“Thanks, Dr. Stanley.”

Matthew stood up and left the office. Dr. Stanley wrote down more notes from the session and then put the notepad down and walked over to the window. He thought about Matthew’s dreams and what they could possibly mean. Something happened to him when he was younger, Dr. Stanley believed that for sure. What it was he couldn’t say, but that’s what he was hoping to find out. More importantly, Dr. Stanley wanted to know what Matthew’s dreams had to do with his own.


Thirty-two



Right before I woke up, I dreamed that I was kissing a woman. I wasn’t anyplace in particular, and the woman wasn’t any woman I knew. And frankly, the kiss was rather sloppy. That’s all I remembered about the dream because when I opened my eyes, Henry was licking my mouth, which happened to be open.

“Henry!”

“Wuff.”

He jumped back and wagged his tail.

“Ugh. Now my mouth tastes like dog saliva.”

He playfully spun around in a circle and jumped up and down, which looked more like a gallop because of his size. The floor shook slightly from his weight, and if someone had been downstairs they would have thought another human was jumping up and down.

I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and then quickly went to the bathroom and gurgled with mouthwash. He stood outside the bathroom door and looked like he was ready to play. His tail wagged hard, and he had a slight bend to his knees.

“Next time if you need something just bark.”

“Wuff, wuff.”

“So what do you want?”

“Wuff, wuff, wuff.”

“You’re not old enough to drink yet. But I have some kibble and water. How’s that?”

“Wuff, wuff.

He darted from my bedroom, and I heard his paws run along the hallway and then down the stairs. Before I followed him, I looked out the window and saw that it was still raining. Four days straight, and it didn’t look like it was letting up.

Downstairs, Henry inhaled the food I put in his bowl. He was really hungry, and I was really tired. After we’d left the hotel last night, we drove to Mr. Syrup’s apartment and waited for another hour in case he showed up. He didn’t, which we expected. We decided to put an undercover in the neighborhood for the next few days. But if he and whoever he was with were smart enough to outsmart us and ditch us at the hotel, he wouldn’t be dumb enough to return back his apartment.

The name he used when he called me, Jeremy Wilson, wasn’t a real name. The phone he used to call me turned out to be a TracFone that anyone could buy from any convenient store. The numbers weren’t traceable. Pat said she’d contact the property management company today to see who his apartment was leased to.

I still couldn’t believe that we fell for last night’s trick. Why go through the whole charade? Mr. Syrup had to have known that I wasn’t going to just leave him alone. If it was Dark’s idea, then he was trying to show us who was smarter. And if that was the case, he won round one. The one good thing for me was that people like Mr. Syrup couldn’t stay hidden for too long. He had a business to run, which meant he needed interaction with people. Once I put the word out that I was looking for him, it shouldn’t take too long to find him.

Henry finished the last of his food. He lifted his head and then went to his corner in the living room and laid down. He looked like if he had pants, he would unbutton the top button and fall asleep. Must be nice not having any responsibilities.

I was getting ready to make coffee when my phone rang. It was still early, so it meant that work was calling. I looked at the number and saw that it was from the station.

“Yeah, this is Jacob.”

“Hey Jacob, its Carl.”

“Uh oh, you calling this early isn’t good. I guess you aren’t calling to say that you’re bringing over waffles and eggs.”

“I wish. We found your boy from last night.”

My pulse quickened. “Mr. Syrup?”

“The one and the same.”

“That’s great news.”

“Hold your horses. I didn’t say how we found him.”

Shit. My head dipped. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

“Sorry, man. Shot execution style. Took one in the back of the head.”

I would have thrown my phone if I had an anger issue.

“So now I’m really back to square one.”

“We have uniforms canvasing the area and talking with people who live nearby. Maybe someone saw something.”

“Yeah, maybe. Thanks anyway. I’ll be in soon.”

We hung up, and I felt like an empty pit was in my stomach. So close, but yet so far away. Mr. Syrup was dead. Dark must not have trusted that we wouldn’t find him. So the number one question was: What now? Backtrack my steps. I knew that Dark liked the club scene, but he probably wouldn’t go back to the one from last night. I also knew that Dark knew Mr. Syrup, and given how often he called for new supplies, he was an addict. A light went off in my head. What do addicts do when they’ve lost their supplier? Find a new one.

I quickly grabbed my phone and dialed Turtle’s number. Four rings later, his groggy voice answered.

“Yo.”

“Turtle, it’s Jacob.”

“Jacob? What time is it?”

“Too early for you.”

“You couldn’t wait until this afternoon?”

“Right, so you can get your thirteen hours sleep.”

“Beauty needs its rest.”

“Then that means you’ve slept long enough.”

“Ha ha you should go on stage with that one.”

“Anyway, listen … Mr. Syrup is dead.”

That must have woken him up because his voice suddenly came to life.

“What?”

“I’ma come and pick you up.”

“Me, why?”

“Because, Dark’s an addict. His supplier is dead, so he’ll need another supplier.”

“So what’s that got to do with me?”

“Like you always say, you know everyone in the city. And if you don’t, you know everyone who knows everyone. I need to know where Dark will go next.”

“That could be anybody.”

“Could be. But think about it: You’re a serial killer, maybe even psychotic. Would you go to just anyone to get your stuff?”

Turtle blew out hard. “Okay, okay, I get your point. But Jacob, man, you’re about to go into a world that you don’t want to see.”

“Who do you think I work for, and in what city? I’ve seen just about everything. But if I don’t find this guy, more girls are going to die.”

“I understand. But picking me up now won’t do any good. These guys are nocturnal. They’re like vampires during the day, you just don’t see them. Scoop me up this evening and I’ll take you to a couple of places.”

I was about to protest, but I knew he was right. He knew these streets better than me, and that was saying something.

“Okay, seven o’clock. Be ready.”

“I will. And Jacob?”

“Yeah?”

“You suck.”

He hung up.

Damn kids.


Thirty-three



At the precinct, I was sitting at my desk looking over notes from the “Devil” case. The first body we found was in the basement of an apartment building. The woman was nearly naked and she was bound. The second woman was naked as well, but we knew that she was naked because she was in the shower. That’s where we believed he’d found her. We found tiny specs of blood on a couple of the tiles in the shower. Chances were she must have hit her head either from falling, or he’d struck her there. The third victim didn’t fit the mold of the first two in that he was a male. A very large male, which wasn’t the M.O. for most serial killers. They generally liked to prey on weaker people who wouldn’t put up a strong fight.

The one thing they all had in common were the wounds to the neck.

So far we hadn’t been able to find any fingerprints from the killer, which was strange to me, given that the wounds to the neck appeared to have been made by the killer’s hands. The most obvious reason would be that the killer wore gloves. The two women were not sexually assaulted, so there was no DNA left over from a possible rape. So this killer, much like Dark, was a faceless murderer as of now.

As I looked over the files, I kept wondering if these were random murders, or if the killer knew the victims. In Dark’s case, I at least knew that he was targeting girls as part of a sexual game. The Devil’s victims weren’t sexually assaulted, so at the very minimum, I could scratch off sex as a possible motive.

“Are you just as stumped as I am?” Pat’s voice came from behind me.

I turned around to find Pat turning on her computer.

“Didn’t hear you come in.”

“I saw you looking at those pictures. Trying to make the connection, right? Same here.”

“Yeah, I’m not getting it yet. They’re only scattered pieces to a puzzle.”

“So I was thinking last night. Couldn’t sleep for a while after getting humiliated by your boy Mr. Syrup. But we have two eyewitnesses who say this guy looked like a devil or a vampire, right?”

“That’s what they say.”

“And the one witness said he told her ‘I have come so that you will believe’.”

“Right.”

“Where else have you heard that?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who else said something like that?”

My brain searched my memory bank for the answer, but it wasn’t coming.

“Jesus, hello,” Pat said.

“Sorry, I haven’t been to Sunday school in a long time.”

“I looked it up last night. The words aren’t exactly the same, but in John, Jesus said, ‘Now I have told you before it happens, so that when it happens, you may believe.’ The context is different, but the meaning is similar.”

“But the way he’s been described, this killer looks nothing like Jesus.”

“Right, but the devil is the antithesis to Jesus.”

“Okay. Keep going.”

“Christianity says that Jesus came so that all who believe in him would be saved.”

“You’re not about to start preaching, are you?”

“You wish. But if the reasoning for Jesus to come was for salvation, what’s this guy’s reasoning? What does he think we need to believe?”

“He’s a psycho. Who knows what he wants us to believe.”

“You’re not getting it.”

She sat in her chair and rolled it closer to me.

“Maybe to these victims, he’s giving them salvation.”

I shook my head, “Still not following.”

“For their sins,” Pat said.

“That doesn’t make sense. Why would the devil feel the need to offer salvation?”

“You’re thinking like a rational person. Think like an irrational person. If you think you’re the devil, what’s the one thing you want more than anything?”

“Power?”

“More than that.”

“Control?”

“Keep going.”

The light finally click on. I smiled, “To be God.”

“Jeesh, and it only took you ten minutes to figure that one out.”

“So you think this guy wants to be God?”

“I do. Or at least be like God.”

I sat back in my chair and thought about it. The rationale made sense, but how did it help us find the killer.

“I can read minds, Jacob. You’re probably thinking like, So what does all this mean?

“Something like that.”

“That’s what I was thinking too. If a guy wants to be God where do we start?”

“Seems like a good question to ask.”

“It does. So I did a little digging into the pasts of our first two victims. Turns out they’re the same age.”

The wheels in my mind instantly started turning. I grabbed the file of the male victim and looked at his age.

“Thirty-five.”

“Right.”

“So they’re all the same age.”

“And can you take a guess at something else they have in common?”

I scanned all of their files. I think my mind was running too fast, because I wasn’t catching the common theme.

“At least the two women, at one time lived in Pennsylvania.”

“Really? I didn’t see it in the file.”

“You won’t. I haven’t had a chance to add it. After I had the revelation, no pun intended, I placed a call to the two victims’ parents. I had a feeling they’d be awake. I mean how could anyone sleep after finding out their child had been murdered. I asked just a couple of background questions, and both said that the girls went to a boarding school in Pennsylvania.”

“Really? Interesting.”

“I’d bet my next paycheck that the guy found in the trail went to the same boarding school.”

“Only one way to find out.”

“One step ahead of you. I placed a call to his girlfriend, and she said we can come and talk to her this morning. She didn’t want to talk over the phone.”

“Good work. And I thought that Henry French kissing me was going to be the light of the morning.”

“Okay, that’s gross, Jacob.”

“Wasn’t intentional.”

“Still.”

We had a quick laugh, but it was short lived when Captain Hellsworth came over. He had bags under his eyes, and his hair was disheveled.

“Damn, Captain, you need a vacation,” I said. “Didn’t get much sleep?”

“Wait until you get my age, Jacob. The wife’s been hounding about this and that around the house. She’s acting like I’m still in my twenties. Anyway, we got another victim. An older gentleman was killed during the night. A friend came by and found his body in the kitchen.”

“Let me guess, his neck was thrashed?”

“Sounds like your guy was busy again last night.”

“Shit.”

“Jacob, we need to find this guy. Soon the press will be all over this thing. Do what you gotta do, but find this guy, okay?”

Captain Hellsworth walked away.

“So how does an old guy fit into your theory?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Looks like our day just became that much more interesting.”

 

 


Thirty-four



“James Stewart, Ph.D.” I said.

His doctoral diploma was on a wall over a small wooden desk, and his home office didn’t appear as though anyone went through it.

“Do we know what he was a Ph.D. of?”

“Former teacher,” Pat said. “The friend who found him told one of the officers. He lives a few houses down the block.”

I made a mental note to talk to the friend once we left the house. I looked around the office before retuning back to the kitchen where Mr. Stewart’s body still lay. Crime scene technicians were taking pictures of the body and the surroundings. So far, the only thing we knew was that Mr. Stewart was a seventy-two-year-old widower who lived alone, and that he was a retired teacher.

As I looked over the body, the only thing that kept coming to mind was what Pat said, that the first two victims went to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. Now we had a dead former teacher. What were the odds?

“How much of that paycheck do you want to bet that he was a teacher at the same boarding school of the first two victims?”

“So our killer could have been either a student or another teacher there?” Pat said.

“Could have been anyone. But it looks like these killings may not be as random as we thought.”

“Revenge?” Pat said.

“Possibly.”

“Jealousy?”

I nodded.

“The thing that causes me to pause is why wait so long to plot revenge against someone?”

“Look at what we’re dealing with here. The guy walks around looking like a vampire. We’re not talking about a normal psyche. And revenge and jealousy might not even be the reason for the murders.”

“He didn’t just pick their names out of a hat. If this teacher taught at the same boarding school, then the school is the link. Something must have happened there.”

We looked around a little longer and then went to visit the friend who found Mr. Stewart’s body. He was a wreck, as we might have expected. His hand visibly shook when I extended mine for a greeting. He looked to be about Mr. Stewart’s age.

“How could this happen?”

“If we could come in and talk for a few minutes, that’d be helpful to our investigation.”

He led us into a cozy living room.

“Mr. Harper, correct?” I asked.

“Yes, Craig Harper.”

Mr. Harper motioned for us to sit down.

“I’d offer you something to drink, but that’s what I was planning on getting with Jim. We were supposed to go grocery shopping this morning.”

“That’s why you went by his house?”

Mr. Harper nodded.

His voice was shaky, and at times almost inaudible.

“Were you two neighbors for a long time?”

“Over fifteen years. We were there for each other when our wives passed.”

“Sorry to be coming at such a difficult time.”

He nodded and then wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

“Did Mr. Stewart mention anything about anyone harassing him?”

“No. Jim was well liked and well known in the neighborhood.”

“I saw in his room he received his Ph.D. Do you know in what?”

“Theology. He taught theology for over twenty-five years.”

I looked at Pat—the devil character was starting to make a little more sense.

“Where did he teach?”

“St. Luke’s Academy.”

“In Pennsylvania?”

“Yes, that’s right. He retired about a month ago.”

“So did he live here and in Pennsylvania?”

“He did. He’s originally from the D.C. area and wanted to keep his roots here. But he worked in Pennsylvania, so most of the time he’d come to D.C. on the weekends or during holidays.”

“What can you tell us about Mr. Stewart?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what you want to know. He was a quiet guy. He kept to himself for the most part. I know that he wasn’t too thrilled about retiring, but a lot of workaholics are like that.”

I picked on Mr. Harper’s tone when he said the word thrilled.

“Did he not want to retire?”

“Truth? No, he didn’t. The school offered him a very generous retirement package. They approached him, not the other way around.”

“Did he try and stay?” Pat asked.

“He didn’t put up much of a fight. He saw the writing on the wall years ago. The school came under new management, and said management wanted the school to become younger, if you know what I mean.”

I nodded.

“Did Mr. Stewart ever talk about any other teachers, former students, anything like that?”

“Not in detail. He loved teaching and mentoring kids. The older kids he could get a little more philosophical with, and the younger ones it was more like a Bible school for them.”

“What about the devil? Did Mr. Stewart talk about the devil much?” I asked.

Mr. Harper’s eyes widened. “Why would you ask that?”

“Just something I’m trying to work out in my head.”

“We’ve talked about the devil.”

“Did he believe in the devil?”

“Very much so.”

“Do you know if he taught about the devil?”

“These are strange questions, Detective.”

“Frankly, Mr. Harper, this is a strange case.”

Mr. Harper let out a deep breath of air. “Honestly, I don’t know. I’m sure the school has rules about what he could and couldn’t teach.”

“I’m sure they do.”

I motioned for Pat that we were about to leave. As we stood up, Mr. Harper said something that almost caused me to sit down again.

“There was something that Jim told me about the school.”

Mr. Harper’s eyes shifted between me and Pat, and then he looked toward the floor. He pushed his hands in his pocket and slouched his shoulders.

“He had an affair.”

“Really?” I said.

“No one knew. He told me because it was eating him up inside.”

“When did this happen?”

“Years ago. Before his wife passed away.”

“Who was she? Another faculty member?”

“No. A student. A senior. She was eighteen.”

“Did he give a name?”

“No. Just that it lasted for a few months, and then she graduated and went off to college.”

Pat and I thanked him for taking the time to speak with us. I gave him my card in case he thought of anything else.

In the car, Pat said, “You thinking one of the victims was the girl he had an affair with?”

“That was the first thing that crossed my mind.”

I put the car in gear and pulled away from Mr. Harper’s house. In my head, I thought that if this were a trivia game and the question was asked, “What does a teacher, the devil, and an affair have in common?” and I answered, “I don’t know,” I’d win the grand prize.


Thirty-five



It’d been a few hours since Matthew Gray was in Dr. Stanley’s office. After he left, he immediately called Sarah Adams and told her that they needed to talk. She told him that they could meet at her place, and that she’d be there when he arrived.

When she opened the door, Sarah was wearing a pair of jeans and a blue T-shirt. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and it didn’t appear to Matthew that she’d been out of the house. He stepped through the doorway and gave her a light kiss on the cheek before moving to the kitchen.

“Didn’t go into the office today?” Matthew asked.

“No. I need to go through case files. Plus two of my clients cancelled on me, so I figured I’d just work from home.”

Matthew nodded and leaned against the kitchen counter.

“What’s up?” Sarah asked.

“Dr. Stanley wants to hypnotize me. He thinks he can find the root of the dreams that way.”

“Okay, great. Are you worried about something?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know if I want him in my head like that. Freaks me out.”

“What are you worried about? Think there’s something that he may find out that you won’t like?”

Matthew shook his head, “No, not at all.”

“Okay, so what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know. Hypnosis? Do you really think that’ll help?”

“Sure. If you’re having trouble remembering something, hypnosis is a way for us to hurdle over that mental block and find the cause of the problem.”

Sarah walked over to Matthew’s side and leaned against the counter. Her right arm touched his left arm, and she nudged his mid-section with her elbow.

“What’s really going on here? You can’t be this worried about being hypnotized?”

Matthew hesitated before speaking again. He looked over at Sarah and then allowed his eyes to look at the floor.

“What does blood smell like?”

“Blood? I don’t know. Why?”

“Have you ever tasted your own blood? Like from a cut or something?”

“That’s gross. What are we, like five?”

“I’m serious.”

“Not lately I haven’t. No. Why, have you?”

“No.”

“So what’s with the blood questions? Thinking of turning into a vampire?”

She smiled, but when she saw that Matthew didn’t smile back, she became serious.

“Okay, so what’s with the blood questions?”

Matthew thought about the morning he’d looked at himself in the mirror and the smell of his hands. Something was different about him that he couldn’t explain. And he’d been thinking about the question that kept coming back to him in his dreams. What do you do when you look into the mirror and the reflection looking back isn’t you? What did it all mean? He wasn’t sure. But something within him wasn’t right.

“The other day I think I smelled blood on my hands,” his voice was soft and low.

“What do you mean blood? Like your blood?”

He looked into Sarah’s eyes, “No. Not mine.”

“Then whose?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was it a morning after you had a bad dream?”

Matthew nodded, “Yes.”

“Was there blood in the dream?”

Matthew rubbed his hands through his hair and exhaled, “I don’t remember.”

“You know at times dreams can be so powerful that the mind thinks they’re real. If there was blood in your dream, your brain could have been reminiscing the scent when you raised your hands to your nose.”

“It’s not just the blood smell. Within me, something doesn’t seem right.”

“Did you tell this to Dr. Stanley?”

“No.”

Sarah sighed and then stepped away from Matthew.

“Jesus, Matt. I told you that I can’t be your therapist. There are some things that we shouldn’t talk about. I’m too connected to you.”

“But I feel more comfortable talking to you.”

“Matt, Dr. Stanley is good at what he does. Frankly, he’s one of the best.”

“But I don’t know him.”

“Precisely. He’s a third party. An outside consciousness. With him, there’ll be no biases. With me, there would be.”

“Fine,” Matthew said as he moved away from the counter and stood under the kitchen light fixture in the middle of the room. “Just tell me one thing.”

Sarah sighed again. “Okay, what?”

“If you looked into a mirror and the reflection looking back wasn’t you, what would you do?”

Sarah hesitated before answering. “Is that what’s happening to you?”

Matthew lowered his head, “No. But it’s what I keep hearing in my dream.”

“What does it mean to you?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. But I think something’s trying to tell me something?”

“Something, or someone?”

“Both maybe?”

“Okay, Matt, you’re kinda freaking me out here.”

“You’re freaked out? How do you think I feel?”

They both stayed quiet for a few seconds. Sarah turned around and looked out the kitchen window. The window had a view of an oversized front yard that had a large oak tree with thick green leaves. The lawn was perfectly manicured. Matthew followed Sarah’s gaze out of the window, and a random thought popped into his head about what it’d be like to climb to the top of the tree. And then he wondered if he did climb to the top, would Sarah follow him?

He reached out for Sarah’s arm. When she felt his touch, she turned around and smiled, caressing the back of his hand with hers.

“I need your help, Sarah. You’re the only one I trust.”

“I know. It’s kinda always been like that between us.”

“It has.”

“I’ll talk to Dr. Stanley and see if he doesn’t mind if I’m in the room with you.”

“I’d feel much more comfortable if you were there.”

He pulled her close, and she rested her face on his chest.

“I love you, Sarah.”

“I know. I love you too, Matt.”

She looked up at him, and instantly he felt a comfort overcome him. They smiled at each other before embracing in a passionate kiss.

“We’ll get through this,” Sarah said.

“You and me together.”

“That’s how it’s always been.”


Thirty-six



We decided to make the two-hour trek up to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I wasn’t sure what to expect given that this could be the place where a possible serial killer was from, but driving through the campus gave me the feeling that this was an everyday, ordinary institution for learning. The grass was beautifully manicured and the buildings appeared well kept. We reached the main building, which looked more like an ancient Catholic monastery where the walls were made of large beige, grey, and brown stones. Mrs. Walters, the school’s secretary, met us in the building’s lobby and then led us to the principal’s office. We’d told Mrs. Walters ahead of time what happened to James Stewart; she was devastated, and she cried over the phone.

“I still can’t believe it,” Mrs. Walters said.

We stood outside the office of a Mr. Patrick Raymond. He was on the phone, and when he saw us, he motioned that he’d be right with us.

Mrs. Walters held a handkerchief in her hand and placed it under her nose every few seconds.

“Jim was such a good man.”

Her eyes were red and puffy.

“I told him that he should have stayed up here after he retired. D.C. is such a violent place.”

Pat and I looked at each other but decided not to defend our city.

“We’re going to do everything we can to find the person responsible,” I said kindly.

“Poor Jim,” she said as she placed the handkerchief under her nose again.

Mr. Raymond cleared his throat as he stood from behind his desk. He waved us in and then buttoned up his suit jacket. He was a middle aged-man with dark hair that didn’t look like its natural color.

“Detectives, thanks for coming up from D.C. We’re all devastated at the news.”

He shook our hands and then motioned for us to sit down.

“Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.”

“Anything we can do to help.”

He sat down behind his desk.

“Can you tell us a little about Mr. Stewart’s time here?”

“Well, I’ve only been the principal here for about three and a half years. But during my time, he’s been one of the more pleasurable people to be around.”

“Who was the principal before you?”

“Sharon Duncan. She was here almost as long as Jim.”

“Still in the area?”

“Sure. I’ll get her contact info for you before you leave.”

“So, in the three and a half years that you were here, did Mr. Stewart ever have altercations with any of the staff or students?”

“Jim? No, he was a saint. Guess that’s why he taught our religious courses.”

“Ever hear any rumblings about something that could have happened before you were here?”

“Like gossip? No, I try my best to make sure the staff doesn’t involve themselves in anything like that. We’re around kids all day, so it’s easy to get caught up in the entire he-said-she-said kinda thing.”

“Sometimes gossip offers the best leads,” Pat said.

“Sorry, Detective, I haven’t heard anything. But please feel free to talk to some of the staff who knew him best. Maybe they could help.”

“We will, thanks,” I replied.

“Just out of curiosity, do you think Jim’s murder is in any way related to the school?”

“I don’t know. We’re just trying to get background information right now.”

I decided not to bring up the other victim’s names or the affair that Mr. Harper mentioned.

“So, Mr. Stewart taught religion?”

“Yes. One of the few benefits of running a private school is that we get the option to teach religion. Some of the kids scoff at it, but others really enjoy it.”

“Do you mind if I ask what is taught?’

“Like the curriculum? Uh, Bible, religious history, religious philosophy, and the social dynamics.”

“Do any of those classes discuss the devil?”

“The devil? Only in the context of the scriptures. We don’t go out of our way to talk about the devil, if that’s what you mean.”

“In your time here, have you had any issues with any of the kids playing out or acting out like the devil?”

“I’m not sure I’m following your line of questioning.”

“There’s a possibility that whoever murdered Mr. Stewart thinks or believes that he’s the devil.”

“So you know who did this?”

“No, we don’t. But we have a witness to another crime that may be linked to this one.”

Mr. Raymond slumped back in his chair and rubbed his hand over his hair.

“As long as I’ve been here we haven’t had any problems with kids acting out in such a manner.”

I nodded and wrote down notes. We talked for a few more minutes and then stood up to leave. As we left the office, Mrs. Walters stood in the hallway with an elderly woman who, at first glance, reminded me of my grandmother. Her skin was dark and smooth, and her hair was as white as snow. She couldn’t have been taller than about five feet, and she was as thin as a pin, but by her straight posture and the authority she had when she stuck out her hand, I knew she was much stronger than she looked.

“This is Ms. Millie Dee,” Mrs. Walters said. “She’s been with the school longer than most of us here. She may be able to give you some information about the school.”

“Thank you. I appreciate it. Mr. Raymond said that he’d give us the contact information for a Ms. Sharon Duncan.”

“I know Sharon,” Ms. Dee said. “If you need her, I can take you to her.”

“Even better,” I replied.

“Thanks, Donna,” Ms. Dee said to Mrs. Walters. “I can take it from here.”

Mrs. Walters walked away with the same handkerchief in her hand.

“How’d Jim die?” Ms. Dee asked bluntly.

“He was murdered,” I said.

“And you think it may be connected to the school?”

“We don’t know.”

Ms. Dee turned around and started walking. She didn’t walk fast, and as a matter of fact I had to shorten my strides just so I wouldn’t walk ahead of her. She led us down a long hallway that was filled with cases of trophies and art.

“You’ve been here a long time?” I asked.

“Thirty years come this spring.”

“What do you do for the school?”

“Whatever they need me to do.”

Pat and I looked at each other, and I immediately thought that if my grandmother had a twin in personality, Ms. Dee was it. The hallway took us to a set of glass doors that led to an outdoor patio with furniture that could have been in any home and garden magazine.

“Have a seat,” she said.

We sat down on a cushioned bench, but she continued standing.

“You’re not going to sit?” Pat asked.

“Nope. I like to stand.”

“Mr. Raymond wasn’t able to give us too much information since he’d only been here for a couple of years,” I said. “Is there anything you can tell us about Mr. Stewart?”

“What do you want to know?”

“What was he like?”

“A good guy. Very smart. The kids liked him, and he taught them well.”

“What about other faculty? Did he get along with them?”

“Yep.”

“Was he ever worried for his life?”

“If he was, we never knew.”

“Let’s go back a few years. Maybe ten. Maybe twenty.”

“Okay,” she said.

“Does anything or anyone stick out in your memory who would want to harm him?”

Ms. Dee looked at me, and it seemed as though she was looking into my eyes, searching for a truth. She smiled when she figured something out.

“You already know.”

“Know what?”

“About the affair.”

Pat and I looked at each other and then back to Ms. Dee.

“Does everyone know?” I asked.

“Nope. Only a couple of people.”

“Could any of those people have a reason to kill him?”

“Only if the killer came out of a geriatrics convention.”

“I’m not following?”

“That affair happened back in nineteen ninety-eight. Seventeen years ago. The few people who know are either too old or too dead to do any real damage.”

“How’d it get discovered?”

“It’s not rocket science. An eighteen year old having an affair with a fifty-something-year-old man. The way they looked at each other and interacted, how could anyone not know? Sharon Duncan approached him about it. She knew his wife. The only reason he didn’t lose his job was because of his wife. Sharon didn’t want her to know, so she handled it in-house.”

“The girl’s parents never found out?”

“No, she was of legal age.”

“Do you remember the girl’s name?”

“I don’t. But Sharon would. She talked to her back then.”

“And you said you can take us to see Ms. Duncan?”

“Yep. I called and told her what happened and that you were here. She’s expecting us.”

“Can we see her now?”

“Don’t see why not.”


Thirty-seven



Sharon Duncan lived twenty minutes away from the boarding school in a small white bungalow with a white picket fence wrapped around the front yard. When we pulled to the front of the house, an elderly woman sat on a rocking chair on the front porch. She had a little dark color mixed in with her grey hair. She smiled and waved when the car came to a stop.

“That’s Sharon,” Ms. Dee said.

“She looks comfortable,” Pat said.

“Sweetest woman I know.”

It wasn’t raining in Pennsylvania, but the sky was overcast, and I was sure they’d be getting our rain sometime soon. When we reached the porch, there were four glasses sitting on a small wooden coffee table filled with what looked like lemonade. Ms. Duncan’s smile widened as she stood up to give Ms. Dee a hug. After their greeting, Ms. Duncan turned and extended her hand.

“Detectives, I’m Sharon Duncan.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said. “My name is Detective Hayden, and this is Detective Jennings.”

“I hope you’re thirsty from that long trip from D.C. I made us some lemonade.”

“Looks refreshing.”

There were three other wooden rocking chairs on the porch that were pulled over close to Ms. Duncan.

“Please, everyone have a seat.”

We did, and then Ms. Duncan’s demeanor changed slightly. The smile she wore on her face went away and in its place came a slight frown.

“I understand that Jim Stewart was murdered last night.”

“Yes, he was.”

“And the only reason you’d be up here is because you think the school might be related in some way.”

“We aren’t sure. But any information you can give us on his past would be helpful.”

“Where do you want to start? I knew Jim over twenty years. Most pleasant, some not so pleasant.”

“Let’s start with the not so pleasant. We understand that he had an affair with a student.”

Ms. Duncan nodded, “Yes, he did.”

“Do you remember her name?”

“I do. Elizabeth Rawlings. We called her Liz.”

Strike one, I immediately thought. She wasn’t one of the two female victims killed by our mysterious devil character.

“How’d you find out about the affair?”

“By an anonymous student. Someone put a note in my inbox at school. All faculty have inboxes. I came in one morning and saw a handwritten note that said they knew about the affair.”

“And you’re sure it was a student? It wasn’t another faculty member?”

She shook her head, “No. It was written like a student. But it didn’t matter either way. When I asked Jim about it, he admitted to the affair. He said that it had been weighing on his conscience and he was having a hard time sleeping because of it.”

“Why wasn’t he fired?”

“In hindsight, he should have been. I was close with his wife and I knew they were in a tight financial situation. She wasn’t working, and if he had been fired, they might have lost everything.”

“What about Liz?” Pat asked. “What happened with her?”

“We talked with her. She was eighteen, so we didn’t have to inform her parents. Plus, her father was a graduate of St. Luke’s and was a large financial contributor. Had I brought this to the board and her parents found out, we would have lost his backing.”

“So how was Mr. Stewart reprimanded?”

“Docked two weeks’ pay. He told Sandra, his wife, that he was donating a paycheck to a charitable cause.”

“Sounds like he got off scot-free,” Pat said.

“Maybe. But he knew that I knew what he had done, and he never looked at me the same after that. Imagine how he felt whenever Sandra and I hung out, or I came over to his house.”

Pat rolled her eyes, and I could tell she wanted to say something else but decided against it.

“And the student who gave you the note,” I said. “Did you ever find out who it was?”

“I had a suspicion, but no, I never found out.”

“Okay, besides the affair, does anything else stand out during your tenure at the school? Were there any incidents that Mr. Stewart may have been involved in?”

Ms. Duncan and Ms. Dee looked at each other in a way that said, “Should I say something or you?” But they didn’t say anything. There was an awkward silence between us all for a few seconds, and I’d been around long enough to know that when silence is that awkward, there’s usually something loud that needs to be said.

“Do the names Rachel Melton or Michele Underway ring any bells?” Pat asked.

The two women looked at each other again with the same look they’d shared a few seconds earlier.

“Yes, they do,” Ms. Duncan said. “Why’d you bring up their names?”

“They were both murdered. We think the same person who killed James Stewart may have killed them as well.”

“That’s the link to the school,” I said. “That’s why we’re here. Three people from this school have been murdered in the past forty-eight hours.”

“Dear God,” Ms. Duncan said.

“There’s another victim,” Pat said. “A Scott Tremble.”

Without them saying anything, I knew that Scott Tremble was the fourth link. The faces of both women nearly turned pale.

“I don’t understand,” Ms. Duncan said. “Why them?”

“We don’t know,” I said. “That’s why we’re here. Who were they?”

“They were good kids,” Ms. Dee interjected.

“When were they students here?”

“They came here in the mid-nineties,” Ms. Duncan said. “Most of them stayed until they graduated.”

“Mid-nineties?” I said. “That was twenty years ago. Why do their names stick out over the thousands of others who passed through?”

“Certain kids just have that way of sticking out.”

“Were they a clique? Did they stick together?”

“Not in the least. They obviously knew each other from being in the same school since middle school years, but I don’t think they were friends.”

There’s a sports commentator on the ESPN network that always says, if it looks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, then it’s not a mongoose. Something wasn’t adding up with their answers.

“I don’t mean to sound rude, but we have four people from this school who have been murdered, and you expect me to believe that they weren’t friends?”

They didn’t say anything.

“And isn’t it a little astounding that all of the victims ended up in D.C.? I mean, what’re the odds of four people from Pennsylvania who attended or worked at the same school being murdered in the same city a couple hundred miles away?”

Ms. Duncan took a second to look at all of us and then looked down to the full lemonade glasses.

“If you don’t mind, Detectives, I think I’m going to need to replace the lemonade with something a little stronger.”

“Glad you said it,” Ms. Dee said. “Because I sure enough was thinking it.”

Ms. Duncan stood up. “Why don’t you be a dear and bring in the lemonade. I’ve got something inside that I’d like to show you.”

She turned and headed for the front door.

Pat and I looked at each other, and if I were a mind reader, I would bet she was thinking that this should be good. Because that’s exactly what I was thinking.


Thirty-eight



The inside of Ms. Duncan’s home was quaint and had the cottage feel that one might expect from a bungalow. The rooms were small and the furniture looked even smaller. Pictures of different parts of the campus were blown up and framed as artwork on the walls. The floors were natural-colored wood, and the walls sported wainscoting and crown molding.

We took a seat on the living room couches, and Ms. Duncan went into the kitchen and came back with a bottle of white Moscato wine.

“I know you both are on duty, so I won’t ask if you want some.”

She poured two glasses full for Ms. Dee and herself.

“So, if I may ask, Detectives,” Ms. Duncan said, “why do you think the murders are all connected?”

“Because of the way they were killed,” Pat responded.

“And how was that?”

“Their necks were thrashed in the same manner.”

The conversation paused as Ms. Duncan and Ms. Dee took in the manner of the murders.

“Do you recall any students or faculty who may have suffered from some kind of delusion?” I said. “Any kind of brain dysfunction?”

“No, we don’t get those kinds of students at the boarding school. Generally, the state provides programs or assistance for the mentally challenged in public schools, or the parents send them to specialty schools where they can receive the best education for their condition.”

“And other faculty?”

“Not during my tenure.”

“And not in recent years,” Ms. Dee said.

Then why the devil? I thought. Clearly, anyone who dressed up in the manner that the witnesses described must be delusional. Unless … never mind. Impossible. The devil isn’t real.

“Ms. Duncan, you said you had something to show us?”

“Yes,” she said.

She stood up and left the room. A minute or so later, she returned with three yearbooks.

“There’s no smoking gun here,” she said.

Ms. Duncan turned to various pages in the three yearbooks, which showed students in different activities. The first one she pointed out was a photo of a high school football game, and next to the photo was another photo of a young jock kneeling down in a pose in his football gear holding his helmet in his hand.

“That’s Scott. He was captain of the football team and the star quarterback.”

In the crease between the pages was a newspaper article that Ms. Duncan unfolded.

“That game Scott threw five touchdowns and ran for one himself. That was a school record that’s still on the books today. No other quarterback has come close to doing what Scott did.”

“He was the star athlete?”

“One of the best that’s ever come through the school.”

She put that yearbook down and picked up another one. She flipped through pages until she came to one with a young girl with jet-black hair and wearing black clothes with black lipstick. The gothic look. She stood next to a locker and looked as though she was annoyed that someone was taking a picture of her.

“That’s Rachel. Totally different extreme from Scott. She hung with the punk rockers. Looking at her, you would never know that she had a gift for painting. Some of her artwork still hangs on the school’s walls and others have been sold around the world.”

Rachel Melton was the second woman murdered. The lady I’d seen on the bed looked totally different from the young girl on the page.

Ms. Duncan then grabbed the third yearbook and skimmed a few pages until she landed on the one she wanted. She turned to a page with a group of kids in white lab coats standing next to a man of obese dimension who was holding up a large check in the amount of fifty thousand dollars.

“The blond girl in the middle is Michele. She was part of a team of student scientists who invented a robotic skeletal spine that, when fused with the human spine, could make someone who lost the ability to walk, walk again.”

“Incredible,” I said.

“Genius more like it,” Ms. Duncan said.

I grabbed all three yearbooks and looked at the pictures that Ms. Duncan showed us. Three students from the same school, yet totally different in student dynamics. A jock, a goth, and a brainiac. What were the chances they would have been friends or hung around each other? If I thought about my days in high school, I’d say the chances were slim.

“Would all of them have gone through any of Mr. Stewart’s classes?” I asked.

Ms. Duncan nodded, “Yes.”

“They were around the same age. Maybe that’s the connection. They were all in the same class together.”

“Even if that were the case,” Ms. Duncan said, “why twenty years later would someone kill them in such a manner?”

The million dollar question, I thought.

“Would the school still have records of which students were in certain classes from back then?”

“Yes. Everything is stored electronically as well as on paper. But the paper records are stored in an offsite facility.”

I looked to Ms. Dee, “If you can get us access to the electronic records, that’d be great. Maybe something’s there that could point us in the right direction.”

“I’ll talk to Mr. Raymond, but it shouldn’t be a problem.”

“This begs a disturbing question,” Ms. Duncan said. “Do you think that more alum from the school are targets too?”

“I don’t know. Could they have been targeted for a specific reason, or is this lunatic just going after anyone, and they happened to be a coincidence?”

“Seems unlikely to be a coincidence,” Ms. Dee said.

“It does. But as investigators, we have to ask all questions and leave no doubt for anything.”

“We were a part of the school,” Ms. Duncan said. “Could we be next?”

I exhaled and was slow to answer. I’d been thinking the same thing ever since we arrived.

“We don’t know. But just to be safe, before we leave, I’m going to speak with the detective in charge of this county and urge him to place uniforms in the neighborhood until we can catch this guy.”

Both Ms. Dee and Ms. Duncan looked at each other, and the paleness that overcame them when we told them about the murders and the possible connection to the school returned.

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” Ms. Duncan said.

“We’re working hard to find out who’s doing this. The more information we have, the better our chances are of catching him. And from my experience, everyone at some point makes a mistake and slips up.”

She grabbed her glass of wine and took a big sip, which could almost be categorized as a gulp.

“Lastly, before we leave. Do you recall any students or faculty that had any kind of fascination with the devil?”

“The devil?”

Ms. Duncan and Ms. Dee looked at each other as if they were mentally searching the other’s memory banks.

“I don’t think so,” Ms. Duncan responded. “Why the devil?”

I didn’t want to worry them any more than I already had, so I decided not to tell them about the devil detail.

“Just an angle that we’re working on.”

We handed them our cards and asked them to call if they thought of anything else.

“Do you mind if I hold on to the yearbooks? I’ll take good care of them.”

“Please,” Ms. Duncan said. “I don’t know what you’d find, but if it helps, by all means take them.”

I scooped up the yearbooks, and Pat and I turned to leave. As we left, I heard Ms. Dee say to Ms. Duncan, “I think I’m staying here tonight.”


Thirty-nine



The lights in the office were off. The mini blinds were turned so that they were partially closed, and because of the cloudy day, it made the room a little darker than normal. Matthew Gray sat slouched on the couch as per instructed by Dr. Stanley.

“I want you to be as relaxed as possible,” Dr. Stanley said.

To Dr. Stanley’s left, Sarah Adams sat with a notepad on her lap and a pen in hand. Dr. Stanley had agreed to let Sarah sit in on the session because Sarah was a colleague, and because he knew through their conversations that Matthew would be more comfortable if she was there.

“How do you feel?” Dr. Stanley asked.

“Fine.”

“For the record, you are knowingly allowing me to hypnotize you, correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.

“Okay, then. Let’s begin. I want you to look at my forehead and focus on a spot in the middle of my forehead.”

Dr. Stanley noticed that Matthew’s eyes went to his forehead and that he was looking at a particular spot.

“The more you stare at that spot, the more you’ll feel your body start to relax. And you’ll also notice that my voice will become more relaxing.”

Matthew’s continued staring at the middle of Dr. Stanley’s forehead.

“Focus on that spot, Matthew. Your entire body is beginning to relax.”

Dr. Stanley noticed that Matthew’s body was starting to slouch a little more on the sofa.

“As you focus on that spot, your eyes are beginning to get heavier and heavier.”

Matthew’s eyelids were slowly starting to close.

“Soon your eyelids will become so heavy they’ll be impossible to open.”

Matthew’s eyelids closed even more.

“Now, as I count backward from five to one, on the number one your eyelids will be so heavy that you won’t be able to open them.”

Matthew’s eyelids were nearly closed.

“Five, four … your eyes are relaxing more … three, two, one.”

Dr. Stanley snapped his fingers, and Matthew’s eyelids were completely closed.

“Your eyelids are stuck shut until I tell you to open them.”

Matthew’s eyelids remained shut.

“The more you try to open them, the more stuck shut they will be.”

Dr. Stanley looked over to Sarah and nodded, and Sarah wrote notes on her notepad.

“Now, Matthew, when I touch your shoulder, your whole body will be loose and limp.”

Dr. Stanley leaned over and touched Matthew’s shoulder, and Matthew’s body slouched even more. The command he gave was a test and also an instruction to let Matthew’s psyche know that he was in charge.

“Matthew, do you know where you are?”

“Yes, in your office.”

“Good. Let’s go back to when you were twelve years old, before the dreams started occurring. What’s your earliest memory?”

Matthew’s brows started scrunching, and his eyes moved from left to right underneath his eyelids.

“I … I … don’t know.”

“A simple memory. Maybe you were playing outside, or your mother was making cookies.”

“I don’t see anything.”

Dr. Stanley looked over and saw Sarah taking down notes.

“Okay, then, what’s the earliest memory that comes to mind?”

Matthew’s eyes continued moving underneath his eyelids. Finally they stopped, and a smile came across his face.

“I remember meeting a new friend at the playground.”

“Do you remember how old you were?’

“I don’t know. I think I was twelve or thirteen.”

“What were you and the friend doing?”

“Throwing the Frisbee.”

“Do you know if this was before or after the dreams?”

Matthew shook his head, “I don’t remember.”

“Okay, what’s your friend’s name?”

“I don’t know. He never told me his name.”

“Did you tell him yours?”

“I did.”

“Were your parents around?”

“I don’t see them.”

“How long were you throwing the Frisbee?”

“I don’t know. For a while.”

“Did you do anything else?”

“I don’t think so. I only remember throwing the Frisbee.”

“Okay, you’re back in my office now. You’re not at the playground any longer.”

Dr. Stanley cleared his throat.

“Do you remember when the dreams started happening?”

Matthew nodded, “Yes.”

“Okay, we’ll go to that time. What’s your earliest memory right before the dreams started happening?”

“I remember I was at the park again. The park was across the street from where I lived. My new friend was there. I asked him if he had the Frisbee, and he said he didn’t. He looked like he had been crying.”

“Why do you think that?”

“His eyes were puffy and red.”

“Did you ask him if he’d been crying?”

“No. I asked him if he was okay.”

“What did he say?”

“Nothing at first. He was sitting and plucking at the grass.”

Dr. Stanley nodded, “Okay, what happened next?”

“He finally looked up at me and asked if I thought he was fat?”

“Fat? What’d you say?”

“I told him I didn’t think he was. I told him sometimes on TV they call people big-boned. That’s what I thought he was.”

“So he was a big kid?”

Matthew nodded.

“Okay, what happened next?”

“He said that sometimes he wished that he wasn’t living.”

“Really? And he was your age?”

“Yes.”

“How do you know?”

“He told me.”

“Do you know his name by now?”

“Not now.”

“Okay, what else happened?”

“He told me things. He said that he’d done things; things that he didn’t like to do.”

Dr. Stanley looked over at Sarah, and she was now looking at Matthew. Her eyes were transfixed on him.

“What things did he tell you he did?” Dr. Stanley asked.

“I can’t say. He made me promise.”

Dr. Stanley curled his lips. He couldn’t help thinking that this kid may be the root of the dreams.

“Were the things he did bad?”

Matthew nodded.

“After he told you, did it make you mad?”

“No, I wasn’t mad.”

“How did you feel?”

“I was afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

Matthew didn’t answer.

“Afraid of what, Matthew?”

“That he could do the same thing to me.”

Dr. Stanley hesitated for a second and then told Matthew that he was now back in his office again.

“Matthew, you mentioned that you had a friend right before the dreams started happening. Do you remember your friend?”

“Vaguely.”

“You said that your friend told you a secret. Do you remember what he told you?”

Matthew nodded, “No, I don’t remember.”

“When’s the last time you saw your friend?”

Matthew’s eyes started moving back and forth under his eyelids again.

“I think I was fifteen.”

“Okay, go back to that place when you were fifteen. Do you see your friend?”

“I do.”

“What’s he doing?”

“He’s walking.”

“Where’s he walking to?”

“Into the woods. There’s a creek where we used to go and throw rocks.”

“Is he going to the creek?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to catch up to him.”

“Do you know his name yet?”

“No, he never told me his name.”

“Okay, did you ever catch up to him?”

“Yes, I kept saying, hey, hey, and he finally turned around.”

“Did you ask him what he was doing?”

“Yes, he said that he was going into the woods to hide something.”

“What did he hide?”

Matthew didn’t answer again.

“Matthew, do you know what he went to hide?”

“Yes. A gun.”

Dr. Stanley abruptly paused. He looked over at Sarah, and her eyes were staring at Matthew. The expression on her face appeared as though she wanted to cry for him.

“Did he hide the gun?” Dr. Stanley asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you know where he hid the gun?”

Matthew’s eyes started fluttering underneath his eyelids. His calm breathing started to change to more rapid breaths.

“Matthew, do you know where he hid the gun?”

Matthew’s jaws started to tighten, and the veins in his neck began bulging through the skin. His normal pinkish white skin started turning red.

“Matthew?” Sarah gasped. “Dr. Stanley, what’s wrong with him?”

“His memory is fighting against his subconscious. I’d better bring him out.”

Dr. Stanley leaned up in his chair and rested his elbows on his knees.

“Matthew, when I count backward from five to one, you’ll start to feel your eyelids lighten up and become lighter to the point that you will open your eyes. Five, four, three … your eyelids are light … two, one.”

Dr. Stanley snapped his fingers, and instantly Matthew’s eyes opened. He was sweating and breathing heavy.

“Matt,” Sarah said gently, “are you okay?”

Matthew didn’t move. He sat on the couch looking back and forth at Sarah and Dr. Stanley.

“Matthew?” Dr. Stanley said. “Do you know where you are?”

Matthew’s eyes quickly moved left to right, and then right to left, looking back and forth at Dr. Stanley and Sarah.

His eyes were his eyes, but Dr. Stanley saw something different in them. Their color was slightly off. Their shape wasn’t as oval. The life inside them wasn’t the same.

“Matthew,” Dr. Stanley softly spoke, “is this you?”

“Matt, it’s Sarah. I’m here with you.”

Slowly, Matthew’s breaths calmed, and the shifting of his eyes slowed to the point that now he was only looking at Sarah.

“You still with us?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah, I’m here.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“Matthew,” Dr. Stanley said, “when you opened your eyes, what were you feeling at that precise moment?”

“Honestly?”

“Yes.”

“Rage.”


Forty



We left Sharon Duncan’s house and found the head station for the Dauphin County Police Department. An officer at the front desk picked up a phone and buzzed back, saying that two detectives from D.C. were there to see George. The officer hung up the phone and informed us that Detective Willis would be with us shortly. We thanked him and waited a few minutes in the lobby.

“Pretty quiet around here,” Pat said.

“It’s the suburbs. What’d you expect?”

“Quiet is nice at times.”

“You’d go crazy if you were here.”

Pat smiled, “I said at times.”

A minute later a gentleman of about my height and build, who appeared to be around my age opened the door leading to the back part of the station. He had short dark hair and a scruffy, yet trimmed beard.

“I’m Detective George Willis,” he said.

“I’m Detective Jacob Hayden, and this is Detective Patricia Jennings.”

Pat and Detective Willis shook hands, and I caught a slight glimpse of a sparkle in her eye.

“You guys are from D.C.?”

“Yes, that’s right,” I said.

“What brings you up to Harrisburg?”

“If you don’t mind, we’d like to talk to you about a homicide case we’re working on.”

“Sure, follow me back. We can take a conference room.”

We walked through a set of hallways until we reached a conference room with a large oval table. Detective Willis took a seat at the head of the table, and we sat in the two chairs closest to him.

“You guys thirsty? Want any water or anything?”

“I’m good.” I said.

“Same here,” Pat responded.

“So, what kind of homicide you guys working on?”

I leaned forward in my chair and cleared my throat. “You’re gonna have to bear with us because what you’re about to hear is one of the strangest cases I’ve ever been involved in.”

“I’ve seen strange,” he said.

I smiled, “I don’t know like this.”

Detective Willis sat back in his chair as I told him what we knew about the case thus far. At times his eyes widened, and at other times he nodded as if he understood. Pat and I took turns giving our perceptions of the case and how each of us saw it. At the end, Detective Willis didn’t say anything. Pat and I sat quietly while he absorbed the details.

“Can I be frank?” Detective Willis said.

“By all means,” I responded.

“Sounds like you’ve got a certified nut running around.”

“That’d be an understatement,” Pat said.

“But I do agree with you that we need to put cars around the school, and also the former principal, Ms. Duncan.”

I nodded.

“How long have you been with the department?” I asked.

“Nine years.”

“Have you ever had any calls over at the school?”

He shook his head, “Not that I can recall. I mean, I personally have never had to go over there for any altercations or anything like that.”

“You from the area?”

“Not originally. I’m from further up north. Connecticut. Came down here to join the force.”

We sat quiet for a few seconds. I didn’t know where else to go with my train of thought. By everything we’d heard, the school and its students had been a model of decency and tradition. That is, at least from the outside looking in.

“Actually, you know who might know more about the school? Brenda.” Detective Willis said. “As a matter of fact, I think she may have even attended there. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Detective Willis quickly hopped out of his seat and left the room.

“What are you thinking?” Pat asked.

“Trying to connect the dots.” I turned toward Pat. “You?”

“The whole time, I was thinking what those victims could have done to warrant such a death.”

“So you think it could have been something they did, as opposed to our guy just being straight loco?”

“So, follow me with this,” she said. “Most people are murdered by someone they know.”

“Right.”

“Despite what the general public believes. People don’t usually just kill random people.”

“I’m following.”

“In this instance, we have four people who were murdered and who were all connected to this school.”

“Not a coincidence,” I said.

“Right. So, if it had just been one person, maybe the first victim, we could theorize that maybe this guy had an obsession with her, or she made him jealous, or he just didn’t like her. We could even stretch that same theory to the second victim. But now we’re adding in two male victims, one of which was a teacher. The obsession, love triangle, jealousy theory wouldn’t fly.”

I nodded as I listened.

“Next we look at the revenge angle,” she said. “Three of the victims were in their mid- thirties, and one in his early seventies. If we believe that the school is the connection, then at least the three victims haven’t been to this school in close to twenty years.”

“If it’s revenge, why wait so long?” I asked.

“Right. Why wait?”

“And why kill a teacher?”

“Not just any teacher. A teacher who taught religion, and maybe the reason why the killer’s walking around looking like the devil.”

“But you heard Ms. Duncan,” I said. “The victims hung in different cliques.”

“I heard her. But that doesn’t mean they don’t share a common past.”

I was about to say something, but Pat’s words stopped me in my tracks. I sat back in my chair, and my mind took me to the yearbook pictures of the victims. All of the victims were so different, only connected by the school. Three teenagers who probably wouldn’t have talked to each other if they were out in the real world. But they weren’t; they were in high school.

“So, you asked what the victims could have done to warrant such a death,” I said. “If you were in high school, what would someone have to do to you to make you so mad that you could kill them?”

“Humiliate me.”

“What else?”

“Shame me.”

“Keep going.”

“Crush my spirit.”

“Could that humiliation last for nearly twenty years?”

“What if it lay dormant?” Pat said.

“What do you mean?”

“What if it had been suppressed, but something happened to wake it up?”

“Like he recently saw their name or something?”

“Possibly. Could have been a recent turn of events or a sudden memory came to mind.”

“Hmm. I like where you’re going with this.”

“Me too. We need to get back to the office so I can start doing some research.”

Just then, Detective Willis and another women entered the room. The woman appeared to be in her mid-forties, and truthfully, looked like she should be working on a farm instead of in a police station.  

“Detectives, this is Brenda Cunningham.”

Pat and I stood up and shook Brenda’s hand.

“She’s been with the department as an administrator going on fifteen years.”

Brenda smiled, “Understand you guys are checking out St. Luke’s.”

“Yes, we’re hoping to close a loop here,” I said.

“Well, you came to the right place because there’s a few things about that school that you really need to know.”

“Really?”

“But instead of telling you, how about I just show you.”

“Brenda, you’re getting me a little excited,” I said.

She winked and smiled, “That’s what all the men say to me.”

She turned around and left the conference room.

I think I’m going to like Brenda.


Forty-one



Back in D.C., the emergency room department of George Washington University Hospital was slow for this time of day. Dr. Mitchell Leggler, wearing blue scrubs and a white physician’s jacket, entered one of the rooms where a seven-year-old boy and his mother were sitting on a bed. The seven-year-old’s eyes were puffy and red, and his right wrist had a bag of ice over it.

Dr. Leggler smiled at the little boy and said in a playful tone, “Are you Jason?”

The little boy nodded.

“Hi Jason. I’m Dr. Leggler. So, I hear someone took a little fall today riding his bike.”

Jason nodded again.

“Were you going really fast?”

“Yes.”

“Did you do a wheelie?”

“No.”

“Tell you what. When your wrist gets better, I’ll show you how to do one. I used to do them all the time.”

Jason smiled.

“Can I take a look at your wrist?”

Jason looked at his mother, who nodded in approval.

Dr. Leggler gently held the little boy’s wrist and lightly rubbed his fingers over the red spot.

“Well, I have some good news, Jason. Do you want to hear it?”

Jason nodded.

“Do you remember when you allowed one of the technicians to take a picture of your wrist?”

“Yes.”

“That picture let us know if your wrist was broken or not. What do you think it showed us?”

“That it’s not broken?”

“You’re one smart kid.”

Jason smiled for the first time.

“It’s going to hurt for a few days, but I promise you, you’ll be back on your bike in no time.”

“Thank you, Dr. Leggler,” Jason’s mother said.

Dr. Leggler turned to the mother and smiled. He’d noticed her when he walked in, but wanted to give all of his attention to Jason.

“No problem,” he said. “This is what turns a boy into a man.”

The mom smiled.

“How’d dad react when he heard his boy fell?”

“Oh, no dad. Just me and Jason.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”

“No worries. It is what it is.”

Dr. Leggler took a closer look at the mom: long blond hair, deep blue eyes, and a broad, beautiful smile. It also didn’t hurt that she looked like she could have been a contestant for any beauty pageant in the country.

“Well, I was serious when I said I’d teach him how to pop a wheelie. You can bring him by the hospital anytime. I’m sure there are a few empty halls we can play around in.”

Jason’s eyes lit up.

“Can we mommy?”

“I don’t know, Jay. I’m sure Dr. Leggler is a very busy man.”

Dr. Leggler waved off the comment. “No trouble at all. Once his wrist heals up we’ll make it a date.”

“Date?”

“Sorry, date was maybe the wrong word.”

Mom smiled, “It’s okay. I can go with date.”

Dr. Leggler smiled. “Well then, a date it is.”

He rubbed Jason’s hair and excused himself from the room. Three minutes later, his cell phone rang. Dr. Leggler looked at the number and moved to a more private area.

“Yeah,” he said.

“I’ve got the stuff.”

“Good. We’ll meet where I said we’d meet.”