. . .
Shelly Henson clutched Jake’s hand and fought the urge to throw up. She watched the faces of Gloria and Paul Strom as they watched the gleaming white casket that encased their daughter’s body, slowly lower into the ground. How long until that’s us? The awful thought caused the nausea in her stomach to swell dangerously. She sagged against Jake as his arm went instinctively around her shoulders, holding her tight. She felt his lips press against her hair but he said nothing. What was there to say? How could they hope for the best after what had happened to Lisa? Did they really believe that the same monster who had viciously raped and murdered Lisa would leave their daughter alive, much less unharmed? They were never going to see Erika alive again, this much Shelly Henson knew.
On the perimeter of mourners stood various officers. Though they had the killer in custody, the hopeless looks on their faces now told Shelly that they- like herself- harbored no hope of finding Erika alive.
A few feet away, Gloria Strom lost what little composure she’d been holding onto and finally collapsed into Paul’s arms, sobbing violently. She clutched at her husband’s chest, an anguished wail pouring out of her. Paul Strom tightened his embrace around her shoulders and held her as close as possible, but like Shelly’s own husband, he said nothing. His dark eyes stared blankly at the disappearing casket, his mind surely struggling to grasp the reality that inside lay his only daughter whom he would never see again.
. . .
Twisting the #2 pencil in his fingers, Reese stared across the table at the shackled man in the bright orange jumpsuit. He fought the urge to lunge across the table and strangle the prisoner. In Reese’s mind, the man filled up the faceless image of his own son’s killer. A monster never brought to justice. And now all Baker could see was Jason’s sweet, innocent face in the place of Lisa Strom’s. And this monster sitting before him.
“Erika Henson.” Reese said. Martin Camble raised his eyes from his lap to slowly meet the Chief’s icy stare. “Where is she?”
Camble looked at him dully. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“It means I don’t know.” Camble shot back. “I didn’t take her.”
Reese closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, releasing it slow. “Then who did?”
“How the hell should I know?”
Frank Watson stepped close and flattened one hand on the table next to Camble. “You were the only one there.”
“I didn’t take the kid.” Camble snapped. “And I didn’t kill anyone.”
“Okay, let me see if I got this straight.” Frank said, straightening. “You went to the Henson’s, you rape Lisa Strom, then we find you asleep in the master bedroom covered in Lisa’s blood while her mutilated, decapitated body is left in the living room. Yet we’re supposed to believe that you didn’t kill her and that you didn’t lay a finger on the child?”
“I didn’t rape her.” Camble said.
Reese leaned forward. “Your semen was inside her. A bit incriminating, don’t you think?”
“She asked for it.” Martin Camble insisted. “I just stopped by to use the phone and she came onto me like a French whore.”
“Why did you want to use the phone?” Frank asked.
Camble looked from Reese to Frank. “My car broke down.”
“So you have a car now?”
Reese looked at the man. “Two of my officers said they saw you walking.”
“So I parked it and walked around town.” Camble said. “So what? It’s a small town.”
“There are witnesses and a public bus record that says otherwise.” Frank pointed out.
Martin Camble narrowed his gaze and looked from one cop to the other. “I’m not stupid, I know what you’re trying to do.”
“You’re not stupid?” Frank raised one eyebrow. “You just made up a story about having a car when that argument is trashed before you can even get it off the ground. You sit there and try to convince us that Lisa Strom, a well known girl in this town, let you- a total stranger- into the house and then came onto you, willingly having sex with you. Yet it is common knowledge in our little town here that Lisa has turned down every guy in her high school that came onto her because she didn’t believe in sex before marriage. A very rare quality in kids these days, I admit, but she had it.”
Clenching his fists, Camble leaned forward on the table and stared down at his restraints. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“If not, then how did you get her blood all over you?” Frank asked.
“I don’t know how her blood got on me.”
“Listen.” Reese flattened both palms on the table as he stood and leaned towards Camble. “I know you’re lying about having a car and not raping Lisa. So it would be in your best interest to start telling the truth, because if you want to convince us that you didn’t kill her and do something with Erika Henson as well, then we need to know you are capable of telling the truth.”
. . .
The feeling of unease had begun to settle in Sam's gut the moment she and Bobby found Lisa Strom's severed head in the alley, intensifying when they discovered Erika Henson was missing. At first she passed it off as the same uneasiness that was affecting the entire force by now. But now, alone in her house, staring out the window at the street and the dreary afternoon – she realized it was a different kind of unease. Why it was coming on her now she didn't know.
This has nothing to do with you. Sam closed her eyes and swallowed a rising lump in her throat. Of course it had nothing to do with her. How could it? But why did it feel like it had everything to do with her? Lisa's murder, Erika's disappearance...why did it feel so personal? The case was solved, Camble was in custody. Baker and Watson were interrogating him at this moment. Yet to Sam, it felt like this was just the beginning.
She left the window and went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of hot cocoa. Back in the living room, she sat on the sofa, drawing her feet up under her thick robe. She turned on the television but barely noticed what was playing as she sipped at her cocoa, her eyes distant. She thought about Nate and wished she could pick up the phone and call him. He would understand her anxiety. He was the only one who could really understand. She remembered that day on campus six years ago when Nate had seemed to appear out of nowhere and walked up to her. It had been twelve years since they'd been separated by the state and put into foster care, but she knew him on sight. He had taken her in his arms and hugged her. There hadn't been any discomfort or awkwardness between them. It was as if they had been together the whole time.
A tightness squeezed her chest. She blinked at the sudden tears. Nate had come back to her when she'd needed him the most. It had only been a couple months since her adoptive parents had been killed in that car accident. Parents she had come to love and adore as if they had been her own flesh and blood. And just as their deaths had threatened to shatter her world, Conner had walked out on her, no warning, no indication that anything between them was wrong. Just gone, with only a note left behind to tell her they were through, that he didn't love her anymore and had met someone else. She had been barely holding it together when Nate had appeared like her guardian angel come to rescue her.
From that moment on, Nate had been her rock, her place of refuge. Regardless of what he was doing, he would drop everything and come to her aid if she needed him. But she knew that one day she would have to learn to stand on her own. She didn't want this to be the day, she wanted Nate's comfort and assurance. She didn't want to have to be strong, not right now. But Nate had a life too, and it wasn't fair to ask him to simply drop it and come running because her nerves were shaken up.
The past for her was a frightening place. And when something came up that awakened her demons, her first impulse was to run to Nate. Though he never complained, and even seemed glad that she turned to him, she still felt guilty for disrupting his life because she couldn't handle her own.
Samantha cradled the warm cup in her palms as she gazed at the television screen blankly. Somehow, she would deal with this on her own. She wouldn't call Nate. Not this time. It wasn't right for her to constantly remind him of their horrific past when he was trying to move on. She needed to move on as well. And that first step had to be taken on her own, without Nate's help.
. . .
Martin Camble stared at the two cops with defiance in his eyes. They were trying to trick him, deceive him. “I didn't kill her.” He insisted for what seemed to be the thousandth time. He looked from the chief to the Lieutenant. Both men despised him, it was in their eyes. They wanted to crush him like the insect they saw him to be.
“If not you.” The Lieutenant asked with a cool tone. “Then who?”
Martin hated the Lieutenant most of all. The man was tall and muscular, intimidating. And he had a way of looking into Martin's soul. He couldn't lie to these men because they had been trained to spot a lie a mile away.
“Okay, you win.” Martin snapped. “I don't have a car.”
“And Lisa?” The Lieutenant pressed.
Martin wanted nothing more than to tell the man to go to hell. But he was in a serious situation here, with incriminating evidence stacked against him. He wasn't waking out this free and clear, any way he sliced it. He would rather be convicted of rape than go down on a murder rap. And if he played it just right, he could get off with just rape.
“I did it, okay.” He forced the words out. “I raped her.” He looked hard at the two men. “But I didn't kill her.”
“So tell us.” The Lieutenant suggested, resting on the edge of the table. “What did happen that night at the Henson residence?”
. . .
. . .
It was dark in the dream. A layer of fog covered the ground. Sam stood before the house. Though lost in darkness and fog, she could sense the woods all around her. She'd been here before in her dreams. She'd been coming here in her dreams for over two decades. She climbed the porch steps. The old boards creaked beneath her feet. Grass and weeds grew up between the boards of the porch and briers crept over the porch railing as if to take possession of the house itself.
She approached the door and stopped. There was something dark in this house. It lurked like a childhood monster will lurk in the closet or under the bed. But this monster wasn't imaginary and it didn't look like a monster. Somehow she knew this even though she'd never seen it. And yet, she sensed that she had seen it but she just hadn't known it was the monster. It hid behind the face of a man, and it hid very well.
He's in there, a voice whispered in her head. Knock on the door and see who answers. Sam curled her hand into a fist and raised it, but it hesitated in mid air. In some locked room deep inside her, she knew who the monster was. But if she faced it head on, she could never lock it away again. As her hand wavered in the air, she heard the doorbell ring. She frowned and stared at the door. It didn't even have a doorbell. It rang again. And even though she hadn't knocked or rang the non-existent doorbell...the door began to creep open.
I don't want to know who it is. Please, God, I don't want to know. But she couldn't look away as a figure slowly appeared behind the door in the darkness of the house. Just as the figure began to step forward – the doorbell rang again.
Sam awoke from the dream with a start. She sat forward on the sofa, her heart pounding. The doorbell rang again and she realized it had been coming from outside her dream the whole time.
“Sykes, you in there?” Bobby's muffled voice called from the other side of her front door.
Sam fixed her robe and went to the door, pulling it open. “Hey, Dean.” She offered with sleep still in her voice. “What's up?”
“Wow. You look awful.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.” Sam said dryly then stepped back. “Come in.”
“Here, I thought you might need these.” Bobby thrust a box into her hands and stepped inside. “Jeez, it's dreary in here. What're you – a closet vampire?”
“Ha ha.” Samantha looked at the box. The words The Koppe Shoppe were written on top in bold red letters outlined in black. She opened the lid to find a half dozen glazed donuts. She shook her head. “You brought me donuts, how cliché.”
“Well, you know.” Bobby said wryly. “We want to keep up our image.”
Sam went back into the living room and set the box of donuts on the coffee table next to her half cup of cold cocoa. “So why are you really here? On your day off, no less?”
Plopping down on the sofa, Bobby propped his feet on the coffee table. “Just thought I'd check on you.” he said. “You haven't looked so well these last few days.” He leaned forward and rummaged in the box, taking out a donut and biting a chunk from it. “So...how are you doing?”
Samantha licked her lips and shrugged. “Fine.”
“Fine.” Bobby devoured the rest of the donut and reached for another. “You want to talk about it?”
Snatching the box of donuts away from her partner, Sam raised an eyebrow. “I thought these were for me.”
“Yeah, well, something tells me that this box started out as a full dozen.”
“So I got hungry on the way over.” Bobby grinned.
“Six donuts in three blocks?”
“I'm a growing boy.” He said.
Samantha laughed softly. “You're gonna be a growing boy, all right. You keep scarfing down donuts. You'll be growing right out of that uniform.”
“Good point.” Bobby grinned, then asked seriously, “So you going to tell me what's wrong? I mean, besides the obvious.”
“Seeing a young girl's severed head laying in a puddle of dirty water...”
“Oh.” Samantha nodded.
Dropping his feet to the floor, Bobby leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “Something has got you upset, Sam.” He said quietly. “Something other than this case. You know you can talk to me.”
. . .
The prisoner leaned forward and splayed his hands on the table. Reese watched his fingers slowly curl into tight fists then spread back out again as he told Reese and Frank how he had initially approached the Henson home. As both men had suspected, Lisa hadn’t let him in. Nor had she been in favor of sex.
Martin Camble explained how he had forced himself on the young girl. He hesitated, staring at the table.
“And then what?” Frank pressed.
Camble shrugged. “I don’t know. Everything went black all of the sudden and I don’t remember anything until the officer woke me up in the bedroom with a gun in my face.” He raised his eyes. “I’m guessing someone hit me from behind or something, then framed me.”
“And who would want to do that?”
“Look.” Camble bit back fiercely. “You wanted the truth, and I gave it to you. Why the hell would I hang around if I killed her?”
“I don’t know.” Reese said. “But then again, anyone sick enough to do what was done to Lisa isn’t exactly predictable.”
Camble slapped the table with both palms and lunged to his feet. “I didn’t kill her!”
“You just calm yourself down, son.” Frank said slowly, his deep voice sporting an edge of warning.
Camble dropped back into his chair. “I want a lawyer.”
“I think that would be a good idea.” Reese said. “Because even if we buy your story- which is doubtful- there’s no guarantee the D.A. will. And right now there are two sets of parents out there screaming for blood. Your blood. And as it stands, they have every reason to think you are their man.”
. . .
“Bobby, I…” Samantha sighed and smiled. “I appreciate your concern. But you were right, it’s just anxiety.” She shrugged. “Who knows, maybe Lynch is right when he says I’m not cut out for this line of work.”
“To hell with Lynch.” Bobby was on his feet. “Lynch is a jackass who should have never been allowed on this or any other force. You are ten times the cop he is. A hundred times.” He moved closer. “Now tell me, what’s wrong?”
Hugging herself, Samantha went to the window and parted the curtains slightly. “Bobby, it’s just…” She turned and faced him. “I don’t know, old ghosts rearing their ugly heads, I guess.”
“These recent events bring back memories of when your parents were killed?”
Samantha nodded. “Yeah, something like that.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Bobby asked. “You never did tell me exactly what happened to them.”
The images of the past rushed through Samantha’s head like a flash flood and a dizziness overwhelmed her. She shook her head. “Not today, Bobby. Sometime, I promise.”
“Sure.” Bobby said. “Now get some rest and relax. And make sure you eat at least two of those donuts. They do wonders for a cop’s system.”
Samantha laughed. “I’ll be sure and do that.”
“See that you do, Sykes.”
When Bobby was gone, Samantha locked the front door and returned to the living room. She stared at the box of donuts and smiled. Carrying it with her, she climbed the stairs, eating one donut along the way. By the time she reached her bedroom, she’d concluded that Bobby was right about the donuts- she was already beginning to feel better.
. . .
“So what do you think?” Frank watched his friend closely. Reese Baker remained seated at the table though Camble had been taken back to his cell.
Reese shook his head and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know.” He said. “I want to say this guy is guilty as hell and I’m positive we got our man.” He shook his head again. “But I just don’t know, Frank. Something about all this just doesn’t boat well, even though all the evidence points directly at Camble.”
“There may be more to it.” Frank admitted. “But I got a bad feeling about this guy. And I’m betting that if we dig a little into his past, we will strike gold. In my opinion, he’s a clever professional who deliberately makes himself out to look dumb.”
Leaving the table, Reese paced the room. “It doesn’t make sense. Why would he leave the house and take Lisa’s head to the alleyway, stash Erika somewhere, and then go back to the Henson’s and wait for the cops?”
“I don’t know.” Frank said. “But then again, this could be a game. He gives us a little of the truth and denies the rest. This makes him look less guilty than if he denies it all. I’ve seen these games before, Reese, and so have you. I’m telling you, Camble is trying to play us.”
. . .
The cell was small, cramped. Martin shifted on the hard cot and stared up at the gay ceiling. He thought about Lisa Strom. As good as she'd felt, she wasn't worth this. It hadn't been his intention to do time for his little encounter with the teenager. Catching the murder wrap had certainly not been his plans. In fact, he'd planned on being counties, possibly states away by now.
And the mother and daughter he'd engaged with a few towns back...if they came into play, that would be all she wrote. Had he inadvertently said or did something to incriminate himself there as well? Cops were sneaky, conniving bastards. Had they tricked him somehow without him even realizing it? If his past indiscretions were brought into this, he could go away for a long time.
Martin swore and sat up. He rubbed his face fiercely. He'd really fucked himself this time. Good and hard.
. . .
Though Frank was the investigating officer and he seemed certain Camble was their man, Reese couldn't shake the feeling they were missing something. There was no doubt Martin Camble deserved to be behind bars. Whether or not he had killed Lisa, the sick son of a bitch raped her. And there was something in Camble's eyes that convinced Reese that Camble enjoyed hurting the women he raped, causing them more harm than necessary. Men like that got most of their sexual charge from the pain they inflicted far more than from the sex act itself. The thought of that filthy bastard violating Lisa Strom that way made Reese want to walk back into his cell and blow his worthless head off. At this point, he was at least partially convinced he could really do it.
Massaging his temples, Reese leaned back and stared at the ceiling of his office. He should go home, he knew this. But the emptiness inside his house was more than he could take right now. Though he hadn't lived here in Walden when he still had Cynthia and Jason in his life, he still found himself expecting to see one of them each time he entered a room. After all this time, he still expected to see them. Cynthia's betrayal had left him feeling empty, but it was losing Jason that had put the hole inside him. Because Jason wasn't just a few hundred miles away, happily growing up without his father. Jason was in the cold ground, forever beyond Reese's touch.
Maybe he was unfair in blaming Cynthia for their son's death, for it had destroyed her as well. But Reese found it impossible to separate his wife leaving him for another man and their son's death. She had been the one who had taken Jason and left, moving to San Francisco to live with her lover. Where was she the day Jason was snatched off the front steps of their apartment building? Inside screwing the other man? Reese had posed these questions to her face at Jason's funeral. And it had taken every ounce of his will not to choke her on the spot. Her tears had meant nothing to him. He felt no sympathy for her. All he could see was that she had inadvertently caused Jason's death and taken away the only meaning to Reese's life. And he had hated her for that. Desperately hated her.
As before, he waited for that old resentment to rise. But again, it was nowhere to be found. Did that mean he had forgiven Cynthia? He didn't know. Thoughts of her now brought no emotions at all. Maybe that was what forgiveness truly was – just not giving a damn anymore. Hating his ex-wife didn't make his son any less dead. And deep down, he knew Cynthia blamed herself as well. She may have been a piss poor wife, but as a mother, she would have never deliberately put Jason in harm's way. Maybe it was that understanding that brought him the place where he no longer wallowed in hate and resentment towards her. Or maybe he just had nothing left. Too hollow inside to even hate her.
This case was wearing him down fast, digging up painful memories of when Jason had first went missing. He longed for comfort, just a shred of peace. Reese looked at the phone on his desk and a sudden, unbidden urge to call Samantha Sykes overwhelmed him. He actually reached for the phone before he realized what he was doing. He drew his hand back. What the hell was wrong with him? Call Samantha? And tell her what? That this case was fucking him up and he desperately needed to make love to her to calm his nerves? He could see that floating like a ton of bricks.
He aborted the insane notion of the phone call. He leaned back in his chair again and stared at the ceiling. He should go home. But the thought of going home alone depressed him.
. . .
The thick bubbles and hot water soothed Samantha's senses as she sank lower in the tub. The tension in her mind was making her whole body ache. Just as she was allowing herself to really relax, the phone rang. She ignored it. Let the machine get it. Right now, she didn't think she could move even if she'd wanted to. She closed her eyes and envisioned the hot water seeping into her tense muscles, massaging away the stress. As she lay there that way, eyes closed, the soothing touch of the water slowly transformed into the caressing fingers of a skillful lover.
A smile tugged at her lips and a low moan rose in her throat. She hadn't felt a man's touch since Conner had left her. Though it had been years and her body ached to be touched again, thoughts of a relationship filled her with anxiety and brought to mind the intense pain she'd felt when Conner had walked out on her so suddenly. But right now, she let her mind go as she imagined strong yet gentle fingertips moving over her skin. Soft kisses dropping along her jaw line, down her throat. She moaned softly and looked into the face of her imaginary lover, ran her fingers through his dark wavy hair and began to get lost in his probing hazel eyes-
Samantha sat forward suddenly, her pulse erratic. She gripped the edge of the tub, splashing bubbles onto the floor. She had just transformed her imaginary lover into Reese Baker. She leaned back slowly and rested her head on the tub, gazing up at the ceiling. Why would she do that? Admittedly, there were the occasional moments when she thought she saw something in her boss' eyes when he looked at her. But the moments were rare, and she was never really certain she had seen anything at all. And as far as how she felt about him...
The thought lingered, unfulfilled. How did she feel about him? She'd never really let herself think about it one way or the other. He was her boss, and that's the only way she'd ever saw him. Wasn't it? She remembered the other morning in his office. That something she thought she'd seen in his eyes. She had been convinced she'd imagined it, but she also remembered the sudden urge on her way out of his office to turn and search for it again in his eyes. What had spurred her to look again?
“What're you doing?” She whispered aloud. “Don't even go there.” Even if there were some tiny spark of attraction between her and her boss, it was highly unlikely either of them would ever be willing to fully explore it. She'd lost enough people she cared for, and she didn't really think she was prepared to set herself up for another such loss. And Reese Baker...Samantha had heard enough about his tortured past to believe the man had suffered too much already, on too many levels, to ever be willing to expose his heart again.
Reese Baker made a suitable fantasy lover, but both her reality and his would never allow them to touch in the real world. “Once bitten, twice shy.” She whispered with a sliver of regret in her voice, then finally left the tub and pulled on a robe to go and check her messages.
. . .
The red light on the answering machine blinked and the digital counter informed Samantha that she had just the one call.
She set a glass of Sunny Delight on the coffee table and punched the play button, then sat down on the sofa and picked up the t.v. remote. Her thumb hesitated over the power button of the remote as dead air played out of the answering machine. She frowned and reached for the stop button on the machine when a voice suddenly drifted eerily out of the black box.
“Wanna play a game, Boo?”
Samantha came up off the sofa, screaming.
. . .
Frank slapped the file down in front of Reese. “There.” His massive chest heaved and his eyes were wide and excited.
Frowning, Reese looked down at the file. His frown deepened as he looked up at the Lieutenant. “This is the Jamison file.”
“It is.” Frank said. “Now tell me if this sounds a bit too coincidental. Tuesday, August twenty-fifth, an unidentified man breaks into the Jamison residence. The mother and teenage daughter are both viciously raped, then killed.” Frank calmed himself enough to sit down. He leaned forward and smacked Reese’s desk. “A little over a day later, the bus rolls into our little town here and dumps off Martin Camble. That very night, Lisa Strom is raped and Erika Henson disappears.”
Rubbing his neck, Reese’s eyes narrowed. “You’re implying that Camble murdered the Jamisons?”
Frank nodded. “There was nearly an entire day lay over for the Greyhound in the same town where the Jamison murders occurred.”
“That could be coincidental.”
Leaning back, Frank raised one eyebrow. “Would it also be coincidental that Camble’s semen was found in both the mother and the daughter?”
“You’re kidding me.”
“I kid you not.” Frank left the chair. “Avery is on his way over to start building his case.”
Reese stood. “If Avery is prosecuting, Camble don’t stand a chance.”
Frank’s eyes darkened. “He’s going to fry.” He said. “If there is any mercy on high.”
. . .
. . .
She could feel Bobby’s eyes on her from behind the wheel of the squad car. “Why do you keep looking at me, Dean?”
“Are you okay?” Bobby asked.
“Don’t I look okay?”
“No.” He said. “You don’t look okay at all.”
Samantha sighed and looked out the passenger window. She felt numb except for the pulsing in her head. Was she going crazy?
“You want to tell me what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Samantha knew it was futile to lie to Bobby, but what could she tell him? That last night a dead man left a message on her machine and this morning it was gone?
Bobby shifted in his seat as he waited for the light to turn green. “You’re full of it, Sykes.”
“That may be true.” Samantha admitted. “But I really don’t feel like talking right now, okay?”
“That’s all you had to say.”
The light changed and Bobby urged the cruiser through the intersection. At the next corner, he turned right and glanced at the bar where he and Samantha first met Martin Camble.
“If we’d just taken him in that day,” Bobby said, “Lisa would still be alive and Erika wouldn’t be missing.”
“We had nothing on him.” Samantha said absently. Martin Camble was the furthest thing from her mind right now.
“We could have thought of something.”
“Come on now, Bobby.” Samantha looked at her partner. “Don’t start blaming yourself.” She dropped her eyes to her hands and slid the fingertips of her left hand over her right palm. The scars were still prominent. “Believe me, you can’t live your life blaming yourself for something you had no control over.”
She felt Bobby glance at her hands. Anyone who had ever looked close enough to see the scars had wondered about them, but no one had ever asked. Not even Bobby. Perhaps it was her swiftness in hiding them when she realized someone was looking that kept them silent. Bobby wouldn’t ask. He would wait for her to tell him on her own. Maybe one day she would.
“I just hate it that we had him within reach and we let him go.” Bobby said. “I can’t get the faces of Gloria and Paul Strom out of my mind. Or even those of Erika’s parents. Those people are going through hell because we didn’t move quick enough.”
“Bobby…don’t do this.”
Bobby shook his head as his face tightened. “I guess we can be thankful he’s behind bars now. At least he won’t do this to anyone else.”
If he did it at all, Samantha thought sickly.
. . .
When Mikey didn’t come bursting through the back door at precisely five o’clock like every other day, Kate Weller felt her world begin to fall apart, dropping away piece by piece like a huge brick building slowly crumbling from the top down.
Forcing down her swelling panic, she dialed Jake Davis’ mother. Jake and Mikey always walked home together after baseball practice. The park was only two blocks away and both boys, though only eight, were wary of strangers. Friends of both their families lived along the two blocks, and all the parents watched out for each other’s kids. And had Kate not just attended the funeral of Lisa Strom, staring sickly at the bewildered, horrified faces of the Strom’s and the Henson’s for a good hour, then she might not have panicked so quickly when Mikey didn’t come through the door exactly when she thought he should have. But she had been there, and she’d seen what it did to parents to lose their children.
Kate listened to the Davis' phone ringing in her ear. Please, let Mikey answer. It wasn’t uncommon for her son to answer the phone if he was at Jake’s, just as Jake had been known to answer the Weller’s phone. The boys often raced each other to see who would answer it first.
Kate’s bubble of hope deflated suddenly. “Hi, Maggie.” She said as cheery as possible. “This is Kate. Is Mikey there? I thought I told him to come straight home but he might have misunderstood-”
“Mikey isn’t here, Kate.” Maggie Davis said. “But let me get Jake, he would know where he might go.”
The clanking of the phone as Maggie set it on the counter echoed through Kate’s head. Mikey wouldn’t go anywhere but home. She had always stressed to him the importance of not going off alone. And especially now, after what happened to Lisa and Erika. Both boys had known Erika, and her disappearance had freaked them out.
In the background, Kate heard Jake’s voice as he told his mother that Mikey had went home. Tears burned Kate’s eyes when she heard the fear in the young boy’s words that asked Maggie Davis if Mikey had disappeared like Erika.
There was a new controlled tone to Maggie’s voice when she came back on the line. “Jake said that Mikey went home.”
Kate forced herself to keep the panic out of her voice. “Maybe he’s playing in the alleyway.”
“I’m sure he’s okay, Kate.” Maggie said, but Kate could hear the stark fear creeping into her voice.
“Yeah, I’m sure you’re right.” Kate wasn’t anymore convincing than Maggie had been.
When Kate opened the back door, she prayed to see Mikey coming through the gate. But the gate was closed. Even as she walked towards the gate, she knew Mikey wasn’t out there. Her fears were confirmed when she stepped through the gate.
The alleyway was little more than an old road that was now grown over with grass and weeds. Tall, thick shrubbery grew along both sides down to where the road emptied onto Birch Street. There were no houses on this end of Birch and the street led out of town. How hard would it be for someone to be waiting back here to snatch a kid and disappear? She had never worried about it because Mikey and Jake didn’t part company until they came to this road. And it was only a few yards from the sidewalk down the road to their back gate.
The sight of Mikey’s blue baseball cap lying in the center of the alley next to his discarded scuffed baseball wrenched an anguished wail from Kate Weller.
. . .
Little Michael Weller was gone, disappeared into thin air just like Erika Henson. Yet Martin Camble was locked up tight. The iron clad case they had against Camble just disintegrated. Unless this turned out to be a strange coincidence. But it wasn't and Reese knew it. Frank knew it too The Lieutenant was in the alley road behind the Weller residence now and even from a short distance away, Reese could see the tension gripping the man. If Camble was telling the truth and he had raped Lisa but not murdered her or taken Erika, then they were back to square one. And they still had a killer and child abductor running loose in their town.
Reese's attention shifted from Watson to the street at the end of the alley road. Samantha Sykes was leaning against the front of her cruiser. Even from where he stood, Reese could see that the woman was terrified. Her arms curled tightly around her slender waist and her face was drawn and pale. Sykes was a good cop; level headed and strong minded. Her reactions to this case were uncharacteristic for her. It seemed to be breaking her down, and it was more than just the carnage they had witnessed. Anyone with an ounce of decency would have had a bad reaction to that. But this was different; she was really scared.
Regardless of how he felt about her, she was still one of his officers and if he could clearly see something was wrong, it was his obligation to get to the root of the matter. He took a step in her direction when Bobby Dean crossed his line of sight and approached her. Dean and Sykes were good friends as well as partners. Perhaps Dean could talk to her. Perhaps Reese wouldn’t have to.
. . .
“You okay, Sykes?”
Samantha flinched and tried to force herself to appear visibly relaxed, but she knew Dean wasn’t buying it. “Yeah, fine.” She untangled her arms from around herself and stood straight, letting her eyes travel slowly over the crime scene. She didn’t want to meet Dean’s eyes. She knew what he would see in hers. He was her partner, and he didn’t need to know his partner, his backup, his very lifeline at times - was terrified.
“This feels wrong.” Samantha whispered more to herself than to Dean. “Something isn't right.”
“People are dying.” Dean said with a soft tone. “And children are disappearing. Nothing about that can feel right.”
Samantha took a deep breath and released it slowly. “You’re right.” She stepped away from the squad car and swayed unsteadily as a wave of dizziness swept over her. She grabbed the hood of the car to steady herself. Her heart began to race, her pulse pounding violently.
“Sam?” Bobby stepped towards her. “Sam, what's wrong?”
Samantha sat back on the hood of the car, slightly bent over. “I can't...” She gasped, her heart pounding so hard she couldn't catch her breath. “I can't...breathe.” Sam's hands flattened against the hood. “I can't...” Blackness pressed the edge of her vision.
“Sam!” Bobby grabbed her arm and steadied her as her knees weakened.
Baker was suddenly there, grabbing Sam's other arm. “You're okay.” Baker assured her. “You're just having a panic attack. Bend over and breathe deeply.”
Sam did as he instructed. At first, the dizziness increased and she was certain she would pass out, but then her vision cleared and her pulse began to level out. A few more deep breaths and she slowly straightened up.
“You okay?” Bobby asked with concern. “I thought you were gonna pass out. You turned white as a sheet.”
“I'm...” Sam glanced briefly at Baker who still had a hold of her arm, then looked away, embarrassed. “I'm fine now.”
As if suddenly realizing he was still touching her, Baker released her arm.
Sam couldn't bring herself to meet Baker's eyes. “I'm sorry.” She said softly. “I feel like an idiot.”
“Don't.” Baker said. “It can happen to anyone. This is a bad situation and it takes its toll.” He looked at Bobby. “Take Officer Sykes home.”
“No.” Sam protested. “I'm fine. I can stay.”
Baker looked at her, though she continued to avert her eyes. “There isn't much left to do here tonight. Go home. Get a good night's rest.” He paused briefly, then added without much conviction, “That's an order.”
Sam met his stare momentarily. His hazel eyes grabbed hers and held them fiercely for a fraction of a second then released her as she said quietly, “Yes, sir.”
Baker nodded and walked away. Once more, Sam's pulse raced erratically as she watched her boss head back towards the Weller home. But this time it wasn't a relapse of the panic attack. It was an attack of a whole different nature.
. . .
The squad car idled in front of Samantha's house.
“You gonna be okay alone tonight?” Bobby asked as Sam made no move to get out of the car. “If you want, I could keep you company. We could stay up late, watch movies, eat lots of donuts.” Bobby flashed her a grin.
Samantha smiled . “You have a wife to get home to, Bobby Dean. I don't think she'd like it if you spent the night with your female partner.”
Bobby shrugged. “She'd understand.”
And the thing was, Sam knew it was true. Bobby was married to an amazing woman and she would understand one hundred percent why Bobby would offer to stay over and keep Sam company.
“I know she would.” Sam said. “But there's no reason for you to stay. I'm fine.”
“So you keep telling me.”
“You don't believe me?” Sam asked.
“Not particularly.” Bobby said. “In fact, I think you are about as far from fine as Samantha Sykes can get.” Bobby sighed. “You're gonna have to talk about it eventually, or it's gonna tear you apart.”
Sam glanced out the passenger window of the squad car. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Besides this whole secret past of yours,” Bobby said, “I'm talking about this thing with you and Baker.”
Sam's head snapped around. “Excuse me? What thing?”
Bobby shook his head. “Come on, Sam. I'm not blind. Why not just admit you've got it bad for the boss man?” Bobby shrugged. “Lord knows, he's got it bad for you.”
Sam popped the door latch . “Bobby Dean, you're out of your mind.” She shoved the door open and climbed out.
Bobby leaned across the passenger seat. “At least admit it to yourself, Sykes.”
“Good night, Officer Dean.” Samantha said and closed the door on him.
. . .
“There's no evidence to suggest your son is dead, Ms. Weller.” To Reese, his own words were bitter to the taste, and the tone in his voice brought back chilling memories. He understood too well the tone an officer adopted in hopes of easing a parent's fears. But he'd come to realize that the tone itself created cause to worry.
Kate Weller hugged herself fiercely as the stress and tension building inside her showed visibly on her face. “But it's the same person...who took Erika and...” Fresh tears slid down her face. “Isn't it? I-I mean, it can't be coincidence...can it?” Her last question was posed with a tiny shred of hope. She didn't want to believe her only son was taken by the monster who had so violated and mutilated Lisa Strom.
Reese sighed and glanced down at the notepad in his hands where he'd jotted down a flurry of statements and possible clues, anything that might be of importance, even things that didn't seem to be important at the moment. But it seemed to be little more than useless scribbling to him. There was nothing there that would tell him who had taken Michael Weller or Erika Henson. It was as if the children had vanished into thin air. Gone without a trace.
“Nothing is conclusive at this point.” Was all Reese could offer the distraught mother. His words were empty and did nothing to alleviate Kate Weller's fears, this he knew from personal experience. It seemed like just yesterday he was standing in her place listening to empty consolations being thrust at him, strangers doing their level best to give him a shred of hope when there was nothing left to hope for.
Desperation darkened Kate's eyes. “Is that all you can say? Nothing is conclusive? Shouldn't...” She swallowed thickly and her wide eyes darted around anxiously as if in hopes of spotting her child. “Shouldn't you call the FBI? Don't they handle these kind of cases? Aren't they better equipped to find missing children?”
She was grasping at straws, struggling to convince herself there was someone somewhere who could find her son and bring him back to her safe and sound. Reese knew all the signs, all the mind games a parent played on themselves to hang onto even a thread of hope of seeing their child alive again. He didn't want to be the one to snap that thread for Kate Weller. He couldn't be the one, not tonight. For one more night, let her embrace hope.
“I'll see what I can do to get them here.” Reese watched as a measure of relief seeped through her. He would have felt guilty for feeding her false hope, but looking back, he would've been eternally grateful had someone offered him that consolation. Even if it had only lasted him one night. Kate Weller's living hell would begin soon enough, Reese was simply providing the calm before the storm.
. . .