...Twenty-Two Years Before...
The agent sat in the chair opposite the young boy. There was something in the boy's eyes that convinced the agent that the kid was wise beyond his ten years, but at the moment, he looked younger, fragile, frightened. The kid was nervous and restless, his eyes jumped to window of the office every few minutes. In an adjoining office, he could see the little girl sitting with a female officer. The girl's head was ducked down and she wasn't talking much. She held her small hands in her lap. They were wrapped in bandages.
“Is-is she okay?” The boy shuddered. Tears swelled in his eyes and streamed down his face.
“She's going to be fine.” The agent assured. He studied the boy's face. “I know you already talked to the police, but could you tell me what happened?”
The boy continued to watch the little girl. “She's scared.” His young voice quavered. “She needs me.”
“She's safe.” The agent said softly. “She can see you, she knows you're close by.” He reached out and gently turned the boy's face back to him. “I need you to focus and tell me what happened.”
The boy shook his head slowly as fresh tears spilled over. “I-I don't want to right now.”
“Listen.” The agent spoke gently, without forcefulness. “The sooner you talk about it, the more likely what you remember will be correct. If you wait, sometimes the memories get jumbled and you don't always remember things exactly as they happened. If you talk to me now, we have a better chance of catching whoever did this to your family.”
The boy sucked in a shaky breath and nodded. “O-okay.”
“Great.” The agent smiled. “Now...just tell me what you remember.”
The boy swallowed thickly and a look of deep fear crept into his eyes. “I was asleep. A sound woke me up.” He hesitated.
“What sound?” The agent asked. “What did you hear?”
The boy raised his eyes and met the agent's gaze. “Someone...was screaming.”
“Who was screaming, son?”
More tears filled his eyes again. “My little sister.” He whispered unsteadily.
“What did you do?”
He looked down. “I went to my mom and dad's bedroom.”
“What did you find?”
“My dad.” The boy whispered. “He was in bed.”
The boy trembled. His small hands lay flat on the table. “I-I thought he was sleeping. I tried to wake him up but...I saw blood...on his neck.” He shuddered. “He was...dead.” The swollen tears spilled over.
The agent stared at the boy's hands then covered them with his own. “I'm sorry, son.” He spoke low and soft. He waited a few minutes to give the boy a chance to calm, then asked, “What did you do next?”
“I-I heard my little sister crying for our mom.” He said quietly. “I found her in the living room...hugging our mom.”
“And your mom...”
The boy choked on his tears. “She was dead. There was...blood all over her.”
“Did you see who did it?”
The boy nodded slowly, more tears forming. “He was...standing in the doorway.” A sob broke his voice.
“Did he say anything?” The agent asked softly.
The boy nodded again. “H-He said...they didn't obey the rules.”
The agent frowned. “What rules?”
“I-I don't know.” The boy choked.
“What did he do after he said that?”
The boy sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “He left.”
“He didn't threaten you or your sister?”
The boy shook his head. “No.”
“Did you see his face?”
“No.” The boy quavered. “It was dark, where he was standing.” He looked at the little girl again.
The agent drew his hands off the boy's hands. They were still flat on the table, relaxed. He looked at the boy's face. Though wet with tears, there didn't seem to be much actual tension there. That was odd. Very odd, in fact. The agent glanced into the other office where the little girl sat with the female officer. “What happened to your sister's hands?”
The boy looked at the little girl through the window. “She...tried to take the knife out of...out of our mom...but it was stuck.”
The agent studied the boy. He'd spoke the words without much emotion. Again – very odd. The boy's eyes continued to rest on the little girl in the next room. But the agent was beginning to wonder if he was watching her out of concern...or if he was afraid she was going to say something she shouldn't. What the hell had really happened in that house?
What are you not telling me, kid?
The dead girl
. . .
Of all God's creatures, it was a common belief that human beings were the most intelligent and wise. They were blessed with free will, the freedom to choose their paths in life, to love who they choose, to even worship whomever or whatever fit their preference. They possessed the ability to create and invent. The human brain was the most awesome, complex “computer” in existence. From the moment of birth, or sooner, it began to record every sight, sound, touch, taste – everything a person encountered – and it didn't stop until death. The human being was, indeed, God's most magnificent creation. What went wrong?
Hunched over his desk, Reese Baker contemplated the question as he slowly picked through the Jamison file. The images that stared back at him were images one would expect to find in a horror movie...not in the real world where human beings had been created in the image of God. Created to love and protect one another, to cherish life, to preserve it at all costs. Nausea pinched his guts and he turned the crime scene photos face down. He had never wanted to become jaded towards his fellow man, he didn't want that bitterness to take root in his soul and spread outward until all he saw wherever he looked was the ugly, horrific side of mankind. But the file before him took him one step closer to becoming all that he didn't want to be.
The file had arrived that morning from the Rolly Chief of Police, Dan Wagner, but Reese had known what was in it before opening it. He knew because he'd been there, stood amidst the atrocity. He'd received the call from Chief Wagner at almost midnight two nights ago. Wagner had requested the Walden Police department's aid in the case. This wasn't uncommon. Rolly was a small town, even smaller than Walden. In fact most of the towns in the surrounding area were quite small and often aided one another in the rare but inevitable violent crime cases. Early yesterday morning, Reese had gathered a few select officers and went to Rolly. The crime scene was untouched, even the bodies were still in place. Wagner had ordered that nothing be touched until Reese and his officers arrived. The fresher the eyes, Wagner deduced, the more likely a missed clue would be discovered.
Reese and his officers had stood in the middle of the slaughter, trying to overcome their horror as they worked the scene. But how does one not see something like that, even when you're trying not to look?
Shoving the file away from him as if to disassociate himself from the horror inside, Reese leaned back in his chair and pressed his palms into his eyes, rubbing fiercely. How in the hell could someone just walk in off the street and attack a family at random like some rabid animal? It made no sense. No damn sense whatsoever. But these days, human beings rarely made sense to Reese.
Sighing, he leaned forward again and stared at the closed file. Although concealed, he could still see the photos, the brutality they revealed, the innocence stolen and crushed. He squeezed his eyes shut, but he couldn't dispel the images. They brought back memories he would just as soon live without. Memories, he found, that he could not live with. His gaze shifted to the only picture on his desk; a five year old boy with big dark eyes exploding with life, wavy brown hair and the biggest, brightest smile stretched across his face. Reese blinked rapidly at the tears that were suddenly there, burning his eyes. It had only been a couple months since he was able to put the framed picture of Jason back on his desk. Even now, it still hurt to look at his smiling face so filled with life. A life that had been both violently and prematurely snuffed out.
His attention returned to the file before him. There were days, like today, like so many days anymore, that he hated being a cop. Why would anyone choose this job? To protect and serve? Protect who? Serve who? It seemed the only ones who benefit from the law were the criminals. So many damned loop holes in the justice system that it was basically pointless to even make an arrest anymore. When Jason died, he should have just dumped this job and found himself a cabin in the mountains. Live out the rest of his life with the creatures of God that still made sense to him, that didn't destroy one another for the pure sadistic pleasure of it. At least when they took the life of a fellow creature, they had good cause. Reese longed for peace of mind, just one moment. But it never came. At work or at home, the tension resided. He wondered how long it would take before he just shut down altogether.
He looked from the file to the door. The blinds were closed on the windows of his office and the door. An issue had to be addressed and he wasn't looking forward to it. He convinced himself that this particular stress arose from the reality that it wouldn't be long before Officer Lynch was running his mouth and attacking yesterday's incident with Officer Samantha Sykes. But Reese wasn't entirely ignorant of the defensiveness that surfaced in him when Samantha Sykes was criticized. If she hadn't been doing her job properly, he would be the first to confront her about it. But she was a good cop, and Arnie's criticism stemmed from male chauvinism and nothing more.
As if his thoughts had somehow willed it, a sudden commotion broke loose in the outer office. Reese left his desk and went to the door. What he discovered on the other side of that door made him wonder if the whole world had finally, officially, gone stark raving mad.
. . .
Bobby Dean was often flabbergasted by how gullible and naïve he could be at the times in his life when he should be the most alert and suspicious. Like a fool, he had allowed Lynch to deceive him. When the other officer hadn't pounced on him the second Bobby had entered the station should have raised a red flag rather than suggested Lynch had summoned up a shred of sympathy for Sykes. Because just as leopards don't change their spots, neither do assholes lose their rankness.
Other than a polite - “Good morning” - Lynch hadn't said a word to Bobby since he'd arrived. He appeared oblivious to Bobby and yesterday's occurrence. But the trouble started the moment Samantha Sykes entered. Lynch rattled the newspaper he was quietly reading when Samantha walked by. “Catch the headlines this morning?” He said without looking up. Bobby felt his gut tighten as Sam hesitated then moved past Lynch without replying. Lynch smirked. “'Rookie cop loses lunch all over crime scene. Evidence ruined.'”
Bobby was on his feet. “Shut the hell up, Lynch, or I'll shut you up.”
The newspaper hit the desktop as Lynch bolted out of his chair. “If you think you got what it takes, boy, give me your best shot.”
“Bobby, ignore him.” Samantha was at his desk, shaking her head and tugging him in the other direction. “He's just a dick. We're all aware of that by now.”
Lynch shot the female officer an icy glare. “Dick?” He said low. “You want to see a dick, little girl, I'll show you a dick.” He grabbed his crotch. “In fact, I'll teach you a thing or two about what a woman is really good for. All a woman is good for.”
“You son of a bitch!” Bobby lunged at the other man, knocking him over his desk and onto the hard tiled floor. His fist was clenched and cocked when a booming voice stopped him mid-strike.
“Lynch! Dean! Knock it off!” Silence engulfed the room as the Chief's voice thundered off the walls. Breathing deep and releasing it slow, Bobby let go of Lynch and stood up. Scowling, Arnie Lynch crawled to his feet and brushed at his uniform. Baker glared at the two men. “What?” He raged. “There isn't enough chaos in this world that you have to add your two cents worth?” He looked hard at Bobby. “You control yourself.”
Bobby nodded. “Sorry, Chief.”
“Lynch.” Baker warned. “You had better learn to shut that cake hole of yours and start showing some damn respect or I swear to God in heaven, I will transfer you the hell out of here.” His attention shifted from the two officers to Bobby's partner. “Sykes, I want to see you in my office.”
“Yes, sir.” Sykes said and Bobby didn't miss the anxiety that tightened her face as she moved away from his desk.
. . .
“Sit down, Sykes.”
The chair placed strategically before Baker's desk was cushioned and overlaid with soft leather. The kind of chair folks could relax in. But Samantha was not relaxed. She perched on the edge of the soft leather and fought the nausea rising inside her. She had dreaded this moment, alone in Baker's office, when she finally had to face the music. She'd screwed up, big time. Maybe the others – excluding Lynch – didn't think any less of her as a cop. Perhaps even Baker didn't. But she herself did. What she saw yesterday was part of the job, and if someone can't handle that part, then that someone shouldn't be a cop.
Baker stood at the window, his back to her. His hands clamped his hips and there seemed to be a tension in him as well. Was he searching for the words to tell her she would remain behind a desk from now on? If so, she probably wouldn't stay with the force. She had other aspirations. She used to be a decent writer. If she had to spend her life behind a desk, it would be for reasons other than typing police reports. She wasn't entirely certain for the most part why she became a cop, pinpointing the determining factor was never an easy thing for her. But once in awhile she caught a glimpse of the answer; being a cop made her feel safe, put the law on her side. Samantha needed to feel safe, protected.
“I would like to formally apologize for Officer Lynch.” Baker turned and faced her. His offered apology caught her off guard. She hadn't been expecting it. “One more outburst from him and he'll find himself behind a desk until he can learn to respect his fellow officers.”
Samantha licked her lips nervously but said nothing as the Chief sat down behind his desk. “Now about yesterday.” He picked up a pencil and absently tapped the eraser against the desk top. “Don't beat yourself up over it. What happened doesn't mean you're weak or not cut out for this job. It simply means you're human.” He went silent a moment as he stared distantly at the pencil as it tapped monotonously on the desk. His voice lowered to a near whisper. “It's nice to see someone act human these days.”
There was a tone to his voice that made Samantha think of a man who had lost faith in the goodness of human beings. She had the sudden urge to blurt out that there was still good in the world, in mankind. In the man she was looking at right now. But she kept silent. Whether from respect for her superior or because she was uncertain just what all might come out if she started talking on that line, she wasn't entirely sure.
Baker cleared his throat and straightened a bit in his chair. “Just don't let it eat away at you or you'll end up walking away from a job that agrees with you.” Baker was not a man of many words, but the ones he did say made sense. When he looked up and met her stare, there was something there, behind his hazel eyes. Something that reached out and hit her as surely as if he'd reached across the desk and shoved her with his hand. Her heart raced although she didn't really know why. She tried to speak but her throat was suddenly dry.
Looking away quickly, as if he just realized he'd revealed something he hadn't intended, Baker shifted again in his chair.
“Thank you, sir.” Samantha finally managed.
When Baker looked up again, whatever she'd seen a moment before was gone. Or was it just carefully guarded? Samantha couldn't be certain. In fact, she wasn't certain what, if anything, she had even seen. “Just doing my job.” Baker glanced away and leaned back in his chair. “That's all. On your way out, tell Officer Lynch I want a word with him.”
“Yes, sir.” She stood and went to the door. She could feel Baker's eyes on her back. The compulsion to turn around and search his eyes again was nearly overwhelming but she resisted. What did it matter anyway what was in his eyes? It couldn't have been what it appeared to be.
. . .
The long ride from Fresno and on up through half of Oregon had taken its toll on Martin Camble. When the Greyhound bus lumbered off the two lane road and into the gravel parking lot, Martin roused from a groggy sleep. He scooted up in his seat at the rear of the bus, stretched, winced at the shooting pain in his lower back. Though cushioned, the seats were as hard as wood. He ran his fingers through his shaggy hair and looked out the window.
A few yards away was a small cafe with the words “Koppe Shoppe” painted on the front window in decorative lettering. Next to the cafe, along a wooden wall, was a blue and red tin sign with the Greyhound logo, indicating this was a pickup and drop off sight for the bus.
The intercom crackled and the driver's scratchy voice stuttered down the isle. “We have arrived in Walden. There will be a twenty minute stopover before the departure to Salem. For those unboarding in Walden, your luggage can be collected at the side of the bus. Thank you for traveling Greyhound.” The door swooshed open.
Camble remained in his seat while the other passengers unloaded, then slowly made his way to the front of the bus. The air outside was crisp and cool, a pleasant alternative to the stuffy confines of the bus that wreaked of sweat, perfume and dirty diapers. Camble breathed deep to clear his lungs of the offensive odors he’d been sautéing in since Fresno, then headed towards the café. God, it felt good to be out of the city. And off that damn bus. He was ready to stretch his legs and walk for awhile. Breathe some clean air and possibly find a little action.
He studied the faces of the other passengers as they filed into the small café, but they were old faces to him. Faces he’d been looking at for a good hundred miles or so. He’d hoped that one of the pickups along the route would board a prospective single woman, but lady luck hadn’t been with him. So he’d had to ride the whole trip alone, hoping the next town ahead held something for him. An unexpected breakdown a couple stops back had cost almost an entire day, but in the end had proved fruitful. But the action was quick and unsatisfying, hardly worth engaging in. And it had been risky, but at that point, Martin was desperate to cool the fire raging inside him. The woman had felt nice, but it was the daughter that had made the risk worth taking. Though she was at least sixteen, it was obvious to him that she was still a virgin. He had been able to tell by the way that her body initially resisted him that she was pure and untouched. Well, untouched until Martin got his hands on her. It had been a long time since he’d been with such a rare breed. But the incident was swift and a tad messy. Martin did not like leaving a mess behind him. Messes left clues, and clues could eventually lead to him.
Yeah, he was a twisted bastard. He grinned. He had no qualms admitting what he was. Embracing his own perverted psyche was a good part of what got him charged. He was a sick fuck and he enjoyed it. That look in his victims' eyes that asked - “How can you do something like this?” - it was what he lived for. When they shot him that look, it was like throwing gas on a fire. It was that look that he received double time from the mother and daughter. And it had driven him wild, he'd even lost some of his control. But even that in itself had been super exciting. He didn't often lose control, but when he did – Damn! What a rush.
A cool breeze rustled his shaggy hair. He smiled as he looked around. He could get used to a place like this. So peaceful and quiet. So unsuspecting. His smile stretched into a grin as he glanced at the cafe then back to the bus where the overweight driver was digging out a sports bag for a tall, sandy-haired man. Yeah, maybe he would call this home for awhile. Lay low after the engaging activities with the mother and daughter. Charter his next move. Try to stifle his basic desires for a bit. Folks rarely understood men like him, or sympathize with his needs. But there was no cause for anyone to link that incident with a passenger of this bus. For now, he was secure and he intended to enjoy himself. Although he had to be careful not to enjoy himself too much.
He walked towards the cafe then veered to the left towards the alley that ran between the cafe and an old brick building next door. At the mouth of the alley, a little girl about six or seven bounced a red rubber ball with one hand, a stuffed frog clutched in the other. Blond pigtails tied up in pink ribbons that matched her shirt and jeans, she was quite the cutie. Martin flashed her a winning smile as he walked past. The little girl looked at him with uncertainty, then smiled back.
Martin glanced back as he moved past the child. The voice came from a teenage girl standing at the entrance to the cafe, holding the door open. He looked her over without appearing to do so. He'd learned to size up a woman in a matter of seconds without coming off as creepy.
“Erika, come back inside.” The girl called. She cast Martin a quick glance but didn't seem too alarmed by him since he didn't seem to be taking a special interest in the little girl. The child trotted back to the cafe as Martin continued on his way.
Once he was down the alley and out of sight of the cafe, he reached down and adjusted his crotch as a throbbing ache settled in. Maybe he wouldn't be staying here quite as long as he'd planned.
. . .
“You okay, Chief?” Frank stood in the doorway to Baker's office, the same doorway Arnie Lynch had just exited moments ago, hackles raised but saying nothing.
Reese Baker sat at his desk. A distant look had settled in his eyes. He looked tired, worn down, beaten. At thirty-eight, a man shouldn't be that far gone. But Reese had cause. Far too much. Frank had come to recognize that look in his friend's eyes. Behind it was a private torment that the man rarely felt comfortable talking about. But if he did chose to do so, it would be discussed with Frank Watson.
The Chief's eyes focused as he cleared his throat. “Yeah, fine.”
His answer let Frank know he wasn't ready to talk. And Frank wasn't one to push the matter. Had he been, he and Reese would have never become such close friends. Frank took a seat in the leather cushioned chair in front of Baker's desk. “Arnie didn't look too pleased.”
Reese shook his head as a forced smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. “Not pleased at all. But do I give damn?”
“Not a whit.”
“Not a whit.” The Chief confirmed.
Frank shifted in the chair. “How's Sykes doing?”
A new look threatened to invade Reese's eyes but he consciously resisted. “She believes she compromised her authority.”
“She said that?”
“No.” Baker looked at him. “I could see it in her eyes. She thinks she somehow lost her respect as a cop.”
“Not from us.”
“I know.” He nodded. “Of course, Lynch doesn't help the matter any. Sometimes I really hate that motherfu-” Reese bit off the sentence and shook his head.
“Yeah.” Frank looked at the floor. “That man could try the patience of Job.”
That look crept back into Reese's eyes, but this time he didn't seem to have the will to resist. The torment simmering inside Reese Baker filled Frank with sympathy for the man, but also left him feeling helpless. How do you help a friend get over the loss of a child? Is it even possible? But this current torment in the other man's eyes was of a different nature, Frank was certain of it. And it involved Samantha Sykes. But Frank would not be the one to mention it. Baker was in denial of his feelings for the woman and it was something he had to come to terms with himself before he could talk about it openly. But it would not be easy for Reese. The idea of romance, falling in love...it would surely bring with it memories of his ex-wife and his son. And that was something Reese Baker had worked years to bury, and bury deep. He would not be in a hurry to dig them up anytime soon.
. . .
. . .
“Who’s that?” Bobby asked.
Samantha looked past her partner out the driver side window of the squad car. “Who?”
Bobby nodded towards the Thrift Shop across the street. Standing on the sidewalk, head ducked as he lit a cigarette, was a man Samantha had never seen before. As they watched, he sauntered down the street, glancing absently in the shop windows. He gave no indication that he was aware of them, but Samantha sensed otherwise.
His shaggy hair, frayed jeans and combat jacket set him apart from the residents of the quiet little town. “Boy, don’t he stick out like a sore thumb?” From where she was watching, she guessed him to be about thirty, maybe younger. “Wonder what rock he crawled out from under.”
“Don’t know.” Bobby shrugged. “You ever seen him before?”
“I wonder if he’s just passing through…”
Samantha knew Bobby Dean well enough to know he was itching to approach the man. He wasn’t like Lynch, who had a reputation for harassing folks. Bobby just preferred to get a feel for people, and he did it best by speaking directly to them.
“All right.” Samantha nodded. “But take it easy, remember that movie First Blood.”
“All right what?”
“You know what.” Samantha grinned. “You want to talk to him, don’t try to fool me.”
Bobby didn’t argue. They watched the stranger slip into a bar, then followed. Pushing open the door to Buck’s Place, a wafting stench of stale cigarettes and alcohol made them both wince. Besides the stranger, who had taken a seat at the far end of the bar, only two other customers were present.
“Howdy, Bobby.” Buck Shavers nodded from behind the bar. “Samantha.” The officers nodded a greeting but kept their eyes on the other man. Shavers followed their stare. “Trouble?”
“Nah.” Bobby said. “Just scoping out the new face.”
Samantha and Bobby took a seat on each side of the stranger. The man twisted his glass of beer in slow circles on the polished bar. “Howdy.” Bobby offered.
The man grunted then poured half the contents of the glass down his throat.
“Bobby Dean.” Bobby held out his hand. “Officer Bobby Dean.”
“Figured as much.” The man didn’t shake hands.
“That’s Officer Sykes.”
The stranger didn’t look at Samantha as he dug out a pack of Marlboros and lit another cigarette. Though rough looking, he wasn’t all that unattractive, yet the woman in Samantha cringed at the man’s presence. Though he appeared to ignore her, she had a creepy feeling he was sizing her up. Not as a cop, but as a woman, imagining things about her that made her skin crawl at just the idea.
Stop it! These notions were insane. The man hadn’t even looked her way.
“Have I done something wrong, Officer?” The man wondered. “Or is it just the way I’m dressed?”
Bobby smiled. “Well, neither. We just thought we’d stop and say hello, welcome you to our little town.”
“So,” Bobby ignored the icy reply, “You gonna be with us awhile...or just passing through?”
“Does it matter?”
“Nope.” Bobby quipped. “Not at all. Just wondering.” Bobby tapped the bar with his fingertips. Samantha said nothing. This was Dean’s show. “So, you got a name?”
“Yep.” Just when Samantha thought he wasn’t going to give it up without a fight, the man offered dryly, “Martin Camble.”
Bobby nodded and stood. “Well, Martin, it was nice meeting you.” He stepped around Camble. “See you around.”
Both officers caught Martin Camble’s reply- “Faggot cops.”- but neither gave indication. Everyone was, after all, entitled to his or her own opinion.
At the door, Samantha glanced back to see Camble watching her. She hesitated as Bobby disappeared out the door. She was about to follow him when she saw Martin Camble slide his hand between his legs, give her a let’s get it on look and squeeze himself. Feeling suddenly violated, Samantha quickly exited the barroom.
. . .
“Fuckin' pigs.” Martin muttered as he downed his glass of Bud and set the empty glass down hard on the bar. He motioned at the bartender. “Another.” The bartender, a thick burly man, shot him a doubtful look but supplied him with a fresh, chilled glass of beer. “Cops are the same everywhere.” Martin muttered once more. “Ain't a one of 'em good for shit.” He chuckled suddenly and sucked a long drag off his cigarette then blew the smoke out slowly. “Except maybe that sexy one that was just here. I could find a good use for her.” He sucked another drag from the cigarette.
“Show some respect.” The bartender spoke low, but his voice was serious.
Martin snorted. “Respect.” He downed half the glass of beer in one swallow. He would show her some respect all right. He'd respect her all night long. Although by the time he was done with her, respected ain't how she would be feeling. But somehow he didn't think the bartender would appreciate that bit of feedback.
He dug some bills from his pocket and dropped them on the bar, downed the remainder of his beer and slid off the barstool. The weight of the bartender's eyes were on him as he left and he suspected the guy was glad to see him go.
On the sidewalk, he stretched then scoped the streets for the two cops. They were nowhere to be seen. He wasn't alarmed by their approach. They knew nothing of the things he'd done; they were just being typical pigs.
As he walked down the street, Martin chuckled aloud at the horrified look on the female cop's face when he'd grabbed his junk and given her the come on look. She wasn't stunningly gorgeous like the women he'd left behind in LA, but she had that something that a man can't miss. Especially a man like him. He was certain that deep inside, she harbored a quiet, untapped passion that could easily be ignited into a raging wild fire. And Martin had just the match stick to ignite such a fire. He grinned and pictured the woman in his mind. Even beneath the unflattering uniform, he'd detected a curvaceous body. The kind of body that boiled the senses when laid out on a bed naked. He wondered what the woman would do if he suddenly showed up on her doorstep with match stick in hand, offering to light her fire.
He smiled at the amusing thought and again felt the throbbing ache settle in his crotch.
. . .
“Everything all right?”
Samantha was holding the hamburger in her hands and staring at it like it was something to be contemplated. Whatever appeal it had before was lost. She set the hamburger on her plate and shoved the plate back a few inches. “Why do you ask?”
“Come on, Sykes. We've been partners too long to play this game. Something is bugging you.”
She shrugged. “Just thinking about...yesterday.” A lie, of course. And she wasn't surprised that Bobby didn't buy it.
“Poppycock.” Bobby said as he munched on his own burger. “What's eating you?”
His choice of words caused a cramping nausea in her stomach. A sudden unbidden image of Martin Camble ravaging her most intimate parts invaded her head. “That guy.” She said suddenly. “He just...he was creepy.”
“Don't give him another thought. He'll be heading out of town here real soon.”
“What makes you so sure?” Samantha asked.
“Guys like that don't like the attention of the cops.” Bobby said. “He has ours now and he knows it. He won't be around much longer.”
Samantha fingered her cooling fries but felt repulsed at the thought of eating them. “I don't know...he didn't seem too intimidated.” She hadn't told Bobby about the suggestive gesture Camble had tossed her way. Something in the way he'd looked at her and grabbed himself had filled her with unease. It was a typical male chauvinistic gesture, like what Lynch had done earlier this morning. But when Camble had done it...Samantha let the thought slip away. The man had shown no telltale signs of having something to hide – trembling hands, shaky voice, extreme defensiveness – but she had a feeling there was a lot more to Martin Camble than he'd let on.
“He played it cool.” Bobby said. “But I bet he will be gone by tonight.”
Please let Bobby be right. But she had an uneasy, disturbing feeling her partner couldn't be more wrong.
. . .
The man was crossing Cherry Street when Lisa Strom first noticed him. Only when he cut down Cedar Drive and passed out of view did she release a suppressed breath. He’d only glanced her way, but something about him had put her instantly on edge and she’d actually picked up her pace, tugging Erika along. The little girl protested when the sudden urging threw off her dribbling rhythm and the red rubber ball nearly bounced away.
“Lisa.” The child whined. “Now I have to start over.”
“Start what over?” Lisa glanced behind them.
“I was counting the bounces.”
“You’re barely six.” Lisa said absently, her eyes wide and alert. “You can’t count that high to begin with, so starting over should be no big deal.”
Erika made a face. “I can count to a hundred and twenty-six.”
“Hmm.” Lisa slowed as they came to the corner of Cherry and Sycamore. “I’m impressed.” The man was nowhere to be seen. So why did she have the eerie feeling he was following them?
“Can I play in the pool when we get home?”
Lisa shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Mommy said I could.” Erika whined and thrust out her lower lip. “It isn’t fair.”
“Maybe we’ll make some cookies and watch a cartoon.” They were only two blocks from the house and Lisa had to force herself not to grab the little girl and sprint the rest of the way. She looked behind her again; just empty sidewalk.
“Chocolate chip cookies?” The child’s whining gave way to excitement. “Can we watch Clifford the Big Red Dog? Can we?”
Lisa nodded. “Yeah, sure, whatever you say.” Just as long as we stay inside, she thought.
When they finally started up the walk to the Henson residence, a fraction of her tension eased. There was still no sign of the man on the street. Why had she thought he was following them? Inside the house, surrounded by a sense of safety and security, Lisa Strom suddenly felt foolish for overreacting. But instead of giving in and telling Erika she could go ahead and play outside in the pool, Lisa went to the cupboard and began taking down the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies.
. . .
The daydreams were becoming more intense, rising in his mind before he even realized what he was thinking about. By the time he became fully conscious of the path his thoughts were traveling, he'd already visualized Samantha Sykes laid out on his bed, her soft smile and reaching hands urging him to her. Just when he was about to explore a whole new meaning of lovemaking, his eyes snapped open.
Reese rubbed a shaky hand over his mouth and sat forward, leaning his elbows on his desk. His pulse raced, thumping his temples. The ache in his groin was as powerful and unsettling as the ache clenching his heart. He swallowed through a parched throat and felt the first tendril of fear creep in. He could no longer deny his intense attraction to the woman. She filled his thoughts. When he went home at night and entered the cold, silent house, he found himself longing for her company. And crawling into bed, his body ached for her welcoming, soothing touch.
Squeezing his eyes shut, Reese shook his head. Perhaps he'd fooled her today and not given himself away, but what about tomorrow? One week from now? How long before everything simmering inside him boiled up into his eyes when he looked at her? Already he had to consciously keep it at bay when he faced her, and he wondered if it wasn't still showing through to some degree. He couldn't keep it up forever. One day he would forget to check his emotions and there it would be, plain as day, for the entire world to see. For Samantha to see.
A shudder rippled through him, whether from the fear of revealing his feelings or the thought of where it might lead...he wasn't certain. There were times, when she looked at him just right, he thought he saw something veiled in her eyes as well. But he refused to believe. Or maybe he was just too scared to believe it. He knew that was it. And not just scared. Scared shitless. This was not part of the plan.
He absently picked up a pencil and tapped the eraser tip against the desk as he stared blankly at the remarkably organized desktop. Frank would urge him to pursue her. After Jason's brutal death Frank had been deeply concerned that Reese might completely withdraw from everything and everyone. And he almost had. But instead, he had poured everything into his job and actually become a better cop for it. Romance, however, had been out of the question. Though Frank was not one to push, he knew his friend wished to see him in a strong, healthy relationship. He was sure that Frank believed that that was where Reese would find the strength and will to heal.
It was a nice thought, but Reese didn't really believe that such healing was possible. Not for him. Not on any level really. After what Cynthia had done to him – not just in leaving him and taking their son to another state, but the way she left him. She'd been screwing the guy right under his nose and he hadn't seen it. Hadn't even suspected. He knew they had some issues, but he'd had no idea it was that bad or that she had gone that far. Looking back, the hole she left inside him when she went to live with the other man wasn't a result of his intense love for her. He realized now that what he'd thought was love...was nothing of the kind. The hole was there because she had stripped him of his dignity and self respect. She'd made him feel like it was somehow his fault she was fucking another man. That if he had been more of a man himself, she wouldn't have had to go looking elsewhere.
Reese waited for the rage and bitterness to well up, as it had so many times before at the thought of his ex-wife. But there was nothing left. He was empty. Perhaps the hole inside had somehow swallowed it up. At least it was good for something. But without the anger, he felt even more desolate. He wondered if there was some underlying motive for why he was taking notice of Samantha Sykes. Was he just looking for something to fill the hole inside him? Something to make him feel like more than just a walking corpse with no resting place?
A slow sigh escaped him. Whatever the real reason for what he felt – he still felt it. He had tried to deny it, tried to ignore it, tried to bury it – and still it burned hot inside him. What if the feelings were real? What if he was falling in love with her? The whole concept scared the shit out of him. He had to find a way to beat this thing. There had to be a way. Samantha was a good woman, he had no doubt about that. He certainly didn't think she would turn out to be a woman like Cynthia. It wasn't about that. But maybe what really scared him was that she would turn out to be exactly the woman he thought she was.
He had barely survived what Cynthia did to him.
What would it do to him if he lost a woman like Samantha Sykes?
. . .
Twilight concealed Camble’s approach to the house. Though he was performing this as boldly as ever, it would still be better for him if no neighbors actually saw him. After tonight, he would be gone. He’d planned on hanging around for awhile, but circumstances changed the instant he got a look at the brunette teenager and he knew he wouldn’t be able to resist. This one looked even fresher than the other one. This one wouldn’t comply so easily and it was always much more of a turn on when they struggled and bucked. The seemingly perpetual ache in his crotch flared, but he consciously resisted the feeling. He didn't want the girl noticing anything amiss.
With the cops snooping around, it was best he exit this town as soon as possible anyway. But before he left, he would leave them a little parting gift. Of course this night’s endeavors really had nothing to do with teaching the cops a lesson, but surely they would perceive it that way. And that in itself would be an added benefit.
Martin stepped up on the concrete step and rang the doorbell. He’d learned that spontaneous action, without much planning, seemed to yield the best results. Over-planning would only make him more conscious of the details of his next move, and that might give him the telltale appearance of an actor. Something the victims tended to pick up on rather quickly. But Martin didn’t need extensive planning anyway, because he wasn’t an actor- he was a natural.
The door opened a crack, the chain lock preventing a full swing. The brunette peered through the slit. “Yes?”
Her velvet brown eyes looked him up and down in a quick movement, and what he saw in them next would determine his approach. Though she was wary, and even registered a flicker of recognition, she didn’t seem alarmed. She had kind eyes and a soft voice. Martin chose the tactic that seemed to work on all softhearted ladies.
“Pardon me, Ma’am.” Martin effectively inserted a needy tone to his voice. “But my car broke down over by the park and I was wondering if I could use your phone to call my auto club.” He held up a card as if by presenting it meant he was telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help him God. If she acted out of character and asked to see the card more closely, he was screwed. Once she saw the bank card he’d lifted off a careless bus passenger, the jig would be up. Though she didn’t ask to see the card, she did the next smartest thing, much to Martin’s surprise because normally it was the young girls he bluffed the easiest.
“I have a cordless.” She said. “I’ll bring it to you.”
When the door closed, Martin swore and thought fast. But she was back before he could come up with a new angle. She thrust the phone out through the crack in the door and waited for him to make the call.
“Thanks.” He turned his back to her and punched out a series of numbers, then pressed the phone to his ear. He had a mock conversation with a nonexistent auto club service manager then handed the phone back through the slit, smiling warmly at the brunette. “Thanks, I appreciate it.” Without another word, he headed back towards the street.
He could feel the girl watching him from behind closed curtains, assuring herself that he was upright and not sneaking around behind the house which, of course, he had every intention of doing, but just not so obviously. He could have tried another tactic to get her to let him in, but she wasn’t stupid. She would have realized immediately that what he really wanted was inside her house, not her help. So he would play it cool and mosey back down the street, and let her feel safe again.
Martin Camble could do cool. He could do it very well.
. . .
“Who was that?” Erika asked around a mouthful of chocolate chip cookie. Clifford the Big Red Dog lumbered across the television screen, trailed by his pals Cleo and T-Bone.
“No one.” Lisa said. “Just a guy needing to use the phone.”
“Mommy says never to let a stranger in the house.”
“I didn’t let him in.” Lisa assured, then rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. “I not stupid, ya know.”
“Now, it’s time for all good little girls to hit the hay.”
“Aww, can’t I finish watching Clifford?” The little girl looked hopeful. “It’s almost over.”
Lisa put on a stern face that carried very little weight with Erika. The little girl knew her too well, and unfortunately knew how much she could get away with when Lisa babysat her. “Ok, what’s the harm in being a few minutes late to bed?”
“Thanks, Lisa. You’re the best babysitter I ever had.”
“I’m the only babysitter you’ve ever had, squirt.”
Twenty minutes later, Lisa was tucking the child in. “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
“Love you, see you in the morning, the Lord willing.” Erika finished and giggled.
“Did you brush your teeth?”
Erika giggled again. “You watched me do it, silly.”
“Did I? Oh, that’s right.”
“Really?” Lisa pursed her lips and looked thoughtful. “I actually thought I resembled Minnie, or possibly Daisy.”
“You know what I mean.” Erika grinned.
“Yeah, I do.” Lisa admitted. She kissed the child’s forehead. “Now go to sleep, and dream sweet dreams of huge red dogs.”
“Okay.” Erika snuggled deep in her blankets and squeezed her stuffed frog.
Lisa kissed her once more then went to the door. “Want me to leave it open a crack?”
“I’m a big girl.” Which, being interpreted, meant close it.
“That you are, chicky.”
Lisa hesitated in the doorway. “Yes?”
“Do you think mommy and daddy miss me?”
Smiling, Lisa nodded. “I’d bet my life on it.”
In the living room, Lisa cleaned up the crumbs from the little girl’s cookies and changed the channel from The Cartoon Network to HBO, then took the saucers and cups to the sink. When she returned to the living room, a slasher movie was playing. Lisa dropped on the sofa, then winced and dragged the cordless phone out from beneath her. The phone did its musical redial as Lisa’s thumb raked the Call Back button. She started to turn it off when a mechanical voice stopped her.
“I’m sorry, but the number you have reached is no longer in service.”
Lisa swallowed thickly as the fear she’d felt walking home returned with a vengeance. She left the sofa and hurried to Erika’s room and eased open the door. The little girl was already fast asleep, snuggled up to her frog. Lisa scanned the dark room, but saw nothing amiss. She tiptoed to the window and double-checked the lock, then left the room a second time. But now, she left the door open a space.
She parted the living room drapes an inch and stared out into the dark street. There was no sign of the man who had come to her door. She'd recognized him from the alley by the cafe, but then and now he hadn't appeared threatening. But she was suddenly convinced that his intentions when he came to her door were not innocent. Still, she was comforted with the reasoning that he surely aborted his mission when she wouldn’t let him in. But the anxiety was there and refused to leave.
When she returned to the kitchen to clean what few dishes were dirty, she froze in the doorway, her pulse shuddering. The door to the garage stood open a couple inches. Had she remembered to lock that door? She never forgot to lock the doors. Especially that one because the spring was dysfunctional and wouldn’t hold it closed.
“You just forgot to lock it.” The tremble in her voice unnerved her, letting her know that there was another possibility she didn’t want to face. Nobody is in the house, she told herself as she moved towards the door. Nobody is in the-
“You should have let me in, honey.”
Lisa screamed and spun around. The phone sailed from her hand and clattered across the tiles. The man from the front door now stood in the Henson’s kitchen.
“You should have opened the door…and I might have been nice. But now…” He took step towards her.
Panic swarmed Lisa’s senses. Her frightened eyes darted to the door leading into the garage. The man’s stare followed hers. “Think you can make it, Doll?” He wondered. “Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. But before you make your move, don’t forget that sweet little thing asleep in the bedroom.”
“What…what do you want?” Lisa whimpered.
The man smiled and she knew.
“You…you can do whatever you want to me,” she choked, “if you don’t…don’t hurt the little girl.”
The man’s smile stretched into a grin. “I can do whatever I want with you anyway.”
Lisa stared at her assailant. Oh God, what should she do? She was terrified for Erika. And for herself. She knew what this man wanted, it was in the way he looked at her, in his tone of voice.
“Now be a good girl,” he said, “and come over here.”
Lisa shook her head. “No.” She struggled to put defiance in her voice, but it came out as a whimper. She glanced at the door again. If she could get out, get help…Lisa lunged towards the door, but the man had lightning reflexes and was standing in her way before she realized he’d moved. His strong hands clamped her arms as she flailed against his ironclad grip.
“Let me go!”
“Shhh. You don’t want to wake the kid.” He grinned. “Or maybe we should, and give her a lesson or two as well.”
Before Lisa knew what she was doing, she spit in his face. “You sick bastard.”
The hand gripping her right arm released suddenly and slapped her hard across the face. Had he not been holding her with his other hand, she would have dropped to the floor. Tears burned Lisa’s eyes as the man dragged her into the living room and threw her on the floor in front of the television. He stood over her a moment, watching the screen.
“No.” He murmured. “This won’t do. We need something to set the mood.” He grabbed the remote and flicked through the channels until he came to a scene where two naked men were going at the same woman. “Ah, that’s better.”
He stood Lisa up and took her to the sofa, dropped onto the cushions and pulled her down next to him. “Why don’t we just watch awhile. Get in the mood.”
Lisa kept her head ducked as the man’s strong arm held her against his side. Staring down at her lap, her eyes drifted across his leg that pressed against hers. Nausea pinched her stomach when she noticed the bulge between his thighs.
He chuckled and Lisa looked away quickly, horrified that he’d caught her looking. “Don’t worry, love.” He murmured. “You’ll get plenty of that real soon.”
“Please…let me go.” She whispered.
“What? Before we have some fun?”
“Why are you doing this?”
His hand slid up her shoulder to her neck. His fingertips caressed the sensitive skin beneath her ear lobe. “Because I haven’t had anything as young and sweet as you in a long time.” He whispered against her hair. “I’ve been dreaming of your moist, tight caverns since this afternoon. And I’m a man who believes in living out his dreams.”
Lisa squeezed her eyes shut when he leaned down and kissed her cheek, then slid the tip of tongue down her neck. “Please…don’t.”
“Shhh.” He murmured against her throat. “Relax and you might even have fun.”
“No…I won’t.” Lisa suddenly felt like a little girl, totally helpless. She wanted to hit him, scratch him, anything to make him stop, but she was too terrified to move.
“Sure you will.” His hand slid between her thighs as he pushed her back on the cushions. He tugged the snap of her jeans loose and unzipped them, then hooked his fingers in the waistband and tugged them down.
Tears streamed from Lisa’s eyes. “No…” She whimpered and tried to pull back, but he was holding her legs. He worked the jeans down over her feet and discarded them on the floor. When he fingered her panties, slipping his fingers under the leg band, she bucked backwards, panic swelling inside her. She jerked one leg loose and kicked him in the chest, propelling him over backwards then turned and scrambled off the sofa, falling between it and the coffee table. She gasped when her ribs cracked the edge of the table. Before she could get to her feet, he was on her, dragging across the top of the small table and onto the floor on the other side.
His face was flushed with excitement as he produced a knife out of nowhere and quickly slit the bands of her panties, ripping away the material. He dropped the weight of his body on top of her and ripped at her shirt with his hands. Lisa screamed and bucked beneath him, but he was too heavy to move. Horror engulfed her when he pried her legs apart with his knee.
Lisa’s screams were muffled when he clamped his hand over her mouth, his hot, stale breath gasping out in steamy plumes across her skin.
. . .
Erika Henson huddled deep in her blankets, hugging Kermy tight. She listened to the sounds coming in from the living room. Tears streamed from her eyes as Lisa screamed and thrashed.
She slid down lower until the blankets almost covered her head. She could hear the man’s voice, deep and gruff. It reminded her of her daddy when he made the voice of the bad tempered bear in her favorite storybook. But it wasn’t daddy’s voice. Daddy wouldn’t hurt Lisa.
Suddenly, everything was quiet. She wanted to call out for Lisa but didn’t want the man to hear her. So she waited. She heard footsteps coming up the hall and sank lower in the bed. She held her breath when her bedroom door eased open. A man stood there, but she couldn’t see his face because her room was dark. He raised his hand and Erika saw the knife. It looked wet.
He stepped into her room and came towards the bed. Erika slid beneath the covers and hugged Kermy tighter than she’d ever hugged him before. “I want mommy and daddy.” She whispered to Kermy. “I want my mommy and daddy.”
. . .
. . .
Barely out of high school, Willie Kulick didn't think of his job at The Koppe Shoppe as a dead end. Backup cook today, head cook tomorrow. Well, maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough. If he'd had the money to go to college he wouldn't have. Most college grads he knew ended up in the nine-to-five, everyday grind anyway. Take Jimmy Norton, a classic example. Went college, majored in Architecture, came back home and ended up being a hometown handyman. Wasted thousands of dollars of tuition just to help folks fix a door frame or a broken step. Pissed away all that money and time for basically nothing.
Dragging the huge clear garbage bag out of the trashcan, Willie shook his head. He, personally, had no great aspirations in life. Making head cook would be achievement enough for him. He wasn't like the others in his graduating class who couldn't wait to dump this town and conquer the world. The most Willie wanted to conquer was the recliner in front of the television set after a days work of frying burgers. He liked the peace and quiet of the small town. City life just seemed too chaotic. Let the others have it, he would keep the peace and tranquility of small town Oregon.
The clock above the deep aluminum sink let him know it was almost eleven. If he hurried, he could finish and make it home before Mystery Science Theatre. That's what he liked about the night shift; he could stay up as late as he wanted after work and still sleep in come morning. An alarm ringing at five or six in the morning would have quickly driven him nuts.
With a grunt, he lifted the garbage bag and shoved the back door open with his shoulder and packed the bag out into the alley. He kicked a piece of trash out of his way and shuffled to the garbage can. The can lay on its side and he hooked it with his foot to set it up. It landed on its bottom with a clank, something loose rolling from one side to the other. Willie dropped the bag and grabbed the edge of the can and tilted it towards him. Darkness filled up the can. Leaning forward, he reached his hand down into the garbage can and felt something like wet hair. God, did someone dump a dead animal in the garbage can? Cringing, he clutched it and threw it quickly into the alleyway. The object landed in a puddle of dirty water, made one complete roll then came to a stop.
Wiping his hand on his apron, Willie stepped closer and looked down into the face of Lisa Strom. His face paled and he hit the ground hard, cracking his knees. His stomach pinched and heaved as he puked all over the concrete.
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