PART THREE - Child's Play
. . .
The little girl huddled in the far corner of the dark loft. Her bloody hands were held limply in her lap as she sobbed and trembled uncontrollably. Bright moonlight streaked her wet face through the slits in the barn wall.
A creaking sound pulled her eyes to the edge of the loft. Someone was climbing the ladder. Her breath caught and she shuddered, trying to stifle her sobs. She scooted deeper into the shadows, tucking herself between the bales of hay.
Footsteps in the loft. Someone was coming towards her. She tucked her head down and sobbed as quietly as she could. When a hand touched her shoulder, she cried out and jerked away.
“It's me.” A young boy whispered.
The little girl blinked and stared at the boy uncertainly through the shadows. “Natty?”
“Yeah.” The boy whispered again. “It's over, Boo. He's gone. He won't hurt you anymore.”
“Gone?” Tentative hope tinged the little girl's voice. “Gone forever?”
Natty sat down next to her. “Yeah, Boo. Forever.” He pulled off his t-shirt. “Give me your hands.”
Boo lifted her bloody hands slowly. They were still shaking. Natty wrapped his t-shirt around her hands and held them in his. “Does it hurt bad?”
The little girl nodded and leaned against the boy. He wrapped one arm around her and continued to hold her bundled hands with his other hand. “The cuts will heal.” He told her quietly. “Your hands will stop hurting.”
Fresh sobs shook the little girl's body. “I killed them, Natty. I killed mommy and daddy.” She broke down, shuddering uncontrollably.
Natty hugged her tightly and pressed his lips to her hair. “It wasn't your fault, Boo.” He whispered as he stared blankly through the shadows of the loft. “It wasn't your fault.”
Samantha came awake with a start, her pulse racing so fast it made her feel sick. She sat forward in bed and gasped, her heart pounding like a jack hammer in her chest, throat and head, making it hard to breathe. She forced herself to take deep breaths until her pulse began to calm.
She crawled out of bed and went into the bathroom. Her stomach still pinched and churned from the sudden, forceful awakening, but she was no longer in danger of vomiting. She looked at her reflection. Her eyes stared back at her, haunted. Her whole appearance seemed that of a woman on the bare edge of lunacy.
Samantha looked away from her disturbing reflection. She rubbed her hands over her face then stared at her palms. The scars were prominent. The cuts will heal...your hands will stop hurting. The cuts healed, but the scars remained. A constant reminder. And the hurting...it never stopped. She could feel the sting in her hands everyday, the sting of the razor sharp blade as it had sliced her tender palms.
Samantha squeezed her eyes shut and curled her hands into tight fists, struggling to banish the terrifying memories. The pain in her hands was phantom pain, she knew that. But the memories were far too vivid for her to ever really stop feeling it.
Down in the kitchen, the digital clock on the back of the stove read 11:30 p.m. but Sam couldn't go back to bed, much less back to sleep. She microwaved a cup of water and made some cocoa, then went to the living room and curled up on the sofa. She picked up the remote and turned on the television then switched the channel to Nick-At-Nite. She smiled and sipped her cocoa as she watched I Love Lucy.
The sounds of the t.v. slowly faded as the night's events replayed through Sam's mind. The memory of her panic attack appalled her. Never in her life, even through all the horror she went through as a child, had she ever suffered a panic attack. And then to have it happen in front of Reese Baker. It was humiliating. Why did it have to happen when her boss was there? She would've rather the incident taken place before Arnie Lynch.
Sam stared at the television screen, barely hearing the sound. If she was going to be completely honest with herself, she would have to admit that she wasn't humiliated so much because Reese Baker was her boss, but because...
She let the thought roll away. There wasn't any thing between her and Baker, as Bobby had implied. There just wasn't. So she'd had an occasional random intimate thought about her boss...who didn't from time to time? Sometimes a woman living alone needed a little fantasy to break up the monotony now and then, and sometimes it was easier to fantasize when there was an actual face on the fantasy man. It was nothing more than that. Bobby and Reese baker were the only prominent men in her life, and she couldn't hardly put Bobby's face on her fantasy man. Bobby was like a brother, not to mention he was happily married.
“Stop over analyzing it all.” Sam mutter aloud. She sipped her cooling cocoa. “Bobby was just messing with you.”
Sam set the cocoa aside and stared blankly at the tv screen. Why did any of this melodrama matter anyway, what with everything else that was happening? But Sam knew she was deliberately trying to distract herself from what was truly eating at her.
Had she really just imagined the message on her answering machine? How could it be anything else? Her eyes were slowly pulled to the phone, the answering machine. The little red light was dark. She had no messages waiting for her. Sam chewed her thumbnail and stared at the answering machine. Was she losing her mind? Maybe Lisa Strom's murder and the disappearance of Erika Henson and Mikey Weller had pushed her over that final ledge.
Samantha left the sofa and went to the window. She peered through the thick drapes. The street in front of her house was dark but for an occasional street lamp. Most people like her, who had so much in her past to be afraid of, was terrified of the dark. But it was in the dark where Sam had always been able to hide. More than the dark...she feared the light. You couldn't hide in the light. When it was light, you couldn't tell yourself you weren't seeing what you thought you were seeing. In the light...things were what they were.
The light revealed the cold hard truth.
Samantha preferred the dark.
. . .
“I swear, the bitch should quit.”
The words, spoken by an all too familiar voice, sizzled in Reese Baker's ears. From a booth far in the back of Buck's tavern, Reese's eyes narrowed as he spotted Arnie Lynch sitting at the bar with a buddy of his. Even though Lynch hadn't yet mentioned Samantha Sykes' name, he knew exactly who Lynch was referring to. Reese hadn't even noticed the other officer enter the tavern. Now Lynch had his full attention.
Lynch leaned towards his buddy and waved his hand expressively. “First, get this, the bitch pukes at a crime scene. Damages evidence. But surprise, surprise, she gets off scott free. I'm the one who gets my ass chewed out by that dick Baker. Me. Just because I commented on the incident. Can you believe it?”
Commented? Reese almost laughed, but the anger and irritation swelling inside him prevented it. He took a long swallow of beer and knew he should lay off a bit, his head was already growing fuzzy. But after tonight's events, he needed a little fuzz on his brain. Maybe, if he were lucky, it would eventually numb his entire mind.
He continued to drink his beer and watch Lynch.
“You know what it is?” Lynch jabbed two fingers at his buddy. A cigarette was pinched between his fingers and bobbed as Lynch poked the air as he spoke. “Baker's got a hard-on for the bitch.”
Behind the bar, Buck slowly wiped shot glasses, watching Arnie Lynch from beneath thick eyebrows. He glanced past Lynch and met Reese Baker's eyes briefly before turning his attention back to Lynch. He shook his head slowly and continued wiping down the glasses.
Reese's blood was boiling. He didn't usually allow men like Lynch to get under his skin, but today hadn't been a usual day. In fact, it had been a piss poor day and Reese was in no mood for bullshit.
“Hell.” Lynch ground out the cigarette in an ashtray on the top of the bar and took a long drink from the bottle in front of him. “I wouldn't be surprised if he's already nailing her. Dean's probably gettin' him some too. You can't tell me them two're hanging out every day alone and there's no-”
“'Night, Chief.” Buck spoke up suddenly, killing Lynch's next words in his throat.
“'Night, Buck.” Reese walked past Lynch without giving him so much as a glance. If he didn't leave now, he knew there would be an ugly scene.
Lynch turned and watched Baker push through the door and disappear outside. The fear in his eyes was visible, but he tried to cover it quick with indignation. “Why the hell didn't you tell me he was back there, Buck?”
Buck shrugged. “You didn't ask.” He turned his back to Lynch, chuckled softly and began stacking the clean shot glasses on the shelf.
. . .
Reese slid in behind the steering wheel and closed the driver door. He fumbled with his keys, found the one he was looking for and jabbed it into the ignition. He gripped the steering wheel with both hands. His knuckles whitened as his heart raced.
He stared at the door to the tavern. He had half a mind to go back in there and kick Lynch's ass. God, he hated that guy. Still, he tried to be fair and had to ask himself if he was so pissed off because Lynch was right. Did he go easy on Samantha Sykes because he had a thing for her?
Baker leaned back against the seat, still gripping the steering wheel. He closed his eyes and pictured Samantha's face in his mind. Just the thought of her sent electric shocks through his body, making him ache in a way he hadn't ached for a woman in a very long time. He did want her – bad. But it was more than sexual. Much more.
He released a slow sigh and opened his eyes. He looked at the tavern again. Lynch could go to hell. He grabbed the ignition key, but instead of starting the car, he yanked the key out and opened the driver door. He was in no condition to drive.
He left the car and pocketed his keys, then began the two block walk to the station house, allowing the crisp night air to clear his head and cool the fever inside him.
. . .
Martin Camble laid on his back in the dark and stared at the bottom of the bunk above him. Silence pressed in around him, squeezing him. If he'd just held his ground and not confessed anything, he might be walking out of here in the morning. Another kid went missing while he was locked up. That could've exonerated him if he'd just kept his damn mouth shut about raping the babysitter.
Movement near the cell door drew his attention. Camble sat up slowly, dropping his feet to the floor. Chief Baker stood outside his cell, staring at him with cold, distant eyes. Camble held his peace. He'd said enough to that man to last a lifetime.
“What in God's name is wrong with people like you?” Baker asked in a low, deadly voice. “I mean, what in the fuck goes through your mind? How do you justify the things you do? How do you live with yourself?”
Camble just stared at him silently. It was clear the man had been drinking. Understandable. Their open and shut case just fell apart. Sure, they would get him on rape. But who they really wanted was the madman who had slaughtered the babysitter and abducted the kid. Both kids. Maybe they'd been planning to pin it all on Camble, but when the second kid disappeared while he was cooling his ass in jail, that little plan disintegrated. Camble almost laughed, but it died in his throat when he remembered he was still up shit creek without a paddle. His confession to rape still sunk him.
When he didn't answer Baker's questions, the Chief finally turned and walked away. Camble laid back down on the lower bunk and continued to stare at the bunk above him.
. . .
Samantha's guts twisted when she entered the station. This was a very small town and she was certain that Arnie Lynch was aware of yesterday's panic episode. Typically she ignored the man best she could. He wasn't worth her time or anger. But this morning, her nerves were raw and she didn't have it in her to deal with his crap.
Lynch was standing partially in her path to her desk, but she wasn't about to yield and make an arc around him just to avoid him. She stepped past him, brushing against his arm. She waited for the attack, but it didn't come. Lynch didn't even look her way. In fact, it seemed he was purposely avoiding eye contact. Not like the other morning, when he was simply biding his time before he launched his assault. But this morning he seemed genuinely evasive of her.
I can live with that, she thought. She didn't care why he was acting out of character this morning, she was just glad he was.
“Hey.” Bobby seemed to appear out of nowhere, startling Sam as her butt dropped into her chair.
“Jeez, Dean.” She said. “Make some noise next time.”
“Stealth is my business.” He grinned and sat on the edge of her desk. He sobered a bit. “How ya doing this morning?”
Sam didn't look at him as she shuffled aimlessly through some documents on her desk. “I'm fine.”
“I see.” Bobby said. “Again, we're fine.”
Sam finally looked up at her partner. “You know, Bobby, sometimes when a person says they're fine...they're actually fine.”
“Sometimes.” Bobby smiled, but stared at her with concern. “You don't look like you got much sleep last night.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “So you're saying I look like hell?”
“Something equivalent, yeah.”
Sam started to respond when Baker's door opened and the Chief stepped out. She and Bobby looked at him for a moment. He looked like the world had dropped down on his shoulders overnight.
“Now he looks like hell.” Bobby murmured.
Baker caught Sam's stare and held it briefly. Something in the man's eyes made her want to cry. She actually felt tears start to burn her eyes and she looked away, confused by the sudden rush of emotion.
Reese Baker walked past her and Bobby without speaking to either of them. To her surprise, Lynch stepped out and stopped Baker. He spoke low. “Sir, about what I said...” Lynch faltered. “I was half drunk and...”
Baker just stared back at him without emotion. “We have a killer and child abductor to catch.” he said. “That takes precedence over everything else. Get to work.”
“Yes, sir.” Lynch nodded with an uncharacteristic humbleness.
Baker glanced around the room. “That goes for everyone.” He said more loudly, a sharp edge to his voice. “I want this son of a bitch.”
Sam and Bobby looked at each other.
“Dean.” Baker said, snapping Bobby's head around. “You and Sykes go back to the Henson residence. Go over it again. We're missing something somewhere. There's no such thing as a perfect crime. This bastard left a clue somewhere. Find it.”
Bobby stood up off Sam's desk. “Yes, sir.”
Baker went to the front desk where Sherry Aims, a dark haired woman in her early twenties, was working on a computer. “Aims, get me the number to the nearest FBI field office.”
Sherry looked up and nodded. “Yes, sir.” She said and began clacking away on the keyboard.
. . .
“FBI?” Bobby guided the cruiser down Cherry Street. “Baker's really calling in the big guns?”
Sam looked at him. “Shouldn't he be calling them in? A teenager was butchered and two kids are missing. I know we're competent, but don't you think maybe we're in over our heads here?”
“Easy, Sykes.” Bobby said. “I was just making an observation.”
“Sorry.” Sam offered. “It's just...I would feel better if we had some big guns with us right now.”
“Honestly?” Bobby said with quiet soberness. “So would I.” He shook his head. “This kind of stuff isn't supposed to happen in small towns.”
“Why do people always say that?” Sam asked softly. “Isn't it usually the small towns that get the worst of the worst? People move out to places like this with the idea they'll be safer than in the city. But they're not.” She stared out the passenger window as Bobby turned the cruiser into the Henson driveway. “Nobody's safe anywhere.”
. . .
“Lynch.” Baker stood at his office door. “Take Baron and go out to the Weller place. Question the neighbors again. Question Kate Weller again. And search that alley road with a fine tooth comb. The Weller kid didn't vanish into thin air. Find me something.”
Lynch nodded and grabbed his jacket, motioning to Jake Baron to follow. Jake was younger than Arnie Lynch by almost ten years, but he knew how to listen and he knew how to follow orders. Maybe the kid could teach Lynch a thing or two, Baker thought as he stepped back inside his office and closed the door.
Before he reached his desk, Shelly Aims knocked at his door.
“Come in.” Baker called.
Aims stepped inside. “Sir, I have the number you requested.” She handed him a piece of paper. “The name of the agent to contact is on there as well.”
“Thank you.” Baker took the paper with the agent's name and number, returned to his desk and lowered into the chair. He stared at the piece of paper. Above the number was the name SSA Samuel Norris.
“Samuel Norris.” Reese spoke aloud. He was ready to hand this one over to the big boys. Reese did not want to play this game again, not after losing Jason. Better to let someone with the proper resources and man power handle this mess.
He reached for the phone just as Shelly Aims buzzed him. “There's a call for you, Sir.”
“I'm busy. Hold all my calls.”
“Sir.” Aims spoke quickly before Baker could cut her off. “The caller says it's important. He says he has information about the case.”
Reese rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “Put him through.”
The phone clicked in Reese's ear. “Hello?” He waited. Nothing. “Hello?” Still nothing. “I'm not in the mood for games.”
A low chuckle. “That's too bad.” A man's voice, deep, raspy. Creepy. “Because this is indeed a game. And you better learn the rules.”
Reese felt the tiny hairs at the nape of his neck prickle and stand on end. “Who is this?” He asked slowly. “What rules?”
“Rule number one.” The man spoke in a near whisper. “No FBI. If even one federal agent sets foot in this town...you'll find the bodies of the two kids within the hour. Are you willing to go there...Reese?”
Reese's throat tightened. He didn't like the way in which he said his name...like it was personal. Was this someone he knew? He swallowed hard. “No.” He rasped. Then - “What do you want?”
A brief silence. “I want to play my game.”
“What game?” Reese whispered thickly.
A soft chuckle. “Oh, I have lots of games. I play with lots of people.” A moment of silence, then, “But I had the most fun playing with Laurel. I want to play with Laurel again.”
“Laurel who?” Reese asked. “Who's Laurel-”
The phone clicked, then went dead. Reese continued to hold the phone to his ear, gripping the receiver tightly. “Who's Laurel!” He shouted into the dead phone. He slammed it down hard. “Mother fu-” He bit off his own words and jumped up from his desk and rushed to the door, swinging it open hard. “Aims!”
Shelly Aims turned, startled by Baker's harsh tone. “Sir?”
“Where did that call come from?” Baker demanded.
“I-I don't...” Shelly checked the computer, her fingertips working quickly on the keyboard. “It came from a phone booth, sir.”
“A phone booth where?”
Shelly's fingers moved quickly over the keyboard again. She looked up at Baker, her dark eyes wide. “On the corner of Spruce and Birch.”
Baker's face tightened and he raced out the front door of the station. He looked down the street. At the end of the block was a phone booth, barely five hundred yards away. Reese ran down the sidewalk and yanked open the accordion door. A piece of paper was folded and tucked under the phone receiver.
Reese stood unmoving, hands flexing at his sides. Finally, he snatched the paper and unfolded it. He stared at the newspaper clipping. The heading read in bold type: CONVERSE PARENTS MURDERED. Below the heading, in smaller print it read – Surviving children, Nate and Laurel Converse, to become wards of the state.
Raising the picture up closer, Reese studied the picture of the Converse children closely. A boy of about nine or ten was standing with his arm wrapped protectively around a little girl whose hands were heavily bandaged. Though only about seven years old in the picture, Reese recognized the little girl instantly.
“Sam.” He whispered as a new kind of fear seeped into his bones. He stared at the young image of Samantha. Her small face was distraught, her eyes wide and blank with shock. He turned his attention to the small piece of article beneath the picture and read about the incident. Although the little girl had said very little, it was believed that she had wounded her hands trying to pull the murder weapon – a large butcher knife – from her mother's dead body.
A tightness clutched at Reese's chest as tears burned behind his eyes. He'd seen the scars on Samantha's hands. He'd also been aware how she quickly concealed them whenever someone seemed to take notice. The scars had been a mystery to him, but he'd never once suspected anything as awful as this.
He blinked back the tears and turned the clipping over. On the back, a message was written in block letters.
RULE #2 – DON'T TELL HER YOU KNOW.
. . .
Sam stood in the doorway to the Henson living room. The entire property had been taped off and the crime scene preserved 'as is'. The murder and kidnapping was an open case, and until Baker was convinced there was absolutely nothing left to find at this crime scene, he would not release it.
“Oh my god.” Sam whispered as her eyes swept over the bloody mess on the carpet in front of the sofa. This was her first time actually inside the Henson home. But she didn't have to be the one to find Lisa Strom's body for her to see it vividly in her head. The young girl raped then mutilated. How was it possible that Camble could have done one and not the other? What if there had been two of them? That would make Camble the perp. Or at least one of them.
Bobby stepped into the doorway and stood next to her. He handed her a pair of latex gloves then tugged on his own pair. He released a heavy sigh. “Let's get to work.”
Sam didn't move as Bobby stepped into the living room.
Bobby looked at her. “What is it?”
“Do you...” She faltered.
“Do you...believe Camble's story?” She asked slowly, looking around the room. “Do you think he's only guilty of rape...and not the rest, too?”
Bobby cleared his throat. “He was locked up when Michael Weller disappeared.”
“I know.” Sam moved deeper into the room. “But what if there were two of them?”
“You think he had a partner in crime?”
Sam shook her head slowly. “I don't know.” She whispered. “Just considering all options. But if he did have a partner...then Camble is as guilty as the one we're trying to catch.”
“As far as I'm concerned.” Bobby said. “He's as guilty either way. They should fry his ass.”
Bobby approached the large bloody stain on the carpet. Sam held back. Maybe Arnie Lynch was right, maybe she shouldn't be a cop. When she first joined the force, she was strong and efficient. But with this case...she couldn't get her head in the game.
Wanna play a game, Boo?
Sam shuddered and felt her throat tighten. She'd just imagined the message on her machine. There was no other explanation. It wasn't him. It couldn't be.
“Hey.” Bobby was looking at her. “You okay?”
Sam cleared her throat and nodded. “Yeah.”
Bobby looked doubtful but didn't press it. “Erika's room is down the hall, last door on the right. Why don't you check it out while I sift through the scene out here.”
Sam nodded and headed down the hall. Bobby had purposely steered her clear of the living room scene. For that she was thankful, but she nonetheless felt like she was dropping the ball. She was as much of a cop as Bobby, he shouldn't have to carry her.
Erika's room looked like a typical child's room with the typical kid stuff; children's books, toys, stuffed animals. The bed was slightly messed, as if Erika had just crawled out of it moments ago. Tears burned Sam's eyes. If Erika, and Michael Weller, were still alive...what kind of nightmare were they living in?
Sam stepped deeper into the room and closed the door behind her. She turned in a slow circle surveying the child's bedroom. When her eyes circled back to the door, Sam's heart shuddered then began to beat erratically.
She shook her head in denial. “No...” She whimpered. Her eyes were wide and glued to the words scrawled on the back of Erika's bedroom door.
. . .
Bobby was down on one knee, scrutinizing a section of the soiled carpet when Sam's cry snapped his head up. “Sykes!”
Bobby jumped to his feet and sprinted down the hall, busting in through the bedroom door. Sam was on the far side of the room, back against the wall. Her hands covered her mouth as she stared wide-eyed past Bobby.
“Sam, what's wrong?”
Sam lowered her hands slowly. “On...on the back of the door.”
“What?” Bobby frowned and turned, closing the door. His brow pinched with a hard frown. What the hell? He read the words aloud. “You're it.”
“Bobby...” Sam took a step forward.
Bobby stared at the words, scrawled in a dark substance. But Bobby didn't have to analyze it to know it was blood. He looked at Sam, eyes wide. “This wasn't here before.” He looked at the door again. “How the hell did this get here? And what the fuck does it mean You're it ?”
“Bobby.” Sam whispered. “Bobby...it's still wet.”
It didn't take but a moment for Bobby to catch the significance of what Sam was saying. If the blood was still that wet – then the killer had to have just been here. Or he was still here.
Bobby drew his weapon.
. . .
. . .
“What the hell is going on?” Frank asked. His voice was tight, frustrated. A hardness had turned his face to granite. The man was getting pissed off. Reese stood next to his friend as the two stared at the back of Erika Henson's bedroom door.
I wanna play my game.
I have lots of games.
I play with lots of people.
I wanna play with Laurel again.
“Hey. You okay?” Frank was looking at Reese, a hard crease in his brow.
Reese swallowed through a parched throat. “Not really.” He rasped thickly. He moved closer to the door. The blood was tacky. The house and property had been thoroughly searched. The killer was no longer here.
“You going to tell me what's going on with you?” Frank asked bluntly. “Since you got here, you've been acting nervous as a chihuahua. That ain't like you.”
His eyes glued to the bloody words on the back of the door, Reese shook his head slowly. “This is fucked up.” He whispered. His chest was so tight it felt like it was going to implode. A desperate kind of anger bubbled to the surface. “What kind of fucking game are you trying to play?”
“Reese?” Frank said slowly, his brow pinched tighter. “What the hell is going on?”
Reese shook his head and turned away from the door. He felt helpless and that pissed him off. Samantha was in danger. Real danger. And he couldn't do a damn thing about it – not without endangering the lives of the missing kids. He was seething inside and had to force himself not to punch a hole in the wall.
“He called me.” Reese whispered tightly. He didn't know if telling Frank was a breech of the rules, but he couldn't do this on his own.
“Who called you?”
“Him.” Reese hissed, jabbing his finger at the words on the door. “The fucking psycho who killed Lisa and took the kids.”
Frank's eyes narrowed. “Are you shittin' me?”
“No.” Reese's insides were shaking. God, he felt like he was coming apart. “Less than thirty minutes before Dean called this in. He called me from the fucking phone booth just down the street from the station. He was right there. Right there.”
“What did he say?”
Reese took a moment to calm himself. He didn't need anyone overhearing their conversation. He glanced towards the hall then closed the door all the way. “He said this was a game.” Reese looked at Frank. “And he said I better learn the rules.”
“What rules?” Frank asked quietly.
Reese rubbed his hand over his mouth. “Rule number one...no FBI. If we try to bring them in – he'll kill the kids.”
“What were the other rules?”
Reese hesitated then took the newspaper clipping from inside his jacket. He unfolded it and handed it to Frank.
Frank looked it over with hard eyes. “What the hell is this?” He looked up from the clipping. “Don't tell who that you know what?” His eyes narrowed a bit. “What do you know?”
Reese took the clipping back. “That isn't important right now.” He spoke low. “But I need you to do something.” He pointed at a name within the body of the article. “I need you find him and see what he remembers about this case. He was the one who interviewed the boy. This isn't the kind of case you forget.”
“Agent Vincent Kramer.” Frank looked up. “FBI?”
“I'm not bringing him here.” Reese said quietly. “I'm sending you to him. Be as discreet as possible when you leave. Don't give any indication that you're going somewhere of significance.” Reese released a deep breath. “This bastard is watching us. So you watch your back.”
Frank nodded slowly then looked at the door again. “Whose blood do you think that is?”
Reese didn't answer. Neither cop wanted to voice the frightening possibility that one, or both, of the kids may now be dead.
. . .
This had to be a dream. Some kind of awful nightmare. This couldn't really be happening. Samantha moved around the Henson's kitchen as if searching for something that would explain the atrocities that had taken place in this normal, everyday family home. But there were no explanations for what had happened here. Evil happened – and it needed no reason, no motivation. It just did what it did.
The door to the garage was closed and locked. When Bobby had found Lisa's body, the door had been ajar. No doubt how Camble had gotten in. But what about the killer? Samantha had tried to convince herself that maybe Camble had a partner, and he was still a part of this. That it had nothing to do with her. But those threads of hope were swiftly severed when she saw the message on the bedroom door.
She stood staring at the garage door but her eyes were blank as she kept seeing the words – You're It – from the back of the bedroom door. In her head, the message from her machine played over and over.
Wanna play a game, Boo?
Wanna play a game, Boo?
Wanna play a game, Boo?
Samantha flinched and turned quickly. Baker stood in the kitchen doorway. He was looking at her in a way she didn't quite know how to interpret. She cleared her throat quick. “Sir.”
“Dean said this door was open when he found Lisa Strom's body.” Baker stated as he entered the kitchen slowly. “Do you think that's how the killer got in?”
Sam got the distinct feeling that Baker's question was posed merely as something to say, rather than a true inquiry. Still, she answered. “I think this is probably how Camble got inside.” She said quietly without looking at him. She could still feel his eyes on her, and that look she didn't understand. “I don't know if the killer got in the same way.”
“You suggested to Dean that maybe Camble had a partner?” Baker moved around her and appeared to be studying the door. He unlocked it and the door popped open a few inches. He closed it and it popped open again.
“I just thought it might be a possibility.” Why did all this feel like small talk? “I don't know if that really makes any sense.”
“It does.” Baker looked at her. “It's smart to consider all possibilities. Nothing should be left unexplored. Especially in a case like this.”
Baker held her stare. It felt like he was trying to see inside her, figure something out. She glanced away, feeling suddenly very exposed. Could he see in her eyes that she knew more than she was saying? Could he see her stark fear? “Is it possible?” She asked to break the mounting tension within her.
“That Camble had a partner?”
Baker turned his attention back to the door, closed it once more and locked it to hold it in place. “Anything is possible.”
Sam stared at his back. His broad shoulders looked tense, the muscles balled. She could imagine the memories this case was bringing to the surface. “How probable is it though?”
“I don't know.” Baker's voice sounded tired, weary, as he faced her again. “Camble doesn't strike me as a team player.”
Sam chewed her lower lip and looked at the floor.”Me neither.” She whispered.
“What do you think it means?”
Sam raised her eyes slowly. “What?”
The Chief's probing stare bore into her again. “The message on the back of the bedroom door.” He said. “You're it. What do you think it means?”
She couldn't look at him very long as she felt the fear surface in her mind and reflect in her eyes. “I don't know.”
“No thoughts at all?”
She almost felt like she was being interrogated. Low level, but still interrogated. “It...sounds like something a kid would say...when playing tag.”
“So you think this is a game to him?' Baker pressed.
Sam shook her head slowly but kept her eyes averted. “I don't know. Maybe. It kind of sounds that way.” She could feel a fit of the shakes trying to come on and she resisted with all her strength. The shakes might send her into another panic attack and she didn't need that, especially right now, in front of Baker again.
She didn't hear him move but she suddenly felt him standing closer. She glanced up, startled to find him barely a foot away, looking at her intently. “I know this case is getting to you.” He spoke low, and the tone of authority that was always present in his voice when he spoke to his officers – was gone. He seemed to be speaking to her on a friend to friend level...or was it that man to woman level? “If you need to talk, about anything...you can talk to me.”
Unwilling, or perhaps unable, to hold his stare, her eyes shifted away. “Thank you, sir.” She whispered. Tears were suddenly burning her eyes and she didn't know why. She blinked them back rapidly.
Baker's fingertips touched her chin suddenly, turning her face and drawing her eyes back to his. “Sam...” He started then dropped his hand as suddenly as if she'd slapped it away when someone passed by the kitchen doorway. It seemed to snap him back to reality and he stepped back, looking suddenly uncomfortable and on edge. When he spoke again, the tone of authority had returned. “My door is always open to my officers, if they ever need to talk.”
“Yes, sir.” Sam tried to keep her voice level, but she could hear the slight tremor in it. What had just happened? Or almost happened? She could still feel his fingertips on her face, like warm coals heating her skin. The touch, though brief, had been extremely comforting, soothing...and she realized quite suddenly that she wanted it back, desperately. Not just the feel of his fingertips...but all of him.
She swallowed through a dry throat as Baker excused himself and left the kitchen. Sam's arms slowly slid around her waist. She wasn't falling in love with the man. She just wasn't. She couldn't be.
. . .
Baker's knees felt like rubber as he moved down the hall away from the kitchen. As soon as he turned a corner in the hallway, he leaned his back against the wall. A shudder ran through him. Every nerve in his body seemed to be lingering on the surface of his skin. What the hell had he almost done? He hadn't meant to touch her. He hadn't meant to drop his guard at all. But standing there watching her, feeling the fear inside her wafting off her like a heat wave...all he wanted to do was comfort her, hold her, tell her he wouldn't let anyone hurt her.
His heart beat like a jack hammer. If no one had walked by...would he have kissed her? Had that been his intention when he touched her face? Every carefully guarded reserve he'd taken care to preserve within himself had just fallen away like a filmy curtain, rather than the brick wall it was supposed to be. He was losing his grip, and if he wasn't careful, he would end up crossing a line he couldn't cross back over.
. . .
. . .
Vincent called it cold case collaboration, for lack of a better phrase. It had been his idea to present the BAU's cold cases to the FBI academy students as a way to obtain fresh views and new ideas on old unsolved cases. After devoting every ounce of his life to the bureau, full retirement wasn't an option. He had to be doing something, even if it wasn't actively working on fresh cases. It was the cold cases that haunted him. The ones who got away. They were still out there and Vincent believed that somewhere in each of those files was a clue that had been missed. The missing piece of the puzzle that would tie it all together and give them either a suspect or a direction to move in. Sometimes it just took fresh eyes to see what the “old” eyes had missed due to repetitious scouring.
While standing up in front of the academy students, presenting the cases, his life had purpose, meaning. But at home, alone in the big house that had never known the warmth of family, he could feel the futility of his efforts. Doubts hung over him like black clouds. Was there really anything in those old files that they had missed? Or was it just his wishful thinking? His inability to admit when he'd been beat?
These were the thoughts ricocheting around in his head on that late August morning when the small town cop met him in the lobby of the hotel just after his early morning presentation at the academy. He looked the man up and down. He was a big guy, well over six feet, with a solid square frame that reminded Vincent of a pro football player.
“Agent Kramer?” The man questioned. “Vincent Kramer...of the BAU?”
Vincent nodded. “Retired.”
The man held out his hand. “I'm Lieutenant Frank Watson, of the Walden, Oregon police department.” He paused then added, “Could I speak with you about a matter of...utmost importance?”
Vincent shook his hand and asked, “What is it you think I can help you with, Lieutenant?”
“Okay.” Vincent said. “What can I help you with, Frank?”
“I was hoping you might remember an old case you investigated, about twenty-two years ago.”
“A solved case?”
“I don't think so.” Frank said.
“Well, right now, cold cases are my business.” Vincent said with renewed interest. “Which case are you speaking of?”
Frank rubbed his hand over his chin. “The converse murders.” He said. “The parents were murdered by an intruder, their ten year old son and seven year old daughter were put into foster care.” He looked at the older agent intently. “Do you remember?”
A dark shadow passed through Vincent's eyes. “I remember.” He said low.
“Could you tell me about it?”
Vincent glanced around then asked, “How 'bout I buy you a drink? You're gonna need something in your system to hear this story.”
Fifteen minutes later, they were seated in a corner booth of a quiet bar. Frank ordered a bottle of Coors Light and Vincent got himself a glass of scotch on the rocks. He looked at Frank.” You sure you don't want something stronger?”
Frank shook his head. “Not much of a drinker. This'll do.”
Vincent took a small swallow of the scotch. “What's your interest in this case?”
Taking a drink of the beer, Frank set the bottle aside. “A few days ago, a teenage girl in our town was raped and murdered.” A sick look crept into his eyes. “She was decapitated and her head left in a garbage can behind a cafe.” He paused and took another longer swallow of beer. “The little girl she was babysitting...disappeared. We arrested a man we caught in the house, the teenager's blood all over him. The murder weapon was in his possession. We thought that was the end of it, that we had our guy.”
“Go on.” Vincent murmured as he sipped the scotch.
“After some time in the interrogation room, our suspect finally admitted to raping the girl, but insisted he hadn't killed her or taken the kid.” Frank tipped the Coors Light bottle and downed some more. For the man not being a drinker, he sure knew how to put away a bottle.
“Was he telling the truth?”
Frank released a slow sigh. “We didn't think so at first.” He said. “But while he was in our custody...another child went missing. Our Chief, Reese Baker, was considering calling in the FBI when he received a call...from the killer.”
Vincent leaned forward a bit. “The Un-Sub called him?” He asked with interest. “What did he say?”
“He said that it was a game.” Frank told him. “And he told Baker that he better learn the rules.”
Vincent sat back as a queer sensation tugged at his naval. “The rules?” The hairs at the nape of his neck prickled.
Frank nodded. “He said that rule number one was no FBI. He said if any FBI set foot in Walden...he would kill the kids.”
A tight frown pinched Vincent's brow.
“And he said he wanted to play with Laurel again.” Frank reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a folded newspaper clipping. “And he left this.” He unfolded the clipping and laid it on the table between them.
Vincent stared at the picture of the Converse children. He remembered that day like it was yesterday. He remembered thinking that something felt off about the boy's story. About the boy himself. Vincent reached out and slid the clipping closer. “The little Converse girl was named Laurel.” He whispered, then looked at Frank. “He left this?”
Frank turned the clipping over. “And this.”
“Rule number two.” Vincent read aloud. “Don't tell her you know.” He raised his eyes slowly. “Don't tell who?”
Frank shook his head. “I'm not sure. He left the clipping for Baker.”
“Does Chief Baker know who it's referring to?”
“I think he does.” Frank said.
“And you don't?”
“Not for certain.”
“Any ideas?” Vincent asked.
“Maybe.” Frank finished his beer. “There's a female officer on our force, Samantha Sykes. She joined about six months ago. She and Baker...well, let's just say they're aware of each other.”
“Romantically, you mean?” Vincent asked.
Nodding, Frank released a slow breath. “A few years ago, Baker's son was murdered. The killer was never brought to justice. Baker's wife had left him for another man and taken their son to San Diego, where he was abducted and killed.”
“That's some heavy shit to deal with.” Vincent murmured with sympathy.
“It is.” Frank agreed. “Since then, I haven't seen him so much as give another woman a second glance. Until Samantha Sykes came along. I saw the connection right away, but neither seems willing to admit to it. I understood Baker's reasoning. And if Samantha is Laurel Converse...then I suppose I understand hers as well. Tragedy has a way of closing people off.”
Vincent said nothing as he stared hard at the newspaper clipping. If Laurel, or Samantha, was getting romantically involved...it made sense why the Un-Sub would strike again now, after all these years.
“What is it?” Frank asked. “You look like you know something.”
Clearing his throat, Vincent met Frank's stare. “The story the Converse boy told me...it never felt quite right. And all the time I was talking to him, he kept looking into the other room where his little sister was. At first, I thought he was just concerned for her. But...”
“But it was almost as if he was afraid she was going to say something she wasn't supposed to say.”
“What do you mean?” Frank asked. “Say what?”
Vincent shook his head and took a drink of the scotch. “I'm not sure.” He admitted. “But I think what the boy told me about what happened in that house that night...was a lie. Something else went on.” He looked at the clipping. “You see the bandages on the little girl's hands?”
“The boy said she cut up her hands trying to pull the knife from her mother's body, but it was stuck in too deep and tight.”
“Good God.” Frank whispered and rubbed his hand over his mouth. The man looked truly horrified. “Samantha Sykes...has scars on her hands. She doesn't talk about them, though. I don't think she's even told her partner what happened, and they're best friends.”
“I can imagine it's a terrifying memory.” Vincent said quietly. “Perhaps more terrifying than even this.”
“I don't follow.” Frank said.
“If the boy was lying about what happened concerning the murder of his parents.” He said. ”Maybe he was lying about what happened to his sister's hands.” He sipped at the scotch. “In fact, maybe there was no intruder at all that night.”
Frank frowned hard. “If there was no intruder.” He spoke low. “Then who killed the parents?”
Vincent downed the remainder of the scotch and set the glass aside then look at the Lieutenant intently. “Who, indeed.”
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