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THE NARCISSIST

Summary

In most cases, the murder of a mother would devastate her children. In the case of Eric and Jared Stetson, it freed them from continued years of abuse and trauma. Unfortunately, for the rest of the world it was too late, the damage had already been done.

After years of abuse the boys are free to find incredible success, especially Eric. Eric took no hostages when creating his real estate empire. He was devious, demanding and deadly. At least that’s what detectives believe when they must solve a young girl’s haunting murder. As clues emerge Eric becomes their prime suspect. As more murders are uncovered the FBI creates a strong case against Eric’s business practices and partner with police to solidify his guilt as a serial killer. All the police need is his brothers help. Jared is meek, unassuming and loyal, having ridden Eric’s coattails most of his life. As Jared finds happiness with his new girlfriend, he also finds that she too will become a victim. When Jared’s girlfriend goes missing he is frantic to find her and goes to the police. They convince him to help bring Eric to justice. Although he agrees, Jared has plans of his own that will leave one brother dead and another left to continue a legacy of murder.

CHAPTER 1

As the moonlight gleaned through the window, his fingers wrapped around the tightening noose. The air was being restricted. The more he clawed and scratched at the rope the tighter it became. Although his body was reacting to the lack of oxygen, his mind was still. Unlike the movies, his life was not flashing before his eyes. He was not full of regret or sadness for any loved ones he was leaving behind. The only reaction was his body’s response to stay alive. It was taking longer than he thought it would. He needed to stop fighting it. After all, he had done this to himself and there was no turning back now, even if he wanted to.

As the moonlight continued to glisten slightly through the gap between the curtains reflecting in his eyes, he contemplated what had brought him to this. Was it his lack of conscience, no moral compass? Was it his deplorable lifestyle, arrogance, extreme narcissism? Was it the fact that he could do no wrong even though he did, often? As far back as he could remember he had been this way. He was highly intelligent, handsome, charismatic and basically fail proof. Life came easy to him. If he said, “Bet on black!” you bet on black and you wouldn’t regret it. But even as heartless and cruel as he was known to be, just for an instant, he wondered if inviting death was a mistake. But only for an instant.

The noose was tight, and time was almost over. No conscious thought. No air. Just the glistening of the moonbeam in his eyes.

#

“It has been said that money is the root of all evil. Well, if that is the case, call me the Devil!” The crowd erupted with applause. “Most of you know me and if you don’t, well, you should. My name is Eric Stetson and I am the founder and President of Stetson Real Estate. You may know it as one of the largest real-estate investment firms in the United States. Our company has over sixty billion in assets, to include over four hundred properties with over two hundred million square feet in commercial land and property. Both national and international, and the future has NEVER looked brighter!” Eric exclaimed.

Eric’s clear blue eyes reflected the hot light’s glare as he stared out across the crowd of minions. Oh, how they admired him. Standing at 6’2, his dark brown hair lay atop his head in utter flawlessness and his perfectly straight white smile was in full force. He hadn’t even had braces, it was all natural. Not fair at all to the mere mortals hanging on his every word. He had it all. He had a natural six pack, more money in his bank account than he could try to spend in his lifetime and admirers across the globe. He was the kind of man that made you wonder exactly when he had made a deal with the Devil. No one is that good looking, rich and charismatic without Satan having something to do with it. This was the kind of guy Eric Stetson was and everyone wanted to be him.

The crowd applauded and cheered as Eric paced the stage while speaking into the microphone attached to an earpiece. He needed his hands free to motion them for dramatic affect as he spoke. He wasn’t an inspirational speaker, although he should be. He was the head of one of the largest real estate corporations in the US and he owned every single aspect of it proudly. He was a boaster, an egomaniac and charming as hell. Humility was never Eric’s strong suit but that is what made Eric, Eric. He was the type of guy most people loved to hate. He adored that about himself. He wouldn’t have it any other way. He worked hard and played hard. He burnt many a bridge along his way to success and he made no apologies to his victims. In his opinion, shedding a tear was a waste of human fluids. He had little time for the weak and was challenged by the strong. In his own mind he had never come across anyone as competitive as he was and at times he found this to be a disappointment. He was always the smartest person in the room and he had yet to have anyone prove him wrong. Oh, how he would love to meet his equal one day, but in the meantime, he basked in his own glory.

As Eric proceeded to lure the crowd of employees, investors, moguls and just plain admirers, he scoured the room yet did not seek out individual faces. Individual face meant nothing to him. This type of environment, the one where the room held on to his every word as if he were God like, no, as if he were God, was like a drug to him. It incited his need to gain more in life, more power, more money, and more hangers-on. He loved the hangers-on. He loved their sickening admiration. And those hangers-on, well, they loved just being in his presence. One in particular, his brother Jared, was his favorite of all.

For all of Eric’s evils, there appeared to be some good qualities. He was a master manipulator and therefore almost everyone who came across him fell into his charms. People were drawn to him and he gave them just enough to keep them around to undergo his underlying abuses. Although he truly didn’t care too much about the individual person, he projected that he did, to a point. It was an I care, but not that much approach to people. He knew exactly how much empathy and caring he needed to fake. He knew when to seem genuine, loving, and caring but in the end, most of it was a facade. He took to social ques when needed but he was rarely sincere. He could charm even his most staunch opponents. He was the epitome of a sociopath, a narcissist, and an arrogant son of a bitch.

Jared knew this about his brother. He always had and yet he idolized him. Since he was a child Jared had followed his older brother around like a little lost puppy dog. He had watched Eric receive and achieve everything he wanted in life. He was the golden boy. There wasn’t anything that Eric couldn’t do. He was handsome, intelligent, outgoing, mysterious and determined. Jared was nothing like his brother, he had always known this and if he were to ever forget, Eric was there to remind him.

Jared had always been insecure, average, and nothing notable. He had run-of-the-mill looks, could not sell a heater to an Eskimo and hated the spotlight. Jared was innately intelligent though. He excelled in math and sciences in high school and college. If one thing did come easy to Jared it was his intelligence. He had a way of computing things in his head that most people had to work at and rarely achieve. For Jared, solutions, problem solving, looking at a situation and having intuitive recognition and creating favorable outcomes was his forte. He tested at an IQ of 162, which is by some accounts two points higher than Einstein’s IQ. He was brilliant, but he kept it to himself. His social awkwardness and insecurities far out shined his intelligence to the world around him. Jared stood at 5’9, his hair had just begun to recede a bit and he definitely did not inherit Eric’s perfect smile. Jared wasn’t bad looking but compared to his brother he blended into the walls. Jared was apprehensive and tended to be a worrier. He was a worrier of all needless things. His mind never stopped. Unlike Eric though, Jared was deep. He had a conscience, a soul, a need to be liked and loved, he had a desire to make people happy. He internalized everything. He rarely showed anger or frustration. He had learned a long time ago to keep everything inside. This is what made Jared very different from Eric and what made Eric dismiss Jared often.

Jared had finally gotten accustomed to, but not comfortable with, the large groups that engulfed Eric constantly. He had learned to deal with the fast-paced life of Eric and all that it entailed. He had to. He was one of Eric’s assistants and he loved his job. He loved his brother for giving him this job and for putting up with his mediocre performance. He knew Eric tolerated him only because he was his younger brother. This didn’t matter to Jared in the least. He couldn’t fault Eric for anything. He wouldn’t be where he was today without Eric. Most people saw the brother’s relationship for what it was, an abuse of one brother to another, pathetic, but Jared remained grateful. He understood Eric and why he did the things he did. Jared was an enabler of his brother’s abuses but like Eric needing the spotlight and accolades, Jared needed Eric. He was Jared’s drug of choice. Eric was everything that Jared desired to be but could never obtain. He loved his brother and accepted that the love his brother had for him was limited. Even with that limited love, it gave Jared a sense of belonging, of being needed, and a purposeful life.

Jared was dressed in his nicest suit picked out for him by one of Eric’s stylists turned assistant, Rachael. He stood backstage with his arms folded watching his brother create the magic that only Eric could create. He admired the control and command he had over the entire audience. Eric had mastered the English language and whenever he spoke on stage, to Jared, it was like watching a brilliant operatic performance. As Jared watched his brother for the thousandth time, he noticed something he hadn’t noticed before. Without warning, his internal voice kicked in.

The temperature on stage from the lights must be well over a hundred degrees and not one bead of sweat. Who doesn’t sweat onstage? Oh, yeah, Eric, that’s who! Jared thought to himself. For a second, this voice came from a place of envy. It had spoken to him without warning or permission. Stop it! Jared demanded of the voice in his head. He always fought off envy when it came to his brother. If he didn’t, his life would be agony. So instead he gave the comments in his mind a quick chuckle. Of course, Eric doesn’t sweat during these events. That would make him human. Jared gave a smirk and resumed his admiration for his brother while admonishing the envious voice that at times so betrayed him. One bad thought could root a lifetime of resentment and Jared just wasn’t willing to go there with Eric, even in the silence of his own mind. He needed Eric far too much.

Eric thanked the audience for their attendance, albeit mandatory, and encouraged each and every one to reach their highest potential at Stetson Real Estate as he held up a glass of champagne followed by more applause and a few indiscriminate whistles.

He removed his earpiece as he made his way across the stage to an entourage compiled of personal assistants, a few yes men and of course Jared. The music began to play as Eric reached his brother who handed him a bottle of Evian water, the cap removed of course. Eric drank the whole bottle quickly and handed it to Jared as he continued walking back stage towards one of the green rooms where he could have a drink and a quick cigar before mingling with the commoners. He was always a man on a mission. A very dismissive man on a mission. Jared always tried to match step for step to keep up with Eric, but rarely could he match Eric’s stride. Jared always seemed a few steps behind.

While Jared raced to keep up, Tom, the CFO, praised Eric on a job well done. Michael, another assistant, placed a folder with papers in front of him to sign as they walked. Rachael stopped Eric to straighten his tie and fix his hair. Rachael was the only person that Eric let into his bubble publicly. She had been his stylist for years. She had upgraded to personal assistant, although she continued to style him. That was her passion. Keeping the man looking good, plus she had an unlimited spending account which was something she wasn’t willing to give up. Louis Vuitton was a benefit that came with her job, along with health insurance and a company car. She was not doing badly for a girl with a degree in fashion.

Rachael was gorgeous, as were most people Eric employed in relatively close proximity to him. He wanted to surround himself with beautiful people. Had Jared not been his brother he never would have made the cut. Rachael was elegant yet a lot of fun. Her appearance was always immaculate whether she was dressed for an awards dinner like tonight or in shorts and a tank top to go for a hike. She had no flaws. Unlike most of the people Eric surrounded himself with, Rachael was not opposed to keeping him on his toes and really calling him on his bullshit if she chose to pick a battle with him. She was smart that way. She knew which battles to pick with Eric and which to deflect. Even when calling Eric out she remained respectful and loving. Maybe that’s why Eric appreciated her. Maybe in her, he had found his equal in a far more loving person. Whatever the dynamics of their relationship, they worked well together. She was probably the closest thing to a healthy relationship Eric had ever had. Plus, she had an amazing smile and laugh that made everyone’s heart melt. To Jared she was perfect, to Eric she was adequate.

Eric sat on the leather couch in the green room as he reached for the remote. Jared, Rachael, Tom and Michael joined him. This was his quiet time. His cigar smoking, vodka drinking, decompressing time. He needed these moments, or he would literally snap. Eric tolerated the human species. He didn’t know why, but he did know that he was superior to other humans and he could barely stand most of them. Detached would be a mild term to use when describing Eric. He didn’t mind making human connections as long as they were on his terms.

Tom sat next to Eric while he changed the channel to the local news. The news anchor reported on a car rollover on I-25, a dog found two years after it went missing and a female body found in Parker. Eric leaned back while Tom tested the waters.

“We need to talk about the Hamilton property purchase.”

Eric remained silent with absolutely no facial expressions. Jared quickly reached for the vodka to make Eric a drink. All Jared could think was Don’t do it Tom!

Tom knew this wasn’t a subject that Eric wanted to talk about even though Tom needed him too.

“Eric, you can’t keep ignoring me forever. You sign the papers soon and I don’t think you-”

Eric slammed his fist on the end table and stood up walking away from Tom towards the wet bar. Jared scrambled to make the vodka tonic to put into Eric’s hand.

“I know what you think Tom! We’ve been over this a million times! It’s my company! It’s my decision!” Eric grabbed the drink from Jared’s shaking hand.

Rachael sat on one of the bar stools awaiting the battle she would not have chosen to pick.

“Eric, we have investors. We have a Board of Directors, all of which question this venture. Profits are down. The company isn’t doing as well as it had been, and you know this. “

“Oh my God Tom! If I had made most of my decisions based off caution, there wouldn’t be a business. I know what I’m doing! Who the hell are you to question me? Know your place Tom! Do what you’re told and nothing else!”

Tom looked Eric straight in the eyes. Tom, normally a passive and agreeable man was not so agreeable anymore.

“You understand the risks? You know that if this venture isn’t 100% profitable that our company, YOUR company is in jeopardy? We are not talking small change Eric. You’re putting all of us at risk. I know my place Eric. And it’s my job to tell you when you are putting this company into financial risk.”

Eric took a large swig of his drink and glared at Tom. “Are you done Tom?” He took another mouthful of his Vodka. “I still control the majority of stock in this company. Who has a greater chance of suffering the consequences than me?”

Tom just stared at Eric, defeated. They had been over this so many times. He knew that he wasn’t going to get through to Eric and was done trying. And with the death wish of a man about to jump off the Empire State Building, Tom took a deep breath and proceeded toward to door.

“You’ve never suffered a consequence a day in your life Eric!” Tom walked out of the room and slammed the door as Eric’s glass filled with vodka smashed against the door frame.

“Bastard! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! What the hell have I been doing all these years? How did I build an empire if I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL I WAS DOING?”

Jared quickly scrambled to make and give Eric a new vodka tonic while Rachael silently exited the room with as much dignity as anyone could in that situation, followed by Michael. Both had remained silent and off the radar. Eric shot back the vodka, straightened his suit and tie and walked out the door. He hadn’t even gotten the chance to light a cigar!

Jared took a few shots straight from the vodka bottle and followed behind. This was going to be a long night.

CHAPTER 2

Detective Brady had been with the Homicide Unit of the Parker Police Department for over two decades and this was the most brutal murder he had ever seen. Not one of, but THE MOST, brutal. He was fifty and experienced, but this scene almost brought him to his knees.

He was a large man in stature and an intimidating presence but in this moment, he was small and unnerved. He hadn’t gotten sick as a result of a murder scene since the beginning of his career as a police officer, until today. Today was different than most.

Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and the saliva collected in his mouth, the kind that warns you that you had better get to a toilet quick. His palms were soaking wet under the latex gloves and his heart was beating so fast he could barely catch his breath. He refused to vomit. He wasn’t going to let his colleagues see him be weak. He just stood, staring, fighting back the nausea. Not only was his response due to the gruesome scene but he’d guess she was about his daughters age, twenty, if it was a she.

As his gaze fixated on her mutilated body, he wondered who would have had enough anger to do this to another human being. Whoever had done this was very evil and very dangerous. It not only appeared to be overkill which would lead some to believe it was personal but the level of mutilation, hopefully postmortem, was beyond words.

All Detective Brady could do was stand there in the midst of everything wicked in the world and try to process what he was seeing. He concluded that she had more stab wounds than he had ever seen before. In fact, he was sure they weren’t stab wounds as much as they were tearing or deep slashes. Her body had been shredded. Her internal organs, muscles, tissues now lay separate from her body. She had been scalped. Her hands and feet removed but not missing. All the body parts were strewn across the crime scene, including her hair. Her body, or what was left of it, was positioned not in a sexual way but in an obscure contorted way. Her hands, her feet, her organs, her scalp, laid across the ground just tossed about. But her face, her face had not been touched. Her skin was like porcelain. She was beautiful. Her eyes wide open, were blue. Petechial hemorrhage covered the whites of her eyes and around her eyes. This made Detective Brady look down towards her neck. Between the slash marks he could see signs of bruising. Had she been strangled? And on top of all of that, it was obvious that this was not where she had been killed.

She had been washed. There was very little blood. No purse, no jewelry, no ID, no clothes. There was a strong odor of bleach. He had seen plenty of dumping sights in his career but nothing like this. He was used to bodies being thrown out like trash, but someone had taken great care to make a statement with this crime scene. They took their time. They wanted her to be found in this place, in this position, on this day. They wanted her to be found exactly as they had found her. Grotesque and yet the epitome of innocence. She had been left on the side of a walking trail and it didn’t appear that she had been there long. It didn’t look like animals or insects had gotten a chance to get at her. The cool spring temperatures in Colorado had allowed her to remain preserved.

Detective Brady took out a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face and neck. He finally blinked after what was probably minutes. He snapped himself out of it and walked over to one of the police officers that had responded to the call.

“Who found her?” Brady asked.

“His name is Todd Graham. He is twenty-eight years old and runs here every day. He’s sitting over there.” The police officer pointed to a man in shorts, t-shirt and sneakers sitting on the cold ground. His head was down in his arms that were folded resting on his knees. He was almost in a sitting fetal position. “He was out for a run and called it in. He is really upset. We had the paramedics check him out, but he seems to be calming down. They’re getting ready to leave.”

“How long ago did he call it in?”

“About an hour ago.”

Brady looked at his watch “So, about six this morning?”

“Yes.”

Detective Brady turned to walk towards the man when the officer stopped him.

“Detective Brady?”

“Yes?”

“I’ve been a police officer for seven years and have seen a lot of things, but this is bad.” The officer searched Detective Brady’s face for some reassurance, comfort, anything to make this scene seem acceptable.

“It’s bad.” That was all Brady could say as he walked toward the witness.

The man still had his head down almost rocking back and forth when Detective Brady approached.

“Mr. Graham?” A few seconds passed, and Brady asked again. “Mr. Graham?”

The man slowly lifted his head and looked at Detective Brady. His eyes were full and swollen from crying.

“Yes?”

“Mr. Graham, my name is Detective Brady. I’m with the Parker Police Department, Homicide Division. I understand you found the body and called the police.” Brady showed the broken man his badge.

The man looked at Detective Brady in utter bewilderment. “The body? That’s not a body detective. That’s a head with God knows what else! Oh my God… that isn’t even a human being. What….I….Who…” The man began to hyperventilate.

“I understand Mr. Graham. I don’t mean to upset you. I just need you to take some deep breaths, alright?”

“Alright? Alright? No, it’s not alright! Nothing is alright! I don’t know what you see every day but damn it, I was just out for a run. I’m not OK! It’s not OK! I have been trying to un-see what I have seen for the last hour and it will not get out of my head. I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

In one glance to his left on his morning run, and one step of his Nike on a running trail, Mr. Graham’s life had changed forever. He was out for a morning run just to experience something so horrific that it would be with him forever. It will affect his home life, his work life, and dominate his mind for a very long time. He was in severe shock. Detective Brady knew that he was going to need to be calmed down before he was able to question him any further.

Detective Brady motioned for the paramedics who were just about to pull away. Both EMT’s, one with a bag, came over to Mr. Graham.

“I can’t breathe!” He looked at them seeking recognition that he was going to be OK.

While one checked his heart rate and blood pressure the other went back to the ambulance for the stretcher. One of the officers helped the EMT and they brought it over to gather Mr. Graham. As they loaded him onto the stretcher and attached the oxygen, Detective Brady informed him that he would meet him at the hospital to ask him some questions. Mr. Graham looked right through the detective. An IV full of sedatives and a number to a good therapist should cure Mr. Graham’s issues. If only that were the case for Detective Brady.

The coroner had arrived to start the process of removing the body. Forensics had been taking pictures, collecting evidence and talking to any potential witnesses. It appears that Mr. Graham may have been the only witness at this point and other than finding the body he had nothing further to provide. Detective Landry, Brady’s partner, walked up to him watching the crime scene being neatly tightened up.

“Not a good day.” Landry said with an incredibly monotone voice as he shook his head.

“I just can’t imagine the person that did this.” Brady said utterly bewildered.

“It’s not a person!” Landry began to turn away from the scene to walk back to his car. “It’s a monster!” Landry put his hand on Brady’s shoulder. “Come on. Let’s go to the hospital. Forensics will let us know if they get an ID.”

Both detectives remained silent as they drove to the hospital. Both detective’s minds did what detective’s minds do, go over the crime scene, the potential suspect list, the possible motive. Whoever had done this had incredible rage. In the detective’s minds, this had to be personal. Someone took the time to savagely tear apart a human being and then clean every inch of what was left. At least that’s what they assumed by the overwhelming odor of bleach and lack of bodily fluids. Someone had time. They took the time to be so cruel in their torture and yet so precise in their cleaning and displaying of the body. They could only hope that there would be something. Anything under her nails, on her body, in her body that would lead them to the killer. They both hoped in silence that some usable DNA would have been left behind. They hoped that this had been personal, maybe a boyfriend. Otherwise, the thought of a total stranger, a deranged maniac on the loose killing pretty young girls was not something either of the detectives wanted to accept. Then Brady put it out there.

“Ted Bundy.” There was silence. Only road noise as Landry drove. Landry was a seasoned investigator. He was only a few years younger than Brady, however, time had not been as kind to Brady. Landry was calmer and more jovial than Brady. He complemented Brady’s serious disposition and cranky nature. Landry was the Costello to Brady’s Abbot. He always tried to add levity to every situation whenever possible. He figured he was the placebo for Brady’s blood pressure.

“BTK.” Still silence as Brady continued. “It happens. We have to consider it Landry.”

“Yes, we do. You’re right. But we must consider the usual suspects first. Let’s deal with that first.” Landry continued to drive and ponder. Brady had no further comment. He had said enough.

They walked to the check-in desk of the hospital and explained who they were and why they were there. A nurse walked them to Mr. Graham’s room. As they entered Mr. Graham opened his eyes to see who had just entered. His eyes were much calmer and a little glazed over. The detectives knew why. An IV drip was pumping some pretty good sedatives into Mr. Graham as he lay on the hospital bed wearing a hospital gown and covered with a blanket. Sitting next to the patient was a woman in her twenties. She stood to greet the men.

“Hi. I’m Rebecca, Todd’s wife.” Her eyes were red from crying.

“Nice to meet you Rebecca. I’m Detective Landry and this is Detective Brady.”

“Nice to meet you. Todd is kind of out of it, but he’s doing better.” She reached over and touched his arm sympathetically. “Do you need to ask him questions now?”

“If we could, that would be great. If we need to meet with him after this, we’ll call him but hopefully we won’t need to.” Landry took out his notebook and began to write.

“Rebecca what is Todd’s full name?”

“Todd James Graham.”

“Address?”

“55 Gold Post Road, Parker, Colorado.”

“How long has he lived there?”

“About four years.”

Todd’s eyes darted back and forth as the detective asked his wife questions. “I didn’t see anyone.” Todd said as Landry wrote. Landry and Brady turned their attention towards Todd.

“OK, Mr. Graham. Do you mind if we start at the beginning?” Brady asked as he stood next to Landry who would be asking most of the questions.

“OK.” Todd calmly replied.

“Do you normally go running in the mornings?” Landry asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you normally run in that park?”

“Yes.”

“Do you normally run on that trail at that time of day?”

“Yes. Most of the time.”

“OK. Have you ever seen anything that you considered odd or suspicious there?”

“No. Nothing. It’s a very safe park. There are usually a lot of runners, parents with kids, and people with pets. It’s in a nice affluent neighborhood. I’ve never worried before. My wife runs there too, usually with me.”

Detective Landry turned to Rebecca. “Do you normally run with your husband?”

“I do. I wasn’t feeling good this morning, so I didn’t go.”

The detectives turned back to Todd. “How long were you on your run when you found the body?” Brady continued.

“I had run about a mile, so not long. I usually park on the south-east side of the park and run the full length of the trail a few times so I must have passed the body the first time around. It was dark.” Todd motioned for his wife. “Can I have some water?”

“Let me check Babe.” Rebecca let go of his arm and left the room to ask a nurse.

“I can’t believe I passed the body, but I must have. I can’t figure out how I missed it the first time other than the fact that it was somewhat dark when I began my run. I mean, it was right there, off to the side. It’s not like there were neon lights but seriously, how could I have missed it?”

“Were there any other runners on the trail?” Brady asked.

“Not when I was running. I do go early. There usually are other runners but it was pretty empty today. Thank God, I guess.” Todd’s words were slow, and he was much calmer than he had been at the park.

“Did you see anyone else?”

“There were a few different people there with their dogs, but I think that was all as far as I can remember.”

“Can you describe them?”

“Not really. They weren’t near me and I wasn’t paying much attention. When I run, I plug into my phone, listen to my music and just run. I think there were about four people in total with a few dogs running around. They weren’t all together though.”

“What did they look like?”

“All of them were Caucasian, I think. All of them had hats and coats. It was cold this morning. I didn’t see them well enough to even give you hair color.”

“Were there any cars in the parking lots?”

“No. Just mine. So, I assume the others live in the neighborhoods close by. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of anything. There really isn’t anything at all that I can think of.”

“That’s alright Mr. Graham. We appreciate you trying to give us any information you can. But I do need to ask what you did when you noticed the body.” Landry replied.

Todd closed his eyes tightly and took in a big gulp of air. He didn’t want to think about it again. He had been trying to get it out of his mind for hours, but the sedatives were helping his level of reaction, and he was able to tell the detectives about the morning that would change his life forever. He took a few moments and then began to speak. “I told you I hadn’t noticed it as I first ran by it but, the second time I saw it out of the corner of my eye. It was right there. You saw it. That’s why I can’t get over why I didn’t see it the first time.” He took in a few deep breaths. “Anyway, at first I thought it was a mannequin or pieces of a mannequin. I slowed down and began to walk over to it. And then I realized what I was seeing. It was horrible. I ran. I kept running. I dialed 911 on my phone. I think I was still running when I spoke to them because the next thing I remembered, I was in my car and the police were knocking on my window.”

“Was anyone around? Were the people with the dogs still there?” Landry asked but Todd didn’t acknowledge his question.

“I didn’t want to go back. I told them where it was, but they insisted I show them. I told them that I didn’t want to. I told them.” Todd’s eyes filled with tears as his wife came in with the nurse who had a cup of water and a straw in hand. “I told them, but they drove me over there so that I could show them.” Todd began to cry uncontrollably.

“Excuse me detectives.” The nurse slid by with the water. “Here you go Mr. Graham. Take a sip.” As tears streamed down his eyes, she brought the straw to his lips and held it there until Todd could control himself enough to take in some water. He took a few moments to calm down as his wife held his hand and stroked his hair. The room was silent for a while.

“What was your question detective?” Todd looked at Brady.

“Did you notice if any of the people who you saw earlier were still there?” Brady asked.

“I don’t know. I really don’t remember too much after I saw the body. I’m sorry. I’m usually a very controlled person, but I just can’t right now. I just need what I saw to go away.”

Todd’s wife looked at the detectives “I think that’s enough for now.” The nurse walked back into the room with another syringe and pushed the needle into the IV.

“Absolutely.” Landry responded.

“Thank you for your help Mr. Graham. Mrs. Graham, if he thinks of anything else and I mean anything, even the smallest thing, please have him call us.” Brady handed her two cards, his and Landry’s.

“I will.” Mrs. Graham walked over to the sink to wet a wash cloth and began to wipe Mr. Graham’s face as the detectives exited the room.

“We’ll give it a couple of days before we meet with him again. I don’t think we’re going to get anything more from him today, do you?” Brady asked Landry as they walked out of the automated hospital doors and into the clear warm day.

“I don’t either. I don’t think he saw anything relevant other than finding her body. One thing is for sure, this has messed him up pretty good. I don’t think he will ever be the same.” Landry replied.

“Can you blame him? It’s just disappointing that he didn’t see anything else and can’t describe the people at the park. No cars in the parking lots. No other runners. Here’s hoping forensics has something.”

“Here’s hoping.” Landry reached for the car door handle. “You hungry?”

“Starving!” 

CHAPTER 3

Back at home Jared loosened his shoe laces as he slowly wiggled out of each of his Carmina Shoemakers. He loved these shoes; leather, comfortable and expensive. He didn’t pick them out nor did he pay for them. Rachael had an amazing sense of style and he loved that about her. His look was in her hands, always, right down to his pajamas, socks and underwear. Not to mention his cologne and deodorant. She even shopped for his toothpaste. His smile had never looked brighter. She had a way of making him look not so ordinary. Until he met Rachael, he had been dressed in an array of fads and uncomfortable suits by Eric’s other stylists but with Rachael she considered his comfort as well as his look. There was not only elegance in what she chose but there was compassion in the fit, the fabric, the overall feel to a person. He hadn’t seen this before in any of the other stylists and it was a part of her character that really drove home his need to have her in his life.

Jared’s life had, up to this point, been solely about Eric. He had had very few relationships. His focus had been on Eric’s needs, demands, and accomplishments. Jared hadn’t minded riding Eric’s coat tails. In fact, he wasn’t ashamed of it at all. This was Jared’s comfort zone, it was all Jared had known. Jared owed Eric. And even for as horrible as Eric could be to him, Jared had a loyalty, albeit twisted, with Eric that he hadn’t even found with his own parents. Eric came to be his caretaker even though it was dysfunctional as hell. Jared needed Eric to guide him and financially take care of him. Eric was the one born with the drive to succeed and it didn’t hurt that most things came easily to Eric since he was a teenager. Without Eric, where would Jared be? He had no close connections. They had no parents. His own father had made sure of that when they were kids.

Mr. and Mrs. Stetson, AKA mom and dad to Eric and Jared, had never really parented. At least not in any sort of loving way. In fact, they were not around too often growing up and when they were, they were horrors of the darkest kind.

Both addicts, both detached and both extremely abusive in their own ways. Mr. Stetson was a man of logic and little patience. The only emotion the boys ever saw was in rage and anger, especially when Mr. Stetson was drunk. Which happened almost every single night of their lives, until their mother’s death. The boys stopped referring to him as dad a very long time ago, per Eric’s insistence. Their mom had retained the parental title a little longer than Mr. Stetson but not too much longer, per Eric as well. Mr. Stetson was an accountant, and she his punching bag or dog to kick or enabler or whatever the term for the moment. The boys despised their father. He had no time for them, no desire to be their dad and the only benefit to him having children was the tax credit they became every year on the family tax return. Other than that, they were a burden and he never let them forget it.

Mrs. Stetson on the other hand had, at some point, loved the boys or at least Eric, but Mr. Stetson eventually beat that out of her too. From what the boys had been told, their parents had truly loved each other. They traveled often and were the life of the party for most of their marriage until Mrs. Stetson became pregnant with Eric. There was some speculation that the abuse had existed prior to her pregnancy. But it was clear to those who knew them that once she became pregnant with Eric everything changed. Mr. Stetson changed, and he made damn sure Mrs. Stetson paid heavily for her boy’s existence. Relatives had shared with them on the rare occasional visits to their foster home that Mrs. Stetson had been excited to have both boys and had loved them very much. Mr. Stetson was the demise of anything good and loving in her. After so many years of abuse she became distant. She became non-engaging and not present even when she was present. She had died long before her actual death and it was a tragedy.

The day after they were taken from their home, they were able go back and pack a few things. Jared was ten and was very confused, but he made sure he grabbed the shoe box with all the family photos. This shoe box had been kept under his bed for fear that his dad would find them and burn them. Old pictures showed Mrs. Stetson to be a very beautiful young lady. Almost every picture Jared had saved of her from her younger years was of her laughing or smiling. She had a bright glow about her in these pictures. She seemed full of life. She seemed to not have a care in the world. These pictures were proof of a happier time for Mrs. Stetson and in some pictures, there was a smiling Mr. Stetson, pre-children of course. His mother was almost angelic, almost the epitome of innocence, almost perfection, at least to Jared.

Unfortunately, this was not the mom that he remembered. By the time he came around she had virtually no life in her. She rarely held him and never really made a connection with him. The pictures he had kept all these years seemed to chronicle the decline of his mother. The few pictures that he did have of him and Eric seemed sad. His father rarely in a picture and his mother never smiling and obviously dead inside. Even pictures of her holding him as a new born revealed such a sadness in her expression. There were no pictures of birthdays, Christmas’, vacations. None of that existed in their home that he knew of. He remembered Mrs. Stetson sitting, smoking and drinking a lot, staring off into the distance. Maybe Mr. Stetson had punched her one to many times and she couldn’t form a solid thought. Maybe her brains weren’t good anymore. He never remembered her smiling. He doesn’t remember what she sounded like or her even speaking to him for that matter. He remembers himself smelling of dirty clothes and smoke.

Sometimes he just sits and tries to force a memory, a good memory. He doesn’t want to fully forget her and that is why he held onto pictures even when Eric reprimanded him for it. So, like the fear he had with his father he kept them hidden away from Eric’s control. Jared didn’t want to fully let his mother go. Sometimes he would fantasize that she had been a good mom, a loving mom, a mom that smiled but eventually the real memories would overtake his dreams.

Eric took the brunt of Mr. Stetson’s blows. Eric took the blows because as long as he was taking them, then Jared or Mrs. Stetson weren’t. Jared learned to run and hide the minute he heard his father’s voice escalate. His father’s rage came full force at Eric and Mrs. Stetson. The only difference for either was that Eric would try to protect his mom while Mrs. Stetson would just watch or walk away if it were Eric’s turn. There was never a maternal protective action on her part the last few years of her life and Eric never forgot that. She was selfish that way and Eric hated her for it.

Jared remembers that night when the beating of Eric was so brutal that Eric begged his mom for help, which wasn’t normal. Eric had learned not to beg for help from his mom, it was pointless, but this night was different. This night Mr. Stetson wasn’t getting tired even though he was drunk. Jared could barely recognize Eric’s voice as the beating progressed and the screams were so high, he sounded like a girl. Eric was a thirteen-year-old boy with a deepening voice but not this night.

As Jared’s eyes peered out from under his little bed to his opened bedroom door and into the hallway, he saw his mom slowly walking to her room but as she passed his, she turned and looked at Jared while tears ran down his face. She stopped for a moment as Eric’s cries for help ravaged the house and she just stared at Jared. Then she slowly turned and walked into her room and shut the door. Jared closed his eyes, covered his ears and slid as far under his bed and against the wall as he could. In his little mind, he prayed and begged for Eric’s screams to stop, when finally, they did.

Jared waited for what seemed like an eternity without movement and then he removed his hands from his ears and opened his eyes. His heart pounded in his chest. Sweat was dripping from his forehead, his body ached with intensity. He knew what it was like to be beaten by Mr. Stetson and he wanted so badly for his brother to come climb under the bed with him. He wanted to know if Eric was alright. The room was getting dark as night set in. Jared slowly crawled towards the end of the bed to see if he could see anything. The house was silent. His eyes scanned the quickly darkening room and hallway. He didn’t dare go any further out from under his bed in the fear that his father would see him. He heard the refrigerator door open and heard his father pull out the remainder of the six pack and open one of the cans. He heard his father swallow an entire beer in an instant, crush the can and open another to drink that too. Then just outside of his room, in the hallway, he heard his father clear his throat. He saw his father’s belt come flying through the air to the other side of the hallway. He heard it hit the decorative table that was placed at the end of the hallway. He knew this had been his father’s choice of weapon used on Eric just moments ago. He shrunk back under his bed with just enough room to see the floor as his father’s shoes drunkenly stumble passed his room. He looked up as high as he could to see his father’s bloody hand wrapped around a vodka bottle. Mr. Stetson was too drunk to even notice him. He heard the door to Mr. and Mrs. Stetson’s room open and then slam shut. Jared let out a little noise as the door was slammed. He covered his mouth and waited.

Time passed, and he didn’t see his brother. He was only ten, but he wasn’t a baby anymore he told himself. He needed to go help Eric. He slowly crawled out from under his bed. He was painfully quiet. He begged God to not let any boards creak from the floor if he were to walk down the hallway making his way to Eric. He knew if they did, his life would be cut short. He maneuvered slowly out of his room and down the hallway to the family room, the scene of the beating. He saw Eric laying on the floor with his back toward Jared. Blood was everywhere. Jared checked to see if his back was moving with breathes before he made his way to the front of Eric. He was frozen with fear that his brother was dead. There were breathes. Jared quickly walked around to the front of Eric and knelt down. Eric’s right eye was completely swollen over, black, blue and bloody. And the other was not much better. Soon Eric’s eyes would be completely swollen shut. Eric’s better eye scanned Jared’s face, begging for help. Blood seeped out of Eric’s mouth. His shirt had been torn from his body and bruising had started. Blood oozed from the many wounds. Jared went to the kitchen and got a wash rag. He slowly turned on the faucet just enough to let water drip onto the rag but not enough for water to fill the pipes notifying Mr. Stetson that life was in the house.

Jared took the wet rag over to Eric and began to wipe away the last hour of beating from Eric’s broken body. Eric slowly got up and pushed away from Jared. He was in shock and barely conscious. He stood with his hands on his bent knees trying to catch his breath to get to an upright position. He knew that his ribs were probably broken but what he didn’t realize was that one of those ribs had punctured a lung. As he fought for breath, he slowly made his way to the front door stumbling as he went. Without thought he exited, slamming the screen door behind him. Jared immediately raced to his room praying that his father wouldn’t see him and slid under his bed just as he heard Mr. and Mrs. Stetson’s bedroom door come flying open.

“Eric!” His father screamed.

“Eric! Eric!” His words slurred. He heard the front door slam, heard his father lock the door and saw his father stagger back down the hall. Once more Mr. Stetson went to his room and slammed the door. Jared curled into a ball and cried uncontrollably as his mother begged for her life.

By the time the police got to the house, kicked in both the front door and the bedroom door with guns drawn, ten-year-old Jared was cradling his mother’s bleeding and dead body as his father lay passed out and covered in blood, holding a knife.

Jared was removed from the scene and taken immediately to the hospital where his brother had been admitted. Mr. Stetson was charged and convicted of second-degree murder. To convict him wasn’t tough to do since he was an abusive alcoholic, passed out holding the knife after what appeared to be a brutal beating. Jared didn’t even need to testify although Eric did, and he was more than happy to. Mr. Stetson received twenty-five years in prison.

The boys were raised by Mr. and Mrs. Colby, their foster parents and old friends of the Stetson’s. The Colby’s actually ended up being decent foster parents, more like friends to the boys. Mrs. Stetson had done one good thing in her life and that was having a secret life insurance policy that Mr. Stetson didn’t know about. She had put the boys as the beneficiaries. Maybe she had known he would kill her one day and maybe this was one last significant act of love. Whatever it was, it was too little too late for the boy’s broken hearts. Her life insurance did pay for their cars, college, Eric’s start up, and life seemed pretty damn good once Mr. and Mrs. Stetson no longer existed. Just how Eric liked it. Jared, on the other hand, would look at those old pictures of his mom from time to time. It made him smile.

There was a knock at the door which startled Jared as he sat on the couch. He walked over to the door and opened it. He smiled as her arms wrapped around his neck. She placed a kiss on his smiling lips. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tight.

“Aren’t you going to let me in?” Rachael said now reaching down to take off her high heels.

“Always.” Jared exclaimed as he closed the door behind her.

Rachael sat her heals on the carpet next to the door and she headed for the bar to make herself a drink after such a long night.

“Would you like a drink Babe?” She asked with a huge smile on her face.

“I would love one. Thank you.” Jared leaned against the counter with his arms folded in front of him just staring at her in all her beauty. He was a man in love and she was his everything.

Rachael finished the drinks and handed him his. “I’m so glad this night is over. So many ego’s, I can hardly stand it.” Rachael exclaimed with a slight giggle. “Thank God I have you!” She brought her drink up to his to cheers the sentiment.

“Even though we have to keep it secret?” He asked.

“Even though we have to keep it secret.” Rachael took a step forward to meet his body. She was now much shorter with her heels off and had to stand on tiptoes to meet his eyes. “What we have is far too special to share with the rest of the world. Besides your brother would make our lives hell.”

“I love you.” Jared exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her passionately. “I’ll take you however I can have you.”

They had waited a lifetime for each other and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for her. She was his, even in secret, and he was never letting go. His life was complete now and nothing could take it from him.

CHAPTER 4

Detective Brady got off the phone with Missing Person’s and turned to Detective Landry. He leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. The kind of breath that only comes with pure exhaustion.

“They are sending over a picture of her now.” Brady relayed.

“The missing girl?”

“Yep.” Brady ran his hands back and forth over his head. It had been a long day and it wasn’t about to end any time soon.

“How old did they say she is?”

“Eighteen”

“Perfect match?”

“Perfect. Even the mole on her left cheek.” Brady shook his head and took another deep breath. Why did he quit smoking? he wondered. He hadn’t been tempted in a while, but his craving was intense. His wife would kill him if he started the habit again. In this moment, he debated, and Marlboro was winning.

Detective Brady’s email notification dinged. He opened the attachment. He looked at the picture intently even though he didn’t need to, it was obvious the second he opened it up.

“That’s her.” Brady paused for a moment. “God, I hate this job sometimes!”

Landry walked over to Brady’s computer and studied the picture hoping he could point out any differences to cause doubt that it was her. He didn’t know why. If it wasn’t her it would be someone else’s daughter.  The name under the picture said Amanda Drake. She was a beautiful young girl with extremely worried parents. He knew that they needed to know sooner than later. Landry checked his watch. “It’s five thirty. Do you want to go meet with her parents?”

“Might as well. Do we need the Chaplin?”

“No. Their clergy is already at their house. I have a feeling they know what might be coming their way.”

“Alright.” Brady shut down his computer, grabbed his jacket and headed for the car.

Detectives Brady and Landry pulled up to the Drake’s home. It was a gated community and they had been buzzed in by one of Amanda’s uncles. The neighborhood was filled with homes owned by doctors, Athletes, lawyers and CEO’s of large corporations. The home was spectacular. It was the kind of home you saw on television and envied. The driveway seemed a mile long and was surrounded by tall thin green trees that pointed at the top. The kind you see in Italy and the kind the average man can’t afford. The home and neighborhood reeked of safety, warmth and community. But on this night, none of that would save the Drake’s, Amanda’s parents, from the horrors that reality can bring no matter what your financial status is.

The street was lined with parked cars and the home was lit up and filled with people. They knew that every family member within a hundred-mile radius was probably in that home. People were either pacing, baking or consoling. It’s amazing how many casseroles are made in a time of crisis. That was typical, unfortunately. They got out of their car, took the long walk up the driveway and knocked on the door.

The door slowly opened where a man stood with tears in his eyes and fear on his face.

“Are you Brian Drake, Amanda’s dad?” Detective Landry asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m Detective Landry and this is Detective Brady. May we come in?”

“Yes, please.” He opened the door wide as people began coming out of the many different rooms and gathering around the detectives. A woman with a handful of Kleenex came from around the corner. Her eyes were also filled with tears. The detectives knew immediately that she was Amanda’s mom. She looked just like her. It was eerie to both detectives. Her eyes were curious and yet begging not to know. Mr. Drake took her by the hand and pulled her into him.

“This is my wife Debbie. Do you have any news about Amanda? We were told that a body has been found. We saw it on the news too. Is it her?” Mr. Drake asked.

“Mr. Drake, is there some place where we can talk in private?” All eyes were on the detectives as more and more people came from all corners of the house.

“Was it her?” Mrs. Drake begged through tears.

There was no reprieve for the two detectives. This was going to be a public event. There was no getting around it.

Detective Brady looked down at his hands, took a deep breath “Yes, Ma’am, we believe it’s Amanda.”

Mrs. Drake let out a scream that turned into an agonizing cry as she began to slowly drop to the ground. The twenty or so people who had gathered in the house all began to gasp, wail and cry. “Oh my God!” Filled the room. From the back of the room a priest came forward as Mr. Drake helped Mrs. Drake stable herself to a sitting position on the stairs.

“How? What happened? Can….Can I see her?” Mr. Drake looked up at the detectives seeking answers.

“Mr. Drake, may we ask you to come to the morgue to identify her? Or is there a family member here who can do it for you?” The detectives managed to deflect the question of how she died and no one else asked, so they didn’t give any information.  

“I can do it.” Mr. Drake wiped the tears as they fell from his eyes. “Just let me get my coat.”

“I will go with you.” The priest interjected. A man standing next to Mr. Drake also volunteered. “I’m her uncle Mark. I’m going as well.”

Mrs. Drake’s face lay in her hands. She was inconsolable as people gathered around her, comforting her as she melted into the large staircase now engulfing her tiny frame. “No! God No! It can’t be her!” She wailed. “She was just here. I just spoke to her.” She tried catching her breath through the cries as she spoke. “It has to be a mistake! It can’t be her! Brian, it can’t be her! I can’t do this! I want Amanda! I need her!” Debbie looked up at her husband with tears pouring down her face, grabbing his arm in desperation, begging him to change the course of this day. The intensity of her cries overtook the room. It was the sound of a mother having just lost her child, there is no other sound like it on earth. It’s a sound that should never be, but is.

Mr. Drake knelt next to her. “We will get through this Debbie. I promise you with everything that I have that we will get through this.” He tried taking a breath but found it difficult. “She is our baby. She will always be our baby. We need to get to her and bring her home Debbie. I promise you, I will bring her home where she will be safe.” He wrapped his arms around her as tightly as he could. Tears from his eyes fell onto the top of her head. There were many tears. He was trying to be strong, but he was her Dad and she was his princess and she wouldn’t be walking through their front door ever again. He wouldn’t ever hold her again, talk to her again, and harass her with his sarcasm ever again. He wasn’t ever going to hear her voice again. His heart was never going to be whole again.

He knew he needed to be strong, but the entire room filled with wails and cries and no one could stop it. “I love you Debbie. I will bring her home.” He slowly stood up and turned to a woman who was sitting behind his wife with her hands-on Debbie’s shoulders. “Her diazepam is in her purse. She can take two of them.” He wiped his wife’s face, kissed her forehead and walked to the couch in the next room to grab his coat. There was no air left in the room. The life was gone in more ways than one. It would take a long time for this home and this family to heal but from the look of the support and love that was standing in this home, in this moment, the Drake’s would eventually survive this.

“Our deepest condolences Mrs. Drake. Please let us know if you need anything. We will be in touch.” Brady knew she hadn’t heard him. She wasn’t hearing anything over the sound of her own tears and her heart being ripped from her chest.

He and Landry turned to walk out the front door followed by Mr. Drake, his priest and brother, Mark. This night had only just begun.

The three men rode in the back of the detective’s car. The ride to the mortuary was quiet. The air in the car was heavy with the lingering question of how she died. The men had not yet asked, and the detectives were not prepared to blurt it out. The question would come up in time and neither Brady nor Landry were excited for that conversation. As they entered the morgue Brady directed the three men into a room with a table and chairs while Landry went to notify the Coroner that they were there. It was obviously some type of bereavement room that was used in these of cases. Brady opened a refrigerator that was in the room and removed three bottles of water. He placed one in front of each the men. Mark said thank you while Mr. Drake put his face into his hands and began to cry. Brady moved the tissue box closer to Mr. Drake. The tissue box always remained on the table, it was a must for this room. Landry walked into the room with the Coroner behind him.

“Mr. Drake, I would like you to meet Mr. England, he is the Coroner and will answer any questions you have.” Landry stood aside.

“Mr. Drake. I am so sorry that we have to meet under these circumstances. I know that this is a terrible time for you and your family. I am not sure what you have been told but I do need to let you know that you do have the option for someone else to identify the body. Or we can wait for dental records or DNA if you prefer.” The Coroner stared intently at Mr. Drake. He had been through this many times and as he had come to experience, people think that they can handle identifying their loved ones but ultimately they cannot. More than once they have had to pick up a mom or dad off the floor. He wanted to make that very clear to Mr. Drake.

Mr. Drake looked up at the Coroner to meet his gaze. “How did she die?”

The Coroner stood up straight and addressed all the men. “Well, I don’t have a conclusive cause of death yet. I will need to complete an autopsy and I will need to send out toxicology to give you the exact cause of death.”

Mr. Drake shook his head as the men waited for his response. “Do you have an idea of what happened? Was she injured?”

“She was Mr. Drake.” The coroner paused for a moment and then continued. “She was stabbed multiple times.”

Mr. Drake put his face back in his hands and began to wail. The priest placed his hand on his back to console the defeated man. Everyone was silent for what seemed like an eternity.

“How many times?” Her uncle Mark broke the silence.

The Coroner looked up at both detectives and then back at Amanda’s uncle. He took in a deep breath. “We have a count of 89 stab wounds. There were many wounds unfortunately. I am sorry to have to tell you this. There is no easy way say this, but Amanda’s body has been mutilated.”

Mr. Drakes head hit the table as he cried uncontrollably. His cries were intense, unrelenting and completely understandable. The priest continued to pat Mr. Drake on the shoulder while Amanda’s uncle stood up from the chair and paced the room like a rabid dog.

“Who did this?” Mark demanded.

“We don’t know. We have a lot of questions we need answered. We need you and Mr. Drake to come to the station after this so that we can get some information.” Brady responded.

“Understood.” Mark replied. “I will identify her.”

Mr. Drake didn’t budge an inch. “I will stay here with him” Said the priest as he continued rubbing Mr. Drake’s back. He didn’t know what else to do to help him. Mr. Drake was frozen in his chair and no one could judge him.

“Please follow me.” The Coroner led Mark and Landry into the room that held what was left of Amanda. “I think it is best that Mr. Drake not identify her. I need to warn you that we have most of her covered for a reason. It may be obvious. You will be able to see some of her face and if that is not enough for an identification then we will need to proceed with other options.”

“Understood.” Mark replied. His military background was more than noticeable at this point and he was as stoic as anyone could be. He had been trained for this. He had seen death in many wars and he was going to identify her no matter what. Mark walked up to the blanketed table and saw what was exposed of her face. She was still so perfect and innocent. He took in a few breaths and just stared as a lot of time passed. He didn’t stare because he wasn’t sure it was her, he stared because it was her and he knew that there would be no open casket. Mark knew he would be the last family member to look at her beautiful face. She was loved very much, and she was going to be greatly missed, so he stared.

“It’s her.” Mark took a step back while the Coroner wrote on a chart that he had been holding. “Her name is Amanda Elizabeth Drake. She is 18.” Mark stated matter of fact and walked up to her one last time, bent over to give her a kiss on the cheek just as Detective Landry shouted, “You can’t do that!” Landry reached for Mark’s shoulder to pull him back. Mark looked up, startled.

“Why not?”

“Because, well, she is evidence, and we cannot have you transfer any DNA.” Landry tried to remain calm knowing that was a close call.

“Understood.” Mark turned back for one last look at her angelic face. “Goodnight Sweetheart. We love you!”

Landry turned towards the door with Mark behind him. The Coroner did not follow. He had a job to do, and so did Mark.

CHAPTER 5

The spring time in Colorado can be so beautiful and today it did not disappoint. In the spring, the weather is warm during the days while the mornings are still crisp with cold, in the forties on average. This was Jared’s favorite time of year. Everything was beginning to bloom and come alive. He could open his windows and drink his coffee while staring out at the beautiful mountains. He was the happiest this time of year, especially when he woke to Rachael sleeping by his side.

She remained asleep as he carefully folded the blankets to one side so that he could slide out of bed without disturbing her. He stood and stretched long and hard until his lungs were full of air. Jared slowly shut the bedroom door behind him in an effort to be as silent as possible. He wanted her to sleep as long as she could. They had been exceptionally busy with work and he wanted her to rest. He was an early riser and with it now being spring and daylight savings having gifted the early morning sun, his days started even earlier. Jared stepped into the kitchen, opened the cabinet and reached for two coffee mugs, his and hers. The coffee mugs literally said His and Hers on the front in black italic writing. This had been a thoughtful gift from Rachael. Jared had played it off as silly and adorable when in reality this had meant more to him than he could ever let Rachael know. In a very carefree way these cups, for him, had solidified some sort of commitment on her part for Jared. He knew internally he was acting like a school girl, but this was new to him, refreshing and fulfilling. He and Rachael had a connection he had never had before, and he wasn’t screwing this one up.

Jared pressed the remote to the electric blinds and watched them raise from across the room exposing a glorious morning and views of the Rocky Mountains. His apartment was on the sixteenth floor and it was spectacular. This was a perk to being in Eric’s good graces. Jared had lived there for many years but somehow now, with her there, his apartment seemed to be a little bit brighter and smelled of Lilacs which were Rachael’s favorite. Jared grabbed another remote and sat down on the couch with His mug in hand and turned on the TV. The local news came on and Jared watched intently as the anchor described an updated report on a murder that had taken place over a month ago.

“The Parker Police Commissioner is asking for the public’s help in the murder of an eighteen-year-old girl.” The newscaster began. “Amanda Drake was last seen a month ago leaving her job as a desk clerk at the Camden Hotel at around midnight on April 2nd. Her body was later discovered at a local park located in Parker. She had been stabbed multiple times. The police have no persons of interest and are asking anyone if they have any information to contact the Parker Police Department immediately. Here is Kenneth McDonald, Parker Police Commissioner during yesterday’s press conference.”

The TV screen cut to the Police Commissioner standing in front of a pulpit with multiple microphones attached all pointing directly at him. “We need the public’s help.” He began. “We have exhausted all of our resources at this point. We have minimal leads and need anyone who may have any information to come forward. Someone knows something, and we need that person to step forward with that information.”

A reporter’s voice yells out from off camera, “Commissioner, do you know if she knew her killer or if it was a stranger abduction?”

“We don’t have any information regarding the killer. There are no suspects at this time. That is why we are seeking the public’s help.” He answered.

“Do you have any solid leads? Does the family know who could have done this?” Another voice yelled out from the distance.

“I can’t comment on any evidence we may have collected but I can say that we don’t have enough to lead us to an arrest. The family has no idea who would have done this. Obviously, we ask everyone to respect the family’s privacy now and in the future. But, no, they don’t have any information that would lead us to a suspect. There is a $50,000 reward to anyone who leads us to the capture and conviction of the perpetrator.”

Another reporter’s voice echoed through the microphones. “Should the public be concerned for their safety?”

There was a momentary pause and then “Unfortunately, yes. We don’t know if the murderer was known to the victim or not, but we have to consider all possibilities. We do want to encourage the public to be a little more careful. Don’t walk alone. Lock your doors and don’t take any chances at this time. This was an exceptionally heinous murder and we don’t want anyone else to go through this so, yes, please be careful.”

The clip ended, and the anchor continued. “We will report any new developments in this case as they happen. Now to Grant on the weather.” A man full of life and energy stood in front of the large green screen as a map of Denver and its surrounding areas appeared. “The weather is looking good everyone!” Grant stated with full confidence. “In fact, the forecast looks very nice over the next 7 days Denver, so get out and enjoy it. Today we will see sun with a few clouds and a high of 67 degrees. No precipitation in the forecast.”

“Liars! All Colorado weathermen are liars.” Rachael’s voice rang out from the bedroom. As the bedroom door opened Rachael stood in her cute little pajama shorts that read KISS ME on the butt and matching tank top from Victoria Secret. “You can’t believe anything they say!” She said followed by a slight giggle. Her hair jetted up in the back exposing massive bed head as she stretched and yawned next to the couch. “What do people say? If you don’t like the weather here in Colorado, give it ten minutes?” Rachael walked around the couch and straddled Jared’s lap.

Jared leaned forward with Rachael facing him as he placed His mug on the coffee table and then he leaned back onto the couch. “Good Morning Sunshine.” Jared smiled as Rachael’s face was still struggling to wake up.

“Good morning Love. How did you sleep?” She leaned into Jared and wrapped her arms around him tightly as she whispered into his ear, “Thank you for last night.” She kissed his cheek and pushed herself away from him just a bit.

“You my Love, are very welcome. Thank YOU!” Jared smiled as he scanned her face soaking in every wrinkle mark the pillow indented into her skin. “I slept great. How about you?”

“So good.” She replied. “Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I slept that good. I love your bed! I have to get me one.” She stretched up her arms as she sat on Jared’s lap facing him.

“Or, you could just move in with me.” The words came out of Jared’s mouth without any forethought, and as he said them, he wanted to shove all eight words back into his mouth. His school girl was showing. They had only been dating for nine months and they had been hiding their relationship from Eric. They hid it from most people so that Eric wouldn’t find out. There was a real threat to their livelihoods if Eric were to find out. Jared knew right now was not the time to move in together even though he would give anything to be with her twenty-four hours a day. He was shocked at what he had just said, and his face expressed his shock.

But Rachael being Rachael gave him back his dignity by responding sincerely with another kiss to the cheek and a jump up from his lap. “Ah, I love you Babe.” She smiled at Jared and gave a loving head nod. “That is something that we should definitely talk about but right now my Dear, I need some coffee and a kiss to begin my morning.”

“I think I can manage both.” Jared smiled and took in a deep breath of relief as they both ignored his lack of impulse control. Jared got up, gave her a kiss on the forehead and walked over to the coffee maker to fill the Hers mug. He opened the fridge and grabbed a large bottle of creamer “OK Babe, I just bought you a new creamer and the sugar jar is full. I’m going to get in the shower if you would like to join me.”

“Absolutely. Just let me drink some of my coffee and I will be right there. Thanks.” Rachael raised her mug.

“Anytime.” Jared gave her a wink and another forehead kiss and began walking towards the bedroom.

“Hey, really quick. Were they talking about that girl’s murder on the news earlier? I thought I heard something about it.”

“Yeah, they don’t have any suspects. It sounds like they don’t have anything really.”

Rachael took a sip of coffee and shook her head “That is so tragic. I can’t even imagine what her family must be going through. Just sad.”

“It is. She was so young.” Jared turned and walked back over to Rachael and wrapped her up in his arms almost spilling her coffee. “Please be careful when I’m not with you. They don’t know who this asshole is and I don’t want anything to happen to you. I really mean it, OK?”

Amanda’s heart swelled. In that moment, she realized just how much this man loved her. He truly cared for her and for as morbid as the subject was, it hit her that this man truly loved her and would be devastated if anything were to happen to her. “Of course Babe. Don’t worry about me. I have my pepper spray gun and Taser. I can definitely take care of myself, I promise.”

Jared released his grip and wrapped his hands around the sides of her upper arms and smiled. “I know you can. Shit, you scare the hell out of me half the time!” He laughed.

Rachael gave him a playful slap. “You know it! Watch out boy. I can and will take you down.”

“Please do.” Jared gave her an impish grin and another wink as he turned to walk towards the bedroom. “I’ll meet you in the shower.”

After their shower both Jared and Rachael went their separate ways. Eric had asked Jared to meet him at his house this morning and Rachael had many errands to run for Eric. Although Eric linked the two in almost all aspects of their lives, Jared tried desperately to keep her special and private to just himself. So, Eric never knowing was essential or at least until they were both ready to face the consequences of their relationship. Until then, this was a secret Jared relished.

Jared pulled up to Eric’s house nestled in the quiet of the foothills away from civilization. This was Eric’s main home although he had many. He traveled extensively and had so many properties, private real estate and hotels that he wasn’t in one place for too long. This house however seemed to be the closest thing to a home that Eric would probably ever have. It was secluded, up a long dirt road, surrounded by trees, vegetation and wild life. His closest adjoining neighbor was forty-three acres away. If you were a fugitive, this was the place for you. No one came to this property unless you had to, and Jared had too.

Jared pushed open the large and heavy solid oak door. The home was over 13,000 square feet and his breath even echoed. It was a well decorated home, designed by award winning interior designers but it still felt empty somehow. Many of his properties, including this one, had been shown in catalogs and magazines as Eric loved attention but to Jared, the home was never very welcoming, almost cold. It fit Eric perfectly. The house had everything money could buy but it had no soul. Jared only came to the house when Eric summoned him, otherwise he didn’t like being there too often.

“Eric?” There was no answer. Jared continued through the foyer and into the main living area. “Eric?” Still no answer.

Jared removed his jacket and laid it over one of the hand carved ornate barstools that sat at the large slab of marble engulfing a huge part of the open kitchen. It was an island to envy. Everything in the home was ornate. The walls, the furniture and the décor were all ornate, yet cold like a morgue. Jared found Eric’s home to be kind of creepy, finely decorated, but creepy. Jared walked over to the windows that exposed the entire mountain through the glass. He watched as a squirrel ran up and back down a tree stopping randomly to look around. There were many birds chirping and Jared closed his eyes to listen and meditate.

“You connecting with nature Sally?” Eric’s voice rang out behind him bouncing from wall to wall as he ascended from the large staircase. “Are birds and mice gonna help you make the dress Cinderella?” Eric had entered the room and walked over to the refrigerator to grab a water. Jared slowly opened his eyes and turned towards Eric.

“Don’t you ever just sit back and soak it all in Eric? It’s so peaceful.”

“God, you couldn’t be more of a girl if you tried.” Eric took a gulp from the water bottle, tightened the lid and sat it on the island. “So, I have something I need you to do and you cannot ask any questions, period.”

“OK.” Jared agreed.

“See that duffle bag over by the door?” Eric pointed to a designer duffle bag with a lock on the zipper.

“Yeah.”

“I need you to take it to the dump and I don’t mean throw it away in a garbage somewhere. I mean take it to the dump. Got it?”

“Got it.” Jared learned a long time ago that some of Eric’s dealings weren’t always legal and that he should never ask questions, although the usual discards were shredded paperwork. Jared figured the less he knew the less accountable he would be.

“So, you’re closing the deal on the Hamilton property next week?”

“I am.” Eric stated matter of fact as he walked over to the window and saw the same squirrel running up and down the tree. “I need you to meet me at the office later to sign some papers.”

“What are they for?” Jared asked.

Eric rolled his eyes. “Oh my God. What do you care? I don’t pay you to care.” Eric snapped back.

Jared nodded.

“Anything else I need to do?”

“Nope. Just meet me at the office. Enough people are going to the meeting and you don’t need to be involved.” Eric walked over to a drawer in the kitchen and pulled out a hand gun. He checked to make sure it was loaded.

“Eric, come on don’t do it.” Jared knew exactly what Eric had in mind and it made him sick.

Eric lifted the gun and pointed it at Jared “Shut up asshole!” Eric starred down the barrel at Jared for a few seconds. Jared held his breath as he hoped his faith in Eric was not his downfall. He didn’t think Eric would shoot him, but Jared had been wrong before.

Jared watched intently as Eric lowered the gun and made his way to the back door. Eric gripped the handle and slowly turned the knob trying not to make any noise that would startle his target. He methodically aimed the gun directly at the squirrel and fired. Repulsed, Jared turned his head immediately. What was left of the squirrel dropped to the ground. Eric starred at the squirrel for a moment analyzing his kill and then closed the door. He placed the gun back in the drawer, grabbed his water, walked passed Jared without looking at him and began walking up the stairs. “Get out.”

Jared grabbed the duffle bag and closed the door behind him.

CHAPTER 6

Detective Landry rolled down the window as Brady blew out a large puff of smoke.

“Seriously?” Landry demanded. “That is your third cigarette in the last half hour. Why did you start again? I hate that shit.”

“I know.” Brady replied without any sort of push back. He knew it was a terribly disgusting habit, but he couldn’t help himself. “My wife tells me the same thing. I just need it right now man. Sorry.”

Landry stared out the window as Brady drove to the Camden Hotel in Denver where Amanda worked and was last seen. She had worked at the Camden for the last two years while she finished high school and had begun attending college. She had wanted to be a lawyer. Her father was a lawyer and from the sound of it, he was a damn good one. She wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps or as he puts it, give him a run for his money. From all that Brady and Landry had learned about Amanda, it was clear that she would have definitely changed the world or at least her little piece of it. She was driven, loveable and very giving. Her bosses had only great things to say about her work ethic and her teachers were just as impressed. She had graduated high school early and had been attending DU. She was an overachiever. She could have attended any college she wanted but she chose to stay in Colorado with her parents and work at the Camden. The hotel was elegant, the kind of luxury hotel where elaborate weddings are held. Not the kind where the Flipping this old house sells their get rich quick schemes to unsuspecting twits. Amanda had been working there as an attendant at the front desk for a while and she loved it. 

They had already spoken to and received statements from family, friends, her school and coworkers but had absolutely nothing. They had viewed all video from the hotel, the bank across the street, the gas station two blocks down and the school near her house. There was nothing, just Amanda leaving the hotel, getting into her car and driving away, in the direction of her home. She never made it home. It’s as if she vanished into thin air and was then dropped into a grove of trees, in pieces.

They found that she did not have an enemy in the world. She was liked by everyone who ever knew her. She was kind, caring and selfless. She was an amazing young lady. She got great grades, studied at the library when she wasn’t working or in class, volunteered at a local animal shelter, and went to church every Sunday. Amanda almost seemed too good to be true. She followed a daily routine. Her parents said that you could set your watch by her promptness. She was wholly reliable.

Not one name had come up as a suspect. They found absolutely no DNA on the body, not even a piece of lint. Every part of her had been cleaned with bleach, inside and out. There were no witnesses. She clocked out at midnight and then nothing. The videos showed her car passing the bank and the gas station but nothing from the school by her home or the neighborhood cameras. She hadn’t entered the gate to her neighborhood either. They had not found her keys, phone, purse or car. She simply vanished.

Brady and Landry were baffled. They believed that she may have been sexually assaulted, so they had looked into male coworkers, male professors, male friends but found nothing relevant. They had given a few people lie detector tests and still nothing. The information was pointing to a stranger abduction which could be a doomed prospect. What they didn’t know is was it a crime of opportunity or had someone been watching her?

They walked into the lobby and went straight to the desk. There stood a young lady probably about the same age as Amanda. She was as cute as a button and the detectives had to imagine two months prior, Amanda performing the same duties. It was hard not to imagine Amanda standing in front of them.

“Can we speak to your supervisor please?” Landry asked. He didn’t like to use the term homicide in situations like this because it scared too many people. “We are detectives with the Parker Police Department.”

“Yes. I’ll go get him.” The young girl responded with a smile and a bit of urgency. She didn’t ask what it was about, she knew. Everyone knew who they were.

The young lady returned a few minutes later with a man in his fifties walking right behind her.

“Hello detectives.” He said with recognition in his eyes. He had met with them many times. He motioned for them to move towards the back office from where he had just exited. They entered the room that held a desk, computer, filing cabinets, a table and chairs. The room was decorated with the same care and elegance as the rest of the hotel. The ambiance made this room very comfortable. They had been in this room many times before speaking with employees and supervisors, asking questions and observing behaviors. This time, they came to speak with the supervisor, Bob, as a last-ditch effort to find out anything they could that they didn’t already know. They were looking for something small, something that someone may have overlooked, anything new.

“How can I help you?” Bob asked as they all sat around the large ornate table.

“Well Bob, we wanted to see if anyone had any new information. We have looked over the video footage from both the hotel and the bank across the street. We don’t see anything alarming. We were hoping maybe somebody remembered something in the last few weeks.” Landry searched Bob’s face to great disappointment.

“There really hasn’t been anything new that I am aware of. Just the basic gossip and rumors but nothing more. A lot of people are just devastated and truthfully very scared. We have increased our security and have everyone walked out to their cars. We have security on every parking level. They even watch them drive away before they return to their stations. We do the same with the guests. We installed more outside lighting on the building and in the parking areas. Honestly, the lights are so bright it’s almost too much. Let’s see, they have updated the room key system so no one goes in or out without knowing. They put in the top of the line security camera system as well. Other than that, I really can’t think of anything new Detective Landry. I wish I could. I want to help find whoever did this. I know we would all feel a lot safer. You can check with security to make sure, but I spoke with them this morning and they report nothing out of the norm.”

“Has anyone other than security seen any suspicious persons hanging around or even the slightest odd occurrence, anything out of the ordinary?” Landry asked.

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“What kinds of rumors were you referring to?” Detective Brady asked.

“You know, just the same as before. That Amanda was seeing someone, but no one knew who. That’s a continual rumor but you knew that. Some of the employees were talking about a crazed mad man on the loose, a vengeful ex-employee, etc. Just the way people talk. There hasn’t been anything talked about that wasn’t told to you. I try to get them to stop and it is getting a little better with time but everyone from the bus boys to the housekeepers and everyone in between keep it going. But again, nothing substantial.”

“OK.” Landry and Brady looked at each other trying to reach for any other questions that may be the key but there was nothing. They had already looked into all of the rumors and found nothing that seemed to be a good lead. Everything had led to dead ends.

“Glad to hear the hotel improved security. Even though her murder probably isn’t tied to the hotel it’s smart to keep your employees and guests as safe as possible.” Brady began to get up from his seat.

“No doubt. The second corporate heard what happened they immediately approved all the added security. They have had issues in the past and have definitely stepped up their awareness. I’m glad that they take it so seriously.” Bob stood to walk towards the door to escort them out.

Landry remained in his chair “What kind of issues?”

Bob seemed a little caught off guard as if he had let out a big secret without meaning to. When you’re dealing with police, even when you’re as pure as the driven snow, you still feel like a criminal when they’re asking you questions, and Bob was certainly feeling like one. “Oh, they own a lot of properties, hotels, casinos, office buildings, housing, and warehouses. I could go on and on. So obviously they have had things occur.”

“But enough to increase this amount of security because of an employee who was murdered well after her shift was over?” Landry continued.

Brady and Bob sat back down.

 “Um, yeah. I-” Bob stammered “I was rather impressed to be honest with you.”

“Honesty is good Bob. Do you know if anything like this has happened at any of their other properties?” Landry felt that there was something to this.

“I’m not sure. They have a lot of them. I am just a manager. I am not even a General Manager so really, I wouldn’t know.” Bob darted his eyes back and forth at Landry and Brady as they contemplated their next question. “Did I say something wrong? Did the company do something wrong?” Bob asked. His leg began to shake under the table. Bob was feeling the pressure, but he didn’t know exactly why.

“No Bob. Not at all. We are glad that your company cares enough to be concerned with their employee’s safety. That’s a rare find. It’s just that it does seem a bit excessive with the murder most likely not having happened here, that’s all. I’m sure it’s nothing. Definitely keep the security staff here as long as possible. It makes our jobs easier.” Landry smiled at Bob and stood up from the chair. “Please let us know if anything comes up. I don’t care how small it might seem. Even the most trivial rumor. And if anyone sees anything suspicious, please let us know immediately.”

All three men stood up and pushed in their chairs and began to walk out of the office. The staff couldn’t help but glance their way knowing exactly who they were. Brady and Landry were used to being stared at in that way. They understood exactly why. They were with Homicide and that is the look you get in an environment not used to crime, let alone a vicious murder. They both looked around the lobby as Bob escorted them to the doors.

“I will let you know if I hear or see anything. I want to do whatever I can to help.” Bob said fully intending to. “Can I ask how her family is doing?”

“Thanks Bob. We appreciate it.” Landry shook his hand.

“They are getting through. Obviously, still grieving. They are feeling the heartbreak, but I think they will eventually heal.” Brady reached out and shook Bob’s hand.

“I’m glad to hear it. She was such a sweet girl. So kind and an incredibly hard worker. I had met her parents a few times and they seemed like great parents. You could tell that they loved her with a passion. They were so proud of her, it showed. I can’t even imagine what they are going through. Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help.”

“We will.” Brady responded. Both detectives turned to exit the building as Bob began walking back to his office.

“Bob?” Landry turned to ask.

“Yes?” Bob stopped to answer.

“What is the name of the company? Your corporation?” Landry had his small notebook in hand ready to log the name. He had almost forgot to ask.

Without hesitation Bob responded as Landry began to write in his book. “Stetson Real Estate.”

“Thanks Bob.” The detectives walked out the door.

CHAPTER 7

Eric’s insatiable need to be right, to be in control, to be powerful had served him well. This is, if you don’t ever want to have a deep meaningful relationship with people, which Eric did not. What Eric wanted were things. Things of value, importance and stature. This is what filled Eric’s Love Bucket. He made no excuses for who he was. He slept very well at night, when he actually slept.

Insomnia had always been a part of who he was. He stopped fighting it a long time ago. He learned to work through the night, take drives, take walks if the weather allowed. He had learned to accept that he wasn’t meant to sleep more than four hours a night. He rarely took vacation and was constantly on the go. He always needed to be moving, thinking, and planning. To be in his head was not something most people would enjoy. In fact, most people would probably go mad with the thoughts that consumed Eric’s mind. His default was to be narcissistic, accomplished, a man to be admired and to do whatever it took to get what he wanted. He had lived a life of abuse and anger as a child and it was his demon. His childhood ruled his adult thoughts, feelings and actions. He learned not to fight that as well. It is what drove him and made him successful. It is also what made people so disposable. The only person he had even slightly cared for was Jared and that was only because of an innate need to control Jared. He loved having full control of Jared’s life but hated that he had any sort of ties or love for Jared. But like everything else, he learned not to fight it.

Eric shook their hands and closed the folder on the fully executed Hamilton property contract. He was a little lighter on his feet than when he woke up at four this morning. He looked at Tom in the corner of the room and gave him a quick wink and a smile. Tom was not amused. Tom grabbed his laptop bag and headed towards the door. Tom knew this was a mistake. Eric didn’t care.

“Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.” Eric turned and left the conference room. He knew something that Tom didn’t, and he wasn’t going to give Tom any insight into his plans because, well, Tom would find comfort in it and Eric wasn’t going to give him that. Tom would just have to sit and stress like the rest of the board members. This made Eric happy.

Eric walked out of the glass skyscraper that was just one among the many in New York and hailed a cab.

“Platinum Hotel.” Eric settled into the surprisingly clean taxi seat.

“Yes sir. Fancy hotel but way to pricey.” Said the cab driver with his heavy New York accent as he pulled away from the curb into the congested traffic that New York is well known for.

Eric gave a slight laugh. “Yes, it is.” The cab driver had no idea it was Eric’s hotel.

Eric’s phone rang. “Yeah. Headed there now. OK, I will see you there.”

Eric sent and received twenty-seven text messages and made two more phone calls by the time they pulled up to the hotel. He doesn’t stop. Eric gave the cab driver a hundred dollars and stepped out of the cab with his briefcase in hand. Eric doesn’t tip big because it benefits the person receiving it. He tips big because it shows he can. Plus, it gives him joy when he has reason not to tip at all and he knows someone just missed out on having an exceptionally good day.

“Thanks man!” The cab driver smiled at Eric before the door slammed shut.

Eric’s entourage met him at the door one by one. Michael, his assistant hurriedly went over the calendar for the remainder of the next few days as they walked through the grand lobby full of marble, chandeliers and statues. It was the epitome of everything magnificent and grand in a hotel. The General Manager came over to Eric very quickly.

“Good afternoon Mr. Stetson.” He said as he reached out with an open hand to shake Eric’s. Eric responded in kind.

“How are things Terry?” Eric asked mechanically.

“Everything is great Mr. Stetson. Is there anything you need while you are here?” Terry, the General Manager asked because he had not been at the hotel when Eric checked in the night before. Terry’s daughter had a play that night and Terry had family priorities unlike Eric.

Eric chose to pass on giving Terry a snide comment about managers who don’t welcome owners when they come into town. Eric was in too good of a mood to take the jab. “Everything is fine Terry. I am going to my room and don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Absolutely.” Terry responded as they reached the elevator.

Eric turned to Michael. “Cancel the rest of my appointments for the day. I will be staying in tonight.” The only remaining appointment was with Tom and a few of the board members to go over the Hamilton deal and that is the last thing Eric wanted to do. Plus, it would really piss them off, so there was that. Eric was happy.

“OK, Mr. Stetson.” Michael responded knowing he was going to get yelled at by all three men. Michael was not happy.

Eric watched the numbers light up as the elevator proceeded to the top floor penthouse of the hotel. This was one of his company’s finest hotels and he loved it. Stetson Real Estate owned many hotels, but this was one of his favorites. It was probably because it brought in many established people from socialites, celebrities, international diplomats to high powered politicians. You were envied if you stayed at The Platinum Hotel and this fed Eric in a way nothing else could.

The elevator chimed, and the doors opened to breathtaking views of New York. The penthouse, which could only be accessed with the very expensive and highly sought-after key card, was floor to ceiling glass. All of New York lay in front of any window you chose to look out of. The floors were a white marble and the main living area was decorated with the finest furniture one could order. There were views from every room. The room was set up with every expensive alcohol or food you could desire. It helped that the staff always had the suite stocked with everything he liked, everything.

Eric placed his briefcase next to the Italian leather couch that cost more than most people’s homes, as he removed his jacket and gently laid it on the cushion, she entered the room. The white satin robe wore on her like a cloud draped over a mountain peak, elegant and alluring. She wore nothing else. Her hair cascaded over one of her shoulders and she carried a glass of champagne for herself in one hand and a glass of cognac for him in the other. She walked to him slowly. She was as beautiful as the New York view. His world was a vision to behold but it hadn’t always been that way.

Eric could have any women that he wanted, and he pretty much had. He had learned early on that people were expendable. He learned this from his mother. He learned this from his father. He remembers a time when his mother was happy and loved him dearly. He had been told that from the moment she found out she was pregnant with him that she was ecstatic. He had been told that were it not for his father, she would have been the most amazing mom and had been for a time. He had fleeting memories of his mother and him at the park. She was fun. There were good times they had together when he was a baby and a toddler. He remembers the raspberry kisses she would give him on the cheeks. He remembers her making him laugh, playing hide and go seek, making him breakfast. He remembers feeling safe and comforted. He remembers how beautiful she was, and he remembers how much he loved her too. He even remembers the smell of her Chanel perfume. He regrets having memories because those memories turned sinister as he got older.

Eric was riddled with guilt as a child. He remembers the beatings she took from his dad. He remembers trying to protect his mom and brother from a young age. He remembers his mother attempting to protect him from his father’s fists for many years. Then he remembers the first time she didn’t attempt to protect him. He remembers the betrayal and confusion in that moment. She was supposed to protect him and had been protecting him all those years and, in that moment, that one significant moment, she walked away. She walked away and let him suffer his father’s wrath. He remembers seeing the satisfaction on his father’s face. He knew that his father recognized that he had won as his mom ignored his cries. His father was king of this home and any hope that Eric had that his mother would save them from this monster was gone. Eric would pay all the money he had to forget that time in his life, but it was his curse. His memories haunted him and were a brutal reminder of why he couldn’t feel for people, not the way most people could feel. He knew he was different, and he knew why. At times in his life people had referred to him as a sociopath but he preferred to call it survival. When he said or showed that he truly didn’t care, he meant it. It was far more difficult for him to have a feeling than to not have a feeling. Detached is who he was and who he was going to remain. He experienced way too many bad things as a child to give any type of value to any human being ever again. When his father killed her, Eric didn’t cry. His father’s actions had done two things in Eric’s favor. First it removed his father from his life forever and second it had removed his mother forever. It was a win/win. This is when Eric’s life really began and changed for the better as far as he was concerned.

Human collateral meant nothing to Eric, not in business and not in his personal life. He took what he wanted, when he wanted and that was that. To Eric’s defense, most of the time however, people did get something out of it as well. It may be a nice dinner, a trip to Paris, a commission on a deal or just a few laughs and as far as he was concerned that was more than most people deserved. In the end most of his relationships, both in business and in his personal life, ended the way they started, with a smile on Eric’s face. That is the only thing that mattered to Eric. He knew he couldn’t always treat people poorly because everyone does have a breaking point so, he was just enough of an asshole without being completely repulsive so that people wouldn’t come back for more. But for this relationship, this woman standing in front of him, he had one desire and only one desire and she was a very willing participant. She had no misconceived notions about what their relationship was or wasn’t. She understood that she was as expendable as everyone else and she didn’t mind. She got what she wanted, and he definitely got what he wanted. That’s why Eric was so fond of this one.

Her eyes sparkled as she handed him his drink. She took a sip of her champagne. He took a sip of his cognac. They kissed. They kissed passionately and intensely, just like in the movies, why not, they both looked like movie stars. He had money, she had him. They both got from this relationship what they both wanted, and it motivated each of them. It was a relationship of convenience and as long as Jared didn’t find out, Rachael did what she had to do.

CHAPTER 8

Solving murders is not for the faint of heart. It takes a particular type of personality to commit to the life a homicide detective. Beyond a strong stomach, an addiction to work and an unhealthy need to have closure, the tenacity of a homicide detective has no equal. No one knew this more than Detective Brady. Brady had always thrown himself into his work. He sacrificed two marriages for his career and was close to sacrificing a third. If his current wife hadn’t been such a saint, it would have been over long ago. Brady was born to be a cop. From his earliest memories, he always wanted to be a cop. For his fifth birthday, he had gotten a fake badge and police hat. He rode around on his little bike handing out tickets to neighborhood kids. It got him beat up more times that he would like to admit but playing cops and robbers was his favorite thing to do as a child and it was his favorite thing to do as an adult. Brady was not just a good cop, he was a great detective. He started on street patrol the second he graduated from the academy. He eventually got his graduate degree in Criminal Justice while working full time for the Denver Police Department. During this time, he learned two essential lessons; one, he could live off four hours of sleep a night and two, divorces are expensive.

The problem for Brady wasn’t that he was a bad husband, or a jerk or an all-around loser. It was that he was just that devoted to being the best officer he could be. He really wanted to help people, but that part was hard to see, through his tough and gruff exterior. Brady would eventually move up the ranks. The cost was not so much the amount of tuition but was the toll it took on his relationships and health. His cholesterol was high. His blood pressure was high. His stress level was high and here he was smoking again. Brady never could do things the easy way and he was an old dog not learning any new tricks. He was stubborn that way which was one of the qualities that made him a good cop but lacking as a husband.

Brady’s wife had given him an ultimatum this morning. Either quit smoking, again, and ease up on the hours at work or she would be forced to do what two of his wives had done before her, walk away. She was and had been an incredibly patient and loving wife. She knew what she was marrying. She wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge. What she recently realized is that a challenge is one thing, competing for his love was another. Brady’s mistress was and always had been his work and his wife was coming to terms with the fact that this mistress never got old and its sex appeal only got better with age.

After her ultimatum and before he left the house, Brady promised her that he would really think about focusing more on their relationship and this time he meant it. He knew he needed to seriously contemplate his options. He had been offered an adjunct teaching job a few years ago with an open standing invitation at the local college, which would be a great second career and he knew that his marriage and health needed his focus and energy. He promised her that after this case was done that they would sit down and talk about their future. His wife was happy with this. For the first time in their marriage she knew that he was coming to terms with his own mortality and so she decided to be a little more patient. She wouldn’t regret it.

Landry on the other hand knew how to draw a line in the sand. He knew when to say when. He loved being a detective as much as Brady, but he also knew that burn out was a very real thing and he didn’t want to pay the high price that can come with this type of career. In essence, he was the yin to Brady’s yang. Landry always remained centered where Brady was more inclined to let his emotions get the best of him. Landry was naturally balanced which is why he was the perfect partner for Brady. They worked very well together, and it showed in their cases.

During the last fifteen years of their partnership, there had only been three cases assigned to them that they had not solved. The first was a John Doe whose body was found in a ditch covered with shrubs and branches and had a bullet lodged in his head. Unfortunately, with the amount of decomposition and even with DNA testing they still had yet to get an ID or any solid evidence. He was believed to be a vagrant, possibly someone who didn’t stay in one place for too long. The second was the murder of a terminally ill elderly woman living alone who was discovered with a lamp cord tied around her neck and missing medications. There were no suspects, no usable DNA or evidence that could lead to an arrest. Both cases were now with the Cold Case Division. The third was the murder of Amanda Drake, their current case, where there was literally nothing. There was no DNA, no video, no suspects, nothing. All three cases effected both Brady and Landry, just in different ways. Landry could sleep most nights, Brady could not. They had learned that even with the best intentions, hard work and the most eager desire for closure, some things in life are just impossible to control.

 Brady entered the police station with his coffee and bagel in hand as he sat down at his desk. Landry was already on the phone following up with the corporate offices of the Camden Hotel, Stetson Real Estate. Brady removed his jacket and sat at his desk. He turned on his computer and touched the picture that was taped to the top right of his computer screen as he had every day since he put the picture of Amanda in his sight line. He wanted to see her every day. He wanted her to remind him to do all he could to discover who her killer was. He wanted to make sure that her voice spoke to him even when he was tired and wanted to go home. He wanted her to remind him of how important he was to her. This was in stark contrast to the picture of his wife in the frame to the left of his computer screen. She too had a voice and wanted him to know that he was important to her and she needed him as well. The difference to Brady was that his wife had the ability to speak to him, Amanda did not. So, Amanda is what was important in the here and now especially when he was on duty. It seemed to his wife that he was always on duty. He was important to both women. But as always, his mistress, his job, therefore Amanda took precedence.

“Is there a way to meet with Mr. Nelson?” Landry asked into the phone. “We’ve been trying for weeks to get in to see someone.” There was a pause as he listened to the secretary on the other end of the mouthpiece. “OK, ten this morning. Alright, we will be there.” Landry hung up the phone and walked over to Brady’s desk.

“Morning.” Landry said as he took a seat on the other side of Brady’s desk. The back of the monitor faced Landry, so Brady pushed it to the left to allow them to see each other as they spoke.

Brady leaned back in his chair. “Good morning. What’s the plan for today?”

“We have an appointment in Denver at ten this morning at the Stetson Real Estate Corporate headquarters. We’re meeting with a guy buy the name of Allen Nelson. He’s in charge of Public Relations there.”

“Why Public Relations?” Brady was surprised.

“Well, to be honest it’s the only person who had time to meet with us any time soon. Apparently, their headquarters are located in Denver although they have corporate offices and companies all over the world it seems. So basically, this is the best we can do on such short notice. When I was trying to contact anyone with real clout, I kept hitting walls. It did seem a bit odd. I was transferred to eight different departments and no one was too willing to get me to anyone that would be able to help us on a higher level than Public Relations. If I didn’t know better, this company or its Executives don’t seem very open to speaking with us.”

“Did it seem like they were purposefully avoiding you?” Brady took a sip of his coffee.

“It did.” Landry nodded. “The receptionists answering the phones showed some urgency when I told them who I was. But when they would get back on the phone, their attitudes had changed, and they would transfer me to another department. Not sure why though. I asked to speak with the President, CFO, COO, CSO, anyone with authority but I get the feeling it’s going to be a struggle. The thing that bothers me is, why?” Landry leaned back in the chair in contemplation. “Why would a corporation have any issue with meeting with us unless they were hiding something?”

Brady thought for a moment and then began typing on his computer. He began googling Stetson Real Estate. There were links upon links and company names upon company names. Brady began to click links. A link would open and would relay information about hotels, casinos, buildings, land development, etc. As he continued to click, he was guided in a hundred different directions with company names such as Kimball Corporation, Gunther Development, Zimmerman Builders, TelMark Associates, and so on. There were people listed in these websites with titles Brady had never even heard of before but mostly there was no contact information listed for anyone of importance. Does he try to contact the CFO of TelMark or should he reach out to the VP of Marketing for Copper Securities Inc.? And what do any of these companies or people have to do with Stetson Real Estate? He thought to himself. What he was finding is what Landry had already spent hours discovering. It was a Labyrinth of information with absolutely no solid or viable starting point for them. It was almost as if the internet knew virtually nothing about Stetson Real Estate and all of these other companies were a cover or simply detractors. The internet can be a double-edged sword and right now Brady wasn’t finding any amusement from it.

“I spent most of last night and this morning trying to do internet searches and make calls to get us in to Stetson Real Estate. It wasn’t easy. It appears that Camden Hotel is owned by Broadpoint Hospitalities.”

“But didn’t Bob tell us it was Stetson Real Estate?” Brady took his hands off the keyboard and leaned back into his chair.

“He did. What I also found out is that Stetson Real Estate owns a company by the name of MLT Partners who in turn owns Broadpoint Hospitalities, who in turn owns the Camden Hotel.”

“What the hell?” Brady shook his head and took a bite from the bagel. “So why didn’t Bob just tell us to contact Broadpoint?”

“Well, from what I could find out, Stetson Real Estate may be the final decision maker or the one’s that approved the added security. I’m not quite sure but at least we got in with what appears to me to be the parent company. Unfortunately, it’s with the head of PR but at least it’s a start.”

“Alright.” Brady took another sip from his coffee. “Mr. Drake called me last night for an update. I told him we don’t have any. They are pretty frustrated.”

“I can’t blame them. I wish we had something.” Landry tuned Brady’s monitor so that he could see Amanda’s picture. “I just can’t think of anything else. No DNA. Her iPhone was shut off or the battery removed. No phone, no purse, no car, no weapon, not a goddamn clue to go off of. We can’t let this one fall through the cracks. This isn’t going to Cold Case. Not this time!” Landry turned the monitor back toward Brady as he got up and walked over to his desk and sat down. Landry was pissed and that was unusual for him.

Brady watched Landry’s reaction in awe as he realized that he couldn’t remember the last time Landry had left the office after him at night and was in the office before he had gotten there in the morning. For the first time in their careers together Brady watched as Landry was the one who began to show signs of emotional outbursts. For the first time Brady saw the other side of their dynamics. Landry was letting this case affect him. Brady was the stable one right now. Oh, he thought, this isn’t good! Brady wasn’t capable of being the stable one. The tide better turn back or we may be in a world of hurt. Brady told himself as he stood up to walk out of the building to have a cigarette, or ten. It was going to be another long day.

 

 

CHAPTER 9

Jared was listening to classical music as he always did when he drove. He pulled up to the gas pump. Unlike Eric he always turned off his car and left his cell phone on the console as he pumped gas. Jared was a rule follower inherently in most aspects of his life. He stopped at stops signs, went twenty miles an hour in a school zone and even let other people merge in front of him. Road rage was no issue for Jared. Actually, he enjoyed driving and allowed himself plenty of time to get to where he was going. Classical music helped Jared remain mild. He listened to classical music at home, at the office, in his car. He did not have a favorite composer, they were all amazing. He found admiration in every note in primarily every classical piece. It was his therapy and it made him happy.

Jared inserted the gas pump into the Mercedes S-Class Cabriolet’s tank and stood next to the car absorbing the sun and warmth that he so enjoyed after a long winter in Colorado. He almost had the ability to stop time so that he could enjoy that one last moment of whatever it was that he was enjoying. Jared learned meditation many years ago and he used it often. With his life revolving around Eric, meditation and classical music had been his salvation. As the rays of sun beat down on his face Jared noticed the goings on around him as he stood next to his car. He watched vehicles coming and going from the local Kum & Go. He watched people from all walks of life go about their day. He wondered what this woman or that man did for a living. He wondered what people’s lives were like. Was that girl going to school or was she waitressing at the local IHOP? Was that man happily married or miserably divorced? He liked to imagine what people’s daily lives were like. This was his form of day dreaming. He was imagining the young lady holding a young boy’s hand walking into the store was putting herself through college while raising a son as a single mom. He imagined that they lived in a low-income apartment complex as she struggled to make ends meet but was determined to make a better life for the both of them. He imagined that there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her son to give him a good life. He imagined what it would be like to have a good mom like that when the pump clicked to a stop notifying him that the tank was full. As he turned to pull out the pump he noticed the duffle bag in the back seat of the car. The sun glared off the lock that kept the zipper secured. Jared put back the pump and got into the car. He started the car and immediately La Campanella by Fritz Liszt played through the speakers and he smiled. After a moment of listening to one of his favorite songs he turned down the volume on his steering wheel controls and sat contemplating, then he reached in the back seat to grab hold of the duffle bag. He placed it on the passenger’s seat and let go of it. He looked around and rolled up the window in utter paranoia. His heart raced as he debated back and forth on whether or not he should try to open it. Eric had told him to dispose of it at the dump and he never defied Eric. His heart raced as his mind tried to betray him, betray Eric.

Jared took a deep breath and slowly placed his hand on the bag, then he removed it. He took another deep breath, exhaled and put his hand back on the bag for a few seconds and then slowly removed it. He continued this process as if he were attempting to approach a stray dog in hopes of not getting bit. This process happened a dozen times as Jared’s hand remained on the bag a little bit longer each time until he finally left it there. As his hand sat on the bag, he inched his fingers slowly towards the lock. He looked out all the tinted windows not knowing exactly what he was expecting to see. His curiosity was telling him to look. His paranoia was telling him Eric was watching from across the lot. His fingers had almost reached the zipper when a car horn sounded behind him and sent his body into an instant panic attack. His hand jerked from the duffle bag and he put the car into drive and drove away from the pump. With his heart racing, he drove home.

The whole way home he had an internal war. Should he open the duffle bag? Should he take it to the city dump like Eric had commanded? He always followed Eric’s rules and did what Eric said. This made his life so much easier. Following Eric’s orders was easier than having to think for himself and be held accountable for his actions and decisions. But today was different. Jared’s curiosity was winning over his fear of getting caught. Jared weighed the pros and the cons. He imagined getting caught and being in a world of hurt but there was something inside of him that needed to know what the hell was in this bag. Eric wouldn’t have a lock on it if it weren’t something important or embarrassing or illegal. Jared had to know.

Jared pulled up to his luxury living complex. He folded up the duffle bag to make it as small as he could and tightly placed it under his arm. He grabbed his cell phone and briefcase, locked up his car and hurried through the lobby to the elevator. He looked for Eric’s prying eyes everywhere. He put the key into the lock still looking around as if Eric was going to jump out at any point and shove that duffle bag right down his throat. Jared quickly entered his apartment, shut the door, leaned against it and took a few meditative breaths. He was safe and sound in his apartment. There was no threat of getting caught. Rachael was out with friends and Eric was headed to DIA to take a flight to Chicago for meetings.

Jared carefully sat the duffel bag on the coffee table as gently as if it were the Holy Grail. He stood back and just stared at it considering what he was about to do. He knew whatever was in the duffel bag Eric did not want anyone to see. If Eric found out what Jared was about to do he would send him to work in the vilest possible place or even worse, fire him and kick him to the curb leaving him destitute and Eric wouldn’t think twice.

“What the hell are you thinking?” he said out loud as he paced around the coffee table. “I don’t need to know what is in there. You are being so stupid! Just take it to the dump! You’re going to risk everything just to look in the bag?” Jared saw his reflection in the mirror hanging over the fireplace. “OK, think Jared. What is the worst that can happen? Eric isn’t here. You are by yourself. Stop being so paranoid, he’s never going to know.”

Jared walked over to the hallway closet and took out a tool kit. Jared was by no means handy in any way shape or form, but he had been given this particular tool kit by a coworker for Christmas and it had sat in the hall closet ever since. And to think, he was going to re-gift it. He opened the toolkit and took out a set of pliers, a hammer and some small miniature screw drivers that looked like they could fit the small lock easily. He began by attempting to pick the small lock. The lock itself didn’t seem menacing and Jared thought it shouldn’t be too difficult to pry open. At least that’s what he thought. Two hours later and a coffee table scratched to hell and back, he finally popped the lock open. He sat back and stared at the opened lock. By now his shirt sleeves had been rolled up and his shirt had been untucked. Even his belt had been taken off. This had been some serious business and he hadn’t even realized that he had broken a sweat. He scanned the open lock and took in a few relieved breaths. He had finally done it but now his heart was racing even more. He was about to break a trust that he had worked so hard to establish with his brother. However, his conscience didn’t seem bothered as much now that he had put so much effort into breaking the lock. He had achieved his goal.

Jared sat on the floor while leaning back on the couch as he recovered from the battle with the lock. He slowly leaned forward and pulled the lock out of the zipper handles. He put it on the coffee table and proceeded to slowly unzip the duffle bag. Here it was. The Holy Grail. The secret of all secrets, he thought. As he pulled the zipper, the duffel bag opened to reveal some clothing. Jared pulled on both sides of the opening to make it bigger to expose the inside. He pulled out a shirt. It was a female shirt, a small female shirt. He continued to pull out piece by piece, all women’s clothing. There were shirts, pants, a bra, some underwear. There was a hair brush, hair bands, some used makeup. Underneath all the clothes were two Track phones. The kind you buy and use when you can’t afford a regular cell phone plan or for a kid to use, or to use when you’re hiding something. He had reached the end of the contents except for a silver bracelet with charms hanging from it. There was a puppy, a graduation cap, a heart and a four-leaf clover. Jared had no idea whose things these were and why Eric would have them. Even odder, why would he want them thrown away? Jared thought.

Jared had been focusing so much on satisfying his curiosity that he wasn’t prepared to be even more confused once he had the bag open. Whose clothes were these and why would Eric want them taken to the dump instead of merely thrown away? Jared opened every pocket and even turned the duffel bag inside out and shook it. There was nothing else to be found. The mystery deepened. Jared sat back and stared at the pile of random clothing, phones and jewelry that were sprawled out in front of him on the table. He reached for one of the phones and tried to turn it on but the battery was dead. He checked the other phone and found that it was dead too. He turned over both phones not knowing exactly what it was that he was looking for. He thought for a moment about his options. He could put everything back into the bag and take it to the dump tomorrow or he could go to the store and see if he could find a charger that could fit the phones. He sat thinking about what he wanted to do and then he got up, grabbed one of the phones, the car keys and headed out the door.

Walmart is not a store that Jared went to often but today he figured it was his best option to find a charger for the phones. As he walked through the large building stocked with every item you could possibly need at the world’s best prices, he couldn’t help but to notice all the people and all the items. It was like sensory overload to him but it rather excited him. They had coffee mugs, bins for storage, games, clothes, balloons, cakes, and on and on. Jared didn’t visit his local Walmart very often and he found it to be fascinating. He needed only to find a phone charger, but he found himself walking through isles of medicines, flip flops, bikes and camping gear. He even stopped once or twice to pull a package off the shelf to look at the contents. He watched as mothers pushed their children in shopping carts. He was fascinated by the diversity of Walmart’s customers. He saw a multitude of economic levels. There were people in jeans and t-shirts, people in suits and dresses, people even wearing what he assumed were probably their pajamas. As always, he thought about what their lives were like. Jared often daydreamed about other people’s lives and Walmart was filled with opportunities. He watched teenagers grabbing video games from the shelves and dads watching baseball on the TV’s that hung above the electronics center as he made his way to the phone chargers.

Jared held out the bottom of the phone to show the clerk what type of connector he needed. The clerk walked him over to the chargers as they both pulled chargers from the hook one by one to compare. Finally, the clerk handed Jared the correct charger and asked if there was anything else he needed. Jared politely said no, grabbed a second charger and went on his way to the checkout stands.

Jared plugged in both phones in the back bedroom and proceeded to hide the duffel bag in the top of the closet. His logical side told him that he had nothing to fear but his irrational side screamed in terror to take the duffel bag and its contents to the dump. He sat on the bed and waited for the phones to turn on. The time passed by and there was no life from the phones. He figured that they probably needed some time to charge before powering on. He walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge and grabbed himself a beer. As he stood looking out the window admiring the view, he drank the beer and thought about Rachael and wondered if she were having a great time with her friends. For as much as he loved people watching and daydreaming about what other people’s lives were like, he loved thinking about Rachael even more. The thought of her gave him an instant smile. She is what made the sun brighter, the days warmer and his brother less of an abuser. She was his happy place and his salvation. He hoped she was having a good night.

A musical ding came from the guest bedroom. Jared put down his beer and headed toward the room. A green light was flashing on one of the phones. He stood in front of it for a moment in hesitation. He didn’t know why. He was frozen. There was no turning back. He knew that a lot of Eric’s dealings weren’t legal, and he had gotten use to his secrecy but somehow this was different. This didn’t seem like an illegal business deal; however, he still had no clue what it was. He finally sat on the bed and picked up the phone with the blinking light and he looked at it. He first checked for phone calls. Nothing. Texts. Nothing. Internet searches. Nothing. He looked through every icon and every setting and there was nothing. If the phone had been used, someone had erased it. That someone Jared guessed was Eric. He continued to scroll through the phone to find anything. He was a dog with a bone, but his efforts produced nothing. His attempt at being a sleuth had failed. He was no closer to finding out what deep dark secrets Eric held than when he received the duffle bag. In fact, he was more confused than ever. As he internally chastised himself for risking everything just to see what was in the bag the other phone came alive when the distinctive light began to blink.

Jared put down the phone he had just searched and picked up the other one. He began the process he had just completed with the other phone. Nothing in phone calls, text, internet, apps, settings. Again, another fail. His heart sank. His curiosity had gotten the best of him. He checked a few more settings and just before he put down the phone, he noticed a deleted folder for texts. It wasn’t located in plain sight. In fact, he wasn’t even sure how he had located the folder. He found nothing in the deleted text items, but the folder was in the text settings as an option. He didn’t remember finding this on the other phone. He finished his search and picked up the first phone. Jared went through the process of locating the deleted folder for texts. Knowing that he would find nothing there, he almost didn’t click on the folder but again his curiosity and resistance to failure forced him to continue.

Jared clicked on the app expecting an empty folder but right there in front of him was a text. “I will see you soon”. His heart raced. He jumped up with the phone in his hands with such excitement that the charger disconnected from the phone and dropped to the floor almost pulling the phone out of his hands.

“No Shit!” Jared said excitedly. “Ha! I did it!” He smiled from ear to ear and then he realized something. What exactly had he found? He was so focused on finding something, anything, that when he did, it was as if he had won the lottery. But really, what had he found? He took a moment to gain some composer and then he sat back down on the bed with the phone as he looked again at the text reading it over and over.

“I will see you soon.” It seemed like a very harmless text. Nothing illegal or maniacal. A simple, innocent text. Just the one text. Obviously, Eric had forgotten to erase this text. But why would he go to all this trouble for something so mundane? He read and reread the text hoping that it would click. Unfortunately, nothing did. As he was about to turn off the phone and put the phones back into the duffle bag his eyes moved to the sender’s name which he had not noticed before.

Senders Name: AMANDA

CHAPTER 10

As Brady and Landry were let through the gate and pulled up to the magnificent Stetson Real Estate building it soon became apparent to them just how big the building was. They had both seen the endless rows and columns of glass windows and they had both admired the building throughout the years as did anyone who ever saw it. The words Stetson Real Estate towered majestically over the Denver Skyline. As they got out of the car, they scoured the landscape and gardens with awe.

“Jesus. This place is amazing!” Landry said as he began to walk through the enormous parking lot filled with cars and little islands of greenery that decorated the parking lot. The building was surrounded by gardens full of trees, flowers, waterfalls, benches, and birdbaths.

“I have passed this place a hundred times and it never even registered what this place was. These people have some money!” Brady noticed that the parking lot was filled with Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguars and a few Teslas here and there. There was not one car that was under eighty thousand, Brady thought to himself. Security was high too. They had to be let in through a security gate and there were security guards walking the grounds. People who were impeccably dressed walked the grounds and to their cars. They had never seen so many well-dressed people in their lives and they hadn’t even reached the lobby.

They walked through the large glass doors and to the reception desk which was made of granite and maple. The air conditioning was cooling and almost the whole first floor was an atrium. Plants and flowers were everywhere. The lobby was a stream of people coming and going while others were sitting in chairs having conversations. There was even a restaurant and coffee shop. Brady looked all the way up to the ceiling as hallways and offices circled above the atrium. It seemed as if the building reached to eternity. The center of the ceiling was also glass and Brady had to admit to himself that he was impressed. Hell, who wouldn’t be? He thought.

“We are here to see Allen Nelson.” Landry handed his card to one of the uniformed receptionists that stood at the desk.

“Absolutely Sir. Would you like something to drink? Coffee, water, a glass of wine?”

Landry shook his head no. “Thank you, we’re fine.”

“Would you like to have a seat? He will be down in a moment.” The receptionist whose name tag read Christine, pointed toward the atrium. Her smile never broke.

“Sure.” Landry and Brady walked through the atrium admiring all the beauty as people’s conversations echoed through the building. Both men remained standing as they waited for Mr. Nelson. They watched many people come and go. People were walking up the staircases and taking elevators. People were sitting in the large cushioned couches and chairs talking on their phones, texting and speaking with each other. Others were handing off business cards and shaking hands. It almost seemed like a world of its own in the Stetson Real Estate building. There was the restaurant/cafeteria to the left and a sign to the right for the work out facility which was located on the ground floor. The building and its atmosphere were awe inspiring.

“It will be interesting to see what this guy says or knows.”  Brady said adding to the echoing environment.

“Yeah. I have no idea what he is going to say. I’m hoping he has some information but who knows. I kind of feel like we are being thrown this guy for scraps. Like a deflection. It just doesn’t seem like a PR guy is the one we need to talk to.”

“I get the same feeling.” Brady unbuttoned his suit jacket.

A man looking to be in his mid-thirties, clean shaven with an obvious expensive haircut and an Armani suit came down the staircase and walked over to the large reception desk. The receptionist walked around to greet the man and began to walk him over to Brady and Landry.

“Gentlemen, this is Mr. Nelson. Mr. Nelson this is Detective Landry and Detective Brady.” The young lady nodded her head in acknowledgment that she had done her job. She smiled at all the men and walked away. Brady and Landry shook Mr. Nelson’s hand.

“Mr. Nelson, we appreciate you meeting with us today.” Brady handed him both of their business cards.

Allen briefly glanced at the top card and put them in the inner pocket of his suit jacket. “Please call me Allen. It’s no problem at all. Would you like to go up to one of our conference rooms so that we can talk?”

The two detectives shook their heads in approval. Allen walked them across the atrium which seemed like a football field in length to the six elevators in the adjacent corridor. All six elevator doors were grand in structure and the mahogany woodwork that surrounded the doors were ornate. The floors were marble, and Brady was beginning to see a theme with the properties owned by Stetson Real Estate. Not an inch of property lacked in its fineness. So far, he had seen the Camden Hotel and now the corporate offices and he was almost intimidated by their beauty and regal comforts. He felt as if he was intruding into a world not accustomed to his Men’s Warehouse suit and Sears shoes.

Allen made polite conversation on the elevator ride to the tenth floor. He led the men into a conference room surrounded by glass and more ornate woodwork and floral arrangements. Classical music played throughout the room just enough to give a peaceful ambience. The conference room smelled of flowers and was as cool a temperature as the rest of the building which was a nice relief from the heat. Allen motioned for both men to sit at the large table in the center of the room. Brady concluded that the table alone cost as much as his car. Allen sat across from them and continued engaging in small talk for fifteen minutes about the weather, the beauty of Colorado and the great restaurants in town. The detectives wanted to get straight to the questions, but Allen was so smooth at directing the conversation’s subjects. They weren’t sure if he was avoiding being questioned or if he just liked to hear himself speak. He was seamless with his trivial conversation and the seasoned detectives found it somewhat difficult to steer the conversations which was unusual for them. It made sense to both detectives why this man was in Public Relations. Allen was very charismatic by nature and extremely welcoming in his demeanor. Both detectives felt more than comfortable with him and they hoped that he would be honest and forthright in the information he would give them, if he had information to give.

Brady finally caught a mere second to change the subject and leaped on it for fear that they would themselves forget why they were there. “Allen, we appreciate you meeting with us and we don’t want to take up too much of your time, so I will get straight to the point.”

“Please do.” Allen nodded his head.

“We are investigating a murder that took place in Parker. The victim was one of your company’s employees. Her name was Amanda Drake. Are you familiar with what happened?” Brady continued.

“I am.” Allen nodded again. “It is tragic. She was so young. We sent her family our condolences and we understand that you have interviewed several of our employees. We want to do all we can to help in any way possible.” Allen smiled showing his perfect teeth. Everything seemed perfect when it came to Allen, from his demeanor to his appearance.

“We really appreciate it. Your staff at the Camden Hotel have been more than cooperative. Unfortunately, we haven’t gotten many leads so far. We understand that your company has made more than a reasonable amount of security accommodations since the murder happened.” Brady explained while Landry sat with his notebook ready to take down any information that could be useful.

“Yes, our company takes our employee’s safety very seriously. Once we heard what had happened, we took immediate action to tighten security at the Camden. We consider our employee’s like family. It was heart breaking to hear what had happened.” Allen sat up and leaned towards both men. “Has something else happened? Is everything OK?”

“Nothing else has happened Mr. Nelson.” Brady answered.

“Allen. Please call me Allen.”

“Alright, Allen. Nothing else has happened but we are a bit surprised by the amount of security that was added to the Camden.” Brady continued. “Especially considering that her body was found nowhere near the hotel and there has been no evidence to conclude that the murder took place at or near the hotel.” Brady leaned towards Allen. “We just don’t see this much security increase even in a murder case like this very often and we were curious as to why.”

Allen leaned back in his chair. “I understand. I am obviously not the decision maker when it comes to security or legal issues, but I was made aware of the murder and have been updated as much as possible on every action taken.” He paused for a moment and then stood up and slid in his chair. “My understanding is that from the moment our office was made aware of the situation our company met with the Camden Hotel multiple times. We wanted to see that we did all that we could do to make sure our employees and customers remain as safe as possible.”

“Totally understandable Allen. But it seems a bit excessive for a crime that most likely did not happen at your hotel.” Landry interjected.

“Yes, but we were not certain that that was the case. I can see where it may be a little much but we did not want to take any chances. We simply needed to make sure that we took all precautions. Plus, with all the national attention on this case it was extremely important that we assure our guests and employees that they are safe. Something like this can completely ruin a business like the Camden and we wanted to avoid that at all costs. I hope that makes sense.” Allen explained.

Landry and Brady both looked at each other. “It makes sense.” Landry stared at Allen quizzically. “Let me ask you this. Has anything like this happened before at any of your other properties?”

Allen walked around to the head of the table, placed his hands on the chair at the head of the table and looked back at Landry just as quizzical. “Do you know how many properties we own Detectives? We own many types of properties. Hotels, casinos, apartment complexes, retirement facilities, sports arenas. I can go on and on. So, have we had incidents or crimes committed at some of them? Yes. But I am not sure what you mean?”

Brady hesitated for a moment and considered his words carefully as he watched Allen’s face change just a little. For a second, for just a second, it almost appeared to Brady that he wasn’t being quite truthful. Brady glanced over at Landry and recognized the same suspicion projecting from Landry’s face. Landry then looked down and noted something in his notebook. Brady began to twirl his wedding ring as he calculated his next statement.

“Mr. Nelson, sorry, Allen. We aren’t concerned so much with petty theft, car break-ins or vandalism. Although anything suspicious might be considered. What we’re asking is, has there ever been any other missing persons or murders of employees, customers or contacts of any kind associated with your company?” Brady watched as Allen remained stiff in his posture with no slight movement of any kind. “You see Allen, we don’t want to try to find something that isn’t there, however, we need to know if anything like what happened to Amanda has ever happened before, any connection to your businesses.”

The classical music continued to play at a very low volume filling the room as Landry and Brady watched every fine line on Allen’s face remain still and emotionless. He almost seemed as if he were in a trance momentarily and then as if he had just woken from a sleep, he lifted his hands off of the chair and he placed his hands into his trouser pockets. Allen raised his head and the lines in his face began to move. His eyebrows raised for just a moment as he took in a deep breath and then turned away from the table as he slowly took two steps and stopped with his back turned towards the two detectives. Landry and Brady quickly glanced at each other not knowing what was going through Allen’s mind as the music played on. He did not move for what seemed like an eternity.

Landry finally broke the silence. “Allen, is there something you aren’t telling us?” Another moment went by as Brady and Landry shared glances at each other. “Allen, anything you tell us is confidential.”

Just then Allen’s shoulders began to raise but they raised from laughter. He removed his hands from his pockets and brought them to his face as he continued to laugh. He slowly turned and began walking around the table. Brady and Landry watched in amazement as the man before them tried to compose himself by running his hands through his hair and straightening his tie as the laughter slowly subsided.”

“I’m sorry gentlemen.” Allen began. “I apologize. There is nothing funny about this although the thought of anything being confidential hit me as quite funny. You see detectives, I work for a very large organization. Most things are not private. Do you understand that?”

Brady shook his head yes.

“I’m not attempting to hide anything, really. We are an open book here at Stetson Real Estate. We remain as transparent as possible, it’s part of what makes us so successful.” Allen had regained his professional composure as he continued to walk around the table stopping occasionally to stare out of the windows to observe the beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains. He would pause briefly to consider his next words. “You see running such a large company means knowing everything that happens with our dealings, knowing every decision made, every acquisition, every take over. Do you understand?” He did not wait for an answer and continued on. “Unfortunately, there are things that happen that are sometimes outside of our control no matter how much security you place at a hotel, no matter how many camera’s you have at apartment complexes, no matter how many security personnel you place at a commercial property. We have properties worldwide, that is a lot of real estate. We have tens of thousands of employees not to mention contractors, clients. Does that mean that we can stop every bad thing that happens to them?” This time Allen waited for a response as he turned to look at the detectives.

“No.” Landry responded. He had stopped writing in his notebook.

Brady stood and faced Allen from across the table. The room wasn’t filled with tension as much as it was filled with questions. Where was Allen going with this? Brady wondered. They stood across from each other almost in a dueling stance, yet the mood remained calm as moments passed. Curiosity was in the air.

Then Brady took advantage of the silence. “So, understanding that there are numerous properties and personnel, too many to keep up with on a day to day basis, I assume lots of things happen to those properties and people you mentioned. Is that correct Allen?”

“Exactly.” Allen nodded his head in relief that the detectives were understanding what he was trying to convey.

Brady continued “That is completely understandable. We recognize it would be an impossible task to know the personal lives of all that are involved with your organization and we don’t expect you to. We appreciate your candor. We really do.”

“Oh good.” Allen’s facial expression relaxed, and he put his hands back in his pockets. “I really appreciate your concern and looking into Amanda’s death with such dedication. I do hope you catch whoever did this. I know our company as a whole would breathe a sigh of relief if that were to happen. It is simply awful. I wish there was more I could tell you but unfortunately there really isn’t. There is just nothing useful I can think of to help your investigation detectives.”

Allen began to walk around the table as if he were going to escort the detectives out.

“Just one last thing.” Brady began. He walked towards Allen standing face to face. At this point he knew Allen was being evasive and it wasn’t sitting well with him. He stared into Allen’s eyes intent on getting his point across. “We aren’t talking about the elderly passing away at one of your retirement homes or a mugging at a law office. We are talking about a person who was taken against their will. A person who was tortured beyond human recognition. We are talking about a person whose insides were strewn across the ground like Christmas decorations. We are talking about the removal of a scalp for the pure pleasure of a degenerate monster who enjoyed every vile minute of their actions, Allen. We are talking about murder in the most disgusting sense of the word that one human being can do to another.” Brady paused for a moment to take in every eye movement and uncomfortable motion Allen made as Brady gave it to him in plain terms. “I am asking you again, Allen, has anything like this ever happened to any persons connected to your company in any way before or since Amanda?”

Now there was tension.

Allen stood staring at Detective Brady as the seconds became more and more climatic. He observed Brady’s frustration as if he were studying him. He showed absolutely no emotion as Brady stood firm in his commitment to get an answer. This was unfamiliar territory to Brady. Usually he was the one showing no sign of emotion and he was usually the one studying expressions but now Allen was the observer and he was good at it. The men stood eye to eye with no words spoken as Brady again wondered where Allen was going with this.

Allen took a step forward still staring at Brady’s face intensely. “Gentlemen, I think this conversation is over. Mr. Landry, would you mind getting up so that I can show you the way out?” His glare never left Brady’s face.

Landry pushed out his chair, closed his notebook and took a step towards both men. Allen released his stare from Brady and walked over to the glass doors and pulled on the handle to open it for the detectives to walk through. He walked both detectives to the elevator and pushed the buttons.

“Thank you for your time Mr. Nelson.” Landry said as all informalities were removed. There would be no more calling him Allen.

“It has been a pleasure.” Allen said as the elevator doors opened. “I am sure you can find your way out.”

“Yes.” Landry responded as both detectives walked into the elevator and turned to face Allen as the elevator doors shut. Brady pushed the lobby button and not a word was said the entire ride down as people got on and off the elevator.

The elevator doors opened, and both men walked through the lobby, both remained quiet. As Brady and Landry walked across the large parking lot towards their car Brady asked to see Landry’s notebook to see what Landry had written while sitting at the table. Landry opened to the last page that he had written on. Landry knew exactly why Brady wanted to see the notebook.

Brady took the notebook and saw that one single word had been written in bold black ink.

LYING

The detectives got into the car and drove back to the station in complete silence. They didn’t need to speak. Their thoughts were the same.

CHAPTER 11

Eric hung up the phone and sat back in his plush leather chair, a chair regal enough for a king. He had a smile on his face and when Eric had this kind of smile on his face it was usually a bad thing. But this was not a bad thing for Eric. The Hamilton property purchase was now complete and would soon exchange hands in a very illegal but very lucrative deal. Eric had been working on this deal for many years without anyone in his company knowing the full details and nothing was going to ruin all that he had accomplished. If Tom knew what Eric had done, he would have had an aneurism. Eric didn’t care. He was secretive because Tom had a semblance of a conscience and Eric wasn’t going to risk Tom getting in his way. Tom was the finance guy but also a family man. He had weaknesses and vulnerabilities and Eric knew better than to get Tom involved. Eric had been working with a firm to assist in this deal that had helped him in many of these kinds of deals so that his company and its board members wouldn’t be the wiser. It isn’t legal for Middle Eastern governments to own these types of US properties and Eric was more than happy to use his company as their front. It was a pretty penny in Eric’s pocket, the company would make a nickel and he loved this type of thrill. This deal was buried so deep it would take an act of God to figure this one out. Eric was confident in that. He had covered all of his bases, as usual. And Tom thought it was a bad investment! Eric laughed at the thought.

Eric’s office phone rang. It was his assistant Michael. Eric picked up the phone but couldn’t bother to say anything. Michael waited for just a second before he realized Eric had picked up the phone but wasn’t speaking.

“Allen Nelson is here to see you sir.”

“Send him in.” Eric hung up the phone and sat back in his chair still grinning at the outcome of this deal.

Allen knocked on the door and then slowly opened it.

“Eric?”

“Yes, come on in Allen.” Eric got up from his chair and walked over to the wet bar to fix his favorite vodka tonic. He then decided this was a day of victory, so he poured himself a glass of cognac instead. As he swirled the liquid around in the glass, he motioned for Allen to have a seat.

“Would you like a drink Allen?”

“I would love one.”

Eric, who was in a generous mood, handed Allen his glass and poured himself another.

He sat down in the leather chair across from Allen and leaned back staring at the drink in his hand. He admired the glow of the cognac as the sun gleaned through the glass.

“You know Allen, some days are far more worth living that others.” He took a sip of the cognac.

“A good day huh?” Allen took a sip as well.

“You could say that.” Eric smirked.

“Anything you want to share?”

“No, I think I will keep this one to myself.” Eric raised his glass. “Here’s to the secrets we keep.”

Allen raised his glass. “Cheers to that.”

“So, what brings you in? The world of PR getting to you yet?”

Allen laughed and took another sip. “No, not yet. If it gets too much I can always dummy down and practice law.” Allen’s law degree had become nothing more than framed wallpaper on his office wall. He found PR for Stetson Real Estate far more challenging than corporate law. Plus, he was close to Eric and useful when it came to matters of the not so legal kind. Advice is what he liked to call it. PR kept Allen under the radar and less accountable.

“I had visitors today, remember?” Allen asked.

“Yeah, how did it go?” Eric sat twirling his glass.

“As well as can be expected. There were two of them. Detectives Landry and Brady. Fine gentlemen. One seemed a bit tightly wound but OK guys I guess.”

“What did they ask?”

“They talked about the murder, as we expected. Interestingly enough, their concern was that we had gone overboard with security at Camden and they were suspicious as to why. Go figure.”

“That’s what the concern was huh? What did you say?” Eric was curious.

“The usual. That we were concerned for the safety of our employees, customers, blah, blah, blah. I left it pretty generic. Kept calling it tragic.”

“Were they satisfied with your answers?” Eric put down his glass and looked at Allen.

“Honestly, I don’t think so Eric. They wanted to know if anything like this has ever happened before. I simply explained that we have far too many properties, employees and clients to really know about what specific crimes occur for all of them. The one guy, Brady, he got in my face a bit. I don’t think he liked that I wasn’t being very specific. I played dumb to a certain extent. It didn’t seem to sit well with him.”

Eric sat up. “So, what did he say? Do you think they’ll be back? I can’t have this turn into a big deal Allen that’s why I sent you to meet with them.”

“Well, he expressed sternly that he wanted to know if anything like this girl’s murder had happened before. I didn’t tell them anything. I just kept it vague. Eventually, I politely asked them to leave. I don’t think they will be back.” Allen took another sip as he sat confident.

Eric leaned in towards Allen. Allen’s confidence began to lessen. “You don’t THINK they will be back? You don’t think?” Eric’s voice began to raise. “Are you fucking kidding me Allen? You were supposed to take care of this! That is why I sent you! I could have sent a thousand flunkies to meet with them who wouldn’t have had to play dumb. That was the point of sending YOU! You were supposed to weave it to our advantage. That is what you do! That is why I had you meet with them. Why the fuck do I have you around if you simply can’t make two incompetent cops disinterested in our company? How the hell did you not make this go away? Are you telling me that they are still suspicious?”

Allen sat up as the glass in his hand began to shake. “No Eric, I’m pretty sure they won’t be back.” Allen cleared his throat. Although he was used to Eric’s angry outbursts, even after all these years, they still unnerved him. “Listen Eric, I was vague for a reason. If they find out about the others then I simply didn’t know. That covers our asses. If I had straight out said no, nothing like this has ever happened and they find out, then they have just caught me in a lie and we are even more fucked. I simply did not confirm or deny.”

Eric starred down Allen for quite a while as the rage soared through his veins. In that moment he wondered what it would be like to beat the shit out of Allen and bury him 6 feet under. He figured it would feel pretty good. This was not something he wanted to deal with and Allen was supposed to make it a non-issue. Eric picked up his glass and slowly moved back into his seat. “You are such an asshole Allen. When I send you to do a job, I expect you to do it. Now we just have to sit on our thumbs and hope that they don’t come back. That girl’s death and the others cannot be tied to our company! You had better hope to God that this goes away Allen or we can all kiss our ass’s goodbye. Do you understand me?”

“Understood.” Allen replied. “Look, you know as well as I do that if they dig, that they will find something. We only found out about the murders because someone in the company put two and two together. I’ve got this. The less acknowledgement or statements we give the better off we are. Even if they come back, we can deny any knowledge. It would appear to be a complete surprise. We had no idea that those murders were tied together somehow. Besides the fact that there are only two other murders that we know of that we are connected to, in two completely different states, they would be hard pressed to tie those to our company. They are loosely connected Eric. We are fine.”

“We better be Allen. If those bitch’s deaths come back on us, I swear to God Allen I will take you down with me.”

 “Eric, they have no evidence in any of those murders. Not one shred. We don’t even know if they are related, we are just guessing at this point. They have no idea who committed them or even if the same person committed them. There is not one strand of DNA evidence that I am aware of. The only reason we know is because of the company ties they had. Those cops are not going to connect the dots Eric. They aren’t that smart.”

Eric sat his drink back onto the table, got up from his seat and walked over to the windows to admire the same views that Allen had just admired hours before when speaking with the detectives. He stared out the window for quite a while as Allen continued to sip his drink, confident again.

Finally, the silence broke. “Do you know how they found the first girl, Tiffany, Martinez I think?” His question was rhetorical. “She was hanging from a tree in Chicago. In plain sight.” Eric paused while staring out the window tilting his head as a bird flew into view. It stayed there for a moment fluttering its wings as if it were looking back at Eric and then flew away. Allen continued to sip his drink. “She was split open from top to bottom. Can you imagine Allen?” Again, the question was rhetorical. Allen knew all of the gory details, but he continued to listen to Eric speak as if he were talking to himself. “She was just hanging there swinging from side to side in the wind for everyone to see. Her intestines and organs simply pulled from her body lying on the dirt. I believe we are all capable of murder if given the chance. We all have the ability inside of us if we just reach deep enough. Even an average ordinary man is capable of snuffing out the life of a beautiful girl as easily as throwing that glass in your hand.” Another pause. Allen got up and poured himself another drink and turned to look at Eric as Eric continued to speak in an eerily calm voice. “Someone who can do that has no soul. You know that right? Doesn’t care about anyone, even for fools that love him. Nothing stopping his rage. His inability to control his internal demons is immense. His need to control and destroy something good is overpowering. His morbid curiosity takes over to demand satisfaction with cutting open another human’s body just to humiliate, to show the world his masterpiece of evil.”

Eric turned to look at Allen who was used to Eric’s crazy, but this was getting creepy even for him. Eric’s voice and expression seemed almost too calm for the subject. “Can you imagine Allen, the need to take the last breath from someone?”

 “Of course, I was a lawyer, remember?” Allen replied trying to break the tension. Allen lifted his glass to his mouth and finished his cognac.

Eric’s eyes were dark and looked right through him. “I’m serious Allen. To stab someone over and over and over with the blade of a knife takes dedication at its highest level. To see your refection in their eyes as you take away their very essence like two fingers closing in extinguishing the fiery wick of a candle. The ability to watch them as they take their final breath while they plead for mercy as blood pours from every open wound that you just inflicted. To feel their blood on your hands dripping back down onto their broken body. It must be thrilling in a way to have such power over something that is nothing more to you than a cockroach scurrying into the darkness. To have the ability to turn them into nothing more than a store mannequin on display must be exhilarating. The rush that must come with having the power of God to dispose of those disposable creatures knowing it goes against every acceptable social behavior.” Eric stopped talking for a moment to recognize that Allen is no longer drinking his cognac but now slowly backing away from him to leave the room.

“It must be quite a feeling don’t you think?” Eric turned back to the window “Quite a feeling. There is no deal I could ever make however thrilling, that could ever make me experience a rush quite like that of killing someone.” Eric closed his eyes and took in a deep satisfying breath. “Quite a feeling.”

Allen put down his glass and began walking to the door. “I have to get to my next appointment. The work of a Public Relations Executive is never done.” Allen reached for the handle and turned it.

“Make this go away Allen.” Eric responded in the same eerily calm voice he had been speaking in.

“I will.” Allen quickly closed the door behind him.

CHAPTER 12

Detective Brady stood by the open office window as he exhaled the final drag of his cigarette into the darkness of the night. He knew he wasn’t supposed to smoke in his office but getting in trouble for smoking was the least of his concerns. His marriage was hanging on by a thread and this case was eating him alive. He had replayed every piece of evidence over and over again in his mind. Every road they had explored was a dead end. They had no forensic evidence whatsoever and unless something else magically appeared it seemed like this case would eventually be placed in a box in the cold case unit. He wasn’t going to ever accept that. He had been a homicide detective far too long to let this case slip away into the annals of history. His dogged determination was his best quality and yet his worst. Unlike Landry who could set boundaries around his work and focus on his personal life, Brady couldn’t let go.

He flicked the cigarette out the window and walked back over to his computer and sat at his desk. The office was dark except for the light from his desk lamp and the glow of the computer screen. The conversation with Allen Nelson didn’t go as expected. Brady figured a PR guy wouldn’t have much information but what he did not expect is that Mr. Nelson was obviously hiding something from them. What did this man know? Why was he lying? Did Mr. Nelson know Amanda? Does the company know something that Mr. Nelson was told not to say? There were so many more questions after the meeting than before the meeting. This, Brady had not expected. This need to know was making him crazy. Maybe this wasn’t a stranger abduction.  Maybe Stetson Real Estate knows more than they are telling him. Actually, there was no maybe about it. He knew they knew more than they were willing to tell.  And for Brady his need to figure it out was as essential to him as air is to all living things.

Brady began looking through the local police data base for similar crimes. This crime was very specific. Brady had been looking through the system for months now and still nothing notable was found. He kept going over the conversation with Mr. Nelson in his head. The laugh. That laugh was shocking, not what he or Landry had expected. How could Mr. Nelson laugh about a subject as horrific as a young girl’s murder? He thought about every word, every glance, and every movement Mr. Nelson made. Something just wasn’t quite right.

As Brady contemplated the whys of this case, he began another Google search then a BING search. They had done internet searches thousands of times but didn’t find anything of importance. What they did find is that this is one hell of a sick world out there. So many violent crimes, offenders, senseless deaths throughout an entire country. He was fully aware of the evils of the world but for some reason with this case it had become personal and Brady had become jaded.

He searched using keywords such as stabbings, killings, murders, internal organs removed, scalp removed and everything in between. There were thousands upon thousands of pages. A whole nation of stabbings and murders. His eyesight became worsened by the endless days staring at the computer with words mutating into each other, reading and re-reading the same things. The searches had become all too familiar to him. He was beginning to think his search was pointless, endless. He hadn’t found the key to unlock his case, so he tried again this night. Why not? He had nothing to go home to. Then Brady began to type in Stetson Real Estate for the hundredth time. Links and links, pages upon pages of information regarding Stetson Real Estate. He read about mergers and buy outs. Blocks of demolitions to replace old rundown neighborhoods into shopping complexes, restaurants, and hotels. There were articles expressing the savior that is Stetson Real Estate and how small doomed areas had been turned into bustling tourist attractions. Brady concluded that there wasn’t anything that Stetson Real Estate had not accomplished. From what he had been seeing, they were the company of the future, growing at increasingly fast rates while saving the economy one neighborhood and employee at a time. If he didn’t know better, he would think that they were too good to be true. Yet that inner voice, the one that had solved so many cases in the past based off his instinct was sure that Stetson Real Estate was hiding something.

Brady continued to scroll through every single link to the point that some of the links didn’t even mention Stetson Real Estate. He knew he was hitting the end of the list of links that would apply to the company. He clicked the NEXT button at the bottom of the computer screen. As the screen refresh to show a new page of links he got up lighting a cigarette as he headed back to the window. He took in a long deep inhale filling his lungs to capacity with smoke and toxins, this made him relaxed. As he stared at the stars in the sky and listened to the dead silence, he had a thought. He should probably call it a night and go home to be with his wife, the wife that was mad at him for smoking and never being home. The wife that wasn’t even talking to him at the moment. The woman who he considered the strongest and most loving person he had ever met and even she, it seemed, had given up. He never thought she would. He should go home, he thought. He chose to stay and smoke instead. Brady found it amusing that he could spend hours with a suspect, working his magic and getting much needed confessions from the most despicable beings, rapists, murderers, pedophiles, but the thought of going home to his silent wife terrified him. He saw the irony in this and he grinned. He continued to stare at the stars as he took in one drag after another finding his peace in every puff. He turned his glance to the computer and saw the word Stetson Real Estate highlighted on a link on the twenty seventh page of his search. He flicked out his cigarette with no regard for where it landed. He walked over to the monitor he squinted his eyes as they adjusted to the screen. He sat down and began to read the short description to the link.

Girl had been found hanging from a tree in… no suspects have been… victim last seen leaving work at… Bistro is owned by Stetson Real Estate…

Brady immediately clicked on the Chicago Gazette link and began to read.

On October 23rd police received a call that a young girl had been found hanging from a tree in a local park at six twenty-three in the morning. Witnesses stated that the naked girl’s body was hanging by a rope from one of the many trees in the park but in view of the sidewalk and street. Police have not confirmed how the girl died but witnesses on scene who wish to stay anonymous stated that it appeared that she had been cut from her neck to her stomach. It appeared to them that she was obviously mutilated in some way. It was also reported that it was possible that body parts may have been on the ground below the girl’s body. Another witness stated that it appeared that her scalp had been removed. We reached out to the Chicago Police Department to confirm this information, but our calls weren’t returned.

Police quarantined the area immediately closing every street and sidewalk within three blocks of the crime scene and will not confirm witness statements. Police Chief Mitchell held a press conference on October 25th. He did confirm that a naked female body had been discovered and that no suspects have been named at that time. He did not give the cause of death. He stated that they had confirmed her identity. Her name was Tiffany Martinez and her family had been notified. He stated that the family had requested their privacy and time to heal as they are in mourning and deeply saddened by her death.

Tiffany Martinez was last seen leaving work on Oct. 23nd. Tiffany was a waitress at Sandusky Bistro where she had been an employee for four years. We reached out to the restaurant’s General Manager, Carl Tanner, who stated that she clocked out at around one thirty in the morning and that one of the managers had walked her to her car as they do with all of their female employees. The General Manager then stated that Tiffany was an excellent employee and had recently been promoted to head waitress. “Tiffany was an amazing girl with so much life and always had a smile on her face. We can’t imagine anyone wanting to hurt her. She will be missed very much.” Carl Tanner stated. Sandusky Bistro is owned by Stetson Real Estate. We have reached out for comment from the parent company but have not received a response at the time this article was written.

The police are asking for the public’s help. Tiffany Martinez was last seen leaving work, Sandusky Bistro, in the downtown area around one thirty in the morning on Oct. 23rd. If anyone knows anything, they’re to contact the Chicago Police Department with any information. Updates will be provided as they are available.

  Brady sat back in his chair and starred at the screen. His eyes no longer focused on the words. He just stared. Brady sat for a long time soaking in what he had just read. If this was what he was reading it is the closest thing he had come to a break in the case. Why Chicago? He thought. That was a long way from the Denver area. He needed more details. Brady picked up a pen to write. On his notepad he wrote Chicago Police, waitress at Sandusky Bistro, Oct. 23rd, naked body hanging from tree, appears to have been cut open from throat to stomach, possible organs on the ground under body, possible scalping and finally, Tiffany Martinez. Then he began to write, blood? DNA? Suspects? Witnesses? Evidence of any kind?

Brady looked up the number for the Chicago Police Department. He knew it was late, but he didn’t care. He dialed the number and it rang for quite a while. An automated system began over the receiver. He pushed on the zero to get a live person, he was put on hold. He sat anxious not knowing what he would find out but prayerful that this could be a lead.

“Sargent Dennison. How can I help you?” A deep voice came over the phone.

“Hello Sargent Dennison. This is Detective Brady of the Parker, Colorado Homicide Division.”

“Hello Detective Brady. What can I help you with?”

“I just read something about an ongoing investigation into the Tiffany Martinez murder. I need to speak with the detectives assigned to that case.”

“Tiffany Martinez? OK, hold on just a second.” Brady was placed back on hold.

A few minute later the hold music stopped “Detective Brady?”

“Yes.”

“The detective in charge of the case is Detective Houston. I don’t believe he is at his desk, but I can transfer you to his phone. You can leave a message and he’ll call you back.”

“OK.” Brady responded knowing that more than likely he would have to leave a message. “Thank you.”

“No problem sir.” Brady was transferred. He listened to the greeting and left a message. Brady placed the handset back onto the phone. He sat back in his chair, now more than ever hopeful that this could be the break that they needed. Was this a serial killer? Is he traveling through the country terrorizing and mutilating young girls leaving their families with the tape replaying over and over again in their heads of the final moments their loved ones must have gone through? Part of him hoped that somehow these two cases were linked but part of him also didn’t like the prospect of some freak degenerate crossing the country picking off girls on a whim. So many things were going through his head, but it would have to wait until tomorrow when he could talk to the detective in Chicago.

Brady picked up his cell phone and dialed.

A sleepy gruff voice answered. “Yeah?” Brady had obviously woken up Landry.

“I think we might have something.” Brady whispered into the phone. He didn’t want to have his voice come through the phone waking up Landry’s wife.

“What is it?”

“There was a similar murder in Chicago in October. At least from what I read it may be similar.”

“Chicago?”

“Yeah. I left a message for the detective in charge of the case. I will call again in the morning if I don’t hear from him. If it is similar, we need to fly there tomorrow if we can.”

“You think it’s tied to ours huh? Same MO?” Landry’s voice was more awake now.

“It looks like it. Naked girl, mutilated. Organ’s left on the ground. No hair.”

“Was she washed with bleach? Any blood? Any evidence?”

“Don’t know yet. Just thought I would give you a heads up. You may want to pack a bag.” Brady sounded almost hopeful and Brady was rarely hopeful when it came to this case.

“Will do. See you in the morning.”

Brady hung up the phone and began to shut down his computer. His fear of going home to his wife’s silence no longer concerned him. His whole focus was on getting in first thing in the morning and contacting Detective Houston. Brady turned off the monitor and the lights and headed out of the building to his car. He might even get a good night sleep. He had forgotten what that was like.

As Brady put the keys in the ignition his cell phone rang. The caller ID showed that it was Brian Drake, Amanda’s dad.

“Hello Mr. Drake.” Brady answered.

“Hello Detective Brady. I am sorry to bother you so late, but my wife feels that it is important that we call.”

“No problem at all. I’m just leaving the office now. What can I help you with?”

“First of all, any updates?”

Brady hated this question not because Mr. Drake was asking it but because he didn’t have any.

“Unfortunately, no. I’m working on it every day. We’re still questioning people and looking for any leads we can.” It was too soon for Brady to even mention the murdered girl in Chicago. This information would have to wait. “I wish I had better news for you.”

“We understand. I just thought I would check. However, that is not the only reason I am calling. You know that these last few months have been really hard on all of us and we haven’t even touched Amanda’s room. My wife will go in sometimes and just spend time in there laying on her bed, crying mostly. But this afternoon she began going through Amanda’s things. It seems that we can’t find a bracelet that we gave her for her graduation. I know that nothing was found with her, so we aren’t sure if she was wearing it or not. She usually wore it for special occasions but it’s not here. My wife has been frantic looking for it. We weren’t sure if this was something you needed to know. She was hoping that maybe someone had come across it or turned in a bracelet. My wife would really like to have it if it’s found.” Brian Drake’s voice was no longer broken as it had been over the last few months. He rarely spoke with the detectives without the pain showing through but tonight he seemed collected and calm.

“Hmmm…” Brady thought for a moment. “I don’t know of any bracelet being turned in or found. When was the last time you remember seeing her wear it?”

“My wife said she saw her wearing it about a month before her death. She can’t remember if it was a special occasion or not but that is usually when Amanda would wear it. She treasured that bracelet and didn’t want to wear it all of the time for fear of losing it.”

“OK. I will check tomorrow and ask around. I will do all I can to see if we can find it. But Mr. Drake remember that if we do find it, we will need it put into evidence and have testing done on it. You may get it back eventually, but it would be a long time before that were to happen and that’s if we find it.” Brady wanted to make sure that Mr. Drake didn’t get his hopes up.

“We completely understand Detective Brady. We just thought you should know and if by chance it was found we would like it back in the future.”

“Well, I hope we can locate it for you Mr. Drake. Let me know if you find it at the house or if anything else comes up. Please feel free to contact me any time.”

“Thanks again Brady. We can’t thank you enough.”

“You bet. By the way what exactly does the bracelet look like?” Brady asked.

“It’s a silver charm bracelet.”

“What charms were on it?”

“My wife said that there was a heart, a dog, a four-leaf clover and a graduation cap. I think that was it, but I can call you if I am wrong.”

“Sounds good. Give Debbie my best and I will call if we get any new information. Have a good night and we will talk to you soon.” Brady hung up the phone and drove home. As he expected it was a quiet night, but he did sleep well for the first time in a very long time.

CHAPTER 13

Jared had disposed of the bag like Eric asked him to, but he had made sure to wash the bag, its contents and wipe off any sign that he had been in contact with any of it. Jared had his suspicions about why Eric wanted it gone and he knew whatever Eric was up to was not anything good. He was free of any accountability and he was just fine with that. After Jared got rid of the bag he didn’t think twice. He put it completely out of his mind for his own sake. He was never going to risk everything like he had with the bag. Besides, he had better things to think about. He had a great job, as long as he stayed out of Eric’s way, an amazing girlfriend and he found contentment in both.

Jared walked through the doors of Stetson Real Estate, to the elevators and pushed the button to take him to the Executive offices. He had a meeting with Eric this morning. He was never sure what to expect with Eric, so he always prepared for the worst. Jared enjoyed the elevator ride up. It was a moment all to himself, at times, and classical music always played. The sweet quiet sounds with no one around refreshed him. He took joy in his awkwardness and the fact that he found peace in the elevator was one of those times. The elevator doors opened. Jared exited and walked to the reception area. He held one single rose in his hand and held it out to a waiting receptionist.

“Good morning Mr. Stetson.” Said an adorably cute girl who was dressed in her finest dress, her hair was perfectly placed, and her face was elegant. Seeing her made him happy. He didn’t know why but it did. Maybe it was because she seemed so sweet and innocent and had always been nice to him. She was wearing a name tag that read “Katherine”.

“Good morning Katherine.” Jared handed her the rose. “Please, call me Jared. I know Eric is a stickler for formality but when he isn’t around, it’s simply Jared.” He smiled.

“Thank you, Jared.” She smiled back.

“Is he in?” Jared asked hoping for a no.

“He is. He’s on the phone in his office. Go on in.” Katherine placed the flower on the desk and proceeded to pick up the ringing phone. “Stetson Real Estate. This is Katherine. How may I help you?” Katherine’s smile projected through the phone.

Jared headed towards Eric’s office and stopped just before knocking on the door. As he paused, he took in a deep breath. It’s a good day. You’ve got this. He thought to himself. He then proceeded to knock on the door.

“Come in.” Eric’s stern voice resonated through the door.

Jared opened the door and entered the room. Eric was sitting back in his chair with his legs up on the desk and the handset of his phone to his ear. Jared sat on the couch while Eric remained silent listening to the other end of the conversation. Jared’s back was towards the windows as he scanned the room. The luxury of Eric’s office was incredible, truly fit for a king. No expense had been spared to stroke Eric’s ego. Eric was sitting on his thrown. He was the king of this company and he did it well. Expensive artwork hung on the walls to include a Picasso, Jacqueline au Bandeau and a few Rembrandts. He had exotic sculptures, trinkets and knick-knacks of all kinds, each worth more than most people make in ten years. Everything in this room was expensive. Jared was certain that Eric had chosen none of it but took pride in owning every single item. His desk was grand and ornate almost to the point of gaudy or at least Jared thought so. He looked over at Eric who was still reclining and staring out the window as he continued to listen to whomever was on the other end. He wondered for just a second what it must be like to be Eric, to own the world. Then he pushed the thought right out of his mind. He wouldn’t want to be Eric even if he could.

“Got it.” Eric responded to the voice on the other end. “We will have it to you by next week. Great! Bye.” Eric hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair still staring outside as his fingers intertwined between his hands. “You know what Jared?” He asked still staring out the window.

“What?” Jared watched Eric’s face as a slight grin began to form.

“It’s good to be me!” Eric continued to grin.

Jared recognized the irony between his last thought and Eric’s statement.

“I’m sure it is.” Jared responded.

Eric turned his gaze to acknowledge Jared’s presence. “It is!” Eric took his legs off the desk and stood up. He walked over to the wet bar, his longtime companion, and poured himself a vodka tonic. “You want anything? An orange juice or boxed apple juice?” Eric laughed at himself knowing full well Jared wasn’t much of a daytime drinker and therefore taking jabs at Jared’s lack of manhood.

“I’m good.” Jared responded casually.

“Jared, how long have you been working for me?” Eric asked as he sat in one of the cushy leather chairs across from Jared.

“Well, after I graduated college I guess.”

“And how long have we been brothers?” Eric asked with a straight face.

Jared pondered for a moment not fully understanding Eric’s question but seeking desperately in his mind to find the answer Eric was looking for.

“Christ Jared, it’s not a difficult question.” Eric snapped.

“All our lives, I guess.” Jared replied. Jared instantly regretted saying “I guess”. What a stupid series of words he thought.

“You guess?” Eric started laughing. “That is rich!”

Jared sat staring at Eric. He knew Eric was guiding him into a conversation but wasn’t quite sure where exactly Eric was taking him.

“Well Jared, you are wrong.” Eric said smugly as he took another sip from his drink. “We haven’t been brothers all of our lives. Don’t you see Jared, we have been brother’s all YOUR life. There is a difference. You see the difference Jared?” Eric loved belittling Jared with condescending statements complimented with the tone in his voice.

“I see the difference.” Jared spoke quietly.

“You see Jared, there was a time when it was just me and only me. I didn’t have to worry about you. I didn’t have to think about anyone but myself. Now, that time frame wasn’t very long but there was a point in my life that you were not even a glimmer in Mr. Stetson’s drunk black eyes.”

Jared continued to watch Eric as he spoke.

“You don’t remember a time in your life that I was not a part of it but I remember very clearly that there was a time where you were not a part of mine. Does that make sense little brother?” Eric stared straight into Jared’s eyes.

“It does.” Jared answered in a meek tone letting Eric know that his point and power were affecting Jared exactly how he intended.

“I have carried you for a very long time, haven’t I?”

“Yes Eric, you have.”

“And I have given you a life far from anything you could have ever hoped or dreamed of, haven’t I?”

“Yes Eric.”

“You like the lifestyle you have, don’t you Jared?” Eric’s eyes were darkening.

“Yes. Very much.” Jared was getting a bit worried as to why Eric was speaking this way.

“You wouldn’t ever want me to cut the strings and let you go would you Jared?”

Jared sat up a bit as his heart began to sink. “Of course not, Eric. I work very hard for you, don’t I?”

Eric began to laugh again, that maniacal laugh that he does. “You work hard? You don’t even know what hard work is. You are such a moron. You know as well as I do that if it weren’t for me you would be some shmuck working a menial nine to five dead end job scrapping pennies to pay your rent.”

“Yes Eric.” Jared could not argue that fact.

“So, Jared, what would you do if I chose to fire your ass today?”

Jared’s heart began to beat fast. He had no idea where all of this was coming from or how the hell to stop it.

“I… I don’t know Eric. Did I do something wrong?” Jared hoped to God that he hadn’t done anything wrong. He couldn’t think of anything. Everything that Eric asks of him he makes sure he does perfectly.

“You tell me.” Eric sternly responded to Jared scaring him into panic. “Have you done anything wrong Jared?”

It seemed to Jared that there was absolutely no air in the room. He couldn’t catch his breath. His palms became glossy with sweat and his left eye began to twitch ever so slightly. Jared hoped Eric wasn’t seeing this. “No Eric. I haven’t done anything wrong that I can think of. Really, I don’t know what it is that I could have done. What did I do? I can fix it.” Jared staggered his words.

“Did you open that bag?” Eric demanded. His body stiff and beholden to anger as he faced off with Jared.

Jared on the other hand was melting into the couch. His heart was no longer beating fast, it had stopped all together. Jared began sweating and shaking almost uncontrollable. He had no control over any of his functions. He knew he had been caught but he could not admit to it. No matter how much Eric knew he couldn’t let him see his guilt. How did Eric know? Had Eric put cameras in his home? Was Eric having him followed? How the hell did Eric find out? Take control of yourself Jared! He screamed in his head. Fucking get control of yourself you idiot! Deny! Deny! Deny! The voice in his mind continued to scream. Jared finally blinked and struggled to regain a confident position. And out of his mouth without any thought in his mind came the words “What bag Eric?” His inner voice began to scream even louder at him. You fool! You goddam fool! The voice rang through his head like church bells at a wedding.

Eric observed Jared calmly. He saw the fear in Jared’s s eyes and began to speak in a calm deep commanding voice. “What bag? Did I hear your right? What bag? What fucking bag would I be talking about Jared? How many bags have I given you in your lifetime Jared? What bag?!”

Jared swallowed hard. Come on Jared, pull your head out of your ass! The voice kept screaming at him. Pull yourself together asshole! “Well, I mean, I wasn’t sure what you meant Eric. That was a while ago, so I wasn’t sure what you were talking about.” Jared wished he had said yes to that drink now. His throat was so dry. His body was betraying him, and a large glass of water would really help especially giving him time to think while he drank.

“Did you open the bag Jared?” Eric demanded.

“Of course not, Eric. I would never do that. You told me to take it to the dump and I took it to the dump. Just like you said. I swear to God I didn’t open it.”

Eric sat back in his chair still staring at Jared not deflecting his eyes. He took another swig from his glass. He let some time go by as he watched Jared squirm. After an adequate amount of time Eric spoke. “So, did you go straight to the dump after I gave it to you?”

“Absolutely Eric. I went straight to the dump. I swear.”

“You didn’t stop anywhere? You didn’t stop somewhere to pick the lock and open it?”

What did he know? Jared thought to himself. He couldn’t afford to lose everything. His whole future depended on this moment. “Eric, I don’t know how to convince you that I got rid of it like you asked me to. I swear to you Eric, I’m not lying. I didn’t even think of opening the bag. I wasn’t even tempted.” Jared saw that Eric’s expression hadn’t changed even a little bit. “Look, I would be a complete idiot to be that weak. There is no way I would risk it. You would have my balls in a sling in a second if I had opened the bag.” Jared prayed to God that something he said would let Eric believe even part of what he was saying.

“The problem Jared is that you are an idiot and you are weak. So, is that the defense you want to use? Really?” Eric continued to drink.

“I’m telling you Eric I didn’t open that bag. I promise you, I did not open that bag!” Jared was pleading for his livelihood at this point, begging Eric to believe him.

“OK Jared, you took the bag straight to the dump?”

“Yes! I swear! Eric, I’m serious. I’m not lying.”

Eric finished his drink and leaned forward to place it on the table. He placed his elbows on his knees and cupped his hands in front of him like a person preparing to pray. “Then you won’t have a problem giving me the receipt to the dump. They time stamp the receipts Jared. Did you know that?” Eric remained calm.

Jared prayed to experience a heart attack in this moment and just get it over with. What he wouldn’t give for a gun right now to use on himself. He took in a deep breath. “Of course I knew that. I will find it and give it to you. I will just need some time to look for it. I hope I didn’t throw it away.”

“You better not have thrown it away. For your sake Jared you had better hope you didn’t throw it away.”

“I will find it, OK?” Jared took in a deep breath and held it.

Eric stood up and walked back over to the wet bar and poured himself another drink. “You know, for a second, I thought maybe you were dumb enough to have kept the bag.” Eric turned back towards Jared. “But then that would be suicide and although I think you are a moron, I don’t think you are suicidal. Am I right? You don’t have a death wish, do you?”

“No Eric. I don’t. I would never go against you like that.” Jared attempted to dry his hands on his pant legs without being obvious.

“You had better find that receipt!”

“I will.” Jared replied having absolutely no idea how to get Eric a receipt, but his only goal was to get out of this conversation without having to carry out his own ass.

Just then Eric’s phone buzzed followed by Katherine’s sweet voice. Jared had never been so happy to hear her voice. “Mr. Stetson, there is a Detective Landry on the phone for you.”

Jared swiftly turned his attention to Eric. Eric’s face drained of blood and for the first time in his life Eric’s hand shook just a little. No one else would have noticed this small movement but Jared knew him better than anyone else. Eric downed his drink in one swig. Katherine’s voice came through the speaker again “This is the fifth time he’s called this week. He says that he needs to speak to you immediately.”

Eric walked over to his desk and picked up the handset. “Put him through.” Eric’s tone was monotone. Eric cleared his voice as Katherine transferred the call. Eric let it ring a few times before picking up. “This is Eric Stetson.” There was a pause as Eric listened to Detective Landry introduce himself. “Yes detective, I understand that you met with Allen Nelson. What can I help you with?” Then another pause followed by Eric’s recognition. “Yes, I am a bit familiar with the murder. It’s been all over the news, hard to not know but what does this have to do with me?”

Eric listened intently as he walked around the desk to regain his throne with a few OK’s, uh huh’s, and yes’ thrown in for good measure. Jared watched as Eric’s eyes scanned out the windows as the detective continued to explain why he wanted to meet with Eric. “Well detective, I don’t know how I can help. I didn’t even know the girl.” There was a pause. “Yes, I understand that she worked for the Camden Hotel, yes, one of our hotel’s but I know nothing about what took place. I don’t see how I can help in any way.” Another pause and more scanning glances out the window. “I’ll tell you what detective, I have a very busy schedule and I travel a lot, but I will send you back to my assistant and she can put you in my schedule, but again I don’t think there is anything I can tell you that would help.” The detective spoke a few more seconds and then Eric got him off the phone. “OK. I will send you back to Katherine now. Yes, that sounds fine. Bye.” Eric pushed a button on the phone to speak to Katherine before the call transferred. “Katherine, the detective would like to set an appointment with me. Set it as far out as you can and only make it for 15 minutes.” Eric pushed another button on the phone and then hung up.

Jared watched as Eric continued looking out the window while slightly pulling at his tie. Jared could see that Eric was concerned.

“What was that about?” Jared asked relieved that his crucifixion was over, and Eric’s focus was obviously on something else.

Eric didn’t respond, he just kept staring out the window and pulling on his tie. Jared stood up and headed for the door. All he wanted to do was get out of there before Eric redirected his anger back at him. Jared reached the door and wasn’t sure if he should say anything. He opted to say nothing which was a smart move on his part. He walked out the door and shut it. He began to breathe heavily. How the hell was he going to get a receipt? He didn’t know but he had no choice. Once the adrenalin slowed down, he decided it was time to get creative because Jared hadn’t taken the bag to the dump like Eric asked. He was saving this little treasure for a rainy day. He had gotten rid of it but not the way Eric wanted, and Jared needed to cover his ass and fast. So, off to the dump. With a little creativity and with the help of Photoshop, Jared might just get out of this with his job and balls intact. Maybe he wasn’t as dumb as Eric thought.

CHAPTER 14

“This is your captain speaking. The weather is clear, and we should be landing at O’Hare a few minutes ahead of schedule which is good news for those of you who are needing to get to your connecting flights. The seatbelt sign is on as we begin our descent. We should be landing in about twenty minutes. Please secure any loose items and stay in your seats. The flight crew will be coming around checking that all table tops are safely secure. Thank you for flying Delta Airlines.”

The captain’s voice didn’t wake up Landry as he slept on his jacket propped up against the airplane window. Brady wondered how Landry could sleep on an airplane. Between fighting for arm rests and the uncomfortableness of the seats he had never been able to sleep on planes, no matter how long the flight was. Brady was never comfortable with talking to anyone on a plane either which Landry didn’t seem to have issue with. Brady had a love/hate relationship with Landry. He respected the man more than he respected anybody but hated that he could do things that Brady was incapable of, like the ability to have a happy marriage and sleeping on planes. Landry was a good guy and secretly Brady envied him. In the end he was a great partner and kept Brady at ease like a good partner should.

The plane landed without any issues and Landry’s eyes opened as the plane pulled into the gate. “We here?” Landry asked.

“Yep. Time to wake up old man.” Brady buttoned his suit jacket while Landry attempted to put his on without jabbing Brady in the eye with his elbow.

They waited for the line of people to pull their bags from the overhead bins. Once Brady found an opening, he exited the row of seats and reached for Landry’s bag and handed it to him. He grabbed his bag and Landry followed behind. They exited the plane and followed the signs to the car rentals. They reached the Avis counter and Landry began renting a car. Brady walked out the side door and lit a smoke. He had been craving a cigarette since before his plane had even taken off. He had a love/hate relationship with cigarettes too. For him it was like having hands continually around his neck tightening harder and harder as every minute went by that he didn’t have one. Then when he was able to light his demon the hands released their grip and he could breathe again. He recognized that his habit which he had quit long ago had resurfaced in a vicious way. He hated the thought of having to go through the agony of quitting again. His withdrawals were tremendous both mentally and physically when he tried to quit, and he wasn’t looking forward to it once this case was over. That was the deadline he had given himself and that was part of the reason he wanted so badly to solve Amanda’s murder. This case was causing him enormous stress. He wanted to give closure to the family and he wanted to quit the cigarettes. He wasn’t getting any younger. He thought to himself as he continued taking drags from that damn cigarette.

Landry walked out the door just as Brady was putting out the cigarette and dropped it into the garbage can. “Ready?” Landry asked.

“Yes.” Brady replied.

“You know you can’t smoke in the car, right?” Landry asked.

“I know.” Brady responded in disappointment. “Did you want to check into the hotel first or just go straight to the station?”

“We might as well go meet with Detective Houston first. I already told the hotel that we would have a late check in. Does that work?”

“It does.”

Landry clicked the key fob and the trunk of the Nissan Sentra popped open. They put their bags in the trunk and closed it. They got in the car and put on their seatbelt. Brady entered the address of the police station into the GPS while Landry maneuvered his way out of the airport and onto the highway. They pulled into the station and Brady immediately got out of the car to light a cigarette. Landry had given up on giving Brady a hard time. He knew Brady was in a bad place, so he grabbed his laptop bag and leaned against the car.

“How is Carol?” Landry asked.

“I wouldn’t know. She stopped talking to me about a week ago.” Brady said with his increasingly noticeable smoker’s voice. “Other than being pissed at me, I think she is fine.”

“Is she still volunteering at the hospital?”

“More than ever.”

“Well, hopefully she will start talking to you soon.”

“I’m not sure I want her to.” Brady took another drag. “Truthfully, I’m afraid of what she has to say.”

“You think she wants a divorce?”

Brady looked up at the sky. “I’m afraid she wants to go to therapy. A divorce I’ve been through. Therapy I haven’t.”

Landry laughed. “A therapist would have a heyday with you.”

“Exactly.” Brady laughed back. “I’m too old and set in my ways to be analyzed.”

“Who knows, maybe it would do you some good.” Landry secretly meant it.

“Well, the fact is, I wouldn’t want to be married to me. That’s for sure. You’ve got to hand it to her. She has been a saint and I think I’m pushing my luck.”

“You should call her tonight. Just check in. She may even answer your call, if you’re lucky.”

“I might. Ready?” Brady crushed the butt of his cigarette under his shoe.

“Littering is against the law you know.”

“Yeah, well, ticket me smart ass.” Brady and Landry walked into the police station.

“We are here to see Detective Houston in Homicide.” Brady stood over the clerk at the counter.

“Do you have an appointment?” Brady could tell the lady behind the counter had probably been at this job for a while, she seemed as cranky as he was.

“He is expecting us. We’re from Parker Colorado Police, Homicide Division.” Landry interjected.

The woman whose face showed absolutely no emotion, probably because her messy bun was pulling to tightly, picked up the phone and began to speak. “Two detectives from Colorado are here to see Detective Houston.” She soon hung up the phone.

“He will be right out detectives. You can have a seat.” She said quite sharply.

“Thank you.” Brady responded wondering if this is how people saw him. He knew he was grouchy at times, but he wondered if he had the same effect on people with his resting bitch face issues. Maybe he did need therapy. He thought.

Brady and Landry sat down in adjoining chairs and stared at the wall. Time passed slowing. They sat there for ten minutes, then fifteen, then twenty. Landry kept looking at his watch. He didn’t know why, they had nothing else to do but even Landry was getting antsy.

“You think anything will come of this?” Landry asked.

“God, I hope so.” Brady took in a deep lingering breath. “I have been over our case a thousand times in my head to see where we are missing something, anything. I come up with nothing every single time.” Brady sat back and crossed his legs.

“Me too.” Landry admitted. “It just seems that these cases are similar enough but who the hell knows anymore.”

“This world just keeps getting darker and darker.” Brady was getting restless switching one leg over the other. “These damn chairs are horrible.”

Just then a man appeared through one of the side doors into the lobby, if you can call it a lobby. He was a smaller man, maybe five foot seven, thin and incredibly unassuming. And he was young, at least by their standards. They didn’t expect that. “Detectives Brady and Landry?” He held out his hand to shake theirs. “I’m Dennis Houston. Sorry you were waiting so long. We were in a meeting and you know how those can be.”

“No problem. We were just admiring the décor.” Landry smiled.

“Its home.” Houston replied meeting Landry’s smile with his own. “Right this way.” He pointed back towards the door he just came from and led them down a corridor of offices. He pointed to an open door to the left. “This is my office. Have a seat.” Both detectives sat in the chairs as Houston went around his desk and sat in his chair. “So, detectives, I haven’t had much of a chance to look over the file you sent this morning but what I did see was, well, interesting to say the least. I definitely agree with you that we have some glaring similarities between our cases. My interest is definitely peaked. In fact, I can’t find too many differences. So, where do we begin?”

Detective Houston was very inviting and respectful, so the detectives felt comfortable to delve right in. They spoke about the crime scenes, comparing notes. One girl was placed on the ground the other placed in a tree, but both were out in the open for public view. They spoke about the conditions of the bodies. Both had been cut open. Although Tiffany had some stab wounds she was primarily cut open from throat to abdomen. Amanda had been stabbed to shreds. In both cases the internal organs had been removed and placed around the crime scene. Both had been washed in bleach, inside and out. Both had their hands and feet removed. The detectives spoke in detail about the lack of evidence in both cases. In each case none of their personal belongings had ever been located. There phones had been shut off or batteries removed soon after they disappeared, they assumed. They spoke about the frustrations with these cases. They wondered why Amanda was stabbed so many times, assuming it was done by the same killer and why Tiffany had been stabbed only a few times. The only difference they could come up with without having been there to witness it is that Tiffany died immediately from a stab to the heart. Amanda more or less bled out. Amanda had defensive wounds where Tiffany didn’t. Poor girl never even had a chance. Both girls had had their fingernails clipped, post mortem. Both girls’ scalps were removed post mortem as well. The more they compared notes the more this was looking like the same killer. As the men talked and took notes the more all of them began to have hope that with two murders committed by the same killer maybe something would come of it.

The men continued talking about the girls themselves, about their families, and lifestyles. There were similarities there too. Neither girl had a boyfriend. Both girls had been attending college. Everyone who spoke of the girls had only great things to say. They were both very attractive, young, smart and respected by everyone that they knew.

Brady stopped writing and looked out the window. The day had turned to night. The men had been so engrossed in the conversation that they hadn’t realized what time it was. This caught the attention of Detective Houston who followed Brady’s lead in noticing the night sky. He looked at the clock. It was eleven fifty-four. The men had spent most of the day comparing notes, pictures, autopsies and theories.

All three men sat back in their seats from pure exhaustion. It had been a long day.

“Well detectives, we should probably call it a night.” Houston pulled out his phone to look at it. “Christ! Eleven texts messages and two missed calls from my wife. I am a dead man. She worries.” Houston began typing away on his phone in what Brady and Landry could only guess were a series of apologies. Houston put his phone in his pocket while he stood up. “So, can we meet again in the morning?”

“Absolutely.” Landry responded as he and Brady put away their notepads and put on their suit jackets that they had hung over their chairs hours ago.

“Nine o’clock sound OK?” Houston motioned them all out of his office and shut the door behind him. “I would meet sooner but I have a feeling I will be making breakfast for the wife in the morning.”

Brady observed that Houston had the same boundaries between his job and his personal life as Landry did. Houston probably had a happy marriage and a few kids just like Landry. He admired that. He longed to be like that.

“Totally understandable.” Landry responded.

They all exited the building and into the dark of night.

CHAPTER 15

Jared tuned over as his eyes adjusted to the room filling with light. His arm reached over Rachael’s arm while she slept on her side. He slowly began to caress her arm and she began to gain wakefulness. He didn’t want to be a creeper, but he couldn’t help but to smell her hair, her fragrance, and her essence. She began to move slightly as she woke. Jared wrapped his arm around her and began to pull her in closer.

“Good morning Love.” Jared quietly whispered in her ear.

Rachael pulled her arm from under his and began to stretch. She let out a slight grown and then placed her arm over his. “Good morning my Love. What time is it?”

Jared lifted his head to see the clock on his nightstand and then laid his head back down. “It’s seven seventeen.”

She groaned again. “Can we just stay in bed all day?”

“Absolutely.” Jared felt complete happiness with her comment. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Yes, please.” Rachael turned her body so she was laying on her back looking up at Jared. “Have I told you how much I love you?”

“Not nearly enough.” Jared smiled. She couldn’t say it enough as far as Jared was concerned.

Rachael reached back and pushed her pillow up against the headboard and sat up. She looked at Jared for a moment and then he laid his head in the nook of her neck. “I definitely didn’t expect you.” She said as she ran her fingers through his hair. “I love you. I love you very much.”

Jared closed his eyes and completely absorbed this moment. “I love you too Babe. I definitely didn’t expect this either, but I love us.” Jared just laid in her arms and breathed.

“Jared?” Rachael asked quietly.

“Yeah?”

Rachael took a moment contemplating what she was about to say. Lately she had been in turmoil over her affair with Eric. Her emotions were conflicting but the more time she spent with Jared the more she realized he was not the small, inadequate twit that Eric made him out to be. He was strong, attentive and loving to her in ways she did not anticipate. She was with Jared more and more and spent less time with Eric and she was now doing this purposefully. At first it had been a matter of convenience seeing both brothers. It had been exciting and frivolous. But now her heart was in love with Jared and she needed to follow her heart.

“What would you think about-” She stopped for a moment. Something inside her was screaming to her not to say it. Part of her knew that the second she said the actual words, it would become reality. The part of her that was so in love with Jared told the inner scream to shut up and go away. She needed to follow her heart.

Jared raised his head and propped himself up with his arm to look her directly in the eyes. “What would I think about what?”

Rachael looked at his eyes. She scanned his face. The more that she did the more in love with him she became. He was not plain. He was not average. To Rachael he became more handsome with every minute that went by. She saw in him something rare, a selfless man who would do anything for her. “What would you think about not hiding our relationship anymore?”

Jared sat straight up. He was shocked and confused. All this time Rachael had been adamant that they keep their love affair a secret. He wasn’t prepared for this. He had been so convinced that their relationship would stay under the radar that he didn’t truly consider any real consequences if they were to make their relationship known. He had wanted so badly for their love to be known but he had gotten use to the comforts of secrecy that he wasn’t expecting this from Rachael. A flood of adrenalin ran through him. He had a rush of fear and that wasn’t what he was expecting. It wasn’t what Rachael was expecting.

Rachael saw the shock on his face. She observed his hesitation and immediately recognized that her question had caused him a great deal of stress. “I’m sorry Jared. We don’t have to tell anyone. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Jared immediately snapped out of his thoughts. “No, No… I…. It’s just that…I’m surprised a little bit, that’s all.”

Rachael couldn’t help but to take Jared’s response personally. She regretted having said anything. How could she be so stupid? She was the one that had insisted all of this time they keep it a secret. She had gone against the voice screaming in her head. The voice that was logical and cautious and she let her emotion get the best of her. They both sat up against the headboard looking straight ahead. “I shouldn’t have said anything Jared. Forget I said anything at all.” Rachael was embarrassed and mad at herself and somewhat irritated at Jared’s response which she interpreted in that moment as rejection even though she had been the one wanting to continue in secrecy.

Jared stayed quiet for a few minutes really contemplating what they were both risking if they were to become public with their love. He had never considered what they would be giving up. He knew Eric would be angry, but he wasn’t sure how angry he would be. Eric held both of their careers in his hands. They could lose it all and simply at the whim of Eric’s moods. “Rachael, listen. I’m sorry that I didn’t say yes right away. It is not about my love for you or your love for me.” Jared took her hand in his and turned his head to look at her. “I’m sorry. I just wasn’t expecting you to say that. Please don’t get me wrong, I want to shout to the world how much I love you. I want everyone to see that you are with me. I have wanted that since the beginning. You mean everything to me.” He looked Rachael in the eyes. “Do you know that?”

“I do.”

Jared took in a deep breath and his heart melted into her perfect blue eyes. “I want nothing more than for our relationship to be known. Honestly, I’m tired of having to hide us. You know I have wanted nothing more. Please Babe, don’t be mad that I had to swallow hard for a few minutes. It’s just that it hadn’t occurred to me that you would be willing to let people know. It just shocked me that is all. I promise.”

Rachael’s heart softened a bit and she let go of the hurt she felt by his lack of enthusiasm. “I know. It wasn’t something that I had really thought about, but I am tired of hiding us too. I shouldn’t have blurted that out. I’m sorry. We don’t have to change anything if you don’t want to.”

“But I want to. I want to more than I have ever wanted anything before. I love you so much. I am so proud to be with you. I am a better man with you. You are why I smile. That is not something I want to hide. I want the world to know that you’re mine.” Jared contemplated his next words carefully. “The reason I was so hesitant was that I hadn’t thought about what could happen if we do. I mean I had but that is why we needed to hide it, right?”

“Yes.” Rachael knew fully what Jared’s concerns were because they were hers too.

“You know what we could be risking right?” Jared asked.

“I do.”

“You know we could lose everything?”

Rachael paused for a second. “I do.”

Jared stopped looking at Rachael and laid his head against the headboard again. He was certain that Eric would fire him. He knew Eric would have him removed from his home, his lifestyle, his whole world would change. Rachael was talented. She could find another job easily, granted she would never be paid as much as she was now, no matter what job she took. He, on the other hand wouldn’t be so lucky. All he had known was Stetson Real Estate. All he had ever known was Eric leading the pack. He recognized without ever giving it a thought that no matter what Eric had ever said or done, Eric was his comfort zone. The more he thought the clearer it got for him. He had to assume he would lose everything. He knew Eric considered Rachael his property via the company. What was worse is that he knew that Eric would never want him to be as happy as he is with Rachael. He knew Eric would do whatever he could to disrupt what they had. Misery loves company. He turned his head to see Rachael observing him quizzically. She smiled at him and in an instant nothing else mattered. He realized that no matter what happened, with her by his side, he was ready to face his fears. Besides, he had a college degree. He had many years with Stetson Real Estate on his resume. And unless Eric went on a crusade to destroy Jared, he might just be OK. Maybe he wasn’t a meager annoyance as Eric had made him feel he was. Maybe, just maybe, he could stand on his own two feet and create a life of his own with Rachael. Jared squeezed Rachael’s hand even tighter. “I think I’m ready Rachael. I think we can do this. I want to finally be happy. You make me happy. I can get another job, another place to live. It won’t be near as nice as this place. Are you OK with that?”

Rachael giggled “I don’t care about those things. I really don’t. I have my apartment. Eric has nothing to do with that. I network plenty and will have no problem if I need to get another job. In fact, I know of a few that might interest you too.”

“Really?” Jared responded like a kid getting a new bike as he turned to look at her again.

“Yep. I’ve been keeping my ears open. In fact, there are a few openings with Hammer and Smith.” Rachael grinned.

“No shit? Seriously?” Jared matched her grin. “Eric would go insane. That is brilliant Rachael! Brilliant!”

Hammer and Smith was one of Eric’s biggest competitors. Jared reveled at the thought of working for them. “Eric would have an aneurism.” Jared laughed. He was pretty sure Eric’s competitor would love the opportunity to see Eric squirm.

“Well, we have options. I think we have a lot more options than you think.” Rachael turned towards Jared. “Babe, you are very talented, smart and driven. You are not what Eric makes you out to be. I know that. We just need to get you to understand that too.” She kissed him on the cheek.

“Thank you.” Jared sat in thought. It was the first time in his entire life that he was contemplating a life without Eric in it. He thought about what Rachael had said. It was true. He was intelligent, instinctual and driven. He really hadn’t ever given himself that credit before. Eric would never have allowed him to see his good qualities, he was too busy keeping him under his thumb. As he thought, he realized more and more that he did have the capabilities of making it on his own. He wasn’t helpless. What he was, was brainwashed. The more he thought the more confident he became. He was still terrified at the thought of Eric knowing. He was playing the confrontation with Eric in his head. He envisioned chairs being thrown, Eric’s hands wrapped around his neck, and the intense verbal abuse that he would have to endure. But Jared pictured himself responding to Eric in a way that Eric couldn’t argue with. Jared thought that, if he were so bad at everything then why would Eric be so angry at the thought of losing him? This opened the door to another thought. Because, maybe it wasn’t Eric that didn’t need Jared, maybe it was Jared that didn’t need Eric. Maybe Eric would be afraid that his whipping boy would no longer be around. Maybe Eric needed Jared to depend on him. Eric could make him feel worthless all day long but what if Eric was afraid to lose him? He dwelled on this idea for quite a while.

“Listen Babe.” Rachael interrupted his thoughts. “Let’s just sit on this for now. It isn’t anything we need to decide immediately. But can I ask something?”

Jared shook off his thoughts and focused back on Rachael. “Absolutely.”

“When we are ready, I would like to be the one to tell Eric.”

Jared wasn’t sure why she would want to be the one. In fact, he feared for her safety if she were to be the one to tell him. “Rachael, I’m not sure that is a good idea. I don’t want you to be alone with him telling him this. He will come unglued and I’d worry that he would take it out on you. No. I don’t like that idea at all.”

“I can handle him Jared. You know I can handle him. If I thought for a second that I was in any danger I wouldn’t do it. I promise I can keep him calm. The worst he could do is fire me and I already have that covered. I have no problem leaving the company.”

“I just don’t think that it’s a good idea Rachael. It doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t want you to have to deal with his rage and you know that’s what you’ll get.”

“I can handle him Jared. He doesn’t lash out at me like he does you. I expect him to give insults and try to hurt me with his words but that would be the end of it. I am more worried if you told him. He wouldn’t hesitate to rip your face off. I want to be the one to tell him. Promise me you won’t say anything to him. Promise me.”

Jared sat silent for a moment. He didn’t think that was a good idea but what she was saying made some sense. She was one of the only people that he treated decent. Maybe she was right. “OK. I don’t like it but I get what you’re saying. I don’t like it though.”

“I know. Trust me. It’ll be fine. There is no rush to tell him, but when we do I want to be the one to do it.” She kissed him on the lips.

Jared pulled her close to him and kissed her on the head. At that moment it hit him, soon they would announce themselves as a couple and no longer had to hide. His face lit up and he squeezed her tighter. She reciprocated. There was a sense of freedom and endless happiness for both of them. Rachael no longer had to be Eric’s bed buddy and if Eric were to ever tell Jared that they had been sleeping together, well, Eric is a liar and a scumbag, and she was sure she could persuade Jared to take it as a hurtful lie. She knew she could be convincing if the subject were to come up. Eric didn’t scare her, and Jared was trusting and loving and she wasn’t going to lose that for anything. Although she probably should worry about Eric letting the cat out of the bag, she wasn’t worried in the least. She had Jared now and she fully intended to keep him.

“How about that cup of coffee?” Rachael whispered.

Jared released his grip. “I’m on it!”

The rest of their day was spent in bed.

CHAPTER 16

Detective Houston finished his last bit of coffee and headed out the door. He had been in communication with Detectives Landry and Brady for weeks now and there was a whole new life to their cases. Their initial meeting had given new life to their cases. They had chosen to look into the Stetson Real Estate connection a bit more. They had researched everything they could when it came to the parent company and all of its subsidiaries. None of the men knew what the connection was but at least they had a new focus. He knew that Detectives Landry and Brady were going to meet with the CEO today and he thought he would go to each building owned by Stetson Real Estate in any capacity in Chicago and its surrounding areas. With Tiffany’s picture in hand he was determined to find even the smallest of clues to solve her murder. He had a list of addresses and company names. There were only four listed, but he was hopeful he might find something. It couldn’t hurt.

Detective Houston entered the first address into his phone. It was an hour and a half drive on the outskirts of Chicago. He figured he would start there and work his way back into town. The company listed was a restaurant called Tafferty’s Tavern. They were a chain owned by BTO who was owned by Kimball and Associates who fell under the Stetson Real Estate umbrella. It appeared that there wasn’t anything Stetson Real Estate didn’t dabble in. If it made money, Stetson Real Estate owned it. He, Brady and Landry were being schooled on business and Stetson Real Estate in a quick crash course. Houston found it pretty interesting. He had learned a lot over the course of the last few weeks and he found it to be fascinating. He knew companies owned other companies, but the number of layers connected to Stetson Real Estate was astonishing to him. Houston was a very smart man. He had multiple degrees. He liked to think of himself as intelligent, however, even he was confused by the intricacies of this business. He figured that Stetson Real Estate probably had quite the number of accountant and attorney firms who must be brilliant at what they do to keep all of their dealings straight. The thought of it all went well beyond his understanding which made him very content with the field he had chosen to go into. His job required hard work, tenacity, determination, common sense at the same time the ability to think outside the box. He had all of those things and more. He was patient, curious and he cared. These were all the things that made him really great at what he did. He never once questioned any other career. Chicago was the better for it. Just like Landry and Brady, he too had helped to solve many crimes and didn’t have one single cold case in his career. He never helped convict anyone that he wasn’t one hundred percent confident was guilty. His instincts weren’t based off of arrogance and the need to be right. His instincts were based off of wanting to help his community be a little bit safer every day. He was committed to what he did, and he had never regretted it. He felt no different about Tiffany’s case. This was a brutal and merciless murder and he wanted to get whoever had done this put behind bars where they belonged.

Detective Houston pulled up to the restaurant and shut off his car. He grabbed his jacket and planner containing his business cards and notebook. He watched as people were walking into the restaurant. It was crowded for being eleven in the morning. He figured that this was why Stetson Real Estate found it to be a great investment. Houston opened the door and held it for two women who were dressed very nicely as they walked through. As he walked in his hunch was confirmed. This was fine dining for sure. All the wait staff were in uniforms that were pressed and perfect. This reminded him of the restaurant Tiffany had worked at. One theme resonated, only the beautiful were hired. He walked up to the hostess that was standing behind the pillar greeting customers.

“Good morning.” Said a young girl who was groomed perfectly and wearing a smile that could charm even Detective Brady. “How many will be joining you today?”

Houston stood for a second breathing in the best aromas he had ever smelled before. When had food ever smelled this good? He thought.

“Sir?”

“Yes, sorry. This place smells amazing.”

“Well, thank you. Wait until you taste it.” She replied while she waited for his answer.

“Actually, I am here to speak with your manager.” Houston pulled a card from his leather portfolio and handed it to her.

The young lady read the card, looked up and called over to one of the waiters who was walking by. “Can you let Mr. Schmidt know that Detective Houston is here to see him?” The young man went to the back of the restaurant and through a door.

“Please let me show you to a table and I will have Mr. Schmidt join you if that’s OK.”

“That would be fine. Thank you.”

She led him to a table and asked him what he would like to drink. Just a water. He looked around. This was one of the finest restaurants he had ever been to, if not the finest. All of the tables were furnished with flowers of all different types. The napkins were nicer than anything he had ever used. Even the silverware was intricate with design. And best of all, each table had an iPad. He had never seen iPads at a restaurant before. He picked it up and, on the screen,, was Tafferty’s Tavern in italics. Below the name were three icons; Menu, Request Wait Staff, and internet. He clicked on the menu. This took him to more icons; Appetizers, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Non-Alcoholic Drinks, Alcoholic Drinks, Wine List and finally Desserts. Houston was more than impressed as he clicked on each icon to review the offerings. The only thing more impressive than the food listed were the prices. He couldn’t afford this place, ever. He had never seen a thirty-five-dollar salad before nor did he have the desire to order one. Although, the smells that floated through his nostrils were very alluring.

“Hello Detective Houston. I’m the General Manager Terry Schmidt. I was expecting you.” A very tall man stood at the edge of the table extending his hand to shake. Houston stood and shook his hand. Mr. Schmidt had brought him a water with lemon and set it on the table.

“Thank you for meeting with me Mr. Schmidt. I hope I don’t take up too much of your time.” Both men sat down.

“I have to say, you have an amazing restaurant here.” Houston looked around the restaurant.

“Thank you. We work very hard to make every experience here, well, an experience.”

“I can see that. Very impressive. Unfortunately, as much as I would love to sample some of your food, I am here on business and it’s a very delicate subject. I’m not sure what you were told about why I am here.” Houston said.

“I was told. It’s very unfortunate. I’d heard about the murder, who hasn’t it’s been all over the news. I can’t even imagine.” Mr. Schmidt seemed sincere.

“It is very sad. Her name was Tiffany Martinez. Did you know that she worked at Sandusky Bistro?” Houston asked.

“Yes. I had heard. That’s not one of our restaurants but I am familiar with it.”

“How have you heard of it?”

“It’s another brand in our company.”

“So, your restaurants are affiliated?”

“Yes, the corporate offices own many brands and that is one of them.”

“So how exactly does that work?” Houston was curious.

“Well, our corporate company owns many different brands. So, we are separate to Sandusky Bistro however, our owners are the same.”

“OK. So, you and your chains don’t really communicate?”

“No. We are separate entities.”

Houston wrote in his notebook. “So, really there wouldn’t be any reason for you or your management to know of Sandusky’s inner workings or their employees?”

“No. Sorry.”

“It’s OK. This is what I need to know.” Houston took out Tiffany’s picture and placed it in front of Terry. “Have you ever seen this girl?”

Terry picked up the picture and looked at it for some time as he studied it. “I’m sorry but I haven’t.” Terry handed back the picture.

“Are you sure? She’s never been here or at any company functions?”

“I’m sure Detective Houston. I wish there was something I could say to help but I haven’t seen her before. I saw her picture on the news plenty and nothing was familiar.”

Houston continued to write in his notebook. “What about your employees? Do any of them know her?”

“I haven’t asked but you are more than welcome to show her picture to them to see.”

“That would be great. I would appreciate that.” Detective Houston shut his notebook. Both men stood up from the table and Mr. Schmidt shook Houston’s hand.

“I really appreciate your time Mr. Schmidt.”

“Anytime Detective Houston. I really wish there was more I could do.” Houston believed him. “Please go ahead and have a seat and I’ll send over each employee for you to talk to and please let me know if there is anything else I can do.”

“Thank you. I will.” Houston sat back down.

The next half hour was filled with meeting each employee and showing Tiffany’s picture. Every answer was the same. No one had known her or had ever seen her. Houston believed each employee. This is what Houston referred to as a dead end. Exasperated and with his stomach filled with water he proceeded to the bathroom and back to his car.

His next two visits to the other companies on the list resulted in the same. Except for seeing her picture on the news, no one had ever seen her before. His instincts told him that no one was lying and there was no conspiracy happening here. Houston had stopped to grab a bite to eat since it was already after six. His last stop was a luxury apartment complex in downtown Chicago. So far, the theme of elegance and luxury stayed the same, so he didn’t expect anything less. He followed his GPS’s directions and eventually pulled into a large entry way of a parking lot and pulled up to a valet. The building was huge, and he could only guess how many floors were in this building. He saw an entrance for a residence multi-level parking lot only accessible by code. The guest and visitor parking was full, so he chose to pull up to the valet. He got out of his car where he was met by two young men in suits with name tags.

“Good evening sir. How is your day so far?” A young man wearing a name tag labeled Jack asked.

“I am good. Thank you.” Houston responded as he handed over his car keys.

The other young man handed him a ticket while Jack got in his car and drove away.

“Have a wonderful evening sir.” Said the other young man. His name tag read Todd.

“You too Todd.” Houston walked into the luxury apartment complex. He looked around admiring the elegance throughout the lobby and he went to the concierge desk. This seemed more like a luxury hotel than a residential complex.

“Good evening sir. How may we help you?” Unlike all of the young attendance and wait staff that he had been introduced to today, stood before him a gray haired regal older gentleman. He too was in a company uniform and pinned to the front of his jacket was a name tag that read: John.

“Good evening John. I am here to meet with Tony Dunn, the Manager.” Detective Houston held up his badge. “I’m Detective Houston with the Chicago Police Department. Would you mind letting him know I’m here. I believe he’s expecting me.”

“Right away sir. Please have a seat and I will let him know that you’re here.” John pointed to the lobby waiting area.

“Thank you.” Houston chose to stand and walk around the lobby.

Within minutes a man in his 40’s, Houston guessed, walked up to him and held out his hand. Houston had not seen so many manners in one day before. The men shook hands.

“Nice to meet you Detective Houston. Are you having a good day so far?” Tony asked.

“I am. You?”

“Always.” Tony replied with a smile. “If you don’t mind following me into my office, we can talk there.”

Houston followed Tony into a back office, it too was glorious. Tony sat behind his desk while Houston had a seat.

“I have been told why you are here. Hopefully we can help in some way.” Tony began. “I heard on the news what happened to that poor girl.”

“Thank you. It is a terrible thing. I was hoping that you or any of your employees knew her or had seen her before or had any information regarding Tiffany. That’s her name.”

“I understand.”

Houston placed the picture of Tiffany on Tony’s desk. Tony picked it up and looked at it. Houston could tell he was trying to figure out if there was any familiarity.

“Detective Houston, unfortunately, I’ve never seen her or met her before.” Tony continued looking at the picture. “She isn’t familiar at all.” He handed back Tiffany’s picture.

“She has never worked here? You haven’t seen her with any of your employees? She didn’t work too far from here.” Houston searched Tony’s face but there was no acknowledgement of knowing her.

“She has never been an employee here that I’m aware of. I haven’t seen her let alone with any of our employees. Her name isn’t familiar, well, except for the news. I’m sorry detective.”

“That’s OK. It is a big city. We just have to investigate.” Houston kept the picture in his hand. “Would you mind if I showed the other employees her picture? Just to make sure?” Houston asked.

“I wouldn’t mind at all. Would you mind letting me know if any of them do recognize or know her? I would appreciate that.”

“Absolutely. No problem.” Houston stood up. Tony walked Houston around the apartment complex as he showed the picture to everyone that was working and even some residence. Houston could tell that this made Tony uneasy. Houston was sure that he didn’t feel comfortable with residence finding out a detective was wanting information regarding a murder. Houston thought Tony might have some explaining to do after he left but Houston wasn’t going to pass up any chances of a lead. The answers he received were the same as they had been all day. No one knew her and except for the story being on the news, no one had ever seen her before. After asking the valets if they had recognized her and after receiving the standard answer, he handed Jack the ticket to retrieve his car. He said goodbye to Tony, he seemed like a nice guy, and waited for his car to pull up. Tony went back to work. As Houston waited, he saw a young man standing at the entrance of the parking lot. He was dressed in a uniform, the same uniform all of the employees were in. Houston assumed he was probably waiting for a ride.

Houston’s car pulled up and the valet kept the door open so that Houston could get into the driver’s side. Houston handed the boy five dollars. He had no idea if this was a good tip or not. He wasn’t used to luxurious living and the amounts of their tips, but it was the only cash he had on him. The attendant told Houston to have a great evening and shut the door once he was in the seat. Houston buckled his seat belt and felt exhausted. He wouldn’t consider today a success, but he felt good that he had at least tried. He drove around the side of the parking lot and pulled up to the front alongside of the young man who obviously worked at the building. He left the car running and with Tiffany’s picture in hand he walked over to the young man and showed him his badge. The young man’s tag read: Tyler. The boy was immediately curious.

“I’m Detective Houston. I’m working on a case and was wondering if you might help me, Tyler.”

“OK. Is anything wrong?” Tyler was intimidated, and Houston didn’t want that.

“No not at all. I’m just asking employees here if they know this girl.” Houston handed him Tiffany’s picture. “It’s a case that has been on the news, so you might recognize her, but I was wondering if you had ever seen her before. No one is in trouble son. This is all routine.”

Tyler dropped his eyes to view the picture he had just taken from Houston. He wasn’t quick to respond like most of the employees were. People usually know pretty quickly if they don’t recognize someone. Houston waited as Tyler scanned the picture intently.

“I don’t watch the news sir.” The boy continued to look at the picture. Some time went by and Houston wasn’t sure why. “So, I think I’ve seen her here before. Just once though.” The boy innocently replied.

“You’ve seen her? Here?” Houston’s heart jumped into his throat and his surprise showed.

“Yes sir. I’m pretty sure it’s her but I mean, I could be wrong.”

“Take a really good look at the picture. Be sure OK?” Houston pulled out his phone and pulled up his saved photos. He had a few more pictures of Tiffany. He held out his phone and showed them to the young man. Tyler looked at the pictures on the phone as intently as he had the printed picture.

“Detective Houston, I’m sure she was here.”

“When?” Houston asked still filled with amazement.

“Wow, it was a while ago. Let’s see. It was last year some time.” Tyler kept looking up to the right as if he was attempting to pull out memories. “Um, I think it was in the fall maybe around Halloween.”

“OK, Tyler, I need you to take your time and think. Was it before or after Halloween? Take your time.” Houston was begging to God not to let this be a misidentification.

Tyler looked at the pictures again and then back up at Houston and then back to the pictures. Houston saw that Tyler was concentrating very hard.

“Yes sir. I’m very sure that I’ve seen her here. I think it was before Halloween. We usually dress up for Halloween here and I don’t think it was after that.”

“OK son. What is it that you do here?” Houston was trying to contain his excitement and focus on the questions he needed to ask Tyler.

“I work the elevators. I’m an elevator attendant.”

“Was it day or night when you saw her?”

Tyler looked back up to the right and then back at Houston. “It was night. Really late, I think.”

“Was there anyone else around who might have seen her?”

“I’m not sure. If I remember right it was pretty late. I don’t think anyone was in the lobby.”

“What about John or any of the other front desk people?”

Tyler thought very hard again, looking to the right, pulling memories. “I don’t remember seeing anyone really but from the elevator I don’t see the whole lobby so I’m not sure.”

“OK. Did you see her in the elevator?” Houston asked.

“Yes. When the elevator isn’t being used it stays on the lobby level and when someone pushes for service, depending on the floor, either the doors open, or the elevator moves to the floor that is requesting service.”

“So, your job is to stand in the elevator and do what?”

Tyler shrugged. “Just stand there. You know, greet people. Ask them what floor and then push the button. We try to talk to the people we know. Ask them how their day is going. People that we don’t know, we just try to be nice.”

“That is great Tyler. Thank you.” Houston wanted to put Tyler’s worries at ease. “When was the first time you saw her.”

Tyler looked up to the right again. “Hmmm… I was standing in the elevator texting my girlfriend. We aren’t supposed to use our phones so please don’t say anything.”

“I promise I won’t.”

“They know we do it. There are cameras in the elevator, but they usually don’t say anything. Everyone would be really pissed if we couldn’t because of me.”

Houston made a mental note: CAMERAS. “You won’t get into trouble Tyler. I won’t mention that part.” Houston said ensuring Tyler’s secrecy.

“I remember texting and then I heard the ding for the doors to open so I hurried and put my phone away. The elevator hadn’t moved because it was already at the lobby, I remember that. She was standing at the doors and she asked to go to the penthouse. So, I asked her for the penthouse card.”

“You had never seen her before this day?”

“No sir.”

“She had not been to the penthouse before to your knowledge.”

“No sir. That’s why I asked to see the card. You have to have the penthouse card to get to the penthouse. I don’t even have a card.”

“Did she say why she didn’t have a card?”

“I don’t think so. She seemed like she was in a hurry. But I told her I couldn’t access the penthouse without a card.”

“Did she say anything?”

Tyler bit his lip while he thought. “I think she asked how she was supposed to get a card. I remember telling her that the owner of the penthouse would have to have given her one or would have to have her signed in as an approved guest. And then she left. That was all she said really.”

“Did you see where she went once she left the elevator?”

“Just through the lobby as far as I could tell before the doors shut. I assumed she was leaving.”

“You’re doing a great job Tyler. Is there anything else you can think of? What was she wearing? Did she look happy? Sad? You said she seemed like she was in a hurry.”

“She didn’t really look upset or anything. Even when I told her she needed a card she seemed OK with it. She had on a big purple coat and scarf. She didn’t take them off. She had a purse over her shoulder. Brown, I think.”

“Was anyone else with her?”

“Not that I could tell.”

“Did she say who she was there to see?”

“No.”

“You said that there are cameras in the building?”

“Oh yeah. Everywhere. It’s kind of creepy.” Tyler made a sour face. “It’s weird knowing that everyone can see everything you do.”

“I can imagine that would be weird. And cameras in the elevator?”

“Yes sir.”

“Tyler, is there anything else you can think of? Anything?”

Tyler again thought for a while. “Not really. Nothing that I can think… Oh, wait.” Tyler took his usual position looking up to the right. “I don’t think this really means anything, but she had a phone in her hand. One of those really cheap ones. I noticed because you don’t see those very often. I have an iPhone. Newest one you can get. I remember thinking that it was a weird cheap phone.”

“A weird phone?”

“Yeah like, one of those, what do you call them? The kind that you buy if you don’t have good credit or money to buy a phone? They look like older phones.”

Houston thought for a moment. “You mean like a Track phone? The kind that you have to buy minutes for?”

“Yeah. Like that. I can’t be sure, but I thought it was a weird looking phone. I don’t know. It probably means nothing.”

“Thank you Tyler, it helps. It really helps.” Houston reached into his car and grabbed his portfolio and began writing in the notebook. He took down Tyler’s information. He went over the information again with Tyler to make sure he had it right. He did. Just then a car pulled up.

“This is my ride. Can I go?” Tyler asked.

“Yes. I think we are done for now. I’ll be in touch. Thank you Tyler for all of your help.” Houston began to close the portfolio. And then it hit him as Tyler was about to get into the car. “Hey Tyler?”

Tyler stood half in and half out of the car. “Yes Sir?”

“Do you know who owns the penthouse suite?” Houston asked.

“Yes Sir.”

“Who?”

“Mr. Stetson.”

“Mr. Stetson?” Houston asked.

“Yes Sir. Eric Stetson. He owns Stetson Real Estate. He owns this building.”

Detective Houston wrote his name down and closed the book. “Thank you Tyler.”

“You’re welcome.” Tyler got in the car and it drove away.

Detective Houston’s mind was going a mile a minute. He got in his car and began to drive back into the parking lot. He needed the camera footage and he needed to get in touch with Detectives Brady and Landry. But first he needed to call his wife to say he would be home late, again.

CHAPTER 17

Jared exited the elevators and entered the lobby to the Executive offices. He was greeted by Katherine as usual with her welcoming smile. He always thought that if he had had a sister, he would want her to be like Katherine. He had a soft spot for her in his heart.

He held in his hand his hours of creation. The receipt he had altered to show Eric the date and time of the dump drop off. He was pretty proud of his forgery, yet he was still quite nervous that Eric would know right off the bat that Jared had altered the receipt. Jared had made sure to crumple it to look old and discarded. He was not usually confident about a lot of things, but this receipt was almost perfect.

“Good afternoon Mr. Stetson. I mean Jared.” Katherine smiled even bigger.

“Good afternoon Katherine. How are you?”

“I am very good. Thank you.” Katherine was always so cheerful and welcoming. He wondered how she could work for such a man and still remain so positive. This showed her character. He knew that she had to have experienced Eric’s rage at times. He imagined a few phones had been thrown in her direction a time or two and still she stayed so positive. He wondered what gave her such strength.

“Is he in?” Jared asked.

“He is. Although he has an appointment in ten minutes.” Katherine veered her gaze to two gentlemen in suits sitting in the lobby.

“Oh. OK. I’ll make it quick.” Jared responded.

“See you soon.” Katherine gave him a friendly wink and went back to answering the ringing phones.

Jared walked towards Eric’s office with the realization that he needed to be nonchalant. He needed to just walk in, hand Eric the receipt, exchange a few words and exit. Jared knocked on the door and entered.

Eric was standing in front of the window looking out at the spectacular view with his back to the door.

“Hi Eric.” Eric didn’t move or say anything. “I brought you the receipt.” Jared waited for a response. There wasn’t one. “Eric?”

“What?” Eric snapped out of his thoughts and snapped at Jared.

“I brought you the receipt.”

Eric turned around and looked at Jared. Jared could tell that he wasn’t all there. “What receipt?”

Jared was a bit stunned. The last time he had spoken to Eric he had demanded the receipt. He was insistent that Jared provide the receipt from the dump and now Eric doesn’t even know what he is talking about. Jared had spent days making this receipt appear authentic. He had even gone to the dump to get a real receipt and now Jared was confused and a bit disappointed. “The receipt from the dump.”

Eric’s eyes widened.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Eric demanded.

Jared was even more confused. “But I thought you wanted me to bring you the receipt.”

Eric came closer to Jared. Jared could feel the heat coming off of Eric. Eric seemed almost panicked. Something was wrong. “And you choose this moment to bring it to me? God Jared, your timing is ridiculous!”

Jared took in a deep breath and lifted his hand with the receipt in it to give to Eric.

“Put that fucking thing away you idiot! I want it burned. Do you understand me? I don’t want that thing anywhere near me! I don’t want it torn up or thrown away. I want it burned!” Eric stood eye to eye with Jared.

“OK. I’m sorry. I just thought-”

“That’s the problem with you Jared. You shouldn’t fucking think!” Eric ripped the receipt from Jared’s hand and stuck it in Jared’s pants pocket jerking Jared back and forth like a mom straightening a child’s pants.

“I want you out of here now. Go!” Eric demanded. Jared had no idea what was happening, but he knew something was off with Eric. Eric’s rage was one thing but what he was seeing and feeling seemed almost, well, like fear.

Just then Katherine’s voice came over Eric’s phone. “Mr. Stetson, your next appointment is ready to see you.”

Eric turned sharply towards the phone. Eric took a few seconds to regain his composure. “Send them in.” Eric tuned back to Jared. “Get out. Burn it immediately.”

Jared turned towards the door as someone began knocking. Katherine opened the door followed by two men. “Mr. Stetson, this is Detective Landry and Detective Brady.” Katherine stepped aside so that the two detectives could enter the room. Jared stood to the side so that he could exit once the men entered. A flurry of thoughts raced through Jared’s mind. Detectives? For what? Was Eric in trouble? He wanted to stay and find out, but he knew better. Katherine began to speak. “Detectives this is Jared Stetson.” The two men turned towards Jared and held out their hands to shake his.

Jared responded in kind. “Hello. I’m Eric’s brother.”

“Jared!” Eric looked sternly at Jared and motioned his eyes towards the door in a very obvious attempt to get Jared out of the office.

As Jared began to walk out of the door Katherine continued introductions. Jared walked slowly past offices towards Katherine’s desk and he waited. When Katherine returned Jared asked her why detectives were meeting with Eric. Katherine explained that she had no idea but that they had been trying to get a meeting with Eric for weeks. Jared thanked her and walked out the door to go burn the receipt that he had worked so hard to create.

“Please, have a seat.” Eric motioned for the detectives to have a seat on the couch.

“Thank you.” Both men sat. Landry opened up his portfolio and began writing down the date and time along with Eric’s name.

Eric walked over to the bar. “Would either of you like something to drink?”

“A water would be good. Thank you.” Brady responded.

Eric opened up the refrigerator and pulled out three glass bottles. It was expensive water. The glass had a label neither detective recognized. Eric handed them the water and took a seat in his oversized leather chair across from where the detectives were sitting.

“How can I help you gentlemen?” Eric opened his water and took a sip. He sat down in his leather chair.

“Well.” Brady began. “I will get straight to the point. I know we don’t have much time, so I would like to get as much accomplished as possible.” He leaned in towards Eric as Landry prepared to note anything Eric said. “Are you familiar with the Amanda Drake murder?”

“I am.” Eric responded.

“How did you become aware of the murder?”

“On the news.”

“Did you know her?”

“No.” Eric remained stoic.

“She worked for your company, correct?”

“She did.”

“And you had never met her?”

“No.”

Landry continued to scribble as he observed that Eric wasn’t giving up much. His answers were short with no explanation.

“You had an employee who was murdered after leaving work, one of your hotels, and you heard about it on the news?”

“Correct.”

“Mr. Stetson, we met with Mr. Nelson and he really couldn’t give us too much information. We were hoping you might have some information that we might not have.” Brady continued while Landry remained silent.

“I don’t.”

“Do you know how long Amanda worked for the Camden?”

“I don’t.”

“Do you know what position she held with the Camden?”

“Front desk, I believe.” Eric took another sip as he remained comfortable in his chair.

“Have you been approached by anyone regarding the case, other than us of course.”

“It was brought to my attention that you were going to be meeting with Mr. Nelson. Other than that, no.”

“You were given no details?” Brady asked.

“No.”

Brady looked over at Landry who had stopped writing. “So, you have an employee murdered in a very horrific way. You have added security unlike anything we’ve seen even though the murder may not have been committed at your hotel. And you have had no information provided to you or relatively no discussion with anyone about the murder itself or company decisions based off of that crime?” Landry asked.

“Correct.”

“Mr. Stetson.” Landry continued. “How is that possible?”

Eric took another sip of his water and placed it on the table. He sat back and crossed his legs. His confidence was very apparent. “Detectives. I am not sure if you are aware of how this type of business works. I am the President and CEO of one of the largest real estate firms in the country. My time and position are valuable. To put it simply, there is no way that I have all knowledge about all things when it comes to my company. That is why I hire the people I hire and have the departments I have. I rely heavily on the capabilities of all the people throughout this organization. I have tens of thousands of employees in one facet or another. Now, for as horrible as this crime is, she was a small cog in this huge machinery.” Brady and Landry sat back in astonishment. It seemed a bit of a callous statement for a young girl who was brutally murdered but then again, they didn’t know Eric. “I don’t mean to be crude or insensitive, however, her murder has nothing to do with me or those that I employ, at least not to my knowledge. When we have so many companies to run and an overabundance of employees not including the attrition rate of those that come and go quickly, it would be impossible for me to even consider having knowledge about employees and their lives. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Of course not Mr. Stetson.” Brady responded. “Although as we discussed with Mr. Nelson, this is a bit outside the norm wouldn’t you agree?”

“I do. But whether it is a waitress, valet attendant, receptionist, hell even an Executive position, I would have no knowledge of people’s day to day lives. I wouldn’t want to know. Crimes do occur at our businesses. That is just part of owning the amount of properties we own. In fact, you might be astonished at the amount of crimes that occur. But that is why we take great pride in our security and safety of those within our properties. Actually, I’m puzzled as to why us adding security to the Camden was such a red flag for you guys. Baffled really.”

Landry wrote down some notes and Brady observed Eric’s demeanor. Quite a cold and apathetic person he assumed. He had seen it before but there was something about Eric that seemed beyond detached. There was absolutely no emotion to this man. He might as well be talking about golf or the weather. Brady couldn’t put his finger on it, but something just wasn’t right with the man sitting in the leather chair so smugly.

“You mention crimes at your properties. Why would we be surprised at the amount of crime?” Brady asked while Landry sat back with his pen ready to write.

“Detective, Brady, is it?” Eric wasn’t playing games.

“Yes.”

“Do I really need to spell it out for you?” Eric uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. It appeared to Brady as if Eric was taking a dominant stance with his body position, attempting to intimidate, if Brady didn’t know better.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to Mr. Stetson.” Brady wasn’t going to back down.

Eric stood up and began the ritual that he used when speaking to people beneath him who he believed to be inferior. “Detectives, I am sure you are good at what you do.” Eric began to walk towards the window so that the detectives would have to turn around if they wanted to look at him. The king in his kingdom. “However, you have no idea the scope of my real estate and my company. It is so vast and so diverse that we have millions of people coming and going through our properties daily. Now, what kind of crimes do you think we would encounter?”

Landry turned around to look at the back of Eric. “Why don’t you tell us?”

Eric let out a condescending laugh. Not a loud laugh but just enough for the detectives to get the point. “Truly you can’t be serious detective.”

“I am very serious Mr. Stetson. Please tell us.” Landry remained calm. As far as Landry was concerned, he and Brady had seen it all, heard it all and Eric was nothing to them at this point. He was willing to play Eric’s game.

“OK. Let’s see. There’s theft, robbery, burglary, assaults, domestic violence, arson, vandalism, rape and now murder. Does that clarify it enough for you gentlemen?” Eric remained staring out the window.

Brady stood and turned to face Eric’s back. He could see Eric’s reflection in the window. Eric was eerily staring right back at him. “When these crimes occur, are you notified?”

“No. Not at the time.”

“Then how do you know about all of these crimes?”

“At times I will be briefed after the fact. Or I hear about some through the office gossip. I really don’t have dealings with any of it too often. That is what I have Legal and Security for. I don’t have time detectives to deal with the day to day mundane.”

Brady looked down at Landry who was writing and then back up to see Eric still staring at him via the window. “Crime is mundane?” Brady asked.

Eric laughed again. “No detective.” Eric turned around to look Brady right in the eyes. “People are.” Brady stared at Eric. He realized in that moment that Eric wasn’t playing a game as he and Landry both thought. This isn’t some power trip of an arrogant and egotistical man. What stood before him was pure evil. Until this day Brady had thought he had sat in rooms with the worst of the worst. But in this moment, a chill ran through Brady like he had never experienced. This man had no soul. He was not pretending to be bad. He was bad.

Brady took in a deep breath and straightened his tie. “Mr. Stetson. Did you know Amanda Drake?” He took a few steps closer to Eric.

“I told you, No.” Eric snapped back.

“Do you know anything about her murder or who would want to hurt her?” Brady’s and Eric’s eyes were locked.

“No.”

“Do you have any knowledge as to her employment, her life, her family, her friends, her death in any way?”

“No! I don’t know how else to get it through to you that I did not know her. I do not know her family. I have no knowledge about any of it!” The tension in the air was thick with aggravation on all sides.  

Brady took a step forward and stood silent for a moment and then in a stern and powerful voice exclaimed, “Do you know a girl by the name of Tiffany Martinez, Mr. Stetson?”

This time Eric did not give an immediate response. He just stared at Brady. He stared through Brady. His emotionless face began to bend at the brow in anger. He wasn’t taking in air. The veins in his neck began to protrude. His face turned a fair shade of red. Eric was taking on a disturbing physical transformation. Brady stared back just as intently. He wasn’t going to cower to Eric in any way. Landry stopped writing and looked up at Eric and then back to Brady. He recognized he needed to stand up and stand up now. He wasn’t sure what Eric was about to do but he knew it wasn’t going to be good.

Just then Katherine’s kind voice came over the phone. “Mr. Stetson. Your next appointment is here.”

After a few more seconds of intense silence Eric began to breathe again and relaxed his shoulders while still staring at Brady. His brow loosened, and his face regained its normal tan it had been moments earlier. Eric smiled. “Thank you, Katherine. We are finished here. If you could come escort these fine gentlemen out of the building, I would appreciate it.”

“Yes sir.” Katherine replied.

Eric walked back towards the leather chair. Landry stood in position ready for anything Eric might do but Eric simply picked up his water and took another sip. “Detectives, I don’t think there is anything further to discuss. I don’t know either of those people. I never have. That is all I am going to say. If you have any more questions, please contact my lawyer. You can call the main number and request Legal.”

Brady and Landry never touched their waters. They both began to walk towards the door as Katherine came in with her cheerful smile. The room was silent. Both detectives began to follow Katherine out the door. Brady stopped and turned around out of curiosity to get one last look at Eric, but Eric was again standing in front of the window looking straight back at Brady. A reflection he would never forget.

CHAPTER 18

Houston had been playing phone tag with Brady and Landry all day. He needed to speak to them as soon as possible. He had been in meetings most of the day and apparently so had the two detectives. He was curious to find out how the interview with Eric Stetson had gone and most importantly he was bursting at the seams to tell them that there was a connection between Tiffany and Eric. He had spent the morning with his supervisors updating them on his new lead. He had entered Tyler’s information into the police database and had requested Tyler come to the station to give a statement. He was waiting for a call back. Detective Houston had gone to Tiffany’s work to interview her co-workers and had even stopped by her family’s home to ask them all the same questions. Had Tiffany ever mentioned knowing Eric Stetson? The answers were again all the same, no. So far there was not one shred of evidence to prove that she had ever known him or had ever spoken his name. He was concerned that maybe Tyler had misidentified her as the girl he had seen. Why would she be going to the penthouse that night? How did she know Eric? Why was she in a hurry? Why did she think she could get to the penthouse? And why was she there?

There were so many questions. Detective Houston had contacted the Stetson Real Estate to request the video footage. He was waiting for a call back on that as well. Waiting is what got to him. He hated waiting, but he had done all he could do for now. Detective Houston sat at his desk and wrote down all of his questions. He didn’t want to lose any of his train of thought and writing things down worked for him. The pages kept filling up. Had Tiffany been having some sort of affair with Eric? If so, why would he want to kill her and humiliate her by displaying her body that way? Could she have been blackmailing him? From what everyone had said she was a very sweet and caring person. Could she have been capable of that? Could she have seen something or heard something she shouldn’t have? And how does this tie in with Amanda Drake’s murder?

Just then his cell phone rang. It was detective Landry. Houston answered, and Landry’s voice rang over the phone. “Houston. We have a problem!” Landry began to laugh hysterically while Houston sat back in his chair having heard this joke a million times. Landry continued to laugh uncontrollably. “I’m sorry.” Landry tried to hold back his laughter. “I had to do it. Brady dared me to. I couldn’t help myself. Sorry.” Landry finally got control of himself and stopped laughing after a few minutes.

“Man. If I had a dollar.” Houston answered.

“I know. I know.” Landry let out another laugh. “It’s been a hell of a day. I just needed to amuse myself. OK, so what did you find out?” Landry was still smiling on the other end as he put his phone on speaker so that Brady could hear as they sat in the car.

“Well, yesterday I went to all of the properties owned by Stetson Real Estate like I told you I was going to do. I spoke with all the managers and employees. It was a long day.”

“Let me guess, no one knew her or knew of her.” Brady said cynically.

“Almost.” Houston responded.

“Almost?” Landry seemed confused.

“Yes. I spent almost the entire day interviewing everyone that I could. My last stop at the luxury apartment complex was my last stop. Absolutely no one on site had ever seen her before. But as I was leaving the parking lot, I noticed this young man in one of the uniforms standing at the end of the parking lot, so I thought I would take one last chance.”

“And?” Brady’s eager voice came over the phone.

“And, he had seen her there before.” Houston finished.

Brady jumped on the slight pause “When? Where? Is he sure it was her?”

“He was sure. He remembered seeing her around Halloween time because he remembers that not long after seeing her they were in costume for work.”

“That’s around the time of the murder. Did he say why she was there?” Landry seemed calmer than Brady but not much calmer.

“He described what she was wearing, even down to the color of her purse and the type of phone she had. She wasn’t with anyone that he could see. He is an elevator attendant and it was late at night. According to him she seemed like she was in a hurry but not frantic or out of the ordinary. Nothing that seemed too strange.”

“So, what was she there for? Who was she there to see?” Brady pounced again on the slight pause not giving Houston much of a chance to explain.

“This is the best part. She wanted to go to the penthouse apartment. Owed by, get this, Eric Stetson.”

Landry and Brady said nothing. They stared at the phone and then at each other.

“You guys still there?” Houston asked.

“Yeah, we’re here.” Landry politely responded. There was another pause as both men collected their thoughts. “Why was she there to see Eric Stetson?”

“According to Tyler, that’s the kid who I talked to, she didn’t say she was there to see him but that she wanted to go to the penthouse.”

Before Houston could finish, Brady’s voice came through the speaker “Did she get to the penthouse? Did she say why?”

“Tyler said that anyone wanting to get into the penthouse needed a card to access it by elevator and she didn’t have one. He said that he doesn’t have one either. He said that she would have to be on a guest list and have Eric’s approval for management to let her access it.”

“Was she on the list?” Landry asked.

“No. After speaking with Tyler, I went back and spoke with management. They did look at his approved guest list and she wasn’t on it.

“So, what happened?”

“Tyler said she just left as far as he knew. But here is the best part. There are cameras everywhere, including the elevators. I’ve requested copies. I am waiting to hear back.”

“No Shit!” Brady could barely contain himself. He sat back in the passenger seat, rolled down the window and lit a cigarette.

“Did they say how long it would take to hear back?” Landry asked calmly.

“They said it could be weeks. The bad news is that there may not be recordings kept that far back. It’s almost been a year. My feeling was that it doesn’t look good. Even if there are recordings, I’m not sure corporate would be too thrilled to share. This could be bad for them.”

“Yes, it could.” Landry responded in the same calm manner. “Were you able to get the list of approved guests?”

“I tried my best to look at the list without being too obvious. They wouldn’t let me have a copy but after I got in my car, I wrote every name down that I could remember. I am pretty sure I got them all.”

“That’s great. Can you get us a copy?” Landry asked.

“Absolutely. And I have Tyler coming in to give us an official statement. I’m just waiting to hear from him too. I think I might stop by his house later today to see if he wouldn’t mind coming to the station.”

“So, there is a chance that there is a connection somehow?” Brady replied.

“I believe so.” Houston responded. “I’m not sure how but I am almost certain that there is a connection. We just need to find it.”

“I agree.” Landry took the phone off speaker as Brady smoked.

“Did you meet with Eric Stetson yesterday?” Houston asked.

“We did. It was quite interesting. He is adamant that he didn’t know Amanda. He is quite the character.”

“How so?” Houston was curious.

“Well, first off you definitely get the impression that he probably has more money than God. In fact, I get the impression he has a God complex. He seems quite charming but very arrogant. I can’t put my finger on it but there is just something not right with him. Brady and I both got the impression that he’s used to being in charge. You know, running the show. He is quite, what’s the word I’m looking for? Quite, condescending. Yeah, that’s kind of how I would put it. He definitely doesn’t like to be challenged. That’s for sure.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.” Landry paused for a moment. “He isn’t a good guy. I don’t like the man to be honest with you. I think he’s hiding something. Brady is certain of it.”

“He denied knowing Amanda?” Houston asked.

“He was furious that we dared to ask. The more Brady pushed him the angrier he became. It was odd. At one point, I swear to God, if he could have ripped Brady’s head off, he would have.”

“So, he didn’t give you guys anything at all?”

“No. But the weird part was that for as angry as he seemed when Brady was continuing to ask him about Amanda, he had a physical reaction when he mentioned Tiffany. And not a good one.”

“Brady asked him about Tiffany?” Houston didn’t think they would have mentioned her name to him yet.

“Yeah. Caught me off guard too. But he did, and Eric was furious to say the least.”

“So, what did he say? Did say he knew her?”

“No. He denied ever knowing either of the girls and then referred us to his lawyer.

“Damn it!” Houston barked. “Why the hell did Brady bring Tiffany’s name up now?”

“Not sure. But the reaction we got lead us to believe, that he is either pissed as hell that we would have the audacity to take up his time with something he knows nothing about or he knows something, and we really touched a nerve. Either way, it was pretty intense for a few minutes.” Landry explained. Brady lit another cigarette.

“You think he knows something?” Houston asked.

“I’m certain of it.” Landry said confidently. “I’m not sure if he is involved somehow or if he has knowledge of at least one of the murders but he knows something. I would place bets on it.”

“Well, I guess we work through his attorneys at this point. I will see if I can get Tyler in for a statement today. I’ll let you know what happens with that.” Houston’s mind was racing with even more questions than before.

“OK. We’ll be in contact.” Landry replied.

Both men hung up the phone. Brady continued to smoke and stare out the car window.

“You know Brady, I’ve about had it with the smoking. At least do it outside the car.” Landry snapped at Brady. This investigation was getting to both of them.

Brady didn’t say anything. He opened the car door and stepped outside. His mind was going over everything so fast. He had the same questions that Houston had. How was Eric Stetson involved? He didn’t know but he was damn sure he was going to find out. What he saw in Eric’s face and in the refection of the window was nothing more than absolute evil. He reeked of evil. Brady could smell it a mile away. He was certain that he was in the presents of a murderer yesterday and now he needed to prove it.

Detective Houston pulled up to the Forest Heights apartments. He found the building number that Tyler had given to him and parked. He had left multiple messages for Tyler with no return call. He wasn’t sure if Tyler was even home, but he needed a statement and he needed it quickly. Houston got out of his car and grabbed his portfolio to take notes if he needed to. He was hoping that Tyler would be agreeable to come to the station. We walked up to the second floor and knocked on 210. There was no answer. He knocked again. Still no answer. He walked around to see the balcony of the apartment but the blinds to the sliding doors were closed. Houston walked back to the door and knocked again. Still no answer. He then opened up his portfolio and took out his card and began to write on it. “Please call me ASAP.” Just as he pushed the card into the door jamb, a young woman walked out of the apartment adjacent to Tyler’s. She turned to lock the door and looked up at Detective Houston. Detective Houston introduced himself to the young woman who was dressed in a waitress uniform, obviously going to work. Houston handed her his card.

“I’m looking for Tyler. Do you know if he lives here?”

The young girl looked at the card and noticed that he worked for the Homicide Division. She paused for a second. “Yes, he lives there but he isn’t home. Is everything OK?” She was concerned.

“Yes. Everything is fine. I just needed to speak to him. Do you know when he will be back?”

The girl continued to hold onto Houston’s card. “Um, I don’t think he’ll be back for a while.”

“Why is that?” Houston asked.

“I saw him last night when I got home from work. He had a couple of suitcases and said he was going on a trip.”

Houston was now very concerned. “A trip? Did he say where he was going?”

“He didn’t but he had two suitcases, so I figured he was going for a while. Is he in trouble?”

“No. Not at all. How long have you known Tyler?”

“About 2 years. He’s a great guy. Are you sure he isn’t in trouble?” the girl tightened her grip on the card making it bend. Houston could tell she was nervous.

“He’s not in trouble. Don’t worry. I just need to talk to him. Are you two friends?”

“Yep. He’s really a great guy.”

“Has he ever gone on a trip like this before?”

“Not that I know of. I don’t see how he can afford it though. We talk a lot and we both just barely get our bills paid. So, I was surprised he was leaving.”

“But he didn’t tell you where he was going?”

“No. Now that I think about it, he seemed like he was in a big hurry. He just said he was leaving for a while and took his bags down the stairs. He didn’t say much at all. Yeah, now looking back, that is kind of weird.”

“Do you have his phone number?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Can you call him? See where he went? I would really appreciate it.”

“Um, sure.” The young girl reached into her purse and pulled out her phone and put the card in a pocket of the purse. She unlocked her phone and clicked on Tyler’s name and put the phone to her ear. As she listened, she looked up at Detective Houston, her eyes opened wide and she looked very confused and troubled. She slowly brought the phone down into her hands and pressed the red disconnect button on the phone. Houston could see she was alarmed. She looked back up at Houston. “It’s been disconnected.”

Houston processed the words she had just said as he reached for his phone in his pocket. He pulled up Tyler’s number and pressed the call button on his phone. The phone range twice and then he heard, “The number you have dialed has been disconnected. Please check the number and try again.” Houston brought his phone down to his hands and pressed the disconnect button. He looked back up at the girl with the same worried expression. “Does he have any other way to contact him? Email? Family?”

“He has an email.” The girl opened up Tyler’s contact information and read his email to Detective Houston. He wrote down the email and read it back to confirm it was correct. It was. He wrote the girls name and contact information down. “Thank you for your time. If he contacts you, will you please let me know?”

“Yes. Absolutely. Is Tyler going to be OK? Like, I am really worried now.” The girl seemed genuinely anxious.

“I’m sure he’s fine. He isn’t in any trouble at all. I just needed to ask him some questions. If he does call, please let him know that he’s not in trouble. OK?”

“OK. I will.”

“I would appreciate it if you would email him and see if you can get him to email you back, maybe tell you where he is and if he’s OK.”

“Yes. No problem.” The girl looked at her watch. “I’m sorry but I’m going to be late for work. Is it OK if I go?”

“Of course. Thank you. I’ll be in contact. Please let me know if you hear from him.”

“I will.” She walked quickly down the stairs wondering what the hell Tyler had done to have a homicide detective at his front door. The detective had told her that he wasn’t in trouble, but she knew that wasn’t quite true. A homicide detective doesn’t just show up to your door if you aren’t involved in something. She had been good friends with Tyler and now she was very worried. She didn’t lie. Tyler was a great kid. She would reach out to Tyler not solely because the detective asked her to but because she wanted to know that he was OK.

Houston stared at the door with 210 in silver metal placed above the peep hole. Where had Tyler gone? Why had Tyler gone? Why was his number disconnected? He had not said anything to Houston about leaving. Had he lied to Houston about seeing Tiffany? Had he told the truth and was he scared for some reason? Had someone gotten to him, threatened him? Had he had something to do with Tiffany’s death? The questions in his mind went on and on as he walked to his car. This was all getting too strange. His one and only possible witness packed his bags, disconnected his phone and left somewhere. Why?

Houston was beyond frustrated. He drove back to the station, logged into his computer, opened his email and began typing. Once he was done asking Tyler why he had left, disconnected his phone and inquired into where he had gone, he made it very clear to Tyler that he was not in any trouble. He expressed that Tyler had nothing to fear. He wanted Tyler to understand that he was an advocate for Tyler and not an adversary. He implored Tyler to reach out to him. Houston hit send and now hoped for a response. He would check with the airline companies to see if Tyler had flown somewhere. He would check with rental car companies too. The more he thought about the work he would have to do to look for Tyler, the more frustrated and defeated he felt. This was not what he needed to happen. This was just another deterrent. This was another pain in the ass in his search for the truth of a young girl’s agonizing death. As the questions whirled through his mind Houston committed to himself in this moment that no matter what, this case would be solved. He needed to do whatever it took to make that happen. Finding Tyler would help make that happen. He would find Tyler.

CHAPTER 19

The phone rang as Rachael drove to Eric’s house. It was Jared. She took a deep breath and answered the phone.

“Hi Babe.” Rachael said cheerfully.

“Hello. How are you?” Jared asked with pure joy. “I haven’t talked to you all day.”

“I know. I’m sorry. It has been such a busy day.” Rachael said nervously.

“Did you have a lot of meetings?”

“I did. Eric had me running my ass off.”

“Sorry Love. Where are you now?” Jared asked curiously sensing something was off.

“I’m driving. Where are you?”

“I just got home. I was wondering if you wanted to meet for dinner.”

Rachael was silent for a moment.

“Rachael? You OK?” Jared knew something was wrong.

“I’m good. Jared, listen, I’ve decided to go see Eric tonight. He’s at his house and I’m driving there now.”

“What?” Panic and shock raised in Jared’s voice. “Rachael, no. I don’t think that’s a good idea, not alone at his home.”

“I will be fine Jared. He won’t do anything to me. I think it would be worse if you were there when I tell him about us.” Rachael said sternly.

Jared took the phone away from his ear and placed it to his chest. He screamed in silence and then put the phone back to his ear. “Rachael. You need to listen to me. I know you see more of Eric’s charming side and aren’t afraid of him, but you should be. You have seen him rage and you haven’t even seen the worst of it by any means. I am serious Rachael, you don’t know what he is capable of! Turn around and come to my apartment now, please.” Jared begged her.

Rachael understood his concern. She knew she had seen Eric’s temper and it was bad. She knew she hadn’t seen the worst of it. She knew what Jared was saying was true and correct but what she also knew is that she and Eric had had an intimate connection like she had not experienced before. This missing element to Jared’s knowledge was what she knew would keep her safe. “Jared, I need you to trust me. If I thought that Eric would hurt me, I wouldn’t go. I know if you were there, he would hurt you. I won’t let that happen. I am just going to talk to him and leave. I am not going to risk my safety. I promise, if I get any inkling that I’m in danger, I will leave immediately. I promise you.”

“No. Rachael. No. Turn around and come back. Let’s talk about this, please.”

“Jared, I have to do this. I want us to move forward. I want us to have a future together and I want it now. The only way that will happen is if I tell Eric, we face the consequences and make decisions. I will call you when I’m done talking to him. I will meet you at your apartment after. I promise I will come straight there. I will be fine.”

“Is there anything I can say to talk you out of this Rachael?”

“No. I just want to get this over with. We have been preparing for this. Are you rethinking this? Telling Eric? Are you worried about losing your job and apartment?”

“No Rachael. I don’t care about those things. I don’t care if I don’t have a job tomorrow or even a place to live. It’s not that at all. I’m worried about you. Eric scares the hell out of me Rachael and he should scare you.” Jared wanted to reach through the phone and pull her through it. He truly feared for her.

“Then let me do this Jared. He won’t hurt me. I promise.”

Jared knew it was pointless. She wasn’t going to change her mind. “Fine Rachael, but I want you to call me the second you get back into your car, please.”

“I will. Don’t worry. It will take me some time to get there. I just got on the freeway, so I won’t be there for a little while. I’ll text you before I go into the house. OK?”

Jared put the phone back to his chest and took in a deep breath and then put the phone back to his ear. “OK. Rachael?”

“Yes?”

“Please be careful.” Jared truly meant it.

“I will. I love you.”

“I love you so much Rachael.” Jared whispered into the phone.

“I’ll call you soon.” Rachael hung up the phone.

Jared grabbed his keys off the counter and ran out the door completely forgetting his cell phone. There was no way in hell he was letting her do this by herself. He got into his car and sped towards Eric’s house. Rachael would be mad, but she would be unharmed. His heart raced as he maneuvered in and out of traffic. Horns went off as he cut in front of people and weaved through the lanes. His hands sweat, his heart skipped beats and he prayed to God to let Rachael gain some common sense and turn around. He kept driving, risking his life and the lives of everyone around him. All Jared could think of was Rachael. She was strong willed, but she was no match for Eric physically. Jared knew what Eric was capable of and he wasn’t sure how Eric would respond. Visions went through his mind of Eric pummeling Rachael like a rag doll as Jared gripped the steering wheel until his fingers began to tingle from lack of circulation.

Jared hit the gas and began to drive up the secluded roads to get to Eric’s. He had made great timing. He parked the car just down from Eric’s long driveway. He took off on foot and raced to the house running in between trees and rocks in the dark of the night not wanting to go up the driveway. His heart continued to race and sweat ran down his face. At one point he tripped, hitting a jagged rock protruding from the ground. He immediately got back up not caring that his knee and pants had taken the brunt of the fall. He reached the house. He slowed down as he began to crawl to one of the main windows. The main floor lights were on in the house and illuminated to the outside. Jared watched every step not wanting to snap a twig or give any indication that he was outside. His heart continued to pound. He hunched under the window and slowly lifted his head to look inside. He could see through the house to the opposite windows on the back side. He never realized how open and large Eric’s house was before. He could see into the main dining room, entry way, living room and part of the kitchen. He surveyed the rooms seeking any sign of life. As he caught his breath and regained a somewhat normal heartbeat again, he saw movement. Rachael came out of the bathroom to the right of his view. She stood facing the kitchen. He assumed Eric was probably standing in an area that Jared could not see. He squatted and now noticed that his knee had been injured pretty badly. He tried to readjust his stance to avoid pressure on his knee. He continued to watch as Rachael spoke. He couldn’t hear what she was saying. He tried to make out the words, but she was too far away. Just then he saw Eric walking out of the kitchen with two glasses and handed Rachael one. Rachael immediately took a drink. He could tell she was nervous. Her feet shifted underneath her as they always did when she was nervous.

She continued talking as she and Eric drank from their glasses. So far this was going so much better than Jared had envisioned. His nerves calmed a little bit as it appeared that mild chit chat was happening. What was she saying? He couldn’t tell. He never wanted to be a fly on the wall more than now. He knew that there wasn’t any place that he could position himself to hear them better without giving himself away. Jared was relieved that it appeared to be going well. He looked down to reposition his legs. His knee was throbbing by now and he could tell he had really damaged it. There was a large decorative rock on the other side of the window. He squatted down and slowly crawled over to the rock so that he could use it as leverage to hold himself up. He steadied his feet and sat himself on the rock, relieving the need to put all his weight on his knee. He steadied himself and looked back through the window. As he regained focus looking back into the house, he saw something but for a split second he wasn’t quite sure what it was. He lifted himself so that he could get a closer look. Instantly his heart stopped beating. He could not be seeing what he was seeing. His mind spun in a million directions, his legs gave out from under him, his throat went dry and he was unable to swallow. His hands gripped the window ledge with such pressure that his right index finger began to bleed as a jagged edge of metal cut through it. He didn’t notice.

Eric was kissing Rachael. Worse than that, Rachael was kissing Eric back. Jared couldn’t breathe. His mind was incapable of understanding what he was seeing as Eric’s arms wrapped around Rachael in a passionate kiss. She responded in kind. Her hands came up to his face in an intimate embrace. Jared fell back onto the rock. Instantly tears rolled down his face. He tried to stop them, but he was not in control. What had he just seen? Rachael loved him, not Eric! His mind slowed down as his thoughts turned to the realization that she and Eric had probably been sleeping together. There is no way that this was their first kiss. She had been betraying him. He couldn’t believe it even though it was right in front of his eyes. He was having an out of body experience and was hoping this was all a nightmare. Tears continued to stream down Jared’s face. His finger was bleeding, his knee was throbbing, and his heart was breaking. How could she do this to him? Why would she do this to him? Was she really in love with him?

Jared began to wipe away his tears. He needed to collect himself and get himself back to the car. He needed time to think. He needed time to process. He was hurt in many ways and he hadn’t felt this kind of pain, well, ever. A tornado of emotions were churning inside of him. He never knew he could feel love, sadness, betrayal and hate all at the same time. He was feeling an atomic bomb of emotions and he began having difficulty breathing. He wiped his face again and began to pull himself back up to the window for one last look. This time he was prepared to see the unthinkable. It was morbid, but he needed to confirm what he had just witnessed. As he forced himself to look, he saw exactly what he thought he saw, his life going down the drain. Eric and Rachael remained in a passionate kiss, touching, caressing, and embracing. These were all the things he thought only he and Rachael shared and now here she was interlocked with Eric’s lips and she was enjoying it. The tears continued to fall. Jared stayed watching for what seemed. He couldn’t turn away. Every part of him ached.

As Jared tormented himself with Rachael’s betrayal suddenly Rachael pulled back from Eric and pushed herself away from him. She turned away and slowly wiped her mouth as her head sunk down. Eric stood staring at Rachael. He reached for her and she took another step away. She slowly turned around to face Eric. Jared wiped away the remaining tears from his eyes as he watched Rachael begin to speak. He still couldn’t tell what was being said. Rachael began to be animated with her hands as if she were trying desperately to express what she was saying to him. Eric looked bewildered but continued to stare at Rachael absorbing whatever it was she was saying. She began to pace the floor as she spoke. Eric folded his arms and for a minute Jared thought Eric looked disarmed. He had not seen compassion from Eric in a loving way before. Could he actually have feelings for Rachael? Is this what Eric’s compassion looked like? Is this what Rachael meant when she said that she wasn’t afraid of Eric? Was there a side to Eric that only she had known? Was her confidence in Eric justified because Eric was in love with her too? Jared’s heart sank deeper into the pit of his stomach.

Rachael continued to talk while Eric listened. Rachael stopped for a moment as she collected her thoughts. She said a few words and appeared to wait for Eric’s reaction. Suddenly Eric began to laugh hysterically. Instantly Jared knew that she had just told him that she and Jared were together. Eric laughed like Jared had never seen before. It wasn’t a menacing laugh. It was a hearty deep in his gut laugh. It was the kind of laugh that takes your breath away and brings tears to your eyes. Eric made his way to the couch still laughing as he sat. Rachael hung her head again waiting for Eric to regain composure so that she could finish the conversation. It took Eric minutes to stop laughing. He lay back in the couch with his arms up on the cushions as relaxed and as calm as Jared had ever seen him. Rachael walked over to the table across from Eric and sat on the edge of it with her arms resting on her legs. She began talking as Eric still sat back with a big grin on his face. Rachael was intent on explaining something to him, but Jared couldn’t make out what it was. Within minutes of Rachael sitting down while still smiling, Eric suddenly leaned forward and without any indication that he was going to do so he slapped Rachael across the face with such force that Rachael flew off the table and hit the ground. Jared jumped up stunned at what he just saw. Rachael brought one hand to her face where Eric had just hit her and she looked up at Eric who was standing over her at this point. Eric reached down and grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to a standing position so that they were face to face. Jared saw that Rachael had begun to cry and cower to Eric. She was now crying as Jared had been and he didn’t know what to do. Every instinct in him was to run in there, to save her, to takes Eric’s punches but then Jared detached from his feelings having reminded himself of Rachael’s outright betrayal.

As he watched Eric whip Rachael around like a rag doll just as Jared had conjured in his mind, thoughts came to Jared, bad thoughts. His sadness decreased as his anger increased. She had betrayed him in the worst way she possibly could. She had lied to him. She had used him and hurt him without him knowing. Eric swung Rachael around and threw her onto the couch. Jared watched as he was torn in multiple ways emotionally. His love for Rachael ran deep but obviously hers did not run deep for him! He thought. Eric reached down and slapped Rachael again. Although Jared could not hear the conversation, now he heard her screams. He should run in there. He should call 911. He should do nothing and let her get what she deserves. She should pay her consequences just like Jared was willing to do for her. Eric straddled his legs around Rachael on the couch and held her hands down. Rachael fought him but was no match for Eric. He continued to slap her. Jared was staring so intently that his breath began to fog up the window. He didn’t realize he was so close. Rachael’s voice could be heard now. She was screaming at Eric to stop as he continued to force Rachael down.

Just then Jared’s legs gave way under him and he began to slide down the slope that was below the rock. He grabbed for the window ledge and hit the window instead. There was a loud thud. He knew Eric must have heard it. Jared immediately scrambled to his feet and at times, on all fours, and raced through the property to get to his car. He knew Eric heard the noise and he knew that if Eric found him, he would kill him, and not figuratively. Jared had no plans of dying this night, so he kept running. He ran passed trees and rocks leaping and dodging every time he needed to. He couldn’t afford to fall if Eric was following. Eventually, he could make out the silhouette of his car from a distance. His lungs could not get air as he ran through the darkness of the night. His heart was in his throat. His fear was through the roof. He feared that he would be caught, and he feared that he was right to worry for Rachael’s safety. He began to cough while he struggled for air. As he reached his car with Eric nowhere to be found, he scrambled for the keys in his pocket to get the car door unlocked. He yanked the door open, jumped in the driver’s seat, started the car and raced down the road. He didn’t know if Eric was following behind him but he wasn’t taking any chances, so he pushed on the gas.

Jared’s tears of sadness had turned to those of anger. How could Rachael have done this to him? How could he be so stupid? Why the hell would he believe that someone so beautiful, intelligent and kind would give two shits about him? He was an idiot! His thoughts were racing and so was his heart. His head began to pound with the same intensity of his knee. His emotions churned inside of him from sadness, to hate, to humiliation and everything in between. All that he was willing to risk being with Rachael and for what? Now, he would be without a job, a place to live and no one to love him. What a fool he had been!

Jared was miles away from Eric’s house and he decided to pull over. He pulled off the side of the road and slammed on his brakes as the gravel underneath his tires flew and dust filled the air. He turned off the car lights and took his anger out on the steering wheel, the dashboard and the door panel. His punches made hardly any impact on his targets, but his hands took the brunt of his anger. Spit flew out of his mouth as he screamed obscenities and cried in agony. He hadn’t felt this kind of anger in a while and he didn’t like it at all. He wanted to rip his car apart. Why not? Eric was going to reposes it anyway. Jared was a lost soul in the darkness of the night. The pain in his hands became apparent and he stopped the punches. He laid his head on the steering wheel and began to cry like a baby. He finally got out of the car and as he took a step, he realized just how bad his knee had been hurt, his knuckles were on fire and his head was aching. He looked down at his torn pants and saw the blood that dripped down his leg. He began to scan the rest of his body for injuries and found his finger had been cut and the back of his hands were red and swollen. Oh great! He thought to himself. “Perfect! Just fucking perfect!” he yelled. He didn’t care who heard him. At this point he was a hollow shell of a man. He had nothing left. He was covered in dirt, wounds and muddy tears and he was done. Jared got back into his car. He turned on the radio and classical music began to play. He laid the seat back just a little. He rested his body while allowing the music to take over his very existence. After a few moments Jared became calmer. He didn’t think about Rachael. He didn’t think about Eric. He just hummed to the music and melted into the moment. He was done with his entire world for now and it was settling in. After a few moments, Jared sat his seat upright, adjusted his knee, wrapped his finger with a napkin, and began to drive away into the darkness of the night determined to retake control of his life, which at this point did not include Rachael or Eric.

CHAPTER 20

“Brady, Landry, I would like to see you two in my office.” Captain Murdock motioned for the two men to follow him to his office. Landry and Brady got up from their chairs and complied. When they entered the room, they both took a seat. A tall lanky man dressed in a form fitting dark suit stood at the side of the Captain’s desk. Captain Murdock shut the door and sat behind his desk in deep thought. Both men’s gaze shifted from Captain Murdock to the tall man standing next to him.

“I would like you two to meet Agent Myers. He’s with the FBI.” Captain Murdock motioned in the direction of Agent Myers, the tall lanky man.

Both men stood, shook his hand and sat back down. Neither of them knew why he was here but they were going to find out.

“Detective Landry. Detective Brady. It’s nice to meet you. I understand that you’re working on a murder investigation.”

“Yes. The Amanda Drake case.” Landry answered a little bewildered. Why would the FBI want to know about this case? He thought.

“I’ve been speaking with Captain Murdock, getting some of the details. I understand that there is some interest in Eric Stetson in this case.” Agent Myers explained.

“That’s correct.” Landry responded even more confused.

“The reason I’m here gentlemen is that we have had an ongoing investigation into Stetson Real Estate and Eric Stetson in particular. Obviously, I can’t give you much information, however, we have interest into some of his business dealings and connections. We got word that he may be a person of interest in your case and we wanted to see if there is any information that we might be interested in or if there is anything that we can provide in the way of details.”

Both Brady and Landry looked at each other. Landry sat back while Brady sat forward with his hand over his mouth.

“Can you give us some detail as to what sort of business dealings?” Landry asked.

“The illegal kind. The very illegal kind.” Agent Myers responded. “I understand you interviewed him.”

Brady removed his hand from his mouth. “We did.”

“How did that go? Did he give you any information into your case?” Agent Myers asked.

Brady sat back now. “It didn’t go very well and no, he didn’t give us anything. He referred us to his Legal department.

Agent Myers folded his arms and adjusted his stance. “So, other than that meeting you haven’t had any other dealings with him?”

“No.” Landry responded. “He was pretty elusive but definitely angry at the end of the interview.”

“Well gentlemen, as far as the FBI is concerned, he’s a very dangerous man. The fact that you’re looking into him in a murder investigation really isn’t that surprising to be honest with you. That’s why I am here. Not only was I hoping that you may have gathered some insight into Eric Stetson, but we wanted to make sure you knew who you were dealing with.”

Landry nodded in acknowledgment as Brady remained stoic. “We got the feeling there wasn’t something right with him. He seems lacking a bit in the, well, the moral compass area.” Landry began.

“He’s got no soul!” Brady interjected. “The man is evil. I don’t like him, not one bit. We didn’t meet very long but my instinct is that he is trouble. Big trouble.”

“And that’s why I’m here Detective Brady. You are correct. As far as we can tell, let’s just say, your instincts or correct. You need to watch yourselves with this man. He is dangerous. He has no conscience. The crimes that we have been investigating at least in his business dealings are beyond reprehensible and no one seems to stop him. Homeland Security is involved as well. He doesn’t seem to care if he puts the entire country at risk as long as he makes money. We’re trying to finalize our case and we are getting close but if there is any way that he is involved in a murder, we would like to know.”

“He is definitely involved somehow in at least one murder. We aren’t sure how yet. But mark my words, he’s involved.” Brady explained.

“At least one?” Agent Myers asked.

“Yes. A young girl in Chicago. Similar to the Amanda Drake case. There is a connection to some extent. We are trying to figure out what that connection is. We have placed more calls than I can count to his attorneys but no response yet. We believe there is video evidence. We’ve requested it but they are saying there isn’t any. We don’t have enough for a warrant or a subpoena which is the maddening part of it. So, we just continue to investigate.”

Agent Myers was silent for a moment. “OK gentlemen. If there is anything that we can do to assist, please let me know.”

“Can you tell us if Eric was in Chicago the evening of October 23rd last year?” Landry asked.

“I can.” Agent Myers took out his phone and made a call. “This is Myers. Can you transfer me to Thompson? OK, thanks.” There was as slight pause. “Hi Wayne. Can you tell me Eric Stetson’s location on October 23rd of last year? Thanks.” Agent Myers stood with his phone to his ear for moments. The room was silent. “Yes. OK. Thanks Wayne.” Myers put his phone back in his pocket. “He was in Chicago.”

“I knew it!” Brady stood up. “I knew it! The sick Bastard!”

“How can we confirm this?” Landry asked.

“We have been watching Mr. Stetson for a while now. We track where he goes and what he does as much as we can. I will send the information we have for around that time.”

“Great! Can you check the date of Amanda’s murder as well?” Brady sounded eager.

“I will. I will send you what we can. I mean it when I say this guy is dangerous. We can’t make an arrest yet on our case but we’re trying. You will be notified when we do though. If you haven’t gotten to him by then.”

Captain Murdock stood up and shook Agent Myers’ hand. So did Brady and Landry. They all walked out of the office. Captain Murdock walked Agent Myers to his car. Brady and Landry walked back to their desks.

“I’m telling you he is the one that did these murders.” Brady slammed his fist on his desk. “We have to get this guy.”

Landry sat in his chair. “We will.”

Brady sat down and noticed that he had a stack of mail on his desk. He slowly sorted through the envelopes not paying much attention to them. He began opening the envelopes with reports and some junk mail. “There has to be a way to get to this asshole. We need to get creative. Houston is still trying to track down that kid, Tyler. I think he’s the key to opening up Pandora’s Box for Eric Stetson.”

Just then Landry’s phone rang. It was Detective Houston. As Landry listened and spoke, Brady finished going through his mail. An envelope addressed to him was at the bottom of the pile. The name and address were typed out. There was no return address on either side. Brady never liked getting mail with no return addresses. Being a homicide detective had its disadvantages and he was always cautious when he received mail like this. He could hear Landry talking to Houston, but his focus was now on this piece of mail. He slowly began to tear open the envelope. He didn’t know why he was so cautious. It was not like there was a bomb in it. He pulled out an evenly folded paper. The typed letter read:

You blindly assume the worst in men and yet you are no better

If you choose to read this close, a clue exists within this letter

You see the girls so young and pure among the brush and trees

You find their grotesque bodies, bring others to their knees

Amanda, Tiffany and don’t forget, attractive youthful Carrie

For all of them had hopes and dreams that one day they would marry

Now they lay among the dead and you are no closer to knowing why

But if you understood me, you’d understand they had to die

Look deep into my eyes when we speak, for you get no other chance

I look forward to the fun we’ll have as we dance this fateful dance

Brady held the letter in his hand and sat back in his chair reading it and re-reading it. Nothing was going through his head other than the words typed on the page. Landry hung up the phone and began to talk to Brady not realizing Brady was in a completely different world.

“That was Houston. He said that he had heard from Tyler’s neighbor. Tyler sent her an email telling her that he was fine. He didn’t say where he was or when he would be back though. She said something about him taking an extended paid vacation, whatever that means. Houston is having his neighbor send it to him.” Landry began going through his mail when he noticed that he wasn’t getting any response from Brady. “Hey. Is everything OK?” Landry turned to look at Brady. He could tell that there was something very wrong. “What’s the matter? What’s that?”

Brady just sat there. He hadn’t heard a word Landry said. He was focused on the words in front of him. Who was Carrie? Was that the clue? Was the dance the investigation? Brady wondered. Landry got up and walked behind Brady and began to read the letter.

“What the hell?” Landry asked in astonishment. Landry walked over to his desk drawer and pulled out a latex glove. He put it on and took the letter from Brady. Brady still didn’t move. Landry picked up the phone and called for someone from evidence to bring a bag down immediately. Landry continued to hold the letter with his gloved index finger and thumb as he read the letter out loud. Landry then picked up his phone with the other hand and took a picture of the words on the page. Landry then grabbed the receiver to his desk phone and dialed Captain Murdock’s extension. “You need to come see this.” Landry hung up. Captain Murdock walked into their office and Landry held up the letter still in between his fingers. Captain Murdock read it.

“Do you think this is real?” Murdock asked.

“I do.” Brady finally spoke.

“Who is Carrie?” Murdock continued.

“Don’t know.” Brady spoke again.

“Alright. Let’s get this to forensics.” Murdock said. Just then a man in uniform carrying an evidence bag came in the room. Landry carefully placed the letter inside and sealed the bag. Without a word Landry left the room to get the letter to forensics to see if they could find a fingerprint, other than Brady’s, or DNA.

Murdock looked over at Brady who remained sitting, contemplating. “What are you thinking Brady?”

Brady didn’t respond immediately. He was mesmerized with the words still going through his mind. After a few minutes he replied. “I’m thinking that he is an arrogant son of a bitch! He wants to torment. He is the smartest man on the planet as far as he is concerned, and we are just a bunch of incompetent cops who will never catch him. I think that he is a psychotic freak who isn’t going to stop unless we stop him. I think-” Brady paused. “I think we will find a dead girl named Carrie.”

CHAPTER 21

Eric’s meeting had run all day but that wasn’t a bad thing for him. He had gotten to listen to himself talk and schmooze with investors most of it. That is what he did best. He had eaten amazing food and after today had even more money in the bank, if that was possible. He was in Denver today and the fall air was refreshing. He loved Colorado and enjoyed being there the most. He loved traveling all around the world but deep down he did like having a place to call home. It was a good day. He was able to be charming and didn’t need to bite anyone’s head off. Any day that doesn’t trigger his anger was essentially a good day. He had been in an exceptionally good mood lately. He didn’t know why but he could tell that people were becoming more at ease around him because of his good mood. Maybe he was becoming a changed man. Eric laughed at the thought. He couldn’t change if he wanted to, so he was just enjoying the calmness of the last few days.

Eric sat at his desk responding to emails when there was a knock at the door. “Come In.”

It was Katherine. “Hello Mr. Stetson. I’m all done. Is it alright if I leave for the night?”

“Sure Katherine.” Eric looked over at her smiling face. “Thanks for your help today.”

“No problem. Have a great night.” She smiled.

“I intend to.” Eric said confidently. Katherine shut the door. Eric finished his emails and walked over to the bar to make himself a vodka tonic. The days were shorter now and he loved seeing the lights of the city shine below his tower. It was peaceful. Oddly enough Eric liked the quiet. No voices. No people. Just silence. Eric sat down in his favorite chair and began drinking. He pulled out his phone and began to pull up his stocks. As he scanned the progress of his investments, the phone rang. It was Jared. Oh God! He thought. He had been ignoring Jared all week. Jared had left at least 50 voicemails already and the text messages hadn’t stopped. He hadn’t listened to any of the voicemails and ignored the texts. He didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted nothing to do with Jared. To him Jared was a sniveling cry baby and he didn’t care to talk him. Jared hadn’t shown up for work which was maybe why Eric had been in such a good mood. The phone stopped ringing. It had gone to voicemail. Then Jared called back again. He sent it to voicemail. Jared called again. And this had been such a great few days, Eric thought to himself. The phone rang again. Eric answered it this time.

“What!”

“Where is she?” Jared demanded. Eric had never heard this tone before from Jared and he didn’t like it. Instantly Eric was in a bad mood.

“Where is who?” Eric demanded back.

“Rachael!” Jared’s voice was not relenting in its challenge.

“How the hell should I know? She’s your girlfriend!”

“Where is she Eric? I mean it!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Eric snapped back.

“She was going to see you last week and no one has heard from her since! Where is she?” Jared was screaming. He had never screamed at Eric.

“I don’t know where she is Jared. Maybe she smartened up and left you. Maybe she doesn’t want to have anything to do with you. Did you ever think of that brother?” Eric was now being his condescending self. He was getting irritated with the unfamiliar sternness in Jared’s voice.

“She didn’t leave me Eric. Where is she? What did you do to her?”

This enraged Eric who instantly stood up as if Jared was in the same room with him. “I didn’t do shit to her, you stupid son of a bitch! You think someone like Rachael would ever love you?” Eric began to mock him. “You aren’t even on her level and that’s not saying much! She was a fucking whore and you didn’t even deserve that whore! Stop calling and be out of the apartment by the end of the month. You insignificant little maggot!”

Jared did not respond.

“Did you hear me Jared? By the end of the month! And I want the car returned to the dealership too. Do you understand me?”

Jared did not respond.

“That’s what I thought.” Eric snapped, taking Jared’s silence as a sign of backing down.

Then Jared’s voice slowly and quietly asked “Was?”

“What?” Eric was angry and irritated and about to hang up.

“You said she WAS. What do you mean, was, Eric?” Jared’s voice quivered.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You said she WAS a whore… What do you mean was?”

This time Eric remained silent for a moment. “Is… Was… what the hell does it matter? Just be gone by the end of the month!” Eric hung up the phone, finished his drink and made another one. He grabbed the remote and sat back down in his chair. He flipped through channels not really paying attention. He regretted having answered the phone. His days had been so good. He would keep drinking until his night became good as well. His time of taking care of his brother was over. Jared was now collateral damage and Eric found that thought amusing.

Jared hung up the phone. He didn’t care about the apartment or the car. His anger for Rachel had passed and now a show of concern was his focus. What he cared about was getting to the police station and fast.  He knew he should have gone days earlier, but he wanted to talk to Eric first. He wanted to hear him say that he didn’t know where she was before going to the police. His anger towards Rachael and Eric didn’t matter anymore.  Enough time had gone by for Jared to let that go. His sole focus was for Rachael to be found. His emotions were high, and he was determined to file a missing person’s report. He wasn’t going to let this go.

Jared pulled up to the police station and quickly walked in the door. He went up to the counter with the bullet proof glass reflecting the florescent lighting. A woman sat behind the counter. She was typing something on her keyboard, she stopped and looked up to see Jared. She could see the concern on his face.

“Can I help you?” the woman asked.

“Um, well, I’m not sure but I think I need to file a missing person’s report.”

“OK. Can you tell me what the situation is? Why do you think you need to file a missing person’s report?”

Jared could tell that she must be the first line of defense who weeds out the crazies. He wasn’t offended but he did feel some urgency.

“Well, my girlfriend is missing. At least I haven’t heard from her for about a week. I have called her and text her many times and she isn’t returning my phone calls or texts. That’s not like her.”

“How old is she?” The woman asked still a little skeptical.

“Thirty-four.” Jared was getting nervous. He just wanted to speak with an officer.

“Where was she the last time you spoke with her?”

Jared didn’t want to give away too much information. In fact, he knew that even though he was wanting to speak with police he also wasn’t going to let them know that the last time he saw Rachael she was getting the shit beat out of her by Eric. He wasn’t even going to tell them that he was at Eric’s. He didn’t want to go there. He just wanted to file the report and have them look for her. He just wanted to let them know she was missing.

“She was driving. She was supposed to come to my house last Friday night and she never showed. I haven’t heard from her since. Please, can I speak with an officer?” Jared pleaded with the lady behind the counter.

She could see his agitation and concern. She reached for the phone and dialed. She spoke into the phone and then hung up. “An officer will be right with you.” She took some papers out from a file and attached them with a clip board. She handed them to Jared with a pen and asked him to have a seat and to fill out the papers.

Jared looked through the paperwork. He needed to fill out his information, name, address, phone number, etc. And then he needed to fill out Rachael’s information as well including her car make and model, any identifying markings like birth marks, tattoos, etc. Jared filled out the forms as people came in and out through the lobby. Every cop that walked by, he looked at in hopes they were there for him. Finally, a uniformed officer approached him.

“Sir. Are you here to file a missing person’s report?” The police officer whose name tag read Simmons asked.

Jared stood up “Yes. Can you help me?”

“Yes. Follow me please.” The officer led him to an office in the back. They both sat down. “Why don’t you tell me what is going on?” The officer continued as he turned down his communications radio that was attached to his shoulder.

Jared handed Officer Simmons the papers. “Well, I think something might have happened to my girlfriend.” Jared began.

The officer started flipping through the papers. “Is that Rachael Gibson?”

“Yes.” Jared quickly responded.

“And why do you think something has happened?” Officer Simmons continued glancing through the pages as Jared spoke.

Jared’s palms were sweaty, and his forehead started to glisten. He appeared very nervous and even more concerned. “Well, I spoke with her on Friday and she was supposed to meet me at my apartment that night. She never showed. I’ve been trying to reach her by phone and text and she is not responding. It’s not like her. I went to her apartment. She doesn’t answer the door and her car is gone. It’s just not like her.”

“How long have you two been dating?”

“About a year. She always responds to my calls and texts so I’m really worried.” Jared’s face was filled with fear.

“OK. Have you contacted any friends or family to see if they have seen or heard from her?”

“I’ve contacted everyone I know to contact. No one has heard from her. No one has any idea where she is.”

“Do you have a good relationship?”

“Yes.” Jared knew this was a lie but up until that night he thought they had. “I think we did.”

“Any fights recently?”

“No.” Jared said quietly.

“Any reason you can think of that would make her want to go somewhere and not tell anyone?” Simmons was now writing notes. Obviously he found something in Jared’s story believable.

“None. She’s never done anything like that.” Jared grabbed a tissue from the box on the table and wiped his forehead. “I am really worried.”

“I understand. Do you know where she was Friday night?”

Jared paused. He didn’t want to tell them about what he saw. He didn’t want to tell them he was there. He didn’t want any part of that, but he needed to at least tell them that she was on her way to Eric’s house. He needed to reach his end goal which was for Rachael to be found. He was determined.

“She was-” Jared paused.

Officer Simmons saw that he was struggling. “Can I get you a drink Mr. Stetson?”

Jared nodded. Simmons left the room and came back with a bottle of water and sat back down. Jared opened the water and took a long drink.

“You OK?” Simmons asked.

“I’m good. Thank you. I’m just a little freaked out right now.” Jared collected himself.

“I understand. You were saying where she was Friday when you spoke to her.”

“Yes. She was on her way to her boss’ house and then she was going to come over to mine. I think she had some work to discuss with him.”

“Who is her boss?” Simmons continued to write.

“His name is Eric Stetson. He’s my brother. My boss too.”

Simmons looked up from his notebook. “Your brother is your boss and hers?”

“Yes.” Jared replied.

“Have you asked him if he has heard from her?” Simmons asked.

“I did. He said he hasn’t.”

Simmons stopped writing and looked at Jared quizzically. “I’m going to ask you a very tough question. One that you aren’t going to like but I have to ask.”

Jared nodded.

“To your knowledge, was there more than a business relationship between your brother and Rachael?”

Jared’s eyes got big. “No. Absolutely not! No way. Rachael wouldn’t do that. I’m sure of it.” Jared knew he was lying but he was not going to give that information to anyone. His whole goal was to have Rachael found and he didn’t want anything to screw that up.

“OK. I just needed to ask.” Simmons reassured him. “So, your brother-” He looked down at his notes. “Your brother Eric, he hasn’t seen her since Friday?”

“No. I asked him, and he said he doesn’t know where she is.” Jared said in a matter of fact way.

“Do you know of anyone that would want to hurt her? Any reason at all why she would just disappear like this?”

“No. None. That’s why I’m here. I am seriously freaking out. It’s not like her. Please, can you help me?” Jared begged the officer.

“OK, Mr. Stetson. I need to step out for a moment. I will be back. Are you OK?” Simmons was genuinely concerned. Jared looked like he would throw up any minute.

Jared nodded his head. “I’ll be fine. Thank you so much for your help.”

“No problem. I’ll be back.”  Simmons exited the room and down a hallway. He was gone for quite a while, but this gave Jared time to gather himself together and calm down a bit.

Officer Simmons came back with a plain clothed detective. Jared stood up to shake his hand.

“Hello Mr. Stetson. I’m detective Hanson. I’m with the missing person’s unit. Officer Simmons has filled me in on the situation.  We’ll just need additional contacts of all friends and family that you can think of. We’ll also need your brother’s information too.” Jared nodded again.

All of the men sat down. Officer Simmons handed Jared another contact information sheet. Jared took out his phone and began writing down anyone who had anything to do with Rachael. As Jared quickly wrote down names and numbers, Detective Hanson went back over some of the questions Officer Simmons had asked. Jared’s answers were the same. His concern was evident. Detective Hanson assured Jared that they would look into Rachael’s situation and for him to call for updates. And they meant it. Although Rachael was an adult and had free will to disappear, they could tell that Jared’s worry was founded and their interest was piqued. Hanson and Simmons gave Jared their cards. The men stood up and Jared thanked them again.

Jared slowly walked out of the police station and into the unknown. He did not get closure from this. He didn’t expect closure from this, but his closure was coming.

CHAPTER 22

Detective Brady placed his coffee on his desk. Landry wasn’t in yet. He sat in his chair and turned on his computer. He lifted his mug to his lips and took a large swig of his morning caffeine. He loved his coffee black. He didn’t like any of the sugary additives like Landry did. He noticed that the message button on his phone was lit. He pushed it and entered his pin code. It was Agent Myers. He wanted Detective Brady to call him back. Brady wrote down the number, deleted the message and hung up the phone as Landry walked in holding a Starbucks coffee.

 “Good morning.” Brady said as he logged onto his computer and began to check his email.

“How are you?” Landry responded still not fully awake.

“I’m good. You?”

“Good. Parent teacher conferences later today.”

“How is Brad doing in school?” Brady turned to face Landry.

“He’s doing well. Still struggling but his school is great.”

“Good. He’s a great kid.”

“Yep. He is.” Landry sat down and began to turn on his computer. “How are you and Carol doing?”

“Good.” Brady paused. “Really good actually.” Brady wasn’t one to share a lot of details of his personal life.

Landry stopped and looked at Brady in surprise. “Really?”

“Yes. We’ve been working on things. You know how it goes.”

“I do. I’m glad for you. Therapy?”

Brady didn’t want to answer but he also didn’t want to be rude. “Yep. Going better than I thought.”

Landry turned back to his computer with a smile on his face. He knew Brady hadn’t had it easy in his relationships and he really hoped his marriage worked out. Landry’s phone rang.

“Detective Landry.” He said.

“Hello Detective Landry. This is Detective Hanson in Missing Person’s. How are you doing?”

“I’m good. What can I do for you Jim?”

“Well, I thought I would take a shot and see if you could help me. I have a missing person who doesn’t fit in age wise with your murder case, the Amanda Drake case, but it appears she is missing which isn’t something she has done in the past.”

Landry motioned for Brady to turn his attention towards the phone and placed it on speaker. “Jim, I just put you on speaker. Brady is here. What’s the situation?”

“Well, the boyfriend came in and filed her as a missing person. He hadn’t heard from her or seen her for a week. That was three weeks ago. We’ve spoken with all her friends and family and no one’s heard from her. She would usually talk to her mom and sister every couple of days.”

“And you said she doesn’t have a history of taking off?”

“No nothing. She’s 34, very attractive, she has a great career. We’ve been to her apartment and nothing is out of place, very clean. We didn’t find her phone, keys or purse anywhere.”

“What about her car?” Brady asked as he stood next to Landry.

“Nothing. It’s nowhere.”

“What about the boyfriend?”

“He seems genuine. He’s been more than cooperative. We feel he’s being honest with us. She was last seen leaving work and was apparently going to her boss’ house.”

“Why was she going there?” Landry jumped in.

“The boyfriend thinks it was work related.”

“Have you spoken to her boss?”

“Not yet. Trying to get in to see him but haven’t had any luck yet. The boyfriend is her boss’ brother. Her boyfriend spoke to her boss and he said he hadn’t seen her and doesn’t know where she is.”

“You think it might be tied to our case?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m calling. We’ve checked her bank accounts and phone records and there hasn’t been activity since the Friday she went missing. It’s not looking good, but we don’t have a whole lot, so I thought I would see what you thought. Young, white, attractive, female. Car missing, purse, keys, phone missing. She’s close with her family. People can’t say enough good things about her. I figured reaching out to you wouldn’t hurt.”

“Do the phone records coincide with the boyfriend’s version of events?”

“Actually, they do. She placed a call to him Friday evening like he said and then she sent him a text, like he said. After that, nothing. But so far everything the boyfriend has told us, we have been able to confirm. We even checked his phone location on Friday and he was home like he said. She was supposed to go to his apartment when she was done, and she just never showed up.”

“Did you check the tow yards?”

“We did. Nothing. We haven’t found any trace of her car. She’s not in any hospital. She hasn’t flown anywhere that we can see. She didn’t rent a car. Seriously, she just vanished.”  Detective Hanson explained.

The hair on the back of Landry’s neck stood straight up. He got an ominous feeling in the pit of his stomach. He sat back in his chair thinking. Brady’s mind was going a mile a minute. Both men had a bad feeling.

“OK. We will see what we can do on this end, but unless we can uncover something that you haven’t, I’m afraid we won’t be much help until she’s found, hopefully alive.”

“I understand. I figure having a few more eyes on the situation wouldn’t be a bad idea. I will send you all the information that I have. Maybe you can get the word out, keep an eye out for the car, anything really. I will get you her picture and all the details.”

“OK. Sounds good.” Landry responded.

“Hey, Jim?” Brady cut in.

“Yeah?”

“What’s the girl’s name?” Brady asked.

“Rachael Gibson.”

Landry wrote it down. “And the boyfriend?” Landry asked.

“Jared Stetson.” Hanson replied.

 Both men instantly looked at each other with astonishment in their eyes. They had met Jared at Eric’s office. It was that aha moment they had been hoping for. “Wait! What’s the boss’ name?” Brady knew what the answer was. The hair on the back of his neck was now standing on end too.

“Eric Stetson.” Hanson replied quizzically. “Why, you guys know him?”

Brady could barely contain himself. He started pacing back and forth with his hand over his mouth as he usually did in a tense moment.

“You could say that.” Landry replied.

“How?”

“He’s a suspect in the Amanda Drake case!” Brady yelled at the phone while still pacing.

“He’s a person of interest.” Landry corrected Brady.

“Bullshit. He’s all we’ve got tied to anything so far.” Brady yelled into the phone speaker.

“Seriously?” Detective Hanson asked in total shock.

“Seriously.” Landry responded.

This was a game changer. All three men knew it and felt it. It was a feeling that only a detective gets when they know they have just discovered something that will change their case. It’s a feeling that runs deep in their blood and all three men felt it.

“So, the brother, Jared, do you think he would be willing to talk to us?” Landry asked.

“I don’t see why not. He’s been very cooperative with us. He’s done everything we have asked of him so far. I’ll get in touch with him and see what I can work out.”

“Yes!” Brady was beyond politeness at this point. He was crawling out of his skin.

“OK. I’ll give him a call and see when he can meet. I’ll bring him in. He’s comfortable with me and I think it would help.”

“Perfect. Thanks Jim. Talk soon.” Landry was excited.

“Bye.” Hanson hung up the phone.

Brady began pacing in wider circles. Landry leaned forward and typed into google, Jared Stetson.

A number of social media and company links pulled up. Landry clicked on each link looking at pictures, his bio, and company accomplishments. If he was going to meet the brother of a possible murderer, he wanted to know everything about this brother.

“Brady. Stop. You’re making me nervous. Have some coffee man.” Landry reprimanded.

Brady stopped and walked over to his desk and sat down. He finished his coffee and concentrated on breathing. “I can feel it. We are getting close. I know we are.”

“I agree.” Landry confirmed.

“The son of a bitch has done it again.”

“We don’t know that.” Landry concentrated on his computer screen.

Brady looked over at Landry. “Are you kidding me? I mean, I know we don’t have a whole lot, but all roads are leading us straight to Eric Stetson.”

“I agree.” Landry kept reading about Jared. “But just because the only few roads we have point to Eric doesn’t mean it’s him. We need to be smart on this one. Someone who murders young girls like he may have, is smart. He’s cunning and skillful. Someone who leaves absolutely no forensic evidence isn’t your run of the mill killer. He’s thoughtful and thinks things through. We have to be one step ahead of him at this point, so I need us to be focused Brady.”

Brady began to calm down. He knew Landry was right. This wasn’t the time to let emotions get the better of him. “You’re right.”  Brady turned back to his desk and realized he hadn’t called back Agent Myers, so he decided he needed a distraction and dialed his number.

“Agent Myers?” Brady asked over the handset.

“Yes.” Myers responded.

“This is Detective Brady returning your phone call.”

“Oh. Thanks for calling. I just wanted to touch base with you to see if you’ve come up with any new information. We’re progressing with our case pretty quickly and wanted to see if there was any update on your end.”

“Your timing is great actually. We may have another lead. Obviously, I can’t tell you too much, but we were just notified of a missing person who may be linked to Eric Stetson.”

“Really?” Myers sounded surprised.

“Yes. Interestingly enough it’s the girlfriend of Eric’s brother.”

“Jared Stetson?” Myers sounded more surprised.

“Yes. You know him?” Now Brady sounded surprised.

“Yes. We know a lot about him. Who’s the missing girl?”

“Her name is Rachael Gibson.”

“No shit?” Myers almost fell out of his chair. “She’s Jared’s girlfriend? That we didn’t know. Did they keep it a secret because from everything we know, she was very friendly with Eric?”

“She was?”

“Yes. In fact, we were fairly certain those two were an item.”

“No shit?” Brady sat back in his chair reeling from all the information he had just taken in the last ten minutes.

“I didn’t see that one coming.” Myers continued. “In fact, Jared appears to be a patsy for his brother. At least that’s what we are guessing from the information we have.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s just say Jared’s name is all over their company, contracts, properties, overseas agreements, all illegal and we are pretty sure he has no idea. You can’t let him know. Just keep it in mind when you are speaking to him.”

“OK. You sure about that?”

“Yes. Think about what I just said. Do not divulge this information to him or we will have issues. Just keep that in mind.”

Brady knew exactly what Agent Myers was getting at. “Will do. We will let you know what we find out.”

“Yes. Please. And if you make an arrest, all I ask is that you notify us prior if at all possible. We are close, but it sounds like you might get to him sooner.” Agent Myers sounded resolute.

“From your lips to God’s ears.” Brady responded.

Brady hung up the phone. He turned to his computer and typed in the County Assessor’s website. He pulled his notes from the file and entered in Eric’s address. The home information pulled up. Brady’s eyes bulged as he read the owner’s name, Jared Stetson. How the hell does a guy not know he owns these properties? Brady thought. He didn’t know but he was about to find out.

Landry’s phone rang again. It was Detective Hanson.

“We are on for tomorrow at ten in the morning. We will come to you. Will that work?” Hanson asked.

“That will work just fine. Did he seem hesitant at all?” Landry asked.

“No. He is wanting to locate his girlfriend and wants to help in any way he can.”

“Does he know that we have suspicions about his brother?”

“Not that I’m aware of. He was concerned when I told him we were meeting with homicide, but I was able to put him at ease.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I told him that it was a formality. I let him know that having as many eyes on this as possible was our goal. He took it in stride.”

“Well, we just found out that he owns Eric’s house. Our focus now is to get him to agree to a search.”

“Why does he own Eric’s house?” Hanson was extremely confused.

“I really can’t get into the details but let’s just say that when doing a search on Eric’s properties, we found his name listed as the owner.”

“Does Jared know?” Hanson asked.

“We don’t think so but that is an assumption. If he doesn’t know, we are definitely dropping a bomb on him tomorrow.”

“That’s putting it mildly. I won’t say anything. I will let you spring that one on him. We’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Sounds good.” Landry hung up the phone.

Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day. All three men knew it and all three men didn’t sleep very well. A lot was at stake and they felt it deep in their core. This could make or break their case. A lot was riding on the outcome. They had to do this right the first time. There was not going to be any second chances. The responsibility weighed heavily on each man. Little did they know how heavy the responsibility really was.

CHAPTER 23

Jared pulled up to the police station and switch off his GPS. He saw Detective Hanson standing by the car talking on the phone. Jared tuned off his car, the one he still hadn’t returned to the dealership yet and got out. He put his keys and phone in his pocket and began to walk towards Detective Hanson. In seeing Jared, Hanson quickly finished his call and walked towards him.

“Nice suit.” Detective Hanson said as he shook Jared’s hand.

“Thanks. Rachael’s favorite.” Jared’s voice was disheartened.

“I’m sorry Jared. We are doing all we can.”

“I know. It’s just really getting to me. I’m so worried. I don’t even know what to do with myself. I find myself pacing the apartment half the night expecting the phone to ring.”

“I’m sorry Jared. We are going to find her. I promise I won’t stop until we do.”

“I appreciate that. I know you said that meeting with these detectives was some sort of protocol but honestly it scares me to death to be meeting with homicide. It kind of takes this to a whole new level.”

“I can see that Jared. I definitely understand. But the more we can share information, the better. It can’t hurt and by no means does it mean we think she is dead. It’s just us being as transparent as we can with whomever we can.”

“I got it.” Jared did get it.

The two men went into the station and were immediately met by an officer who took them to an interview room where Detective Brady and Landry were waiting. There were portfolios on the table, a box of tissues, waters and muffins. The detectives shook hands with both men and they all sat down around the table. Jared recognized them immediately as the two detectives who were at his brother’s office, but he didn’t mention it.

“Hello Jared. Nice to see you again. I’m detective Landry and this is Detective Brady. There are water and muffins if you’re hungry. Can we get you some coffee?”

“No. I’m fine.” Jared replied.

“Wow. I don’t get treated this well.” Detective Hanson said jokingly trying to lighten the mood.

“That’s because you don’t ever have anything interesting to say.” Landry joked back.

“True.” Hanson nodded. “Very true. So, gentlemen. I spoke to you yesterday regarding our case and I sent you Rachael’s picture and our case file. I spoke with Jared yesterday to let him know that we want to expand our case so that we have a better chance of finding her. So, I will let you take it from here.” Detective Hanson sat back in his chair and turned his direction towards Jared.

“Jared, we really appreciate you coming in and we are incredibly sorry about the circumstances. We want you to know that we will do all we can to help find Rachael.”

“Thank you.” Jared nodded in acknowledgment. “I really appreciate it. It’s just not like her to go off and not have contact with anyone. Honestly, I am terrified that something terrible has happened.”

“Understandable.” Landry continued. “Jared, you said that the last time you spoke with Rachael was on a Friday evening, about four weeks ago. Is that correct?”

“Yes. She had just gotten off of work and was heading to my brother’s house, I think to drop of some paperwork or to discuss something, but I know it was about work.” Jared knew he was lying but he didn’t want the depth of the truth known. He wanted to keep himself out of it as much as possible. He wanted the focus to be on exactly what it should be, finding Rachael.

“She wasn’t specific?” Brady asked.

“No. Not really.”

“Was it usual for her to go to your brother’s house outside of work hours?” Brady continued.

“All hours are work hours as far as Eric is concerned. It isn’t unusual for people in our company to work all hours of the day and night, all over the world.” Jared explained.

“Did he have meetings at his home often?” Brady was taking the lead on the questioning. Landry sat back and took notes.

“Oh yes. At home, at work, at any property he owns. He doesn’t mind waking anyone up for an impromptu meeting. He doesn’t sleep much. It’s not outside the norm for me to get calls early in the morning on any given day.”

“So, this didn’t seem suspicious to you in any way?”

“No, not at all.”

“Did you expect her to be long? Detective Hanson mentioned she was going to come to your apartment afterwards.”

“I got the impression she wouldn’t be long. Maybe I was mistaken but she said she would text me when she was done and on her way. I never heard from her.”

“Did she text you that she had made it to your brothers?”

“She did.”

“And nothing after that? You never spoke to her again?”

“Nothing. Not a word.”

“Did have a good relationship with her?”

“Yes. I love her very much. She loves me. We hardly ever fought. That is one of the best things about her. She is so easy to get along with. I just want to find her.” Jared’s eyes were beginning to fill with tears.

“I know Jared. We will do everything we can.” Brady wanted to keep as much emotion out of this interview as possible and to stick with the facts. “Jared, I am going to ask you a serious of questions that may seem harsh, but I have to ask them, OK?”

“OK. Anything.” Jared was eager to help no matter what it took.

“Why did you wait a week to report her missing if you were immediately concerned?”

“That is a very fair question.” Jared took in a deep breath and exhaled. “First, I didn’t want to seem paranoid. I didn’t want to rush into judgement and upset her family and friends. I tend to be emotional and sometimes that gets me into trouble. Secondly, I knew that she had gone to see Eric and I wanted to get in touch with Eric as soon as possible to see if he knew where she might be. Unfortunately, it took a while to get him on the phone. But after I spoke with him, I went straight to the police.”

Landry continued to take notes while Brady continued the questions. “So, you waited a week because you didn’t want to cause problems?”

Jared nodded and paused for a moment. “Truthfully, I knew my brother may have been the last person to have seen her. I know he wouldn’t hurt her, so I didn’t want him to be put in this position. I was trying very hard to avoid that. I tried all week to find her on my own. But once I spoke with him, I knew I had no choice.”

“You don’t think your brother would hurt her?”

“No. I mean he has a temper for sure. A pretty bad one but he wouldn’t hurt her. I’m certain of that.” Jared continued to cover for Eric like he always had.

“Describe his temper.” Brady remained matter of fact.

“Well, most people who meet Eric, like Eric. He can seem like a really great guy. He’s very funny and fascinating to a lot of people. But he can have a pretty bad temper at times. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think he would be capable of hurting anyone but sometimes he just loses it. I can’t blame him though. He has a lot of stress and I mean a lot. Who wouldn’t blow up now and then with the pressure he is under?”

 “What do you mean by blow up?”

“Well, he will scream and yell. He will get red in the face sometimes. He will get in your face sometimes. But he calms down eventually, and I’ve never seen him get physical with anyone, like a fight or anything.” Another lie. Jared was laying it on thick. “He does this to the closest people in his circle, like me.”

“And you have never seen him get physical with anyone?”

“No.” Jared bit his tongue hard. Eric has hit him many times, but he wasn’t going to share that.

“Even as a kid?”

“Not really. I mean his temper can be scary if you don’t know him, but I think he’s harmless.”

Brady and Landry had met Eric. They had gotten a glimpse of his temper and scary was an understatement. Brady questioned himself as to why Jared would be down playing Eric’s temper. He let it slide a bit because he understood that Jared probably didn’t think his brother had anything to do with it and wanted to cover for him. This was a point of contention that he was going to let slide for the time being.

“Jared, do you know if your brother has a girlfriend or dates?”

Jared looked at Brady suspiciously. “No girlfriend that I am aware of. Why?”

“These are just questions I need to ask. Does he date?”

“Yes. Not a lot and nothing serious, that I can remember.”

“So, you don’t know of any significant relationships he has had?”

“Not really. He doesn’t share much of his personal life with me.”

“You don’t have conversations on a personal level?”

“No. We usually don’t go there.”

“Why not?”

Jared sat back and crossed his legs getting to a more comfortable position. “We had kind of a rough upbringing. Unfortunately, our mom passed away when we were young, and our dad went away. We went to a foster home, but Eric always watched out for me, kind of took care of me. But he was tough on me. Always has been. We have never really been close, you know, having personal talks or anything like that. He has just made sure I was taken care of. That’s why I work for him, but we don’t talk much.”

“What do you mean your dad went away?”

“He went to prison.” Jared squirmed in his chair.

“For?”

Jared looked down at his hands and then back up at the detectives. “He murdered our mom.”

All three detectives looked at each other and then repositioned themselves in their seats as they processed this information.

“I’m sorry to hear that Jared.” Brady displayed compassion which was unlike him. He was beginning to feel for Jared as the picture was becoming clearer. He was seeing that Jared was a man with a shadow cast over him and that shadow was his own brother. He understood Jared wanting to cover for Eric. Hell, who wouldn’t? He thought.

“Jared, how did that affect you and Eric?”

“Well, Eric never looked back. There was almost a freedom that came with it, for as bad as that sounds. You see, our parents weren’t, well, the best parents in the world. It was pretty tense in our house. My dad would beat my mom often. None of us were close so the loss didn’t seem to affect us all that much. Our foster home was a lot nicer. No abuse. They encouraged us to get educations and make something of ourselves. So, Eric decided to conquer the world and he has done a pretty good job so far.” Jared began to change the expression on his face to that of confusion. “I don’t mean to be rude but what does this have to do with Rachael?”

Brady and Landry gave each other the look that said speak now or forever hold your peace.

Brady leaned towards Jared and with a calm voice began “Jared. We think your brother may have had something to do with Rachael’s disappearance.”

Jared’s face drained of blood. “There is no way!”

“Jared, I need you to listen to me. There are things about your brother you may not know. We have to consider him.” Brady continued.

Jared stood up and began to pace the room. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and wiped his hands on his pants. He continued to speak as he paced. “Wait. Just because Eric may have been one of the last people to have seen her doesn’t mean he hurt her.”

“No.” Brady said calmly. “You’re right. But we have interest in your brother in other cases and we feel he may have involvement.”

Jared stopped dead in his tracks and looked at all three detectives. “Other cases?”

“Jared, I need you to sit down.” Brady had sympathy for what he was about to hand Jared. Jared sat in the chair. “We have two murders. One here in Colorado and one in Chicago.” Brady continued as Jared placed his face in his hands. “Both young females and both employees of your company.”

Jared began to shake his head in his hands. “No! No. No. No.” Jared began to cry. “No. There is no way my brother would be involved in someone’s murder. No way!”

Brady continued. “Jared, we have reasons to suspect Eric. I know this isn’t easy, but we need your help.”

Jared pulled his face from his hands as tears streamed down. “My help? How the hell can I help? Why would I want to?”

“Because Jared, we need to find Rachael and we need to find out if your brother was involved in the two cases we have now.” Brady stopped talking for a moment to let Jared process what he had just told him.

Jared’s face was a contortion of confusion, sadness and fear. It was obvious that he had just taken in a large quantity of bad news and wasn’t dealing with it very well.

“Take a minute and breathe Jared.” Detective Hanson was concerned for Jared’s wellbeing. He handed Jared a tissue and a bottle of water. “Just breathe.”

Jared nodded and drank from the bottle. He wiped his face with the tissue. He tried to regain some control.

“Jared, we’ve been trying to speak with your brother for a long time now. We met with him once, the day we met you, but that didn’t go very well. We have run into a wall of attorneys who are insistent that unless we have a subpoena or warrant that we make no contact. We don’t have enough evidence for either right now, so we need your help.” Brady waited minutes while Jared collected himself. He saw that the things he was saying were setting in slowly.

Jared finished drinking the bottle of water and took out another tissue to dry his hands. He looked like he had just been told his brother was a murderer. Which is exactly what they were telling him. He adjusted himself securely in the chair. He looked as though, if he could have had a seatbelt, he would have used it. “OK. Let me get this straight. So, you think my brother may be a murderer. You think my brother may have done something to my girlfriend and you need my help?”

“Basically, yes. We cannot give you too much information but yes, Jared, we need your help.”

Jared took in another deep breath and exhaled deeply. He put his head down in utter defeat. “How can I help?”

Brady knew that he was about to rock Jared’s world again and he wanted it to be as less of an impact as possible. “Jared. I want you to look at me.” Brady requested in a mild tone. “Please.”

Jared lifted his head and through red and tear-soaked eyes, made eye contact with Brady.

“Jared. We found on the County Assessor’s website that you are listed as the owner of your brother’s house.”

Jared’s eyes opened wide again. His face was as surprised as the detectives had ever seen. “What?” Jared shouted.

“Yes. You own his home. Did you know this?”

Tears began streaming down Jared’s face. But then Jared did something that caught the detectives off guard. He began to laugh. Jared was definitely losing it. “I own his home?” Jared could barely get the words out through his laughter. “I own his home!” Jared couldn’t stop laughing.

“Jared. Are you OK?” Landry asked very concerned.

Jared continued to laugh a hearty laugh as the tears continued to roll down his cheeks. He was losing it. “Oh my gosh!” He paused to try to contain his laughter. “The irony. I own Eric’s home. I OWN Eric’s home. Wow. Just Wow!” Jared’s laughter became less frequent and he grabbed for another tissue to wipe his face. “Wow.” He was now shaking his head in dismay. “I own his home. Man. I just…. I don’t know what to say.” Jared’s fit of laughter had subsided, and he was able to take control again after a few minutes. Then he glanced at Brady. “Why do I own Eric’s house?”

Brady nodded. “That’s a good question Jared. We don’t know.”

“I own Eric’s home. How about that. Wow.” Jared kept shaking his head in disbelief.

“Yes, Jared, you do. Now, here is where we need your help.” Brady continued.

“We need permission from you to search the house and property.”

Jared was thrown again. It was obvious to the detectives that this was all too much for him to take in. Jared leaned back in his chair with a blank stare. He brought the tissues up to his face for one more wipe of sweat and tears. He was contemplating. A lot of time went by. The detectives knew he had a lot to think about. And then without any notice Jared looked Brady right in the eyes.

“OK. What do I do?” Jared seemed oddly confident, but Brady wasn’t going to question it. Brady pulled out a small packet of papers.

“I need you to sign these. It gives us permission to search both the house and the property.” Brady’s hands were shaking. He needed these papers signed and he didn’t want to give Jared a single moment to change his mind.

Jared couldn’t even focus on the papers. He just signed them. He looked over at Detective Hanson. “Did you know about all of this?”

Hanson couldn’t hide his reaction. “Some of it. I needed to let them be the ones to talk to you. I hope you understand.”

“I’m not sure I understand any of this but yes I get where you’re coming from.” Jared looked to Landry and Brady. “What happens next?”

“We will process the papers, get a team together and go search the house and property. Do you know where your brother is?”

“I still have access to his calendar. Let me check.” Jared pulled out his phone and looked at Eric’s calendar which was still linked to his phone. “He flies into Denver tonight.”

“OK. We are going to be in contact with you tomorrow after we do the search. Will you be available?”

“I will. Detective Brady?” Jared quietly asked.

“Yes.”

“Who are the girls? The one’s he might have hurt?”

“Amanda Drake and Tiffany Martinez. Have you heard of them?”

“Amanda Drake was all over the news. Wow. Yes. I’ve heard of her.”

“Do you know if Eric knew them?”

“I don’t. I’m sorry.”

“Do you know if he ever knew a girl named Carrie?”

Jared sat back in thought. “Carrie?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know her last name?”

“We don’t have that.”

Jared thought for a long time and then his eyes lit up. “I don’t know if this is helpful, but I do know that he dated a Carrie a long time ago. Like six years ago. I think she was a flight attendant. I could be wrong.”

“Do you know where she lived?”

“Somewhere on the coast. I think it might have been San Francisco but again, I could be wrong. Did something happen to her?”

“We don’t know. Is that the only Carrie you remember?” Brady wanted a true yes or no, not maybes.

“That’s the only Carrie that comes to mind. I think it was just a fling. Nothing serious if I remember correctly.”

“And you’re sure he didn’t know any Amanda or Tiffany?”

“Not that I’m aware of. Sorry. I will let you know if I think of anything else though.” Jared stood up and looked like a wet noodle. He was struggling to walk, and his face was still denied blood flow. Detective Hanson walked Jared to his car while Brady and Landry went to the back to begin their night of processing paperwork and searching Eric Stetson’s home. Detective Hanson made sure Jared was OK to drive and went back into the police station. It was going to be a longer day than anyone had even considered.

CHAPTER 24

“Am I taking you home?” Eric’s longtime drivers, Kevin, asked.

“I would like to stop by the office first.”

“OK.”

“Kevin, how’s your wife?”

“She’s good. Thank you for asking. We’re taking a trip in about a month. We’re going to Hawaii. She’s pretty excited.”

“That’s great to hear. Ever been before?”

“No. First time.”

“You will love it. I will have Katherine send you a list of some of my favorite restaurants.” This was Eric’s good side.

“I would appreciate that. Thank you.”

“No problem. Where are you staying?”

“Of course, The Straton. One of your nicest resorts.” Kevin said cheerfully.

“That’s great.” Eric said as he scrolled through his phone. “Tell you what Kevin, how about I comp you the best room there?”

Kevin looked up at the rearview mirror to see Eric. “Really?”

“Yes. You more than deserve it. I’ll make sure your wife and you get all the perks. Call Katherine and tell her I said to put you on my preferred guest list and give her the dates. All of your meals will be covered too.”

“Mr. Stetson, you really don’t have to do that.” Kevin meant it.

“I know. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t want to. But you have been with me for a long time and you deserve it. I only ask one thing.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t tell anyone except for Katherine.”

“Absolutely. Not a word. Thank you so much.” Kevin liked Eric. Eric had always been good to him. He knew Eric had somewhat of a reputation, but Eric had never turned his anger toward Kevin and he was appreciative of that especially since he had heard many angry conversations from Eric while driving. He was grateful that Eric had never turned his wrath onto him. He realized that was something special.

“I would hate for word to get out that I just might be a nice guy.” Eric gave him a wink.

Kevin drove Eric to the office. It was getting late. Lights were dwindling down as people were leaving for the night. The lobby was virtually empty. He was met with smiles and hellos from the reception desk as he made his way to the elevators. He exited the elevator and walked towards his office. Katherine was shutting down her computer and grabbed for her coat.

“Here, let me get that for you.” Eric helped Katherine put on her coat. She pulled her hair out from under the collar and began to button the large buttons on her dainty wool coat.

“Thank you, Mr. Stetson. Did you have a good flight?” She asked with her cheerful smile. She was truly a happy person and Eric almost envied her for that.

“I did. Thanks. Any plans for tonight?” Eric asked as he opened his office door. The light illuminated as it was set on motion detect.

“No. I have to study. That’s always fun.”

“I forget. What are you getting your degree in?”

“Going for my Masters in Microbiology.”

“That’s right. That means you’re going to leave me one day.”

“Maybe one day but it won’t be for a while.”

“I’m glad. Have a great night Katherine.”

“You too Mr. Stetson. Bye.” Kathleen shut off her lamp and headed for the elevators.

Eric turned on his computer. He walked over to the bar and made his usual. He sat in his office chair and began typing away at the keyboard when there was a knock on the door.

“Come in.” Eric said without looking away from the screen.

Tom walked in and shut the door behind him. He walked over to the bar and made himself a drink as Eric finished and sent an email.

“How goes it old man?” Eric asked and then drank from the glass.

“It goes. How was your trip? Did you get the contract signed?”

“It went great and I did. Another property to add to the portfolio. It’s been a very productive week.”

“How about you?” Did you complete the financials we talked about?”

“I did.”

“Good man.” Eric held up his glass in a cheer’s motion.

“Eric, we need to talk.” Tom had something to say and he was nervous.

“Why so serious Tom?”

“Well.” Tom finished off his drink and put down his glass. “There is no easy way to say this Eric but-”

Instantly Eric interrupted him by slamming down his drink. “Don’t you do it Tom!”

“Eric, you knew this was coming.” Tom’s hands began to shake. He eyeballed the door to construct an easy escape. “It’s unavoidable Eric. I have to leave.”

“And by leaving you mean the company?”

“Yes.”

Eric walked around his desk and headed straight for Tom. If Tom was leaving, he wanted this done face to face. “You think that you can just leave? Are you crazy?”

“Yes Eric. I can just leave.”

“How do you figure?”

Tom put his hands in his pockets so that Eric wouldn’t see his hands shaking. He began to walk around so that if he needed to bolt for the door, he would have a chance. Eric observed Tom’s movements.

“Well, as it stands now Eric, my hands are clean. I have nothing on me right now and I would prefer to keep it that way.”

“If your hands are so clean Tom then why are you leaving?”

“Because Eric, the federal government is investigating you. You know this! If I stay, then I’m just as guilty as you by just being complacent. Don’t you understand that?”

“What I understand Tom, is that you are chicken shit! That’s what I understand. I have kept you out of everything for a reason and that reason is so that you would stay with the company. I don’t have you doing the dirty work! I have protected you from any possible prosecution. And after all of that you’re going to bail on me? I have more than protected your ass!”

Tom knew this wasn’t going to be easy. “Eric. I appreciate all that you have done for me.”

“I can see that!” Eric walked back behind his desk and finished his drink.

“I have everything in order and my staff are updated and delegation has been made. David is prepared to take my position. He is smart, and he gets it. You will be fine with him in place.” Tom headed towards the door trying not to make it obvious that all he wanted to do was leave.

“Why now Tom?”

Tom put his hand on the handle of the door and began to pull.

“Why now Tom!” Eric demanded.

“Because I can’t take any more chances Eric.”

“You aren’t taking any chan-” Before he could finish his sentence Eric realized what Tom was really doing. Like a tornado ripping through cornfields it hit him from out of nowhere. Eric’s anger erupted. “You’ve been working with the Feds!” Eric’s anger became increasingly apparent. His rage was boiling. “Haven’t you Tom? That’s what this is! You son of a Bitch! You’ve been working with the Feds!” Tom knew better than to try to deny it so the only thing he could do was to run.

Eric grabbed his glass and Tom grabbed the door.  The door flew open as Tom ran out. Eric’s glass flew out the door opening hitting Tom on the back of the head. Instantly Tom’s head began to bleed. He placed his hand over the wound as he ran for the stairs. Eric came walking out of the office to see the door to the stairs shut. “Don’t come back Tom! You traitor! Fucking traitor!” Eric screamed. Eric stood staring at the exit fighting back his urge to chase Tom down and beat him to death but then he noticed movement. He hadn’t realized that people were still working in their offices and in their cubicles. He began to notice people walking out of their offices and heads slowly rising from behind their cubicle partitions. He looked around, straightened his suit and tie, went back into his office and slammed the door. Eric was destined to never have a long string of good days.

Eric walked back into his office, pacing around like a caged animal, running his hands through his hair. What has Tom done? What did he do? Eric had been so careful to make sure all of his bases were covered, that all of his contracts, agreements, and financials were buried so deep that even a forensic accountant would have a tough time figuring it all out. What he didn’t expect was for Tom to go to the fucking Feds!

Eric was enraged. Eric was in trouble. And for the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to do. OK. Calm down Eric. You can fix this. You will get your best accountants and attorneys on this, but this time make sure as hell that they don’t go to the fucking Feds! OK. You’ve got this Eric. Take control. Your ass is covered. You have more than covered your ass. Even if Tom went to the fucking Feds, they can’t prove anything. Besides, Jared’s name is on most of the illegal shit and he’s gone so I don’t have to worry about that. OK. You’ve got this Eric. Your brother went rogue. You had no idea. Every base has been covered! There is no way this is going to turn. Eric’s mind was crazed. He couldn’t stop the thoughts. He had never before experienced such out of control emotion like this, like fear, before. He felt as if he was going crazy. He made himself another drink and sat down. He was going to make himself a deal. He would regain control, stop the madness in his head, and call his attorney’s once he had calmed down. Eric didn’t do well with new emotions and it really unnerved him. He drank and exhaled and drank and exhaled until his heart and mind regained control. There. Much better. You’ve got this. Eric thought to himself and then he drank some more.

Eric’s phone rang. He took the final swig from his glass and looked down at his phone. It was his neighbor. He hadn’t spoken to his neighbor in months. He didn’t want to deal with it so he let it go to voicemail. He walked over to the bar and made another drink. The alcohol was settling in. He was calmer, and he liked the feeling of the alcohol as it entered warmly into his blood stream. He was relaxing again. He sat down in his favorite chair and picked up the phone and pressed on the voicemail button. He listened as his neighbor began to describe police and a lot of them outside Eric’s home.

“Eric this is Jacob. Please call me. There are police, a lot of police outside your house. They won’t let us up the driveway but there are tons of cop cars and even more cops at your house. Is everything OK? Call me please.” Jacobs’s voice shook in the message.

Eric hung up the call. What now? What the hell? Oh my God. Eric looked through the contacts and found his leading attorney and pressed dial. He had no clue what was happening, but his night definitely wasn’t getting any better.

“This is Carl.” The voice on the other end was calm. That’s what Eric needed. Calm and level headed.

“Carl. It’s Eric. I just got a call from a neighbor who said that there are cops all over my property. Can you call them and find out what the hell is going on?”

“You have no idea why?”

“None. He made is sound like there are a lot of them. It’s bullshit. I want them off my property!”

“Yes. Let me call them and I will call you right back.”

“Thanks, oh and we have a problem with Tom. I need to meet with you. It’s big.”

“OK. Talk soon.”

Eric hung up the phone. The alcohol was getting warmer inside his skin and he needed more. This night was getting out of control. He fixed another drink. Was this number four or number five? He didn’t care. All he wanted was to feel better and the drink was making that happen. He finished off another one by the time Carl called back.

Eric answered. “What did you find out?”

Carl didn’t immediately answer.

“Carl? You there?”

“Yes. I’m here.”

“What the hell is going on?”

“Eric, are you sitting down?”

“No.”

“You need to. I want you to sit down.”

“Carl! I don’t have time for this shit!”

“Eric!” Carl demanded. “Sit down.”

Eric sat down. “OK. I’m sitting. What?”

“They are searching your home and property in a murder investigation as well as a missing person’s investigation.”

“What? What murder? What missing person?”

“They wouldn’t tell me what murder case, but the missing person is Rachael.”

“Rachael? Are kidding me right now?”

“No Eric. I guess Rachael has been missing for a while now. Haven’t you noticed?”

“Of course I’ve noticed, but she probably ran away with some guy. Who the hell cares where she is?”

“Eric.” Carl paused again. “Jared made the missing person’s report.”

Eric slammed back into the chair, his drink flew out of the glass. “Jared? Jared made a missing person’s report on Rachael? What the hell is happening? Carl you have to fix this right now! How the hell did they get a warrant?”

“They didn’t. Jared gave them permission. He’s listed as the owner Eric.” Carl went silent.

Eric held the phone to his ear and his whole body sunk into the leather chair. This was set match. His world was coming to an end. All he saw was black. The alcohol was working overtime trying outwit Eric’s demons and keep him calm. Eric breathed into the phone.

“Eric, are you there?” Carl let a few seconds’ laps. “Eric?”

In a quiet calm voice like Carl had never heard before Eric responded. “I’m here.”

“Eric, if you want to meet me at your property, we can get this whole thing figured out.”

Eric breathed again and with an even calmer quieter voice replied. “That’s OK Carl. It will all be OK.”

Eric’s voice and tone made Carl incredibly uncomfortable and concerned. “Eric. I’m worried about you. Are you OK? Eric?”

Eric pulled the phone closer to his mouth and with the same voice and tone replied again “I’ve never been better.” And with that Eric hung up the phone, sat back and drank from the glass until there was not a drop of alcohol left.

CHAPTER 25

Detective Brady began to coordinate the search areas for the police officers and investigators. He sent teams into the home and teams into the dense forest that surrounded Eric’s house. Although excitement of the unknown ran through his body he remained in control and his authority flowed seamlessly as he directed every officer.

The property was lined with police cars and officers coming and going from the property and house. Flashlights shown all over the property as officers maneuvered through trees, over rocks, through trails and through ravines. Landry was in the house giving strict instruction to all investigators and officers to look for anything that might seem out of place. Any small traces of blood, fragments of broken glass, any sign of a struggle. Anything that might seem suspicious or out of place. Landry emphasized that every nook and cranny of that house was to be searched. The police officers began to methodically walk the home doing a survey of every room. Eric’s home was clean, exceptionally clean. Everything was in its place. Towels were perfectly folded, beds were wrapped in linens with precision, and dishes were all aligned behind glass cabinets. Every counter was clean, all glass shined, there was not a trace of dust anywhere. Blankets were neatly folded, and every cushion fluffed and struck in the center to create a v shape top. Even the toilet paper on each bathroom roll had an arrow tip shape at the end just like a hotel would do. Nothing was out of place, not one single item.

Landry found the state of Eric’s home to be somewhat creepy. It felt to him more like a museum than a home. The house was cold and sterile. Once a walkthrough of the home was complete, a team was assigned to each area of the house. The officers began to open drawers, cupboards, closets. They looked under beds, they pulled off all the freshly clean linens and lifted mattresses. They raised decorations, looked in glass displays and pulled out books that lined cabinets opening them from cover to cover. They checked medicine cabinets, moved furniture, pulled off every cushion and unzipped the outer upholstery. The officers were just as precise and meticulous as Landry had requested. He too went through the home with a fine-tooth comb.

Brady remained outside directing the teams on the property search. He checked in with each lead officer of each team for updates. He was watching all the lights from all of the flashlights moving around like spotlights at a movie premier. He was answering questions from officers in his immediate vicinity as to where they should go next and bringing evidence bags with wrappers, pieces of metal, limbs found on the ground with residue most likely sap, but they were collecting anything that could be something. Brady and Landry didn’t want to assume anything. The back of police van doors were open as evidence bags were being brought out from the house and from the property. Landry had sent out pillow cases, bed sheets, washcloths, clothes, drinking glasses. He wanted anything and everything possible tested.

            “Detective Landry.” A voice yelled out from the front entryway. Landry walked towards the voice. It was one of their computer specialists, Gary Collins.

            “Hi Gary. Thanks for coming. I know it’s getting late, but we don’t have much time.”

            “No problem. Where do you want me to start?”

            “There are two computers and a laptop. I will show you where they are. Feel free to start with any of them.”

            “Sounds good. Are you looking for anything specific?”

            “Well anything to do with the victims, Amanda Drake, Tiffany Martinez and a girl named Carrie. We don’t know her last name. If you find anything suspicious and I mean anything at all, let me know.”

            “Will do.”

            Landry showed Gary to the room where the computers, laptop and printers were located. Gary got right to work. Landry went back to searching the home. As he continued checking in on the teams and making his way through the enormous house looking in fireplaces, behind picture frames and attic access doors he was called back down to the main living area and into the library. Landry scanned every item as he exited one of the guest bedrooms making a mental note to return. He headed down the stairway and into the library.

            “Detective Landry. We have something here.” A female officer held out a book.

            “What is it?” Landry responded not knowing what value the book held.

            “Check page 202.” She handed him the book.

            Landry took the book from the officer. The whole house was a sea of blue hands due to the latex gloves. He held the book, a history of John Adams, in his hand and flipped through the pages until he got to page 202. He looked up at the officer and looked back down at the page. It was a normal book page, thick paper and italicized type. He looked back to the officer in confusion.

            “Turn the page.” She said.

            Landry looked back down at the page and turned it. Immediately his heart hit his throat and without any thought radioed to Brady to get into the library immediately. Landry stared at the page and told the officer to get an evidence bag. The officer left the room to retrieve one as Brady entered.

            “What’s up?” Brady was staring at the back of Landry as he approached. As he made his way over Landry’s shoulder, he could see what Landry had called him for. A Chicago Driver’s License was taped to page 203. The name on the license was Tiffany Martinez and the picture matched.

            “Holy Shit!” Brady exclaimed. “Holy shit!”

            “You could say that.” Landry responded. “I think we have ourselves a link to Eric Stetson.”

            Brady radioed to the officers at the entrance of the property that if Eric Stetson were to show up that he be taken into custody. Brady contacted Captain Murdock and gave him the update. They would work on having a warrant issued. Landry called over one of the officers taking pictures and had him take a few of the page and license. The officer returned with the evidence bag, Landry placed the book in it and took it to the van with Brady in tow. The two men’s excitement was well deserved. They knew this wasn’t exactly the smoking gun that they were hoping for, but it took them one step closer to solving these cases. Landry shut the doors to the van and told the officers guarding it to not let anyone but he or Brady access it. There were two other vans being loaded with bags of possible evidence, but he didn’t want this van touched. Brady resumed his directing of officers as they came and went. Landry went back into the house to check on Gary to see if he had found anything. He was working on the second computer going through emails, documents and files. He hadn’t seen anything of interest yet. Nothing alarming anyway. He was going to go through the laptop soon. Landry asked him to let him know if he found anything and went back up to the library to check on the state of the search.

            As Landry went up the stairs from the computer room back to the library a transmission came over the radio to Brady requesting him to go to the garage. Landry ran out the door. He met Brady at the entrance of the garage. An officer approached holding a duffle bag. We found this stuffed in the back of a drawer in that toolbox. The officer pointed to a very large and very expensive toolbox with the drawers’ open. The detectives opened the duffle bag to see it contained women’s clothing and two cell phones. Brady asked one of the officers with a camera to follow them to the van. Both detectives walked over to the van that contained the book and opened the doors. They turned on the van lights and began to pull out each item and place them in an evidence bag and had pictures taken. At that moment Landry was radioed that Gary may have found something. Both men looked at each other in surprise.

            “You got this?” Landry asked Brady looking down at the bag.

            “Go.” Brady continued to pull out items and place them in bags.

            Landry was getting his exercise tonight. We ran through the front doors and back down to the computer room where Gary sat facing Landry with his side to the laptop.

            “I’m not sure if this is anything but I thought you might want to take a look.” Gary turned towards the laptop where a recovered word document shown from the screen. Landry recognized it immediately.

You blindly assume the worse in men and yet you are no better

            “Dear God!” Landry exclaimed. “OK. I will get a team in here to collect all of this. I want pictures taken of the document and I want it all into evidence. You can do the rest at your office. We have more than enough to take the computers. Whatever you do, do not lose that document.” Gary nodded yes and stood up collecting his gear. He would have plenty to do back at the station. Landry sent a team down to help Gary clear the room. Landry then headed back up the stairs and out the front door to the van. He turned the corner to the back of the van where Brady was standing holding a bag. The duffle bag was empty, and Landry could see the clothes and phones had been bagged and were lying next to the duffle bag. Landry looked up at Brady who dangled one bag in front of him. Landry couldn’t see what was in the clear bag. He took it from Brady and pulled it closer to his eyes. There in front of him was the bracelet described to them as Amanda’s missing bracelet. Both men just stared at it. They had been going on adrenalin most of the night and had found excitement and motivation in the evidence they had found so far but this one was different. This one was more personal. Amanda’s death had become personal and here was her favorite bracelet that her parents had given to her as a gift that she would only wear on special occasions.  Seeing this brought the men back to reality. This did not excite or motivate. This hit them hard. This was reality smacking them right in the face. This young girl died brutally. She was tortured and murdered in a heinous way. And stuffed in the back of a toolbox shoved inside a duffle bag was a part of her, charms and all. Brady and Landry didn’t have to say it. They knew they both felt it and it did not feel good. As the chaos surrounded them, Brady and Landry took a few moments to reflect on the loss and accept all that was about to happen.

            Landry handed back the bag to Brady. “The letter we got, you know the poem?” Landry asked Brady.

            “Yes. Let me guess. Gary found it on one of the computers.” Brady said with confidence.

            “Yep, we are collecting it all.” Landry responded.

            “I called Murdock. Told him we found the bracelet. He is working on getting a warrant for Eric. He’s getting a warrant for the search even though the owner has given permission for the search and evidence collection. He’s just wanting to cover all the bases.”

            “OK. Brady?”

            “Yes?”

            “You want to call Houston and Myers?”

            Brady sighed. “Yes. I’ll call.”

            Landry headed back to the house. He had a lot of work to do. Brady took out his phone and clicked on Detective Houston’s number.

            “Hello?” Houston’s voice was groggy.

            “Detective Houston this is Detective Brady. Sorry to be calling so late.”

            Brady heard rustling, imagining that Houston was exiting his bed.

            “It’s OK.” Houston whispered. “What’s up?”

            “I’ll explain more later but I wanted to give you a heads up. We are at Eric Stetson’s property doing a search.”

            “You got a search warrant?” Houston must have been outside his bedroom because he wasn’t whispering any longer.

            “Long story. Like I said, I will explain later. I just wanted to give you an update.”

            “OK. First, I was going to call you tomorrow. We got a hold of Tyler and he is reluctant to talk to us, but we’re trying to get him back to Chicago. Apparently, his company sent him on an all-expense paid vacation with a few strings attached. One of which was to not have contact with us. They provided him attorneys, but his neighbor has been helping us speak to him. There’s a lot to it and we can talk later but I think he understands how important this is. Sorry to interrupt but I just needed to let you know. So, how is the search going?”

            “It’s producing some good evidence. I don’t have much time to discuss it, but I did want to let you know we found something linking Eric to your case.”

            “You did? What?” Houston’s excitement could be heard in his questions.

            “Her Driver’s License.”

            “No shit?” Houston was astounded. “Where?”

            “Attached to a page of a book in Eric’s library.”

            Houston was silent.

            “You there?” Brady asked hoping his connection didn’t cut out.

            Eventually Houston responded. “Yes. I’m here. It’s just that… It’s just that I wasn’t prepared for that. I mean that is great but-”
            Brady knew what he was feeling. He and Landry had just taken the same dose of reality moments before when seeing Amanda’s bracelet. “I understand. I will get you all the details tomorrow. I have to go, and you need to get some sleep. You have a big day tomorrow. I’ll call you in the morning. OK?”

            “OK. Thanks Brady.” Houston hung up the phone and sat at his dining room table for hours as his mind ran a marathon.

            Brady hung up the phone, locked the van doors, and took a deep breath. He walked into the darkness of the night knowing no one was getting any sleep and might not for a long time.

CHAPTER 26

Eric remained sitting in his favorite leather chair with a goal to get as drunk as possible. Kevin, his driver would be waiting for him in the car for quite a while and Eric couldn’t care less. Eric made and drank drink after drink. His footing becoming less accurate and his vision less focused. He had turned off the TV and was sitting in silence as he looked out the window at the night sky. His world was crumbling underneath him, and he had no idea how to fix it. This was unchartered territory for Eric. His mood had begun to change and occasionally he would think of something ironic that would make him laugh. If anyone was on the outside looking in, they might think he was going mad. Eric stood up to make another drink. Was this eight or nine? He had no idea and he didn’t care. He stopped counting long ago. His drinks had become a whole lot more vodka and a lot less tonic. He envisioned Tom running out of his office and of the glass making contact to the back of his head and it made him laugh. He got up from his chair and tried to make his way over to the window tripping over his own foot and he began to fall. He grabbed the back of the couch to catch himself as his drink sprang over the glass and onto the couch. He laughed again. On any normal day a spilled drink on his precious couch would fly him into a rage but this wasn’t turning out to be any normal day. Eric got himself back up to a standing position still holding onto the couch. He slowly stumbled over to the window and looked down at the city while raising his glass.

“Here’s to all the people that got in my way. May you all be looking up right now. Kneel down to me you fools!” He took another gulp. “I own this city! Hell, I own this country!” His hand was back up in the air waving back and forth as the liquid escaped the glass from side to side. “I own it all! You can’t take it from me! I will win! Do you hear me? I will win, and you will lose!” Eric was now holding onto the glass as he swayed like a child on a ship battling the waves. He laughed again and attempted to make his way to his desk tripping and stumbling. He was a pebble in a rock tumbler. He grabbed on to his desk for dear life. His vision was set on double. He grabbed for his office chair and slid in it. He held on to the edge of his desk with both hands and pulled himself towards the computer. He had made it. His cell phone rang. It was on the other side of the room. He found this funny. His laugh was from the gut. He knew it was no use to try to get to it in time, so he just laughed as he listened to it ring and go to voicemail. He reached for the mouse and tried to focus on the computer screen. He couldn’t get the pointer to hover over the Google Chrome icon to open the internet. His hand and therefore the mouse was all over the place. He found this funny too. He laughed and finished his drink.

His office phone rang. It startled him. He wiped off his mouth and tried to focus on the receiver. Slowly he grabbed it and picked it up.

“Yep.” He slurred into the phone. It was obvious that he was drunk.

“Eric?”

“Y-E-P.” He could barely get the word out right. That is a really hard word to say. He thought. This made him laugh again.

“Are you OK?”

“Y—E—P.” He answered and laughed again. This word was getting really hard to pronounce.

“Eric, this is Carl. I need you to listen to me.”

“Carl! How are ya Carl?” Eric’s words were jovial and incredibly hard to understand. Every word came with a stammer.

“Eric. I need you to listen to me! I just got a call from the police. There is a warrant out for your arrest! Do you understand me?”

“Arrest? For what?” Eric began to sober up for a second but still stammered.

“Murder. There may be additional charges. You have to get out of the office. Come to my house. We will discuss this, and we can turn you in tomorrow.”

Eric was still seeing double but coming back to reality quickly. “Turn myself in? For what? They can’t arrest me!” Eric’s words continued to slur out of his mouth.

“They can, and they will Eric. You must leave the office. They will be looking for you soon. Get out of there. Come to my house. OK?”

Eric let out a grueling scream, which hurt his head badly. He wasn’t drunk enough to not feel that one. “I’m not turning myself in Carl!” He wasn’t stammering as much although he was still seeing double.

“Eric. I need you to just get here and we will get this all figured out. OK?”

Eric was torn between what he was hearing and the happiness he had been experiencing just two minutes ago. He didn’t want to go to Carl’s. He didn’t want to be arrested. He just wanted to stay at the office and drink.

“Eric. Listen. I can tell you’ve been drinking, and I need to get you sober. We need to talk. We have to get you thinking straight. Get here. I am not kidding Eric!”

Eric put his hand through his hair and shook his head in an attempt to get his head clear. “OK. OK. I understand. I will get to your place. I’ll have Kevin drive me there.”

Eric could hear Carl sighing on the other end of the phone. “Thank God.” Carl sounded relieved. “OK. Grab anything you can take with you especially anything you don’t want the cops to have access to. Do you understand?”

“Yep.” That one came out clearer than before. “Gotcha.”

“Alright. Don’t forget your cell phone. Where is it by the way?” Carl asked.

“It’s all the way across the room.” Eric laughed.

“OK. Make sure you take your phone. Do the best you can and I will see you soon.”

“OK.” Eric hung up.

Eric pushed out the chair and slowly attempted to get to his feet. That went well. He stood up still holding the edge of the desk. So far so good. He used all of the furniture in the room to make himself stable. He reached down and took his phone and placed it in his pocket. OK. Got the phone. Check. He told himself. He continued to use the furniture as he made his way to the filing cabinets at his desk. He sat down and grabbed files. He tried to grab as many as he could. He used the chair to scoot to the side of the desk and grabbed his briefcase. He shoved whatever files he could get into the briefcase. His drunken state of mind didn’t allow him to see how many files he had left behind. He stood back up and walked himself slowly to one of the valued pictures on the wall and pushed on a latch hidden behind the picture. The side of the picture released from the wall and as it did Eric stumbled backwards. He grabbed the back of the chair to his side and saved himself from hitting the ground. He moved towards the picture and pulled it away from the wall to expose a safe. OK Eric. You’ve got this. He put his fingers to the keypad on the safe. He slowly pushed 4-4-9-2-1-6-4. He pulled on the safe door. It opened. Yes! He thought. The urgency of the situation was helping him focus. He reached in and took out stacks of money and placed them on the chair. He grabbed files, a large envelope and a gun. He didn’t bother to shut the safe. There was no point. The cops would soon be all over his office and there was no point in hiding anything. Eric grabbed a bag from the closet and filled it with the items from the safe. He was regaining some control of his movements, but his blurred vision remained blurry. He grabbed the bag and his briefcase and headed for the door. Eric closed one eye as he maneuvered through the building in an attempt to not see double. It helped. Eric made it to the elevator and down to the lobby. He exited the building and stammered to the car. Kevin had been sleeping and was jolted awake when Eric opened the door and began to throw the bag and briefcase in the back.

Kevin sat up tall and started the car. “Everything OK Mr. Stetson?”

“It is.” Eric climbed inside and closed the door. He was safe. He had made it out of the building before the police got there. “You need to drive me to Carl’s house.”

Kevin could tell Eric had been drinking. He wasn’t sure which was more of the dead giveaway, the overwhelming smell of alcohol or the slurring words. He began to drive towards the interstate. “OK.” Kevin was very familiar with all of the places Eric frequented and began driving to Carl’s. “I spoke to my wife and told her about your amazing offer. She said to tell you thank you.” Kevin was looking in the rear view at Eric as he pulled onto I-25.

Eric was arranging the bags to a better position in the back seat. “Huh?” Eric was confused.

Kevin was still smiling. “The resort in Hawaii.”

Eric took a moment to go back in time to think about what Kevin was talking about. His brain was still in happy mode, but the situation was forcing him to come back to reality. Eric suddenly realized what Kevin was referring to. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah. No problem.” Eric wasn’t about to tell him that his vacation wasn’t going to turn out exactly the way he and his wife were now hoping it would. Kevin was not going to be getting any comp room in any of Eric’s resorts, but Eric had bigger things to worry about. He grabbed a bottle of water from the side of the door and chugged it in an attempt to gain sobriety. He put the lid on and grabbed another water. He began to chug that one too when he realized this wasn’t such a great idea.

“Pull over!” Eric pleaded.

They were on the interstate now. Kevin looked back at Eric and saw he was in distress. Kevin pushed on the gas and got into the right-hand lane and sped to the next exit. Eric tried desperately to hold back the vomit. “Just hold on Mr. Stetson. We are almost to a place to pull over. Just hold on.” Kevin begged. He made a right hand turn right off the freeway and sped into a restaurant parking lot and slammed on the breaks. Eric flew forward, grabbed for the door and leaped from the car just in time to throw up under a series of trees. Kevin focused on the restaurant sign in front of him trying to ignore Eric’s heaves. Eric continued vomiting for about five minutes expelling everything in his stomach. He had nothing left. After his body accepted that it couldn’t get out anything more Eric sat on the curb. He untucked his shirt and wiped his mouth. He focused on breathing and rejecting the stomach spasms he was now experiencing. He felt like he had just been run over. His head pounded. He began to recognize his situation. He was sitting on a dirty curb, next to a pile of his own vomit, in a less than desirable side of town while on the run from police. Not in a million years did he ever picture himself here. He had always been in control and able to make a bad situation better but now, he had zero control and if people could see him, it would be evident.

Eric slowly stood up and realized he didn’t need to close one eye to see straight. His vision was coming back, and he was able to walk to the car without the assistance of office furniture. He climbed into the back seat and tucked his shirt back in. He looked up and saw that Kevin was looking at him through the rearview.

“I’m OK Kevin.  Really, I’m OK.” Eric wasn’t slurring his words as much.

Kevin began to drive. Eric could tell that he looked concerned. Then he realized that Kevin had reason to be concerned. The car drove up the entrance to the interstate going towards Carl’s. Eric’s phone rang. It made Eric’s head hurt. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. It was Carl. Eric put the phone to his ear.

“Eric?” Carl was worried.

“Yeah.” Eric placed his head in his hand. His head was pounding. Sobriety was attempting to seep into his blood stream.

“Are you on your way?”

“I am.”

“Everything OK?”

“Yeah. We just had to make a stop.”

“You don’t have time to make stops Eric. You need to get here.”

“We are. We won’t be too much longer.”

“Good. Eric, have you spoken to Jared?”

Eric sat up and removed his head from his hand. “No. Why?”

“I’m not sure how to tell you this but he is cooperating fully with the police. I spoke to him. It’s not good Eric. He is sure you had something to do with Rachael’s disappearance. He is convinced of it. So, if he calls or if the cops call, don’t answer the phone. In fact, only answer my calls. OK? Only my calls.”

“Yeah. OK. I can do that. Did you say you spoke with Jared?”

“Yes. We can talk about it when you get here.”

Eric pulled the phone from his ear and placed it against his forehead as he supported his head with his hand. His head was throbbing. He put the phone back to his ear. “OK.” Eric hung up. Kevin more than sensed something bad was happening but was smart enough to know not to ask. He just kept driving.

Eric began to think which in this case, was a very bad idea. Jared! He thought. Jared is working with the police. No, he is being fully cooperative. Who the hell does Jared think he is? Jared is a piece of shit who knows nothing. How could he be helping the police with anything? Jared has nothing! Eric was convinced that Jared was worthless and there was nothing he could contribute to anything let alone a police investigation. Then it his him as quickly as the nausea he had just experienced. FUCK! He instantly thought. Eric’s eyes bulged from their sockets. His head began to sweat. He got another wave of nausea. His head pounded so badly he could hear it. There was one thing that Jared could contribute to a murder investigation! His head was screaming. THE DUFFLE BAG!!!!

“Kevin! I need you to turn around. Turn around!” Eric yelled which made Kevin jump.

“OK. Yes sir. Where are we going?” Kevin began to maneuver through traffic so that he could turn around.

“Jared’s!” Eric demanded.

“Yes sir.” Kevin drove like a bat out of hell. Eric was about to enter his own eternal hell.

CHAPTER 27

Detective Landry began dismissing teams as the search presented no more obvious evidence. The house had been disturbed in all rooms and they weren’t there to clean it up. All evidence had been collected and all pictures had been taken. They had collected women’s lingerie in a night stand and a small collection of jewelry hidden throughout the house. Landry was curious to see if those items would be linked to Amanda, Tiffany and a possible victim named Carrie. The house was becoming emptier with people and just a few key investigators remained. After searching the home most of the night Landry was exhausted. They had begun around four in the afternoon and it was now close to midnight. Everyone was exhausted. Both Landry and Brady were satisfied with the evidence that had been found. Captain Murdock had joined them in the search and they were certain they were going to be able to move forward in prosecuting Eric Stetson. A warrant had been issued and a search for Eric had begun. They were able to get search warrants for his offices and Detective Houston was called again and had begun the process to get a search warrant for the penthouse apartment.

Brady and Murdock were outside still directing the search of the property. The inner perimeters of the property had been searched meticulously and they had collected some possible evidence. Around eleven they expanded the search to all the outlying property that had not been searched. They were prepared to give the search another hour or so and then they would call it quits. Coffee was their salvation as carafes were brought in by officers taking shifts making it at the station. Brady was inventorying the evidence as his radio sounded through the night by one of his officers.

“Detective Brady?” The radios had died down as the night progressed, so everyone was able to hear the request.

“Brady here.”

“I think you and Captain Murphy want to come here.”

“Where are you?”

“We are in zone H. Just off the dirt trail on the right side of the property. About half a mile in.”

            Brady looked over at Captain Murdock who acknowledge he had heard. “We will be right there. Do we need to bring bags?”

            “No.”

Brady was a bit confused. He was about to radio Landry we he noticed him leaving the house in a hurry. “You coming?” Brady asked.

“I wouldn’t miss it.” Landry caught up to the two men.

They turned on their flashlights and began to walk up the dirt trail. As they walked, it appeared that this was probably used as an ATV trail. They followed the road as their flashlights swung up and down and side to side as they walked. They discussed the case they had against Eric so far. They all felt very confident that there wasn’t any way Eric was going to be able to explain away having Tiffany’s ID and Amanda’s bracelet. They knew the poem on his laptop was circumstantial, but it was still pretty good evidence. They were hopeful that the female clothes and jewelry could be linked as well. They hadn’t found anything obvious linking him to Rachael, but they were sure he had something to do with it. As they followed the path, they began to see lights and walked towards them. They could make out the silhouettes of the other officers. They could also make out the outline of what appeared to be a vehicle. They walked up and could see the area was illuminated by many flashlights. The officers all had their flashlights pointed at the car. Some officers were holding two. The Black BMW reflected in the light. The three detectives walked up to the car and shined their flashlights inside exposing the leather interior. The car contained a purse and a cellphone. The keys were in the ignition. Brady walked around the car to view the license plate. He didn’t need to look. He knew whose car it was, but he did need to confirm. He shined his flashlight onto the plate. It was Rachael’s car.

“It’s Rachael’s.” Brady said into the night air.

            “OK. Begin taping off.” Captain Murdock said to all the officers. Flashlights began moving as officers began the process of tying off the area around the car with caution tape. As an officer began taking pictures Landry put on a new pair of latex gloves and reached for the driver’s side door handle. He pulled on the handle hoping that it wasn’t locked. It wasn’t. Landry motioned for the officer with the camera to come take pictures before touching any evidence inside. Brady walked around to the other side of the car and with latex gloves opened all of the doors. The inside of the car smelled of death. This wasn’t good. Once the officer had taken pictures, Landry reached in to push the trunk release button. All of the officers paused as the three detectives walked to the back of the trunk. The air stood still for just a moment as there was complete silence as Landry lifted the trunk. You could hear a pin drop as Landry slowly pulled on the trunk lid and raised it. The silence was deafening as the aroma of death entered the surrounding atmosphere. Landry’s reflexes took over and he immediately turned his head away as the smell of death overcame him. He began to dry heave as reality swam through the air, now surrounding him. Brady placed his gloved hand over his mouth as he observed Rachael’s beaten and bloodied decaying body inside the trunk. Her back was facing the outside world but her long light hair was now auburn with blood. She was lying in a fetal position and as Brady looked closer, he could see that her body was broken. He reached in and felt her fragile and broken hand. She was extremely cold to the touch. She had been dead for a while. Captain Murdock directed the officer with the camera to take pictures. Brady radioed for the coroner’s office to be notified immediately as Captain Murdock walked over to the driver’s side door and removed the purse that sat on the seat. He gently removed the wallet and opened it to reveal Rachael’s Driver’s License.

Landry finished vomiting and walked over to a tree to lean against it for support. He had seen many murders and dead bodies but this time it was all about the smell. It caught him off guard and brought him to his knees. It’s as if the smell had been contained for so long that once he opened the trunk it shot out at him like a bullet. He had smelled death before but not like this.  This smell had been contained had been waiting for him for a very long time. Landry knew that this smell would never leave him. He knew that he now belonged to a club that he did not want to belong to. He had heard stories about the overwhelming smell of death and had thought he had experienced it, but he had no idea until this moment exactly what the others had been describing. Now he knew. He knew this odor would accost him in quiet moments, at random times and when he least expected it. It was forever going to be a part of his life and it made him vomit for another five minutes.

“Detectives!” A voice rang out into the quiet from up the trail. Detective Brady and Captain Murdock tuned their attention towards the direction of the voice and began walking. Brady looked over at Landry. “You coming?” Landry motioned for them to go on as he continued to lean against the trunk of the tree trying to stop the dry heaves. Brady and Murdock were followed by five officers as they all made their way up the trail pointing their flashlights towards where the voice came from. “Detectives, you need to see this.” The voice rang out again. They were getting closer. As they made their way up the trail, they began to see the lights of the other officers. Brady could begin to see the outline of another vehicle. He got a sick feeling in his stomach. As they approached another vehicle, he could see that it was a silver Audi. He didn’t need to verify the license plate or look in the vehicle and pull out a purse with an ID. He knew. It was Amanda’s car. He had been looking for this car for a very long time. He knew every scratch and curve of this vehicle. He slowed down as his heart tried to accept that the find brought a finale to his search for Amanda’s killer. He thought closure would feel a lot better than this, but it didn’t. He was sad. He felt grief for the loss of such a vibrant and beautiful soul. There was no joy or happiness in this moment and it surprised him. He walked around the vehicle and did confirm the license plate to be Amanda’s. They found a purse and her ID inside the vehicle. It was all Amanda’s. At least this would bring some closure to her family and that is what mattered.

As officers began collecting evidence and taking pictures Captain Murdock advised Brady that he was in charge of the search and that Captain Murdock was going to go back to the station to expand the warrant for Eric to kidnapping and murder. Brady would remain until the tow trucks came for the vehicles and the coroner came for the body. Brady was there for the duration. He and his teams worked through the next few hours collecting all of the evidence. The coroner came on scene and a van was backed up to Rachael’s car. Brady and Landry watched as her body was carefully loaded into a body bag and put onto a stretcher. It was obvious that Rachael’s death was unlike that of Amanda and Tiffany’s. Hers was not clean. She appeared to have been beaten and strangled. Her death was of an extremely personal nature and appeared to be a death of passion unlike that of the detailed and meticulous deaths of Amanda and Tiffany. However, they were all certain that their killer was the same person. Eric Stetson. With all the evidence they had collected Eric’s coffin needed no more nails. It was sealed shut and air tight. They just needed to find him and fast before he could do this to anyone else.

Brady’s phone rang. It was Houston. He was calling to let him know that they were seeking an arrest warrant for Eric Stetson as well and that he would be in touch if they had any updates on their end. Brady was glad. He wanted Eric caught and he didn’t care who got to him first. Houston also notified Brady that he was able to speak to investigators at the San Francisco Police Department and that they did have a cold case of an unsolved murder of a flight attendant by the Name of Carrie Hatch about six years ago. Same M.O. as Amanda and Tiffany. Houston would be taking the lead on gaining and sharing information with both departments. Brady thanked Houston for taking charge and getting them whatever information he could. Houston sounded as tired as Brady, but this night was too important for sleep. The men hung up the phone. Brady was feeling less grief and more confident in what they had found. He needed to contact Amanda’s family and Jared Stetson to give them updates before they saw it on the news. News vans and helicopters had now been dispatched to the property and Brady knew it wouldn’t be long until videos of the coroner’s vans and cars being towed off of the property would be making the news. He needed to get to them first. Brady walked down the trail towards the house. Landry was finishing the task of making sure the tow trucks made it off the property and Rachael’s body had been loaded. All other evidence had been bagged and loaded into vans. Officers would be assigned to remain on the property. It had all been taped off to make sure no one, especially Eric, gained access to the property.

Brady walked into the house which was now empty and only one light remained on. He looked around and listened to the crickets outside. The house was silent, and he just observed the home, the home of a killer, until he made the call.

“Hello?” A voice on the other end of the phone asked.

“Hello Mr. Drake. This is Detective Brady. I’m sorry to call you so early.” Brady apologized.

“No problem. Is everything OK?” Mr. Drake’s voice sounded groggy. He had obviously been sleeping like most normal human beings were.

“Well, I wanted to let you know before you see it on the news, we found Amanda’s car, her belongings and her bracelet.”

“What? Where?” Mr. Drake’s voice was very much awake and alert now.

“We found them at Eric Stetson’s property.”

There was no response.

“Mr. Drake?”

“Yes. I’m here.” Drake’s voice whispered. His wife had been awakened by his prior response and Brady could hear her questioning him in the background as to what was going on. “So, do you believe he is the one that murdered Amanda?”

“We do. I can’t give you all the details just yet but there is a warrant out for his arrest. We’re looking for him now. Police officers have been dispatched to your home until he is caught.”

“OK. Is there anything we can do?”

“Not right now Mr. Drake. Just know that we are going to catch him, and we will bring him to justice.” Brady was eager for Mr. Drake to believe him.

“I know you will. Thank you, Detective Brady. And thank Detective Landry for us too.”

“I will. We will be in touch soon. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.” Mr. Drake hung up the phone and explained the phone call to his wife. He held her for the remainder of the night as she wept with grief until sleep took over.

Brady dialed Jared’s phone number. There was no answer. It was one in the morning and he was probably sleeping. He would keep trying but for now he needed to help finish the search and get back to the station. Although Brady was exhausted, he was excited to begin the end to this tragedy. Little did he know.

CHAPTER 28

Eric’s fist pounded on Jared’s door. Eric received no answer, so he pounded again. He was still suffering from the effects of the alcohol he had consumed as he stumbled with every hard blow to the door.  He leaned his forehead against the door. “Jared! Open the door!” Eric yelled. He didn’t care who he woke up. “Jared!” Eric continued to pound his fist in anger.

Jared was sitting on his couch behind the protective steel door allowing Eric to yell and take his anger out on the metal. He waited for a time so that Eric could wear himself out before answering the door. It was late, and he knew that his neighbors would most likely be looking through their peepholes. Jared slowly got off the couch and made his way to the door. Jared reached for the handle as Eric continued to punch the door. He closed his eyes, took a deep calming breath, turned the bolt and then the handle. Eric pushed his way passed Jared throwing Jared to the side. He stormed through the hallway and straight into the living room screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs. Jared closed the door and followed behind Eric.

“What the hell have you done Jared?” Eric yelled as he turned to look at Jared. He could smell the alcohol that exuded Eric’s pours through the hallway and into the living room.

“What are you talking about Eric?” Jared stayed a far distance from Eric for his own safety.

“What am I talking about? What am I talking about! Are you fucking kidding me?”

“No, Eric, I’m not kidding.” Jared backed up whenever Eric took a step forward.

“The cops are all over my house! And you gave them permission! How fucking stupid can you be?”

Jared looked at Eric as if he was utterly confused. “Eric, they told me that I owned the property and that I had to sign a paper because they needed to do a search for something. What was I supposed to do? You weren’t here, and they weren’t giving me any time to call you. I didn’t have a choice.”

“You didn’t have a choice? Oh my God. Why? Why out of all the brothers in this fucking world did I end up with such a moron? You’re an absolute idiot!” Eric began to pace back and forth in the living room while Jared kept his distance near the kitchen. “Did it ever occur to you to tell them, let’s see, NO!”

Jared stood in one place as he prepared to bolt if Eric came at him. “It did Eric, but I didn’t think I could. I really didn’t. What are they looking for anyway Eric?”

“I have no God damn idea!” Eric began to run his hands through his hair as he paced. “I was told you filed a missing person’s report on Rachael. Did you?”

“I did, but what does that have to do with you?” Jared was lying again in hopes of keeping Eric calm. Self-preservation justified many untruths. He was getting good at it.

“It apparently has everything to do with it! They think I did something. At least that is what they’re saying.”

“Why would they say that?”

Eric stopped pacing and stared straight at Jared. “I don’t know Jared. You tell me! What did you tell them?”

“Nothing Eric. I didn’t tell them anything.”

Eric observed Jared like he had never looked at him before. “You are lying Jared! What did you tell them?”

“Nothing Eric. I swear.” Jared took another step back.

Eric began to pace back and forth again. “I need a drink, now!”

Jared walked over to the bar and began to make Eric a drink. He took this opportunity to slide his phone out of his pocket and text Detective Brady. He did not want Eric to see. He glanced up at Eric and then back down to his side as he found Brady’s number. He glanced back up to see Eric not paying him any attention. He pulled up his text and sent 911 to Brady. He hurried and put the phone under the bar and finished making Eric his favorite drink. He slowly handed it to him and then stepped back.

Eric took a large swig. “Tom went to the Feds. Did you know that?”

Jared shook his head no.

Eric took another swig and finished off his drink. He handed the glass back to Jared. Jared made him another. Eric was working on pure obliteration at this point. His vomiting, time and the situation had sobered him up a bit. “Why the hell would you give them permission to search my property Jared?” Eric asked angrily as he paced and drank.

“I don’t know Eric. I got confused.” Jared walked back behind the bar and made sure his phone was on silent in case Brady tried to call.

“You got confused? Oh my God Jared! How do you even tie your shoes?”

“I’m sorry Eric. But why is my name on the property? I was shocked to find that out.”

“Who told you that your name is on my property anyway?”

“The cops.” Jared kept looking down at his phone.

“Jesus, Jared, your name is all over company properties. It’s just common practice. It means nothing. You don’t have to worry about it. Especially now.” Eric took another drink and sat down on the couch.

“But shouldn’t I know when my name is on something Eric?”

“You don’t need to know shit! You are lucky you have had a place to sleep, a car to drive and a job. You think you got paid what you’ve been getting paid with all of the perks for doing assistant work?”

“I thought I was helping. I took my job seriously and worked hard.”

“You didn’t work hard. You don’t know what hard work is! You got paid for your fucking signature you idiot. While you were thinking that you were so important that you needed to sign so many papers, you were committing felonies. Did you know that Jared?”

“No.” Jared looked back down at his phone. No response from Brady. He tried texting again.

“See Jared. If I go down for anything, Rachael’s disappearance, fraud, whatever the charges, you go down with me.”

Jared fixed Eric another drink and took it to him. He took the empty glass from Eric and placed it on the bar.

“But I have nothing to do with any of those things.” Jared pleaded.

“Do you think the cops or the Feds give two shits? I will make it so that you go as far down as I do.”

“Well, I don’t understand how.”

“You don’t need to understand how.” Eric slammed back more of his drink and began to laugh. “Who knows, maybe we can share a cell.” In his increasingly drunken state Eric found this thought hilarious.

“Maybe.” Jared was just biding time for Brady to respond.

Eric laid his head back and sat his drink on his lap. He closed his eyes as his world came crashing down around him. “You know what Jared.” It was rhetorical. “All this time. All of these years I have been using you as a cover for so many illegal dealings. Did you know that Jared?” Eric opened his eyes and lifted his head to look at Jared’s response. There wasn’t one. He closed his eyes again and laid his head back down. “I can tell you this because I’m sure the Feds already know your name is on most of our holdings. You, my dear brother, are in a shit ton of trouble.” Eric smiled. Jared said nothing. Eric opened his eyes and took another drink and laid his head back again. He looked up at the ceiling. “See Jared, I didn’t keep you around as some form of loyalty to you. I kept you around so that if the shit ever hit the fan, it would be you that got the electric chair, not me. All this time you assumed I must have had some sort of pity or obligation.” Eric smiled again. “Hell, if it weren’t for needing your ignorance, I would have left you the day I left home. I have absolutely no other use for you.” Eric slowly turned his gaze to see Jared’s reaction. Again, there was none. “And as far as Rachael is concerned, I don’t give a shit where she is. The thought that she was with you makes me sick. It makes my stomach turn. She was trash to me. Nothing more than a wrapper from a piece of candy. I’m glad she’s gone Jared. You are a miserable piece of shit and so is she.” Eric took another sip, laid his head back and closed his eyes again. “You came from shit parents and you are shit! Don’t you forget that!”

Jared checked his phone again and waited for Eric to pass out. He didn’t care what Eric said anymore. He didn’t even blink at the words spewing from his mouth. Eric was a drunken mess, and this served Jared’s purpose. The drunker he got the better for Jared. Eric’s head kept bobbing as if he were beginning to fall asleep and just when Jared thought he had passed out Eric’s eyes would instantly open, his head would lift up and he would bring his drink to his mouth. Then he would lay his head back and close his eyes again. Jared fixed another drink in silence and slowly removed the drink from Eric’s hand and replaced it with a fresh one. This aroused Eric from his somber state. He grabbed Jared’s wrist.

“Why did you give them permission to search my property Jared?” Eric was slurring again.

Jared pulled his arm back, but Eric kept a firm grip. “I’m sorry Eric. I wish I could take it back.”

“You know, whatever it is they say I did, I didn’t do.” Eric demanded and took a sip. He stood up and stumbled enough that he let go of Jared’s wrist. Jared walked straight back to the bar and pulled out the phone. No response from Brady. Come on Brady! Jared yelled at himself silently. Eric walked over to the windows overlooking the city. “You’ve got a great view from here. I treat you so good. Fucking idiot!” Eric began to sway. “You know you don’t deserve a brother like me. You’ve had it so good, useless piece of shit.”

Jared was about at his limit. His need for Brady to respond was becoming limited. His plan was not going as he had expected. He thought that the minute he reached out to Brady that he would get an immediate response, but he was getting nothing. His plan was going to have to change.

Eric continued with a barrage of insults at Jared as he stared out the window and swayed. He was spewing the worst kinds of verbal abuse possible and Jared had no interest in responding. Eric was drunk enough and in his own world enough not to notice that Jared was saying nothing. Eric’s life was falling apart, and he was doing what he knew best, tear Jared down. Make Jared feel pain as he felt pain. Blame Jared for all the woes in his life. He took joy in demoralizing Jared and making him feel small and insignificant. Eric’s best hope was if Jared had never been born. He had no idea how true this would be for him. Eric continued his rambling as Jared began to lose patience with Eric’s tirade and Brady’s lack of response.

“You know what Jared?” Eric slurred.

“What?”

“You never appreciated me at all. You never cared about me. All you ever wanted from me was to suck every last ounce of time, money and jobs that you could get from me. Your parents never gave two shits about me. You never gave two shits about me.” Eric had turned to some sort of emotional fragility that Jared had never seen or heard before. This was unchartered territory for Jared, let alone for Eric. “I am a self-made man. I took control of my life. I made my dreams come true. I worked my ass off which you benefited from and not once have you ever taken initiative to step up and do something for me? Have you ever thought about doing something for me?” Eric was exhibiting self-pity. Jared thought Eric was losing it. Eric threw back the rest of his drink and snapped himself out of it. Pity didn’t look good on Eric at all. Jared checked his phone again, no response. Jared was getting agitated. Eric was getting drunk. “You owe me Jared. You owe me!”

“What do you mean?” Jared was curious.

“I mean, you are going to take the fall. You are going to admit to all the illegal dealings and tell them I had no knowledge of any of it. You’re going to tell the cops that Rachael has been in contact with you and that she has run off with some guy and wants nothing to do with you. We will meet with my attorneys right now and you will sign documents admitting to fraud and whatever charges the Feds bring. I will pay for the best lawyers and they will give you the best defense. You’ll get fifteen maybe twenty years tops in a federal prison. Federal Prison is a cake walk. You will have the best of everything you can have in there. I will set you up with all the money you could need. They can’t prove anything against me, but they can you. I will make sure you are set for life. That is what you are going to do. Do you understand?” Now, Eric was lying.

Jared did not respond.

“Jared? Do you understand?” Eric demanded.

Jared remained silent. Eric turned around to face Jared and face Jared is what he did except he faced Jared as he held a gun pointed right at Eric.

“What the fuck?” Eric demanded.

“Sit down Eric.” Jared said in a calm voice.

“Are you crazy?” Eric screamed. “Are you fucking nuts?” He instantly regretted leaving his gun in the car.

“I said, sit down.” Jared remained calm.

“No! Put that thing away before you kill us both!”

“NOW!” Jared yelled in a manner Eric had never heard before. Even drunk Eric could see that Jared’s eyes were dark and looking right through him.

Eric sat down.

CHAPTER 29

Brady locked up the dark house and walked down the outer steps of the exterior entry way. The property still had many people coming and going but most officers and investigators had left. There was one evidence van open for any additional evidence found throughout the remainder of the night. There were lights showing through the trees of the outer property that officers were still searching. The cars had been removed and the coroners van had left with Rachael’s body. The majority of active officers who had begun the search and the ones that had been photographing the scene had left for the station. One officer with a camera remained. The perimeter of the property was guarded by officers making sure no one came onto the premises that didn’t have authorization to be there.

News vans had collected in front of the home. The dirt road leading up to the driveway was filled with camera crews. The news coverage was now nationwide. Every local news agency had a representative there as well as Fox, CNN and MSNBC. Officers had been advised to give no comments to anyone. Captain Murdock would be holding a news conference the next day. This information was now being dispersed to the AP as a general statement. The dirt street was lit up like a football field and gawking neighbors lined the road with speculation and gossip spreading like wild fire. Reporters were interviewing anyone who said they had affiliations with Eric Stetson in any way. There were false reports that Eric had been arrested, kidnapped, murdered and everything in between. The police were remaining tight lipped until the press conference when Captain Murdock would alert the world that Rachael had been murdered and Eric was wanted in that murder as well as the murders of Amanda Drake and Tiffany Martinez. They would hold off on any information regarding the cold case in San Francisco until they had more information. Captain Murdock and Detectives Landry and Brady were not going to risk messing up any chance of bringing Eric Stetson to justice.

Brady met up with Landry at the car. Both men were beyond exhausted, and they still had a full night ahead of them. They recognized that they would need to go home and get some sleep at some point, but they needed to touch base with Captain Murdock to go over their next steps. Brady lit a cigarette and got into the passenger’s side and rolled down the window. Landry put the car into drive and began driving down the long driveway. Landry watched through his rearview mirror as the large mansion became smaller and less significant as he drove away. The night was dark and so was the house. He lost sight of it quickly and turned his focus on the driveway. This was a night he would never forget, and neither was the overwhelming smell of death that lingered in his nostrils.

“Do you think we got it all?” Landry asked Brady trying to avoid the need to dry heave again.

“I hope so. We got more than we thought we would and more than enough to put Eric away for a very long time.” Brady took a lingering drag from his cigarette.

“I agree. I’m surprised at something though.” Landry said as he began to maneuver through the field of flashing cameras, microphones and gawkers who had all raced to the car as they drove passed. Brady continued to smoke as one question flew passed the other at him. It didn’t even phase him. He showed no sign he was affected at all by the microphones and flashes as they went by. Once they had passed the crowd Brady responded to Landry’s comment.

“What surprises you?” Brady lit another cigarette and wasn’t the least bit apologetic and for the first time Landry breathed in and appreciated the smoke that deadened the aroma of death that still remained.

“Eric seems like a pretty smart guy, right?”

“Right.”

“Why would he think that he could hide the cars and Rachael’s body on his property and not get caught?”

Brady thought and smoked more for a moment. “Simple. He never thought he would get caught. Remember, he is smarter than anyone else. That’s why. He never expected us to be smart enough to find out his brother owned the property. It never occurred to him. He never thought that we would be capable of getting permission to search the property. He never saw this one coming. That’s why.”

Landry processed the answer. “You murder people and hide the evidence at your home. That is either the most arrogant thing I’ve ever heard of or the stupidest. I’m not sure which.”

“Both.” Brady responded.

“But why would you keep Tiffany’s ID? Hell, why would you keep any of it?”

“Trophies. Plain and simple. He wanted to revisit what he had done. What better way than in your own backyard. Guarantee you he had gone back to that car and opened that truck a few times. It’s sick. It doesn’t make sense, but most serial killers don’t make sense in what they do. Murder has no rules.”

“True.” Landry continued to breathe in the smoke-filled air as he drove to the station. He didn’t chastise Brady once. Brady knew why. He enjoyed this drive.

As the detectives entered the building, they noticed the usually empty building at this time of night was a buzz with people. Evidence was being delivered to forensics and phones were ringing which was unusual for three in the morning. Landry headed to Captain Murdock’s office. Brady walked back to his office to plug his phone in which had died. From his office phone, he called his wife and apologized for waking her up. They had both made an agreement that no matter how late, he would call. She was glad to hear from him, told him she loved him and thanked him for letting her know he was OK. They were both trying, and it showed. Brady filled his mug with coffee and headed to Captain Murdock’s office. As he entered the office Murdock was giving Landry the preliminary autopsy update.

“She was badly beaten.” He began. “She has contusions all over her face, neck, shoulders and defensive wounds on her arms, hands and legs. She put up a hell of a fight. She has two fractures in her skull. Looks like blunt force trauma. Her right cheek bone and jaw were fractured.” Murdock finished.

“Cause of death?” Landry asked.

“It appears to be strangulation. The hyoid bone is fractured. But we will know more in the morning.”

“So, Eric should have some indications that he’s been in a fight.”

“He should. She didn’t go down easy. She definitely fought back with everything she had. However, her nails were cut, cut severely. They are trying to get DNA, but we won’t know for a while. Unless he wore gloves, we’re hopeful he left something behind.”

“DNA testing and toxicology will take some time to get back but I’m confident that if there is anything, it will be Eric’s.” Brady replied.

“Well, we have more than enough evidence for the warrant. There is an APB. We have every police officer on patrol looking for him. We have officers at his offices collecting everything and I mean everything. I’m sure the FBI will be interested in anything we collect there. How is Houston doing with getting their search warrant?”

“Last time I spoke with him he was working on it, but my phone died so I have it plugged in. But he has Landry’s number too.”

“I haven’t heard anything from him in a while. I’ll call him.” Landry took out his phone to confirm he hadn’t received a call from Houston.

“It’s all coming together. Now we just need to catch this guy. I have a press conference at ten so I’m going to go home and catch a few hours of sleep. I suggest you two do the same.” Murdock grabbed his coat and walked out of his office with the two detectives. He shut off his light and shut the door behind him. Brady drank from his mug as the two detectives went back to their office. Brady sat down in his chair. Landry sat down in his. They both leaned back and took a few deep breathes.

“It’s been a hell of a night huh?” Landry turned to face Brady.

“It sure has. I called Mr. Drake and told him we found Amanda’s car and that we have an arrest warrant for Eric. He was grateful and seemed a bit relieved.”

“I can’t blame him. They’ve been through a lot. I hope this brings them closure, if that’s possible.”

“Me too.”

“It still baffles me that a man who is so successful and seemingly brilliant can be so evil and stupid at the same time. I just don’t get it.” Landry found it to be quite the conundrum.

“Evil is evil. It doesn’t have to make sense. When you can’t determine a cockroach from a human being who the hell knows what goes through someone’s mind. Especially a mind that’s not attached to a soul. Murder never makes sense. Evil is evil.”

“I guess.” Landry continued. He knew exactly what Brady was talking about, but he was having a hard time wrapping his mind around it.

“It’s no different than someone killing another person over two dollars. It’s no different than someone killing another person over jealousy. It’s no different than someone hunting humans they don’t even know for the sake of the kill. It never makes sense.”

Landry nodded in acknowledgement. “I know. You’re right. It’s just so maddening.”

Brady nodded back. “Yep.” He took a drink from his coffee mug and turned to check his phone. His phone was charged to three percent. He entered the passcode and the home screen appeared. He saw that he had a few missed calls, two voicemails and a few text messages. He checked the caller registry to see who had called and then he listened to the voicemails. One was from his wife checking to see when he would be home. The other was from one of the officers reporting the additional evidence van was on its way. Both messages had been left hours ago. He deleted the messages and went to his texts. The first two texts were work related and he had already spoken to both people, so he deleted those. The next was from a number he didn’t recognize. He saw that the text contained only 911. He was too tired to recognize it was Jared’s which he had in his notes but not as a contact.

“Hey, whose number is this?” Brady turned his phone screen so that Landry could read it.

“Not sure.” He opened his portfolio and began to go through his notes. He had pages upon pages of notes which contained many phone numbers. He continued to flip through the pages until he came upon the number. “It’s Jared Stetson.” Landry said.

Brady immediately called the number but there was no answer. He tried again but still no answer. “What do you think?” Brady asked Landry.

Landry looked down at his notes and saw that he did have Jared’s address. “Is that the only text you got?”

“Yes.” Brady said placing the phone in his pocket as he got up and walked over to get his coat. “Let’s go.”

Landry stood up and put his coat on. He grabbed his portfolio. “Do you think we should let Murdock know?”

“No. Let him sleep. If we need to we can call him from Jared’s.”

Both men walked out of the station and into a night that would lead to one more death.

CHAPTER 30

Eric sat quietly as Jared leaned his back against the wall directly across from Eric, while holding a gun aimed straight at Eric’s head.

“Jared, listen! I had nothing to do with any kidnapping or murders. You have to believe me! Look, just let me go and I will disappear. That was my whole plan from the beginning. You’ll never see me again. Just put down the gun.” Eric wasn’t sounding as demanding or confident as he had been earlier. He wasn’t sounding as drunk either. A gun pointed at your face will quickly thicken your blood. “I swear to God Jared. I will leave and never come back. Just let me go.” Eric begged.

Jared stood with his back against the wall. His eyes glared at Eric. He no longer had color to his eyes. They were simply black. Eric wasn’t sure if Jared was even hearing him. Eric had never been in a submissive role a day in his life and he wasn’t sure exactly how to handle it. He tried demanding. He tried begging. He tried being logical. All Eric got in return was stone silence.

“Listen Jared. I will do whatever you want. If you want me to turn myself in, I’ll turn myself in. If you want me to go away and never come back, then I will go away and never come back. Just tell me what you want.” Eric swallowed hard. “Please Jared. Just tell me what you want.”

Jared moved away from the wall and took a few steps towards Eric. Jared coming closer was definitely not what Eric had wanted. “Jared. Just put the gun down. Please put the gun down.”

Jared stopped after taking a few steps and observed Eric. He observed his fear, his confusion, and his pleading face. Jared remained quiet for moments and the silence was deafening. Eric could hear his own heartbeat. He could feel the alcohol still flowing through his veins. Jared watched Eric wiggle and struggle with his own emotions. Jared had never seen true fear in Eric before. Jared found it captivating. He was used to Eric’s rage. He was used to Eric’s verbal abuse. He was used to Eric being in control in all things and now Eric had none. Jared slowly turned his head from side to side as he soaked in Eric being vulnerable and fragile. Jared smiled.

“You know Eric, it’s very interesting being on this side of the fence.” Jared began. Eric looked at him even more confused. “You’re usually the one with the metaphorical gun in his hand and I’m usually the one trying to get you to put down that gun.” Jared continued. “I have to tell you, it feels pretty good. I see the thrill in it for you.” Jared walked around to the kitchen while still pointing the gun at Eric. As Jared did so Eric began to look around for anything he could use as a weapon or find an escape route. There wasn’t anything that he could use against a gun and no immediate way out. Jared opened one of the drawers in the kitchen and held in his hand a rope. He walked back into the living room and pulled a chair across from Eric, who was sitting on the couch, leaving the coffee table as a barrier between the two. “You see Eric, it doesn’t matter if you kidnapped or killed.  It makes no difference now.” Jared placed the rope on his lap and sat back in the chair. The gun was still pointed at Eric. Eric was sweating. The alcohol was seeping out of his pours. His hands were soaking wet and his hair was not so perfect anymore.

“What are you talking about?” Eric asked. He was no longer demanding. He knew better than that.

Jared let out a laugh and shook his head. “You just don’t get it Eric. You have controlled everything in my life since we were kids. You have tried to make me feel like shit every chance you’ve gotten. You have abused me in almost every way possible since I can remember. I have always been your dog to kick. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Eric didn’t respond. He wasn’t sure where this was going, and he didn’t want to say or do anything to make the situation worse.

“Wouldn’t you AGREE?” Jared screamed. Spit flew. The veins in his face bulged.

“I agree. I agree Jared.” Eric responded quickly.

Jared sat back again and relaxed. “OK. I am glad you agree. So, Eric, how is that any different than what Mr. and Mrs. Stetson did?”

Eric’s eyes got big. He realized where this was going. “It’s not different.” Eric whispered as his head sunk down.

“Do you think that your lack of brotherly love for me wouldn’t have consequences for you? Do you think that all these years I was just that willing to take your abuse? Did you really think that I wasn’t capable of venting my own consequences?” Jared waited for a response as he watched Eric coming into reality. “Of course you didn’t. You always saw me as a weak, pathetic and spineless freak who you could control. And what’s worse is, you got off on that. You enjoyed every minute of it throughout all these years, every single moment. Didn’t you?”

“I did.” Eric knew better than to argue with Jared.

“So dear brother. Here is what is going to happen. I am going to tie you up. Not too tight. You are going to try to get away and I am going to shoot you. My plan is that you pushed your way in here and I was able to contain you. As I call the police, you were able to free yourself and come at me and I was forced to shoot you. Then the murders will be solved with your dead body. The Feds will absolutely know that I was your court jester who you used as a pawn. I will save what is left of the company and I will become, well, you. Does that sound like a plan Eric?”

Eric shook his head. “Jared, there has to be another way. You can’t kill me. I’m your brother. I will disappear. I promise, I won’t come back. I will be blamed for everything and you can still save the company, and no one will look twice at you. They will be too busy looking for me. Jared, you don’t have to kill me.”

Jared laughed again and moved the rope onto the table. He leaned forward to speak to Eric face to face. “But I do have to kill you Eric. Because you are wanted for murder and kidnapping and I need you unable to talk. If I leave you alive, you can speak and that just doesn’t work for me. I need you to take the fall for the murders. All of them. And the only way for that to happen is to have you dead.”

Eric sat back. His face resembled a man who had just seen a ghost. He realized in that moment that he was not seeing the brother he had thought he had known but a man with demons even greater than his own. “Jared.” Eric put his hands through his hair which slicked back from the sweat. He ran his hands over his face and then wiped his hands on his pants to dry them. He was trying by small means to regain some control of the moment. “Jared, I have to ask this.” Eric whispered into the silence.

“Of course you do. Go ahead, ask.” Jared whispered back.

“Did you kill them? Rachael? Did you kill those girls?” Eric hoped to God Jared wouldn’t shoot him for asking.

The room was silent. Jared began observing Eric again, turning his head from side to side. He relished in Eric’s reaction. He enjoyed Eric’s fear and uncertainty. He dreamt of this moment for a very long time and it was more than he had hoped for. It excited him and filled every sense he had. He smelled the aroma mixed with sweat, alcohol and fear seeping from Eric. He gripped the gun harder. He watched Eric squirm, and he devoured the silence of this moment. It was beautiful. It was worth all he had done and gone through just to have this moment. “Do you really want to die knowing the truth Eric?”

Eric considered what Jared had said. “Yes. I want to know the truth.”

Jared sat back in his chair placing his hand with the gun on his leg. This was going to take some time. He took a moment to collect his thoughts and then he began. “Well, the answer to your question would be yes. Yes, Eric, I killed them all.”

Eric shook his head and looked down at his hands as he rubbed them harder on his pants. He needed his hands to be dry. It was the only think he had control over. “Why?” Eric whispered.

“Really, I wish I had a good answer. Let’s just say I have some residual anger issues from being abused my entire life. You think that your treatment of me didn’t have repercussions? You don’t think that all the shit you have put me through didn’t trickle down hill?”

Eric didn’t raise his head. “No. It never occurred to me.”

“And that, my friend, is why it was so easy to get away with it. I would be the last person anyone would expect. You would be the first. Too easy actually.”

“But why frame me?” Eric looked up at Jared.

Jared laughed again. “Why not you? You were my tormentor after Mrs. Stetson died and Mr. Stetson went to jail. You continued everything they had done. In reality Eric, had you not been such an asshole, those girls would all be alive. Mom on the other hand had to go. She deserved what she got.”

The hair on the back of Eric’s neck stood on end. The blood drained from his face. He struggled to breathe. Jared’s words hit him with the force of a baseball bat to the gut. He tried to get the words out. “What are you saying? Did you kill mom?”

Jared was really enjoying Eric’s rush of reality and the effect it was having on him. He soaked it in. He devoured Eric’s fear of his new reality. “I sure did.”

Eric was having a full-blown panic attack. “Why Jared? Why mom?” Eric pleaded.

Jared sat up. “Are you kidding me? You saw what she had turned into. She didn’t care about us. She didn’t give a shit about what happened to us. She was supposed to protect us!” Jared’s tone was becoming more intense. “She was supposed to love us unconditionally and she turned her back on us both. I had no choice. She had to die, and Mr. Stetson had to be blamed. I had no choice!” Jared was angry now. Eric was in shock. “I did it for us!”

“But you were ten!” Tears ran down Eric’s face as he realized that his young brother had felt he needed to take his own mother’s life to survive. “You were a child Jared!”

“That’s right. I took control at ten. I decided we needed a way out. I did it for both of us and what did you do. You turned on me too. It was easy framing that drunk bastard. Had it been that easy to kill you, I would have done it a long time ago.” Jared’s expression was intense and enraged. “I did it for us and you continued their abuse, you fucking bastard!” Jared raised the gun pointing it right at Eric. “You made my life hell and you were supposed to protect me. You needed to pay for what you have put me through. And you will. You made it so easy to frame you. Do you know what they are going to find at YOUR home Eric?”

Eric lowered his head again. He needed to become submissive again to deter Jared’s anger. “No, I don’t.” The tears continued to stream down his face.

“You’re going to love this.” Jared chuckled. “They’ve probably found everything by now. The duffle bag to start.” Eric looked up with an anger in his eyes. He knew Jared had lied. God Damn It! He thought to himself, but he didn’t verbalize it. “They will find jewelry, clothing and personal belongings from all of them. Every one of them. Little trinkets you kept in some sick and twisted need to remember what you had done. They will find a letter you wrote to taunt the police.” Jared continued. Eric’s face was surprised yet disheartened at the same time. Eric shook his head in disbelief. “And to top it off they will find Amanda’s car and best of all, again, you’re going to love this one, Rachael’s car with her body in the trunk. Rachael deserved what she got!” Jared sat back in delight. “Isn’t that fantastic Eric. I’m not as stupid as you thought. Right?”

Eric just sat staring at Jared. He couldn’t speak. His eyes were filled with tears.

“What’s the matter Eric? Did you love them? Huh, did you?”

Eric looked down at his hands as he brought them up to wipe his tears. He was crying because he did have feelings for each of them. He would never admit it, but he did. He was crying because he knew that he was going to die being known as a murderer and a fraud. He cried because he was going to die by the only brother he had known. Why had he not seen any of this? Why had he not known who his brother was? He knew the answer and he could only blame himself. He knew the reason was because he didn’t care enough to see it. His brother was right. He had continued his parent’s abuse. He had tormented him, and he had a good amount of responsibility in what his brother had become. For the first time in his life, Eric was having a moment of insight and clarity. Tears continued to roll down his face.

CHAPTER 31

Brady and Landry were driving fast. They didn’t know what they would find when they got to Jared’s, but he had texted 911 and was not picking up the phone. They knew they needed to get there quick.

#

Jared stood up and walked over to the kitchen counter to grab a washcloth and dropped it on Eric’s lap. “Clean yourself up asshole. Killers don’t cry.” Realizing he didn’t have his phone he walked back over to the bar and with the gun still pointed at Eric, he looked down at his phone to see that Brady had called multiple times. “Perfect!” He said completely elated that his plan was working, and the timing couldn’t be better. He put his phone in his pocket just in time to see out of the corner of his eye Eric coming at him with the rope in his hand.

In an instant Jared began to bring the gun up to Eric just as Eric grabbed his wrist and knocked the gun out of his hand. The two men fell to the ground. Eric landed on top of Jared and began punching him in the face, in the neck, in the chest, anywhere his fist could fly, he punched. He kept punching until Jared was a bloody mess and his defenses weakened. Eric still had a hold of the rope and without a second going by he began to wrap it around Jared’s neck as Jared tried with everything he had to fight back. Eric fought against his brother trying to get the rope completely wrapped around Jared’s neck. Eric pushed himself off Jared and quickly got behind him. Jared began to wrap his hands around the rope as Eric began to pull harder.

As the moonlight gleaned through the window, Jared’s fingers wrapped around the tightening noose. The air was being restricted. The more he clawed and scratched at the rope the tighter it became. Although his body was reacting to the lack of oxygen, his mind was still. Unlike the movies, his life was not flashing before his eyes. He was not full of regret or sadness for any loved ones he was leaving behind. The only reaction was his body’s response to stay alive. It was taking longer than he thought it would. He needed to stop fighting it. After all, he had done this to himself and there was no turning back now, even if he wanted to.

As the moon glistened slightly through the gap between the curtains reflecting in Eric’s eyes, Eric contemplated what had brought him to this. Was it his lack of conscience, no moral compass? Was it his deplorable lifestyle, selfishness, extreme narcissism? Was it the fact that he could do no wrong even though he did, often? As far back as he could remember he had been this way. Eric was highly intelligent, handsome, charismatic and basically fail proof. Life came easy to him. If he said, “Bet on black” you bet on black and you wouldn’t regret it. But even as heartless and cruel as he was known to be, just for an instant, Eric wondered if inviting death was a mistake. But only for an instant.

The noose was tight, and time was almost over. No conscious thought. No air. Just the glistening of the moonbeam in his eyes.

Instantly Jared’s eyes sprung open. He took in a deep gasping breath and tightened his grip around the rope and pulled. He pulled with all of his strength, anger, desperation and killer instincts he had left. The rope loosened just enough that he was able to twist his body around to face Eric’s legs. He took another deep inhale and pulled his head up and away from Eric. Eric wasn’t prepared for this type of strength. His unpreparedness brought Jared straight up and Jared’s fist made contact with Eric’s jaw. His blows continued. One right after another. Eric tried to protect his face as he let go of the rope and lifted his hands. He struggled to get to his knees and then to his feet. Jared was powerful. He was far more powerful than Eric had ever thought he could be. Eric began to throw punches back making occasional contact but mostly hitting air. Jared continued thrashing at Eric and then stopped. Both brother’s faces were bloodied. Eric tried desperately to see why Jared had stopped. With blurred vision he saw Jared scrambling across the floor. Eric attempted to wipe the blood from his eyes as he saw Jared moving towards the gun on the floor. Eric immediately pushed himself up and began to grab at Jared’s legs and torso to hold him back. He jumped on top of Jared and began pushing himself over Jared to reach the gun first. Both brothers were racing to possess the only solution to their current problem. As both brothers wrestled and fought one another a hand reached the gun.

The blood trickled down the gun making it almost impossible to hold steady. The floor was covered in blood and sweat. His fist tightened around the gun, as tight as it could without it slipping through his hands. He immediately turned and pointed the gun at his brother. Eric’s eyes were bulging again, and he fought for breath. Jared’s eyes too were large, and he fought for breath as well. There was now a winner and now a loser. Both brothers didn’t move. Both wiped the blood from their eyes and both brothers tried to fill their lungs with air. Both sat facing each other as the new reality came into play. Time moved slowly and so did the men.

Once they had the capacity to breath and each could see the other, Eric stood up while Jared remained on the ground.

“What are you going to do now?” Jared looked up at his brother still panting and coughing heavily as he wiped away the continued mixture of blood and sweat from his eyes.

Eric, still breathing heavily, aimed the gun at Jared as his hands shook. “I don’t know.” For the first time in his life he had compassion for Jared. He realized Jared had killed. He realized he had done extraordinarily bad things but now Eric realized what his own actions had created. He had great responsibility in what Jared had become and it made his heart ache. He was seeing his little brother for the first time in a very long time.

“Jared, we will get you help. I promise, I won’t just throw you away. I will make sure you get the best help possible.” Eric’s words were compassionate. Jared didn’t recognize this Eric.

Jared pulled one knee up to his chest for support as he hung his head. “You know as well as I do that I am going to prison and more than likely death row Eric. Nothing can help me now.” Jared wiped his face again and he looked up at Eric. “Would it have killed you to love me? To treat me right? Would it have killed you?”

Eric focused on his brother.  He was no longer seeing the grown man but that little boy who once did a very brave thing for both of them.  He watched the face of this little broken boy battered and bruised and his heart broke. “No. I should have done better Jared. I’m sorry. I let you down.”

Eric continued to see and hear the little boy as Jared spoke. “All I ever wanted was for you to be proud of me. I saw what dad was doing to you that night. I wanted to stop it. I saw that mom was going to let you take her beatings forever. I loved mom, but I loved you more Eric. I knew it wasn’t going to end unless I did something to end it.” Tears were rolling down Jared’s face, the child’s face. “I didn’t want to kill mom but when I walked into their room and saw that it was trashed, and I saw mom beaten up, do you know what she said to me Eric? Do you know what she said?”

Eric grabbed the gun by both hands while the gun shook in front of him. He didn’t want to shoot his little brother. “What did she say?”

“She said, it should have been you.” Jared laid his head down and cried. He was still ten in Eric’s eyes. After a moment Jared continued. “I knew right then that it wasn’t going to get better Eric. I knew he wasn’t going to stop and she wasn’t going to get better. I needed us to be safe.” Jared looked back up at Eric and wiped his face again. He pulled up his other leg and slowly began to stand. He was hurt badly. “So, I went into the kitchen and got a sharp knife. All I could think of was that it had to stop for both of us. You didn’t deserve to get beat anymore and I knew my beatings were going to get worse.” Jared was at a full stand but wobbly as he spoke. His eyes were no longer dark. His face was sad. To Eric he looked just like the child he had known back then. He watched as the little boy continued to speak. “She was laying on the bed crying, and dad was passed out on the chair. I just looked at her as she cried. I had the knife behind my back. I watched her lay in a fetal position and just cry. I thought about not doing it. But then-” Jared stumbled a bit and used the arm of the couch for support. “But then she started talking about how nice dad use to be. She was saying that things use to be so good between them. How he used to bring her flowers and dance with her in the living room. It’s as if she were reliving another lifetime. I just stood there. And then she looked at me and said it’s because of you boys! She said that she wished we had never been born. That everything changed when she had you. I could smell the alcohol from both of them and it made me sick to my stomach. Her words were like knives. I remember wanting to throw up. She said that we were no good and only brought her pain.” Jared looked at Eric intently. “So, I walked up to her and started caressing her hair. I sat the knife down behind her. She started crying again. I just wanted her to not feel so sad and then she yelled at me not to touch her. I stopped. I picked up the knife and I began stabbing her in the back as quickly as I could. One right after the other.  She turned to stop me. I think it was more of a reflex than trying to stop me. She was screaming but dad didn’t even move. Can you imagine that Eric? He was so drunk that he didn’t even hear his own wife’s screams. So, I just kept stabbing but this time in her chest. She put her arms up, but it didn’t help. Honestly Eric, she didn’t fight very hard. I just kept stabbing. I couldn’t stop. But then she quit screaming and fighting. I just sat there and looked at her. She looked like she was asleep. For the situation, I was surprised that she looked so peaceful. It was almost as if, as if, she was happy again. When it was happening, it seemed like she was fighting her own instincts to fight me. Part of me thought maybe she wanted to go. It was really odd.”

Eric stood listening to the horrors of his little brother. He didn’t know what to say or if he should say anything at all. He just held the shaking gun.

Jared nodded his head in recognition letting Eric know that it was OK to not answer. “Then I put the knife in dad’s hand. I wrapped his hand really tight around it. I had blood all over me, so I wiped the blood all over dad. I mean, he was a bloody mess. He didn’t even move Eric, not one flinch. Then I washed myself and changed my clothes and called the police. I threw my bloody clothes in the fire. It was surprisingly simple. No one ever suspected anyone but dad, even dad. He believed he had done it. I thought that would solve all of our problems. I was willing to live with it, so we could have a better life.”

Eric’s eyes had been filling with tears as Jared spoke. He had watched this little boy, in his mind, explain the need to kill and he didn’t blame him. He was slowly gaining an understanding of what his little brother had done all for the sake of a better future for both of them. His heart broke that this little boy he remembered had to kill his own mother for them to have a chance at life. He was realizing that Jared had been right. Eric had continued Jared’s hell. He had abused him all of these years and this boy had killed for him. He didn’t blame him for having done what he did to his parents. He didn’t blame him at all. He was sad for him. He was now shedding tears for the sickness that his brother had due to a life of abuse. His abuse. “Jared, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you. I’m so sorry I wasn’t the brother you needed. I admit that now. I couldn’t be sorrier. We can fix this Jared. I will help you fix this.” Eric begged. The gun was weighing heavy in his hands. He was sure he had multiple broken bones and he was beginning to feel the effects of the fight.

 “There is nothing to fix Eric. I have no future. I am dead. You might as well shoot me. Please, Eric shoot me. I have nothing left.” Jared pleaded with Eric.

“No Jared. We can fix this. You can plead insanity. We can get you to a hospital where you can get help. We have options.” Eric pleaded back.

Jared’s eyes began to squint. His brow furled in anger. His hands clenched. “You think I’m crazy? You want me in a hospital? That is your solution!” Jared yelled. The little boy was no longer there. “Did you not hear me? I did all of this for you, because of YOU! And you think the solution to this is to put me away in a psych ward forever? I’m not crazy Eric! You’re the crazy one! You did all of this. All of this is because of YOU!” Jared’s face was in full ire and he wasn’t calming down.

Eric stood straight up and held the gun higher. He saw Jared turn. He knew he wasn’t dealing with stable and the word hospital was definitely a trigger word here. “Jared, listen. We will get the best attorneys. I swear to God we can fix this. Maybe there is a way we can prove that I was set up without you having to be involved. We will figure this out.”

Jared did not relent. “All you had to do was love me and none of those girls would have had to die. Don’t you see that? This was all your fault! I needed to hurt you the way you hurt me! Why couldn’t you just treat me like a normal person? Why was it that fucking hard?” Jared demanded. “Just fucking SHOOT ME!” Just then a hard thud hit the front door and then another.

“Jared are you in there? It’s Detective Brady. Can you open the door? Jared?” Then another pound to the door. Jared had purposely left the door unlocked.

Instantly Jared and Eric looked at each other intently and with great shock. “Eric’s in here!” Jared yelled as he ran towards Eric. Eric pointed the gun upward as Jared ran closer. The two detectives opened the door with their guns drawn. “Put down the gun Eric!” Brady yelled.

As if in slow motion, Jared reached Eric. Two gunshots rang out. Another life extinguished.

CHAPTER 32

The hospital room was relatively dark with the only light coming from above the bed. The man’s face was so swollen he was hardly recognizable. His head wrapped in gauze due to the surgery needed for the excessive swelling in his brain. His leg was casted and attached to metal rods hung from a device held from the ceiling. One arm lay on his stomach in a cast while the other was injected with IV’s pumping in saline, pain medicines and antibiotics. The left side of his face held thirteen stiches and his stomach was distended from a lacerated liver surgery. To look at him no one would think that this guy was lucky, but he was. The attending physician and a nurse were looking over the patchwork that had taken place. He was lucky to be alive. The physician gave the nurse further instructions in whispered tones as the man slept. The nurse wrote in the chart as the doctor exited the room. The room was so quiet that the heart monitors and vital monitors resounded throughout the silence. The continual beep, beep, beep became a musical soother as it resonated the nurse’s ears.

Brady and Landry slowly opened the door and looked in. “Is it OK if we come in?” Landry whispered to the nurse.

“Yes. That should be fine. Were you able to find the cafeteria alright?” She asked.

“We were. Thank you.” Landry replied.

“It’s not the best food but better than it used to be.” She explained.

“It was fine.” Brady responded with an actual smile. His therapist was having him work on being more approachable.

“Are the guards hungry?” She motioned to the two police officers standing outside the room.

“Actually, they are going to have a shift change in about a half an hour, so they should be fine.” Brady said.

“OK. I can get them some coffee if they would like.”

“That would be great. Thank you.” Brady smiled again. This smiling thing wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be. He was finding smiling was definitely helping his attitude. “Oh, and we left our numbers at the nurse’s station with strict instructions to call us the minute he wakes up.”

“OK. I’ll make sure everyone knows.”

“And we have made it clear that he is to be told nothing by the hospital staff. We need to talk to him and we need to be the ones to tell him about his brother’s death.” Brady continued.

“I totally understand. I will make sure. He may not be awake for a few days.” The nurse put the chart back at the foot of the bed, exited the room and shut the door behind her. Detective Brady sat down in the chair next to the bed and looked out the large windows as the sun was just beginning to appear. Landry pulled out the chart and looked it over.

“Jesus. This guy has got some issues. He’s going to be hurting for a while.”

“Yeah?” Brady questioned.

“Two fractures to the skull. Brain swelling. A shit ton of broken bones. Lacerated liver. Broken ribs and a punctured lung.”

“Shit!” Brady winced.

“He would have come out better being hit by a truck. That must have been one hell of a fight.”

Brady couldn’t hold back the yawns. It had been a very long night. He was ready to go home. “I’d like to wait for the shift change so we can fill in the new guys and then I need a few days off.

Landry laughed quietly. “I agree. I think I’ll be doing the same. You glad it’s over?”

Brady yawned again. “Well, it’s not completely over. We have a lot still to do. But yeah, I’m glad this part is over. I called Mr. Drake and Houston to let them know we got him. They are both relieved. I think after a few days off it will be good to close this part out. Carol said to say hi.”

“You spoke to her this morning?”

“I did. I think she might regret agreeing to me checking in.” Brady laughed.

“I’m sure she won’t.” Landry smiled. “Did you get in touch with Agent Myers?”

“I did. He’ll be coming to question him.”

“Did he say when?”

“Next few days I think. They have a lot to finish up. Houston will be flying out to meet with us too I’m sure.”

“Yep. I fully expect that’ll happen. Man, I can’t believe we got him. I mean, nowhere in my mind did I ever think this case would get this big or this bad. It was bad enough with just Amanda but the others. It’s crazy.”

“It is.” Brady yawned again as he watched night transition as the sun came up slowly over the horizon. “I can’t imagine the sickness of a mind like this. I hope I never do.”

Just then one of the officers standing outside the door opened it slightly. “Detective Landry our replacements are here.” Landry nodded and exited the room to brief the new guards. Brady sat staring out the window. His eyes were slowly beginning to close. He fell into a moment of sleep until one of the monitors began to beep. The nurse came in and adjusted the settings on the machine and then left. Landry was still outside the door. Detective Brady got up and walked around the room to stay awake. He looked at the man in the bed and noticed his eyelids were moving slightly. He figured he was probably experiencing REM sleep. He watched as the monitor’s lights flashed and as the numbers for heart rate changed. He scanned the man’s injuries and new that his recovery wasn’t going to be easy.

Landry pocked his head into the room. “We’re all set. They’ve been updated. You ready to go?”

Brady looked at Landry and then back down at the man in the bed. The man whose life was going to change forever. “Yeah. I’ll be right there.”

“OK. I’ll meet you at the car.” Landry shut the door.

Brady stood next to the bed. He dug deep within himself and took a long breath. The flood of memories came back to him. Amanda’s body, her parents, pictures of Tiffany, finding Rachael in the car, finding Amanda’s beloved bracelet. The flood of images took over his mind and the emotions that came with it. The fights he had had with his wife through this whole process. Him taking up smoking again. Those damn cigarettes. Meeting with Eric. Meeting with Mr. Nelson. His anger at the company who covered up so much. The FBI. The news cameras. The flashlights flickering in the night. The phones in the duffle bag, Tiffany’s ID, the letter he was sent. His emotions raged, and tears came down his face. This case had been personal, more personal that he would let on. He was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. He stood next to the bed and let it all drain out. He grabbed tissues from the box on the stand next to the bed. He wiped his tears and breathed. He just breathed. He wiped his face dry and then stood looking at the man in the bed. This was the end of the nightmare. He smiled.

Brady walked around the bed and threw the tissues in the garbage. He splashed some water on his face and wiped it dry with a washcloth. He straightened his suit and walked out the door and into a bright new morning.

The monitors continued to beep as the sun brightened the room. The nurse returned to check the vitals and to change the gauze on his face. She pulled out a new package of gauze from the cupboard, ripped it open and pulled the scissors and tape from her pocket. She placed them all on a sterile tray. As the monitors continued their musical choruses she slowly removed the tape and gauze from the still bloodied skin. She threw away the old gauze and replaced it with the new bandages. She made sure to be very gentle.

“There.” She said as she finished. “All new.” She smiled. She looked down at the very broken man with pity and sorrow. “You’re going to be OK.” She placed her hand on the arm with the IV. “Everything is going to be OK.” She was a believer that people in comas can hear and that it helped to talk to them. “You’re going to get better and be as good as new.” She caressed his arm for a moment and walked over to the window. She pulled the curtains shut so that the room would be dark and quiet. She walked over to make sure the IV was still doing its job. She checked the bag and then the needle in his arm. It was all working as it should. She turned to walk away when her wrist was grabbed tight. The nurse was startled and jumped back. The man’s eyes were slowly trying to open as he held her wrist. The nurse tuned to see that he had regained consciousness sooner than she had thought. She wiggled her wrist out from his grip. She clicked on the call button for the nurse’s station and then held up her pin light to his eyes as he awoke to check to make sure his pupils were dilating. They were. This was a good sign. She placed her hand back on his arm and smiled. The man focused on her face. She got closer to him so that he could see her better. He could. Her smile was welcoming.

“Hello Mr. Stetson. I’m Judy. You’re in the hospital. Can you blink to let me know you can understand me?”

He blinked.

“OK. That’s very good. I need to go get the doctor. I will be right back. OK?”

He blinked again.

The nurse opened the door and turned to look at the patient. “You’re safe now, Jared.” The door shut behind her.

END