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Suitable for ages 13+

Synopsis:


Drip . . . Drop . . . Drip . . . Drop . . .

Gruesome findings stir outrage in Somerset, New Jersey. The killer’s new tactics include playing a vicious game of cat and mouse. Chief Williams is at wits end.

Jack is forced to make a critical decision, which involves a great deal of risk and could undoubtedly change his life forever.

Whereas Jackie’s world has become inextricably complex, and it will take an absolute miracle to get it back on track.     
                                               
. . . the truth awaits




Chapter 1
 

It’s perfect. Perhaps it’s too perfect. No congruency, no fences, just a vast splendor of pristine beauty, as far as the naked eye can see. It’s so alluring, it’ll draw you in like a magnet. One’s senses will continue to be dazzled while moving forward, pausing only briefly to admire each scene. It’s such a splendid paradise with various forms of plant life and cohabitants, yet so quiet and serene. The greenery is unparalleled both on the ground and far reaching into the sky. One feels total inner peace, a place that exists only in dreams, as one’s imagination reigns freely, like being absorbed in a magical fantasy. Although one can easily lose sight of himself here, one should never lose sight of the dangers. One mistake, no matter how insignificant, whether in timing, judgment, or indecisiveness could prove fatal. Fear is present here as a primitive emotion common to all species. Many eyes peer through the trees while remaining well concealed. Color is enticing, camouflaging everything nicely. Food is plentiful, and like everywhere else, survival is key. Few persons dare to conquer this part of the world, with only the strong of heart venturing this way.

Jack watched in dismay. He couldn’t begin to understand, or perhaps just didn’t want to understand. Disgustingly, he looked on. A boa constrictor was flexing its muscles, no pun intended; its prey was at God’s mercy. In the jungle survival is key, and the weak and the frail non-existent. The victim lay lame on the lush grass, slowly being devoured, and becoming part of the food chain. Its existence permanently erased, with not even a trace to be found, and with no one to grieve or give a second thought to this occurrence. After all, there are no rules in the jungle, except one, and only one, survival.

The TV was flicked off, and Jack took another sip of his coffee. Many things had shaped his life, but reality had taken on a whole new meaning. Some would call it destiny; others would call it bitter reality. No matter which position one took, the fact remained Jack wasn’t the least bit happy. His life had shattered to pieces, much like a glass crashing down on a hard surface. Ironically, he didn’t have a clue as how to get things back on track. Jackie had seemed like the key ingredient, but what a sad joke that turned out to be. Not only did she have the audacity to reject him, apparently she was involved in some pretty serious shit. Some wife, she’d make, thought Jack. This echoed in his mind relentlessly, causing Jack’s temples to throb.

“Tara, I think I’m going to take a quick shower,” Jack watched as she flew on top of the window sill.

“Quik, quik,” Tara repeated joyfully.

Jack had nearly reached the top of the staircase when the phone rang. He sighed and hesitated momentarily, before grudgingly heading back downstairs. He scanned the screen display; it was a private number. Jack stood indecisive, wondering whether or not to answer the call, but after the fifth ring his answering machine came on.

“Jack it’s me. Are you there?”

Jack froze. He simply couldn’t believe his ears.

“Jack, are you there? Jackie pleaded.

He picked up the receiver. “Jackie,” his voice was intentionally cold and distant.

“Jack, I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am about our trip. I know how much you were looking forward to it...”

Jack quickly cut her off, “I don’t know if we have anything to talk about,” he answered bluntly.

“I know you are upset, but I need to see you. I’m in big trouble…”

Jack’s voice flared, “Come again! Am I hearing right, or do you take me for some damn fool? First you reject my engagement ring, and then you’re escorted off the plane by two CIA agents, what’s next? Quite frankly, I’m not sure I know you at all, and just for the record, I don’t know if I want anything to do with you.”

His harsh words stung deeply. “Jack, please don’t do this. I’m not sure I can handle…”

“Have you stopped to think just for one bloody minute what I must be going through?” he shouted, pounding his fist hard on the kitchen table.

Her voice trembled and she was nearly in tears. “Of course, I’ve been thinking of you. It’s just that at the moment things don’t look too good. I’m in deep trouble. I’ve been accused of a very serious crime; they found cocaine in my luggage, which can put me behind bars for a long time. I’m not sure how long I’ll last in here.” Jackie was sobbing. Jack felt a touch of sympathy rush through him. “I’m scared Jack, I don’t know who else to turn to.” Jackie paused, and Jack could hear her panting. “Please, for the love of God, will you at least hear me out?”

Jack felt like he was between a rock and a hard place. Undoubtedly, he had loved her deeply and beneath all the hurt and confusion still did. His heart tore as memories swarmed back, although nagging doubts persisted festering like an open wound. His hand clutched the receiver. He certainly didn’t want to get drawn into something that could land him in hot water. Jack knew he had to be vigilant, both his future and career were on the line. Even so, he knew he would not be able to get any peace or shut her out completely from his life until he learnt the truth. He needed closure, so reluctantly Jack agreed, “Okay, I’ll hear you out.”

“I really appreciate you seeing me after everything I’ve put you through. How can I ever repay you?”

“Whoa.” Jack lashed back, pausing to regain his composure and control over the situation. “Please -- don’t take this to mean yes, and just for the record I’m not making any promises. But, I’ll at least hear you out. Can I see you this Saturday?”

Jackie breathed a sigh of relief. Without Jack, she had virtually no hope in hell at freedom. “Saturday is fine.” She relayed all the rules and regulations of having visitors and then heartily thanked Jack.

Jack slumped back in his chair. Emotionally overwhelmed and confused he felt a migraine setting in. Incapable of handling any more mental stress, Jack took refuge in an isolated state simply staring ahead. It was some time before he returned to a more stable frame of mind and began rethinking his future. One thing was for damn sure, he needed answers and fast. With or without Jackie, he was intent on moving on with his life. But first he was determined to unravel the truth, so the million dollar question was who could he turn to for answers? An idea then hit him, and Jack promptly reached for his Blackberry.

 

February 11, 2007

Nearly camouflaged in total darkness, shadows of his thin frame danced on the wall and partially over the blind. He stopped pacing and sat nervously perched next to the living room window. Charles was hiding out in the boondocks, in a cottage nestled miles away from civilization. This was a crash course on survival and he was living a rudimentary lifestyle. But despite this, and the fact that the closest home was at least a half mile away, Charles’s anxiety was in the stratosphere. His apprehension forced him to keep watch. He carefully parted the blinds before peering outside. Any minute, he envisioned the police storming in to arrest him, and then throwing him back into the hellhole. This thought had become firmly embedded in his mind, undoubtedly increasing his anxiety so much so that it inhibited his ability to come up with an escape plan. It had become his worst nightmare. After endless hours of keeping surveillance, Charles bravely forced himself to bottle-up his fears. He cautioned himself that if he continued to simply sit and wait, prison would in all likelihood become his permanent home. Instinctively, he also felt time was running out; he urgently needed to prove his innocence. But who the hell could he trust, or better yet who the hell would trust a fugitive? The media had already painted a not so pretty picture, with the captioning ‘A RUTHLESS SERIAL KILLER’. The realization that he couldn’t hideout in his cousin’s cottage forever was quickly setting in. If he surrendered, his chances were just as grim; he wouldn’t have a chance to prove anything. It would be like sealing his own coffin shut, virtually confirming him to be a cold heartless killer. Now was hardly the time for regrets, or to panic. His only means of exonerating himself was to come up with a plan. Charles paced nervously about. Maybe it was just enough to prove that he couldn’t have committed the murders, and that in itself would exonerate him.

He lit the pillar candle. Other than the flames from the woodstove, Charles only trusted this small spark of light. On the back of the cereal’s cardboard box, he furtively jotted down three dates. And then scribbled more notes, including a list of necessary supplies. “Shit,” he swore loudly realizing his near fatal blunder. The most crucial factor in remaining undetected was a good disguise. Charles correctly assumed that his photo was receiving rave reviews. While making his way to the washroom, he briefly contemplated dying his hair lighter, but quickly changed his mind opting for a more drastic look. Charles stood in front of the mirror and took a good long look. He opened the cabinet and right there sitting on the top shelf was a razor and a can of shaving cream sitting next to it. “Hmmm…” a bright smile lit Charles’s face. With long strokes, he watched each clump fall indiscriminately to the floor. After several more strokes, his head was virtually clean shaven. He reached for the baseball cap and adjusted the brim until it rested slightly above his eyes. Amazing, he thought. It took him awhile to adjust to his new look. He barely recognized himself. But, he couldn’t leave anything to chance, and once again grabbed the razor. His beard took a complete hit. Then he carefully sculpted the hairs around his upper lip, leaving his moustache intact. He slid on a pair of shades, and stared intently ahead. I think I’m safe to hit town now. The mirror reflected a sly smile.

The next challenge, ironically, would be breaking into his own home. He let out a small chuckle, realizing the madness his life had become. Charles had a hunch that it would be kept under tight surveillance, just in case he returned to retrieve something, or possibly use it as a refuge. He moved around the cottage scouring for supplies. Minutes later, he dumped a whole slew of items including a flashlight, a serrated knife, a screwdriver, a long rope, and a syringe needle he craftily snatched from the hospital onto the kitchen table. The rest of the items on the list would be picked up at a hardware store. It was at least an hour drive back to his house, but Charles figured that it would take half that time if he cut through the woods on snowmobile. The small alarm clock on the table now read six-forty-five. Charles did some fast calculations. He figured he could drop by a local hardware store, break into his home, and still be back at the cottage before midnight, assuming everything went as planned. He shoved the items into a large duffel bag. Charles then blew out the candle and used his flashlight to guide him out the front door.

The snowmobile weaved between a long stretch of evergreen trees. He accelerated up a steep incline and cornered around several bends before parking between two large trees. The snowmobile was well camouflaged and remained invisible from the main road. He casually set off on foot towards the hardware store. Despite his new look, Charles still felt jumpy and could feel his hands trembling. It took enormous courage for him to step inside the shop. Despite his outward calm appearance, Charles’s anxiety heightened to alarming proportions. His heart accelerated, and trickles of perspiration slid down his spine. Any minute now, he feared someone shouting ‘there he is’. Quietly, he continued to browse through the aisles. He noticed only a couple of customers stationed at the check-out counter. Charles tried acting casual as he slowly approached the check-out counter. Minutes later he left with items in hand, breathing a huge sigh of relief. The gentlemen which had checked out his goods had been pleasant enough and showed no signs of having recognized him. So far so good, thought Charles. But the real challenge lay ahead.

It seemed like an eternity that he had taken a leisurely stroll enjoying the park’s fresh air and pleasant view. It overlooked his backyard adding nicely to the greenery. But standing in the open made him feel apprehensive, being acutely aware of the profound consequences if discovered. Charles quickly took cover behind a cluster of trees. All the lights were out inside his house. He spotted no one lurking either inside or outside. Paranoid and clearly on edge, he kept a watchful eye, constantly peering in every direction. But not a single soul could be spotted outside. Although, there was always the strong probability that someone was keeping watch from the front of the house. It suddenly occurred to him that if there was a patrol officer on duty, he may now and again check the backyard.

Charles thought it best to keep surveillance for a while. If no one came to patrol the backyard, then there was a strong possibility that no one was keeping tabs on his house. He waited, now and again, peering in all directions. It was bone-chilling cold and he grew anxious, but Charles resisted the inclination of storming inside, weary of being spotted. Instead, he continued to gather support from the tree he rested against. While remaining in a hunched over position, both of his arms were wrapped around himself to shield himself from the dropping temperatures. Everything remained quiet for the longest time, and he figured it was time to make his move or run the risk of hypothermia. Tonight, the moonlight provided ample lighting. The packed snow glistened under the moon’s ambiance like thousands of shattered diamonds. He dared one final look around, before creeping closer towards his house. With each step forward, Charles distinctively heard the crunching sounds of fresh crisp snow underneath his black rubber soles. Everything looked magnificent covered in white, a magical wonderland surrounded him. As he crept in his backyard, it saddened him greatly to think it might be for the last time. His house keys had been confiscated from him, but there was a basement window which remained unlocked after having been damaged years ago. Luckily, he hadn’t bothered to repair it. The snow and ice packed around the window’s perimeter acted like a makeshift lock system. Charles continued to scrape the ice away with a flat screwdriver. As he lifted the screwdriver, he could hear the sound of faint footsteps approaching closer and closer. The only thing separating him from the approaching intruder was a wooden gate. Charles shifted into overdrive, giving the window a harder push. It finally gave way and Charles wasted no time shoving himself inside. He quietly set the duffel bag onto the floor. It took him only a split second to realize his first critical blunder. “God no.” He had left the screwdriver outside next to the window. “Shit,” Charles whispered under his breath. From his current crouched position, he could only see the bottom part of someone’s pant leg approaching from around the corner. The thump underneath his sweater grew louder and faster. Charles watched in a state of panic. He contemplated whether he should make another daring escape. Glued to his current position, he continued to watch the angle of the person’s shoe, praying the individual didn’t spot the carelessly discarded item. Luckily, the darkness and its accompanying shadows along with the fresh snow covered his footprints, and just maybe the forgotten screwdriver. Relief quickly set in as the officer turned the corner heading back to the front of the house. Charles needed to know how many were staking out his home. Quietly on tiptoe, one daring step at a time, he made his way up the winding staircase. Safely, he reached the main level. Continuing to move in a stealth- like manner, he walked into the living room which offered him the best view. Ever so slightly, Charles pulled the blinds apart and spotted a dark unmarked vehicle parked at the end of his driveway. It was slowly being covered by a light dusting of snow. The engine was kept running. He couldn’t be certain if it was the same individual who had just surprised him. Charles knew he had to act quickly. He ran to the top of the staircase and quickly dashed into his bedroom. His desk was completely covered with stacks of files. But despite the apparent disorder and confusion on top of his desk, he noticed someone had leafed through his paperwork, rearranging their order. But what he really needed was hidden underneath his desk. While bending over, he fervently fought with the hardwood plank. He gave it a strong tug before it finally broke free.

The officer caught the flicker of light. He continued to watch, but noticed nothing else. “I’ve just seen a light flicker inside one of Charles’s bedrooms. It probably was just the reflection from one of the neighbor’s homes, but I’m going to check things out. Send backup just in case.”

“Right away,” the dispatcher responded dutifully.

He yanked out the rectangular case and was about to blow the dust off when Charles suddenly stopped. “Damn, what now!” Charles cursed softly. He listened attentively. The distinct creaking sounds of the front door opening startled him. He knew someone had just entered his home. After many years of living in that house, Charles instantly recognized that sound. With swift movements, he shoved the case into the duffel bag. Briefly, he pondered if this was simply a routine check-up or somehow he had screwed up. Regardless, he had to get the hell out of sight.

With long brisk strides, he moved towards the bookshelf. Charles placed his left hand underneath the third shelf and tugged on the lever. The bookshelf slid away from the wall giving Charles enough space to sneak behind. He then pulled on another lever, concealing the trap door shut. He tiptoed along a narrow corridor, leading into another bedroom. Faint footsteps could be heard walking across the hardwood floor. As he continued to listen, he heard his closet door being opened. Charles slipped off his shoes in a dire attempt to soften his steps down the stairs. The adjoining bedroom was designed in such a way allowing his escape to remain undetected. He peered outside. The unmarked vehicle remained empty of any passengers and fortunately none of his neighbors lurked around. Charles’s dark clothing blended well with the nightfall. Quickly, he reached the backyard, pausing only briefly to pick up the screwdriver. He ran fervently towards the hidden snowmobile and barely having mounted, took off at alarming speeds, tearing dangerously between trees.

 

A multitude of thoughts diverted Jack’s attention as he drove to Dr. Summers’s house. He wondered how much Dr. Summers knew and just how much he would be willing to divulge. But surely under the present circumstances Tyler would be most co-operative. He pulled into the driveway. He sat momentarily to collect his thoughts and enough nerve to talk to Dr. Summers.

Jack rang the doorbell already feeling quite anxious about his visit. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants.

“Hello Jack, good to see you. Please come in.”

“Thanks, but sorry it has to be under these unfortunate circumstances.” Jack noted Dr. Summers’s weary look.

“Let me hang your jacket and then we’ll sit in the library, it will give us more privacy.”

Jack wasted no time informing Dr. Summers that Jackie had called, relaying the horrific news that she had been arrested. “I’m going to visit her on Saturday. But at the moment I have a lot of questions and mixed emotions.”

“Understandably so.”

“I’m hoping you can shed some light. You’ve known Jackie for a number of years, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to fill in some of the blanks.”

“Well this whole thing was quite the bombshell. Once Jackie didn’t show up for work, and didn’t even bother to call, I became quite concerned. On the second day, I called her home and left a message. Once she didn’t return my calls, I began to worry, so I filed a missing person’s report.” Dr. Summers looked down in disappointment. “That’s when I got the shock of my life. An officer informed me she had been arrested.”

“She’s been arrested for smuggling cocaine out of the country. I agreed to go see her on Saturday.”

“Jack -- I’m not sure what to make of all this. I have just as many concerns. Actually due to the nature of her work, I proceeded with a little of my own investigative work. I personally checked her references and everything turned out squeaky clean. Nor does she have any prior convictions. I’m so sorry Jack; I know she means a lot to you. Perhaps meeting with her is not a half bad idea. Hear her side of the story and then at least you’ll have a better handle on the situation. Jackie has come to mean a lot to me; I’ve come to regard her as my own daughter. Perhaps we can work on this together.”

“I feel better already. I’ll be in touch after my visit with her. I really hate to lay this on you, especially after everything you’ve been through. How are you and the kids holding up?”

“They miss their mother an awful lot, but are beginning to adjust. Aunt Becky and I keep them busy. As for me -- work keeps me quite busy.”

Jack took another sip from his coffee. “What’s your schedule like on Sunday?”

“I need to visit some patients in the morning, but my afternoon is free.”

“If you like we can meet later on in the afternoon.” 

“Sure, it would be great if you could stay for dinner afterwards.”

“Thank you, I’m looking forward to it. Is four o’clock okay?”

“Perfect.”

As Jack was heading out, he took a moment to admire Dianne’s graduation picture mounted on the wall.

 

“Chester, you don’t seem like your usual self,” he sighed, petting her gently on the head. “The year is still young and unfortunately there’s still some unattended business to address.” The cat simply lay on the floor absorbing the heat from the wood stove, oblivious to the nature of his remark. A series of portraits lined the wall opposite the stove. He looked at them for a while deeply absorbed in thought. “It seems just like yesterday, we had shared such happy times together. Now those days are long gone, and quite frankly I’m deeply disappointed with all of you,” he spoke out loud followed by a sinister laugh. A small wheel stood next to a wooden table with a series of photos pegged to it. The man approached the wheel giving it a healthy spin. He then picked up a dart from the table, and walked away from it. The man stopped and turned abruptly, now staring at the spinning wheel. “Now, let’s see who’ll be the next lucky contestant to take the journey home,” he laughed hoarsely. His eyes lit up and a deranged expression took hold. After a brief moment, a more serious expression surfaced as he took aim. The dart found its mark as the wheel kept spinning in a counter-clockwise direction. He waited patiently. Its spinning motion was dizzying, but he continued watching apparently anxious for his next flame. As it spun, he enjoyed the sounds of the violin accompanying each of the wheel’s turns. Each spin brought a gradual decrease in velocity, until it came to a standstill. Moving at a slow gait, he approached the wheel. Standing directly in front, he removed the dart along with a photo. “My, my, aren’t you such a pretty little thing? Such sweet little dimples and those little curls make you look so adorable. You know what this means handsome, you’ve just earned yourself a free ride. Now let me set you both over here for now, where you’ll be safe and sound while I make all the necessary preparations. For you both, my dears, I promise something so very special. Yes, special indeed. Now there’s another little matter I need to tend to first.” The man took out a pen and paper from the desk drawer and began to put his ideas on paper.


Dear Chief;

The fox is now on the loose,
He claims his prize without offering a truce.
Speed and agility are of great assistance,
While sportsmanship offers some resistance.
Razor sharp edges are propelled by the string,
One small tug will end in a ding.
Gracious and innocent are the babes of the earth,
Joyous are the parents after their birth.
Happily and merrily they play outdoors,
Laughter seems endless until they retire indoors.
They lie gently curled sound asleep in their room,
Unaware are they of their immediate doom.
This is both a riddle and a rhyme,
Hopefully for you, you’ll solve this in the nick of time.

Yours truly,
Eternal Flame
 





Chapter 2
 

It had been a long trying week, and the Chief was just grateful that it was Friday morning. It had been weeks since Charles had escaped. Ironically, despite a massive man hunt, it seemed almost inconceivable that Charles was nowhere to be found. Had he fled, or had he too suffered an ill fate? Sooner or later the truth would come to light. His train of thought was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Come in,” the Chief invited.

“Good morning, here’s your mail Chief.” The officer closed the door behind him.

Seated, the Chief took a long sip from his coffee appreciating its warmth. The weather forecast projected strong winds for the remainder of the day. Today’s high was fifteen below. Before beginning his workday, he took a few moments to relax and enjoy his coffee. A warm glow took hold imagining how his wife would react to her Valentine’s gift. It included flowers and a card of course, but this year it would be topped off by a beautiful diamond necklace. Yes indeed, it would be quite the night out for both of them. Let’s see what’s new today, thought the Chief in a positive frame of mind as he opened his letters. It was the usual correspondence, except for one. Fear gripped the Chief’s heart, sending its rhythmic beat soaring and his blood rushing through his veins like a volcanic eruption. Distinct, already engrained firmly in his mind, it left no doubts. The Chief’s body began to shudder fearful of what lay ahead, but reluctantly opened the envelope and began reading. There was a short pause after reading its entirety. “Bloody bastard,” cursed the Chief enraged. It was quite obvious that the poem was a warning letter of someone’s imminent demise. The signature at the bottom left no doubts. He reread the last line, and felt trickles of sweat dousing his shirt. Was he already too late? What in God’s name are you planning? He didn’t know how much time he had, but prayed there was still enough time to try and save the intended victims. The poem must hold clues; otherwise why give it to him, he reasoned. Or had the killer gone completely off the deep end? Though, his gut instinct was telling him that the killer was giving him a chance to decipher it. Now it was just a matter of interpreting those clues. The Chief knew time was of the essence and flew into action. He called Dr. Ernstein’s office, and listened to his own erratic breathing as he became quite impatient.

“Chief Williams, sorry to have kept you waiting, I was just finishing a session with one of my patients.”

“No need to apologize. I don’t want to appear impatient, but the killer has sent me, well let’s just call it another poem. If I’m interpreting it correctly, it seems like he’s giving us a chance to decipher the clues before he strikes again. I don’t know how much time we have, so we need to act promptly. I would appreciate it if you could read it as soon you receive it. I’ll be calling an emergency meeting with the Investigative Team and other members of the police force. I know its short notice, but will you be able to join us in an hour?” the Chief sounded anxious.

“E-mail it to me and I’ll be there in an hour.”

While the Chief waited for his team to assemble, he jotted down notes trying to get a head start and make the most of every second.

“We’re waiting in the boardroom,” Steve announced. The Chief briefed Steve, carrying with him both photocopies of the poem along with his own notes, as they walked to the boardroom. The Chief shut the door behind him. “As you are aware, the killer has once again sent me another poem, which I’ll pass along in just a minute. It appears he’s giving us a chance to solve a riddle before he strikes again. I have no doubts that he’ll strike again, but don’t know how much time we have. Obviously he’s still in town. So this gives us two opportunities, one is to find out where he’s staking out; the other is to decipher the clues in the poem. This will either aid us in preventing the next killing, or maybe even allow us to catch him in the act. We don’t know how soon he’ll act on his promise, so our initial efforts should be to try and figure out who may be his next victim.” Everyone took a photocopy of the poem and silently studied it amongst themselves. The Chief’s words cut through the ethereal silence, “Dr. Ernstein you’ve had a chance to read the poem, can you offer us any insight?”

“I’ve broken the poem down into sections. Please keep in mind there’s some speculation on my part. I feel it is critical to understand the killer’s wording and jargon, so I took the liberty of rereading his previous poems. Even though he uses vivid metaphors, its meaning can be interrupted literally. For instance in one of his previous poems he states, ‘Voices in my head that want her dead,’ well the word ‘her’ in this instance referred to Dianne Summers. Following the same logic notice how he writes, ‘Joyous are the parents after their birth.’ In this instance he uses the word ‘their’. I interpret this to mean the parents have more than one child. The next four lines tell me he plans to execute his mission at night when the children are asleep. Also, he writes that ‘unaware are they of their immediate doom,’ if I may, my interpretation would be one of two possibilities. One interpretation is that he plans to strike the parents, and since the children will be sleeping they will not know anything until it is too late. Another possibility is that the children themselves are at risk, thus ‘their immediate doom’ refers to them specifically. The doctor paused briefly to collect his thoughts. “‘The fox is on the loose’ could mean it’s Charles, since he’s escaped. If we read the next line in the poem, it may be interrupted to mean that unfortunately the course he’s taken will bring forth more deaths. I’m not certain about the other lines, although it may have to do with the killings themselves. He implies ‘babes’ which could mean very young children, or it may simply mean that they are still young and innocent. He makes reference to ‘speed and agility,’ telling me that the killings will be imminent and the killer feels that it will be quite an easy accomplishment. At this point, I can’t draw any more conclusions.”

“Hmm, I think you’ve made some brilliant observations,” the Chief nodded appreciating his keen insight. Although now his worst fears were confirmed, children might be his next target.

Sean cut in, “One thing that just hit me, assuming of course Charles is the killer, is that he may have changed his appearance. It’s not inconceivable that he’s tried to make himself less conspicuous. Otherwise, how on God’s green earth would he be able to move about without any resources? Unless, someone is backing him, or he has an accomplice, I don’t see how the hell he can move about without ever being spotted,” his voice flared.

“That’s a good observation. Jane is excellent at drawing composite sketches and would be able to provide us with many different possible disguises that Charles may be assuming,” Terry pointed out.

Steve added his own observations. “Whoever the killer is, whether it is or isn’t Charles, must have an ultimate goal. I’m a little skeptical that Charles is the killer given the latest. Why would he want to attract more attention to himself, given the fact that every person within one hundred miles has seen his photo? Unless he’s totally insane and doesn’t care about anything anymore. Personally, if I was Charles, I’d have left town long ago. Why wait all this time to send a poem, unless it’s someone else who has been planning the next murder and letting Charles be the fall guy?” The Chief rubbed his temples acutely, feeling one of his migraines taking hold.

He realized Steve had a valid point. But the Chief didn’t fully embrace his last point, and proceeded with his previous line of thinking. “Let’s not get side-tracked here,” cautioned the Chief. “First, we shall inform the town of this new threat along with composite sketches of Charles. Secondly, I want to visit Charles’s relatives and friends who are living in town. They may be able to provide some insight to his whereabouts.”

“This is so bizarre. We virtually have half the state and different police departments hunting for him, but yet we can’t make any headway. No one has seen him, we’ve staked out various friends and relatives’ homes, but it seems as though he’s simply vanished. Charles owns only one home, except for his restaurants, so where is he? He has no passport, no money, no identification, and in all likelihood no one he trusts. How does he manage to remain invisible? He was able to mail the Chief a letter, which means access to writing material, stamps, and obviously is able to actually mail the letter himself. Something doesn’t add up here. In all my years, I’ve never come across anything like this. Everything leads to dead ends.” Agent Gray stated completely overwhelmed.

Terry cut in. “Are the envelope, paper, ink, and stencil exactly the same?”

“That’s a good point; we’ll have to double-check. Did they find any of the above at Charles’s home?” asked the Chief.

Agent Michael came forward, “The same type of paper, and envelopes were found at his home, but keep in mind they’re pretty standard and probably half the country uses them. Though, we did not find the same ink or stencil, which are less common. We caught him by surprise, so it’s not likely that he would have hidden or stored them elsewhere. Both his home and restaurants were thoroughly checked. Prior to his arrest, while we had him under surveillance, he never used any other storage facility where he could’ve hidden them.”

“Has anyone bothered to check if these are available locally?” asked one of the officers.

“Actually the ink is a special dye available at only one location. As for the stencil we were unable to find an exact match,” Agent Michael informed.

“Is the ink readily available, or does it have to be specially ordered?” Terry asked.

“It’s available only to corporate clients and not at the retail level. There are quite a few employees at the plant, so it would be difficult to pinpoint anyone as an accomplice to Charles, not to mention the fact that their client base is quite substantial. This is all based on the assumption that Charles is the killer and someone from this plant is in on it,” Agent Michael explained.

“The letter was stamped yesterday by the local post office, meaning that the killer is still in town,” added the Chief. “And by the way, just in case anyone is wondering all the envelopes have been sealed shut using glue.”

“Is it possible that Charles is telling us the truth? He lives just off the park and would be the obvious suspect. Besides, he doesn’t seem mentally unstable or give me the impression of being cold and calculating,” Sean added.

“Now this is just food for thought, what if we try to make a plea bargain with Charles. If he’s guilty, he won’t have any part of it, but on the other hand if he’s innocent, he’ll seriously consider it,” suggested Terry.

“That’s not a bad idea. We’ll promise him a fair trial, and if another murder is committed while he’s in custody, well that will irrefutably prove that he cannot be the killer,” responded Steve.

“Not that I disagree, but this might be too damn risky. I think we should pool all our efforts in capturing this maniac at all costs. Let’s put a reward for the sum of one hundred thousand to capture Charles, and make his life a living hell for a change,” the Chief fumed.

“Good God!” Dr. Ernstein exclaimed, nearly flying off his seat. His fierce reaction to the Chief’s suggestion had everyone on edge. “This could set him off like the Fourth of July. If Charles is indeed the killer, it’ll be like adding fuel to the fire. It might be better to make a plea bargain with the killer, and let him know that if he turns himself in there will be an opportunity for him to get some help.”

“Before we conferred I had a chance to strategize. I’ve devised a system to help keep our town safer, while keeping a lookout for Charles. We need to divide the town into four quadrants. I’ll assign twenty officers, five per quadrant. The quadrants will be divided between The Investigative Team and Agents Gray and Michael. Each officer will be able to reach any location within minutes.”

Abruptly, the Chief turned his attention to Terry, “Terry I would like you to contact Jane immediately, and have her draw up some composite sketches of Charles, including possible disguises he might assume. We need these sketches ASAP. Once they’re ready have her e-mail them to me. Along with these sketches we’ll provide a detailed description of Charles. I will have a list of the officers in your quadrant once you return to my office.” Terry excused herself and closed the door quietly behind her. “The rest of the Investigative Team and Agents can begin assembling within your quadrants as soon as the sketches are ready. In the meantime, prepare the location each officer will assume within each quadrant,” the Chief distributed the appropriate map to each leader. “If Charles is spotted by any citizen, you will receive specific directions from our command post. On the other hand, if one of you spots him I want him apprehended immediately. Use whatever force needed, and if he does the unthinkable and decides to make a fast break, don’t be afraid of using any means to stop him. If he does escape -- contact us with his position and we’ll dispatch other officers to the area. If you find yourself in a situation in which you think you won’t be able to successfully apprehend him, don’t alert him, but call us and we’ll send back up fast. By the way, the FBI has promised us the use of two helicopters equipped with heat-seeking capabilities.” The Chief continued to brief the officers, making sure everyone understood their roles. He knew the caliber of his officers and was confident they could handle whatever situation they encountered.

Mayor Wilson is going to lose it once he hears the latest. The Chief reluctantly made the call. “Mayor Wilson, please.”

“May I please let Mayor Wilson know who’s calling?”

“Chief Williams.”

“Mayor Wilson will be right with you,” the receptionist informed in a pleasant tone.

“Larry how are you?”

“I’m okay, but we have a situation on our hands. I’ve spent the last two hours in an emergency meeting with the Investigative Team and members of the police force to discuss the latest message the killer has sent us.”

“Go ahead, I’m listening.” 

“The killer is giving us a chance to figure out who the next victims will be. I’ve sent a few officers to forewarn the victims’ families as an added precaution. We have a few leads we’re following up on, but we need to warn citizens that he’ll soon strike again. Also, I would strongly recommend we offer a cash reward of one hundred thousand for anyone who leads us to Charles Staples.”

“How much time is the killer giving us?” the mayor asked anxiously.

“We don’t know for sure, except he used the word immediate in his poem.”

“Sweet Jesus. How can we be certain he hasn’t already struck?”

“We don’t know for certain, except that we’ve not received any missing person’s report in the past week.

“Okay, we’ll hold a press conference in about an hour. Obviously we can’t waste any time. I think the cash reward is a good idea; we need as many people on the lookout for this madman as possible. I’ll see you shortly,” the mayor stated half out of his seat before hanging up.

 

Charles sat very quietly, leaning slightly forward at the kitchen table. He took a good look at the few possessions that he would take with him. At least now he had some cold hard cash, and with this he had a good chance of buying back his freedom.  It was the first time in months that he actually believed he had a chance of surviving in the cold heartless world. It had been a huge risk sneaking back into his home, and it had nearly turned out disastrous. One minute later, and the officer would have caught him pulling the chest full of money out from underneath the planks. Luckily, he was also able to retrieve a map of New Jersey. Charles debated whether to flee to Mexico or perhaps even further south. But how could he cross the border without a passport? Remaining at the cottage much longer would become extremely risky. He gave serious consideration to traveling by train, but feared being spotted from such a lengthy journey, and besides it would only take him so far. He realized whatever path he chose would involve considerable risks, but to simply sit and wait it out would be suicidal. Perhaps he could bribe someone at customs, but who could he trust. He leaned back in his chair racking his brains, when a flicker of light sparkled in his eye. Perhaps there was a way after all. This glimmer of hope energized him. Charles flew off the kitchen chair, running towards the bedroom. He fervently rolled a couple of pair of pants, which were one size too big, and his favorite plaid jacket and shoved them into a duffel bag. With slim fingers, he pushed a thick pad of waded cloth deeper into his breast pocket. He double-checked each of the rooms fearful of having forgotten something, and vainly searched for a belt. Unsuccessful, Charles put on his jacket and opened the front door. A cold feeling encapsulated his heart, colder than any winter day, as he looked around one last time. He then closed the door behind him with the realization that he would never set foot inside again. His eyes darted the surrounding area as he ventured into the unknown.
 


 


Chapter 3
 

We’re here to speak with Robert Peck,” the officers held up their badges wasting no time with formalities.

Robert’s eyes widened. “That’s me, how may I help you?” he stated, a bit startled that the police were standing at his front door.

“It’s in regards to your cousin, Charles Staples. We’re here just to ask you a few questions. We’re not here to accuse you of anything, but as you’re aware we’re looking for him. Have you heard from Charles?” the officer asked.

“I have not spoken with Charles, nor has he tried contacting me.”

“Do you have any idea where Charles might be hiding out?”

“No I don’t.”

“Do you own any other buildings, or other dwellings?” 

“No, but I do own a cottage.”

The officer’s eyes lit up, “Has Charles ever been there?”

“He’s been there several times.”

“Are you the only one who has the keys to the cottage?”

“That’s correct.”

“Will you mind taking us to the cottage?”

Robert thought for a moment. “It’s pretty far and the side roads are quite treacherous during this time of the year. There could be at least a foot of snow on the ground. But if you are heading there, I can give you directions and the keys, so you can check it out for yourselves.”

“Okay. We need to head up there right away. We’ve received a message that the killer will strike again. Do you have any children?”

“Two,” Robert answered a little puzzled.

“We can’t stress enough that Charles is extremely dangerous. Should he present himself at your home, do not invite him in or let him anywhere near the children. We realize you’re family, but don’t let Charles fool you for one second, he’s extremely cunning and ruthless. Don’t try to stop him because he may be armed, but contact us immediately.”

Robert didn’t want to argue with the officers, but played along reserving judgment. Although a deep resentment was climaxing rapidly, faster than a space shuttle’s take-off from the platform, at the officer’s accusations and insinuations. Robert had known Charles all his life and this ‘psychopathic serial killer’ description didn’t match Charles’s personality or temperament. Even as a child, Charles was easygoing, and got along quite well with everyone. Robert didn’t believe that a person just woke up one day turning into a complete madman. Albeit, he was no expert, but he would sure as hell know if there was something detrimentally wrong with Charles’s psychological state. But under the circumstances he chose to reserve his judgment, since he didn’t want the police to think he knew where Charles was staying or helping him in any way. But deep down inside, he wanted to tell the officer to actually develop some detective skills, and instead of dictating to the families what they assumed him to be like, they should opt to ask them what Charles was really like. Gritting his teeth, he managed, “Okay, give me a minute and I’ll sketch a map out for you and jot down the directions.”

As Robert stepped into his office to grab the key and a pad of paper, the police quickly scanned the room.

Moments later, Robert returned with a sheet of paper and an extra key and handed them to one of the officers.

We appreciate your co-operation. By the way are there any vehicles at the cottage?”

“There’s a snowmobile in the shed, right next to the cottage. On the key chain I’ve just given you, the smaller key will unlock the shed door.”

“We’ll return them to you as soon as possible,” the officer informed.

“That’s fine. There’s no immediate rush, since I won’t be heading out there until early spring.”

“Thanks again, we’ll keep in touch,” the officer advised, making his way hastily back to his cruiser.

The officer dispatched police headquarters and Chief Williams quickly took the call.

“Chief, I just spoke with Robert Peck, Charles’s cousin, and apparently he has a cottage. We should definitely check it out, since Charles has previously been there. He could very well be hiding out there right now. It is secluded and remote from other homes, giving Charles the perfect hideout. Apparently, there’s also a snowmobile parked in the shed giving Charles a means of transportation. Charles’s cousin lent us the keys and drew us a map.”

The Chief rose immediately from his seat. “Our search may finally be over. I’m dispatching other cruisers to the area. We don’t want to alert him, so don’t park anywhere near the cottage. We need to position officers around the cottage, in case he attempts to slip out back. If he heads out on the snowmobile we may never catch him, especially if the cottage is close to a wooded area. We need to catch him by surprise. Do you know if there’s a phone at the cottage?”

“I didn’t ask.”

“Give me directions and I’ll dispatch other officers. If he’s not there, I want you to stake out the lodge until further instructions. Don’t let your guard down. This may be our only chance of catching him. If he gets away we can very well expect more body bags.”

“Don’t worry sir; if he’s there he won’t be going anywhere.”

 

Crouched in deep snow, oblivious to the dropping temperatures, ten plain dressed officers kept surveillance. The lights inside of the cottage were out, but they knew someone was or had recently been inside, as light grey smoke still rose from the cottage’s chimney. With binoculars glued to the palm of their hands, they maintained their posts, remaining on high alert for the slightest movement. They waited patiently, but it had been well over an hour since they had arrived, and there still was no sign of Charles. Despite the officers’ thermal lined coats, hats, and gloves, it was becoming too cold to remain in the open wilderness for much longer. The absence of a north wind spared them a treacherous wait, but nevertheless it was essential the officers remained vigilant, and not half-frozen. Their superiors realizing this, finally gave the go ahead. Each of the officers was dispatched by walkie-talkie. Six of the officers grouped themselves in a semicircle and proceeded forward maintaining a low stance, with guns ready to fire. The other remaining officers covered them with scoped rifles from around the perimeter, pointed at the cottage’s windows and door. Their instructions were quite explicit and to the point, shoot to kill. Robert hadn’t understated the fact that there would be mounds of snow. Knee deep drifts made the officers’ forward movements sluggish as they trudged forward. The roof was also completely draped with snow drifts and white patches hung from the fir trees’ branches. Viewing the splendor, it had all the ingredients of a winter wonderland, untouched and pure, but to the men present it served as a treacherous battle ground. The officers maintained their positions, with one officer at each corner and the other two closing in on the front door. They used hand signals to relay their intentions, and the crisp cool air kept them quite alert. The two officers were within inches of the front door and could discern visible signs of a forced entry. The door’s lock had been pried open. Now a makeshift lock, consisting of a fishing line coiled around two nails was the only thing keeping the door firmly shut. One of the officers cut the string while another kept cover. Whoever the self-invited guest had been, in all likelihood wasn’t inside the premises. Otherwise, he would have simply secured the door from the inside. The officer to the right of the door gave it a gentle nudge. The door folded wide open, and both officers cautiously stepped inside. The only light available to them was whatever source of natural daylight remained. Taking slow strides and every precaution possible, they searched each room and once satisfied they radioed the others, letting them know that the coast was clear. Apparently, the intruder was long gone. The others made their way inside and began searching for clues. The wood stove gave a loud screech as it was pulled open. Two small logs still burnt, adding a little heat to the room.

“He must have left within the last couple of hours or so,” noted one of the officers.

“Let’s check the shed,” instructed the group leader. Two of the officers scurried off to the shed. Sure enough the lock had been pried open and the snowmobile was long gone.

“Shit. It looks like Charles has once again eluded us,” Officer Neally pointed out.

“There’s a chance he’ll still come back,” another officer responded almost questionably.

“Hello Chief…” Officer Neally sighed. “It seems that Charles has been here. Perhaps I should rephrase that -- someone has certainly been here.”

“How can you be sure?” quizzed the Chief.

“Well for starters, the front door and shed door have been broken into, and the wood stove is still burning. It seems like Charles has been using a snowmobile as a means of transportation.”

“Damn! Are there any tracks leading out of the place?” The Chief sounded despondent.

Officer Neally hesitated momentarily, at a loss for words and fearful of another dead end. “It has been snowing non-stop and there’s little evidence to go on,” Officer Neally relayed skittishly.

“I want only four of the officers to remain posted. Two shall remain inside and the other two shall keep a lookout in case he returns. Everyone is to take shifts to prevent possible frostbite. I want the rest of you to take your previous positions, as I’m going to have choppers equipped with night vision on the lookout for any snowmobiles in the area. Make sure to stay out of sight and don’t be foolish and turn on the lights or add more wood to the stove. I’ll have some electric heaters brought over as soon as possible. And be sure to fasten the doors as you found them in case he returns. If he does return and attempts to escape, I’m instructing you to use whatever means necessary to stop him. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes sir,” Officer Neally answered, feeling in the hot seat.

Officer Neally directed the others. A row of vehicles guided by long beams of light made their way down the icy road. The two officers inside took turns searching for clues while the other two kept vigilance, maintaining contact with headquarters.

 

The press conference was a loud raucous. Fear was prevalent, residing in the element of the unknown. Worse yet, Charles was free to roam and leisurely pursue his next victim. During the conference, the Chief’s own temper flared a few times. A few citizens clearly upset with the whole investigation, demanded for his resignation. The mayor’s attempt to calm everyone proved futile, and he too was uncertain of how best to proceed. Over the past several months, Charles had become just as popular as a TV celebrity. Photos along with sketches of different facial disguises were being splashed all over the media. Without a doubt, Charles was the talk of the town, constantly making headlines. Somerset would never be the same again, ever. People had lost all faith in the authority. Heated conversations broke out amongst citizens of Somerset, each one displaying their anger and there were even talks of individuals taking the law into their own hands. Inconceivably, one man alone had changed the town to an inextricable sense of desolation. Fear was great, trust was dwindling, and every person was walking on edge constantly looking over their shoulders.

The phone rang and the Chief was quick to pick it up. “What’s the shortest distance between two points?” The muffled voice questioned.

The Chief’s brows curled up instantly, recognizing the voice. He alerted the others, while taking into consideration what Dr. Ernstein had said. “Look, let me try and understand what’s bothering you,” the Chief stated nicely.

“Do you give up?” he asked flatly.

Trying to buy time, the Chief paused briefly. “I’m not quite sure I understand the question.”

“The answer is a quiver. Keep your eyes peeled in the meantime.” The phone clicked, without the Chief being able to respond or get a word in edgewise.

“Did we get a trace on that call?” asked the Chief feverishly.

“I’m afraid not, although it’s definitely in the state of New Jersey,” responded an expert in the technical department.

He’s still here, thought the Chief. But how could he make his way around and remain virtually invisible? Just as he was thinking this, the phone rang again.

“Larry I just heard the news,” Dr. Summers sounded spooked.

“Tyler, the killer has sent us another poem, and he just called with another riddle.”

“Does the poem or riddle make any sense?”

“We’re working on it. We even had Dr. Ernstein, the Chief of Psychologists, read the poem along with our Investigative Team. Apparently Dr. Ernstein believes children might be his next target. We are asking everyone to remain vigilant, and for the community to keep their eyes open. If everyone keeps watch, we‘ll have a better chance of nailing him. We’ve already asked the Cooper family to be extra cautious, so we’ll ask the same of you. We don’t know exactly what he’s planning, so we can’t take any chances.”

“As always, the children will be under an adult’s supervision when I’m not present. Also, I will inform Becky to be extra cautious for the next little while. I’ll have the children remain indoors. Due to this imminent situation, I’ll also make arrangements for someone to drive them to and from school.”

“We’ve alerted schools and all public facilities to keep a look out for anything suspicious. We also have more officers combing the streets every day. So far everything has led to dead ends, but he can’t hide forever. He needs money and without it he can’t survive much longer. We may possibly have a lead. Apparently Charles’s cousin owns a cottage and Charles has vacationed there before. I’ve just learnt that someone has been occupying it, in most likelihood Charles himself. We’re keeping it under surveillance.” 

“Do you think he has an accomplice?”

“Anything is possible; we can’t rule anything out at this point in time. If it’s him hiding out at the cottage, then there’s a strong probability that he’ll return. Otherwise, I can’t figure out where he’s hiding and how he has managed to survive. I need to go now, but I’ll keep in touch. Should you need anything don’t hesitate to call. And Tyler whatever you do, for the love of God, don’t let your guard down.” 

“I promise to be extra cautious.” Tyler felt on edge, a cold shiver shot through him causing the hairs on his arm to stand on end. His kids meant the world to him, and he was damned if he would let anything happen to them. Even though his career was his life blood, his two children were ever so precious, almost sacred. He had procured a handgun and was seriously considering giving up his career. He would notify the hospital tomorrow that he would be taking an indefinite leave starting Monday. Tyler would make it his mission to keep his family safe.

Dr. Summers’s mind was clouded by a multitude of negative thoughts, darker than any major thunderstorm, as he lay on his bed. He had just tucked Christopher and checked in on Cindy. He remained wide awake for quite some time agitated by the danger Charles posed. It was not until early morning that he finally surrendered to a good night’s rest.

An image appeared at the end of his bed. Her beautiful golden hair spilled onto her shoulders. She looked as beautiful as ever. Her green eyes and warm smile always held him captivated. “Dianne,” Tyler cried out overjoyed, desperately reaching out to her. Unexpectedly, the image slowly faded, drawing Dr. Summers to the edge of his bed. It had completely vanished, leaving Tyler totally perplexed. Footsteps could be heard approaching. “Who’s there?” he asked spooked. The room fell completely silent. Its stillness was interrupted by the squeaky sounds of someone turning the door knob. It couldn’t be a dream, thought Tyler, lying half awake. He figured it must be one of the children. The door sprung open, but no one was there. Alarmed, he cautiously rose and tiptoed worriedly towards his bedroom door, unsure of what to expect. “Hello,” he called out wearily into the darkness. But no response followed. He stepped halfway into the doorway when their eyes met.

It was surreal.

Never could he forget that face, not even in a million years. It was he that had torn his whole world apart, he that left his heart aching non-stop day after day, he that had brutally murdered his true love. Tyler’s pupils were dilated, his eyes held such contempt glaring at Charles. “You little coward, I’m going to tear you to pieces,” he lashed out. Charles stood motionless and speechless at the top of the stairs, with a despondent look in his eyes. Tyler was about to charge, when unexpectedly Charles raised a gleaming edge. Charles’s left hand and the knife were stained with fresh blood, which continued to drip like a fountain, staining the plush ivory carpet. Tyler’s heart raced. “My God -- what have you done?” he screamed in horror.

Placidly, “It is time to rejoice. They are now free of earthly desires and in the hands of the Lord.” Charles turned his back and made his way down the stairs. The blood continued dripping, becoming smeared by Charles’s shoes. Tyler desperately wanted to pursue him, but both fear and shock rendered him motionless. He was spared from his treachery when they both appeared from their rooms.

“Hi daddy,” they greeted in unison.

“Thank God you’re okay,” Tyler yelled overjoyed.

“We’re alright.” They both smiled, but oddly their images began to lose their solidness, vanishing into obscurity.

“Cindy -- Christopher,” their father hollered in despair. He followed the drops of blood on the floor, which led into their rooms. “God no,” he cried lunging forward.

 

It had been an agonizing wait, with no promise of Charles appearing. In fact, their extensive search of the cottage and shed didn’t confirm his presence therein, either. It was well into the early morning. The officers rotated seeking refuge from the frigid temperatures, but still felt chilled down to the bones. They huddled in front of the electric heaters, since the logs had long since dwindled to mere ashes.

“Hello Chief, this is Officer Neally.”

“What’s happening?”

“There’s been no sign of Charles or anyone for that matter.”

“Did you find anything at the cottage?”

“We’ve combed the interior three times over but found nothing. The only thing left to do is dust for prints. We are keeping all lights off just in case he appears.”

“Keep your gloves on, and while other officers are keeping watch, I will send forensics to dust the entire place. Continue to keep watch. He could show up at any time.”






Chapter 4
 

The door to Cindy’s room flew open. He flicked on the light revealing the gruesome atrocity. The bed’s sheets were drenched in a deep red. Tyler stood in shock, unable to utter a single word. He turned and opened his son’s door. He had also been brutally victimized, blood continued to puddle onto the floor. Tyler’s heart accelerated, his anguish caused him to hyperventilate. An inner rage lashed out sending Tyler flying down the stairs in hot pursuit of Charles, “You dirty rotten little coward!” But before Tyler had a chance to catch up with him, the front door burst open. Helplessly, Tyler watched as Charles sped off on his snowmobile. His heart pounded faster and faster until he could not take any more, everything became a blur as he surrendered to a sea of total darkness.

Tyler woke up drenched in a cold sweat. He hurriedly made his way to his daughter’s room. Cindy was sleeping peacefully. Catching his breath, Tyler then rushed to Christopher’s room. He also lay unharmed in a tranquil state. “Thank God,” Tyler sighed, grateful that it had only been a terrible nightmare. He went downstairs into the kitchen, flicked on the light and poured himself a glass of water. Tyler was surprised to see a snowmobile in the distance, making its way across an open field and then disappearing into the bush. It was unusual to see it at this hour, but he passively dismissed it as teenagers just having some fun. Quickly, he showered and went back to bed. It was going to be a long day.

 

It was unusual to see the Chief busy at work on a Saturday morning. But despite his calm appearance, a strong insurgency of edginess and drowsiness seized him. All night long he had twisted and turned, unable to sleep. His worst fear was missing a call from the station announcing that they had captured Charles. The Chief’s chance of seeking revenge burned stronger than a raging forest fire.

The Chief picked up the handset and made his call. “Have there been any new developments?” he asked.

“I’m afraid not Chief, it’s like a ghost town.”

“I’ll have a fresh crew replace you on the hour, as well as forensics to sweep the place.”

“Thanks Chief,” the officer relayed, grateful to slip out of the cold.

The phone rang only once, but the Chief hastily grabbed the receiver.

“Chief, we’ve got some good news,” Sean relayed enthusiastically.

“You’ve found Charles!” exclaimed the Chief incredulously.

“No, but we’ve located the snowmobile he was driving.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, the serial number matches.”

“Where did you locate it?”

“It was in an open field next to an old flour mill.”

“Has he left any clues, or are there any tracks you can follow?”

“Unfortunately it snowed all night, leaving no visible traces of anything. Although the engine is still warm, meaning he has recently parked it.”

“I’m going to send backup. Vacate the area immediately in case he returns. Keep watch from a safe distance.”

“Yes sir, we’ll do.”

The Chief relayed the information to the appropriate parties. A minute after he set the receiver down, the phone rang again.

“Hello Chief, there was an early morning break in at a general convenience store,” relayed the officer giving him all the pertinent details.

The Chief considered all the facts, figuring in all likelihood it to be Charles. His eyes focused intently on a large wall map. His eyes darted back and forth, carefully taking note of Charles’s route. “He’s headed in a south-east direction,” he deduced. “Now depending on his intentions, Charles may return to the snowmobile, find an alternative method of transportation, or do something totally unexpected. I want more officers deployed in the direction he’s headed. It’s close to a populated area, so keep your eyes peeled.”

“We’ll get right on it,” assured Sean.

“Daddy why are we going to Aunt Becky’s this morning?” Christopher asked while sliding into the back seat of the car.

“I have to be at work earlier this morning. Now I want you both to listen very carefully. For the next little while everyone has to be extra careful, so I want you both to do as Aunt Becky asks. Also for today, I would like for both of you to remain indoors, okay?”

“Yes daddy,” Christopher and Cindy responded simultaneously.

“Later Aunt Becky will drop you off at our house, and Linda will stay with you until I return. Now do you have any questions?”

“Don’t worry daddy, we’ll do as Aunt Becky asks,” reassured Cindy, taking the lead as the older sibling. Ever since their mom died, Cindy and Christopher were always trying to win their father’s approval and looked for ways to make him happy.

Dr. Summers pulled into Aunt Becky’s driveway. He shut his door and helped Christopher unbuckle his seat belt.  “Daddy can we watch a movie tomorrow?”

“We may need to wait until next week, since tomorrow we are expecting a guest. Now, please remember what I said. It’s important that you remain indoors with Aunt Becky and do as she asks.” 

Aunt Becky heard her brother’s car pull in and opened the door to greet them. “Hello Christopher, Cindy.” The children quickly greeted her with a big hug. She squeezed them both tightly. “How about if you guys go inside and help yourselves to some yummy pancakes, which I’ve set on the kitchen table. Help yourselves to syrup, strawberries, and vanilla ice-cream.” They needed no coaxing and dashed inside.

“Don’t worry; I won’t let them out of my sight. I have planned a few activities to keep them busy.”

“I know you will. It’s just that I’m a bit edgy. Charles has sent the Chief another poem, promising that he will soon strike again. Apparently, he’s been using his cousin’s cottage for a while, along with a snowmobile as a means of transportation. I have no doubt he’ll make good on his promise, given the opportunity.” Aunt Becky’s eyes lit up as her brother pulled out a gun from his jacket. “I want you to have this while the kids are with you.”

“Tyler don’t you think you’re going too far?” Becky sounded alarmed.

“You can never be too safe. It’ll give me peace of mind and you’ll be much safer,” Tyler stressed. Becky hesitantly took the gun, planning to hide it in her desk drawer.

She tried calming him down. “We’ll be extra careful. We’ll stay indoors and you know that I always keep all the doors locked. Call me as often as you like. I’ll keep my cell with me at all times,” Aunt Becky tried to ease Tyler’s fears.

“You’re the best sis. Be very careful. I just can’t put this nagging feeling aside, it has been haunting me for the past week. I’m having nightmares; I think all the stress is getting to me.” Tyler’s face held a weary look.

“Try to stay focused, and take one day at a time. No one knows that the children are here, we’ll just keep a low profile,” his sister encouraged.

“I’ll call you as soon as I have a minute,” Tyler promised, giving his sister a light hug.

Aunt Becky hated to see him leave in such an anguished state. As she stepped back inside her house, she promised herself she would call Tyler and keep him posted. Tyler couldn’t afford any more stress; too many worries could very well lead to another cardiac arrest. The children had heard the special bulletin from the next room, and now sat on the couch glued in front of the TV. Sorrow and despair were quite evident on their faces as they watched Charles Staples making the news headline, once more.

Christopher’s emotions flared. He flung the remote at the TV. “I hate you, you took my mommy away,” he sobbed. Cindy rose from her seat and hugged her brother tightly. It tore Aunt Becky’s heart to watch them grieve. Cindy continued to speak softly, reassuring her brother that their mother was safe with the angels. Aunt Becky also tried her best to console him as she brushed away a tear.

“Honey let’s finish our pancakes before they get too cold,” she stated while picking up the remote from the floor. “Afterwards I have a new puzzle for us to work on together.” The children obediently followed her back to the kitchen table. They watched as she dished another scoop of ice-cream and drizzled more maple syrup on top. She tidied up as both children quickly devoured the pancakes.

His mouth was smeared with ice cream. “It’s a jungle puzzle,” exclaimed Christopher, noticing it for the first time on the far end of the kitchen countertop. His sister couldn’t help but smirk as she flipped through the pages of a fashion magazine. 

 

Jackie lay helpless facing the cold heartless concrete blocks. She extended her hand across them nearly scraping her fingers, as her hand stumbled over its rough cracks and crannies. The roughness of the prison walls resonated loudly, constantly feeding into her loneliness and heartache as she was forcibly confined within. Fear gripped her, realizing if convicted she would spend a good many years staring at these very walls. She rolled over and noticed her roommate standing gripping the iron bars. Jackie’s eye lids felt like lead; she was in desperate need for some shut eye, and if circumstances were different she would have curled on her bed and dozed off like a log. But sharing a cell with a total stranger, especially one whom she greatly distrusted, left her feeling quite anxious. Jackie couldn’t figure out if it was the way Mama constantly side-glanced her, or if it was her large stature which spooked the hell out of her. As Mama walked towards her, she noted the whites of her eyes glistening against her dark skin. Involuntarily, Jackie’s body shifted back as Mama stopped just a couple of inches in front of her.

“So what did you do to deserve a luxurious bed in this suite?” Before Jackie had a chance to even open her mouth, Mama’s loud jesting continued. “Did you wear heels over the legal limit?” she teased. Women sharing nearby cells broke out laughing, while others clapped, and still others added their own crass comments. Mama had already served five years of hard time, and during this time had won the approval of other inmates. Generally other inmates followed her lead.

Jackie seethed. “I did nothing,” she stated defending herself.

“Then hon why are you here? Are you just visiting?” Mama stood over her, heightening Jackie’s anxiety.

Jackie swallowed hard, unsure whether to tell them or not. She had the funny suspicion that Mama wasn’t going to give up too easily, and would continue pestering her until she told her something.  She was right.

“Were you caught past your curfew?”

She lifted her chin, regaining some dignity before responding, “I had boarded a plane, finally looking forward to enjoying some R&R, when they escorted me off because they found drugs in my suitcase. Satisfied?” She soon regretted divulging this bit of information.

“Let me guess, cocaine?” Jackie nodded. “Ohhh hon, I didn’t know you like the sweet stuff,” Mama pinched Jackie’s cheek. “Whewee doll here likes the sweet stuff,” she began singing in a deep annoying tone, while clapping and dancing in a circular motion. The inmates joined in, clapping diligently to the beat as Mama did her gig.

Pissed off Jackie blurted out, “Oh cut it out. It’s not true!”

“Sure hon, perhaps they made a mistake and it was sugar instead.” Mama’s hysterical laughter drew a loud raucous.

 

Jack pulled straight into one of the visitor’s parking spaces. It was his first time visiting a maximum security prison, or any prison for that matter. He eased forward slightly resting over the steering wheel, staring across the windshield. A twenty foot barbed-wire fence guarded the perimeter of the solid fortress. Both on the rooftop and on the ground, armed guards were positioned discriminately outside diligently patrolling their turf. Anyone wishing to shorten their stay would be in for a real challenge. Jack summoned enough energy to step outside.

Two stout female guards marched with a purposeful gait down the mildew smelling corridor. They stopped in mid-stride, while one of the guards searched for the appropriate key from the round metal key chain. The larger female, with hair tied too tightly back from her face, announced in a commanding tone, “Jackie Stolths you have a visitor.”

“Has Prince Charming come to your rescue, girl?” Mama continued harassing.

Jackie was only too happy to leave her cell.

They reached the end of a long corridor, which was sectioned off by two large steel doors. The leading female officer spoke to the attending guard. Jackie simply stared at the tall robust officer who stood expressionless. There was something peculiar about her eyes, not only were they ice-cold, but they seemed void of life. Goose bumps swelled all over her arms. She finally tore her gaze from her as they were granted entry. They walked along another corridor, but unlike the previous one, this was brightly lit. Jackie was escorted through yet another area, which led to a series of partitions. She relaxed upon seeing Jack, and wanted to hug him so badly, but the glass partition prevented any contact. Quickly, she sat down and immediately picked up the receiver. “Jack it’s so good to see you.”

A touch of sympathy took hold of Jack as he observed Jackie’s pale complexion. Dark circles shadowed her face and she appeared much thinner, “Jackie, how are you holding up?”

“I’ve been better.”

“Are they treating you okay?”

“The food could be better, the clothes could be more fashionable, my roommate is a real pain in the butt, other than that I can’t complain too much.”

“As you mentioned over the phone, they found cocaine in your suitcase.”

Jackie swallowed, “They found two kilos in my luggage.”

Jack's expression changed drastically. Jackie noted this shift and tried stressing her point. “Jack I don’t do drugs and I certainly would never even consider selling them. I would never be able to do my job as a nurse if I did. I’ve been thinking and the only explanation I can come up with is that maybe someone was planning to steal my luggage afterwards. It is the only thing that makes any sense. If you stop and think about it, the plan was actually pretty smart. If my luggage passed inspection, than the drug dealer would steal my luggage, but if the drugs were found, well then it became my problem.”

Jack thought about this. Jackie had always been rational and coherent, and in all probability didn’t do drugs. But Jack had considered the possibility that she could be a pusher. “What I can’t understand is that we were only at the airport for a short while, and by the time we boarded your luggage could not have been on the plane for more than an hour. Besides, your luggage had a lock. All of this just seems too farfetched. I had time to think things over, and just hope you’re being upfront with me, and not trying to lure me into something.”

Jackie looked stunned as if he had slapped her hard across the face. Tears stung her eyes. His harsh words were worse than her being locked up. She felt her vocal passage tighten and swallowed hard trying to wash away the hurt. “Okay you have a point, let’s just assume I either used or pushed drugs, then why would I be stupid enough to place them in my own luggage, especially now that they have become so vigilant at the airport? Besides if I was an addict, especially a cocaine addict, I wouldn’t be able to survive a day in my profession, let alone years. I work with doctors all day long, some of them are professionals in the field of drug addiction, there’s no way in hell someone wouldn’t have noticed by now.”

Jack knew she was right. What Jack couldn’t figure out, why her luggage? Was someone actually planning to steal her luggage afterwards? But wouldn’t that be too risky? And how could the drug dealers be so sure that Jackie wouldn’t pick up her own luggage before they had a chance to? Would someone run the risk of losing tens of thousands of dollars? That possibility didn’t make too much sense either. Jack’s mind raced as he tried to make sense of the whole fiasco. For a minute, he sat perfectly still in a moment of reflection. Jackie may have been set up and someone wanted the drugs to be found in her luggage, but why?

Jackie watched Jack. She knew it was time to tell him the truth. She broke the silence, “There’s something I think you should know.”

Jack looked straight at her.

“Remember the day we were at your house and I told you that my ex was becoming verbally and physically abusive.”

“Yeah.”

“Well that’s not all. One day, I surprised him at his home. I knocked, but there was no answer. I noticed the door was slightly ajar, so I called out to him, but still there was no answer. So I went to look for him. I walked towards his office, which was down the hallway and that’s when I overheard his telephone conversation.” Jackie explained all the details of her ex’s dealings. Jackie exhaled summoning some energy before continuing, “I left as quickly and as quietly as I could. I don’t think I ever put my car in gear so fast. It was only later that I realized I had left the door wide open. He called me that evening and asked if I had been over, but I denied it. I’m not sure if he believed me, but either way he couldn’t be absolutely sure, or else I might not be here. He may have thought it was simply the wind pushing the door ajar. Anyway I didn’t want to make it obvious, so I dated him a couple of more times.  I was afraid to see him alone, so whenever we went out it was always with the company of some of my friends. When I finally broke it off, he was livid. On our last date, if you can call it that, I realized just how controlling he was. His rude and obscene remarks showed his true colors.”

“Good God! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I thought he would have gotten over me. I never thought he would try something, something as crazy as this.”

“Jackie, he’ll never forget about you -- and if he believes you overheard his telephone conversation…” Jack let out a deep sigh realizing how serious the situation had become. “I don’t want to frighten you, but he may even try to kill you.”

Jackie paled. Jack wanted to kick himself for scaring her. She was already under enough stress being locked up. Then a more dreadful thought crossed his mind. If her ex had contacts at the airport, then he certainly could have contacts in prison. This realization hit him like a ton of bricks. Jack had to get her out immediately.

“Jackie, I’m going to speak to your lawyer about posting bail. We need to get you out of here ASAP. I’ll need your lawyer’s name. I don’t want you repeating this story before I’ve had a chance to get you out of here,” Jackie’s face had lost all of its color, as the prospect of imminent danger wheeled fervently inside her head. She figured that she was in grave danger, more than she had initially realized. Jack spoke in a sympathetic tone. “Honey, please don’t cry, we’ll get through this together. I’m so sorry for everything I said earlier, it’s just that I didn’t know what to think. I should have just stuck with my gut instinct. Guess what?”

Jackie wiped the tears away with her sleeve.

“As soon as you are out of here, I’m going to cook you one of the best dinners you’ve ever tasted. In the meantime try not to worry too much, everything will be okay my sweet princess. I’ll get you out of here.”

Jackie nodded humbly. Just as Jack wrote down her lawyer’s name and number, the guard signaled that their time was up and escorted Jack out.