Authors: RM Brewer
THE DARK RIFT:
R. M. Brewer
The Dark Rift: Ascension
is a work of fiction. Names, places, incidents, characters and their dialogue are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
THE DARK RIFT: ASCENSION. Copyright © 2015
by R.M. Brewer.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Original Cover Art by Summer Hanford
For Summer and Shelley,
For making me feel like there's nothing I can't do by myself,
then helping me anyway.
To you, I extend the two most important words in this book -
FBI Agent Jodie Watts and her team were in pursuit, tailing John Nelson's vehicle toward the San Francisco marina. She radioed ahead to ask local police to form a blockade. Nelson was the prime suspect in the most gruesome serial murders in San Francisco's history and here she was, five years into her investigation, almost within arm's reach. Jodie was in the lead car, right on his tail, chasing him relentlessly over the rise and fall of the steep city streets. She could feel the tension in her shoulders building as she gripped the steering wheel.
Jodie glanced at Bob Cramer, sitting in the passenger seat. She felt comforted by his presence. Bob was not only a member of her investigative team, but her closest friend since the Academy.
"Looks like the city cops have the barricade in place," Bob said, motioning ahead of them. "He can't go much further without taking a swim."
Jodie could see the flashing lights from the police blockade reflecting off the structures in the marina ahead. She noticed something else, too. Nelson was accelerating. "Oh, no. He's gonna try to run them down." She was terrified someone would be in the way of the speeding vehicle.
"He's got nowhere to go except into the bay," Bob said. "The cops will move."
"Jesus, let's hope so," Jodie said, praying Nelson wouldn't be taking anyone with him on his one-way trip into the murky water. Jodie took her foot off the accelerator as they approached the marina. She pulled to a screeching stop as Nelson's car hurtled into the parking area. A barrage of gunfire blasted holes in the side of his vehicle, but there was no stopping the momentum of the car. As officers ran for cover, his car barreled through the wall of police cruisers, headed toward the bay and hit the water at full speed.
"I'll drop you off down there," Jodie said. "I need to get to the Coast Guard station in Alameda so that we can get on the water right away."
"Jodie, we got him," Bob said. "We finally got him."
"Let's make sure," Jodie said. The rational part of her mind told her there was no way Nelson could have survived driving into the water at such a high speed. It was unlikely he would be able to swim to safety either, given that waves were battering the shoreline and winds were gusting over twenty-five knots. Yet, she knew she would never have closure without finding his body. She would never know if he was still out there, if he would kill again and the nightmare would start all over.
Rushing into the Coast Guard office, she identified herself and told the ship's captain about Nelson's plunge into the bay. The captain and crew were anxious to help and prepared the Cutter immediately. Jodie joined them on the deck and hung onto the rail as they sped to the scene. She reached into her pocket to retrieve her ringing cell phone, seeing Bob's name on the caller ID.
"They're bringing a tow truck and divers over to pull the car out. You might want to get over here quick," Bob said.
The Cutter pulled up as the first diver jumped in. Three more divers followed, all armed, just in case Nelson was still alive. About five minutes later, the first diver came up.
Pulling his mask up, he said, "We've got the vehicle, but no occupants. Looks like the window was open when he went in. Better pass me the tow cable so we can hook on and pull up the car before it gets dragged out into deeper water. In the meantime, we'll keep looking for a body."
Jodie stood on the deck of the Cutter, still gripping the rail to keep from losing her balance. She watched the BMW as it hung on the steel cable, water pouring out of the driver's side window and through a gaping hole in the windshield, likely blown out by police gunfire. She was determined not to leave until her suspect was found, but the divers were having no success. After several hours, conditions were worsening in the bay and the divers were called in for their own safety, with no sign of Nelson.
The rest of her team moved on to collect more evidence at Nelson's residence, but Jodie remained on the Cutter to keep searching. Her phone rang and she flipped it open. "Jodie, here."
"Well, you ID'd the right guy, for sure, Jodie," Bob said.
"What did you find?" Jodie asked, although she was unsure she could handle the answer to that question.
"When we first came in, we thought maybe we'd made a mistake, until we went in the basement. The sicko has a whole surgical room down here," Bob said, his voice echoing off the basement walls.
Jodie waited. She was anxious, yet terrified, to hear the rest.
"Jodie, he got another one ... She was on the table, medicated. The EMTs took her to the hospital. Her face was bandaged, so I can't tell you what he did to her," Bob said.
"Just a minute," Jodie said, her emotions taking control, feeling dizzy, angry and sad all at the same time. She stuffed the phone in her pocket, leaned over the side of the Cutter and tried not to throw up. Regaining her composure, she put the phone back to her ear. "Okay, I'm back."
"You alright, boss?" Bob asked.
"Yeah. It's getting pretty bad out here. We're coming in."
This year marked her tenth with the Bureau. Five of those years were consumed by Dr. John Nelson, nicknamed the "Bay Area Killer," who became the focus of an intense manhunt following the discovery of three bodies. The bodies were all women in their twenties, who had been tortured, mutilated and eventually killed. The killer's actions revealed a deep hatred toward women and the condition of the bodies he left behind removed any doubt as to how much they suffered.
Jodie and her team investigated eleven murders in all. Nelson, a local plastic surgeon, disfigured his victims in horrific ways. He removed skin and bone and kept his victims alive long enough to reveal their altered facial features to them. Nelson kept voluminous notes, detailing each of the murders. In those notes, he described how the swelling from the surgery would sometimes take weeks to recede, during which he would bring in his next victim while the first lay bound in a bed in the same room. Once the reveal was done, Nelson would exact mercy on them with a lethal injection. Before disposing of their bodies in back allies and dumpsters, he also liked to take souvenirs from the women. He kept these small bits of bone, tissue, teeth and scalp carefully preserved, labeled and categorized in his basement surgical room.
* * *
Three weeks after they chased Nelson into the bay, Jodie stood looking out over the marina where Nelson escaped arrest. Gazing at the water, she felt weighted down, empty inside, except for a gnawing in her stomach. She realized it was likely coming from a developing ulcer, given to her by none other than John Nelson. No sign of him was detected since the day she watched him drive off the edge of the marina parking area and into the choppy waters. She understood people who fell into the bay were never found sometimes, but fully expected him to surface at some point. She expected the bay to reject his body, to spit it out because it was a source of pure evil.
Jodie knew investigating Nelson altered her psyche in a way she couldn't yet comprehend. Because of the gruesome nature of the murders, she frequently found herself questioning whether or not she’d picked the right career. Where her counterparts were able to go home at the end of the day and live normal lives, Jodie usually spent her free time analyzing the latest evidence, looking for some clue to Nelson's whereabouts. She knew her job was consuming her. At the same time, she found the need to bring the case to a conclusion so compelling that she didn't want it to stop.
The woman who was found alive by the FBI in the basement surgical room lived long enough to positively identify Nelson as the man who tortured her. Then, mercifully, she lapsed into a coma and died four days later, leaving Jodie immersed in guilt. She asked herself what the fate of the last victim would have been if she'd only worked a little faster, if only Nelson was identified a few days earlier.
She hadn't slept through the night since abandoning the search on that stormy day. When she did sleep, visions of the tortured faces of each of Nelson's victims filled her head. In her nightmares, she could hear their screams, their pleas for mercy, the resignation in their voices as they realized they were going to die. She didn't know if she could or would want to continue her work at the FBI after Nelson was found. For the moment, though, he was still considered missing.
Sitting at her desk the next day, Jodie tried to focus again on the details of Nelson's life. She asked herself, if he were alive, where would he go? Where hadn't they searched? What were they missing? Deep in thought, she was startled when the phone rang and the Assistant Director summoned her to a conference room. Jodie took the stairs up one floor, seeing two people sitting in the room at the end of the hallway. She entered to find Assistant Director Walter McKinley and the Human Resources Director.
"Please sit down, Jodie," AD McKinley said.
"What is this about, sir?" said Jodie.
The Human Resources Director sat silent, taking notes.
"Jodie, you've put five years of your life into the Nelson case. Your work resulted in a halt to some of the worst crimes San Francisco has ever seen. Even though we didn't recover his body, no one could have survived that violent of a crash and the conditions on that day. So, for now, your work is done," McKinley said.
Jodie's face was hot. She could feel the redness rising. "But sir, we have to make sure ..." she said, her words trailing off as McKinley raised his hand for her to stop.
"I know how much this means to you, but it's time you got some rest," McKinley said.
"I won't be able to rest until we find him. There are only so many places he could be. He doesn't have a hiding place now that his story's public. He's got no access to money. It's only a matter of time before he surfaces," Jodie said.
"Yes, I agree. Dead or alive, we'll find him, but your team can take over for you now. You don't need to be here to oversee anything. You can pass on your case files and we'll do the rest," McKinley said.
"But I --"
"The decision is already made," McKinley said, holding his hand up again to stop Jodie from saying anything more. "You're on a mandatory leave of absence. I want you to get away from here for a while and get healthy again. I can see you've lost weight. When exactly was the last time you slept, anyway?" McKinley asked.
Jodie couldn't remember the last time she slept through the night without garish nightmares. She knew she was exhausted. She also knew she had lost this battle. No good could come out of arguing with an Assistant Director. "I guess it's been a while," she said.
"Well then, it's settled. Please turn your files over to your team. You're on leave, effective immediately." He stood, smiled at her and shook her hand.
Jodie didn't know if she was angry or relieved.
"You know, this is for the best. You're one of the most talented agents we've ever had, but you need to get yourself back in shape, physically and mentally. You take as much time as you need and we'll let you know when we find Nelson," McKinley said.
So, Jodie thought. That was that. No discussion. She walked down the stairs and called her team together, transferring whatever information they didn't already have and assigning specific tasks to each of them before retreating to her apartment to pack her things. Everyone on her team told her she'd be missed, but she sensed that they all felt the same as McKinley.
Before leaving, she stuffed a separate file she had compiled on Nelson in her briefcase and made her way down the stairs, bumping into a familiar-looking man on the way. She couldn't place him and continued her descent, trying to remember where she'd seen the man before. As she walked to her car, she realized she knew exactly where she needed to go. The next few weeks, possibly much longer, she'd spend in her cabin in the redwoods where her grandparents raised her. Getting in her Camaro, she let thoughts of the encounter with the stranger on the stairs slip from her mind.
* * *
Walter McKinley opened his bottom desk drawer and pulled out his 30-year single malt scotch. He filled two tumblers halfway and set one down opposite him on the other side of the desk. Lifting his glass, he swirled the bronze-colored liquid, watching the legs of the whiskey creep back down the glass. He inhaled deeply, drawing its scent into his lungs. Nothing like a good scotch to celebrate, he thought. McKinley leaned back in his chair, briefly closing his eyes. A buzzer on his desk sounded and he reached over to press the intercom button. "Yes?"
"Mr. Renfro here to see you, sir," his receptionist said.
McKinley spoke to the box. "By all means, please send him in."
The door opened and Renfro walked in, overcoat draped on his arm, hat in hand. "Hello, Walter."
"Hello, Ted," McKinley responded as his visitor hung up his coat and hat. The man moved over to the upholstered leather chair across from him, scooping up the tumbler of scotch as he sat.
"Single malt, Bowmore, right?" Renfro said, holding the scotch up to the light.
"Only the best, Ted."
"I take it we're celebrating because our little problem is out of the way now?"
"Why yes, that is correct. And, how do you like the finish on this scotch? Quite heady, isn't it?"