Authors: Stacy Dittrich
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Psychological, #Women Sleuths, #Police Procedural
The house wasn’t very big, so the SWAT team didn’t have much to clear. Some of us got antsy and went inside while they were still clearing the upstairs. However, when they yelled down to the rest of the agents that they had found the closet, I did my best to act surprised. At the same time, my stomach lurched.
Two agents had already cordoned off the room. All I could do was pretend to be shocked at what they found. The crime lab was already inside, processing everything, and until they were done, we would have to wait.
Worried that I had left evidence of my visit behind, I tried not to dwell on it too much and had gone back outside when Michael yelled out for me to get back inside quickly. I followed him upstairs, already knowing he intended to show me the small box they located under the bed. By this time, the crime lab had finished and all the photographs and newspaper articles were separated in clear plastic bags. One by one, Michael held them up for me to see.
“He’s been fixated on you for a long time, CeeCee. Just look. These articles go all the way back to Murder Mountain.”
“I wonder why. I mean, I’ve never heard of the guy before.”
Michael stopped talking and looked at me, making me feel like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. His eyes narrowed to slits as he put the bags down and crossed his arms, all the while staring me down. I tried to look innocent, but he knew me too well. He yanked me into the second bedroom and shut the door.
“You’ve been here already, haven’t you?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Now I really was surprised.
“Knock off the bullshit, CeeCee. I told you, you don’t have to lie to me. Besides, your face said it all. You weren’t surprised by those pictures because you’ve already seen them before. I was a little suspicious when they opened the garbage bag, but I gave you the benefit of the doubt. Now I know. You put those things in that bag! Jesus! Do you know how long you could go to jail for?”
“I thought you said you’d never turn me in.” I looked at him defiantly.
He took a step back and looked at me like I told him I had two weeks to live.
“You did do it!” He turned and started to pace, putting his hands on top of his head, taking deep breaths. “Last night you weren’t in trouble while you were taking the garbage—you were inside this house and he came home, didn’t he? Answer me!” I didn’t answer, but he kept going anyway. “Do you have any idea what could’ve happened to you, or how much you could’ve fucked this case up if you got caught? The killer could’ve walked free, CeeCee!”
“Could’ve. But he won’t. I didn’t get caught, and I’m not going to. Evidence was found in the bag legitimately. That’s what all the paperwork says, and that’s what the evidence says. No one has any reason to believe otherwise.”
“You’re a cop. How could you do this!”
“He’s a child killer. I’m sure the parents of the dead children wouldn’t complain. Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone else would either. Who knows how many other children might’ve died? There was no other way. Laws get put into place that end up protecting monsters like Carlson and sometimes we have to bend the rules a little.”
He just stared. I didn’t feel bad or guilty in the least. I would do it all again if I had to. Calling Michael’s bluff, I opened the door.
“Go right ahead. Turn me in. Who do you think they’ll be more pissed at? Me or
? And if memory serves, did you not illegally enter a witness’ house on Murder Mountain and stick a gun in her mouth to make her talk? Are you going to stand there and tell me what I did was any worse?”
He glared for a few more seconds before walking right past me and out of the room. He wasn’t going to say a word. I knew there were two reasons why. One, ultimately he knew I was right. There was no other way. Two, he loved me and would never let me go to prison.
Michael was gone when I went out into the hallway. Most likely, he had gone outside for some air and to calm down, which sounded like a good idea to me, but I looked around and didn’t see him anywhere.
Maybe he was calling my bluff and turning me in. But in a moment I saw him come from around the side of the house. We both stood watching as the lab technicians carried the dolls out, one by one.
All the dolls were confiscated, but only I was aware that Jim Carlson would know I had taken his favorite. When he came back to the house last night, he saw immediately there was one doll gone.
Kincaid pulling up to the house distracted me. I went over to talk to her. Michael still seemed a little agitated. It was best I left him alone for a while to cool down, so I took the time to fill Naomi in on what was going on. I also caught myself looking around for Coop. It didn’t take long for her to bring up the subject first.
“CeeCee, Jeff told me you know. I hope you don’t think I’m horrible.”
For a second I didn’t know who she was talking about. I hadn’t called Coop “Jeff” in years.
“There isn’t one of us carrying a badge who has the right to point a finger at anyone else. Admittedly, I was caught off guard, but he clearly loves you.”
Her face brightened, and she let down her guard. “You really think so? I mean, he says he does, but you think it’s for real?”
“Yes, I do. You’re getting one hell of a guy.”
My cell phone rang, and I excused myself to take the call. The number on caller ID showed “unavailable.”
“I want her back, you bitch! You give her back to me, or this little girl will suffer the worst death you could ever imagine!”
I began furiously looking around to get someone’s attention. No need to guess whether Jim Carlson knew I took the doll.
“Don’t bother drawing attention to yourself, Cecelia! I want my fucking doll!”
He was watching us. He was watching me right now on the phone. I saw Michael look at me strangely, and he started to walk toward me. I jumped into his car and locked all the doors.
“You get nothing until I know Brooklyn Phillips is okay.”
He started to laugh. “You’re not in a position, Cecelia, to demand anything!”
“Actually, yes, I am. Unless you want to watch me dump lighter fluid all over your little whore doll and set her on fire.”
Michael was banging on the window. I, of course, ignored him. I was waiting on a response from our killer, who was completely enraged by now.
“Don’t you dare! If you touch her I will kill you, your family, and every child in this county! Do you hear me, you cunt!”
“Yes, I hear you.” I was calm. “There’s no need to yell. I suppose you could do all of those things, but you still won’t have your little freak doll, now will you?”
If Brooklyn was alive, I was buying her time by threatening his doll. I knew he couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to it and he would do whatever it took to save it. Including keeping Brooklyn alive. Michael had stopped banging and began to fumble around in his pockets for his keys. I shook them at him before starting the car and driving away from the house.
“What do you want?” he asked. My gamble had paid off. Jim Carlson had calmed down and spoke quite meekly.
“I want a trade. If you want your doll back, I get Brooklyn Phillips, unharmed and returned to her family.”
“And now for what I want. You haven’t solved the letter yet, have you, Detective? I’ll give you ten days to figure it out. If you do, you’ll find us and you will bring the doll with you. If you don’t, then the girl and everyone with me will die. In the meantime, you keep my doll safe and I’ll consider a trade.”
“Why wait ten days? Unless you prove to me that Brooklyn is alive right now, I’ll be roasting marshmallows over your little vampire bitch within five minutes.”
“You’ll have it before the day is over.” He hung up before I could question him further.
I pulled the car over and took a deep breath. I hoped I had bought Brooklyn Phillips some time, though I would have a hard time explaining to anyone how I got ahold of the creepy doll. And Jim Carlson knew it. I turned the car around and drove back to the house. Michael was standing in the driveway fuming. I didn’t even have the car in park before he opened the door and jumped into the passenger seat.
I didn’t argue. I didn’t know where he wanted to go, but when we passed a small park and tennis court area, he pointed to it.
“Pull over there and park.”
When I get nervous, sometimes a tight smile automatically appears on my face. Unfortunately, it happened once again.
“You think this is funny, CeeCee?”
I pursed my lips and said nothing, turning my head to look out the window so he couldn’t see my face.
“Who was on the phone? Tell me. And tell me now.”
“Uh-huh. And this was something you didn’t think needed anyone else’s attention?”
I didn’t answer and got out of the car. In seconds, he was right behind me, slamming his door in the process. I walked over to a purple, bouncing dinosaur and sat on it.
“I’ll tell you what happened, Michael, if you calm down.”
to calm down?” He pointed at my chest and then at his own. “Let’s cover today’s events, shall we? You’ve admitted to committing burglary, you’ve planted evidence, and now you’ve just spoken to the nation’s most sought-after child killer and didn’t feel the need to tell anyone. That’s for starters. And you are asking me to calm down? Perfect.”
He sat down on the bouncing dinosaur next to mine. This one was red with green polka dots. I was looking at the ground, drawing a circle in the mulch with my foot.
It was time I told Michael about the goth doll, how I assumed and confirmed it was Jim Carlson’s favorite. I told him it was my plan to make a trade. I knew Michael would be disappointed in me, but I felt secure in my decision and with no regrets.
“How do you know it’s going to work, CeeCee? Maybe all you did was piss him off and Brooklyn is dead right now?”
“It worked, Michael. When I told him what I would do to his doll, he freaked. I’m telling you, that guy is not going to so much as put a scratch on that little girl until he gets that
back. That buys us and Brooklyn time.”
“I doubt it. Chances aren’t good. How is he supposed to let you know?”
“I have no idea. He said by the end of the day, somehow. I have to figure out that letter, Michael. Don’t you realize he’s been watching us? He’s probably watching us right now.”
Michael looked around before rubbing both of his temples. He stood up and walked over to me, holding my head against his stomach in a tight embrace.
“I’m sorry. At times, I don’t know what to do with you.”
I stood up and kissed the tip of his nose before walking back to the car. “I’m sure you’ll get over it.”
What I hadn’t told Michael was that Jim Carlson had threatened me, my family, and every child in the county. As far as I was concerned, that was irrelevant. If he had the chance to kill me before I took the doll, he probably would have. He was a murderer.
We stayed at the house for about another hour, then followed the crime lab vans back to the department. It took a few hours to catch up on paperwork before we were able to head out and grab dinner. It must be something with us and food, because we weren’t even halfway across the parking lot before Michael’s cell phone rang. It was the sheriff. A videotape had been delivered to the jail with my name on it.
“I’m on my way to the jail now,” he said. “I’ll meet you and Michael there.”
“Now what?” I said under my breath. “I think I’m a little scared to see what’s on that video.”
“I believe all of us should be.”
Once we arrived, I grabbed a couple of corrections officers to try to locate a television with a VCR, while Michael called the senior agents to come watch the tape. One of the corrections officers, on his way into work, had found the tape wrapped in brown packing paper lying in front of the employee entrance. Convenient, since there are no security cameras by that door. I doubt Carlson walked in front of any other security cameras near the building, but we had all the tapes pulled from those cameras as well. There was always hope. It was another twenty minutes before everyone was present. Michael, wearing gloves, inserted the killer’s tape.
It was awful. We watched in horror as Brooklyn Phillips appeared on tape, crying and wearing only a dirty white T-shirt. She was seated in a wooded area with trees and brush all around, holding up a copy of
The Mansfield News Journal.
The camera zoomed in on the newspaper, showing today’s date and headline. The voice from behind the camera spoke, first reading the Bible passage from Daniel. The familiar low, gruff voice addressed me.
“There’s your proof, Cecelia. Don’t you hurt her! You have the time I gave you. Now you can show the world just how smart you are. Remember, I made you a promise of consequence if you hurt her in any way. I’ll be in touch, if I don’t see you first!”
The screen slowly faded, before blacking out completely. Brooklyn, as you’d expect, looked terrified beyond imagination, but she was still alive and that was most important. The room remained silent, and I wondered if everyone was as sickened as I was by what we had just witnessed. I hoped the sheriff didn’t plan on showing the commissioner and his wife the tape. It would send them both over the edge in a heartbeat.
Michael was eyeballing me, which he had started doing when the tape made mention of a “promise of consequence” if I didn’t do what I was supposed to.
The sheriff exhaled a slow, deep breath. “That has to be one of the worst things I’ve ever seen.”
Everyone grumbled in agreement, and the lab tech immediately went to make a copy of the tape so we could study it. We needed to tear the tape apart frame by frame, checking the landscape, dimming the voices for any familiar noises, identifying the types of trees and plants and where they grow, and anything else we could come up with. We had to locate this child.
“CeeCee, what the hell did he mean by ‘don’t hurt her’? I assume he meant that if you don’t figure out the Bible passage he’s going to kill Brooklyn?” the sheriff asked. Michael glared at me sharply.
“Most likely. As we all know, the guy doesn’t necessarily make much sense, and his grasp of reality and its consequences is limited at best. Sheriff, are you going to give him to the media?”
“We have to. I know the guy changes his appearance, but we have a suspect that people, especially parents, need to know about.”
I nodded, then stepped out into the hallway with Michael.
“What was the whole ‘promise of consequence’ thing, CeeCee?”
“Simply that he would kill me and my family if I didn’t figure the letter out within ten days.”
“How very nice. Thank you for sharing this with me earlier.” His attitude was still hostile.
“I’m not worried about it, and you shouldn’t be either.”
We decided to take the copy of the tape and the Bible passage back to the hotel to go over it all night if necessary. The FBI was preparing a statement for the media in cooperation with Richland Metropolitan Police. Chief Raines and a senior agent would be reading the statement. Now it was time for everyone to hold their breath and pray.