Chase, part seven: Jack

(Start with Part One)

She coughed most of the way to the station. Kept sweating like she had a fever.

When we questioned her about the kids, she insisted she had no idea what we were talking about. Lacey leaned on her hard, shoving pictures of each kid in front of Mary, yelling at her to talk about why she took those children.

That only made her cry, though. Eventually she threw up, all over the interrogation room’s floor. We moved her to a holding cell while we cleaned up the mess.

Lacey came to see me after, sat on the edge of my desk. She looked frustrated.

“Get any on you, Lacey?”

She checked her shoes, shook her head. “No, thank God.” She sighed. “If she’s faking being sick, she’s missing out on an acting career.”

I nodded. “Yeah. Funny, none of the kids have gotten sick. You’d think she’d have given it to ’em.”

She shrugged. “Could have just gotten it herself.”

“True,” I agreed. “Think it’s messed with her memory, too?”

Lacey chuckled. “Now that, she’s faking,” she said, sliding off my desk. “Forensics is going over her place now, and the bike. There’s going to be plenty of evidence to help her remember.”

I nodded. “She hasn’t asked for a lawyer yet, has she?”

Lacey shook her head.

“Good. Let’s go ahead and get a preliminary psych eval, then. While we’ve got her here.”

Lacey raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t it the DA’s job to worry about the insanity plea?”

I grinned. “Humor me.”

“All right. Go check if they’ve finished pulling all those photos off the stalker wall for me, will you?”

“Sure thing.”

She went back to her desk, and I headed downstairs to Evidence.

Something was seriously wrong with this case. Everything pointed to us having the right woman in custody – the photos in the closet, the bike, the needles we’d found in the apartment.

But the perp wasn’t reacting right. She didn’t have Dahmer’s inhuman stare, or Manson’s crazy one. She didn’t even act like she was hiding something. It was like we’d picked up some soccer mom and accused her of plotting to kill the President. She acted like she’d never even thought about doing what the evidence told me she’d done.

I hoped the shrink would be able to make sense of it.

Chase, part six: Jack

(Start with Part One)

“SDPD! Open up!”

I waited one heartbeat, two, three. No answer.

The cheap lock gave easily when I kicked it. One more kick opened the door wide enough to see the entire studio apartment.

I went over the potential hotspots: kitchen to the right, bathroom on the left, balcony just past the kitchen. Gun held out in front of me, I ran to the right, along the living room wall. Lacey went left.

No one in the kitchen. I looked over at Lacey coming out of the bathroom. She shook her head. No one there, either.

Shit. That left the balcony, or nothing.

The balcony door was closed. Lacey slid it open while I watched for signs of movement outside, pistol ready.

As soon as it was open I hurried through, gun pointed to the right, towards the balcony corner we couldn’t see from inside. Other than a few recycling bins, it was empty.

“She’s not here.” I said it out loud, just to cover my disappointment. We’d finally managed to come up with a suspect from one of the plates: athletic woman that lived alone, kept weird hours, owned a red Suzuki bike. Neighbors said she was usually home this time of the afternoon. We’d hoped to grab her, finally put a lid on this case.

Wasn’t meant to be.

I went back inside. Lacey was already poking around the living room section of the apartment, checking the magazines left on the coffee table, pulling a cigarette butt out of the ashtray for later DNA testing.

There were two closets, one beside the area she’d turned into her bedroom, the other along the wall facing the bathroom. The first was mostly open already, filled with an assortment of women’s clothes.

The second one held a goldmine of evidence.

I had to turn the bathroom lights on to get a good look inside. The closet doors folded almost all the way against the wall, leaving plenty of room for a small desk, a chair, and hundreds of photos and news clippings lining the walls.

Lacey let out a low whistle when she saw it. “Looks like she’s been doing this a while.”

I nodded. “And not just here. These clippings are all from Arizona, those are from Texas, and those are – Jesus Christ – those are from Virginia.”

Lacey arced an eyebrow.

“The Trick-or-Treat kidnappings? From last October?”

She continued to stare at me blankly.

I sighed. “A dozen kids went missing around Halloween in the Shenandoah. I’ve still got family up there. My dad joined one of the search parties.”

“My god. Did they find the kids?”

“Yeah, they found ’em. Wandering along a country road, scared out of their minds, with no memory of how they got there.”

Lacey’s radio crackled. “Suspect entering the building. Shall we intercept?”

She unhooked the unit from her belt. “Negative,” she barked into it. “We’ll get her from here. You cover the exits in case she flees.”

“Roger that.”

I moved into the kitchen and crouched behind the counter. Lacey took a position against the wall where the opening door would hide her.

A few minutes later, we heard a racking cough from outside the door, then keys jangling and the lock turning.

As soon as I heard the door swing open, I popped up, gun in hand. “San Diego Police! Put your hands in the air where I can see them!”

The woman coming in – blonde, in her 30s, wearing a red leather jacket – dropped the bag of groceries she was carrying and ran out the door.

I swore. Lacey called down to our backup while I hurried to follow the suspect.

Right out the door to the hall, then left, my heart pounding in my chest, yelling at her to stop. Then down two flights of stairs, into another hallway.

I was catching up with her. She looked back, saw me getting closer, gritted her teeth.

Down another flight of stairs then, and right down another hallway. She was headed for the back. I knew we had the exit covered, but I wanted to catch this one. I pushed myself to move faster.

Almost to the next stairwell. Movement to my right – someone opening a door. I yelled at whoever it was to stay inside, but it was too late.

The suspect pushed into the apartment, started to slam the door behind her.

I dove for it, made contact just before the door shut, pushed back. I heard a high-pitched scream on the inside, then the resistance against me went slack.

I tumbled into the room. A college girl was standing on a couch, screaming and crying. The suspect – Mary, I told myself, the woman that took those kids is named Mary – was laying on the floor, coughing.

I cuffed her before she could stand and started reading her her rights.

“No more kids for you, you sick fuck,” I whispered in her ear.

Chase, part five: Angela

(Start with Part One)

It’s almost time to leave. I can feel this body breaking down around me. The shakes have started, and I’m getting chills every night. That road rash never healed right. Pulls open every time I bend too far to the left.

I’m too close to go just yet, though. I’ve narrowed it down to two. Just two more catches, and I’ll know.

I’ll have my son back.

Those bastards pretending to be doctors told me he was dead. Lied right to my face. Kept me doped up so I wouldn’t resist, wouldn’t know what was really happening.

Had to swap to an orderly’s body to find out the truth. Just 15 minutes walking around: that’s all it took to learn the hospital was a jail, and my son was being raised by someone else. Someone they had picked.

I didn’t stay long after that. Swapped the orderly for a nurse, the nurse for a cop, and the cop for a string of truckers to follow my son’s trail.

Now I’m almost there, almost to him. Just gotta keep this body together for another day or so. Maybe three.

I can swap out once I’ve found him. He’ll understand. After all, he’s just like me.

Chase, part four: Jack

(Start with Part One)

Thank God, she had been.

“I took the liberty of going through the footage,” she announced as I came in. She waved me over and spread out some glossy photographs on her desk. “We’ve got shots of three different red bikes at that light in the last two weeks. Two of them multiple times.”

“Plates?” I asked, afraid the answer would be no.

She beamed at me. “Tech came through for once, we got plates on all three. We’re running ’em down now.”

“Wow. You’re beautiful, Lacey.”

She nodded. “And smart.” I laughed. “What’d you dig up at the Walker’s?”

I shook my head. “Mostly nothing. Kid saw a red bike, all right, even gave me a drawing – ” I showed her the sketch – “but that’s it. Didn’t see the driver’s face, didn’t hear their voice, nothing.”

“That’s too bad. I’ll let you know as soon as we have names and addresses for those plates, then.”

“Thanks, Lacey.”

“You can thank me by getting me some coffee. Venti soy latte, with an extra shot.” She nodded toward the door.

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, heading right back out. Small price to pay for a break in the case.

Chase, part three: Jack

(Start with Part One)

The Walker place was a nice little bungalow just off the 101. Easily within walking distance of the beach. I hated them a little for that. Rich suburbanites get under my skin.

It was street parking only, so it took me a good ten minutes to find an empty spot. The walk back to the house gave me time to think of the questions I wanted to ask little Justice.

Mrs. Walker answered the door, barefoot and wearing a light blouse and skirt. Small wrinkles around blue eyes.

She smiled when she saw me. “Detective Jack. Good to see you again. Please, come in.”

I did my best to smile back and followed her into the house. It felt bigger on the inside, with high ceilings and a mostly open floorplan.

I settled into an easy chair in the living room as Mrs. Walker went to fetch Justice, her bare feet brushing the hardwood floors.

They came back a short time later, hand-in-hand. Justice looked better than when I last saw him: less pale, eyes not as wide.

“Hello, Justice,” I said, offering my hand. “How have you been?”

He looked up at his mom, who nodded, before shaking my hand. “Okay,” he replied.

“Justice, could I ask you a few more questions about what happened three weeks ago?”

“I guess.” Mrs. Walker led him over to the couch, so they could sit facing me. Justice looked down at his toes, as if he’d been caught doing something bad.

“I know I asked you this last time, Justice, but do you remember anything from before you were knocked out? Anything you might have forgotten when I talked to you last time?”

He nodded.

“What’s that?”

“There was a motorcycle. A red one.”

“Ok, a red motorcycle. Was there anyone on it?”

He nodded.

“Do you know who it was?” He shook his head no. “Did you see their face?” No again.

“Justice, could you draw the motorcycle for me?”

He looked up at me then, thinking, then nodded.

I handed him my notepad and pen. He set the pad on the coffee table, then slipped off the couch onto the floor. Bending over the pad, he started sketching.

When he was satisfied, he hopped back on the couch and handed me the pad. “It looked like that.”

I checked the drawing over. The sketch was more blob than bike, but he’d tried to put indentations in certain spots, to give it some shape. It looked like it’d been a snub-nosed, compact bike, though – maybe Japanese? – not some long-necked Harley.

Again, not much. But more than I’d had before.

“Thank you, Justice. This is a good drawing; it’ll help us catch whoever hurt you.”

He nodded, looking down at his shoes again.

I stood up. “Well, thank you again, Mrs. Walker, Justice. I’d better be heading back to the station.”

Justice and I shook hands again, and he ran off back to his room.

Mrs. Walker stopped me at the door. “Do you have any more you can tell us, Detective?”

I hesitated. Could I tell her there’d been other kids? Would it make her feel better or worse?

“We have another witness that can confirm a red motorcycle and a helmeted rider in the area,” I admitted. “We’re tracking down traffic light footage to try to get a good photograph, maybe pull a license plate.”

She nodded slowly. “Okay,” she sighed. “Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything more from us.”

The door clicked shut behind me as I trudged back to my car. I hoped Lacey’d been more lucky than I had.

Chase, part two: Jack

(Start with Part One)

“Got another kidnapping for you, Jack.”

I groaned. “This a real one, Lacey? Or just another groggy?”

“See for yourself.” She dropped a pile of papers on my desk. “The parents are coming in in an hour.”

I sighed and sat up in my chair. Pulled the latest stack a little closer so I could start flipping through it.

Taylor Benson, age 8, left for school at Washington Elementary at 7:30 yesterday morning. Half an hour later he showed up at home, with no memory of how he got there or why he had a cotton ball taped to the inside of his elbow. Photographs showed a small, neat hole underneath the cotton ball on the boy’s arm. A few drops of blood on the cotton matched the kid’s. No prints on the cotton ball, no witnesses saw the boy being taken, nothing explained what had happened to him.

Another damned groggy.

The third one in as many weeks, which was three too many for me. They weren’t really kidnappings, since the kids were always returned. But why take them at all? And why poke a hole in their arms?

Thank God no one had talked to the press about this. None of the parents had known each other – the first had been in Encinitas, the second in Del Mar, this was the first one downtown – so as far as they knew, it was just some random weirdness that hadn’t really hurt their kid.

Lacey tapped my desk, breaking my reverie. “The Bensons are here. Room 3.”

“Thanks.” I stood up, grabbed the Benson’s casework, and strode over to the cramped meeting room.

The Bensons looked young enough to make me feel old. Firm handshakes from both – Mrs. Benson’s toned arms meant she probably did yoga, Mr. Benson looked like a runner. Young, trim, nice clothes. They looked more puzzled than angry, shocked that something like this could happen to their kid.

“We moved to Little Italy because it was quiet,” Mrs. Benson – Tanya – explained. “Taylor could walk to school, and we both work downtown, so…”

I nodded understanding. “Can you tell me if you’ve seen anyone new, anyone strange, hanging around your building?”

Mr. Benson – Jeff – shook his head. “Not really. There’s this one guy that likes to hang out at the 7-11 and ask for change, but he’s been there for months.”

I walked them through the rest of the routine. Had they met any new people that showed an unusual interest in Taylor? Were there any bullies at school that might have wanted to scare him? Were they Russian spies whose bosses were sending them a message?

Okay, I didn’t ask that last one. But it would’ve explained a lot.

When I’d run through all my questions, I thanked them for coming in and told them we’d be in touch as soon as we knew anything. I could tell they were both frustrated, but they just nodded and left.

I took my notes and the rest of the file back to my desk. Just to see if it jarred anything, I rummaged around until I found the files on the other two groggies and flipped them open.

Justice Walker – poor kid, with a name like that he’d have a hard time at school – was the first case. 7 years old. Snatched while riding his bicycle to a friend’s house. Dropped off 45 minutes later at home. Woke up crying and shaking.

Billy Jessup, age 8. Disappeared from a playground three blocks from his house. Found at home 20 minutes later, still bleeding from the tiny hole in his arm.

I started making more notes. All the victims were white males. All about the same age. All sent home after being taken, so the perp probably knew them socially. No ransom calls.

It wasn’t much to go on, but I had to start somewhere.

My desk phone rang. It was Jeff Benson.

“I, uh, just thought of something,” he said. “Last week, Taylor told us this story about how he escaped from a crazy guy on a motorcycle. We thought he was just making it up – he’s really in to spy movies – but after yesterday–”

“Anything seems possible.” I reach for a pen and started jotting some notes. “Did Taylor tell you anything about the bike? Did he get a look at the rider?”

I heard Jeff sigh on the other end. “No. The rider had a helmet on. I think he said the bike was red?”

A red motorcycle. One more tiny piece of the puzzle. “Red motorcycle. Gotcha. Thanks for calling, Mr. Benson, every detail like that helps.”

He hung up. I strode over to Lacey’s desk just as she was hanging up the phone. “Lacey, can you pull the video from the traffic camera at India and Grape?”

She grinned. “Sure. It’ll take a couple of hours, but you’ll be busy anyway.”

“How’s that?”

She nodded at the phone. “That was Ms. Walker. Seems little Justice has just remembered something about a guy on a bike chasing him.”

“You’re right, Lacey,” I admitted as I grabbed the Walker file and my coat. “I’m gonna be out for a bit.”

Chase, part one: Angela

I chase children. Strictly catch-and-release, though. I bag ’em, tag ’em, and let ’em go.

Almost didn’t get the last one. Every time I thought I had him he darted in front of an oncoming trolley, forcing me to tip my bike over to keep from crashing into the side of the train. The third time he did that, I spent a week nursing a nasty road rash, then finally nabbed him while he was walking to school.

Turned out it was a waste of my time. All that work, and he was the wrong one.

I don’t hurt them. I’m not a pervert looking for a sick time. I just knock them out and pull a little bit of blood. I run a few tests, then drop them off at home before they wake up.

I would never hurt them, because one of these kids is mine.