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(Start with Part One)
The next few days were a hell of paperwork. Blake and his suits bugged out of town with their coma patient – who woke up twice on the way back to the station, screaming every time – leaving Lacey and I to justify the whole thing. We told the Captain the FBI had closed the case, told the parents the perp was in federal custody, and told ourselves we didn’t want to know what had really happened.
After all, if I knew the story behind that scream, I might go a little crazy myself.
(Start with Part One)
There was a coma patient coming with us to the bust.
We were on our way up to UCSD, hoping to find Ms. Hernandez. She wasn’t in her apartment, but a couple of photos were: two young boys, both just now reported missing.
I was almost glad Blake had taken over the case. It kept getting stranger, and the woman in the back of the ambulance following us meant it would probably only get worse from here.
It was bad enough when it was just groggy kids. Now it felt like some cult was stirring up shit.
We pulled up to the building Hernandez worked in. The ambulance stopped behind us. Two guys in dark suits just like Agent Blake’s hopped out, then hustled to the back, where they pulled out a stretcher.
“She’s not going in with us, is she?” I asked Blake.
“Of course she is.” He replied, climbing out of the car. “That’s why we brought her.”
The two other suits helped Blake lift the coma patient out of the ambulance bay and onto the gurney. They strapped her down, checked her IVs, and nodded at each other.
“Let’s move,” Blake commanded.
Lacey got out of her own squad car and joined me as we followed Blake and the gurney into the building.
“Any idea what’s going on?” I whispered.
She shook her head. “I can’t believe they wouldn’t let us bring more backup.”
“Yeah, I don’t think the vegetable here counts.”
We split up once we got inside. The suits and the gurney took the elevator up to the fourth floor. Lacey, Blake and I started up the stairs.
“She should be in one of the labs up here,” Blake whispered to us. “Room 408. Let me go in first, then the patient, then you come in, ok?”
“How about we leave the patient outside? You’re just giving her a hostage.”
Blake shook his head. “She goes in. Can you follow directions or not?”
I felt like punching him. “Yeah, sure. It’s your freak show.”
We rejoined the suits and gurney at the elevator. It was quiet on the fourth floor. We’d called ahead to the other labs to try to get everyone out of the building.
The door to 408 was open just a crack, enough for us to hear someone weeping inside the room. I thought of the kids, probably scared out of their wits, and pulled out my gun.
Blake swung the door fully open and stepped in, no gun, just a grin on his face.
“Lieutenant Angela Burns,” he beamed, “it’s good to see you again.”
Hernandez had one of the boys cradled on her lap, her face buried in his hair. When she looked up at Blake, I could see black streaks on her face where tears had run through her makeup.
“David?” she said, disbelieving. “What are you doing here?”
“It’s time to go home, Lieutenant,” he said, stepping toward her. The suits pushed the gurney further in, turned it so the patient’s left side was right behind Agent Blake, then started pulling on what looked like thick leather gloves.
I glanced at Lacey. She raised her eyebrow, then shrugged and moved to her right. I moved left, keeping my gun up and aimed at Hernandez.
“I found him, David,” Hernandez whispered. “I found Jacob. I found our boy.”
I glanced at the kid in her lap. I recognized him from the photos back at the station. That boy’s name was Marcus, not Jacob, and his mother was most certainly not a pre-med college kid. Hernandez was raving.
Blake just nodded his head, like everything she was saying made sense, and took another step toward her. “That’s great, Angela. Now, let’s take him home.”
She pulled back at that. “Home. No. I’m not going back. You took him from me. Why did you take him from me?”
Blake stopped. Hernandez stood up, clutching the little boy, and started looking for a way out.
“Don’t move, Hernandez!” Lacey barked. “Let the kid go, and step away!”
Blake pointed at Lacey but kept his eyes fixed on Hernandez. “Stand down, Detective.”
Hernandez looked from one to the other, hesitating. “You’re going to do it again, aren’t you?” she asked Blake. “You’re going to take him away again?”
Blake lunged for Hernandez. Her eyes widened and she turned to run, still holding on to the boy.
She couldn’t move fast enough with the child. Blake slammed into her. All three of them tumbled to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.
I moved closer, preparing to take a shot if one came, if it was necessary. From the corner of my eye I saw Lacey doing the same on my right.
The two suits by the gurney ran toward Hernandez as soon as they saw their boss jump. A few seconds after Blake, Hernandez, and Marcus tumbled to the ground, they moved in, efficiently extracting Hernandez from the pile.
“No!” she screamed. “Don’t take him away again! David!”
Lacey put her gun away and ran in to help Marcus to his feet. I lowered my weapon but stayed back, ready in case Hernandez should break free and try to run for it.
Blake stood up. “Hold her still,” he ordered the two suits.
He pulled a small case from inside his jacket, opened it, and withdrew a syringe. He strode over behind Hernandez and stabbed it into her backside, then pressed the plunger down, injecting whatever it was into her system.
She struggled and screamed for a few more seconds. Then she shivered, and her body slumped between the two suits.
“Get her to the gurney,” Blake ordered.
His men lifted Hernandez off the ground and carried her next to the coma patient. Blake walked over to stand behind the patient’s head. He put one hand on her forehead, touching it with just his fingertips, and placed his other hand against Hernandez’ temple.
He whispered something I couldn’t make out. Then the coma patient blinked and opened her eyes. Her eyes focused on Blake. I heard her whisper, “David?”
Then she looked down at her own body, and screamed.
I’ll never forget that scream. It held such unbridled horror, and so much despair. Just thinking about it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Blake only nodded and grinned. He pulled another syringe from the case, and injected its contents into the coma patient’s IV.
She stopped screaming. I holstered my gun, realized I was shaking. I took some deep breaths to try to stop.
When I felt like I had it under control, I walked over to where the suits were still holding Hernandez in the air.
“Can I cuff her now, Agent Blake?” I asked, reaching for my handcuffs.
He shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Detective. Take that young woman home.”
“What the fuck do you mean?” I whispered, trying not to be heard by Marcus just a few feet away. “She just kidnapped two kids!”
Blake stared down at the coma patient. “No, she didn’t. Go easy on her.” He waved his suits to lower Hernandez to the ground. “If she’s lucky, she won’t remember any of this.”
(Start with Part One)
Little boys always look so cute when they’re asleep.
I watched the two of them sleeping while I waited for the blood test to finish. Little chests rising and falling. So adorable.
And one of them was my Jacob.
He didn’t look like me at all, of course. He’d swapped bodies a few times already. That’s why it’d been so hard to track him down.
There are ways to tell that a body has been swapped. You can’t access any memories, so meeting old friends or family is always awkward. They’d trained us in some techniques used by stage magicians to fake being able to read minds so we could pass as the original person. That’d only get you so far, though.
The chronic sickness was another way to know. No antibiotics would cure that.
Turns out the host bodies start making cells of the swapper’s blood type. Eventually the body is making two types of everything, incompatible with each other and fighting for resources. That’s what makes us sick, why we have to leave every body we swap into.
So if you test someone and find two blood types, you know the body has been swapped. I was a little proud of myself for figuring that out. No need to question every kid, no need to wait for them to get sick before moving in. Just a little blood, a quick test, and you knew. Cheap, easy, and objective.
The test finished. I checked both tubes looking for the telltale signs of two incompatible blood types.
There. I set the tubes back down, gazed back over at the boys, and started crying.
I’d found him. The one on the right, the one calling himself Marcus. That was my son.
(Start with Part One)
“What do you mean, it’s your case now? You’re not even a cop!”
The man in the charcoal grey suit smiled at me. “True. But the FBI has clear jurisdiction here, and they’re turning the case over to me. Trust me, you don’t want to fight this one.”
The man – he’d introduced himself as Agent Blake, but he was The Man to me – nodded as if I’d just said good morning. “I’ll need all your files on the case, of course. And access to your witness.”
“My what, now?”
He glanced at his smartphone. “I believe her name is Mary Rogers?”
“That’s our suspect, asshole. She didn’t witness anything she didn’t do.”
He grinned again. His teeth were way too bright. And even. “Right. Silly mistake. Suspect. I’d like to talk to her, please.”
I sighed. “Yeah, sure.”
I led him to Interrogation Room 2 – the smallest one – then called for Mary to be brought over.
He poked his head out of the door. “You will, of course, not record anything said in this room, or watch behind the false mirror?”
I tried to smile at him. Failed. “Of course.”
He nodded once, then ducked back inside.
I went in to the observation room to turn off the recording equipment before Mary got there.
We had plenty of footage of Mary already. Mary crying when accused of kidnapping those kids. Mary taking the psych eval, and coming through as a scared but perfectly normal person.
Mary insisting she didn’t remember anything of the last three weeks.
She shuffled in from the stairwell, escorted by a uniform. She kept her eyes locked on the floor in front of her, raising her head only to cough. She looked better than when we’d brought her in: not as pale, and able to walk without stumbling. Still had that cough, though.
The uniform escorted her into the interrogation room, then came back out half a minute later. Agent Blake didn’t want anyone to see or hear his talk with Mary, it seemed. The uniform stood sentry next to the door, thumbs hooked in his belt.
Mary and Blake stayed in the room over an hour. Mary came out with her head up, looking around like she’d never seen the place before. She didn’t cough once as the uniform escorted her downstairs.
Agent Blake poked his head out of the door again, waved for me to come inside.
“What did you find out?” I asked. I settled into one of the hard chairs as he shut the door.
“Nothing I can tell you about,” he replied, taking the other chair. “This is above your pay grade.”
I gritted my teeth, but didn’t say anything. He smiled.
“Now, I need you to go over what happened when you caught her.”
“It’s all in our report. Or don’t you know how to read?”
“I’m quite familiar with reading, Detective, but sometimes verbal questions are best. Now, walk me through that day, step by step.”
Just to piss him off, I started at the beginning, with my regular morning BM. I moved on to talking about traffic, how some jerk had cut me off before my exit that day. I went through how well the morning coffee tasted, the dead leads Lacey and I had followed through most of the day, then how we finally got the address of the last set of plates. How we checked the owner’s background, canvassed the building before getting a warrant for it that evening. How we entered Mary’s place, chased her down, then brought her in.
Through everything, all the mundane details, Blake sat in his chair, fully at attention. He didn’t take any notes, didn’t yawn, even nodded along with me when I bitched about my commute.
That pissed me off even more.
He didn’t stop me until I got to our first interrogation session with Mary.
“Thank you, Detective, that’s far enough. Tell me, what happened to the owner of the apartment you and Mary barged into?”
I rolled my eyes. “I already told you. She was pretty shaken up, but there hadn’t been any damage. We talked with her a while till she calmed down, then left.”
“Who talked with her? You?”
I shook my head. “I was busy getting Mary back to a squad car. I think Lacey spoke with her, maybe a uniform or two.”
Agent Blake stood. “I’ll need to talk with anyone that had contact with that girl.”
I sighed. “Really? Look, I can tell you everything you need to know about her. She was this tall, maybe early 20s-”
“Can you tell me her name?”
I blinked. “No, I don’t remember. Lacey might know.”
He smiled. “Bring her in here for me, so I can ask her, will you?”
I swore and stormed out. Crazy feds.
Turned out Lacey didn’t remember the girl’s name. Neither did any of the uniforms that had talked to her. Apparently they’d asked her her name first thing, but she’d been so freaked out she hadn’t answered.
Blake just smiled at that.
Two hours later, he slapped a warrant for her arrest on my desk.
“Her name is Daniela Hernandez.”
(Start with Part One)
I can’t believe they found me.
I was careful this time. I picked a runner, someone who could last long enough for me to find Jacob. Someone with a flexible job, no current boyfriend, and family out of town.
Someone that wouldn’t leave any tracks if she went out searching every night.
They almost had me, would’ve caught me if that girl hadn’t opened the door. Lucky break, there. Swapped just in time.
I was still shaking when they dragged the old body away. So close.
But I’ve got a new body now, and a new name. Plenty of fight left in this one for grabbing the last two.
And some other advantages. They took all my notes, all my equipment. According to my new body’s id, though, I’m pre-med at UCSD. Should be able to score replacements there.
I’d hoped to catch the last two one by one, spaced out at least a week apart. But if the cops know, that means the Department will be here soon.
If they find me, I’ll never see Jacob again.
(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?”
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.
(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.”
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.
(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.