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Jessie closed her eyes as she spoke, conjuring up images she just assumed forget. But there she was, instantly transported to that night that seemed like centuries ago, walking up her driveway after a long day.
“I got home a little later than usual. I had to stay behind at the paper and get everything proofread one last time because it was all going to print the next day. I pulled into the drive and remembered seeing a navy blue car parked in my spot. I got out of the car, reached into the hatchback, and grabbed my book bag.” She took in a deep breath. “I walked up to the door and I remember being angry because the girls hadn’t left me a light on. I reached into my pocket and went to put my key in the door, but it was slightly ajar. I pushed it open slowly, afraid that I was going to walk in on one of my roommates and the owner of the blue sports car having sex on the living room floor.” Jessie paused for a moment, forcing herself to remember what happened next. Her tongue darted across her lips and she had to remind herself to breathe. “There were candles glowing everywhere. The house was pitch black except for the candles. I was going to call out and…” There was a thud. What was the dull sound? “I dropped my backpack by the door. Oh my God!” she whispered. “Sherry, Karen, and Maria were lying naked on the floor, side by side. There was blood all around them. Then…” She swallowed hard.
Nathan reached over and placed his hand on top of hers. “Do you need a break?” he asked in a soft voice.
Jessie shook her head and continued. “The light from the candles reflected against something… the blade of a knife. I remember looking up and seeing nothing but black. He was dressed from head to toe in black. But I can’t see his face. I reached for my backpack and swung. I saw him stumble back and I ran.” She paused for a moment, the scene playing in her mind like a movie reel. “I tried to run but he grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled me back. I wanted to turn around. I remember wanting to see the face of the man that was going to kill me. And…”
“I don’t remember anything else. I’m sorry, Nathan.”
“It’s okay. Let’s take a break for a minute.”
She slumped back against the sofa and closed her eyes. God how she wanted to remember! Jessie just needed to see his face once in her mind. But the vision was blank. All she heard was the voice… the voice that sounded all too familiar yet she couldn’t distinguish whom the owner was. “We’ve been waiting for you, Jessica,” she said abruptly.
* * * *
Isabella struggled against her restraints, a combination of anger and confusion coursing through her. It was no use. He had tied them too tight for her to escape.
She let out a long breath. What in the hell was going on? One minute, she was just trying to go to the bathroom and the next she had stumbled into that room with all the pictures, leading her straight to here.
Mike walked in and knelt down in front of her, a sad smile on his face. “It’s a shame you had to be so damn stubborn, Isabella. I was really starting to like you, too.”
“Fuck you!” she screamed through clenched teeth.
“Scream all you want, sweetheart. We’re out in the middle of nowhere. No one will hear you.”
“Just tell me, Mike. Why did you do it? Why did you kill those three women?”
“What makes you think I killed them?”
“Their pictures are plastered all over your goddamn walls.”
He smiled. “We all grew up together. I was best friends with Keith, Karen’s older brother. I have pictures of all of them because they were all so fucking beautiful and photography is kind of a hobby for me.”
“If that’s true then why have you tied me up in here?”
“Because you keep getting in the way of my investigation! I have been waiting a long time to make a name for myself and I refuse to share my moment in the spotlight with anyone, including you.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Believe it. I loved all four of those girls. I would never hurt them. I’m a cop for crying out loud… Deputy Sheriff of Deatsville. I vowed to uphold the law, not break it by committing murder.”
“Holding someone hostage is breaking the law you know,” she countered, still not convinced of what he was telling her.
“I’m going to let you go, once I’ve made an arrest.”
“You’re unbelievable. Such an arrogant bastard!”
“Maybe. And maybe I’m an arrogant bastard who’s just trying to keep you safe.”
“Roger Blake. I think he’s onto you.”
“During our interview, he told me that if I saw his star reporter to tell her that he didn’t appreciate someone snooping around through his personal files.”
“I thought I was discreet.”
“Obviously not discreet enough.”
“Look, if you just let me go, I promise I will stay out of your way.”
“I don’t trust you.”
“Then undo these.” She held her bound hands in the air. “Please,” Isabella pleaded.
“Are you kidding? You’d tear my spleen out. I think the best thing for you to do is sit tight for a few days. We’re pretty close to making an arrest.”
Isabella opened her mouth to protest but Mike was out the door too fast.
* * * *
“I’ve always wanted you, Jessica. I’ve always wanted you and could never have you. Now, no one will have you,” she continued as if she were in a daze.
Nathan gently shook her, causing her to open her eyes and look at him. “Jessie?”
“I can hear his voice, remember what he said. But I cannot see his face. Why? Why can’t I see his face?” she asked more to herself.
He pulled her into his embrace and rocked her back and forth. “It’s okay. You will.”
“When?” she asked in a desperate voice.
“It’s just going to take time.”
“Don’t you understand?” Jessie pulled away from him, her expression bewildered. “I can’t remember what his face looks like!”
“I can’t remember what his face looks like,” she repeated in a deflated voice.
“Listen to me. We will figure this out. You and I. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Nathan…” She swiped at her tears with the back of her hand and cleared her throat. “I have to tell you something.”
“Roger Blake came onto me. He cornered me in his office and put his hands on me and when I asked him to stop, he wouldn’t.”
Rage burned through him, his temper hanging on by a very thin thread. “Did he…”
“NO! Alan walked in and Roger backed away immediately.” Jessie noticed the way his nostrils flared, could tell he wanted to do some immediate damage to Roger if he could. She reached for his hand and covered it with her own. “He didn’t hurt me, Nathan.”
“You’d tell me if he did?” he asked in an angry voice.
“Yes. He didn’t.”
“Because if I find out that Blake has ever put his hands on you and hurt you, I’d…” His voice trailed off. Nathan didn’t want to admit what he would do.
Jessie’s eyes narrowed, examining him as if she were trying to figure something out. Then, her expression sobered and she sighed. “I’m not supposed to know this, but after that happened, he came over to my house to see me. I guess he was trying to come up with a logical way to prevent me from filing sexual harassment charges against him. I wasn’t there. But Maria was. I suppose the two of them hit it off because shortly after that, they started seeing each other. The next thing I knew, he was at my house all the time. He and Maria were having an affair.” Jessie pushed a strand of hair from her face and sighed. “I never told Maria but I would walk out of my bedroom sometimes and find him lingering in the hallway. A couple of times he tried to put the moves on me right there, under her nose. Of course, I pushed him away every time. But… I don’t trust him, Nathan. I’m not saying that he’s the one that did this. I just think that…”
“He’s got a solid alibi. He was with his wife all night.”
Jessie shook her head. “I wouldn’t take anything Marcia Blake says as the truth. The woman is just as ruthless and callous as Roger. She puts up a pretty good act for the public eye, but when it all comes down to it, she is not what she seems. Marcia Blake only cares about one thing. And that is maintaining her reputation. She knows that Roger regularly indulges in extramarital affairs. I overheard them talking one day in his office. If she thinks that he was out with one of his mistresses that night then she’s going to lie for him for the sake of her precious reputation.”
“What are you telling me, Jess?”
“I think he could be the one.”
“But you said you can’t remember his face.”
“I know. But you said it was probably someone we all knew, someone we all trusted. I didn’t trust Roger, but the other three adored him. They thought the world of him. Plus… he’s the right build for the man I keep seeing. Same height, same size.”
“Jessie…” How did he tell her this? “We found pictures of you and your roommates on his computer. The only problem is that those images were obtained illegally. And the fact that he has an alibi… It leaves my hands tied.”
“So basically, it’s still all up to me.”
“It kind of always has been.”
She laughed humorlessly. “Well that’s good. I don’t feel pressured or anything.”
“Look, if you can’t remember then that’s fine. We’ll figure out another way to find the man who did this.”
“You are so amazing.”
He didn’t know what to say, just looked at her blankly.
“Here I am, this pathetic soul who has the information you so desperately need locked away inside my mind somewhere. But instead of prodding me endlessly until you get what you need, you have been so patient with me. Why?”
Because I’m falling in love with you, he wanted to say. Because you are the most beautiful person I’ve ever met in my life, was what he desperately wanted to tell her. “Because it’s my job,” he finally said.
“So we’re back to that? I’m just a job?”
“I think we both know that you’ve become more than just a job.”
She smiled. “Interesting.”
“But Jessie, the job still comes first.”
“When I was a little girl, I used to always dream about prince charming riding up on his white stallion and whisking me away to his castle where I would live happily ever after. As I got older, I realized that the prince doesn’t exist and that the only person I should ever expect to depend on is me. I’ve conditioned myself to think that way all of my life. And that’s okay. A person has to be able to stand on their own two feet before they can learn to count on someone else. But I have to say, it’s been kind of nice depending on you the last week or so.” His eyes narrowed and she quickly added. “Don’t worry. I have no intentions of getting used to it. When everything is said and done, I know that you will go your way and I will go mine. I’m completely fine with that, Nathan. But for right now, just for a little while, can we pretend?”
“Pretend what?” he asked softly.
“Pretend that you are just an average man and I am just your average woman and we met the way people traditionally meet. I looked into your eyes and you looked into mine and we knew instantly that we had to get to know each other. And somehow,” she shrugged, “we just ended up here.”
“I’d like that.”
Jessie leaned back, drawing her knees up and hugging them to her chest.
“So, you are working on your term paper?”
“Yes,” she smiled at him.
“What are you doing it on?”
“How Shakespeare has been translated into modern literature and film?”
“That sounds interesting. How’s that coming along?”
“I haven’t had much time to work on it lately. But otherwise, I think once I get started, it will be pretty easy.”
“If you need any help, I’m pretty knowledgeable when it comes to William Shakespeare.”
“So I’ve heard.” Jessie laughed. “By day making the city of Deatsville a safer place to live and by night quoting Shakespeare with perfection… you’re quite the catch, Detective Benson.”
“As are you, Miss Porter.”
Her expression turned serious. “Tell me something, Nathan.”
“Have you ever been in love?”
“No. I’ve never made time to fall in love.”
She laughed. “I don’t think you can fit it into your perfect little schedule of events. If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen.”
“Okay then. I try to avoid it all costs.”
“I see. Care to tell me why?”
He shook his head. “How about you? You ever been in love?”
“I thought I was once.”
She nodded. “It’s funny how that works. The one that is perfect for you in every way… the one that you could see yourself building a life with and having children, and growing old together… turns out to be the one that’s wrong for you in every sense of the word.”
“Why was he wrong for you?”
“I always imagined love being a feeling you get from head to toe. With Josh, I never got that feeling.”
“A head rush. The world spins around you and you feel completely out of control. Your body becomes alive just by being in the same room. Total and complete loss of control. That’s how I imagine love should be.” She smiled. “And I believe that it’s supposed to catch you completely off guard. There’s no planning, no choice. It just hits you when you least expect it.”
“Jessie, you are a wonderful woman. And if I wasn’t who I am, when this was over I would take you out on a date, kiss you goodnight at the front door, get down on one knee and ask you to be mine for the rest of our lives.”
“I’m not built that way. I suck at relationships. And in the end, I would hurt you just as I have every other woman I’ve ever tried to maintain a relationship with.”
Jessie stood up and looked down at him, her expression tender. “It has nothing to do with not being built that way. It has to do with fear. You’re afraid to let someone inside. The question is why? Why does the idea of loving someone and letting them love you in return scare you so much?”
“I’m an expert on pushing people away. And in the process, I’ve lost everyone that’s ever mattered to me. If I don’t walk away from this experience with nothing else, it will be the knowledge that people come and go… and that’s alright… as long as you love them as much as you can while they’re with you. I’ve come to realize that I’m not afraid anymore. I will love just as much as I am loved. It’s as simple as that.”
Without giving him a chance to reply, she turned on one heel and walked away.
* * * *
Cameron glanced up as Mike entered the interrogation room. “Can I go now?” he asked impatiently.
Mike flipped the chair around and sat down, straddling the back. He dropped a plastic bag on the table in front of Cameron. “Recognize this?”
Cameron reached over and lifted the bag, examining the contents. The blade of the knife caught a shaft of light and Cameron quickly set it away from him.
“That was found in your closet, Cameron. If you look real close, you can still see remnants of blood on that knife. The blade itself is about four inches in width, which if I’m not mistaken was the same size of the stab wounds on those girls. I bet if we test the blood on that knife, we’ll find that it belongs to at least one of the stab victims.”
“I’ve never seen that knife before.”
“How did it get in your closet, Cam?”
“It must have been put there.”
“By who? I searched your apartment myself. I was the one that found this buried in the back of your closet under some boxes. Are you saying I planted this?”
“Then how did it get there, Cameron?”
Cameron’s eyes darted around the room like a panicked deer caught in headlights. “Are you arresting me, Mike?”
“If the blood on that knife matches any one of the victims, then yeah. You will be arrested for the murder of Karen Shepard, Sherry Phillips, and Maria Melendez and the attempted murder of Jessica Porter.”
“I want a lawyer.”
“And you shall have one.” Mike stood up, grabbing the bag in his hand, and turned to the door. His hand on the knob, he halted and looked over his shoulder at Cameron. “Why did you do it? What did those girls ever do to you? What did Jessie ever do to you?”
Cameron didn’t say a word, just looked down at his trembling hands.
“Was her rejection that hard to accept? Is that it? Did you love her so much and when she turned you away you decided to get revenge?”
“I will not say another word without my lawyer,” Cameron said solemnly.
“Very well.” Mike pushed through the door.