I wasn’t really feeling much better the next day. For whatever reason, I felt more exhausted than when I’d gone to bed, and the fact that I still didn’t have a call from my father made me even more antsy. I’d hoped that he’d call while I was asleep, so that I wouldn’t have time to psych myself out over the prospect of telling him what had happened. So much for that pipe dream. Now I’d have to gather up my courage once again… goddamn it.
I stumbled to my feet and grabbed my phone, staring at it as though it could somehow magically give me all the answers I wanted, as I walked out of my room and across the hall towards my bathroom. I’d just about decided that I’d take a shower first – because I just really wanted one, you see, and not at all because I wanted to stall, no, sir – when I raised my eyes to the bathroom mirror and my entire body just shut down.
How do you process something like that? Perhaps some people can do it all at once, can look at something so shocking and absorb its information in an instant. I know that I am not one of those people. The only way I could make sense out of what I was seeing was in bits and pieces, and so everything came in fragmented and confused.
Curves. Lines. Symbols.
Pale. Face? Me.
What does it say?
“Call your daddy.”
I stared at the message on my mirror, the blood like solid ice in my veins. Half of my body was poised to bolt, thrumming with a passionate electricity. The other half was terrified that, if I so much as breathed, the illusion of stillness would be shattered and I would have to deal with the fact that someone had been in my home.
Was still here, perhaps?
Something else was wrong with this room. I dragged my eyes away from the mirror with a great, painstaking effort and focused on the shower to my immediate left. The curtain was drawn.
I never left the curtain drawn.
That was the deciding moment. All of the air in my little apartment exploded into my lungs, filled me with potential energy, and all that energy had to go somewhere so it flooded my legs as I sprinted for the door, tears streaming from my eyes and jaw locked shut so that I couldn’t scream.
I ran out my door, but I couldn’t stop there. So I ran down the stairs… and I couldn’t stop there. I fled the building into the freezing winter air, clad in nothing but my sleep shorts and a tank top, my bare feet freezing against the cement. But I couldn’t stop there.
So I ran and ran and ran.
I’m not really sure how long I went on like that, only that I eventually stopped in a part of town I didn’t even recognize, shaking even though I didn’t feel cold. People were staring, but that didn’t seem to matter at that moment. All that mattered was the phone in my hand and the person that I was going to call. And, no, it wasn’t my father.
I stepped into an alleyway and sat against the brick side of one of the buildings, pulling my knees to my chest and heaving as I finally began to cry. My trembling hand held the phone to my ear as it rang interminably.
Finally, a voice came over the phone, but before I could identify it, my own voice sobbed out.
“I need to speak to Officer Mentuckett, now, please, now…”
Turns out, all those hours of agonizing over calling my dad were for naught. Officer Mentuckett did it for me, after sending a car to pick me up and bring me down to the station. Actually, he did everything for me, because I was in no state of mind to be doing things for myself. He got me a change of clothes and some breakfast. He talked to me until the shock started to subside. It wasn’t until about an hour after I arrived at the station that he actually asked me what was going on.
I explained as much as I could – the mirror, the shower curtain, the lipstick. That somehow they’d gotten back into my apartment while I was sleeping.
“When you called last night, you said you’d searched your apartment. Is that right?”
“What I want to ask is: did you search thoroughly? I mean really thoroughly?”
I thought about that. I’d gone into every room and I’d even checked the closet in my bedroom. I tried to remember if I’d forgotten to look anywhere.
And then it dawned on me, as horrifying as anything I’d ever imagined.
My bed. I hadn’t looked under my bed.
Now it made sense. The scratches on the lock plate on my front door, and the fact that, now that I was thinking about it, my front door had been locked that morning when I’d bolted.
Officer Mentuckett dispatched a few men to go check out my apartment as I fell under the influence of another panic attack. He sat there with me until my breathing returned to normal, which took considerably longer than I would like to admit. Once I had started to relax again, he spoke.
“Your parents are on their way to pick you up. I think it’s best that you stay with them for the time being, at least until we figure out who might be doing this and why.”
Even if I’d wanted to protest that, I knew that the decision had been made for me by my father. I wondered how angry he would be that I hadn’t called him right away when I’d made my initial discovery. Well, I’d deal with his anger, as long as it meant that I wasn’t dead yet.
So I sat and I waited.
I refused to go back to my apartment to get my things, so my parents took me straight home as soon as they’d arrived. It had taken them a few hours to get there, and it took us a few hours to get home, but it was worth it. When I saw our old familiar farmhouse sitting alone in the distance, I could have cried with relief. Here was something I knew and understood. Here was somewhere that I felt safe.
Well… relatively speaking.
Things were pretty tame for the first few days. I really thought that I’d get yelled at; I didn’t think my dad would appreciate me keeping information away from him. But there was no yelling or screaming. My parents pretended that everything was normal, and that helped ME to pretend that everything was normal. I breathed a sigh of relief and allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security.
A week later, my mother left my father and me alone at home while she did some shopping. The air was tense as she left and I realized that I couldn’t run from the situation forever. My father wanted to talk to me but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it.
I sat down in the living room as he poured himself a glass of whiskey – Glenmorangie, his favorite – and I waited for him to start talking.
I didn’t have to wait long.
“That officer you worked with, Officer Mentuckett. He told me everything that happened. I suppose you already know that.”
Once he saw that I nodded, he continued.
“He asked me if there was anyone who might have a grudge on me. Someone angry enough to seek you out all these years later. Well… I can only think of one person.”
He paused then, sipping on his whiskey. I began to wonder if he was stalling.
“In my whole career, I can say with confidence that I did my job as best as I could. I tried to help people; that’s why I became a cop in the first place. I tried to keep the roads safe, and that wasn’t always easy.
“But that doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes. I’m sure I made a few, and I hope that most of them weren’t serious mistakes. But, as much as I hope for that, I know without a doubt that I did make one very, very serious mistake, one that I can’t take back now, no matter how hard I try.
“See, when you were very young – oh, maybe three or four – I was involved with a pretty serious case. It was the kind of thing you don’t usually see as a trooper, but sometimes things come into our jurisdiction and we don’t have a choice.
“We were involved in a chase down 75. Some piece of shit, about 40 years old, had shot up a library. Apparently, the librarian had refused his advances and that was his revenge. He killed her and a few patrons, including about two children, both under the age of 12.
“He fled and came into our county. He was driving recklessly and someone was going to die if we didn’t stop him. I was the one who made the decision. I called my partner and had him set up the spike strips, and I drove him to them. Once he ran them over, the car went out of control and into the ditch. Just like that, we got ‘im. I was glad and I thought it was over, although I knew I’d probably have to testify in court when the time came. I didn’t mind it at all. I was all too happy to put that piece of shit behind bars. Let him rot there, although I knew he wouldn’t rot for very long. I fully expected him to get the death penalty for what he did, and, surprise, surprise, I was right.
“But that wasn’t where the mistake came in. The mistake came in during the following months. The dirtbag had a wife and kid, the kid being about… maybe 13 at the time? Turns out, the wife was just as shitty as her husband, and she and a few of his buddies began sending threats to our family.
“I shouldn’t have reacted. I should have reported it to the sergeant, is what I should have done. But I didn’t See, I got a letter one day, a very descriptive one, and instead of threatening your mom or I, they… well, they threatened you.
“And I lost my temper.
“I went to see them myself, decided to have a little heart-to-heart with his wife and explain the situation to her. Namely, that if she ever so much as thought your name again, I’d rip her limb from limb and wouldn’t give a shit what kind of consequences I got.
“She tried to scare me right back, she told me that her husband would get out of jail and he’d murder all of us himself. And I answered. I said, ‘Your husband is a dead man walking.’
“What I didn’t realize was that her son was standing in the next room, listening. He’d heard every word.
“I was right about it. That man was put to death and my scare-tactic must have worked because that woman and her son didn’t come back to bother any of us. Well… until now.
“Out of all of the things that I did as a cop, that is the only one I can honestly say that I regret. That kid, it wasn’t his fault. He was only a child and, no matter how angry I was, saying that about his father while he listened… that’s unforgivable.”
My father downed the rest of his whiskey as I absorbed what he’d said. I thought back to the note on the door and I shuddered.
“You think he came back for me?” I asked.
“I know he did,” my father answered. “They’re looking for him now, and I hope that they find him. Because if he’s anything like his father, he’ll have no qualms killing.”
He looked me straight in the eye before he continued. “That’s why you need to stay here. You won’t be safe until he’s behind bars. And I won’t let anything happen to you.”
And when my father told me that, what choice did I have but to agree?
But they didn’t find him. Weeks turned into months, and those months dragged by in agonizing slowness. I had to quit my job, opting instead to do some freelance writing in the meantime. I wasn’t happy about it, but what could I do? That crazy fucker was still out there.
I was beginning to go stir-crazy with waiting, praying each and every day that I’d get the good news, that they’d find him and I could go back to my life and pretending that the world was a safe place for me.
I got it one Wednesday morning.
The call came from Officer Mentuckett, whose voice I had become familiar with over the last few months, as he was always the one to call and give me updates. When he called, my heart skipped a beat, and I rushed up to my bedroom where I could talk to him in private.
“Please, please tell me that you found him.”
“Not quite.” Apparently my disappointment was actually audible with how strong it was because he continued, “but I think I know where he is.”
“Where?” I breathed.
“We found some strange activity going on down in a storage unit about ten miles from your apartment. I looked up the owner of the unit, and the name doesn’t match, but I think he’s using an alias, because the first name matches our perp’s mother’s maiden name. I’m almost positive it’s him.”
“So? Can’t you arrest him?” I don’t know why I even bothered asking, as I already knew the answer.
“Unfortunately, there’s no real evidence to justify arresting the guy yet. After all, it might not even be the person we’re after. Unless he slips up, we can’t go after him. Which is… well, here’s the part that’s a little difficult.”
I waited for him to continue. He hesitated for longer than I was comfortable with, and I wondered what could be so awful that he didn’t want to tell me.
“Look, I know a way we could get him. But it involves you and I know that, if your family were to hear about my plan, or even my own station sergeant, for that matter, not only would I be fired, but they’d probably bring charges against me. The thing is, you and I both know that sometimes the system doesn’t work. Right now, the system isn’t working. We have months of fruitless searches to show for that, don’t we? My plan entails us working outside the system. But I can promise you that it will work.”
I wasn’t exactly convinced by that, but I was curious to hear what the plan was. So I asked, “What do you want me to do?”
“I want to take you down to the storage units around midnight. That’s usually when he shows up. I want you to confront him. Don’t worry, it will be perfectly safe. You’ll be wearing a bulletproof vest and, in any case, I’ll be watching from a vantage point a few yards away. All we need is for him to become aggressive with you. He doesn’t even have to attack you, he just needs to make a threat that is severe enough that I can arrest him. That, or you have to get him to admit to his identity.
“I know that it sounds frightening and dangerous, but I can assure you that it’s 100% safe. I’ll be there the entire time, supervising. I’ll have a few of my trusted partners on stand-by in case things get out of hand, which they won’t. The only stipulation is that you can’t tell your parents about this, especially your father. He’d try to interfere and then we’ll never catch this piece of shit.
“Ultimately, the choice is up to you. If we don’t do this, I can’t guarantee that we’ll get the guy soon, or ever. If you cooperate with me, I think we could have him within the next few days.”
At that moment, I honestly felt like I was in one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books. I could either sit by and wait for something to happen, turn to page 42, or I could bite the bullet and take matters into my own hand, turn to page nine.
I turned to page nine.
“I’ll do it.”