By R. E. Bradshaw
(This excerpt is from Part I, PRELUDE TO A NIGHTMARE.)
6:30 AM, Sunday, December 14, 2014
Residence of Glena Sweet
Madras Lane, Orange County, NC
“The pace of his escalating violence is nearly unprecedented. I’ve not personally dealt with an offender like this,” Rainey said, as she removed latex gloves from her hands, “but I’ve read about them, studied them. This is going to end very badly for a lot more women if he isn’t stopped. He’s just reaching his full potential.”
Detective Sheila Robertson followed Rainey down the front steps of the two-story colonial revival home, after examining another in a series of crime scenes in perfectly manicured suburban neighborhoods.
“She should have been safe here,” Sheila commented aloud what she was thinking.
“No one is safe, not from a predator like this. I would bring the BAU in if it were up to me.”
Sheila, while crossing her arms in a defensive posture, responded, “That call is above either of our pay grades. The BAU is aware of the case and has thus far agreed with everything you’ve said. The task force saw no need to request BAU presence on the case just to reassure you that you are correct in your analysis. We are doing exactly what should be done.”
“And yet, here we are on a Sunday morning, attending to another woman’s broken life. Maybe I’ve missed something. More eyes and ears would be better.”
Sheila dropped her crossed arms and led Rainey a bit further away from the law enforcement personnel swarming the scene and the gathering nosey neighbors. Once a safe distance from prying ears, she began to chastise Rainey for the display of insecurity.
“Self-doubt is not attractive on you, so don’t start wearing a hair shirt yet. I don’t think you’ve missed anything. The departments have all consulted their individual experts. There have been a ton of eyes on this material. They all say the same thing. He’s escalating and we need to catch him, but no one seems to know how to do that.”
Sheila paused to gain control of surfacing emotions. Rainey knew it for what it was. Seeing the depths of human depravity took its toll. The stress of being unable to solve a case could break the most seasoned of investigators, catching them unaware. Rainey was well aware of the pressure they were both under to solve this case. She waited for the deep breath Sheila needed to take hold. Once accomplished, Detective Robertson was ready to go back to work.
“So, our eyes and ears are going to have to be enough at the moment,” she said. “Now, what went on in this house? That woman took one hell of a beating. From the looks of things, she fought hard for her life. Professor Sweet is lucky to be alive.”
“Have you spoken to her?” Rainey asked.
“I stopped by the emergency room, but she’s too injured to interview right now. They have to wire her jaw back together first.”
“Did you see her, or has anyone noted her injuries for you?”
Sheila pulled out her phone and opened the photo file before handing it to Rainey.
“I took a few pictures in the exam room. The sexual assault nurse examiner will be more thorough.”
Rainey used her fingers on the phone screen to manipulate the pictures until she was satisfied she’d seen enough.
“The pictures don’t show it, but the doctor said the sexual assault was violent. She’ll need some reparative surgery for those injuries,” Sheila said in disgust.
Rainey returned the borrowed phone, saying, “He completed his transformation from power reassurance rapist to sadist pretty quickly. The first one, the assault on Mary Tweedy, showed inexperience with a live victim. He surprised her in her sleep and overpowered her almost immediately using only his size and strength. He hit her only once with his fist to quiet her. She stopped resisting. He showed concern for her comfort, tried to initiate personal conversations, and reassured her that she was pretty. He promised not to penetrate her, and he didn’t, although he did please himself in other ways. He was not brutal, but he paralyzed her with fear so severely that she waited to call the police for a half an hour, as he had instructed.”
“The second assault victim, Arianna Wilde—” Sheila began.
Rainey interrupted, “How’s she doing, by the way?”
“She got her stitches out, put the farm up for sale, and bought a ticket to ‘someplace warmer.’ She left her ex-husband’s phone number for contact information and said to call only if we caught the son of a bitch.”
“I can’t much blame her,” Rainey commented. “She had a security system, just like the professor here, and he still got in. How safe could she ever feel in that house? The lingering effects of trauma cling to things and places as well as people. Recovery is different for every victim, if it happens at all.”
Sheila turned her head to look at Rainey, a questioning look on her face, but she only said, “I hope she finds some peace.”
Rainey agreed, “Me, too,” before continuing the analysis. “He blitz-attacked Arianna. Hit her with a flashlight while she slept. That’s immediate application of excessive force. Although his first assault had all the elements of a power reassurance rapist, there were anger indicators—the binding, the picture taking, the degrading posing. Mary Tweedy described his repeated ramping up of her fear only to return to casual conversation about the Halloween decorations in her yard. It’s all about controlling her fear, when she shows it and how much. The anger behaviors indicated evolution to a truer sadistic nature was inevitable.”
“With Arianna,” Sheila began, “he followed the blitz attack with forcefully binding her while she was still dazed. He cut her tee shirt and panties off with a knife. He teased it across her skin and slapped her when she screamed. He had no inflection during the assaults, she said. He calmly told her what to do and when to do it. But then he would speak to her as if they were old friends. That ‘I love what you’ve done with the place’ line was just creepy as hell.”
“That was the sadist assuming his role as the torturer, whether in person or within the victim’s mind. Mary Tweedy will never decorate for Halloween again. Arianna is selling the family home where she always dreamed she’d grow old. It’s taunting with residual effects. He wants them to know he was watching and they never knew.
“He plants the seed of doubt. The one that whispers, ‘You will never be safe again. I will be watching.’ Then he sits back and lets it take root. With or without return visits to his victims, he knows the mental terror he inflicted will stay with them long after he has gone. Again, that’s about control and fear. Remember how Arianna said when she went limp, focused her mind elsewhere, he stopped raping her and put the knife to her throat again. He needed her terrified to complete his fantasy. That’s the sadist, too.”
Sheila paced the ground in front of Rainey, while the crowd of neighbors grew outside the crime scene tape. She stopped to ask a question.
“But, remember, Arianna said when she fought him again, after the attack had been going on for some time, he hit her with the flashlight, knocked her out, and she awoke to him raping her again. She wasn’t showing terror then. What does that tell you?”
“When she just checked out, she was ignoring him. That was unacceptable. An incapacitated victim, that’s a whole other ballgame. Unconscious victims can represent to the offender the complete domination and subjugation, particularly one wrapped in sexual bindings unnecessary to prevent escape. It’s part of his visual fantasy of the perfect victim. This guy is finding his sadist groove.”
“So, what looks like Glena Sweet fighting for her life is him ramping up the violence.”
Rainey nodded her head in agreement. “That’s my assessment. I’d say with her slight stature and what the other two victims have said, he easily could have overpowered her and prevented much of the struggle. Look how this house sits further back in the woods than the others. At the end of the cul-de-sac and with this much spacing between houses, no one would have noticed her screams before he gagged her. That’s another change to his methods with this one. He did not wait for her to go to sleep. He was probably in the house when she came home. For the first time, his victim saw him coming. He took her while the neighbors’ houses were filled with the noise of family activities.”
“That’s what I can’t figure out,” Sheila said, shaking her head. “Why come when she’s still awake? Why change what has been working?”
“He’s hunting the rush. This behavior is more psychologically motivated than practical, making it part of his signature. Standing over them while they slept was thrilling. Seeing her fear when he surprised her in the basement laundry, that was orgasmic to this guy. He enjoyed the fight inside this house. The blood evidence shows he pummeled her repeatedly as he drove her up to the second-floor bedroom. I’m not so sure he meant to leave her alive. Her binding bruises looked the same as the others, but she’s the first with finger marks on her throat. He probably tried manually strangling her and thought she was dead. It takes a long time to strangle someone to death with just your hands, about three minutes.”
Sheila interjected, “So, maybe he doesn’t know how to take a pulse. That rules out medical personnel.”
“More than likely he blew his wad and lost his composure. This is just a guess, and I’ll be interested to know what Professor Sweet has to say, but I’d be willing to bet he was assaulting her while attempting to squeeze the life out of her. He was seeking the ultimate act of domination, made even more sexually satisfying because of the death struggle of his victim. His timing was off on his first attempt, but he learned something.”
Rainey looked back at the second story window where Glena Sweet had fought for her life.
“He didn’t kill this one, but he’ll kill the next one, and he’ll do it soon. He’ll bring something else to strangle her with—extra rope, a garrote, something to give him more control and leverage. He’s an emerging sexual sadist serial killer. And we have a front row seat to his edification.”
Monday, December 15, 2014
Durham County Sheriff’s Office
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division and a Multi-Jurisdictional Task Force involving Wake, Chatham, Durham and Orange Counties are investigating a series of burglaries and sexual assaults, the majority of which have occurred within three miles on either side of a section of Highway 751 running south from I-40 in Durham County to the spillway bridge at Jordan Lake in Chatham County. These attacks appear to be connected to a series of voyeur reports and fetish thefts occurring in this area, as well as burglaries and a sexual assault that occurred in lower Chatham County, near Brickhaven. These crimes span from a burglary on September 2, 2013, to a violent sexual assault on December 13, 2014.
Early in the investigation, the majority of these crimes occurred inside single-family homes while the residents were away. Articles of clothing belonging to the female residents were taken. The suspect then began entering the homes of women living alone, while the women were at home and without their knowledge. On October 24, November 22, and December 13, 2014, the suspect escalated to violent sexual assault. In each of the assault cases, the female victim lived alone. The suspect enters through locked or unlocked doors and windows and has used a device to disrupt wireless security systems in some cases.
The suspect is described as a white male, 35-45 years old, 6’ to 6’3”, well spoken, extremely strong, and physically fit. He may be an avid photographer. He is probably a runner and uses the greenways and running trails in the area for access to the crime scenes.
We are cautioning all single females living alone in the area to take extra measures for their safety. It may be wise to have a male friend or family member stay at the home. Other security measures include replacing outdoor lights with bright lamps and leaving them on. If possible install motion detector activated lighting at the back of property near any wooded areas, vary routines, place a stick in windows to prevent opening or install locks that bolt to the frame, install chain or swing-bar locks on entry doors.
Any female resident living in proximity to these crimes that believes she may have been a victim of a fetish burglary in the last two years is urged to come forward. The suspect has been known to return to scenes of his previous crimes. Persons with any information on these crimes should contact Detective Sheila Robertson, Durham County Sheriff’s Department Criminal Investigations Division.
9:00 AM, Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Hardware Builder’s Supply
“Send me everything you have in stock and find more.”
Harold Sparks listened to the warehouse manager’s surprised response and didn’t care how many swing-bar locks and window frame locking bolts he was ordering. It wouldn’t be enough.
“Yes, everything. Send everything on the truck this afternoon. I can’t keep the stuff on the shelves. People are scared.”
Harold looked down the door and window hardware aisle of his store filled with frightened women.
“Hang on. Don’t put the stuff on the truck. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Just have it ready to load.”
A young woman in a State College hoodie stood in the aisle staring up at a wall of door locks while a single tear rolled down her cheek.
Her voice shook as she said into the phone at her ear, “No, Mom. They don’t have any left, either.”
“God, help us,” Harold said, “God, help us all.”
4:45 PM, Monday, January 19, 2015
Cookie Kutter Crime Beat Recording Studio
“Good evening. I’m Cookie Kutter. CKCB. See a crime, come see me.”
A formerly respected news reporter, gone the way of Nancy Grace sensationalism, Cookie Kutter began the recording of her nightly cable crime beat newscast, ready to explain to the masses why she was the only person watching their backs. She shook her judgmental bottle-blonde head from side to side and smirked for the camera before launching into tonight’s rant.
“S. M. H. For those of you not text savvy, that means I’m shaking my head.” She pointed at her head. “See? Shakin’ it. Shakin’ it.”
Her smirk turned into an exaggerated frown.
“Another woman is dead at the hands of the Triangle Terror, and the multi-jurisdictional task force is no closer to catching this guy than they were when he started pulling panties off clotheslines two years ago.”
More head shaking followed.
“A thirty-five-year-old woman was brutally attacked and murdered in her home on Glen Road in Chatham County. The name of the victim has not been released, nor has law enforcement divulged any details, but sources say it is the Triangle Terror’s work. The attack occurred sometime Saturday night or early Sunday morning. This follows only twenty-two days after the shocking murder of twenty-six-year-old Tiegen Davis, less than four miles from the latest crime scene.”
Cookie stared into the camera, as it moved in for a close-up.
“After fourteen fetish burglaries, three rapes, and now two ghastly murders, what are the police doing to catch this guy? All law enforcement can do is tell women living alone to watch out for a thirty-five to forty-five-year-old physically fit white guy, move a man onto our couches, lock the doors, and hope for the best. Is that acceptable, ladies and gentlemen?”
Cookie raised one eyebrow and sneered at the camera. “I think not.”
She dropped her elbow to the desktop and pointed at the camera.
“You, multi-jurisdictional task force, can do better. Why do you depend on former FBI agent Rainey Bell as a consultant, considering her inability to identify her own rapist, letting him close enough to try again? And what about the fact she hired a killer and let her into her own home without realizing it? She’s lucky all she lost were her signature long curly locks.”
The pointing finger came down, but the character assassination of Rainey Bell continued.
“Last February, former agent Bell went to a funeral and ended up kidnapped by a psychopath. Really, is that the best we can do folks, a tragically flawed behavioral analyst? Why not contact the Behavioral Analysis Unit and bring in actual FBI agents? Don’t the women of the Triangle area deserve an official state and federal investigation? This is obviously over the heads of local law enforcement and the apparently clueless has-been analyst with issues.”
The camera pulled back as Cookie stacked and straightened papers on the desk in front of her while giving a sideways glance to her audience. Having given ample time for her disdain to sink in, she slapped the papers on the desk for emphasis and asked, “Are you kidding me?”
Another pause followed, a short one to rearrange her features in an alternative display of condescension and scorn.
“Speaking of Rainey Bell, she is in the crime news today on another matter. The three bodies pulled from the drainage pond near an airport long-term parking lot last month have been identified. DNA was determined to match two teenage boys reported to be runaways and missing since October of 2014. The names have not been released. The two were thought to have taken up homosexual prostitution as a way to survive on the street—which is another show altogether—and were last seen getting into a black sedan with darkly tinted windows. The deaths were determined to be homicides, and there are no suspects.”
Cookie tilted her head to one side, gave the camera lens her best gloating sneer, and chided, “Imagine that.”
She shifted positions, leaning in on her elbows to pull the audience in further.
“Now here’s where the Rainey Bell connection comes in. The third body is that of Dr. John P. Taylor, a local veterinarian missing since July of 2010. He is thought to be the last victim of the Y-Man serial killer, who turned out to be former State Representative JW Wilson. If you’ll remember, Wilson is also the man who kidnapped and raped the then Agent Bell, scarring her for life with a Y-incision on her torso. Wilson was killed by his wife, Katherine Anne Meyers, after he attacked Agent Bell and Ms. Meyers in their love nest on Lake Jordan. Oh yes, Rainey Bell is now raising triplets with and is married to the former Mrs. Wilson, whom we all remember from her drunken attack on moi.”
The batting eyelashes were meant to draw sympathy from her supporters. After the short pause for effect, she moved on.
“The teenagers’ and Dr. Taylor’s deaths do not appear to be related, according to the medical examiner’s reports. Sources tell us the bindings were still attached to the teenagers’ remains, suggesting another type of killer is also on the loose in the triangle, one targeting teenage male prostitutes.”
Cookie formed an impish grin for her fans.
“How long do you think it will be before Rainey Bell is somehow mixed up in these teenagers’ murders? We’ll see. Trouble seems to find Ms. Bell on a regular basis. Maybe she should try gardening and leave the crime fighting to those who don’t end up in the middle of their own investigations?”
Her raised eyebrows were meant to give emphasis and credence to Cookie’s assessment of Rainey Bell’s investigative talents.
“We’ll be back after the break to talk to Dr. Edward Teague, a forensic psychologist and research fellow at State College. He’s going to tell us about sexual paraphilia and why the Triangle Terror is driven by these needs. We’ll be right back with more on the Cookie Kutter Crime Beat Show.”
“And cut,” a voice said from the darkness in the studio. “Okay, Cookie. We’ll have the doc set up with a microphone in two minutes.”
Without an audience to charm, Cookie reverted to her off-camera persona.
“Why don’t I have video of Rainey Bell at one of these crime scenes? Why don’t I have an interview with one of the surviving victims? What the fuck am I paying you little weasels for? And, Dirk, yes you, Dirk, the one with the headset in the booth, the one that’s supposed to edit this shit into something worthy of a number one local cable news show—make sure you run that clip in the background of precious little Katie Meyers punching me in the face.”
She chuckled and shook her head from side to side, as she started editing the questions for her upcoming guest.
Under her breath, but easily heard by others, she chuckled and said, “I’ve gotten more mileage out of that fifteen seconds of video than should be legal. Love it, just love it.”
Later that same evening…
Somewhere in the Raleigh-Durham Area
“Thank you, Doctor Teague. I don’t know about you ladies,” Cookie said into the camera lens, “but I think I’m headed to the dollar store for some big ol’ granny panties.”
Dr. Teague’s voice could be heard off-camera, trying to explain, “Well, the style might not be a factor in this offend—”
Cookie’s glare, focused on someone beyond the camera, had the desired effect. The doctor’s microphone was cut, silencing him from stepping on her clever line.
“That’s it for the show, ladies and gentlemen. Stay safe, and remember, CKCB. See a crime, come see me.”
He clicked on “save as” in the file menu, labeled the file, “CKCB, January 19, 2015,” and saved it to his special external hard drive. The files on that particular device represented his best work to date. He safely ejected and disconnected the slender, black drive, returning it to its hiding place inside the false panel of his home office desk.
The secrets it held were the reason he insisted on the heavy piece of furniture his wife disliked. She only agreed to his choice because he was so accommodating on the rest of the decisions made for the new house. He was like that, obliging to his wife’s wishes most of the time. She thought him the perfect husband, as she should, because he invested a lot of effort in fulfilling the image she had of him.
He actually loved her and wanted her to be happy. She was fun and outgoing. Their sex life wasn’t half bad, probably better than most with their longevity. It would be twenty years in May since he walked her down the aisle. He thought her pretty damn perfect, too. Her job took her away for days at a time. She took a sleeping aid that knocked her out cold for hours when she was at home. Bouncing around through time zones wore on her, she said. He remained the perfect long-suffering, lonely husband, home alone while she flew around the world.
It would never cross her mind that he was anything but loyal, and he was—except for one thing. He was now a murderer, a full-on sadistic serial killer. He had spent years repressing his darker thoughts. An occasional dalliance, some panties here, a camisole there, was all he would allow himself. He focused on his work and creating the picture-perfect life with his wife. He ran mile after mile, worked out obsessively, fulfilled his wife’s every sexual fantasy, trying anything to silence the demon in the night. He plunged into his work with vigor, becoming well respected in his field. No one would ever suspect he harbored sadistic sexual desires.
He could control it back then. He could turn it off, lock it back down, but that all changed with the move to Durham. His wife was overjoyed to be back near family. He was offered a coveted position and a chance to make a name for himself among his colleagues. His wife accepted the job offer she’d refused multiple times after he told her she should live the dream, follow her heart, see the world and take it by storm.
Once she was launched on her travels, the demon had no reason to stay hidden. Though he had fooled himself into thinking he had controlled his dark desires, he never did. On his own for days, sometimes weeks, the demon could no longer be silenced. He began to watch them, his girls, initiating the collection of victims and trophies. At first, it was just what he could pinch from clotheslines, gyms, and unattended washers at public laundries.
His fantasies grew violent. The desires overwhelmed him until he no longer tried to quell them. That first time, walking into that basement, finding a treasure trove of one of his girls’ underwear in a pile of laundry, that was the first needle in the vein. Once he crossed that line, entered a home undetected, he was an addict with a growing habit. He was smart enough to know the demon’s hunger for the drug it craved would only increase in frequency and dosage. He was also smart enough to know, if he did not stop, he would go the way of many an addict. Was the crash and burn worth the ride?
He picked up Shayna Carson’s blood spattered thong from his desk. It was the last thing in which he posed her before he tightened the zip tie around her neck. He watched the petechial hemorrhaging appear on her cheeks and in the whites of her terror-stricken eyes.
His wife’s flight wouldn’t land for another hour. He unzipped his jeans and slipped the thong over his already hardening penis. Shayna’s last breath had excited him like no other experience in his admittedly deviant hunt for the ultimate sexual high. He closed his eyes so he could see her again. He didn’t need the pictures he took to relive the time he spent with her. She nearly fulfilled the fantasy to a tee. While he replayed her pleas for her life in his mind, he determined then that the next time he would cut the zip tie off and let the target catch her breath before slipping on a new one. He would repeat this reviving strategy until she did not recover. If he practiced on the next couple of targets, he was sure he could perfect the glorious ending to the fantasy.
He slid Shayna’s thong along the length of his now rock-hard penis. The mental movie of her last hours began to meld with his fantasies.
“Shayna,” he whispered, “you were definitely worth the ride.”
11:22 PM, Saturday, January 31, 2015
Falcon Ridge Subdivision, Durham, NC
“9-1-1. What is your emergency?”
“He’s going to kill us this time.”
“Who, ma’am? Is someone in your home trying to hurt you?”
The bedroom door splintered, but the dresser and chest of drawers she managed to topple in front of it held fast, for the moment.
“Oh, my god. He’s going to get in here.”
“Who, ma’am? I have your address and a patrol car just down the street coming your way. Tell me who is trying to hurt you.”
“My husband, Aaron Engel. Tell them he’s armed. He’s ex-FBI. He runs a security company. He’s drunk and he will not go down without a fi— Oh, my god,” she screamed as he moved the makeshift barrier a few inches with the superhuman strength of a raging drunk. “He’s crazy. My kids are in here with me.”
“Stay calm. They are almost there. Stay with me. What’s your name?”
“Amy, Amy Engel.”
He hit the door again, roaring her name, “Aaaammmmyyyyy!”
“He’s going to kill me this time. Please don’t let him hurt my kids.”
“How many children, and are they with you?”
“Two, and they are here with me.”
Amy turned to see her two young children wild-eyed and terrified. Too frightened to cry anymore, they made not a sound. The phone nearly slipped from her hand, as blood from the gash above her ear oozed out of her hair. She listened to a supervisor in the background, calling out to the responding patrol car.
“Unit 27, be advised, the suspect male is ex-federal law enforcement, armed, and intoxicated. Proceed with caution. Unit 42, Unit 53, assist Unit 27, domestic assault in progress. Wife and two children in the house. Suspect armed.”
“Where are you in the house, Amy?”
“We’re in the master suite, upstairs, in the bathroom. He’s at the top of the stairs on the landing.”
Crraack! The door splintered again, leaving a gap. He pressed his enraged face into the void. Amy closed the bathroom door and locked it.
“Oh dear God, hurry up,” she whispered into the phone.
“Amy,” he called, his voice flat with anger. “Hang up the goddamn phone and come out here. You think you can take my kids, bitch? You have no idea who you are dealing with.”
“How old are the children, ma’am?”
The operator was back, asking questions of her. She didn’t answer but instead said, “Please, God, don’t make me shoot this man in front of his kids.”
“Are you armed, ma’am?”
“You bet your sweet ass I’m armed,” Amy Engel replied. It was not weapon-holding false bravado, but an accurate assessment of the danger she was in. “I know exactly who I’m dealing with.”
The supervisor was obviously listening. She began calling to the patrol officers immediately. “Unit 27, be advised, the caller is also armed and located in the upstairs master suite bathroom with two children.”
Aaron stopped slamming into the door. Terror permeated the silence with a threat worse than him entering the room. Amy could hear the children whimper, as the fear of the unknown replaced their father’s pointed rage. All the moment lacked was a high-pitched violin note to heighten the tension before the climax of the scene.
“10-4, 27. Suspect in custody.” Suddenly the supervisor’s voice was louder and directed at Amy. “Ma’am, officers are at your front door with your husband. I need you to put the weapon in a safe place away from the children and come out of the bathroom. An officer is waiting in the hall.”
“Oh, thank God. Thank you, thank you,” Amy gushed into the phone.
“You’re welcome, ma’am. Please assist the officer in securing your safety.”
The children cried softly, holding tight to each other. Relief freeing them to express the emotions no child should have to feel. Amy knew this was the last time she’d see her kids cower in fear in their own home.
The operator prodded her once more. “Ma’am, can you let the officer in the room?”
“Oh—yes. Thank you for everything. Bye.”
Amy hung up the phone and opened a cabinet door too high for her eight and seven-year-olds to reach, but she warned them anyway.
“This isn’t staying here, but still, no touching.”
“Ma’am, this is Officer King with the Durham Police Department,” a female voice called out. “Would you mind moving some of that furniture so we can get you out of there? Your husband is in custody.”
Amy pushed the dresser over and out of the way with the added strength of the adrenaline pumping through her veins. Two of its wooden legs broke off, and the contents of drawers cascaded onto the floor. She didn’t care, because as of that moment Amy Engel didn’t live there anymore.
He’d been inside the target’s residence less than a minute, long enough to check the dryer by the back door for trophies, when he heard the sirens coming. He ran, leaving the back door open, too afraid he’d be seen if he stopped to close it. They were near. Screeching tires and the blue flashing lights reflected in the treetops drove him further into the darkness. He pushed through the darkness too fast and regrettably forgot about that little drainage ditch near the running trail.
His ankle gave way. He lay crumpled in a heap on the forest floor; sure men with flashlights and guns would be coming soon. He had quite a crime spree under his belt, but it would soon be over. He left enough DNA and behavioral evidence to be tied to multiple felonies, including capital murder. The Triangle Terror induced panic would come to an end, and women could sleep in peace once again. He was destined for the needle, or at best, dying an old man on death row while the public debated the humane way to put him down—an indulgence he found ironic since there was nothing humane about his murder victims’ last moments.
He had noticed the added law enforcement presence in his hunting grounds, part of the prevention measures employed by the task force formed to take down the Triangle Terror. It was an attempt to quell the public’s fears. It only made his game of cat and mouse with the cops more fun to play. Even with the additional patrol units, he had entered homes in search of trophies while the cops circled the neighborhood. His confidence grew with each outing—enough so, that tonight he brought his rape kit and planned to pay a visit to one of his girls. She must have heard him downstairs and called the cops.
He peered through the woods toward the sound of voices and the source of the blue flashing lights. That’s when he started to laugh, not loud, but a low chuckle from his chest. The police were two doors down from his girl’s house. They had not been coming for him. The chuckle ceased when the lost opportunity to take his victim with the cops right outside crossed his mind.
“That would have been mind-blowing,” he whispered.
He pulled himself up slowly, using a tree for balance. He tentatively put weight on his ankle. The pain was almost unbearable, but bear it he must. Although the cops might not have initially been looking for him, it seemed his entrance to his girl’s house had been discovered. Flashlights bobbed in the distance, coming toward the woods. He turned, took a deep breath, and disappeared into the night, hobbled but not defeated, at least not yet.
As he ran, he took the pain, burying it beneath the new fantasy he’d been working on. The planning and prep-work were half the fun. He was ready for the next step and only continued the burglaries to stay his boredom while he waited for the perfect opportunity to put his preparation to good use. Tonight’s planned rape was just foreplay for his ultimate desire. He wanted to spend more time with his next girl. He had a couple of candidates already picked out. He knew the one he wanted, but he’d have to break the golden rule. His girls could never be someone he knew in his other life, the one where he was the loving husband and consummate professional. But when he closed his eyes, forming his ultimate fantasies, it was her face he saw.
She would be his end, he knew, but still he limped through the darkness while the fantasy of her bound at his feet pushed back the pain and kept him moving.
8:00 AM, Friday, February 6, 2015
Sarah Harris’s Second Chance House
Battered Women’s Center
Big Woods Road, Chatham County, NC
“What’s your badge number? What’s your name,” the man growled.
“Officer Wendy King, sir. We met before, Mr. Engel, at your home, the night you broke a wine bottle over your wife’s head.”
“Oh, you’re that bitch,” Engel snarled.
Officer King’s patrol car was parked at an angle, blocking the entrance to the women’s center. She had volunteered to bring a witness to court in Durham, one seeking a protective order against none other than Mr. Aaron Engel. Several security officers stood on the other side of the gate, further preventing the infuriated man access to his wife and children, which was why he was in a screaming rage in the middle of the road.
Buying time for backup from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department because she was out of her jurisdiction, the young officer stood her ground and kept him talking.
“I guess you don’t remember much from that night, do you, Mr. Engel? You were pretty drunk and worked up. I seem to have found you in that state again today, but I don’t smell alcohol. I’m afraid that ‘I was drunk, forgive me’ defense is going to look kind of lame now. It appears you can be a raging ass without substance abuse.”
“Do you have any idea who I am? I’ll crush you. You won’t be able to sleep at night. I can make you disappear without a trace.”
“Threats to an officer. Wow, you really do want to go to prison. You were FBI. How can you not know that you are digging yourself into a deeper and deeper hole?”
“I want to talk to my wife. I want my kids out of this lesbo camp, you fucking dyke.”
Officer King smiled. “No, that would be my sister. I’m the straight girl in the family photos, but they treat me just like everyone else. I think that’s very nice of them, celebrating diversity like that.”
“My kids are not going to be subject to this lifestyle.”
“What lifestyle would that be? Are you referring to my sister and her beautiful wife and kids? They love each other, and their children are healthy and happy. I don’t know if I’d call that a lifestyle though. I’d probably just say that’s the way it should be. A home that focuses on love without fear and violence, where no one is worried about what will set Dad off in a rage.”
Aaron Engel took two steps forward, ready to pummel Wendy King. Her hand slipped to her weapon.
It didn’t deter his rage. “I’m going to take that pistol from you and teach you some goddam respect, you smart mouthed bitc—”
The derogatory term he was about to use caught in his cheeks when a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“I wouldn’t do that, mister,” a booming bass voice said.
Aaron took one look over his shoulder at the mountain of a man and deflated.
Officer King smiled. “Mr. Engel, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Mackie.”
“Hands on the car,” Mackie instructed.
Aaron Engel complied. He was still angry but evidently not in the mood for an ass whippin’.
“Looks like you’re only aggressive toward women, Aaron. That’s the second time I’ve seen your raging bull act come to an abrupt halt when a bigger man stepped in to take the upper-hand,” Officer King taunted.
Miles McKinney, Rainey Bell’s business partner and the guardian angel to those she loved—six feet six inches of solid muscle since his heart attack and newfound love of the gym—handcuffed his prisoner.
“Lil’ sis, the man is in custody. No need to rub his face in it.”
“He’s a jackass and an abusive one at that,” Wendy said, bolstered by youthful arrogance.
“I knew a girl like you once,” Mackie replied while putting the handcuffed man in the backseat of Wendy’s patrol car. “She paid an awful price to gain some humility. You might learn from that experience without it costing you, as well.”
“I just want to talk to my wife,” Aaron called out from inside the car. “If she hadn’t brought her here,” referring to Officer King, “she would have been home by now. She brainwashed her against me. I know they text all the time. I can see her phone activity. I know that bitch right there is unduly influencing Amy. I have to get her out of here.”
“See? I told you he was a prick. Who spies on a spouse like that? Your wife is lucky she is rid of you.”
Aaron made a show of coming out of the car before a large palm hit his forehead, sending him backward onto the car seat. Mackie, who had been dealing with men like Engel much longer than his badge-wearing young friend, leaned down and spoke softly to the fuming man.
“Mr. Engel, you’re going to be arrested. Be good and you’ll probably be out in twenty-four hours. Get a lawyer and listen to him. My best advice is throw yourself on the mercy of the court and get some help. But this behavior here, that’s going to cost you if you keep it up. It’s already cost you your career. Don’t let it cost you everything else.”
Mackie turned to Officer Wendy King with a sage piece of advice, “And you, don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t pay for.”
11:59 PM, Thursday, February 12, 2015
Colfax Park Drive, Chatham County, NC
He had to stay off his wrenched ankle for a week. He’d been bearing his full weight again for only a few days, but he could wait no longer. His wife was coming back Saturday morning for a Valentine’s visit. She would be home for a week this time. He needed a fix, and he needed it now. With his injury, he couldn’t chance an encounter with one of his girls, but Paige would be off to the school dance Friday night. Her parents would go to their usual date night dinner and a movie. Her room would be free, and he could spend a few hours working off some steam.
He was watching Paige’s house, fantasizing from the bushes of the time he would come to take her away. Until then, he came and went in her world without notice. However, he planned to leave a message this visit. It was time to let Paige know he was coming. He reached under his waistband, about to pleasure himself while he thought of her when he saw the silhouette against the side of the house two doors down. He removed his hand from his penis and began slowly moving toward the intruder in his territory.
Another predator was in his hunting grounds. A tall, well-built, young man peeped into the window of two adolescent sisters. This was unacceptable. These were his streets, his girls. They were not to be used by some young developing pedophile with a hard-on. He thought about calling the police. Wouldn’t that be ironic? But, he’d hate to be caught up in the arrest. His cell phone number would show up on the emergency operator’s screen. How would he explain his presence? It would lead to his name on a report, and linkage was everything. Stay off the radar, he decided.
Instead, he followed the young man back to his home. He read the name on the return address labels neatly stickered to the mail the young man had already put out for morning pickup.
“Ummm, interesting. Good to know.”
He would keep an eye on this peeper from a distance. He’d learn his habits and the houses he hit, and if need be, pin his crimes on this budding sicko. He could drop a few dozen pairs of stolen underwear in this guy’s garage, slip a hard drive with incriminating images in the heater vent, and watch the cops eat him alive before they figured out his DNA didn’t match the evidence. Even then, the prosecution could claim contamination at the lab, throw out the DNA, and convict on the possession of the stolen items and pictures. That would be fun. The future looked bright as he wandered back home through the woods. Yeah, that would be fun.
7:15 AM, Saturday, February 14, 2015
Colfax Park Drive, Chatham County, NC
“Holy shit, Sheila. My house is less than three-quarters of a mile from here.” Rainey pointed over her shoulder.
“I know,” Sheila said. “I’m sure it’s disconcerting.”
“Disconcerting? I’ve never been so glad to live in a fortress with redundant security systems in my life.”
Sheila laughed. “I thought you pretty much lived in a state of euphoria over that virtually impenetrable wall you’ve built around your family.”
“It’s the virtually part that keeps me vigilant,” Rainey said in all seriousness.
“So let’s catch this creep.”
“That’s not going to be so easy.”
Sheila looked around the latest victim’s room. Paige Jeanerette was an eighteen-year-old high school senior. Her room reflected her bookish, introverted personality, and she seemed to have dedicated her life and much of her wall space to the Hunger Games.
“What’s he doing, Rainey? Why is he back to fetish crimes? And what the hell is this all about?”
Sheila pointed at Paige’s laptop on the desk in the corner. A word document left open on the screen contained a message to the young woman who occupied this room.
The note read, “I seen you at school in class. I think your pretty. I’m scared to talk to you. I hope you don’t be mad I took the panties. Its cause I like you.”
“He’s just playing with us and terrorizing her. Bad grammar and spelling—he’s trying to mimic a teenager, make her look over her shoulder.”
Sheila slapped the laptop closed with her latex-gloved hand. “I hate this guy. I mean I really, really hate this guy. I want his balls on a plaque in my office.”
“Sorry, but that isn’t going to happen,” Rainey said, looking out the window to the woods behind the house.
“You don’t think we’ll catch him?” Sheila questioned, incredulously.
“We’ll catch him, but you won’t get his balls. When he’s cornered, he’ll come peacefully. He’s too smart to go out in a blaze of glory. No, the guys at the BAU will be talking to him for years to come, albeit from death row.”
“Maybe he’ll hit the wrong woman, someone like you who’ll put a bullet in his ass, save the state some money.”
“You do know I’ve never actually killed anyone. I’ve had opportunities, but nope, not a one. I’m not the ‘out of control badass’ Cookie Kutter would have people believe.”
“You watch that show?”
Rainey laughed and fibbed a little. “No, but Katie does. She says she likes to know what the enemy is up to. I can always tell when Cookie uses that clip of Katie punching her. That pisses her off, but between you and me, I think Katie’s glad she did it.”
Sheila chuckled. “I can’t help it. I love that clip. I saved it to my computer for days when I’d like to do something similar to Ms. Kutter.”
Rainey smiled at her friend. “Me, too, but Katie doesn’t know.”
“Well, let’s get you back home to your Valentine’s weekend. I know last year’s plans were a bust.”
“I made no plans this year. I didn’t want to jinx it. Katie is in charge, and I am blissfully ignorant of what lies in store.”
“Just remember to take your weapon. You, of all people, can never be too prepared.”
“Always,” Rainey answered absently, refocused on the room. “Okay, back to business. This is a straight up fetish burglary with sadistic tones. The note is meant to extend his terror. But there is nothing new here, nothing to learn, other than he’s treading water.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s bored. The patrols slowed him down but haven’t stopped him. I don’t think this is regression, though. I think he’s planning his next step up the sadistic ladder. This guy is a thinker. He has a fantasy—he fulfills it. He moves on to the next fantasy, seeking a higher high each time. It took him two years to build up to what he did to Shayna Carson. He spent more time with her than the others, extending her suffering as long as possible. He appears to be going through sexual sadist school, but if you look at the last four months, he leapt from middle school to college. Postgraduate work is next. Keep an eye out for missing women.”
“He’s not a kidnapper,” Sheila countered.
“He wants more time. He needs more time, more privacy, a chance to focus only on his victim without fear of interruption. He has a private place. I bet it’s near those Chatham County scenes down by the river. That’s how you’ll find him. Locate the lair. I’d deploy deputies in that area, account for all the residents. You’re looking for a man who visits but doesn’t live there. Locate the owners of vacated structures and seasonally occupied homes, hunting cabins, fish camps, anywhere a lone man would go unnoticed.”
“Women go missing all the time. How will we know he took her?”
“Victimology should at least give you a clue. She’ll be white, twenty-five to forty-five, live alone on a property near the woods, and if he is the planner I believe him to be, she will have no close relatives or friends that would notice her weekend absence.”
Rainey pulled the latex gloves from her hands and locked eyes with Sheila.
“Realistically? You will know when you find the body.”
8:15 PM, Saturday, February 21, 2015
A Place For Us Charity Ball
Feme Sole Nightclub, Durham, NC
Rainey leaned against the wall near the entrance as the woman she adored stepped into the center stage spotlight. The large women’s bar inside a former tobacco warehouse was decorated to fit the refinement of the evening. Diamonds and jewels glinted at every table in the dimly lit hall. Hundreds of haute couture-wearing guests with exceedingly deep pockets sat at elegantly decorated tables. The bar owner, Phyllis, stood nearby, grinning at the stage. She, too, had been placed under the spell of the beautiful blonde at the microphone.
Katie had called out the country club set and the left-leaning movers and shakers in the Triangle area. They were there to raise money for homeless LGBTQ youth. Kids were on the street because parents threw them out or made life a living hell from which escape was the only means of survival. Molly Kincaid, Rainey’s friend, lawyer, and sometime employer recruited Katie to head the fundraising campaign knowing Ms. Bell-Meyers could bring a crowd, and that she did.
Rainey’s infatuation with Katie had never worn thin in the nearly five years they had been together. It seemed to grow stronger every day. The red dress Katie wore was stunning, but Rainey thought her wife more attractive with pancake batter on her cheek and triplets at her feet, just a few hours ago. The three-year-olds were fussy and wanted breakfast for supper. Katie, the triplet whisperer, went to dress for the ball after she fed and washed them, leaving Rainey to wrestle the hyper trio into pajamas and bed. The children noted Katie’s transformation into the sexiest mom in the room when she came in to kiss them goodnight.
“Mommy is pretty,” Mack said.
“Mommy is pretty,” Timothy echoed.
Weather, the only girl and lover of all things shiny and expensive, pointed at the diamond necklace around Katie’s neck.
“Mommy is sparkly.”
Rainey’s mother, Constance, the evening’s overnight babysitter, took over the kid watch because they had to be supervised. They were into everything, constantly on the move. Katie was the only person they didn’t try to outmaneuver. She never raised her voice and rarely lost patience with the children, yet they obeyed Katie without question. Rainey figured it was because they recognized Katie as their main food source. They pulled most of their worst stunts when Rainey was watching them. Their latest escapade involved stealing Katie’s makeup bag from the master suite, decorating the nursery and each other while they were supposed to be napping.
Rainey dressed under Katie’s watchful eye. She had refused to wear a man’s tuxedo, and an evening gown was simply out of the question—not convenient for hiding her weapon—but the fundraiser was a black tie affair. Katie found a tailor who could recreate the look of the 1966 Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking tuxedo for women and presented it to Rainey as a gift. The tailor had required a final fitting, which included Rainey wearing her sidearm. He wanted to make sure she didn’t mess up the lines with a bulge in the wrong place. The Glock was a no-go with the tailor. They compromised on a smaller weapon and a holster close to her ribcage. Katie had not seen the finished product.
When Rainey stepped out of the walk-in closet dressing area still working on a cuff link, she said, “Thank you, honey. This is the most comfortable suit I’ve ever worn.”
Katie smiled and winked, saying, “Oh, no. Thank you.”
Now Rainey leaned on the wall and smiled at the pretty mommy on stage, listening as Katie wrapped up her short speech.
“Forty percent of the homeless youth in America are from the LGBTQ community. The Internet provides exposure to worldviews, opening minds and presenting opportunities. Along with this newfound awareness, the strides forward in social acceptance have given many young men and women the knowledge that they are not alone and the strength to be themselves. They are now revealing hidden truths to family and friends at earlier ages than ever before. These children are still dependent on the adults in their lives for food, shelter, and financial support. While many families are embracing and loving, others use archaic belief systems to justify throwing a child out into the street. These children need our help, and that is why we are here tonight.
“Thank you all for coming and for the expression of care and concern you have shown our youth. I don’t like to use words like ‘straight ally,’ which some would use to describe those of you in this room who are heterosexual. The only label necessary to comprehend that we are all equal is ‘human.’ We are all human beings deserving of respect and the right to be our unique selves, loving whom we choose. Thank you again for being compassionate souls caring for all of us. Have a wonderful evening.”
Katie began making her way from the stage to the back of the room, stopping to speak to guests. Molly walked over to Rainey, accompanied by her girlfriend, Leslie. Leslie had become Katie’s closest friend. The four of them spent many social evenings together.
“Is your babysitter spending the night?” Molly asked.
“Yes,” Rainey answered. “Why?”
“Because if the way you’re looking at your wife is an indication of your intentions, you two are going to need some alone time.”
Katie arrived and stood on her tiptoes to give Rainey a quick kiss on the lips. “Hey, good lookin’. How’d I do?”
“You were perfect,” Rainey said, beaming back at her.
Molly and Leslie gave Katie hugs and congratulations on the event’s success. Wendy joined them. She was twenty-four years old and the mirror image of her older sister at that age. Wendy’s evening gown was exquisite, matching the green of her eyes. The dress was the direct result of a shopping spree with Leslie and Katie, who were determined to dress Wendy properly because Rainey was a lost cause.
“Katie, that was a great speech, and you look fantastic,” Wendy said, hugging her. She waved over Katie’s shoulder at Rainey. “Hi, sis.”
Rainey waved her fingers back at Wendy, realizing she was mimicking behavior she used with her kids. Life changed for her every day, even as some things remained the same. Rainey didn’t want to think about nightmares and past mistakes tonight. Katie was dazzling, the night out with good friends was just beginning, and they had a babysitter. Life was good at the moment.
As Wendy introduced her date, Rainey noticed Molly glaring at him. The date was a casual one. Two young professionals attending an event, Wendy explained earlier. With no steady boyfriend, she was focused on her career, as Rainey had been once.
“Rainey, Katie, I’d like to introduce you to Nick Prentiss. Nick, this is my sister, Rainey Bell-Meyers, and her wife, Katie Bell-Meyers.”
Rainey and Katie shook Nick’s hand and exchanged greetings. He was starkly handsome. His dark hair and tanned skin contrasted with his hazel eyes and playfully pouty pink lips. His tuxedo was not a rental, but a tailored fit worthy of his model good looks. He was also charming.
“I can see the family resemblance,” Nick said. “It’s a compliment to both you and Wendy.”
Rainey took note that Molly still glared at Nick. She wanted to know what was up, so she sped things along.
“Nick, these are our friends, Molly Kincaid and Leslie Walker.”
Leslie stuck her hand out first and said, “It’s nice to meet you, Nick.”
Molly never lifted a finger. Instead, she said, “Sleeping with the enemy, Wendy? Hello, Nick. Aren’t you just a little too Fox News for this crowd?”
Rainey grinned. She loved to watch Molly take somebody on, even if it was her sister’s date. Molly was usually the last one to show her colors. She must have had an intense dislike for this young man. It was sure to be entertaining.
Nick came back with, “Ms. Kincaid, you’ll find I’m a man of many passions. It’s good to see you again.”
“Your passions are for sale, I take it,” Molly quipped.
“Of course,” Nick answered honestly. “A good lobbyist can be passionate about anything if the price is right. I’m paid to sway people to my clients’ position, much like you make a living swaying juries on your clients’ behalf. It’s not my fault the system is broken. I’m merely making money until they fix it. It isn’t any more of a crime than representing a murderer in court.”
“At least if one of my clients claims God made him do it, I can plead insanity,” Molly countered.
Everyone in the social circle had been following the conversation like a tennis match. So far, the score was fairly even. However, Rainey counted on Molly to have the last word.
Undaunted, Nick said, “It’s politics. It’s not personal.” He offered his hand to Molly again. “Truce.”
“Oh, but it is personal, Nick. If I recall, and I do recall quite clearly, you were on the front lines protesting funding for the women’s center named after my mother with that asinine Jedidiah Lilly horde. What was it they were shouting? ‘God hates dykes,’ and my personal favorite, ‘Sarah Harris was a white-trash drug addict.’ I understand you were responsible for that little ditty.” Molly raised the Champaign glass in her hand in salute to Wendy. “You look ravishing, Miss King, but I’d work on the arm candy. This one won’t taste as good as he looks. As my mother used to say, sugar coated crap is still crap. Well, actually, she would have said, ‘shit’, but as I’ve left my white-trash roots behind, I thought I’d clean it up a bit.”
Most women would have delivered that line, followed by a quick turn of the heel and a sachet away, but not Molly. She sipped from her glass, handed it off to Rainey, and slipped her arm around Leslie’s waist.
“Let’s dance, honey,” Molly said. “They’re playing my song.”
Rainey started laughing when she realized the band was playing “Devil With The Blue Dress On.” It was indeed, Molly Kincaid’s theme song.
To Wendy’s credit, she turned to Nick. “Did you actually make that sign?”
Nick blushed red, losing some of his charming composure. “No, I didn’t make it. I just did the research on Sarah Harris and forwarded the information.”
“But you did work for Lilly?”
“Hey, Molly Kincaid’s mother’s history is public knowledge,” Nick argued.
Rainey narrowed her eyes at Nick. “I’m quite sure you have no idea what the real history involves in Molly’s mother’s case. That part of the story is not public knowledge.”
“If she doesn’t want it to be a political football, she should not have put the name on the building and then asked for public funding. It’s the reality of politics today.”
Katie had been uncharacteristically quiet, but that was about to change. The Sarah Harris Battered Women’s Shelter was her baby.
“No, Nick, the reality of politics today is that a few rich men have bought some elections, using lobbyists such as yourself for the dirty work. Playing political football with the lives of women and children is shameful. Claiming it’s God’s work is despicable. Come on, honey,” Katie said, grabbing Rainey’s free hand. “Let’s dance.”
Rainey tipped up Molly’s glass and finished the contents. She was being pulled toward the dance floor when she handed the glass to her sister.
She winked and said, “Choose wisely, young one. If you need a ride home, I got you covered.”
Wendy handed the glass to her date. “Catch you later, Nick. You look good in that tux, but my mother agrees with Molly’s—you can’t polish a turd.” That said, and in typical little sister form, she called out, “Hey, Rainey, wait for me.”
Later that night.
The Bell-Meyers Residence
Chatham County, NC
Rainey stood outside the nursery doorway hugging Katie close, watching their children sleep. They were both a bit tipsy. Rainey was glad Molly had arranged a car for them. They dropped off her slightly more inebriated sister at her little home in a nearby neighborhood, at Wendy’s insistence. Her house was smack in the middle of the Triangle Terror’s hunting grounds, which made Rainey nervous. But Wendy was a grown woman, and she was determined to sleep in her bed. Rainey made the car wait while she checked all the doors and windows before leaving Wendy tucked in bed, a trashcan by her head and the alarm system on.
Now she watched her children sleeping while holding the woman she loved, truly at peace for the moment.
Rainey whispered, “They always look like angels when they sleep.”
Katie tilted her head back to look up at Rainey. “Well, those little angels will be awake in a few hours, and if you want some of your slightly sloshed wife, we best get at it.”
Rainey began leading Katie toward the master suite without further delay.
She chuckled while saying, “I love that our foreplay has become ‘we best get at it.’ ”
Katie spun away from her. “You want foreplay?” she asked playfully.
She then reached for the bottom of her long red dress, shimmied it over her head, threw it on the floor, and started dancing down the hall with her back turned to Rainey. She peeled the remaining layers from her body and tossed them over her shoulder. Rainey stood frozen in place. Katie disappeared into the bedroom and crooked a finger out the door, beckoning Rainey to come hither. A few seconds had passed before Katie stuck her head out the door to see why her invitation was being ignored.
“Oh, hi, Constance,” Katie said to Rainey’s mother, who was standing next to her daughter. “Sorry about that.”
“Oh, no, nothing to be sorry about. I heard noise on the baby monitor. I just came to make sure they were still asleep. Sorry to interrupt. Good night.” Constance elbowed Rainey as she turned to leave, trying desperately not to burst out laughing. “If I looked like that, I’d dance naked in the hall for John, too.”
Rainey didn’t speak or move until she heard the door close on the guest bedroom her mother occupied. Katie leaned on the bedroom doorframe giggling.
Rainey sighed heavily. “That’s going to take a while to forget. I may never have sex again.”
10:35 AM, Monday, February 23, 2015
Durham County Sheriff’s Office
Criminal Investigations Division
The soldier stood when she entered the room.
“Good afternoon. I’m Detective Robertson.”
“Good afternoon, ma’am. Staff Sergeant Russell Whitaker,” he said, shaking her extended hand.
Sizing up the young soldier, a living recruitment poster for the armed services, Sheila commented, “You’re mighty young for a staff sergeant.”
Russell Whitaker smiled. “I just received the promotion. The Army has an up or out policy. I like to keep the Army happy, ma’am.”
“Please, have a seat.” Sheila gestured to his chair. She took the one opposite and continued, “A career man, I take it—‘Be all you can be.’ ”
“I understand you think something may have happened to your sister.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve been to her house. Drove up from Bragg this morning. I got worried when Kaitlyn didn’t check in this weekend.”
“You and your sister, you stay in touch regularly?”
“Yes, ma’am. We have a standing appointment to check with each other on Friday nights. Our parents are abusive alcoholics. Me and sis, we fought our way out of that life. She’s four years younger, so when I was eighteen and joined the Army, I came back to get her after I got out of basic. I got custody of her from the state. While I was deployed she stayed with my colonel’s family. She went through high school pretty much on her own.”
He became emotional but smiled through the welling tears.
“She made straight As. Got a four-year scholarship, graduated magna cum laude from State College last spring. She started graduate school and working at the research library on campus in the fall. She loves books and—” His voice cracked with emotion, saying, “Oh, God,” before he broke into sobs.
Russell Whitaker was scared and helpless. A big tough soldier, straight and tall, who was realizing that even with all his warrior skills, he could not protect his baby sister.
Sheila gave him the time he needed to recompose before seeking more information.
“So, am I to understand your sister missed a standing check-in time on Friday?”
Russell’s breathing calmed. He wiped the tears from his cheeks before visibly resuming a soldier’s posture, eyes forward.
“Yes, ma’am, but that was prearranged. Kaitlyn had dinner plans with colleagues after work before attending a lecture she had been looking forward to Friday evening. We agreed to speak on Saturday morning. She did not respond to my calls, texts, or emails. That is very out of character, ma’am.”
Sheila smiled, trying to ease the impact of the next few questions.
“Has Kaitlyn ever ignored your communications before? Maybe you sometimes disagreed. Is she a bit rebellious, a little resentful of having to check in with her big brother? Does she have a boyfriend?”
“I understand why you are asking these questions, ma’am, but if you will permit me to tell you what I discovered at her home, I think we might be able to speed the process up a bit.”
Sheila sat back in her chair. A seasoned investigator, she could read people and knew when to be quiet and listen. This young man was bursting to have his story heard.
“Okay, Staff Sergeant, tell me why I should be looking for your sister.”
“When Kaitlyn didn’t respond to anything by Sunday morning, I went to my CO, explained the situation, and caught the next transport back to Carolina. I can’t tell you where I was unless you get some clearance from someone above my pay grade.”
“That probably will not be necessary, but why didn’t you just call the police and ask for a welfare check.”
“I did, ma’am. They went by the house. Her car is still there. They found a note taped to the inside of the front storm door. It’s addressed to someone I don’t know, but it says Kaitlyn was sorry she missed them and would see them soon. She wouldn’t do that, ma’am—just leave without telling me. I knew something was off.”
“Not to mention, who leaves notes on doors these days? You say Kaitlyn texts and emails, has a phone. Do you have this note?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Russell reached into his chest pocket, but before he handed over the note enclosed in a plastic bag, he finished his story. “When I got to her house, I used my key to get in. The minute I walked in, I knew something was wrong. Her purse and keys were on the table by the door. I found her phone on the bedside table in her bedroom, resting on top of the program from the lecture Friday night. It looked like she came home, went to bed, and then just vanished into thin air. I came straight down here to report her missing.”
He handed over the bag.
Sheila read the handwritten note through the bag. She hoped the gasp that left her throat had not been too noticeable, but when she looked up to see the expression on the staff sergeant’s face, she knew he heard it.
The note read:
Sorry, I missed you. See you soon.
A few minutes later…
The Bell-Meyers Residence
Chatham County, NC
“No, I don’t know her. I’ve never heard that name to my knowledge,” Rainey said into the phone, one whimpering child on her hip and two all out bawlers wrapped around each knee.
“Then it’s him, toying with you—us.”
“Ya’ think, Sheila?” The sarcasm indicated the mood she was in.
“Don’t be a smartass. Why are those babies crying like that?”
“Because they picked up a stomach virus at the women’s center day care and have been spewing from both ends since 2:30 this morning. I’m not sick, but I’ve spewed a few times myself from the smell. I may not survive this.”
“Oh, my,” Sheila said. “Where’s Katie?”
“Katie and her mom are cleaning the nursery and I’m really glad I am not involved. This is— Oh, crap— Hey, I’m going to have to call you back. No, no, no, don’t puke in the vent. Hey, hey, hey. Oh, god—”