by cj cullen
I look around carefully. What a beautiful place I have chosen for Sierra to die.
What a beautiful place I have chosen for Sierra to die.
I take a deep breath and look around carefully. I check every bush, every leaf. The forest is very dense out here, and the thick trees surrounding this clearing seem to stand like sentinels. The colors of the tree tops are breathtakingly vivid. My senses are so honed that the reds, greens and yellows are so sharp they hurt my eyes.
I remove my backpack and sit beside her. "Isn't this nice? Here." I hand her a can of beer. I pop the lid and encourage her to drink. I pull one out for myself.
The nude body of Camile Waters was at first thought to be tossed from the cliff above the Devil's Slide beach. But on closer inspection, it was determined the killer had carried her down the long staircase to the sand below and placed her remains on the rocks. Why? Not a clue. Though Devil's Slide employs peace officers to enforce the law, the Montara Police Department was called in to aid the investigation. They had an unsolved murder on their hands before the season began for the state park.
Six months later there would be four bodies found in my jurisdiction. It would be months before these deaths were connected to earlier homicides like the one at Devil's Slide.
My name is Sally Forest; I am a Lieutenant with the San Francisco Police Department Goldengate Division. With my recent promotion I left the Richmond Station. As of this morning, I am now attached to the Bayview Station on Williams Ave. My orders are to form a task force to capture a serial killer in the Bay area.
I looked over the files of every eligible investigator from the surrounding stations. I selected the best of the best and they were seated before me now. Out of the fourteen I chose Sergeant Jake Bauer to partner up with me. I felt it was the best match based on rank and experience in homicide. I made similar choices for the team.
I look around this rather small room which will house this unit until our killer is caught. There are three large desks situated in strategic corners which let the persons seated observe the entire room. I lay claim to the one behind me. Jake will man the one to my right. There are two long tables with thirty some odd chairs. The walls free of all posters, framed art and notices, is now a clean canvas for us to build our case.
All eyes turn toward me at the front of the room.
"Good morning. I am Lt. Forrest."
I smiled at the murmured greetings from the team.
"You all know why we are here. Four bodies found in the last fourteen weeks, three with the same M.O. Each one of us will be expected to work double shifts, pounding the streets, interrogating every civilian until we find the son of a bitch. We have a preliminary profile sent to us from the FBI. Our killer is He is a narcissist, in early thirties, possibly married. Works a white collar job, his M.O. reveals clear thinking, methodical and most likely obsessive compulsive, and these are not his first kills. Quantico is garnering as much information as possible and will arrive here by 6pm. I was given this preliminary profile for us to begin our interviews. We will go over the first two murders from August again. It was not clear until the second victim was found that we had a serial killer on our hands."
I turn their attention to the six by five foot board attached to the wall on the left, its location unseen from the open doorway.
I have tacked four 8" x 10" photos of pretty women.
" Victim #1: Miranda Drake, 32, single mother of a 10 year old daughter. Worked as a hostess at the Daily Bread restaurant on Kearny Street in Union Square and lived in lower Nob Hill.
August 10th. She left the restaurant with two co-workers, Bob Holstein and Chad Burke. Both were interviewed the next morning at Northern station. Each had the same story. Miranda sat in her car on her cell phone; she waved to each as they drove off. Neither one saw anyone suspicious or another vehicle nearby. Miranda's nude body was found on North Beach, Sunday, August 11th."
Now I tore my eyes away from that beautiful happy smile in the photo, to replace it with another.
"Victim #2: Clarissa Whitaker, age 33, married with two small children. Her husband reported her missing when she did not return from the grocery store Saturday, Sept. 17th. Her nude body was found at Point Reyes Sept 18th."
"Victim #3: Rhonda Shield; 33, single. Owned a shop, The Freedom Wear at Embarcadero Center and lived in Haight Ashbury. Reported missing by an employee on Wednesday October 21st when she did not show up to open the boutique. Her nude body was found on Muir Beach, Sunday the 25th.
Victim #4: Also found on October 25th. Suzie Wang, 32, single. Worked at Montgomery Drake Equities in the Financial District and lived in Chinatown. Her body was found in Muir Woods. This one does not have the precise same M.O.
At this time we are not certain this is the work of our serial killer. Suzie was raped, the other three were not. Suzie was partially clothed, the other three were nude. Suzie was left where she was killed. The other three were moved. All but Miss Wang were left in places sure to be found. We will keep Suzie's murder included with the other three for now. After we meet with the FBI tonight, we will make the determination of her case. You each have a file before you. Inside are the photos and pertinent information you will need to complete your interviews. We will start at square one, though you do have copies of the original interviews, we will cover the same neighbors, family and co-workers. I have a list on the board of the Investigators I have placed together and the areas you are to canvas."
They push back their chairs to view the list and find their partners.
"Any questions before we head out?"
"Then let's move."
* * *
As we head out to the parking garage, I toss the keys to Jake. He catches them in mid air.
"Since we will start out in your area near Northern, you can drive."
As we merge into traffic, Jake glances at me, then back to the large Rent-a-Center truck bearing down on us. Without missing a beat he slips in front of the truck to get behind an old blue sedan driven by an older woman with the same shade hair.
"So, are you married?"
"What?" I ask incredulously. I wonder if he even saw the truck!
"Not a hard question really. Are you married?"
"It's complicated and personal. Just drive."
To calm myself in the awkward silence I took a glance at his profile. He really is a handsome man. Dark brown hair, cut short in the back but left a touch longer on top, not like any current style I've noticed, but it suits him. His eyes are light gold or topaz. I see his lashes are fairly long and rather thick for a man. His skin is clear, clean shaven, with a light golden tan from being outside most of the time. His smile, a little lop-sided. I noticed his height, at least 6'3" with a good solid build. Yes, he is handsome.
"In case you're wondering, it's because I'm a vegetarian."
"Well, you were checking me out like most women do and the first question they ask is about my skin. The answer is because I'm a vegetarian."
I am completely embarrassed now.
"Oh. I didn't know I was being that obvious." What else could I do but own up to it?
We merged into the slow moving traffic on Market St. I wanted to change the subject back to our original topic. Anything to take this spotlight off my embarrassment.
"In answer to your question, both are complicated."
"You certainly are persistent."
There is that grin again.
"All part of the job."
"Can we just drive and skip the Q&A?"
"I didn't ask."
Smiling now, Jake kept his eyes on the road ahead, but continued to tell me his story.
"My wife was a real bitch."
"I'm sure she was." I answer dryly.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see his huge smile. I smile in return. I truly like my new partner.
Now I hear a phone beeping out to the tune of "God Bless America' coming from his pants pocket.
I look at him as he lifts his hip to pull out the I-phone. I can't control the laugh.
"My daughter sent me the ring-tone."
I listen to a brief one sided conversation.
"Hey Ace, I was just thinking about you. Haven't heard from you in a while. Where you been buddy? Sure, where are you? Un huh. Okay, I'll see you at Julio's in twenty."
Jake tosses the phone onto the dash without a word.
"Well? Was that personal or can you share?"
"Sorry. Was just thinking. That was my snitch. Name is Acer. For a bad guy, he is pretty good."
I laugh outright.
"If you say so. Does he know anything?"
"Says he does. We'll soon find out."
I turn to look out the window as Jake drives through the traffic. Soon we hit the off ramp and head down town to Broadway St. Jake parks the car in front of a small club. The facade was peeling in places giving the building a checker board look. The door stood open and loud music broke the sound barrier. The faded sign over the open space read "Julio's Place" which made it sound more inviting than it truly was.
"Yeah, well, it's a real nice neighborhood."
We just sit there.
"Okay, are we getting out?"
"Not yet. We're early and I would actually like to be able to hear your answers to my questions."
I push the button to raise my window so to block the music.
"We're still with the Q&A?"
"Yup. So why is your marriage complicated."
"Mine wasn't. I no longer loved my wife, she no longer love me. But we both loved our daughter. We divorced five years ago and she remarried three months later. She may have been having an affair."
I glanced at him to see his mood. The wide grin told me he was over any residual hurt.
"Ya think?" I asked with a wink.
We both chuckled. I had to admit to myself that I really responded well to his calm, laid back attitude. I liked the grin too. I decided to trust him.
"Sam and I started out perfect. Same desires, same dream. We both wanted kids but now he says 'no way' because since I'm never home, he would have to do the child rearing.
It's true, I guess. I have been concentrating on my own career so much that I don't even know what's been happening in his. If he got a promotion or a raise, I don't know about it. We haven't talked much in the last six years."
"Sorry to hear that but it seems to be the popular story. Any affairs?"
"Either of you." He said with a smile that could melt a glacier.
I turned away to watch a small group of people as they passed by our car. I wonder where they are heading and if they are happy with the direction. I don't want to talk anymore.
A scruffy man jumped from nowhere to the front of my vision. He smirked at the surprise on my face.
I lower my window and his odor reached my nose and made my eyes water.
"Acer, I presume?"
"At your service pretty lady." He had to scream to be heard over the music.
He had beautiful teeth which belied his appearance.
He bent low to look across the seat to Jake.
"Hop in, Ace."
Oh great, Now we'll have to drive around the rest of the day with that sour unwashed smell.
We pulled out into the line of cars, but this one moved at a higher speed.
"So what have you got, Ace?"
"Well, I heard some whispers about your dead lady. The one from Nob Hill."
"Miranda Drake." I answered.
"Yeah, that's the one."
"What about her, Ace? Man, this is like pulling teeth. Out with it!"
"Easy boy, easy. I like riding in your car for awhile. I saw on the news that the lady worked in that restaurant."
"Well she also worked at Julio's."
Jake and I looked at each other in shock. I turned around in my seat as much as the seat belt allowed.
"She worked at Julio's. She was quite a piece. Did most of her work in the back alley or in the men's room if the weather was bad."
"I don't believe this for one minute. Why would she do that when she had a good paying job. She certainly wouldn't be making much cash at Julio's."
"I agree, Sally. Okay, Ace. Do you have any proof? Anything to verify what you said?"
"Sure. I have this."
He handed a picture to the front seat between us. I took the photo.
I couldn't believe it. It showed a very different Miranda in a compromising position
"It sure does look like her, Jake."
Jake pulled over to the curb between a gas station and a fast food joint. I gave him the picture.
"This is not good. Acer, did she tell you her name?"
"No, but the other guys in the bar recognized her all at the same time. At first we didn't know what she was on the news for, so there was lots of hootin and hollerin for a celeb we all knew. Then Julio told us to shut up and listen."
"What was the name she gave at Julio's?"
"Alright, that doesn't prove it's the same woman. But it does mean we have to interview everyone at Julio's."
He turned toward Acer, there was no lopsided grin, no easy going laid back feel to Jake now.
"Tell us everything you know and heard. Don't leave out a thing."
"Well, first time I saw her was bout three months ago. She was working on Julio behind the bar at the time. She.."
"We don't need sexual references or descriptions, Ace, just facts." I said.
"Yeah, Okay. She stood up and I had to admit I was impressed with Julio. She's a real looker. He handed her a twenty and told her to head to the back table. He also told her she was hired."
"Yeah, that's what he said. So I asked him if she was a new waitress, cause there hasn't been one a Julio's for six months or more. He laughed at me. Said, 'Waitress? Hell no boy! For $20 a pop she's gonna take care of all my customers. Make um real happy."
Jake and I gave each other a knowing look. This could be very bad.
"I asked him how he got such a fine looking gal to take care of him. He said he has his ways and that just maybe she owed him big time."
"Tell me Ace, did you get taken care of by her?"
I glared at Jake. My look told him what I thought of his question. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Yeah, once or twice.That was it."
"Anything else to add?"
"No. That's about it."
"Get out of here. Call me if you hear anything else. We'll give you a few minutes to get away from here, then we're heading back to Julio's."
Sitting here, 10:00pm, I can feel my blood racing, my heart begins to thump so loud I'm sure my wife will hear. I just can't sit here, I need to move, go out, to look for someone. The Fillmore Street Art Festival should still be going on …
"Hey, I forgot to speak to Nathan about our meeting tomorrow morning. I'm going to run to his house. I'll be back in a jiffy."
"Can't you just call him? It's after ten now, by the time you get to his house he could be in bed.."
"No. His phone is out. I won't be gone long. Just go to bed. Don't nag, remember our deal?"
"Don't worry so much. I won't be too late. Maybe I'll buy you a small gift. Would you like that?"
"Sure, you know I would."
"Okay then. I'll buy you something but don't wait up for me. You need your sleep, you're way too cranky when you don't get enough."
I head to the bathroom for a last minute look in the mirror. I have a hard time looking into my eyes. I look everywhere else, my hair is bleached and close to my scalp so it always looks neat. Might be time to change the color again. My skin is clear with fine crows feet at the corners of my eyes. My teeth are straight, even and white. Now I look at my eyes, a deep hazel with pin points of gold. I have been told my eyes are my best feature, but in all honesty, I think my entire face is rather handsome and along with my toned body, which I keep in shape at the gym every day, I am quite a hunk of eye candy for the ladies. As I look deeper into my eyes I can feel my confidence grow. I am on a mission. I will find the perfect one tonight.
"Okay, I'm off."
I go out through the kitchen, grab my backpack from under the stairs and jump in my deep maroon corvette. I double check the contents of my pack, one can never be too careful. Now I turn the key and sit still as the engine rumbles beneath me. It's great to be alive.
* * *
I reach Fillmore St in roughly thirty minutes. At 10:45pm there is still a large crowd milling around the various art displays. I park on the cross road and head to the festival.
So many women, all ages and sizes. They walk arm in arm as they giggle and whisper. Most of the food vendors remained open until well after midnight.The scent of their wares drifts like smog over the entire street.
I see one young girl all alone by the cotton candy stand. She has a large pink cotton candy ball on a paper rod and she almost drops it as she digs for money in her pocket.
I hand the guy a $5 dollar bill, he hands me a quarter. Cotton candy sure is expensive.
"Thank you, if you would hold this for a minute, I'll pay you."
"You don't need to pay me. Just walk with me a bit. I think I'll enjoy your company."
She's a pretty girl, young, sixteen or so, not usually my type. Somehow she reminds me of my first victim. So I guess I don't like her much.
"Sure, I can for a little while. My name is Sierra, what's your name?"
"Well hello, Sierra, it's very nice to meet you. Where are your friends? You can't be here alone."
She giggles, like all teenagers giggle. So annoying.
"No, of course not, I wouldn't come to a festival alone. Who would do that? My friends are in the crazy mirror house. Oh! I'm sorry. You came here alone didn't you? I didn't mean to insult you."
I force a little dry laugh."I'm not insulted and I didn't come here alone. You're right to assume no one would come to a festival alone."
I turn on the charm, I can be so very persuasive at times.
I keep my pace steady as I adjust my small backpack and lean closer to her, which makes her alter her direction just a little. As I continue to veer her toward the woods I keep up the conversation. She tries to see my eyes, but my baseball cap does a pretty good job of shielding them from view.
"Are you in high-school?"
"Yes, second year. This night out for the festival is my reward for a perfect report card."
She gives me a shy smile. I read more in that smile than our entire conversation thus far. Is she actually coming on to me?
I put my arm around her shoulder to give her a slight squeeze, "I am so proud of you!" I announce close to her ear.
We have now reached the end of the food stands and to our right lies the deep woods. I veer in that direction as I lean to giggle myself. I want her to think I have something funny to whisper. I begin to cough low in my throat, as I stall for a little time to take her deeper into the forest. The wide path grows smaller. I sense how small I am compared to these monstrous trees. The pine needles and old leaves crunch beneath our sneakers sending up the musty odor of wet soil and old vegetation as I bring her in front of me to form a single line. I keep giggling against her ear as I guide her deeper into the darkness.
She looks at me over her shoulder as she stumbles on a downed tree branch. I place my hands on her waist to steady her. She begins to cry.
"I don't like the woods. Can we go back now please?"
I keep her plodding forward as I feign shock.
"You don't like the woods? I don't think I have ever met someone who didn't like the woods. Wait Sierra, I have a little surprise for you. There's a clearing up ahead, and I have four ice cold beers in my bag. We can sit and talk for awhile then head back. Okay?"
She nods and watches where she's walking.
I point to where the moonlight seeps between the halo of tree caps above the small clearing.
"See? It's right there."
The spot Sierra selects to sit is where the moon shines the brightest. I smile at her. She's young, but not stupid.
I remove my backpack and sit beside her. "Isn't this nice? Here." I hand her a can of beer. I pop the lid and encourage her to drink. I pull one out for myself.
I take a deep breath and look around carefully. I check every bush, every leaf. The forest is dense out here, and the thick trees surrounding this clearing seem to stand like sentinels. The colors of the tree tops are breathtakingly vivid. My senses are so honed that the reds, greens and yellows are so sharp they hurt my eyes. What a beautiful place I have chosen for Sierra to die.
I finish my beer in three deep swallows. I reach for another.
"How are you doing on your beer?"
"Drink up sweetie, we want to get back before your friends get worried."
"What about your friends? Won't they be worried too?"
I chuckle as I raise my second can to my lips. I swallow a large mouthful, belch from my toes. "Excuse me." I whisper on a breathy laugh.
"Naw. Guys aren't like girls. If we don't connect here, then we will back at the apartment."
"Oh, they're your room mates?"
"Em hm." I nod as I polish off my second beer.
I pull the last can out and pop it for her. I take her now empty and give her the fresh one.
"Since my beer is gone, why don't we play a silly game to help you finish yours so we can get back to the festival."
"What kind of game?"
"I don't know,umm how about I ask a question and if you can't answer you drink?"
She chuckled. "Okay, but no questions beyond second year of high-school."
"Okay. I know…what was the first thing I told you when we met?"
She wore a look of bewilderment as she stared at me.
"Wow, I don't remember."
"Ah well, you have to drink."
As she put the can to her full lips I leaned over and with a fingertip tilted the can up. She swallowed almost half and began to choke.
I put my hand to her back and began slapping gently, then smartly.
She got control again.
"Not so much at one time."
"Sorry, I always think everyone drinks beer like I do."
"Alright, second question. Since you don't remember the first thing I told you, maybe you will know this answer. What is the capitol of our great state?"
She smirked at me. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah, you're right. Let me see. How about astrology?"
"Okay, that's something I know."
I'm so sure she is thinking of zodiac signs, I chuckle again.
"What is the third planet from the sun?"
Her stunned face is priceless. If only I had my camera.
"I don't know."
"Drink up cutie."
Once again I tilt the can but this time I hold the back of her head and literally pour it down her throat.
She gags a little, but not too bad.
I stand up and pull her to her feet. I twirl her around as though we are on the dance floor on her prom night.
"A pretty girl like you, I'll bet you've been to at least two proms."
She was getting a tad dizzy so I spun her faster.
"No. My father won't let me date. He's very strict with me and my sister."
"Oh that's too bad. But I guess I'd feel the same if I had a daughter as pretty as you. Tell me, is your sister as pretty? Is she older or younger?" I ask as I spin us around crazily like a child's top
"She's younger. Can we please stop? I'm going to be sick."
I stop and pull her back against my hips. I grind against her as her world stops spinning.
With my arms around her tight I whisper in her ear.
Her laughter is light, tipsy more like a titter and it tinkles high on the air like the stupid wind chimes on peoples porches.
"The killer who?"
"The killer behind you."
I let her feel the point of my knife as I slide my hand up between her breasts. The point connects with her skin just under her jaw.
We slide to the ground as her surprise catches in her throat. I push her to her back and look into her eyes. She really is a pretty girl. Large brown eyes, long lashes. Her hair is short and straight, cute. Makes her eyes look round and huge. Or is it my knife that's doing that?
Who knows…who cares.
I put my finger to my lips saying "shush". Now I slide the knife under her t-shirt. I see it now, the name of an obscure rock band. I smile at her.
"Never heard of that group. I need you to sit up."
She does as she's told, she's a good girl. She glances at the knife in my hand.
"I told you I didn't come to the festival alone. I am never without this friend in my pocket.
Holding the knife with care, I pull her t-shirt over her head. Now she starts to cry in earnest.
My knife slices through her thin bra like butter. Her skin is creamy, unblemished. Maybe untouched.
I push her prone and open her jeans with one hand.
"Now, Sierra, wiggle on out of those Levis."
Now her tears came full on. I put my free hand over her mouth to silence the sobs.
"Listen to me. All I want to do is hold you for awhile. If you're good and lie still I won't hurt you. Okay?"
I can feel her head bob up and down.
I slide the jeans off her legs and toss them on top of her t-shirt. My knife cuts her panties and I toss them on top of her clothes.
I stand and remove my jeans and boxers in one fell swoop. I place the haft of the knife between my knees as I pull my polo shirt over my head. I'm nude in thirty seconds.
"I'm going to lie down beside you and pull you close. Just let me do this and all of this will be over soon."
I feel her soft, silky, cool skin collide with my rough,dry,hot body. I feed off of her coolness. I let my free hand roam her length while my other hand holds the blade to her throat. Her breasts are small, bumps really, little nubs of annoyance. I run my hand down the length of her thigh to her knees, pressure them to open. She obliges. She really is a good girl. She believes me and trusts me.
I wonder why?
She doesn't know me from Adam, how does she know I won't hurt her?
Because I told her I wouldn't, that's how.
"Tell me why you are being so good right now."
"Because you asked me to."
"Is that the only reason? Do you like the way I touch you? Tell me the truth because I will know a lie."
With a loud sob she tells me the truth.
"I don't like the way you're touching me or having you touch me at all. I am being good because you told me if I was good then you wouldn't hurt me. So I'm being good."
"Ah, thank you for that honesty. Will you answer me honestly once more?"
"Tell me, sweet Sierra, what else did I tell you?"
I can feel her body begin to tremble against me. Oh the magic of fear. Fear is my holy grail.
" I only remember what I just told you."
I gave her thigh a tight pinch which earned me a sharp yelp.
"I told you I didn't come to the festival alone and that I wouldn't hurt you. I told you three things total. Now think."
Her shudder went right through me to quiver up my back. This is heaven like I have never had before.
"Answer me, Sierra."
"I don't know the answer. I am too scared to think."
"Well, though that is not the correct answer, it has the ring of truth to it. I will tell you the answer, sweet girl."
I held my tongue for a minute until she asked me for the answer.
"What is the third thing you told me?"
I just had to smile, every time this feels like my entire life rushes to this very moment.
I pulled her closer to whisper.
"I said the killer was behind you."
Her sharp intake of air expanded her chest so far that my arms almost let her go.
Oh that fear again. Nothing makes the heart hammer harder, or the sweat smell sweeter.
"But you promised you wouldn't hurt me."
"I know I did. But it seems to me that those two statements are miles apart and can't both be the truth. Which do you think is the truth?"
I can hear her sniffing wetly as she gets that catch in her chest. She is so afraid right now, her adrenalin is racing to her brain, to tell her to run, to move, to do something.
"I believe you won't hurt me."
"Oh Sierra, you haven't been listening."
I rub her hip as I pull her even closer. I want to feel her inside me, with me, be part of me. I want her to …
"Save me." I whisper as I push my knife into her throat.