Verity had followed her counterpart for almost a week. He was a regular visitor to the private rooms above the diner. Otherwise he did nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that indicated he was hiding anything or anyone. He lived alone in a nondescript apartment building. His neighbors thought of him as a nice guy who kept to himself.
She sat pondering this from within her car. What should her next move be? Time was running out. The chances of finding Ian and Celia alive were face dwindling away. She squeezed her eyes shut as she was bombarded with images of Garrett looking to her for answers. Her promise she made him to find his parents whether dead or alive. She couldn’t let him down.
A light came on inside the apartment she had been watching. Odd she thought he wasn’t due home for at least two hours maybe longer. She and Jeff had arranged for him to stay late for a performance review. During the review she planned on doing some snooping inside his apartment. Curiosity drove her to investigate who his unexpected visitor was. For all she knew it was a relative come to visit just turning on a light as the apartment grew darker as the sun went down.
Making her way up the semi-dark stairwell Verity kept her senses on high alert. She could hear the inhabitants inside the apartment building going on about their lives. A baby crying. Pot and pans clattering as someone fixed dinner. A TV blasting a high-speed car chase. Somewhere else loud rock music blasted through the thin walls. All normal activities of normal people going about their boring normal lives.
She leaned against the door listening for sounds of movement from within. Silence greeted her. No one had passed her along the stairwell. Had someone left by the fire escape? Why would they do that if they were just visiting? The only answer Verity could come up with was whoever had come didn’t intend to be seen.
She was about to knock on the off-chance it was just a relative when the door handle moved. Heart pounding she moved to the side so as not to be been right away. A dark silhouette moved swiftly from the apartment interior. The dark figure was slim, of average height, female in appearance Verity surmised before stepping from the shadows.
The figure stopped in front of her. Light blue eyes widened in surprise before narrowing in recognition. The masked figure charged, slamming into Verity sending her careening into the wall. Stunned Verity slumped to the floor as the figure in black disappeared down the stairs.
Gulping for air Verity sucked oxygen into her laboring lungs. Her fingers shook as her body trembled as she tried to her phone out. She pulled up Jeff’s number and waited for him to answer. As soon as she heard the click she cut off the curt perfunctory “hello” with “ask the traitor who was coming to visit him tonight?”
Jeff felt his body turn to stare at his detective while he listened to Verity describe the person that attacked her in the hallway. He switched his phone to speaker allowing everyone to hear. He observed the man’s interested face turn from shock to dismay and finally horror as it soaked in that he had been found out. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I don’t know what you mean?” he leaned back in his chair eyes darting from side to side.
“Don’t play dumb” Jeff’s voice bellowed in the small room “give me a little credit. We know that Kara was working with someone. Someone on the inside. There was no other way she could have accomplished what she had otherwise.” he let his words sink in.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the man stammered sinking deeper into the chair as if he wanted to disappear into it.
Jeff smiled sensing victory “I also had the remains of my niece reexamined by an independent doctor. Do you know what she discovered?” The man shook his head “guess” Jeff demanded enjoying the man’s confusion “No? Alright I’ll tell you,” he drummed his fingers on his desk prolonging the man’s misery “it wasn’t my niece.”
The man jerked “of course it was.”
Shaking his head Jeff glared at the man “no it wasn’t. It was someone approximately her age and size. The teeth were meant to mislead us into believing it was Kara.” He smiled nastily at his colleague “I have to admit it was good. Too good. The only way Kara could have done this was with your help.”
“If you had any proof of that I wouldn’t be sitting here” the man said regaining some of his confidence.
Snapping his fingers Jeff summoned a couple of police officers into the room. Jeff watched silently as the officers read the man his Miranda Rights. When the were finished he asked “where are my cousin and his wife?”
He received a cold icy stare in response. “It’s the only way you can help yourself. If you cooperate with us I’ll talk to the judge on your behalf.”
“You don’t have anything on me,” the man snarled.
“Oh I have plenty,” Jeff said shuffling through the autopsy report “the jar fragment that was recovered had perfectly preserved teeth. They were Kara’s without a doubt.” He paused to let his words sink in “there was also an embedded wisdom tooth. The DNA matched that of 22-year-old Shelly Michaels.”
Verity walked into the crowded office saying “she was the daughter of the waitress at the diner you frequent on a regular basis.” The man’s eyes bulged in fear “what happened? She turn you down unlike the prostitutes upstairs.”
“We had a fling. She got pregnant,” the man cried desperate for them to understand “I had to do something. I already lost my wife but I couldn’t have an illegitimate child.”
“That something meaning murder?” Jeff shook his head “unbelievable. How did you meet Kara?”
“If I tell you. You’ll get me a deal?” the man requested almost pleading.
“I’ll talk to the judge,” Jeff repeated “I’ll explain how cooperative you were.”
Shaking his head the man mumbled “that’s not good enough. I can’t go to jail.”
“It’s the best you’re gonna get,” Jeff told him “take it or leave it.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be like this” he mumbled hanging his head “I’m a dead man. No matter how I look at it. Kara will kill me if I talk.” Taking a deep steadying breath he looked up at Jeff “I met her at the diner. She took it over when her old man disappeared.”
Jeff nodded remembering how Celia had told him how Kara had boasted she had gotten rid of John, her biological father. John was probably dead but …. he looked over at Verity “we better check into any unidentified bodies in the morgue around forty years old.”
Nodding Verity made a note to do as instructed. She had a feeling the body count was going to mount before they caught up with Kara. Not that the world was missing much with the loss of a low life like John. Shelly Michaels was another story. A young college student had so much going for her.
“I didn’t kill that girl,” he blubbered “I know that’s what you think. I offered to pay for an abortion. It was the baby I wanted to get rid of. Kara had other ideas.”
Nodding Jeff stared at the man before saying “you always had a thing for Celia. Celia told me how you begged her to run away with you.”
“Yes I admit I was attracted to her. Kara used my feelings for her mom against me. I turned to Shelly for comfort. Convinced to color her hair to look more like Celia. When I had fallen for her Kara killed her. Kara made sure I could never go back to my ex-wife and kids. Blackmailed me to help her. I had no choice but to help her.”
Jeff rounded his desk sitting in the edge “what was in it for you?” he asked “Kara hated her mother. We should have found Celia’s body in the rubble. We didn’t it. There has to be a reason why.”
“I…” he licked his lips “I convinced Kara that I could fake her death. All I’d need was a few of her teeth. My dad was taxidermist. I know how to do it after years of helping my dad. It would have worked if you hadn’t started to dig deeper.”
Rubbing his chin Jeff sighed “that explains why we have Kara’s teeth on Shelly’s jaw bone.” He gave the man a disgusted look “I suppose your payment was Celia.”
“Fat lot of good that did me,” the man complained “she’d rather starve then let me touch her.”
Pouncing in his words Jeff demanded “where is she?”
“I’m not saying another word without a lawyer” the man laughed in Jeff’s face.
“Get him out of here,” Jeff told the officers “we need a search warrant for the diner before Kara decides to move her base of operations.”
“I’m on it” the officer assigned to work with Jeff said.
An hour later they were serving a bewildered waitress a search warrant. They barged into the upstairs rooms cutting both clients and prostitute unawares. They searched every room, store-room and closet but there was no sign of what they were looking for.
Turning to the sullen closed lipped prostitutes Jeff asked if any of them had seen Kara. They all remained silent as they were handcuffed and escorted from the building along with their clients.
“Can I see those pictures?” a hesitant female voice asked.
Looking up Jeff found the waitress holding her hand out. “That girl” she said waving the picture of Kara in the air “is a bad seed. Worse than her father.”
“You know John?” Jeff asked keeping his voice neutral wanting her to talk to him.
“We grew up in the same foster home. John and his sister enjoyed hurting the rest of us. We were too scared to tell anyone though. I was already working here when John stole it from my husband.”
“This used to be your restaurant?” Jeff prompted when the woman fell silent.
A sad smile crossed her face “once upon a time it was a good place to eat. I don’t know what happened but after a month or two after John took over my husband disappeared. My kids had to eat so I stayed. I knew bad things were happening upstairs but what else could I do?” She took a deep breath trying to control her tremors. “John just quit coming around six months ago. I hoped something awful had happened to him. Then his daughter showed up saying she was in charge now. I never doubted she was John’s daughter. She was just like him only worse.”
“What about the other woman?” Verity asked.
“She’s here,” she said walking towards a door “in the basement.” They followed her done the rickety stairs “I tried to sneak her food whenever I could. Kara caught me. Said she’d hurt my Shelly if I continued to bring her food.” She stopped in front of a door “I haven’t been down here for over a week. I don’t know if she’s still alive or not.”
“It’s locked” Jeff said after trying the lock “Do you have the key?”
“Kara took it” the woman said bursting into tears “my Shelly’s gone isn’t she? Kara killed my girl didn’t she?” She began to sob “I did everything she told me and she still hurt my girl.”
Jeff unable to take the woman’s sobs took her by the shoulders “I’m sorry.”
“I knew when I didn’t see her when you took the working girls out she was gone.” Jeff motioned for an officer to take her upstairs. While they worked on breaking the door open.
Ten minutes later Jeff stepped into the dark dank room. He moved his flashlight around. He saw something in the corner. Hear pounding an irregular rhythm he approached it.
“Celia?” he called her name with a mixture of dread and relief. Relief they had finally found her and dread that they found her too late to help her. The stench in the room was overwhelming. She must have been locked down here ever since the explosion.
Wrinkling his nose in disgust he knelt beside the still form “Celia” he called again softly. He reached a tentative hand out to check for a pulse. “She’s alive” he called out shaking with relief. “Get an ambulance here ASAP.” He stood up “we’ll need forensics down here. Let’s hope Kara left a clue where she has Ian.”
Jeff arrived at the hospital a few minutes after the ambulance. He left Verity behind to handle things at the diner. She was young but there wasn’t anyone else he knew could handle the responsibility. He checked with the doctors before going up to his Uncles room. Opening the door he found his Aunt fluttering around like an agitated butterfly while Gene paced the floor. “Am I interrupting something?” Jeff said upon entering.
“I’m checking myself out,” Gene announced.
Looking towards Aimee he asked “have the doctors given him the ok to leave?” He could see from his Aunt’s anxious demeanor and the beeping machines that no they hadn’t.
“I feel fine,” Gene protested “I can’t just sit in here and do nothing while my son is god knows where.”
“That’s actually why I’m here,” Jeff said causing both of them to look up at him. He wanted to crawl under the nearest bed at the hope he saw shining through their eyes.
“You found him” Aimee clapped her hands together.
“Aimee” Gene put a comforting hand on her shoulder “sweet heart I think you should probably sit down.”
“He’s dead isn’t he?” she cried falling into Gene’s arms.
He was handling this all wrong Jeff thought watching the older couple. “I’m sorry,” he managed “we haven’t found Ian. We did find Celia. We’re hoping to find a clue to Ian’s locations from where Celia was being held.”
Gene managed to get Aimee seated before turning to Jeff. “Where is she?” A part of him expected he was needed to go to the morgue to ID his daughter-in-law’s body.
“She’s here, in the hospital” Jeff told him “she’s alive.” He tried to infuse his words with confidence and hope. From the expression on his Uncle’s face it wasn’t successful.
“Alive as in walking talking alive or alive as in barely breathing,” Gene demanded.
Jeff opened his mouth and closed it again finding nothing appropriate to say. There was no easy way to say it “it’s bad” he finally said shivering in the cool air of the hospital room.”If we hadn’t found her when we did she would have been dead in a day or two.”
“You did your best,” Gene said consoling him pulling him into a hug.
“I should have done a better job,” he sobbed on his Uncle’s shoulder “I wanted to save you from losing another person you cared about. I swore I’d keep him save.”
“It’s not your fault,” Gene soothed despite the hollow ache in his heart.
“I should have done more. Should have seen what Kara was capable of” Jeff cried heaping more guilt and regret upon his wide shoulders.
Holding him tight Gene continued “you and I both know there’s very little we can do to protect ourselves or others from a determined psychopath. Kara is the most dangerous kind. We all remember her as a sweet little girl. We still tend to expect her to be that girl even now. Even though we know what she’s done.”
“I promised I’d find him” Jeff sniffed “I’m not going to give up until I do.”
Gene shook his head “son it’s time you went home to your wife and kids. You’ve done your best…”
“No” he shouted “I can’t give up. Not until I find him.” He ran from the room. Ran from the memories that haunted him. He couldn’t look at Ian’s kids until he was able to give them an answer as to why. Give them the closure he felt he never got.