Emily Stone doesn’t have a badge. But that hasn’t stopped her from tracking down some of the West’s most dangerous child-killers. Armed with a digital SLR camera, laptop computer and her trusty Beretta, Stone uses her innate gift for detective work to identify the perps — and then anonymously e-mail the evidence to the cops. Now, the hunt for two brazen serial killers on the loose right in her own coastal California town threatens to expose Stone’s identity — unraveling her carefully constructed cover and jeopardizing her life’s work. But when she gets too close to the action, this razor-sharp hunter becomes the hunted. Cooperating with the handsome local police detective could be the only hope for stopping the rampage directed at unsuspecting young women — and saving herself. Can they piece together the clues in time? Compulsion mixes CSI-style investigation with a ripped-from-the-headlines plot and a dose of romance for a keeps-you-guessing, fast-paced and savvy thriller, right up until the shocking finale.
Wednesday 0900 Hours
The man strolls down the gravel driveway to his makeshift torture trap disguised as a late model Chevy Suburban. It is in fact a hideous, retrofitted, rolling snare designed specifically for the secure confinement of the innocent. He has already stalked and captured several children between the ages four and ten from their safe homes and familiar yards. They are never to be seen alive again. Their only mistake was their innocence and inexperience of the inexplicable evil that relentlessly wanders the neighborhoods across the nation, wearing a simple mask of normalcy.
Dressed in khaki shorts, cheap superstore sneakers and a loose fitting blue and yellow Hawaiian shirt, the clean shaven, dark-haired man in his late-thirties looked almost like any other man who might have had a decent day job and perhaps even a family of his own. He doesn’t have a single care in the world. He feels a sense of peace and deep relaxation, he’s both tired and re-energized.
This particular man has a secret: a dark secret of an unfulfilled need to prey upon the innocent, snatch them from their secure lives, torture them, murder them, and then leave their tiny remains isolated away from civilization. This driving compulsion will never be satisfied, and the hideous crimes will never be fully solved. The police will never find the little victims’ remains, and families will never receive closure for their unimaginable loss. Only one promise would prevail, the crimes will continue, remain unsolved and with time eventually be forgotten by the general public. The continuous fantasy re-enactment will never stop as long as the killer is left alive. Death poses the only logical solution to stop this tormenting cycle of death.
He opens the creaky back doors of the Suburban and takes out two white five gallon buckets setting them down on the trash littered street. The back of the vehicle is cluttered with miscellaneous tools and paint supplies that a painting contractor would most likely use. Upon closer inspection, deeper inside the cargo area, there are handcuffs and shackles fixed to stationary hooks reminiscent of medieval torture chambers. The windows are coated with a thin opaque vinyl that ensures complete privacy.
Absently, the man wipes his sweaty forehead with the back of his calloused hand. The temperature has risen past ninety-six degrees, and the heat borders on unbearable; but, typical for Arizona in the beginning stages of the summer months.
The escalating heat works in his favor. The decomposition of the small human bodies will be accelerated in this climate; therefore, omitting the weary task of burying the bodies below a foot deep. The tiny bones left behind will be scattered by scavengers and other small critters leaving no trace of the once lively existence of the innocent victims.
A small red hooded sweatshirt with a decal of Spider Man lays folded on top of one of the white buckets. Covering the top of the other bucket is a pink and purple backpack and a flowered key chain with a single dangling house key never to be used again. The contents inside the buckets is unknown to the naked eye, but secretly stashed underneath contains the rest of the children’s clothing, shoes, and school supplies. These are the man’s valuable trophies drenched with the lingering scent of the victims.
Each of the three little victims was taken from familiar areas between home and school. Their final resting place is only one hundred square miles from the abduction site. Most law enforcement agencies generally are unable to connect together crimes from larger distances or link one perpetrator, because of understaffing, large workloads, and budget restrictions. But in reality, most police detectives aren’t trained in serial crimes well enough to be able to spot the subtle differences in a homicide crime scene that would indicate a serial homicide or a one-time homicide.
The man slams shut the doors of the Suburban, picks up the two buckets and proceeds back up to the shabby house to stash the belongings in his basement. In his mind, those items are more cherished than any collected artifact or family heirloom could ever be to him. He now rests, eats, and then dreams. The fantasy will slowly begin to replay in his mind – an endless film of reenactment horrors. This disease will gain momentum once again and command more perfect, innocent victims once again.
Several blocks away, concealed by a couple of abandoned, rusted out pick up trucks and a partially torn down grocery store, a high-tech Canon digital SLR camera with a 500 millimeter telephoto lens documents every step of the child killer. Extreme close up photographs are taken of the man, Suburban, tire treads, license plate, dirt residue, bucket contents, and house with absolute razor-sharp detail. The complete terrifying story is told without words and descriptions, but with actions and direct hard evidence.
An attractive, petite woman with shoulder length blonde hair stands upright and takes a break from taking photographs and refocuses her eyes to the surroundings. She stretches her back and neck. Exhausted from a week and half of stakeouts, she makes her way back to the black Ford Explorer. The heat has taken its toll on her energy and perspiration has soaked through her white t-shirt and stonewashed jeans.
Wishing to be back on the California coast where the air is cool and refreshing, Emily Stone takes three large gulps from a warm bottle of Fiji water. Several empty bottles of water, Gatorade, and diet Coke cans lay on the back seat.
A state-of-the-art Dell notebook computer with several back up hard drives, extra digital cameras, various lenses, video equipment, two store bought cell phones, binoculars, tape recorder, maps, hand scribbled notes, and expanding file with newspaper clippings ride shotgun.
A Glock 9mm Model 17 semiautomatic handgun is stashed just within reach with extra clips slipped easily into the map pockets of both front car doors. A Beretta 21 Bobcat Pistol is conveniently concealed in her personal ankle holster, loaded with seven rounds for easy access. Clipped to her belt is a Blackberry turned to vibrate that alerts her to incoming text messages, emails and Internet alerts.
Emily knows that her subject will be inside for at least eight to ten hours recharging his strength before finalizing his job and trolling again for new victims. Maybe this time he will lead her to where the tiny gravesites are located. Some serial killers have the need to revisit their victims, especially when they have the overconfidence and arrogance that they will never be caught. Emily relies on this type of criminal behavior to give her the clues and the evidence she needs to stop this pattern of terror. Many serial killers solemnly explain out loud over the improvised graves of their extinguished victims that they are in a better place now, and it was for the better good.
Rubbing her neck and taking a seat behind the wheel, Emily takes a couple of slow even deep breaths from her diaphragm to control her heart rate. She feels an anxious tightening of her neck and body, which in the past has allowed a panic attack to surface during stressful situations. She closes her eyes and counts from one to ten with slow even breaths, and then back from ten to one again. She then opens her eyes, and refocuses her energy on the important task ahead.
Emily turns the engine over and blasts the air-conditioning on her face and torso feeling a sense of reprieve. She had only been to Arizona twice in her thirty-two years of life. With the oven-like stifling heat, she knew why she hadn’t returned. Her work had taken her to many states, but her hunt mostly took her to the western states. It was partly due to the higher population aspect, which in turn increases the crime factor and greater possibilities for unsuspecting victims. The FBI estimates that there are forty serial killers roaming the United States at any given time, but Emily knows all too well that number is closer to ten times higher.
This particular case was especially disturbing since the three children had already been murdered and there was nothing that she could do about it. There’s a permanent knot in her gut that never loosens, but merely grips her emotions into an unbearable command to keep forging ahead.
Emily has tracked cases throughout Arizona and Nevada about abducted, missing, and mutilated children. It still amazed her how law enforcement agencies who have endless resources at their disposal failed to connect the simple crime patterns just outside their jurisdictions, but well within their investigative reach.
It took Emily less than a day to profile and track down where this particular type of predator would hunt and strike based on the public information of the missing children. Using Internet maps that illustrate parks, malls, and elementary schools, Emily carefully narrowed the search of possible abduction points and easy escape access. She began staking out areas of choice for sex offenders and other types of predators including the names and addresses on the Megan’s Law website. With luck and intuition mostly on her side, she was able to find and track the most likely suspect. Sometimes, her hunt took weeks and on one occasion it took two months. This particular hunt took her just under two weeks to track the child murderer, but it was not quite fast enough to save the little victims. This inevitable development in the case only adds to the already heavy burden Emily carries with her every day.
Emily eases the Explorer into drive and leaves the cover of her perfect hiding spot to wait and map out her next move. Her work has only just begun as the child murderer sleeps and dreams of new efficient tortures to use on his next victims. She glances at an open file folder on the passenger seat showing several pictures of missing children. One of the photos shows a smiling freckle-faced boy of seven wearing his favorite red Spider Man sweatshirt.
Copyright© Jennifer Chase. All rights reserved.