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“SO HAVE YOU GIVEN ANY MORE THOUGHT TO MY OFFER?” Riker asked Jaime, the two seated across from each other over lunch at their favorite seafood restaurant, The Charleston Marina right outside their window.
“You’re already an amazing artist, but it can only strengthen your skills. Just imagine being able to study the greats while taking your work to the next level. I’ll take care of everything- tuition, books, dorm, unless you prefer to live off campus. You could look for an apartment. We could start hunting for a good school, get you set up for Winter Semester?”
“I can’t promise anything, Uncle Riker, but maybe we can aim for next fall. You know I’ve been waiting for this day from as far back as I can remember. Now that I can finally start inking real skin I’m gonna need this first year to gain experience. To really get my name out there.”
“Couldn’t you do both? Part time studies, part time slingin’ ink?”
Jaime laughed. “Look at you! Aren’t you the hipster!
“Treat your passion like it’s a past time, you’re a hobbyist. Treat it like it’s your life, you’re an artist.”
“Wow, and look at you! Ms. Philosopher!”
This is the kind of rapport they always had, playing off each other like a comedic duo, enjoying each other for a couple of days every couple of months.
“Talking about giving it a little more thought, remember what you promised me a couple of years ago, on my sweet sixteen?”
“Yeah, but I already told you, it’s not that easy booking Beiber.”
“Ha-ha! I’m not talking about your secret wish list.”
She had become so matured, so fast, now a beautiful young adult that was ready to take on the world. But Riker wasn’t quite ready. Wasn’t ready to see her spread her wings and fly beyond the marina. And definitely wasn’t ready to answer her questions about what really happened to her mother. He had sidestepped and avoided the subject for all these years, even buying more time two years ago when he got her mind off it by giving her a new tattoo machine and a two year supply of artificial skin.
“You have my word. Next time we see each other I’ll tell you everything. It’s just that, with your birthday and all. Well, this is your big day. Your biggest of days!”
“So it’s really that bad, huh?”
Riker could do nothing but change the subject, Jamie seeing that talk of this was starting to get to him and therefore letting him do so.
“What are you gonna give yourself?”
“You’re just gonna have to wait and see, just like everyone else. But I will go ahead and tell you where.”
She had her elbow up on the table, side of her head resting against the base of her palm. Holding her position she glanced down to her forearm, then back up to Riker.
“Prime real estate.”
“Just don’t get too crazy, too fast. Next time I see you, I still wanna be able to recognize you.”
“There’s only so much space, I’m in no rush. Have you decided what you want yet?”
“Still gonna have to politely decline.”
“I’ll break you someday. You know you’re dyin’ to show the world what a belieber you are!”
Pappy entered the restaurant and made his way over to their table. “We’re all set up, sweetie. Everyone’s come out to support you!”
The three headed out, Riker taking a moment to pay the bill before catching up. He hadn’t given much thought to the woman who had been seated at his back, other than to include her in his initial mental map of the place when he and Jaime had first sat down. An inconspicuous woman, probably a traveller just passing through, enjoying her chicken salad and iced tea on this sunny September afternoon.
Five minutes later and the woman had joined the big crowd out in front of Davey Jones’ Locker. Some were tourists but most were part of the seaside community, there to cheer the young eighteen-year-old on as she tattooed herself for the first time for all to see.
Little by little the woman was eventually able to make her way to a good vantage point, standing not that far behind the teen’s uncle and grandparents as the ink on Jaime’s forearm began to form a colorful work of art that appeared to magically take shape. This was the skill of all great artists, wasn’t it? To create beauty out of nothing but simple items? The image coming to life was that of a mother dolphin and her calf, the expert shading and such making it look like they were jumping in unison right out of Jaime’s skin, the ocean blue water naturally riding the contour of
Heslehurst had his own artist creating for him. A young intern not that much older than Jaime who had been smitten over him upon their first meeting. Well, maybe not his true self, but definitely Royce Riggs. She had become the new assistant to his long-time make-up artist, and through their brief chats on set he had learned that young Amber had bigger goals than CNN.
Hollywood goals that involved prosthetics and other make-up effects. She was just what he needed for his grand finale with Riker and Jaime, so he had started to flirt, work his celebrity magic, and in no time they were sharing a bed. Actually, a bed only involved half of their sexcapades, the other half spent making good use of his studio desk, hotel balconies and wherever else they could fit in a round or two.
Physically he was in good shape, feeling the need to stay fit for not only his Royce Riggs persona but also to bring to a finish what he had started eighteen years ago. After a nine year hiatus The Spyderco Killer would soon be returning to the headlines, and since his now forty-three-year-old body would need to produce another round of killing hitting the gym was not only a routine but a requirement.
For the past six months Amber had made him six silicone rubber masks, each being so detailed and realistic that not a single person had suspected anything when he went out to test them. He could talk in them, eat in them, fuck in them, the latter being his favorite as it would not only make him feel like a completely different person but would also enhance the intimate experience by tenfold.
There were four male masks- two Caucasian, one Hispanic, one black and two female masks, both Caucasian. The one he had on now meshed best with his natural skin tone, which is why he had chosen it to get in close to Riker and Jaime.
He knew Riker would be heading back to Los Angeles in a day or two, as the P.I. was closing in on a case he had been working, Heslehurst choosing such a time to move in on Jaime for their play date nearly twenty years in the making.
I FELT UNEASY leaving Jaime, then again I’ve never felt completely confident in doing so.
L.A. was my soul, darkened by experience, the city lights like the thrill of bringing down evil, while she was my heart, nestled in a boat yard, secretly kept from all that was bad. Or so I liked to believe. In reality I had no idea if he knew where she was, but if he did it meant he would be able to find her anywhere. I had contemplated moving her out to stay with me the last time he had struck, but doing so could have created more harm than good, especially given the line of work I’m in.
Lately I’ve been emailing, texting, calling her twice as often as I normally do, not yet ready to tell her my reasoning behind it. That based on events of the past I believe this ninth month of the year, this ninth year since he was last active will be when he chooses to resurface. She really has no idea, too young at the time to pay attention to news reports. But the day I have dreaded for so long is now fast approaching, and knowing Jaime, knowing the respect she has for truth, she’s going to want details. Details that if not given by me will be given to her by the world. Oh how I long for the days before the internet.
As I pulled into the parking lot of Union Station I knew I had to get focused. At least one life was depending on me to do so, maybe more. There was no evidence to prove Dory was even alive, having been kidnapped a decade earlier at the age of thirteen. Something was telling me she was. Maybe just that small thing called hope, transferred to me from her desperate parents when they came into my office
six months ago. As with all my cases, I couldn’t help my first thought being he was somehow behind it. He, the elusive psychopath who, for reasons I couldn’t understand, had latched onto me like a disease I couldn’t shake. A dark shadow that for nearly half my life now has been looming over me from a distance.
But sooner or later I always end up finding the same conclusion; if it doesn’t involve a Spyderco, it’s not him.
Like a superstitious pre-game ritual, whenever my leads take me to the downtown area I make a habit of parking at Union Station and going in on foot. The walking time gets my juices flowing, my mind in the right place, and tonight was no different.
These streets hold a million different secrets, the gutters lying there as timeless witnesses to the modern day savagery of humanity. A fact that can drive you insane if you let it. You can only do so much, one case at a time, and hope that by the time your lights go out, the street sweeping you were able to do made at least a little difference.
I had my latest hot spot narrowed down to a two-block radius, which if you consider every alleyway, every dark corner and squatter space would be at least four times the area. It was for this reason that I just had to take my time and roam, waiting for a rat to come crawling out and offer his assistance for a price.
“Hey man, what you lookin’ for?”
It was a junkie, no doubt in between riding high, chariots of smack.
“Nose candy? Pussy paradise? A deep throat?”
“How ‘bout cherries?” I asked. “Just about ripe? About to get picked any day now?”
“Yo, can take you to cherry pie a la mode! No joke! New batch be bakin’ right now, know what I’m sayin?!”
I held up a hundred dollar bill. “Take me to the bakery.”
Through my deep jacket pocket I held my nine millimeter, following him through a maze of alleys. Past a cesspool of human parasites, scrounging, feeding off one another, until we reached the shell of what once could have been a factory, my guide taking me no further than a broken out window that was ground level.
He pointed to the palm-sized flashlight I held. “You take that, go down in there. It’s like a combo lock- three rights, one left, one right, stop. Sometimes they have a slice right there, ready and waitin’. Sometimes you’ll have to put in an order and wait awhile.”
I handed him the hundred, and just like that he scurried off, back into the filth of the forsaken.
Inside it was like one of those if-these-walls-could-talk kind of places, more haunting than any battlefield, more eerie than any cemetery, for you just knew that the loss of innocence that had occurred within these walls was staggering. There were stained mattresses atop rusted bed frames, each ornamented with four pairs of handcuffs for a four-point restraint.
Before the final right turn I stood there and listened, picking up on one pair of hands preparing drugs, another pair occasionally striking the keys
of a laptop.
As I turned into the room I lifted my firearm, my line of sight going from one white male to another. The one playing Betty Crocker with the drugs saw me first, freezing where he sat and unable to say a word.
“Hey Danny,” his buddy said without looking up from the laptop. “It looks like the Andrews girl hangs out at the bowling alley by Pacific Theaters. There’s quite a few pics on Facebook of her and her friends fuckin’ around by the video games, and her last post was in a residential area, with the sun going down. Captioned it, ‘I just beat curfew. Can’t wait to get my damn license.’ I don’t know if she’s walkin’ home with a friend but this could be a two for one, ya know?”
Danny didn’t reply.
“You hear me?”
This time he did look up, at the barrel of my nine as I took a few steps inside.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Both of you get up,” I said. “Get in the corner, now.”
“What, you’re a cop?”
With my focus on the two in front of me the sound of a shotgun being pumped took me by surprise, but when the end of the barrel dug into my back I was grateful.
“Drop the fuckin-”
The heavy metal was favoring the left side of my back so I spun to the right, taking control of it as it sprayed the room with buck shot while I simultaneously slammed the base of my nine into my attacker’s temple.
He was immediately out cold but Mr. Facebook was going for a gun of his own so I sent two rounds his way- one to the hand he was grabbing with, one to a thigh to take him down.
His partner was still frozen in place holding a syringe. I checked the door for any more surprises then walked over to Mr. Facebook as he cried and cursed, glancing over their wall of work as I did so. It had a large map of Los Angeles covering it, with wallet-sized picture print outs of girls that could have been between the ages of eight and eighteen.
An image of Jaime popped into my head before I could put up a mental wall, followed by one of Dory. I grabbed Danny by the neck and pulled him up to his feet.
“Drop the fuckin’ syringe.”
I then threw him into his whining partner and took a
closer look at their wall of shame.
Danny finally spoke up, unable to control his shaky voice. “Y-y-you want a girl? W-w-w-e can get you anything y-y-you want. A-a-any age, anything.”
This place was like a processing station for the sex trade, their latest targets up on the wall and bookmarked on their computer, a good supply of drugs to keep their victims under control once they got them. Innocent girls turned into groggy drug addicts. A sick but effective way in training them to give over their bodies willingly.
I took a picture from my pocket and held it up for the two scum fucks to see. It was Dory, at the age she had been when kidnapped. Although it had been a decade her parents had found ways to keep her in the news at least once a year, with media recently reporting once word had gotten out that I had accepted the case.
These assholes didn’t strike me as news junkies, but I did have a feeling that they got a kick out of watching their handy work broadcast around L.A.
With their look of recognition I didn’t have to ask who, but where. Neither answered, so I pressed the hole of my nine to Danny’s forehead.
“H-he-he’s the one who saw the license plate. T-t-tell him, Frankie.”
“Shut the fuck up, Danny. You never know when to shut the fuck up!”
From Danny’s forehead I took the tip of my nine and pushed it into the hole in Frankie Facebook’s hand, using my weight to step down on his wrist to keep him in place. After a handful of seconds I brought his screams to a stop. At least long enough to try and get answers.
“What’s the license plate?”
He didn’t reply fast enough so I dug down deeper, through bloody flesh. With more agony he was ready to spit it out.
“It wasn’t the plate I remember, it was the frame around it. A bird! Some school!”
I dug into the sides of the open wound.
“I can make this hole bigger. One squeeze of the trigger and you’ll probably lose your hand.”
“Ten years! I can’t remember! I promise! The only thing that stuck with me was that it was like Rubik’s Cube. The name, I mean! And a bird, like a mascot. I can’t even remember what kind of car it was! He paid, we put her in the trunk and never saw him again. That’s how it works!”
“What did he look like?”
“What they all look like! Middle-aged white men! With enough money to buy what they’ve never been able to have!”
AS JAIME CLEANED HER TOOLS OF THE TRADE and closed up for the night the soundtrack to the film Purple Rain filled The Tackle Box. It was quiet outside, the gentle breeze tickling a nearby wind chime and sometimes picking up as it skimmed over the water, in effect creaking the wood of the old docks as well as sending a little sway to the boats they were tied to.
Heslehurst deepened the sound of the shifting wood as his weight came down on the planks, stopping right outside the door of the small shack and reading its disclaimer.
INTOXICATION = NO INK
With a light knock he opened the door and peered inside. “Good evening, mind if I inquire?”
“Come on in!” Jaime replied.
He did so, closing the door behind him and looking over the small space. On one of the shelves, the plush dolphin Riker had given Jaime when she was a newborn.
“Cool little place you got here.”
“Thanks, but it’s actually my grandparents. But I plan on having my own someday, minus the bait. So you’re thinkin’ about getting inked?”
“Sure am.” Heslehurst had chosen to approach Jaime as himself, not being completely sure he could have fooled her with one of his prosthetics. It was a bit of a gamble, but so far she was showing no signs of recognition. After all, not many her age were CNN viewers.
He brought his right forearm forward so she could see it. “Got this one a few months back, and been thinkin’ about getting another one.”
Unlike the pirate treasure chest of gold he had showed her years ago this tattoo was real. It was the nightscape of Los Angeles, lit up like Vegas, fast-forward traffic at its base. In the foreground, a silhouette of someone from the back, a back that happen to be pretty prominent, kind of reminding Jaime of her uncle.
“Cool tat! Where’d you get it?” she asked.
“Some place in L.A. called Cenobites Cove.”
“Oh, Jules’ place!” she said with a new surge of excitement in her voice. “She’s an online friend. We’re hoping to meet each other someday.”
“She’s cool. Kinda scary at first sight, but very interesting.”
“That’s Jules,” Jaime agreed. “So, what’d you have in mind for your next one?”
Heslehurst took a rolled-up piece of paper from the inside of his windbreaker.
“Well, some might see it as disturbing, but since you’re a friend of Jules maybe you can see the art in it. I’ve been working with an artist to get it right, and I think we nailed it.”
He unrolled the paper, revealing a woman sitting in a rocking chair breastfeeding her newborn, head tilted down to where you couldn’t really see her face, throat slashed, blood pouring down over bosom and baby.
“Kinda has a renaissance feel to it, don’t you think? Like Caravaggio’s painting of the beheaded general?”
“I can see that. Pretty intense! Where did you want it?”
“Across my chest. The thing is, I’ll only be around for a couple of days, then I have to get back to L.A. And I’m a night owl, but I saw your hours posted outside…”
“No problem, “Jaime interjected. “I’m a late riser too. We can get started now if you want. Maybe work on details tonight, and coloring it in tomorrow?”
Once she had him bare-chested and laid out on her work table Jaime hung Heslehurst’s sketch on a fishing line in front of her and prepared her pens for the first step of drawing out the image.
“You don’t mind the music, do you?” she asked
“Not at all. I was playing this same album back when I was twelve years old. Talk about a trip down memory lane. How about you? How long have you been
listening to him?”
“Maybe since I was eight or nine? His music was on the ipod shuffle my uncle gave me. Nowadays my playlist is all over the place. Prince tonight, maybe rockin’ out to AC/DC tomorrow, Selena Gomez another day. But yeah, the man’s definitely a genius. Was. Still hard to think of him as past tense.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
Darling Nikki started up just as Jaime was about to put the tip of her pen to Heslehurst’s skin.
“Hey, that’s it!” he said, sitting up in a eureka moment.
“I’ve been trying to think of a name to call this piece. Darling Nikki. It’s perfect! Maybe we could find a place for it in the image?”
He looked over at the drawing.
“How ‘bout on her chest?” Jaime suggested. “Subtly spelled out as the part of her skin not covered in blood?”
“Genius inspiring genius, let’s do it!”
Jaime turned up the music.
FROM RUBIK’S TO RUBIDOUX, bird to falcon, I only had to drive about an hour outside L.A. to get to the Middle School. From the principal to the janitors there were seventeen males on staff so I thought I’d start from the top and work my way down.
Principal Shannon Plemons was a creature of habit, leaving his home, arriving at work, leaving his office, arriving at home, always at the same time, always departing with a bag lunch and returning with two quarter pounder meals and two happy meals. A lot of McMeals for someone who supposedly lived alone.
Then there were the diapers, about six a day, Plemons tossing them in his garbage can every morning as he pulled away. He either had one of the freakiest bathroom habits I’ve ever heard of or he was hiding a toddler somewhere in there. After three days, enough to know this was in fact his routine I lifted one of the diapers as well as the fast food straws with the intention of getting them tested for DNA.
When going in for the dirty deed of actually extracting it I didn’t expect to find something that would take my feeling from suspicion to a sense of urgency, but that’s exactly what happened when I discovered a used tampon hidden alongside the baby crap. If my instincts were correct this would be a case of long-term abduction, Dory confined somewhere on that property with at least one kid fathered by Plemons. If this was true it meant she was still alive, but without more solid evidence bureaucratic red tape would keep authorities from going in, so while the principal was out overseeing a couple thousand teenagers I popped the lock of his back door and let myself in.
READING THE TELEPROMPTER AS ROYCE RIGGS Helsehurst could barely keep it together, the repetition slowly killing him from the inside out. Every year for the past half dozen or so it had been getting worse, making him seriously consider prematurely bringing his grand scheme to a close. Before, killing was just part of setting up for the reward, like doing warm-ups before a game, the real euphoria, his touchdown being the actual reporting of it. Now he actually found himself yearning to reconnect with those murderous moments as a means to release the tension, the frustration of what his work, his life had turned into.
He had barely made it to the nine year mark, September 2016, no longer being able to handle what the news industry had become. Regurgitating everything to the point of disgust. Calling just about anything breaking news, and keeping it labeled as such long after the fact. He could remember when breaking news was just that, breaking, having an expiration period of about fifteen minutes. Nowadays they were still calling it such twenty-four hours later! The repetition enough to drive anyone insane!
His latest sentence of purgatory reporting was on The Ghostwriter, a disenfranchised writer who had snapped and now had the publishing world on edge. At least it was a story he could somewhat relate to, with it even managing to bring out his competitive side a little.
I was here before you, and now that I’ve finally returning back to the game you’re going to be yesterday’s news.
PRINCIPAL PLEMONS’ COMPUTER WAS A CARD CATALOG OF KIDDIE PORN, his taste for taboo primarily centered around girls of middle school age. He had a few camera angles of a live feed from the girls locker room of his own school, along with profiles on many would-be victims. It looked like he was about ready to put in an order for two this time. Little did he know his pedophile brokers were now in the Los Angeles County jail. A place he’d be calling home very soon.
On the surface the house showed no signs of anyone living there except for Plemons, but by the time I got to the basement door and found it to be padlocked it was pretty apparent what I was going to find on the other side.
I gave a light tap of five knocks.
Like an echo, five came back.
I put my ear to the door, gave three more… Two answered back this time, followed by a hush and a scolding whisper. “Stop it, Mary-Anne!”
I picked the padlock and opened the door.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Plemons. She thought you were trying to play with her. It won’t happen again.”
After ten years, the asshole still made her call him Mr. Plemons?
“Dory? Dory Thompson?”
“H-h-hello? Whose there?”
Her voice was now shaky, foreshadowing what was about to come. I hurried downstairs and found an image that will stay with me for as long as I live.
Three human beings. Human Beings. Two completely naked, a pregnant woman in her early twenties, with a stomach full of black and blue, which I would later find out to be from Plemons beating her to try and terminate the pregnancy, sitting there with her four-year-old daughter and eighteen-month-old in nothing but a diaper.
Each of these three living, breathing human beings had a shackle around their right ankle, linked to a chain that went no further than six feet.
Five feet away sat a seatless toilet bowl, a bucket at its side for manual flushing. The only other things inside the windowless basement were a bare mattress, an old black and white TV, a few plush toys and a pile of books. Hundreds of them.
When Dory laid eyes on my face, the first she had seen in a decade that wasn’t Plemons or her two kids she broke down in a flood of tears.
Two days later Dory’s parents would be found dead, by way of Spyderco.
This evening we report to
you with heavy hearts, as three
members of our very own CNN
family are the latest to fall
victim to The Spyderco Killer.
Two executives from our
Atlanta headquarters, as well as
one of our executive producers
here in Los Angeles were
found dead over the weekend,
their throats not only slashed
but heads nearly decapitated.
Spines not only severed but
filleted! (He reaches up to his
ear and takes out an earpiece.)
Excuse me, folks, that’s just
one of my producers getting on to me,
accusing me of being too graphic. They’d
prefer me to be like any other broadcast
journalist. BBC, HLN, Fox. My own
colleagues here at CNN… They want me to
feed you the same mundane lines over and
over again, but you, the dear viewer,
deserve much more than this.
In the control room a producer contemplates whether or not to cut the show’s live broadcast, his hand hovering over a button that would do just that. Another producer gives a sign to wait a minute, to see where Riggs is taking this.
Over the past twenty years you’ve helped make The Riggs Report the number one cable news show in the world. I’ve done everything I can to continue to bring you stories of substance, refusing to allow them to turn my top-rated show into a platform of broadcast trash!
Over six hundred miles away Jaime stood speechless in the entrance of her Grandparents’ houseboat living room, her Grammy and Pappy having no idea that their granddaughter was behind them as they watched The Riggs Report.
She took out her cellphone and speed-dialed her Uncle Riker.
“Hey Jaime-cakes! What’s up?”
“How did my mom die?”
“Um, Jaime. I think we should wait-”
Jaime yelled out to her grandmother when she tried to turn the channel.
“No! Keep it there!
“Uncle Riker, turn on CNN right now… Read the bottom of the screen… Is that what happened to my mother?”
“Yes, I’m sorry sweetie. I-”
Jaime ran upstairs, grabbed the rails of the boat and threw up overboard.
“Jaime…?! Jaime…?!” Riker yelled in worry.
After taking a moment to collect herself she got back on the line.
“It’s him. He did it.”
On the television, Riggs continued…
I’ve said No to so-called experts they’ve wanted me to
bring on air. No to political circuses and broken record reporting. Through your support of The Riggs Report you have spoken loud and clear as to what type of content you want, but unfortunately, your voice has fallen on deaf ears. Obstinate imbeciles who believe a twentyfour news cycle should be nothing more than a hamster wheel, content being spun, being rehashed so much that it has our forefathers of broadcast journalism- Murrow, Cronkite, and the like- turning in their graves. Obviously my time at CNN has come to an end, but The Riggs Report will still be in your pockets, on your tablets, your laptops. You know where to find me online. For continued truth and journalistic integrity, stayed tuned.
LIKE AN ACTOR, A SINGER, A REALITY TV STAR Royce Riggs was a face from everyday life. Sometimes I’d see him in passing as I flipped from one channel to another. Other times I’d actually tune in, depending on the topic being discussed.
Flabbergasted is what I now felt. All those years and he was not only hiding in plain sight, but right there in the limelight. Reliving, in front of millions, what he had done to those connected to me, through that charisma, that ‘it’ factor that had made him a household name.
Past his wall of awards and trophy case, beyond the bachelor furnishings of his expense condo, which included a life-sized silicone dummy who had been used for killing practice, it was in a walk-in closet where I found the answer to the question why me? Well, as close to an answer as I could comprehend.
Every inch had been covered with details about me. A massive spider web of information, the center being where it had all started. The news story of me being shot as a Police Explorer. He hadn’t been the first to report on it- that distinction went to a local news chopper- but he had, as a young CNN intern been listening to police scanners and had had the foresight to take it national. Seven years later, after five of which he had earned his own show, the journalist that would stop at nothing to get the story began to slowly put into effect his extraordinary plan of using me as his muse and those he killed as stepping stones for higher ratings. The entire blueprint obsessively chronicled in thick binders, countless photos and thousands of hours of video footage. No wonder it seemed he had simply disappeared off the face of the earth. He had created suspicion on his last show, which he must have known would lead to this overwhelming amount of evidence being discovered.
The only question now was what would be his next move? At such a level of disturbing brilliance, only he would know the answer.
Conclusion posted shortly!