The weight of my eyelids pushed them shut. When I finally managed to open them, the fluorescent light bulb that hung above me stung like poison as I looked up at it. I couldn’t hear anything. Silence never felt so loud. I was leaning against haystacks that held onto a poignant animal feces stench. Before I could even try to get up, I noticed my left hand handcuffed onto a rusty metal pipe on the ground. Somehow my heart rate was slowed even when I wanted to panic and scream, as was my breathing.
I was still in the beige dress I was wearing the night before, there were cuts and bruises all over my legs like I had been dragged. I examined the room as much as I could. It was dirty like somewhere you would hold an animal. I saw dried blood splatter and bullet holes on the walls as if they were red honeycombs. At the corner of my eye, I saw a red flicker of light. It was a camera and it was recording my every move. I needed to know who was behind it, but I had a feeling I already knew.
The silence broke. Footsteps. A door unlocked, and unlocked, and unlocked. He opened the door slowly and smiled. “You’re up.”
Tears streamed down my cheek. “Please. Let me go.” I whimpered.
He knelt down near me, staring with his striking green eyes. I backed away as far as I could. “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They are messengers of unspeakable love.” he said in his british accent, wiping a tear away and stroking my wavy, black hair.
My fear quickly shifted to rage. I slapped him, clawing his face with my uncuffed hand. “Why did you bring me here?! What do you want?” I yelled, as he grunted in pain. From his back pocket, he grabbed a vial and a needle. He had probably used a tranquilizer earlier to weaken me, and he was going to do it again.
“That tranquilizer I gave you earlier was supposed to last six more hours.You’re a fighter, Ron. I knew you were from the moment I saw you. I knew you were meant to be mine. I knew you felt it too.” He said holding my uncuffed hand down and inserting the needle into my vein. “I tried to bring you gently, but I had to be discreet.I won’t ever hurt you again.” He grazed his hand along the bruises and scratches on my calves.
“My mom will be looking for me.” I said, as he got up to leave. He paused for a moment, and walked out quietly.
The door locked,and locked, and locked and I was all alone.
NYPD Homicide Precinct 15
“And there he was…standing over the lifeless body of Eric Miller, a shotgun in his hand. He looked at me and pointed the barrel between my eyes. Now guys like Archie Mason, they prey on fear. I showed him I had nothing for him to prey on” Detective Jack Vanderbilt said, the interns fawning over his chivalrous tales. Vanderbilt had been in homicide for 13 months, and had a better conviction rate than any other detective. It wasn’t just his sharp detective skills that got him featured on magazines, his good looks and charm played a part. His messy blonde hair and green eyes made him the face of the NYPD, and his powerful sob story about his childhood in foster care always made for a good conversation starter at events.
“You’re so brave for taking on the Slayer by yourself.” The intern said, edging closer to his waist.
“Well, I wouldn’t say he was by himself…and we don’t like to call them by the names the media gives them. Glorifying them does nothing good.” A woman interrupted, wedging between them.
“Rita…what’s going on?” Jack exclaimed, embracing the much shorter woman. Rita Perez was an officer on the SWAT team, and his mentor during his time at the academy. They remained friends ever since. He even went to her house for the holidays, because…he had nowhere else to go.
“It’s Veronica, Jack. She didn’t come home from a school event last night, I’m getting worried.”
“Ronnie? She’s a highschool senior, Rita. She’s probably out being a teenager. Besides, this isn’t missing persons, and even if it was, it hasn’t been 24 hours yet.” Jack said, his hands resting firmly on Rita’s shoulders for reassurance.
“It’s Veronica! She isn’t a normal teenager. She calls me five times a day, voluntarily. She always comes home with friends. She doesn’t party or drink. She takes all the precautions. She’s low-risk, Jack.” Rita pleaded. She had a point. Veronica was in the running for valedictorian while balancing two varsity sports and conducting cancer research.
While hearing the commotion, Brandon Simmons, the precinct’s technical analyst stopped by. He dapped up Jack and leaned on the desk to hear a rather hysterical Rita out. She greeted him, and sighed. “I just wish I could place one of those tracking chips inside her brain.”
“I wouldn’t do that. Easily hackable…mess with the wrong computer nerd, and your kid might have their head blown to smithereens.” Brandon chipped in while munching on potato chips. Rita’s pager buzzed. “Old school” he said. “I have to go. You’re probably right, Jack. I’m just being a crazy mom, again. It was nice to see you again, you too Brandon.” said Rita, as Jack walked her out. “Call me the second you hear from her.” Jack said as he closed the precinct door. He turned to Brandon, who was still focused on his potato chips. “I need you to find me the camera footage of the last place Veronica was.”
“And, how am I supposed to do that?” Brandon said alluding to the fact that he had no information.
“She texted me late last night. She was drunk and needed a ride. I have her last location on my phone. Check the video feed near the Lexington 63rd station on the northeast side at approximately 11:17 PM.” He said, as they walked into the surveillance room. Brandon pulled up the camera feed within a few minutes. Multiple angles pointed at the young brunette barely able to stand stumbling around the street. “Woah, Veronica has grown up.” Brandon pervily said. She was texting someone, presumably Jack.She walked toward the corner stand near the train station and began to look at the flowers. As she observed them, a shadow appeared in front of her. She looked up at him, as if she recognized him. The camera didn’t pick him up, or what they were saying. He stood in a blind spot of the camera, as if he knew he was being watched. They spoke for a few minutes, and he gave her his jacket. He bought her a bouquet, and they walked off. He kept his head low, as they walked towards his car.
“God” Jack said.
“So, what do we do now? We should call Rita, and fill missing persons in.” Brandon said calmly. After so many years on the force, he wasn’t phased by anything.
“I can’t do that, Brandon.” He said as he closed the door. “A technical analyst at missing persons will go through my phone, and…there are some misleading texts.”
“You were boning her… Jack Vanderbilt, you fox.” Brandon said giving him a chauvinistic pat on the back.“No, it wasn’t like that Bran. We had a connection.” Jack replied firmly. “Okay, save the raunchy details for later. She’s still missing. Maybe, we can say it was an anonymous tip?” Brandon suggested, slightly discomforted by the thought of Jack, 24, and Veronica, 18 together. Jack thought about it for a minute, pacing around the dark room lit up by an array of computer screens. “No. I have no doubt that they would question who she had been speaking to, and a cellphone company could easily give up her phone records.” Brandon, as usual, agreed with Jack. They sat in silence for a moment. Jack focused on the paused image of Veronica ducking her head into her attacker’s black sedan. The concern for Veronica’s wellbeing that he had been suppressing when Rita first told him rose to the surface. Wasn’t Veronica’s life more important than jeopardizing his career? How selfish could he be?
“We’ll do it. You and I. You’re the hotshot of the department, and you were more than friendly with her. If anyone can find her, it’s you. And I’m the best technical analyst you’ve got.” Brandon said with a sense of false confidence.
“You’re right. But we can’t do it here.” Jack said, grabbing his beige trenchcoat. The two men set off like gladiators with a sense of newfound trepidation. Their first stop was Lexington, the last place Veronica had been seen. The florist remembered Veronica as drunk, and picking the petals off peonies. “Before I could ask her to leave, her boyfriend picked her up.”
“Boyfriend? Do you remember what he looked like?” Jack said.
“White guy. Accent. Russian maybe. Nice watch, probably wealthy. He seemed way too old for her, but I’m never surprised nowadays.” Jack winced at what the florist was implying. That, Veronica, might have been with him for resources. Nonetheless, he thanked the florist and got back into his black sedan. Brandon had been inside, gathering as much as possible about the hours before she was abducted. “I ran a check on the events happening in her school yesterday, and it came up empty. Her social media isn’t showing any indication of any non-school affiliated functions either. I’m going to tap back into the cameras and figure out where she was, but it’s going to take a while.”
“I think she knew her kidnapper, Brandon. I think she trusted him. We’ll go back to my place and set up camp.” Jack said, speeding towards his Park Slope brownstone, conveniently three homes away from Veronica and Rita’s. In a matter of hours, his living room had their own precinct. Brandon set up a computer station to simultaneously view different camera feeds while Jack was creating a timeline and list of possible suspects. “What about her dad? Maybe it could be abduction?” Brandon asked. “He died in a car accident. Drunk driver. Veronica was 12.” Jack replied. Brandon kept coming up empty, an occasion he wasn’t used to. Veronica didn’t post much on social media. The way she saw it, social media was toxic and pointless.
“Her diary. She journals everything. I have a spare key. I’ll be in and out.” Jack said, noticing Brandon’s frustration with no leads. Jack walked to the brownstone. Countless packets and envelopes from different universities overflooded the mailbox. He opened the door, greeted by Veronica’s german shepherd, Milo. He raced up to her bedroom. Stacks of books and papers cluttered everywhere. He scanned the room for the moleskine journal he gave her for Christmas, after Milo had destroyed her last one. In between two textbooks on the bookshelf above her bed stood the journal, in perfect condition. He held in for a minute and remembered that winter night. When everything changed.
Rita had knocked out after drinking too much rose, and Veronica was in her room finishing up some supplements. She looked ravishing that night. Her tight red dress matched her lipstick perfectly. Everyone else had left, but Jack stuck around to clean up and give Veronica her gift. Growing up as the youngest in his foster home, he was used to cleaning up after others. He had to grown to like it. He cleaned the last of the glasses, and headed up to her room. Before he could even knock, she walked out in her robe. “Oh! Hey Jack, I didn’t realize you were still here. Did you need something?” She asked flashing her innocent smile. He stared at her for a few seconds before composing himself, even then he stuttered like a nervous preteen going through puberty. “I, uh, got you something.” he said, as Milo grazed along his leg.
“Come in before he gets too friendly” she said, grabbing his arm and pulling him inside. He had never been inside her bedroom before, but somehow it was exactly how he imagined. The purple walls were covered in bookshelves, post-it notes, and inspirational quotes. They sat on the edge of her bed, and he handed her the moleskin covered in standard red wrapping paper. “Hmm…is it a book?” she guessed.
“No hints.” he said
“Is it…a first edition Magna Carta?”
“Unfortunately not, no.” he said, laughing. She did a double take at his smile. He noticed.
“Ugh, well I don’t even want it anymore then.” she said jokingly handing it back. She took it back, and slowly unwrapped the present. She looked at the navy blue moleskine and smiled up at him. She wrapped her hands around his neck, as the booked laid on her lap. “Thank you, Jack.”
“I’m glad you liked it. Merry Christmas Ron-” he said, interrupted by her kiss.
Jack smiled at the memory of their time together. He rushed down the stairs and opened the door. Once he swung it open, he saw Rita standing on the porch holding the mail.
“Jack? What are you doing here? Is that Veronica’s notebook?”
The delirious sensation from earlier had returned but accompanied by an intense hunger. I wasn’t chained up anymore. I looked down at my nails which had been cut and filed. I was in a room, identical to mine, down to the bedding, curtains, and books. “What the hell…” I said. As if on cue, He came in holding a silver platter of food.
“I thought you might be hungry.” he said. I was reluctant to take it. This was some cheap ploy at establishing trust, but my tongue was salivating from the smell of it. “Coq Au Vin” Just as I reached for it, he took it back. The smell danced around my nose, its aroma tantalizing me. He got up and guided me to a room. It was unlike anything I had seen before. The decor had more of a rustic feel paired with Renaissance style artwork. “This is the dining room. I thought we could have dinner together.”
I wanted to say I wasn’t hungry. I wanted to look for the nearest exit or weapon and get the hell out of there. I scanned the room. Nothing. He was at least 6’5, muscular, and I was on his turf. He pulled out a chair and I hesitantly sat and he pushed it back in. Before he sat across from me on the long Victorian dining table, he pulled out the wine cabinet. “Pinot Noir or Chardonnay?”
“I don’t drink” I said calmly. Based on our last interaction, it was clear that aggression wasn’t my way out, but I wasn’t ready to cozy up to him either.
“You do tonight. Pinot Noir. I think you’ll like it, Veronica.”
“You know my name. Well, you know more than my name. What’s yours?” I asked as he poured the pomegranate pinot in my glass and returned to his seat.
“It’s Harry. I’m offended that you forgot.” he chuckled. I began to eat the tender meat of the dish. “I’m sure you’re very confused. I would be too. I brought you here for a reason. I need you to do something for me. Something that will set the world right. I need you to help me set a wrong right.” He sipped on the stew.
“Why me? How long have you been following me? I’ve see you outside my school, I’ve told my friends about you.” I said trying to suppress my rage. I reached for the glass of wine to see that I had already drank all of it.
“See? I told you it was good. It has a silkier texture than most. Anyways, our story begins 6 years ago, Veronica.” I stopped eating.
“6 years ago?” Suddenly, I lost my appetite. 6 years ago was the worst year of my life. It was the year I lost my father. I could vividly remember the day that I held his lifeless body on my lap in the passenger side of the car. I grazed my hand over the fading scars on my arm from the shattered window glass. I looked at Harry again. My eyes narrowed as I recognized something different in him, something familiar. There were pieces I was missing, that I couldn’t remember.
“I lost my dad too, and my mom in a car accident just like you. I was actually heading back from their memorial the day I met you. I remember when I lost them, all I wanted was to have them back. Every waking moment I spent in that vile place, I couldn’t stop thinking about you, and him, and them. The therapist at the prison said I need to control my feelings better, he advised me to seek you out and apologize. That maybe then, I could get some closure. But I knew it wouldn’t work. I have to right my wrong. I’m going to bring them back, Veronica. You’re going to help me bring them back.”
“I’m not quite following, Harry. Why were you in prison?” I clenched my hands into the seat of my chair as my body tensed. He looked sympathetic and hurt. I saw genuine pain. Then it disappeared.I desperately tried to parse his unusual words.. His expression was vacant. His demeanor completely changed. Like a window cracked open during a blizzard, the atmosphere felt cold and frozen. “Veronica, I killed your father.”