rated* violence, adult themes and language

 

 

 

The Darkness of Me

 

by Amy Lucas

 

 

 

Prologue I

 

“Trixie!”  Mart’s exclamation drew everyone’s eyes to him.  Mart was surging to his feet with a stricken look on his face.  Everyone followed his gaze to the source of his horror:  Trixie stood in the doorway, her face white as a sheet, dark circles under her eyes and a blank look upon her face.  Brian drew in a sharp breath and jumped up as well.

 

Both brothers reached her at the same moment.  “Trixie?”  Brian asked in a gentle voice, reaching a hand out to her. 

 

For a moment, the blank look on Trixie’s face held, then she suddenly seemed to come back to herself.  She quickly shook off whatever thought or memory had caused such terrible blankness and her eyes focused on Brian.

 

She smiled wanly.  “Hi, Brian,” she murmured.  “How’s it going?” 

 

Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Mart.  “Mart.” She stepped forward and placed her arms around his neck, pulling him close for a quick hug.  “Happy Birthday, big brother.”

 

Mart’s shoulders sagged in relief as he quickly pulled her toward him and hugged her back.  “Thanks, Trix,” he murmured.  After a moment, he pulled back.  “Hey, what’s up with you?  You don’t look so good.” 

 

And she really didn’t.  None of the Bob-Whites had seen Trixie in almost five months.  The last time everyone had been together was at Christmas time.  Trixie had left Sleepyside the earliest of them all, staying just long enough to ring in the New Year before returning to her life in D.C. 

 

For the past five months, Trixie had resisted all efforts to return to New York for a visit, citing a myriad of excuses all boiling down to her being too busy and overworked to make the time. For the past four years, Trixie had been studying at George Washington University, pursuing a degree in criminal justice.  Much to the surprise of everyone, herself the most of all, she had received a full scholarship based on her grades and level of community service.

 

Surprisingly, Trixie had been the only one of the seven Bob-Whites who chose to leave New York to attend college.  Brian and Jim had chosen to attend Syracuse University while Mart and Diana had gone to NYU.  Dan and Honey both went to SUNY at Albany to study criminal justice.  This meant that the six Bob-Whites left in New York often chose to get together in Albany, rather than New York City or Syracuse (Albany being somewhat in between the other two).  The two who saw the most of Trixie were Mart and Diana, given that they were living in New York City and of the six, were the most able to travel to Sleepyside to spend time with Trixie when she returned home to visit.

                                                                                                    

Those visits, however, had become few and far between this final year of her bachelor’s degree.  Over the past year, Trixie had become increasingly busy with final senior projects and other commitments, the majority of which were well-known to her family and friends, but a few of which were closely guarded secrets.  Over the past year, Trixie’s internship with the FBI had heated up, with increasing responsibilities passed her way, something highly unusual for an intern.  Most internships were administrative in nature and very few involved any kind of investigation at all. 

 

However, Trixie’s ability to read through a file and spot inconsistencies missed by all previous agents had garnered her a reputation that bordered on mythic.  Seasoned agents who truly cared about the work they were doing were not above bringing a case to the young intern’s attention.  Trixie had read through so many criminal files she sometimes felt her brain was on meltdown.  Many, many times, she had nothing left to add.  Most of the time, she would read a file, simply shake her head and hand it back to the agent with a softly murmured, “good luck.”  Every once in a while though, in about one of every thirty cases, some kernel of information would shine a different way for her.  She would read the interview transcripts, the profiles, the expert reports and would approach the agent with a question or two.  These questions would usually lead to new avenues of investigation, which more often than not would lead to an arrest. 

 

The Bob-Whites knew of Trixie’s internship.  They even knew that she had read a few cases and had helped agents identify new lines of investigation. What they did not realize was the magnitude to which her involvement in case review had increased over the past year.  This was not something she necessarily kept secret from them, but was simply something never discussed. 

 

What she did keep secret from them were the self-defense classes she taught at the local Y, her volunteer work at a local domestic violence shelter and her most recent involvement in a serial killer case for the FBI.

 

These things she kept secret for varied reasons, the most critical being her need to minimize interference in her life, whether it come in the form of lectures, teasing or praise.

 

Standing there now, surrounded by her family and friends, Trixie Belden knew, one way or the other, her secrets would not stand for long.  One look at her brother Mart’s face and she knew.  She knew that he would not rest until she had revealed what kept her away for so long, what had ended her monthly visits home, what had caused twenty pounds to drop from her frame like water on a sunny day, what had set the lines around her mouth, the dark circles under her eyes and the weary look upon her face.  A quick glance at her brother Brian revealed that, though perhaps not as perceptive as Mart when reading his sister, he too knew that something was wrong.

 

Before Brian could grab her for a hug too (something which would end in a demand for explanations she was quite certain – Brian being the newest intern at the hospital would immediately fret over the feel of her gaunt frame), Trixie quickly pushed past both her brothers, aimed a quick smile at the rest of the Bob-Whites who watched her with varying degrees of concern, and headed for the kitchen table, where she quickly dropped into a chair before anyone else got any bright ideas about delivering hugs. 

 

Trixie could feel the penetrating stares of both Brian and Mart as they slowly approached the table and sat down again. 

 

“You never answered my question,” Mart spoke quietly.  “Are you all right?”

 

Trixie’s smile lit up the room though everyone noticed the smile did not quite reach her eyes.  “Of course I am, Mart!” she exclaimed.  “It’s just been a crazy semester and I haven’t been getting much sleep.”

 

“Why not?” Brian asked sharply. 

 

Trixie looked at him.  “Why not what?” she asked.

 

“Why haven’t you been getting enough sleep?” 

 

Trixie shrugged.  “Too much to do I guess.  But let’s not talk about me.  I’d much rather hear what’s going on with all of you.  How are things at the school, Jim?”  Glancing across the table at the man she had once referred to, if only in her most secret thoughts, as her “destiny,” she raised an eyebrow in question.

 

“It’s going great.”  Jim enthused and immediately launched into a description of the plans currently underway at Ten Acres, the land he had inherited from his great-uncle some ten years before.

 

And so the ice was broken.  By the time Peter, Helen and Bobby Belden returned home (the former having ventured into town to watch the latter play a cutthroat game of high school basketball), laughter once more filled the kitchen of Crabapple Farm. 

 

Helen’s response to her daughter’s appearance confused everyone the most.  It was assumed that she would take one look at her daughter and demand to know what was wrong.  Instead, Helen had simply taken her daughter’s face in her hands, looked deep into her eyes, and kissed her on the cheek.  When she stood up and turned away, no one missed the look she directed toward her husband, nor the subtle shake of the head she sent his way. Whatever was going on, Helen Belden knew at least part of the story.

 

As the evening’s festivities wore on (everyone was gathered to celebrate Mart Belden’s 23rd birthday), the weariness riding hard on Trixie’s shoulders became harder and harder to ignore.  Concerned glances were sent her way over and over again throughout the evening and more than one individual had asked her multiple times if she was feeling okay.  Each time, she gave her standard response, “I’m fine, just feeling a little tired.”

 

By the time the old grandfather’s clock chimed eleven, Trixie felt as if death was right around the corner.  She looked it too.  The two brothers’ reactions to her countenance reflected their relationships with their sister.  Brian as the caretaker and eldest sibling worried about her physical health.  He could see plain evidence of the exhaustion that clung to her every pore.  He worried that she had either been sick recently or was about to become sick and was ready to exert his brotherly authority by ordering her to bed. 

 

Mart on the other hand, knew his sister’s state of mind better than anyone in that room.  He knew that whatever weighed upon her so greatly was not of a physical nature.  He worried that she was involved in a mystery, one so terrifying that she was making herself sick with her worries and fears.  He was closer to the truth than he knew.

 

Perhaps Trixie sensed that Brian was about to order her to bed or that Mart was about to explode and demand she tell him what was causing her so much pain.  Or perhaps she truly had reached her limit and needed rest.  Either way, just as both brothers were reaching the limits of their endurance, she pushed herself to a standing position, a move which looked like it took all her strength to accomplish.  Having moved from the kitchen to the living room hours before, Trixie had taken possession of the armchair and had not left it once, not even for a restroom break.  She had simply sunk deep into its cushions and listened as everyone talked and laughed.  She had even shared some silly FBI stories of the dumbest criminals in existence.  She had put on a good show but none were fooled.  However, as if by some unspoken agreement, everyone ignored her wan appearance and seemed to take her good humor at face value.  Tomorrow would be soon enough to demand answers.  Tonight was for Mart.

 

When Trixie finally stood, everyone else stood as well.  It was as if everyone knew on some instinctual level that she was operating on her very last reserves, that collapse was imminent, though she held it at bay by force of her will. 

 

Still holding fiercely to the façade she portrayed, Trixie waved everyone back to their seats.  “I’m fine,” she said with a quick smile of the mouth-but-no-eyes.  “I’m afraid I need some rest though.  I’ll see you guys in the morning.”  With a quick hug and a murmured “Happy birthday” to Mart, Trixie waved to everyone else and swiftly exited the room.  Everyone listened to the sounds of her footsteps moving down the hallway and up the stairs.  A couple minutes later they heard her door shut. 

 

“What do you think?” Brian asked Mart.

 

“Something’s wrong.  I just don’t know what.”  Mart said.  Brian nodded. 

 

“Maybe she’s just tired like she said,” Honey suggested. 

 

“I don’t think so, Honey,” Dan disputed.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Her eyes.” 

 

“What about her eyes?”  Diana asked.

 

Dan hesitated, wishing he hadn’t said a thing.

 

“Yeah, what about her eyes?” Honey asked.

 

Everyone looked at Dan.

 

Dan sighed.  “Look I could be wrong, it’s just that…”  he stopped.

 

“What?”  everyone exclaimed.

 

“Her eyes remind me of someone I used to know.  Someone on the streets.”

 

“Who?”  Diana asked.

 

“Just a friend.”

 

“I don’t get it.”  Mart said impatiently.  “What’s the big deal about her eyes?”
 

“They’re just… they don’t show much of anything, you know?”  Dan said.  “Look, if I met her on the streets and didn’t know her from anyone else, I’d avoid eye contact and keep moving as quickly as possible.”
 

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”  Jim demanded.

 

Dan turned and looked at the doorway.  “They look right through you, those eyes, like maybe she’s not even seeing you, but some distant part of you that you wish had never existed… it’s as if she sees the part of you that shouldn’t exist, the part of you that hasn’t existed for a long time, the part of you that’s dead.  She has dead eyes, and they see right through me.”

 

A frozen silence filled the room after his pronouncement.

 

A couple seconds later Jim burst out with, “That’s ridiculous, Dan!  Trixie has the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen.  They’re not dead!”

 

Dan turned and looked at Jim.  “I hope you’re right, Jim, because I can only think of a few terrible things that could extinguish the light in our Trixie’s eyes so completely.  And make no mistake, Jim, that light is definitely gone.”

 

“That’s bull!”  Jim exploded again.

 

As the argument raged around him, Mart quietly stood up and exited the room.  He felt compelled to check on his sister because no matter how much he wished it were not true, he knew that Dan was correct.  His sister’s eyes were dead, or at the very least, very, very lost.

 

 

Prologue II

 

I woke with a start.  Damn nightmares.  They just don’t go away.  It’s like I’m going freaking crazy.  I can’t sleep and when I do, I wake up screaming from the horrible nightmare visions that never go away.  Will she never stop haunting me?

 

Five months ago, I returned to D.C. with nothing more planned than to finish my degree in criminal justice and make some decisions about my future.  I had several options available to me and really wasn’t sure which one I should take.  I had been accepted to George Washington’s graduate program in criminal justice and was waiting to hear from a couple other programs (only one of which was in New York).  I also had a standing offer from the FBI to join their ranks at any time (though technically their minimum age limit was 23, and I had a year still to go, they were willing to fund my pursuit of a graduate degree if I would only agree to their offer of a job).  Finally, Captain Molinson assured me every time I went home that he was holding a position on Sleepyside’s police force should I ever decide to sign up for the Academy.  I really didn’t think I was cut out for police work, but the FBI’s offer was tempting as hell.

 

Then of course there was Honey.  We still had our plans for the detective agency, though I often wondered if this dream of our youth was truly a dream we could share as adults.  Either way, we had both agreed we needed more experience if we were going to open a successful detective agency.  Oh, sure we had a lot of experience as nosy teenagers conducting our half-assed investigations that led to lucky results.  But experience as professional detectives who were able to save our own asses without relying on the brother brigade?  This was another thing entirely and was one of the critical factors in my decision to attend college outside of New York.

 

Leaving New York was one of the best and worst decisions of my life.  It caused great dissension among the ranks of the Bob-Whites.  Honey and I fought for months – not about my leaving, but about her staying.  Of course Honey supported me (when has she ever not supported me?), but she didn’t want to leave New York herself.  When I refused to accept her decision and kept nagging her to apply somewhere else (in my mind anywhere else was better than just staying!) she and I got into some fierce arguments that lasted for months and nearly put a period to our friendship. 

 

The truth is I’m just not as good a friend as Honey, and will probably never learn the simple unselfishness that she exudes and that makes her truly the best friend I have ever had.  Perhaps because she has always been so unselfish, I found myself unwilling to let her decision stand.  I felt as if she was abandoning me.  Why, if I so desperately wanted to go to D.C., couldn’t she want to go with me? 

 

At the time, I didn’t really see my emotions as clearly as I see them now, with four years’ distance.  Instead, I simply felt aggravated that she couldn’t see what was so clear to me – she had to leave!  Staying just couldn’t be healthy.  At the end, I wasn’t just begging her to come to D.C., I was begging her to go ANYWHERE just so long as she wasn’t staying where we’d always been. 

 

I guess I had lost sight of some very crucial facts, the most important being that Honey isn’t me.  She doesn’t have the same family history.  Her past is vastly different from my own.  And the life that I had lived my entire life was one Honey had barely begun to experience by the time we graduated from high school.  I suppose since her parents were finally acting like parents and she’d only had a few years to get used to having an older brother, she wasn’t feeling as suffocated as I was.  Either way, she refused to consider going anywhere but a New York university and I refused to consider, for one second, staying in a city (or state) populated by the male Bob-Whites.  And so, I left. 

 

While Honey was quietly supportive of my decision (once I finally accepted reality and stopped fighting with her over hers) and Diana was openly encouraging of it, the rest of the Bob-Whites were downright furious.  Even Mart, who had always been so supportive of my decisions, was irate when I announced that I would be leaving.  After days of listening to all of the male Bob-Whites rant and rage and demand that I change my mind, I finally told them that I had received a full scholarship offer from George Washington, one that was so impressive, I could not possibly turn it down.  I should have thought to provide this information at the very beginning.  It was the one thing that stopped them in their tracks and finally ended the arguments. 

 

Is it my fault no one thought to ask if other universities made similar offers?  The truth is I had applied to several New York state colleges for the simple reason that I might not be able to afford to attend anywhere else.  The fact that they, along with a host of other universities, offered me amazing scholarships did not sway me from my number one choice – that of George Washington.  Since the ranting stopped once I mentioned the scholarship to GWU, I felt no need to bring up other financial aid offers from other universities.  I chose instead to keep that information to myself and did my best to ignore the looks of stunned surprise on all the Bob-Whites’ faces when I informed them of my scholarship offer. 

 

It took some time for the relationships to mend, on both sides.  I felt quite a bit of seething resentment over the fact that not one of the guys expressed any happiness for me when I announced that I had been accepted to a university with one of the best criminal justice programs in the United States.  Instead, they wanted me to be as close to home as possible and really didn’t even care that some of the colleges they suggested had no criminal justice programs at all.  All they thought about was what they wanted.  Kind of the way I refused to think about what was best for Honey in my bid to bring her with me to D.C. 

 

Perhaps my selfishness at the time was simply a foreknowledge of what was to come.  I wonder now if I would have sunk so deeply into the darkness that has consumed me these past six months had Honey made a different choice.  Would I have lost so much of myself if I had Honey’s strength to cling to each day?  Perhaps had her shining innocence remained part of my daily life, my own would not have shattered so.  Or perhaps, had she been around, the darkness now clinging to my very soul, would have stained hers as well.  I have spared her that at least, if no more. 

 

 

Approaching the Dark

Chapter 1

 

We had a huge school project to finish that weekend, Kerry and I, which was why I was now traveling to the Southeast section of town.  As I boarded the bus that would take me to Kerry’s apartment, my thoughts were not on the project we would be working on that morning, but instead were on the promises I had made six months before.  Promises I had regretted making ever since.  Promises I had finally broken the day before. 

 

The arguments that had raged back in August when I was preparing to return to D.C., and again just a few weeks ago as my holiday break ended, were bitter memories.  The serial killer stalking young women in D.C. did not care that he created a tempest of emotions among my family and friends as I prepared for my return to what Mart had angrily called “The Killing Grounds.” 

 

The fierce arguments and angry demands had raised bitter emotions on all sides.  The male Bob-Whites were furious when I refused to put my school plans on hold and wait out a killer.  When they began making plans in August to accompany me to D.C. where they intended to stay indefinitely, I knew I had to take some drastic steps to end the fierce debates.

                                  

“I am not returning to D.C. with the brother brigade!” I snarled in Jim’s face. 

 

“Then listen to reason!” he shouted.  “You’re a walking disaster, Trixie!  It doesn’t matter what promises you make or what your intentions are.  You’ll go back to that city and within a month that psychopath will be knocking on your door.  Either that or you’ll be knocking on his!  You can’t go back as long as you’re a target!”

 

“I’m not a freaking target!” I screamed at him.

                                                                                                     

“He’s killed three women so far,” Dan snapped.  “Three women who are blond, blue-eyed and in their early 20s.  What else can you be, but a target?  You might as well paint a bull’s eye on your forehead.”

 

“All those women lived in the Southeast section of town.” I argued.  “Besides…” 

 

“Oh that’s ridiculous, Trixie,” Mart exploded.  “You can’t expect us to buy that a killer is going to keep his hunting grounds limited to one area of town!  If he sees you and he wants you, he’ll follow wherever the hell you lead and you know it!”

 

I could tell by the looks on everyone’s faces that they agreed with Mart’s assessment.  “It doesn’t matter,” I snarled.  “I’m not living my life in fear.”

 

“We’re not asking you to live in fear,” Brian shouted.  “We’re just asking you to show a little common sense!”

 

“Oh and common sense would be putting my life on hold while some killer stalks innocent women?” I sneered.

 

“NYU has a perfectly acceptable criminal justice program,” Brian stated. 

 

“That’s right,” Dan agreed.  “You could go back to D.C. once this guy is arrested or moves on to a different city.  Until then, you would be close to home with Mart and Diana nearby if you needed anything.  You’d be safe.”

 

I had spent the past four years learning the value of restraint.  I had learned to think before I speak.  I had learned to control my words and my actions.   I had, amazingly enough, even learned to control my temper.  And yet I could feel it happening all over again – that terrible feeling I hadn’t felt since I left Sleepyside for D.C.  The feeling of losing control, of knowing that you were entering that point of no return, where everything you were thinking was about to exit your mouth in an explosion of verbal diarrhea.  I could feel it happening, but for the love of infinite strawberry sodas, I simply could not manage to prevent it.  I closed my eyes and counted to ten.  I continued on to twenty.  I had reached thirty-five, the silence in the room stretching to infinite degrees of tension, when Mart brought all the rage tumbling back.

 

“For God’s sake, Trixie,” he growled, “GROW UP! This is for your own good.  You know you can’t control yourself.  You know you can’t keep yourself from nosing into every single crime in your vicinity.  You’ll be tracking down this killer before you even realize you’ve taken on the case.  Just listen to us for once and do the right thing!”

 

“HOW DARE YOU?”  I exploded.  I knew I was out of control, but could not stop the words for fear the top of my head might blow away in a fit of rage.  “I am 21 years old and I have the right to decide for myself what is best for me.  You are SELFISH!”  I screamed at Mart. 

 

“All of you are!”  I speared each of them with my eyes.  “Selfish,” I snarled at Dan, “self-centered,” I hurled at Brian, “Loathsome!” I spat at Jim. 

 

“You pretend this is for my own good, when it has nothing to do with me at all.  This is for all of you, to give you peace of mind.  You want to be able to continue living your lives the way you like without having to worry about poor little Trixie who can’t take care of herself.  I won’t have it!  I have lived my life for three years without the brother brigade’s interference and by God, I will continue to live it that way or you will find that there is more to me than you ever dreamed there could possibly be.”

 

I was on a roll now, blind to the shocked looks in everyone’s eyes, blind to the fury building in Jim’s.  “I refuse to live my life in fear!”  I hissed.  “There are killers in every city, stalkers around every corner, and not all of them have my damn name printed on their foreheads!”  I raked my hands through my hair, pulling on its ends like I could somehow restrain myself from beating some sense into each of them.  Then as if what I’d already said wasn’t bad enough, I had to go and make things worse.

 

“Wake up!” I roared.  “I’ve put away more criminals than I care to think about!  There have to be at least 50 people out there roaming the earth who hate my freaking guts and who would pay to sit ringside to me being raped, tortured, mutilated and killed!  Well I refuse to live my life waiting for them to strike!  The chances of me dying of old age are slim to none, I figure I’ll come to violent ends eventually, no matter how you play it, but I won’t sit around waiting for it to happen and NEITHER SHOULD YOU!”  I stared them down. 

 

There was a frozen silence in the room as if we were all of us afraid to move for fear the emotions raging through each of us would explode in less forgivable, more physical ways.

 

I drew in a deep breath, let it out, and then repeated the process.  Finally, when I felt more in control, I began speaking again, this time with a deadly sense of calm and righteous conviction.  I believe to this day it is not so much what I said as how I said it that convinced my family and friends to leave this one alone and let things play out as they had to.

 

“I will not change my life plans because a psycho killer has decided to stalk women in the city where I choose to live.” I said quietly.  “I will not do it.  So get over yourselves right now.  This argument is over.  And just so that you understand exactly how over it is, let me spell it out for you.”  I made eye contact with each of my overzealous protectors.  “If any of you decides to interfere in my life decisions from this point forward, I will sever all contact with you.  If you begin showing up in D.C., interfering in my life there, I will leave D.C. for parts unknown, and will sever contact with all of you.  If you want me in your life, you need to find it in yourself to somehow trust me.  If you cannot do that, then get out of my life.  I do not need your doubts or reservations in it.”

 

Without waiting for a response, I quickly turned and left the clubhouse.  I was shaking as I walked down the hill toward Crabapple Farm, shock coursing through my veins at the drastic words I had just spoken in my fit of anger and resolve.  Could I really do it, I wondered.  Could I really walk away from my family and my friends, my ties to Sleepyside and my life here? 

 

I hesitated and glanced back toward the clubhouse.  The clubhouse for me was a place I associated with some of the best and worst moments of my youth.  The place where we laughed and planned and forged a family stronger than blood.  The place where endless arguments played out and lectures were delivered as a regular part of my growing up years.  Could I walk away from the past?  Could I walk away from the people who meant more to me than life itself? 

 

As I slowly began walking back up toward the clubhouse, I heard their voices play out in my head again, Jim stating, “You’re a walking disaster, Trixie!” Brian demanding that I show some common sense, Dan insinuating that I needed one of them close by in order to be safe.  And perhaps the worst of all, Mart demanding in a contemptuous tone that I grow up.

 

I stopped once more, the voices of my youth stilling my feet.  Gathering my courage, I drew in a deep breath, then turned and began walking toward Crabapple Farm again. This time I walked with sure steps, filled with the certainty that if it came down to it, the answer was yes.  I would walk away from everything I knew and loved, for something far more precious – my self-respect.

 

These memories poured over me as I traveled to Keri’s apartment that morning.  I remembered how Brian, Mart, Jim and Dan came to me, each individually and finally together as a group, to apologize and to try to make things right.  Because I could see they were sincere in their contrition, I fell prey to the simple request they made of me.

 

Mart asked, perhaps because they thought he would be the most likely to gain agreement from me.

 

“Trixie,” he said quietly, “will you promise us one thing please?” 

 

I took one look at his face and knew this was no easy request they had of me.  I drew in a deep breath and said, “It depends on the promise.”

 

He hesitated then asked, “Would you please, please promise not to involve yourself in this case?  Don’t investigate for the FBI, even if they ask.  Don’t investigate on your own, even if you stumble on some crazy clues.  Please just leave this one alone.”

 

I smiled and made what I thought at the time was the easiest promise I would ever make.  “Oh, Mart,” I said, “The FBI would never involve an intern in a serial killer case.” I conveniently shoved away the thought of the three serial killer cases they’d asked me to review over the past year.  After all, those cases were all decades old and had little potential for biting me in the ass at this late date.  “I promise I won’t touch this one with a ten-foot pole.”  I knew I had made the right decision when the tension circulating the room immediately dropped.  I could see by the looks of relief on their faces that none of the four had thought I would agree.  I chose not to tell them that I had agreed because I had no desire to involve myself in this particular case.  From all I had heard on the news, it was hideous and terrible and nothing I felt ready for.

 

This same argument had played out four months later, as I prepared to return to D.C. after my winter holiday.  I had known from the beginning that going home would simply open that can of worms to be revisited, but I wasn’t going to miss Christmas at Crabapple Farm.  I simply wasn’t.

 

This second time, the argument wasn’t quite as fierce, perhaps because they could see on my face that my resolution to walk away had not dwindled a tiny bit.  Still, I suppose they felt they could not allow me to return to D.C. without at least voicing their many and varied objections.  In the end, the argument was settled when I reiterated my original promise not to involve myself in the Southeast Strangler investigation.  For obvious reasons, I refrained from telling the Bob-Whites that the FBI had already asked me on multiple occasions to review the case.  I also did not tell them that, although I had refused to involve myself because of the promise I had made to each of them, this promise was becoming harder and harder to keep.

 

The Southeast Strangler had killed seven women so far, all ranging from 21 to 25 years of age.  He attacked them in their homes, stabbing them repeatedly, raping them and ultimately strangling them.  As I was not on the task force (though I had been repeatedly invited to join in an advisory capacity), I did not know much more than was available in the regular media.  The one bit of information I did have was that the FBI referred to this killer as Strangler X (as opposed to the media’s sensationalized Southeast Strangler). 

 

I had no idea why the X, and imagined it was a piece of the killer’s MO kept from the public’s knowledge.  Either way, I had thus far avoided all attempts to involve me in the case.  Agent Michaels, the agent in charge of the Strangler X task force, had repeatedly asked me over the past four months to review the killer’s profile.  I had refused, but guilt was riding me hard, guilt that became greater as each new month brought a new face to the limelight.  One more young woman sacrificed to this killer’s madness.  And I was stubbornly refusing to help.

 

I was thinking of the case as I entered Kerry’s apartment building.  I was berating myself for reiterating that stupid promise over the Christmas holidays.  I knew I never should have made that promise in the first place, so what was I doing making it again?  I was agonizing over the fact that my stubbornness might have cost lives, that I might have been able to help solve the case months before, had I only been willing to try.  I was fretting over the fact that I had finally given in to my conscience and in so doing, had broken a promise given to the people who mattered the most to me.   I had not yet read over the case files, but I had agreed to do so and had Agent Michaels’ card in my purse.  I was to call him later that day so we could meet to discuss the killer’s profile.  I hadn’t yet read it. Perhaps if I had, what followed might have been less shocking, though I doubt it. 

 

I was lost in my thoughts as I exited the elevator on the 7th floor.  As I wandered down the hallway, I could hear opera music spilling through the walls.  As I neared Kerry’s door, I realized the music came from her apartment.  I remember thinking that I had no idea Kerry liked opera music and how strange it was that I wouldn’t know this.

 

I knocked on Kerry’s door, but she didn’t answer.  I suppose it made sense, the music was too loud.  I knocked again, and then tried the door.  To my surprise it opened.  Who the hell left their apartment door unlocked in Washington, D.C.?  I resolved to lecture her on safety issues as I entered her apartment and called her name.

 

Kerry and I had met our freshman year.  We had no classes in common and lived in separate dorm buildings.  The odds of our meeting were not great, but as it happened, we were destined to cross paths.  My roommate, whose name was Dani, brought a classmate to my dorm room to meet me.  It turned out this student had been raped by three men while walking back to the dorms from the library late one night.  Like many women in her situation, she had failed to immediately report the assault.  Ashamed and in shock, she had showered away all the evidence.  Later, she regretted her actions and went looking for justice.  She had heard Dani talking about my penchant for catching criminals and had asked for an introduction.

 

With the help of several classmates and neighbors, Dani and I set up a sting operation, for lack of a better term, and hung out on the quad, watching the library, following potential victims home in the hopes of catching a rapist.  I was operating on the assumption that once a rapist, always a rapist.  I was also hoping the rapists were too stupid to vary their stalking grounds. 

 

And so, there were eight of us out there, night after night, watching and waiting.  We had walkie-talkies and checked in with each other regularly.  Yeah, we were pretty stupid, but as it turns out, blind luck was our friend.  On our ninth night on the quad, I heard the sound of a scuffle behind one of the classroom buildings.  I reported in, ran around the building and found a young woman on the ground.  Two men were holding her down while a third prepared to rape her. 

                                                              

By the time the other girls arrived, I had fractured one’s wrist, broken another’s knee cap and cold cocked the third.  We called campus security who turned the would-be rapists over to the D.C. police.  Once their arrests were made known, seven other women came forward to claim similar assaults. 

                                                             

In a way, we saved their intended victim, a young woman named Kerry McAdams, from a terrible fate that night, and in a way, we did not. We arrived in time to stop the men before they were actually able to complete the rape.  On the other hand, Kerry’s nightmares were no less fierce for the lack of rape. In many ways, they were worse, because isn’t our imagination often much worse than reality could ever be? 

 

Kerry wanted to pack it in and go home immediately, back to Arizona where her family could help her pick up the pieces of her shattered life.  Back home to her three older brothers and her widowed mother.  I convinced her to stay.  My own history undoubtedly influenced my actions.  I wanted Kerry to stand tall and to keep those creeps from winning.  I feared if she returned home, she’d never truly recover from that night.

 

I started taking her to the Y with me, where she attended self-defense classes.  Eventually, Kerry began to come out of her shell and to slowly develop new levels of self-respect and confidence.  As she evolved, so too did our friendship.  

 

In many ways, Kerry and I became as close as Honey and I, though there were distinct differences.  Where Honey was always the strong one in our relationship, the rock that held the friendship together, I was the strong one in my relationship with Kerry.  She needed me to carry her through, at least in the beginning.  By the time we reached our senior year though, things were very different.  Kerry was very different.  Self-reliant, self-confident, with a kick-ass attitude, Kerry turned heads wherever we went.   

 

On this particular day, we were meeting at Kerry’s apartment to work on a project for a research class we were both taking.  Only Kerry wouldn’t be completing that project with me.  I had saved her only to fail her in the end. 

 

I stood there in the entryway of her apartment, my eyes seared by the vision of her broken body.  She had been raped, her legs splayed obscenely.  There was blood everywhere, dripping from the furniture, sprayed across the walls, pooled along the floor.  Her eyes were open and staring, straight at me, straight at the doorway, where she had undoubtedly pinned her hopeful gaze, weeping for a hero to come barging through that door one last time.

 

She had some sort of cord wrapped tightly around her neck, so tightly it had bitten into the skin and blood had spilled down her throat.

 

She was gone.  Violated in the worst possible way and left to stare accusingly at the person who entered her apartment next, left as a statement against all things left undone in her life, unsaid in mine.

 

Oh that I could go back and change that one moment when I begged her to stay and find strength in the staying.

 

Why had I not let her go back?  Why had I not released her from the obligation she felt to her savior?  Why had I nagged her so, denying her home, denying her family, denying her life?

 

I stood there in her apartment and wept quiet tears as I knew my life and hers had changed forever and irrevocably.  We had both been exposed to the darkness and it had consumed us.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

I don’t remember staggering out of her apartment, nor falling to my knees in the hallway beyond it.  I don’t remember pulling out my cell phone, nor fumbling through my wallet.  Somehow though I managed to do all of it.  I managed to exit her apartment without disturbing too much of the scene and I managed to extract Agent Michaels’ card.  He answered the phone thinking I was calling to discuss the profile he had sent home with me the day before.  Instead, I told him I thought I had just found Strangler X’s latest victim.

 

I don’t remember much about waiting in the hallway for the authorities to arrive.  All I know is one minute I was alone, shaking and shivering, the next the hallway was filled with FBI agents.  I gave my statement to one agent while the rest worked on processing the scene.  Some medics checked me out for shock then released me to the care of one of the agents, who eventually gave me a ride home.  She left me alone only after I promised to call someone to come stay with me. 

 

That was a lie.  I already knew I wouldn’t be calling anyone.  There was only one person in D.C. I felt comfortable enough leaning on in my times of sorrow, and I had just left her broken body behind.  Calling my family or the Bob-Whites was also out of the question.  If I called one of them, the whole lot of them would descend upon me with all their fears and doubts screaming through my life.  Making that call would be like telling them that they were right to fear my return to this city. 

 

Somehow the killer had found a way to enter my life and I never even noticed his passing.  How could I not notice my best friend in the city had become the target of a serial killer?  How could I not know that she was once again in terrible danger?  And why had I made that stupid promise?  And once made, why had I not broken it immediately when Agent Michaels asked for my help?  Oh my God, had I only involved myself earlier in the case, would Kerry be alive today?  Might I have saved her were I not such a terrible coward, had I not given in to the pressure of my family?

 

The following hours and days passed in a blur.  Kerry’s mother called me and we wept over the phone together.  She came into town with her sons to claim her daughter’s body.  They visited me in my apartment, where we cried again together.  I think her mother could see how much the guilt weighed upon me.  Not just for refusing to involve myself in the case, but for convincing Kerry to stay in D.C. rather than return home.  She sent her sons out to purchase dinner while she stayed with me and rocked me in her arms, offering me comfort when she had just lost her only daughter.

 

“Kerry loved you so much,” McAdams told me.  “You were her rock in this city, so far away from home and family.  She talked about you all the time, and was so grateful for your involvement in her life.”

 

I shook my head.  “You don’t know,” I whispered.  “You don’t understand.”

 

She covered my hand with hers, looked me in the eye and said, “I do understand.  Kerry told me everything you did for her.  Everything.  She couldn’t have asked for a better friend.”

 

I realized Kerry’s mom was telling me that she knew what had happened to Kerry our freshman year, that she knew how Kerry and I had met.  “I convinced her to stay,” I cried out.  “If I’d kept my mouth shut, she’d be alive today!”

 

“You can’t know that,” she said.  “And I guarantee that Kerry would have rather lived these few shorts years in D.C., finding strength and self-confidence and happiness, than return to Arizona where she might have lived another twenty years, but all of them filled with fear and self-doubt and vulnerability.  Kerry loved life because you showed her how.  She lived life because you refused her any other option.  If you believe nothing else, please believe that Kerry would regret none of her decisions these past three years.”

 

I shook my head again.  “You would have taken care of her.  Her brothers would have taken care of her.  She would have survived and she would have found her confidence and happiness, maybe not so quickly as she did in D.C., but she would have lived.  I can’t forgive myself for my part in her death.”

 

Mrs. McAdams hugged me tightly and stroked my hair.  “Oh, baby, it’s not your fault,” she choked out.  I just shook my head. 

 

Mrs. McAdams sighed, then asked, “Have you called your mom?”

 

“No, I can’t.” I told her.

 

“Why not?”

 

“She’ll tell my brothers.  They’ll tell everyone else.  I can’t handle it.  I just can’t.”
 

“Call your mother, Trixie.”  Mrs. McAdams lifted my face so that we were eye to eye.  “As a mother, I’m telling you, she needs to be with her baby when things like this happen.  And believe me, a mother knows when something’s wrong.  This will weigh upon you for years and if your mother ever finds out and realizes you did not call when you needed her, she’ll be devastated.  Call her.”

 

I shook my head.  “She’ll tell my brothers.” I repeated.

 

“Then call her and ask her not to.”

 

I hesitated.  Brian should be in Syracuse and Mart in the City.  The city was a little too close to Sleepyside for comfort and it was the weekend, so Mart could be visiting home, but I suppose given a choice between Brian and Mart, Mart was the better bet for not freaking out on me. 

 

I drew in a deep breath, grabbed the phone and called my moms.

 

She answered almost immediately.  “Moms?” I spoke carefully.

 

“Trixie!” She exclaimed with delight.  “I’m so glad you called!  How are you?”

 

“Not so great, Moms.  Are the boys around?”

 

“No, it’s just your father and me this morning.  Bobby’s at the Lynches today.  So what’s wrong, baby?”

 

“I …” my voice cracked.  “My friend Kerry …”  I glanced at Mrs. McAdams who nodded encouragingly at me.  “My friend Kerry was killed this weekend.”

 

“Oh my god.  Trixie, sweetheart, are you okay?”

 

“Yes.  No.  I don’t know.  Moms, I’m leaving with her family to go to Arizona to attend her funeral.  Will you go with me?”  I rushed through the words as quickly as I could.

 

“Of course I will, baby.  When are you leaving?”

 

“Not until tomorrow or maybe the next day.  It depends on how soon they release her body.  Moms… I need you to not tell the boys about this okay?  Just tell them… I don’t know… whatever, but I don’t want them to know.”

 

“Why, Trixie?  I don’t understand!”

 

“Oh, Moms… Kerry … she was … she was murdered.  It was the Southeast Strangler and I don’t want the boys to know.  They’re all so freaked about me being here anyway and this is just going to make it so much worse and I can’t deal with them right now, I just can’t, I can’t!”  I began sobbing again.

 

“Shhh, shhh, shhh.”  Moms began making soothing noises into the phone.  “It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone you don’t want me to.”  She hesitated, then, “What about Honey?  Do you want me to talk to her, see if she can come with me?”

 

“No!” I cried out.  “I don’t want anyone to know, Moms.  None of the Bob-Whites, not even Honey.  She won’t mean to, but she’ll give away that something’s wrong, I know she will.  I just, I just need you, Moms.  No one else, just you, okay?”

 

“Okay, sweetheart, but I’m telling your father, if only to explain why I’m going with you to Arizona.  I won’t tell anyone else though, I promise.”

 

“Thanks, Moms,” I choked out.  With Moms’ promise not to tell and the knowledge that she would be going with me to the funeral, some of the tension I had been holding inside loosened a little.  We discussed travel arrangements and she promised to call and let me know when she would be arriving.

 

I hung up the phone, feeling both better and worse, if that makes any sense at all.  I needed my mother with me, but I felt guilty for placing such a burden on her.  I knew that Mrs. McAdams was right and that Moms would want to be with me during this time, but I also felt that I should be able to stand alone.  In many ways, I felt I deserved to stand alone.  I had abandoned Kerry, I had been selfish and self-centered, and she had died for my shortcomings.  I was guilty and I did not deserve Mrs. McAdams’ kindness nor my mother’s support. 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

The following days passed in a blur.  Moms arrived in D.C., but she did not come alone.  Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler and my father were with her.  Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler had provided the plane so that Moms could get to me as quickly as possible.  My father had refused to be left behind, as did the Wheelers.  They insisted on accompanying my parents to provide whatever moral support they could to their “surrogate daughter.”

 

It was agreed that only Moms would accompany me to Arizona to attend the funeral, but in the meantime, the Wheelers and my father were there for additional support and help.  The Wheelers, it turned out, were instrumental in helping the McAdams claim their daughter’s body.  The wheels of justice and apparently, of the morgue, turn slowly, particularly when processing a murder victim’s body.

 

The entire ordeal was like something out of a nightmare.  Mr. Wheeler had arranged for a hotel suite at the Marriott.  It had several bedrooms, a kitchenette, and a living area.  Mr. Wheeler moved everyone in, including the McAdams, and pretty much took over dealing with the authorities so that the rest of us could fall apart in the ways that worked best for each of us. 

 

Moms and Mrs. McAdams bonded from the moment they first embraced.  I am not certain what Moms said to her, but I do know that Mrs. McAdams, for the first time since I had met her, looked ready to collapse in tears.  The entire time she had been in D.C., she had been a tower of support for her sons and for me.  She was incredible.  Preparing to bury her only daughter, she concerned herself with the wellbeing of everyone around her.  When Moms embraced her, she looked like she might collapse, like the façade she had built around her emotions, was finally crumbling.  Before this could happen, she pulled back and drew herself in.  Like an accordion folding in on itself, she drew in all of her emotions and locked them down.

 

Of course, Moms did not allow her to remain detached for long.  I found the two of them at the kitchen table late one night, Mrs. McAdams collapsed in Moms’ arms, sobbing out her heartbreak in terrible gasping wails of grief.  I quietly tiptoed away, every broken sound scraping my nerve endings raw.  I was being buried beneath the guilt and the rage.

 

The more everyone else fell apart – the more the McAdams’ boys raged against the world and the more Mrs. McAdams sunk into despair – the more I retreated from the world.  It was like everything was happening in a fog and everyone around me took care of all the details while I pushed all the grief and the sorrow and the despair and the rage deep down inside where I could not even begin to touch it, where it could neither consume me nor move me.  I was an island and the storm of emotions surrounding me would not touch my oasis of calm.  They would not.

 

I think perhaps because I failed to collapse the moment I saw my parents, everyone lost sight of the fact that they were coming to D.C. to help me.  I don’t want it to seem like I am ungrateful or that I begrudge the support they offered to the McAdams, for I certainly do not.  However, the reality is that I needed my Moms.  I needed her and she took one look at Mrs. McAdams and knew that her need was greater.  My father took one look at the McAdams boys and knew they needed him.  Mr. Wheeler was consumed with the details of death.  And I was left on my island, alone with myself.  Mrs. Wheeler was there, but she was too busy supporting everyone else in their various roles to realize that I was drowning.  And before I knew it, we were on a plane to Arizona and I was supposed to speak at Kerry’s funeral, only I couldn’t even find it in myself to say her name without wanting to scream in rage and fear and grief.

 

Mrs. McAdams had said to me, “You’re the one who knows best the Kerry my baby became.  We saw her on holidays and during the summers, and knew she was changing and evolving and growing, but we could not touch the Kerry she was becoming, because her life was on the other side of the country, so far from our own.  You can give us the Kerry she became.  You can show us who she was those final months in D.C.  You can help all of us make peace with her passing.  Please speak at her funeral.  Share my baby with all of us.”

 

How do you say no to such a heartfelt request?  The answer is you don’t.  Which is how I ended up sitting in the front pew of Kerry’s funeral service, Moms on one side of me, Andrew McAdams, Kerry’s youngest older brother on the other, wondering how I could possibly do justice to the beautiful young woman I had known.

 

I had no notes, no planned speech, no idea what I was going to say.   

 

“I met Kerry on one of the worst nights of her life.”  I began.  How do you begin a story this way, I wondered, when the worst, we all knew, was yet to come?  I forged ahead anyway.  “I will not share that story with you because the story itself is not the point.  Kerry is.  On that night, Kerry was lost and alone and had been visited by a darkness few of us can imagine.  She wept in my arms that night.  We were virtual strangers, but we were bonded together in a way that happens in the most profound moments of life, when paths cross that were perhaps never meant to be crossed.  Out of the deepest despair, the darkest of all moments, Kerry pulled herself back into the light.  I know she has spoken to some of you of me, as if I were the one who helped her back to herself.  I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth.  In all honesty, Kerry was one of the strongest women I have ever known.  If she were here now, she might claim that I saved her life the night we met.  What I am here to tell you is that Kerry saved herself on that day, and each and every day thereafter.  Make no mistake.  Kerry was not a victim, not on the night I met her, and not on the night she died.  Kerry was a survivor, and though her physical body may not have survived a killer’s wrath, her spirit most certainly did.  I carry her with me in everything I do, for her strength and her will to live and her joy for life inspire me to carry on, despite the weight of my grief, despite the depths of my rage.”  I hesitated briefly, then continued.  “I implore each and every one of you to remember Kerry as she was in life, filled with joy and happiness and a conviction that life was worth living.  As Kerry once said to me, ‘Life isn’t about playing it safe.  It’s about jumping off that cliff and embracing the unknown.’  May we all live our lives as Kerry did, fearless and bold.”

 

I don’t remember walking back to my pew. I don’t remember the rest of the service.  What I do remember is seeing a look of peace upon Mrs. McAdams’ face and wondering when that peace would visit me.  I remember her reaching across her son’s lap to squeeze my hand and I remember the strong embrace she gave me as Moms and I prepared to leave for the airport.  I remember her fervent whispers of gratitude and her promises to be there for me should I ever need anything.  I remember the discomfort I felt, that she would be so grateful to me, the catalyst for her daughter’s destruction.

 

 

Chapter 4

 

We flew back into D.C., Moms and I, and two days later, Moms flew back to New York.  She didn’t want to leave me, but I insisted that I would be fine.

 

I think perhaps Moms felt like she had failed me.  She kept asking me if I would be okay, kept offering to stay longer.  “Please talk to me, Trixie,” she kept saying.  “I know you’re hurting, you don’t have to bottle it all in.  You don’t have to be strong all the time.  Just let it out, please.”

 

I’m not sure what she expected.  Maybe some emotional outburst – a flood of tears or an outpouring of rage.    But by then, it was too late.  I had shed my tears the night I found Kerry’s body, and again, the night I spoke with her mother on the phone.  I had no more tears left inside. There was only rage and it was not the hot, bubbling rage I was used to.  The kind of rage that made me say unreasonable things.  Instead, it was icy cold and it permeated my being and it kept me detached from my own humanity, from all of my emotions.  I felt dead inside.

 

I forced a cloak of normalcy round my shoulders and promised my mother that I would be fine.  I told her not to worry.  I extracted her promise again that she would mention none of the events regarding Kerry’s death to any of the Bob-Whites.  I accompanied her by taxi to the airport, hugged her and promised to stay in touch. 

 

I left the airport and caught the metro back to my part of the city.  I exited the underground metro at Dupont Circle and began to walk the twelve blocks to my apartment building.  I walked without thinking, without any sense of place or time.  I was five blocks past my own building before I realized I had missed it.  I turned and headed back.

 

I climbed the stairs to my apartment on the 7th floor.  There was an elevator, but I preferred to climb.  It took longer and helped to keep the thoughts at bay.

 

I entered my silent apartment, closed and locked the door behind me, wandered into my bedroom and collapsed on the bed.  How was I going to survive the rest of my life?  How was I going to survive this nightmare that had become my world?  I curled into a ball, pulled the covers over my head and pretended I was dead.

 

 

Chapter 5

 

I have no idea what I did with myself for the following three weeks.  Moms called me daily.  She was the only human contact I had during that time.  I answered the phone, only because I knew if I did not, she would come racing back to D.C. to make sure I was okay.  I pretended everything was fine and when the conversation was over, I crawled back into bed and went back to pretending I was dead.

 

I had a lot of alcohol in the apartment, leftover from a Halloween party three months before.  I consumed it all.

 

The phone rang non-stop.  Classmates calling to make sure I was okay.  Professors calling to ask me to get in touch, assuring me that I could have as much time as I needed to make up the work I was missing.  Agent Michaels kept calling, wanting to know if I needed anything.  Co-workers and volunteers at both the Y and the women’s shelter called.  Both places had sent flowers to Kerry’s funeral.  I was supposed to be teaching self-defense classes and volunteering at the shelter.  There were a million things I was supposed to be doing.  Half of those things I usually did with Kerry though and I just couldn’t find in myself the strength to do them without her.  I was drowning in grief.  I was losing it.

 

I began having nightmares.  Every single night, I dreamt about Kerry.  In my dreams she was crying, begging me to help her, to save her.  She was weeping and pleading for mercy and he was killing her and I couldn’t reach her, I couldn’t help her.  I woke up night after night, drenched in my own sweat, Kerry’s screams ringing in my ears.

 

I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating, I wasn’t doing anything constructive.  I simply fell apart.

 

And one night, after a particularly vicious dream, I got up and left my apartment building.  I walked the streets of D.C. that night for hours.  I cared nothing for my personal safety and in fact, would have welcomed an attack.  It might have freed me to release some of my pent-up rage, or it might have released me to the oblivion I sought so desperately.  Either way, the agony I was living in would finally be gone.

 

After a couple hours of walking, I began to run. I ran myself to the point where I could no longer run.  Then I turned and ran some more, this time running back toward my apartment building.  By the time I made it home, the sun was breaking through the horizon and I could barely move one foot in front of the other.  I made it into my apartment before I collapsed.  I slept the best that morning that I had since the day I found Kerry’s body.

 

When I woke, I knew I had to take control of my life or the darkness blanketing it would consume me.  Though all I wanted to do was roll over and burrow into my covers, I pulled myself out of bed and forced myself to shower and get ready for the day. 

 

For the second time in a month, I left my apartment, this time during daylight hours.  I stopped at a corner store, where I purchased a granola bar and some water.  I ate as I walked slowly to the bus stop.  The bus took me on campus, where I went to the registrar’s office.  Without giving myself a chance to think about it, I asked to withdraw from my classes. 

 

I must have gotten the one employee in that place who really cares about the students because she didn’t want to let me withdraw.  She kept asking if I was sure and if I had spoken with my advisor.  When I admitted that my department did not know that I was withdrawing, she insisted on calling them on the phone.  Whatever they told her wasn’t good because after speaking with them, she refused to allow me to drop my classes.  Can you believe that?  I mean, I have a right to withdraw, but she refused to let me do it.  She said I had to go talk to my advisor first. 

 

So, I went across campus and somehow found myself convinced by my advisor to stick it out.  All I wanted to do was shake free from all my responsibilities.  I didn’t want to do anything but find Kerry’s killer.  Instead, my advisor reminded me that if I planned on ever finishing my degree, dropping out now would only mean an extra semester in the city later, or heaven forbid, several additional semesters elsewhere if I planned to transfer. 

 

She told me that all of my professors had been made aware of what was happening in my life and that everyone was willing to work with me.  I could take an incomplete in as many classes as I needed to, but that I should not withdraw unless it was absolutely necessary.

 

And so, I left campus having accomplished pretty much nothing, but somehow these conversations with human beings helped pull me back into the land of the living, which had to be a good thing.  Maybe.

 

I went to the FBI offices next.  I went straight to Agent Michaels’ desk and asked to join the task force.  He took one look at me and told me to sit down.

 

“Belden,” he said, “you look terrible.”

 

“Thanks a lot, Michaels.”  I rolled my eyes.  “I need in on this.  For the sake of my own sanity.  You offered to bring me in several months ago, now I’m taking you up on it.  Let me on the task force.  You won’t be sorry.”

 

He shook his head.  “Trixie, you’re way too close to this.  Besides, I thought you had made a promise to your brothers to stay out of this.”

 

“I should never have made that stupid promise,” I snarled.  “I was a coward and I won’t make that mistake again.”

 

“Trixie…” he hesitated.

 

“Just let me help, Agent Michaels.  Let me help officially or by God, I will find a way to investigate unofficially.” 

 

He sighed.  “It’s not up to me, you know.  Thompson has to approve this.”

 

I stood up.  “I’m not worried about Thompson.  He knows I can help.”  I walked away, praying my words were not overconfident.  The truth was Assistant Director Thompson was very aware of my talents and my abilities.  He had never hesitated to use them in particularly difficult cases in the past.  This, however, was different.  A friend of mine was murdered in a very high-profile case and I had found the body.  Who knew whether he would approve of me involving myself in this one?  I only knew that I would be a part of this effort, one way or the other.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Two months later, Kerry’s killer was still selecting victims and we were no closer to figuring out his identity.  Agent Thompson agreed to let me work on the case if I would agree to speak with the staff psychologist regularly to discuss my “feelings” about Kerry’s death.  It seemed a giant waste of time, but if that was the only way I would have access to the FBI’s current findings, I was willing to go through the motions.

 

Annie Weber was the staff psychologist.  She was nice enough for a shrink who always wanted to look inside my head.  I visited her office for an hour each week, during which time I pretended I was sane and she pretended to care that I clearly wasn’t.

 

We spoke about my nightmares and my feelings of guilt regarding Kerry’s death.  That is to say, she asked questions and I gave her enough information to appease her for one more week.  The truth is I wasn’t ready to speak about my real feelings on the subject.  If I let even one hundredth of my emotions escape, I figured I would never be useful again.  I had wallowed in my emotions the month following Kerry’s death.  It had been a useless exercise and nearly culminated in my death.  I was becoming so reckless with my own safety that I found myself in the metro in the middle of the night contemplating “accidentally” falling upon the tracks as a train entered the station.  This was truly rock bottom for me and it was only the vague thought of my mother’s pain should I take such a reckless act that stayed my feet.

 

I suppose, in the end, my mother did save me after all.

 

I was becoming frustrated with the case.  It was complex, much more complex than the media knew.  The FBI was fairly certain this killer had swept through three other cities before he came to D.C.  His MO in every city was different, but one thing was the same.  All of his victims had a head full of blonde hair and deep blue eyes.  In addition, every single one of them had been marked, in some fashion, with the letter ‘x’. 

 

Hence the name Strangler X, a name which dated back to Tammy Fields in Dallas, Texas.  Tammy was the first of twelve victims in that city, one victim for every month of the year.  Each victim was kept alive for several days, during which time she was tortured and mutilated before ultimately being strangled to death.  Each woman was found with the letter ‘x’ carved on her right shoulder.  The mayor’s daughter was the final victim in Dallas.  Though the political uproar was substantial, no new leads were found.

 

After a year of inactivity, the killer resurfaced in Kansas City, where he claimed twelve victims between May of 1998 and April of 1999.  In this case, each woman was raped, then beaten until practically every bone in her body was broken.  These women were also strangled to death.  The difference was these kills were crimes of rage, as opposed to the systematic, cold-blooded torture of the women in Dallas.  The two profiles created in these cases were remarkably differently, and yet, every woman in Kansas City had a tiny ‘x’ tattooed onto her hip, presenting the possibility that these two killers were one and the same.  The twelfth victim in Kansas City was a local news reporter.  Her death was reported by her colleagues in her regular time slot on the 5:00 news on April 22nd.  There were no more murders in Kansas City after that.

 

In October of 2002, the first body was found in Chicago.  These victims were not raped.  They were not tortured.  They were not beaten.  Each victim was killed inside her home.  There was no evidence of struggle at all.  She was simply overpowered and strangled from behind. The murder weapon, a pink ribbon, was left twisted round her neck and her body was carefully arranged on her bed, with a rose in hand.  That hand was branded, an ‘x’ burned into the palm, scorching deep.  Chicago’s twelfth victim was the niece of the Superintendent of Police and a police officer herself.  The entire police department was in an uproar but the killer never struck again.

 

Now, two years later, a killer was making his way through the streets of D.C., the same killer believed to be responsible for the murders of thirty-six women in Dallas, Kansas City and Chicago.

 

Kerry was Strangler X’s eighth victim in D.C., his forty-fourth victim overall.  She, like all the D.C. women before her, had been marked by a whip which had slashed across her back twice, forming a livid, deeply cut ‘x’ that ran from shoulder to opposite hip on both sides.  We knew the x was formed by a whip because that same whip was then used to strangle the victims.  This was the cord I had seen wrapped around Kerry’s throat. 

 

The whip left behind at each of the murder scenes was our best lead, as each appeared to be well-crafted, made of high quality leather.  Unfortunately, we had no luck identifying the manufacturer of the whip.  It was a standard bull whip, similar to the type used by Indiana Jones.  There were no markings on it to indicate artist.  None of the local whip makers (there weren’t many!) had records of selling eight or more of them.  There was some speculation that our killer might make his own whips, in which case, the whip would probably not lead us to him, though once found, his whip-making tools would make for excellent evidence.

 

After the victims in Chicago, so coldly killed, so coldly arranged on their beds, these in D.C. were crimes of rage, much like those in Kansas City.  The women were each brutally raped, then stabbed repeatedly.  Each woman sported more than 30 stab wounds, one as many as 77.  The crime scenes were drenched in blood, which begs the question – how did the killer leave the scene without being noticed?  He would have been covered in blood himself.  How did a rapist fail to leave DNA evidence behind?  Not a hair was found, not a single follicle of skin, not one tiny drop of semen.  It was like our killer was a ghost.  A ghost with multiple personalities, one lit by the fires of rage, the other methodically frozen.  Did we have two killers?

 

The idea stayed with me forever.  I kept coming back to that question.  Were there two killers?  If so, were they working together?  Or was one a copycat?  But how could one be a copycat when the only shared similarity in their MOs was the x branded on each victim, a detail which had never been released to the media? 

 

All I could do was go over and over the statements, the profiles, the crime scene photos.  I did what all the agents before me had done.  I reviewed statements, called friends and family members of former victims, asked questions and never arrived at any concrete answers.  I did what every other agent on the task force was doing – spun my wheels in the dust and raged at the futility of our efforts.

 

The weeks passed.  I attended classes, though my mind was consumed with the case.  I spent Spring Break making up all my coursework, though none of it was done to the best of my abilities.  I completed my senior projects with my mind completely consumed by other things.  I went through the motions of my final semester at George Washington, but grades and projects, assignments and finals were the last things on my mind. I was consumed by murder and knew nothing else during that time. 

 

I passed all my courses with straight Bs, effectively ruining my 4.0 GPA.  I can’t say that I would have cared had my professors given me straight Fs.  What did grades matter when Kerry lay cold in the ground, three other victims had fallen since her death and we had no leads on catching this creep? 

 

The final victim was approaching.  May was the month we all dreaded.  The killer’s first D.C. victim fell in June of last year.  The last would fall this May.  And then we would have to wait a year, maybe two or even three, before he began to strike again.  We would have to start all over – new agents, new MO, new profile.  Would this ghost never be stopped?

 

His April victim, a young student attending The American University, had just been autopsied.  She had wanted to be a teacher.  She was the oldest of six siblings and her family was devastated.

 

I had failed Kerry and now I was failing all the other women falling beneath his knife. 

 

Activity at headquarters became intense.  Everyone was gearing up for the final death.  We had exhausted all options regarding his identity so we began to frantically identify potential twelfth victims.  All of his previous twelves had been high profile kills.  The media was always building during the year of his reign and when the twelfth hit the airways, he became almost immortal, like magic – the man who managed to get to the mayor’s daughter, the superintendent of police’s niece, the beloved TV newscaster who had reported his previous eleven kills.

 

In D.C., the potential twelves were too many to even name.  Politicians’ daughters, nieces, goddaughters.  And that was only the tip of the iceberg.  The twelfth victim was always someone important, but in D.C., who wasn’t important?

 

That thought stayed with me over the following days as I raced through finals.  May had finally come and I’m afraid my attention was divided between the case and my final efforts to complete a bachelor’s degree.  In between finals and frantic bouts of studying, I came back over and over again to the same thought:  the twelfth victim was always important. 

 

The night after my last final, I spoke with my family on the phone.  Everyone was disappointed because I hadn’t come home for my birthday.  I used the excuse that finals were coming up, though the truth was I didn’t want anyone to see me.  I had dark circles under my eyes because the nightmares never left me alone, though I ran for miles every night through the streets of D.C., chasing the exhaustion that would result in at least three hours of uninterrupted sleep before the first nightmare finally hit.  Though I had gained some muscle weight back from my endless nighttime runs and my obsessive visits to the Y where I routinely pounded the crap out of a punching bag, my appetite had yet to return.  As a result, I was still severely underweight.  All of this combined to give me an uncommonly haggard appearance.  In short, I really did look like hell. 

 

The thing was… I really didn’t give a damn.  All I cared about was finishing this.  Getting that bastard and nailing his ass to the wall.  I had already decided, if we didn’t catch him before #12 was killed, he would become my life’s work.  I would watch for his MO and I would follow him wherever he led.  I would put a period to his very existence.  This was one case I would never give over, never abandon.  Kerry would have her justice, if it took me the entirety of my life to see it through.

 

 

Chapter 7

 

The conversation with my family was hard because they knew my finals were over.  Moms was worried about me.  She had come down to visit a couple times since we buried Kerry.  I always put on a show for her, but I couldn’t hide the fact that I had lost significant weight, that I was not sleeping, that I was obsessed with finding this killer.  Moms took one look at me when she visited in March and said, “You broke your promise to your brothers, didn’t you?”

 

“Moms,” I began though I didn’t know what I was going to say.

 

“Don’t try to deny it,” she said.  “Your father and I knew when we left you that this would probably come to pass.  We know we can’t protect you from everything, but from this, baby, oh, how we wanted to.”

 

“I’m just helping in the office, Moms.  They don’t let interns into the field.”

 

She just looked at me.

 

“Really, Moms,” I said.  “They don’t.”

 

She nodded.  “Okay, but I just want you to promise me one thing.”
 

“What’s that?”

 

“Promise me that you’ll be careful.  Promise me that you will not bring yourself to this man’s attention.  Promise me that I will not have to go through what Janice McAdams just did.”

 

“Oh, Moms,” I whispered.  “I can’t make you that promise.  I can promise that I will be careful, but I can’t promise that this man won’t choose me.  All I can say is if he does, I will fight him to my dying breath and I will make sure there is enough evidence left behind that he will never claim another victim.”

 

I did not realize at the time, how prophetic these words would turn out to be.  I know they lingered with my mom, which would explain why she called me constantly during my final two months in D.C.  The second my finals were over, Moms called me and demanded that I come home immediately.  I told her I couldn’t.

 

“Moms,” I said, “I will come home when this man is caught or when he has claimed his final victim.  I can’t leave before then.  I just can’t.  I have to stay, or I will never find any peace at all.”  She said she understood, but I knew that she didn’t, not really.  Not in the way that truly mattered.  I did the only thing I could to comfort her.  I promised that I would be home in time for Mart’s birthday celebration the first weekend in June, whether we had caught our man or not.  I knew this was a safe promise to make, for if we hadn’t caught him by then, we would be waiting a long time before we got another chance.

 

I went to bed that night, my thoughts consumed with the murders, visions of Kerry’s body superimposed upon the bodies of everyone else I loved.  Were there two killers?  Who was the twelfth victim?  The twelfth victim is always important.

 

I woke from a sound sleep, my heart pounding, those words reverberating in my head.  The twelfth victim is always important.

 

I took a shower and got ready for the day.  I pored over the files I had taken home with me months before – copies I should never have made.  As an intern, I didn’t have the right to take official files, or even copies of official files, to my home.  This did not stop me however.  I was answering to a higher calling than the FBI at the time – my conscience which demanded nothing less than justice for Kerry.

 

As soon as it became late enough to head into the office, I left my place and headed over to headquarters.  I ran inside the building, up to my cubicle, where I began pouring over the twelve files.  Each woman was different.

 

In Dallas, number twelve was the mayor’s daughter, 28 years old, a young talented lawyer working at one of the city’s most prestigious law firms.  In Kansas City, number twelve was a 32 year-old news reporter who had reported each of the man’s kills.  In Chicago it was a 25-year old police officer in District One, who also just happened to be the niece of the Superintendent of Police. Which of these twelves meant anything to our killer?  The first one, the last one?  All of them?

 

Really, it should be the first.  So much attention had been focused on Tammy Fields.  As his first victim, she should have a lot to tell us.  However, she never did.  No one in Tammy Fields’ life stood out as a potential killer.  She was young, unassuming and frankly, boring.  But perhaps his first twelfth victim, maybe she meant something to him?

 

I spent the following week following leads in Maggie Leer’s life, the mayor’s daughter.  Again, nothing popped.

 

Although… were we sure that Dallas was the first place he had killed?  Were there other groups of twelve we had not investigated simply because they did not fit the known profile of Strangler X?  If nothing else, we all knew that his profile varied as did his MO.  Maybe the ‘x’ was new.  Maybe….

 

I spent the following five days looking for multiple kills, hopefully numbering twelve.  The closest I came was a string of eleven murders in San Francisco, eleven murders that stretched over a 17 month period from August of 1991 to December of 1992.  The women had all been stabbed repeatedly, then strangled to death.  No ‘x’ to mark the spot. 

 

I began to look elsewhere.  I must have missed something along the way.  There had to be a pattern, a detail, a damn clue that I had missed.  Time was running out.  The end of May approached, as did the end of his twelfth victim’s life.  How could we possibly save her?  My mind was going crazy with all the facts and all my questions.  The eleven murders in San Francisco were still nagging at me.  I kept going back to them.  What if there was a twelfth out there?  A twelfth victim no one realized belonged in this string of murders?  I began looking for high profile kills in the San Francisco area in 1993.  I figured if he killed #11 in December of 1992, he probably killed #12 in 1993.

 

I couldn’t find anyone who matched the victim’s profile.  Then I wondered, what if he didn’t kill her?  What if number 12 was only reported as a kidnapping?  But where was she?  If he didn’t kill her, where on earth had he stashed her?  Or maybe he did kill her, but unlike all the others, maybe he buried her because she was special and maybe she was never found.  So maybe she was only listed as missing.

 

I started looking again.  But again I found nothing.  So then I wondered.  Maybe I had the timing wrong.  Maybe she wasn’t the twelfth victim.  Maybe she was the first after all.

 

It was this thought that finally led me to missing persons reports from 1991.  And there she was.  In June of 1991, the daughter of a prominent businessman was reported missing.  She was 23 years old when she disappeared.  She was blond-haired, blue-eyed and absolutely beautiful. The media had a heyday, while the FBI camped out at the father’s household waiting for a ransom demand that never came.  Fifteen years later, she was still listed as missing.

 

Had he killed her?  Or was she still his prisoner?  Thirty-eight years old and a 15-year prisoner of a man who loved to torture and maim his victims?  I found myself praying that she was dead. 

 

Of course, the next step was to delve into every aspect of this woman’s life.  Everyone had been investigated thoroughly at the time of her disappearance, from co-workers at her part-time job to fellow students at the University of San Francisco.

 

I ran background checks on all of the people originally investigated.  There was some 22 individuals listed, 3 of whom came up as deceased.  The information on the other 19 came through slowly.  As they arrived I was able to immediately reject them based on their addresses at the time of each rash of murders.  Twelve of the nineteen stilled lived somewhere in California which immediately put them out of the running.  Three were currently living in the Midwest, one was living in Canada, another had taken a job in Paris.  The last two were living on the East Coast, one in Maryland and one in Virginia.

 

I immediately began pouring over their previous addresses.  The one in Virginia had lived there for eight years.  He had never lived in Dallas, Kansas City or Chicago.  The one in Maryland had lived in all three cities during the times in question.  He was our guy.  I just knew it.  But first I had to make a few phone calls.

 

 

Chapter 8

 

I hung up the phone.  My god, it was him!  I grabbed a stack of papers and my notes, then bolted down the hallway.  There was a task force meeting going on right at that moment that I was supposed to be attending.  I was missing it in favor of tracking down these latest leads.  I burst into the meeting and practically threw my papers at Agent Michaels.

 

“I know who the killer is,” I gasped out and immediately sank into a chair, leaned forward and placed my face in my hands.  Holy crap, I knew who the killer was.

 

Everyone was shouting and asking questions, but I was too dizzy and exhilarated and exhausted to hear them.  I was too busy trying to push my brain back inside my head to respond. 

 

Agent Michaels knelt in front of me.  “Trixie,” he said my name sharply.  I lifted my head and looked at him.  “What?” I whispered. 

 

“Start talking.  Tell us what you know, how you know it, and tell us now.”

 

So, I took a deep breath and began to explain.  I walked them through the entire process, my thoughts, my ideas regarding two killers, which turned out not to be the case, my questions about the twelfth victim, my research into other strings of murders.

 

“But why this guy?” Agent Michaels demanded.  “Why do you think it’s him?”

 

“You mean beyond the fact that he lived in each city at the time the murders were occurring?” I asked dryly. 

 

“Yes, beyond that!” Michaels exclaimed.  “I need concrete evidence to take to the D.A. if we want to get a search warrant.”

 

God, this was why I wanted my own agency one day.  The stupid, damned rules when I knew, I knew, I KNEW this was our guy.  We should already be out there arresting him so he wouldn’t have a chance to kill again.  It was already after five, we’d probably already lost our chance to catch him at work.  Now we’d have to catch him at home and hope and pray he wasn’t killing his victim tonight.  It was already May 30th.  It had either already happened and her body hadn’t been found yet, or it was going to happen within the next twenty-four hours.  We were operating on borrowed time.

 

I drew in a deep breath and explained, slowly and succinctly.  “His first victim’s name was Angela Williams.  Her father was a local businessman, a self-made millionaire.  Angela and Peter Wright were dating.  Four months before she disappeared, Angela broke up with Peter.  Conversations with her roommate of the time revealed that Angela had caught Peter having sex with another woman.  He demanded another chance, she refused.  According to the roommate, he would not accept her answer and called on a daily basis, nagging her to reconsider.  Then, on June 17, 1991, Angela’s father reported her as missing.  The FBI was called in, but no ransom was demanded, no contact made with the kidnapper at all.  Eventually the FBI moved on to other cases, other kidnappings and Angela’s case remains unsolved to this day.” 

 

I consulted my notes.  “As for Peter, he continued living in the area until March of 1993.   From August of 1991 until December of 1992, 11 other women went missing.  These women’s bodies were found within weeks of their kidnappings.  They were all stabbed and strangled.  In March of 1993, Peter Wright moved to Dallas.  In February of 1995, the first victim was killed in Dallas.  In January of 1996, the last victim.  Wright moved from Dallas to Kansas City in April of 1996.  The first victim in Kansas City was found in May of 1998, the last victim in April of 1999.   Wright then moved from Kansas City to Chicago in August of 1999. In October of 2002, the first victim was found in Chicago, the last victim in September of 2003.  In January of 2004, Peter Wright moved from Chicago to Chevy Chase, Maryland.  As we all know, in June of last year, our first victim was found.  I guarantee within three months of our twelfth victim’s death, Peter Wright will have moved to his next hunting grounds. 

 

“Each of Wright’s previous moves was work-related.  However, when I spoke with the human resources department at Peter Wright’s company, I discovered that each of these moves was requested by Wright.  The company did not transfer him.  He requested the transfers.  In each case, he put in for a transfer right after the 10th victim was killed.  Company policy is that transfers take between two and six months to be processed, which allowed Wright plenty of time to kill his final victims before moving on.  I think this is enough circumstantial evidence to get us some search warrants and from there I guarantee we will find enough evidence to arrest this guy.  The question is whether we will gather the evidence in time to stop him from killing his final victim.  We’re running out of time here!  We have to pick him up NOW!”

 

Agent Michaels nodded.  “Good work, Trixie,” he said.  He turned and started barking orders at the agents standing around.  Within minutes the room was cleared.

 

Three hours later, we had search warrants but they were doing us no good at all.  It was 8:00 at night, we were 28 hours away from the first of June, and our man was not at home.  Each of us knew in our hearts that he was probably out killing his victim right now.  At the very least he was stalking her and preparing to kill her.  We knew that once again, we were too late.  We weren’t going to save any victims, but perhaps if we were lucky, we might arrest a killer.  If he’d only damn well come home!

 

I hadn’t even had to ask to accompany the agents to the killer’s home.  Agent Michaels invited me to ride with him.  I was given a metaphorical pat on the back and a little pep talk along the way, something along the lines of “even if we’re too late, you’ve made a big difference here, helped to stop a killer, yadeyadeya.” 

 

The truth was nothing that happened tonight would make anything better.  Kerry was still dead, as were fifty-eight other women and in the end, we had done nothing to save any of them.  Number sixty was going to die tonight and we were powerless in our efforts to stop it.

 

At some point, as the hour grew later, and the agents more restless – we had searched the house and found NO EVIDENCE at all (how’s that for a kick in the face?) – I began to question why I was even attending this stakeout.  After searching the premises, we had pulled back and settled in to watch.  Where else would this little prick go but back home to gloat over his latest kill?

 

Except there was no evidence here that supported the idea of gloating.  Where did he keep his trophies?  Surely he had some.  Where did he keep his mementos of the event?  Where did he go to relive his kills over and over again? 

 

Agents back at the office were delving deeper into his records, searching for additional properties in his name or names that might be related to him.  In the meantime, we waited for him to show up.  We waited while number sixty was dying.

 

Finally, I realized I had done all I could to bring the case to the point it was at.  I was not a trained agent.  I was not going to be of any assistance in the apprehension of this creep.  Did I truly need to be witness to his arrest?  Did I need to look into his eyes to know he was evil?  I did not.  All I had to do was visit my dreams each night to know his soul and to know my own.

 

I approached Agent Michaels and told him that I was going home.  Home, I told him, to Sleepyside.  My brother’s birthday party is coming up, I said, it’s this Saturday and I think I’d like to go home a little early, help with the preparations.  Call me if you need anything.

 

Agent Michaels thanked me and told me that he was glad I was going home.  He asked me to call him from Sleepyside.  “We still want you in the FBI,” he said, “I know Thompson’s still waiting to hear your decision.”

 

I smiled and nodded.  “I will definitely call,” I said.  “I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do, but I will definitely let you know.”

 

We shook hands, he offered to have one of the agents to take me home, but I refused.  I knew how upsetting it would be for one of the task members to be pulled away at a crucial moment in the case.  The metro was less than a block away.  I would be fine.  And so I walked away from the FBI, thinking perhaps I would never again work a case like this with agents like them.

 

By the time I made it home, it was after 11.  I was exhausted.

 

I found out later that about fifteen minutes after I left, a call came in from headquarters.  They had found a property listed under the name of Wright’s deceased aunt.  The agents split with half of them heading out to this new property in downtown D.C.  Meanwhile I walked into my own apartment, not four blocks from where half the agents I had left were converging.  I had no idea a killer lived so close to my home.  So close in fact, that he had walked from his place to mine earlier that evening without breaking a sweat.

 

 

Embracing the Darkness

Chapter 9

 

I would like to say that my instincts were so good that upon entering my apartment, I immediately exited again.  Instead, I walked to my balcony doors and stood there staring out into the night.  What I will say is that having read everything I could about this killer, I was perhaps the one woman in the entire District of Columbia most likely to survive an encounter with him.

 

The whip had slashed across my back, knocking me to the ground, before I even realized I was falling.  However, in the split second before I hit the ground, I realized what was happening and flipped my body over, flinging up my left arm.  The whip, intended to slash across my back again, completing his vile ‘x,’ instead wrapped itself around my arm, stinging and biting deep.  I reflexively close my hand around the whip, clenching it tight and jerking it toward me with all my might.  As the killer stumbled forward, still holding onto the handle of his whip, I surged forward and drove my fist with all my might between his legs. 

 

I jerked the whip from his grasp, scrambled to my feet and flung the whip away.  As he surged upward, preparing to meet me, I flung myself at him and we grappled in a mad and frenzied struggle.

 

I cannot tell you what went through my mind in those moments.  Most of it is a blur.  What I can tell you is that so much adrenaline surged through my system in those moments, I felt nothing.  My arm dripped blood almost black to the floor from where the whip had cut deep.  I barely noticed.  He slashed at me with his knife.  I hardly felt the stabs.  I was consumed with my own rage for I knew who and what he was.  He had killed Kerry.  He was the monster of my nightmares come to life in my own apartment.  He dared to attack me on my own ground and I would fight him to my dying breath.  To my dying breath.

 

I felt no fear, just the rush of exhilaration as I realized there would be no sixtieth victim that night.  No sixtieth victim, because I was no victim.

 

I knew everything about this man’s MO.  First he applied the ‘x’, then he stabbed his victims, then he raped them, then he stabbed them some more, then he strangled them with his whip, probably while still inside them.  He probably got off at the moment of death.  Well, not with me.  I had already screwed his MO to hell and gone.  He had not completed the ‘x’ and I had thrown his whip away.  Plus he was too busy grappling with me to even have a chance to retrieve it and I would NEVER turn my back to him again. 

 

I remember so many of my questions being answers as we struggled.  He was dressed in some kind of weird body condom.  His whole body covered in some form of latex.  He had no body hair to speak of, his head was completely bald, he didn’t even have eyebrows.  The only hairs I saw any evidence of were his eyelashes and by god if I could get my hands on them, I would rip them out and fling them around the room.  He had no pubic hairs at all; his dick, also encased in latex, was sticking out, begging me to wrench it right off him.  I did my best.

 

And then he lifted me up and threw me through the balcony doors.  I managed to get my hands up in front of my face.  I expected to slam into the doors and get knocked out.  Instead, the doors broke upon impact and I fell out onto the balcony.  I was struggling to get to my hands and knees, the entire time a voice was screaming inside me, “Turn around! He’s behind you, turn around!!” 

 

I couldn’t seem to see straight.  I couldn’t get my balance and was completely incapable of making it to my feet.  I managed to get my hand wrapped around the door frame when I felt him step up behind me.  I tried to drop to the floor but it was too late.  Something wrapped around my throat and pulled tight.  I gasped and reached upward.  I couldn’t breathe, could barely feel my fingers, spots were dancing before my eyes.  I was going to die after all, and unless I did something now, there would be no evidence left behind to pin this murder on this creep. 

 

My hand brushed the balcony floor, I cut myself on a jagged piece of glass from the balcony doors.  I managed to get my fingers around it and as blackness closed in on my vision, I swung my arm up and back, jamming the glass as deep as I could into my attacker’s leg.  He screamed and fell backwards.  The pressure immediately lessened on my throat.  I could breathe again!

 

Gasping for breath, I fell forward, got my hands around the vile thing choking me and pulled it away.  Through my wavering vision, I could see – it was his damn whip.  I threw it over the balcony with all the strength I could muster, then turned, and dragged myself upward.  I shook my head and managed to clear my vision a little.  I staggered forward, only to have something catch my leg and pitch me toward the ground. 

 

He grabbed my legs and flipped me over, pulling my legs apart and ripping at my clothes.  I punched out with all my strength, making contact with his eye, scratching my nails deep into his skin.  He roared in fury, lunged forward and closed his hands round my throat.  Not again.

 

This time the darkness was so much closer.  I could feel it already beckoning.  I flung my arm outwards, stretching out for something I don’t know what.

 

Behind my blackening vision, I saw faces, my family, the Bob-Whites.  They shouted at me to fight, but the darkness consumed.

 

I don’t actually remember doing it.  What I do remember is feeling a fierce satisfaction that I had draped this place with the DNA of my attacker.  That this time he would not walk away unscathed.  I remember thinking he should go with me, that if I was going to die, by God, he was coming with me!

 

I remember as the darkness consumed me, seeing Kerry’s face and hearing her voice weeping, “Fight, Trixie, fight.”

 

I don’t remember touching the ceramic pot.  I don’t remember swinging it toward my attacker.  Hell I couldn’t even see by that time.  I do remember being showered in debris.  Feeling the coolness of dirt hitting my face and thinking I was already in the grave.  As the blackness consumed me, I was in the grave.

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

They told me later the FBI’s perspective.  How Agent Michaels led the team to the new location in the heart of D.C.  How they found a hidden room and inside that room, photographs covering the walls of all sixty victims, from those in California to those in D.C.  Their jubilance at the evidence found turning to horror when they saw the face of the sixtieth victim.

 

They told me of the call that went out for all available agents and officers to my address, how those agents at Wright’s row house were the closest to my location.  How they left two agents to guard the scene while the rest raced to my apartment building, where they were certain they would find my murdered body.

 

They tell me that no one had any hope of finding me alive.  That too much time had passed – almost two hours since I had left the Maryland location and headed home.  Too much time for me to have survived without calling them.

 

Everyone knew I was dead.  But no one wanted to admit it.

 

D.C. officers and Federal agents all converged on my apartment building within seconds of each other.  They surged from their vehicles, only to pause for a brief moment when they saw the whip lying directly in their path.  It had apparently fallen from my balcony to the sidewalk leading up to my building’s front door.

 

Michaels shouted orders for the scene to be secured while everyone barreled inside and upstairs.  They apparently ran up all seven flights, rather than wait for the elevator.

 

The fact that the whip was not around my neck but instead was lying on the sidewalk seven floors below my apartment, and the fact that there was no opera music blaring when they reached my floor is what gave them hope, Michaels tells me.  Until they burst through my front door and took in a scene that must have looked like something out of a nightmare.

 

I’m told they thought that I was dead.  At first, Michaels couldn’t find a pulse.  They say he was shaking so badly he couldn’t find the right spot.  When he finally realized that I was breathing, that’s when they began to disturb the scene of the crime.  Wright, who had collapsed on top of me, was pulled off my body and paramedics were brought in to do their magic. 

 

Wright was beyond help so they focused on me.  I guess I had already lost a lot of blood, particularly from my arm and two stab wounds, one to my side and one to my shoulder (both of which missed all vital organs – am I lucky or what?)

 

By the time I was being loaded onto a stretcher, I had regained consciousness enough to realize that there was significant danger of my family being called in on this one.  I refused to allow the paramedics to take me to the waiting ambulance until Michaels promised not to call my family.

 

“I’m going home as soon as they release me,” I whispered in a voice that barely functioned.  “I don’t want my family coming up here.  I’m going to them, okay?”

 

Michaels reluctantly agreed.

 

At the hospital I was treated for the two stab wounds, multiple cuts and abrasions, three broken ribs, a fractured wrist, a concussion, and severe wounds made by a whip.  They put so many stitches in me I couldn’t even tell you the number and they doped me up so bad, I didn’t really wake up until two days later.


When I did wake up, I was immediately concerned that my family might have been notified.  However, Michaels had kept his promise.  He made sure my name was kept out of the media, though he made no promises that this would last, and he resisted the temptation to call my parents.

 

As soon as I was awake enough to summon the doctor, I demanded they release me.  While the hospital found ways to delay that release, I called my parents.

 

“Trixie!” Moms exclaimed.  “Where have you been?  I left two messages on your cell phone, but you haven’t returned my calls.”

 

“I’m sorry, Moms,” I said.  “I’ve been a little under the weather and haven’t really felt like talking.”

 

“You sound terrible, Trixie!” Moms said.  “What’s wrong with your voice?”

 

I cleared my throat.  “Just a little cold, Moms.  I’ll be fine.  Anyway, I was just calling to see when everyone’s coming up for Mart’s birthday.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you called!  You do realize your brother’s birthday was yesterday?”

 

“Yes, Moms, I know, but we’re not celebrating till this weekend right?”

 

“Yes, but you should have at least called him to wish him a happy birthday.”

 

I sighed.  “I know, Moms. I take it, since you know that I didn’t call, that Mart is already in Sleepyside?”

 

“Oh, yes, actually, everyone’s been arriving all week.  It’s wonderful having everyone here.  At this point, the only one who’s not here is you, Trixie.  So when are you going to make it?”

 

“I’m not sure, Moms.  Sometime tomorrow, I guess.”

 

“Oh.  Not tonight?  I heard they caught the Southeast Strangler, that he was killed by FBI agents trying to protect his latest victim.”

 

I raised an eyebrow.  So that’s how they explained it.  Well, that worked for me.  I certainly didn’t want to be known as the girl who battled Strangler X and won.

 

“Yes, Moms, that’s true,” I said. 

 

“Well, I thought, since they caught him, you would be coming home sooner.”

 

“I would, Moms, but I have some paperwork to catch up on before I can make it.  I promise I’ll be home in time for Mart’s birthday dinner.  What time is it at anyway?”

 

Moms sighed.  “Oh, probably around six.  Although it would be nice if you got home earlier.  We could use the help, and I know everyone’s missed you a lot these past six months.”

 

I drew in a deep breath.  “I’ll do my best, Moms, okay?  But no promises.”

 

“Okay, sweetheart.  Well, we’ll see you when you get here.”

 

“Yeah, bye, Moms.”  I hung up the phone and immediately started worrying.  Dear God, how could I keep everyone from figuring out what had happened?  My brothers were going to kill me, not to mention Jim and Dan!  All that arguing and in the end, they were right.  I was a target after all.  And a victim.

 

No.  I was NEVER a victim.

 

 

Chapter 11

 

I was finally being released from the hospital.  It was Saturday morning, about 10:00.  I figured if I was on the road by noon, I could be in Sleepyside by five.

 

I had spent most of Friday giving my statement to the FBI and the local cops.  It turns out the pot I broke over Wright’s head pretty much bashed his brains in.  He had bled out all over the floor by the time the authorities arrived. 

 

The FBI released a statement claiming responsibility for the kill, though in their internal reports, it was listed as self-defense by the victim.  The twelfth victim’s identity was being protected and, given that her testimony was not needed in a trial, the killer being dead, she was not expected to ever be revealed by the FBI.

 

What amazed me was that none of my family had, in the three days I had been incommunicado, figured things out.  The way they were acting when I headed back to D.C. six months before, you would think they would immediately assume that a twelfth victim in the Northwest section of town had to be Trixie.

 

Well, I have Michaels to thank for that too.  Apparently the media is under the impression that the twelfth victim was a brunette.  Go figure.

 

I left the hospital feeling very battered and bruised, especially after Michaels told me that the chances of no one ever discovering my identity were slim to none. 

 

He shared some cold, hard facts with me.  The night I was attacked, my address was broadcast on the airways.  Too many people who lived in that apartment building saw the FBI running in.  They also stuck around long enough to see a victim taken away in an ambulance and a body taken away to the morgue.

 

It was only a matter of time, he told me, before someone realized the latest victim was an FBI intern who had blonde hair and blue eyes.

 

I knew he was right and that I really had no choice but to come clean with my family and friends. They were going to kill me.

 

Of course, I had enough scars from this attack that I would probably be outed eventually anyway.  The first trip to swim at the Wheeler lake and people would be demanding to know what happened to my back.  The first t-shirt of the summer and everyone would start shouting about my arm.  I really had no choice, more bad luck me.

 

The hardest thing I have ever done is walk into the kitchen at Crabapple Farm and watch everyone’s reactions to my countenance.  I knew I looked different, harder, yet more fragile, all at the same time.  I avoided looking at Daniel because I knew, of everyone there, he was the most likely to look into my eyes and see the emptiness that resided there.  He was most likely to recognize the darkness that consumed me.  He was most likely to realize that the Trixie Belden they had all known and loved was gone forever, and in her place?  In her place was a woman filled with rage and fury and hatred.

 

 

Chapter 12

 

I woke up with a start.  He was dead, yet he still haunted me.  She had her justice, yet she still demanded more.  What more could I do?  What more could I offer?  I was hollowed out, a shell.  I had nothing more to give.

 

As I had every night for the past four months in D.C., I got up, put on some running shorts, a sports bra and a t-shirt.  I crept downstairs and out of the house and I hit the ground running.  It was 3:00 in the morning and it was creepy in the woods and along Glen Road, though I suppose no creepier than the back alleys of Washington, D.C. at approximately the same time. 

 

I ran until I could run no further, then I turned and forced myself to run all the way back.  This, my ritual of running that I indulged in, night after night, was one day going to be my end, I knew it would, yet I could not stop the habit.  It was too necessary to my survival.

 

Having run to the limits of my endurance, I would now sleep at least for a few hours nightmare-free.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

A pounding on the door woke me.  I came flying out of bed, ready to attack before I was even completely awake.

 

After a moment I realized where I was – in my bedroom at Crabapple Farm.  The pounding was coming from my door.  I stalked across the room and flung it open.  “What do you want?” I growled.

 

Bobby stood on the other side.  My baby brother, who was now 15 years old and towered over me by at least a foot. 

 

He grinned down at me.  “Hey, Trixie!”  He pushed past me into the room, flopping down on my bed.  “Did you know it’s already 10:00?  I thought I would come and wake you up because any minute now our older siblings are going to lose patience and come flying up here to drag you out of bed.  They’ve been chomping at the bit to begin their interrogation since 6:00 this morning.”

 

I sighed and sank down onto my desk chair.  I rubbed my hands over my face.  “What are you talking about, Bobby?” I asked.

 

“Well…” he drawled.  “All of the Bob-Whites are downstairs.  They’ve been there for more than an hour.  They figure something’s wrong and they’re planning on interrogating you as soon as you show up.  Moms told them to let you sleep, that you needed your rest, but she left to go grocery shopping about ten minutes ago, and the thing is… well, since everyone else has been up since 6:00, they’re getting a little impatient.  I figure you’ve probably got another ten minutes max before they start barging up here and demanding some answers.”  Up until this point, Bobby had been sprawled across my bed, looking fairly relaxed.  Suddenly though his eyes sharpened and seemed to pin me in my seat.  He sat up quickly and reached forward, “What the hell is that?” he demanded.

 

I quickly jumped up and headed for the closet.  “What’s what?” I asked as I ducked inside.  I quickly grabbed a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, turned and exited the closet only to bump into Bobby.  “Bobby!” I exclaimed exasperated.  I started to push past him, but he grabbed my right arm and stopped me.  He grabbed my chin and lifted my face up so that he could stare at my neck.  “What the hell happened?” His eyes blazed with fury as they stared at what I knew must appear to be a veritable mass of bruises.

 

“Bobby…” I tried to pull away again, but he still wasn’t ready to let me go.

 

“Don’t try to deny what I’m seeing right now, Trixie.  I thought everyone was overreacting last night.  I figured you were just tired from finals and everything but now I see that they were right.”

 

“Bobby…I…” 

 

He shook his head.  “Get dressed and get downstairs.  I’m sticking around for this story and by God, Trixie, it’d better be a damn good one.”  With that he let me go, turned and slammed out of the room.

 

“Oh, Christ.” I whispered. If this was how Bobby, my younger brother was going to react, what in the hell were my older brothers going to say?

 

I was in such deep trouble. 

 

Taking a deep breath, I quickly exited my room and headed down the hall for a quick shower.

 

 

The Darkness of Her

Chapter 14

 

Everyone looked up as Bobby came storming down the stairs.  He looked positively enraged.  Ripping his chair back out from the table, he plopped down with a murderous growl. 

 

Mart leaned forward and frowned at Bobby.  It had been unanimously decided twenty minutes before that Bobby was the most likely candidate to wake Trixie and survive both her wrath and their Moms’.  Apparently this was a mistaken assumption.

 

“What happened?” Mart asked.

 

Bobby just shook his head and grabbed a piece of toast.  He quickly stuffed it in his mouth so he wouldn’t be tempted to blurt out what he had discovered.  He would give Trixie a chance to come clean.  If she didn’t… well, then he would.

 

“Come on, Bobby, obviously something’s upset you,” Brian said.

 

“Yeah, what’d she say?”  Diana asked.

 

“Nothing,” he growled.  “She’s getting ready and should be down soon.”

 

“Then why are you so pissed off?” Honey asked. 

 

“Honey!” Jim exclaimed, looking shocked at her language.

 

“Oh, please, Jim, like you aren’t thinking the same thing?”  She turned to Bobby, “Come on, Bobby, fess up.”

 

Bobby shook his head again and stuffed another piece of toast in his mouth.

 

“Oh, leave him alone.  He doesn’t know anything anyway.”  Everyone turned to see Trixie standing in the doorway, but it was a Trixie no one really recognized.  Her hair was wet from the shower and slicked back from her face.  Her face was devoid of both color and makeup.  Her usually vibrant blue eyes were dulled to a lackluster grey, made more noticeable by the dark circles ringing those same eyes. She was wearing a sleeveless shirt that had a high turtleneck, chosen deliberately, Bobby knew, to hide the bruises ringing her neck.  The shirt hung loosely on her frame, emphasizing her fragile appearance.  She was wearing sweatpants and nothing on her feet.  Everyone’s eyes immediately jumped to her arms.  Her left arm was completely encased in white gauze, from wrist to shoulder.  Her right wrist was also wrapped.

 

“What the hell happened?” Brian exclaimed as he jumped up. He started toward her, but Trixie raised her left hand in the universal stop position, pointed her finger at him and said, “Just sit down and shut up, okay?” 

 

She then walked around the table and sat in the empty chair next to Bobby.  “I will tell all of you everything you want to know, but not until Moms gets back.  So just suck it up and try to be patient a little while longer, okay?”

 

“I thought Moms already knew what was going on,” Dan murmured to Mart. 

 

Trixie eyed them both.  “Moms knows some of it,” she said, “but not all and we’re waiting for her.  Understood?”  Dan and Mart both nodded.  “Good.”

 

Trixie leaned back and closed her eyes.  Everyone’s eyes were on her, and their hearts tightened at the fatigue clearly written across her face.

 

“Why don’t you eat something, Trixie?”  Honey asked.  She jumped up and started fixing Trixie a plate.

 

“I’m not really that hungry, Honey,” Trixie murmured.

 

“Here,” Honey slid a plate piled high with pancakes, potatoes, eggs and bacon in front of Trixie.  “At least try to eat a little.”

 

Seeing the concern in Honey’s eyes, Trixie did her best.  She managed to choke down a couple bites of eggs and a small piece of bacon before her throat closed up entirely.  She might have been able to eat more, but Bobby chose that moment to grab the ketchup bottle and give it a shake.  The ketchup was being stubborn and would not come out so he shook it harder still.  The result was that the ketchup came out with a splat, hitting his plate and bouncing back up, spraying tiny flakes in a dozen different directions.

 

No one noticed Trixie’s reaction at first.  They were too busy exclaiming and wiping the ketchup from their faces and hands.

 

It was only when Trixie surged to her feet, knocking over her chair, that they realized something was wrong.  Everyone’s eyes immediately jumped to her face.  Her eyes were wild and confused, her face, though pale before, was positively bleached white now.  Bobby, being closest to her, reached out, saying her name.

 

“Hey, Trixie, you okay?”  He grabbed her arm, pulling her around to face him. 

 

Trixie quickly jerked her arm free and leapt over her chair, spinning around to face him, her back plastered to the wall, a wild look on her face.

 

“Whoa, Trixie, calm down.”  Bobby murmured, holding his hands out in front of him, palms facing his sister.  “No one’s gonna hurt you, okay?”  He bent slightly so he could make eye contact with her.  “Okay?  Trixie?”

 

She stared at him quietly for a moment.  The whole room was frozen in silence.  Finally Trixie nodded, but she didn’t move from her place at the wall.  And her eyes didn’t move from Bobby’s.

 

“So…” Bobby began.  He had no idea what to do.  He was pretty sure his sister was having a flashback, but of what, he didn’t know, and he didn’t want to scare her even more than he obviously already had.  He finally decided to back away a little, give her some space.  She watched him warily the entire time.  Christ, was his older sister scared of him?  Trixie, who feared no one and nothing, was scared of him

 

When he had backed away all the way to the opposite wall, Trixie relaxed a little, but she still didn’t move.  Though it seemed she was doing nothing, her eyes never moving, her body never moving, her mind was working quickly, assessing her options.  Bobby never looked away from Trixie or her eyes.  Still he had no idea she was going to move before she did.  One moment she standing with her back to the wall, her eyes on him, the next she leapt across the floor and bolted through the back door, exiting the house as quickly as possible.

 

Bobby immediately went to follow his sister.  Mart stopped him with a hand to the arm.  “I’ll go, Bobby,” he said.  Bobby looked at Mart, then nodded.  Mart quickly left the house, following his sister’s path.

 

Everyone else in the room exhaled slowly.  “WHAT in the HELL was THAT?” Brian exclaimed.

 

“THAT,” Dan stated, “was a replay of whatever the hell happened to extinguish the light in our Trixie’s eyes.”

 

Bobby turned and looked at Dan.  “Yes,” he said.  “That’s it exactly.”

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

Mart found his sister, huddled in a tiny ball inside the chicken coop.  He settled next to her, pulled her into his arms and simply held her.  At first she resisted, if only because she was Trixie and not used to leaning on anyone.  Eventually though, she relaxed into her brother’s body and with the relaxing, began to silently cry.

 

Mart asked no questions and made no promises.  He simply held her and let her cry.  Finally, when there were no more tears left, they simply sat in each other’s arms and waited.

 

After a while, Trixie whispered, “What has happened to me, Mart?  I’ve lost myself and I don’t even miss me.  Not anymore.”

 

After that, she fell silent and wouldn’t speak again.  They stayed where they were until they heard Moms’ station wagon pull into the driveway.  Then Mart helped Trixie up and walked with her out of the coup into the sunlight. Moms’ took one look at them and immediately stopped trying to pull the groceries from the wagon.  She quickly walked over to Mart and pulled Trixie into her arms.  “Mart, will you get the groceries, please?” she asked him.

 

“Sure, Moms.”  Mart walked over to the wagon, grabbed three bags and headed for the house.

 

Moms led Trixie away from the house into the orchard.  She led Trixie to a bench she and Peter would sit at in the evenings after everything was quiet.  Settling on the bench, she pulled Trixie into her arms.

 

“What is it, Trixie?” she asked.  “Talk to me.”

 

And so Trixie told her everything.  Her Moms knew pretty much everything up until the events of the last week.  Still the telling took some time and both were sobbing by the end.  Helen cried because she knew her child had just lost the very last of her innocence, what little had been left after Kerry’s death.  And Trixie cried because she knew in some strange way that her death would have probably been less painful than this.

 

Finally, after they had cried all their tears, Helen asked Trixie what she wanted to do.  “If you want this to be kept from your brothers, I will forbid them from asking you questions or talking about this.  We’ve kept everything secret so far, we can keep this secret too.”

 

Trixie shook her head.  “No, Moms, this is too huge, too monumental to be kept secret.  I’m not the same and I never will be again.  No one will understand why I’ve changed so much without me explaining it to them.  If I want a chance at having a relationship with my brothers and with the rest of the Bob-Whites, I have to share with them this part of my life.  I don’t have a choice.”
 

Moms nodded.  “You’ve grown up so much, Trixie.  I am so proud of you.  I just wish …” her voice broke. 

 

“I know, Moms.  It’s okay.  I love you too.”

 

 

 

Chapter 16

 

Two and a half hours after fleeing the kitchen, Trixie walked back into Crabapple Farm with a cloak of calm surrounding her.  Moms was at her side. 
 

Everyone was waiting in the living room.  No one really knew what to say or what to ask so Trixie made it easy for them.

 

She stood there and she said, “I’m going to tell you the worst of it, right off the bat, just to get it over with.  Then I will tell you all the details you want, if you want.  So here it is:  the very worst.”  She stopped and drew in a deep breath.  God, how do I tell them this?  How do I tell them?  She pleaded in her mind, all the while leaping ahead, showing no fear.

 

“In January, one of my best friends, Kerry McAdams, was killed.  She was the Southeast Strangler’s eighth D.C. victim.”

 

“Oh my god!”  Honey exclaimed.  Murmurs whispered around the room.  Mart kept his eyes on Trixie, hardly daring to breathe.

 

Trixie shook her head.  “Please don’t,” she whispered.  “I haven’t even begun.”

                                                                                                 

Drawing in yet another deep breath, she continued. “Up until the point of her death, I kept my promise to all of you, refusing to involve myself in a case that scared everyone so deeply.  With Kerry’s death, all of that changed.  I threw myself into the case as deeply as I possibly could, seeking justice and revenge in equal parts.”

 

She stopped again, wondering how to tell the rest of it.  How to explain, how to make them understand.

 

“Without my involvement in the case, we would not have a name today.  We would not know the killer’s identity.  I say this so that you will know that I have no regrets.”  She looked up and made eye contact with each of the people in the room.  “No regrets.  Having said that, the FBI managed to identify who the killer had chosen for his twelfth victim based on pictures that were posted inside his trophy room, pictures they found because of the name I gave them.  According to the dates on his photos, our killer chose all of his victims over a period of time, stalking each of them for more than a year before finally taking their lives.  By the time he killed the first victim in D.C. he had a thousand photos of his twelfth victim.  And though I resent being labeled as such, you should know that the twelfth victim’s photos were of me.”

 

“Oh Christ!” Daniel groaned.

 

The room exploded with angry shouts and tearful pleas.  Trixie ignored it all.

 

Mrs. Belden quickly took control.  “Everyone needs to settle down,” she said.  “Trixie, come along.”  She herded her to a chair.  “Jim and Brian, stop shouting this instant!  Mart, come sit beside your sister.”  Mart jumped up and quickly went to Trixie who was leaning against the armchair staring at the floor.  Pulling Trixie around, he settled himself into the chair and pulled her down onto his lap.  She instantly turned and curled herself into him, tucking her face into his collar and wetting his neck with her tears.

 

Once the room was quiet again, Mrs. Belden spoke quietly.  “Trixie, do you want me to finish the story?”

 

Trixie quickly pulled herself together.  “No, Moms, I can do it.”  And so, haltingly at first, then with gathering speed, Trixie, for the first time since it all began, spoke of the nightmare that had become her life.

 

Though she had talked to Annie Weber at the FBI offices, she had never really shared what it was like to find Kerry’s body, nor had she ever spoken of the worst of the nightmares that plagued her.

 

Now, surrounded by her family and friends, Trixie shared it all.  She spoke of finding Kerry, of the state of her apartment, of her nightmares where Kerry begged her to save her.  She told of the nightmares where instead of finding Kerry’s body, she found Honey’s or Diana’s.  She spoke of her guilt because she hadn’t involved herself sooner – if she had, she might have saved Kerry’s life.  Trixie first started reading case files in the beginning of March.  By the end of May, less than three months later, the FBI had a name.  If she had said yes the first time Agent Michaels had asked, back in October, Kerry, who hadn’t died until the last weekend of January, might still be alive today.

 

No one interrupted Trixie, though many times they wanted to, if only to shout that she was being ridiculous – it wasn’t her fault a killer targeted Kerry!  Instead, they restrained themselves and let her talk.

 

Trixie talked until her voice, already damaged from the killer’s repeated efforts to strangle her, was practically gone.  She explained how she figured out who the killer was, filling each of them with awe and pride at the complexity of her thought processes, and the twists and turns of her investigation.  Finally, she spoke of her confrontation with the killer, stressing that she remembered very little of the actual struggle, but that in the end, she had killed him without remorse and without hesitation.

 

Brian wanted to know the extent of his sister’s injuries and finally, unable to hold back any longer, he asked her to tell them what the hospital had treated her for.  Her quiet recitation chilled them all. 

                                     

She told them that she still felt she had left something undone, but that for now, she couldn’t think what that might be.  Perhaps it was Angela Williams, the one body never found.   

                                  

Eventually, Trixie fell asleep, curled up in her brother’s arms.  Once she was asleep, Brian gently took her injured arm in his hand and unwrapped the gauze.  The wound that was revealed was raw and angry.  Harsh intakes of breath filled the room as her arm was exposed.  Brian knew this arm would need intense physical therapy before all of its muscle use could possibly be regained.  His sister seriously underplayed her injuries.  Either that or she wasn’t fully aware of what they were.

 

“Oh my God,” Honey choked out.  “Why didn’t she tell me?  Why did she go through this all on her own?”

 

Mrs. Belden placed a hand on Honey’s shoulder.  “Honestly, Honey?  I believe it’s because she knew if you were there for her, she would share everything.  Do you think she really told us everything just now?  Oh, sure she told us the events.  But did she describe in acute detail what Kerry’s body looked like?  Did she describe the apartment in full?  I know from Kerry’s mother that she was stabbed 72 times.”

 

“Oh my god,” Diana whispered.

 

“Yes, Trixie told us that the whip was wrapped around Kerry’s neck and that blood was everywhere.  What she didn’t tell us was that Kerry was naked when she was found, that the apartment was dripping in blood, that Trixie, upon entering the apartment, slipped in a pool of Kerry’s blood and fell to her knees.  That the FBI found her shivering in the hallway outside Kerry’s apartment, covered in Kerry’s blood.  Mr. Wheeler got this information from Agent Michaels. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a clue what my baby went through.  I’ve been calling Trixie every week since it happened, and I’ve visited her twice.  Not once has she spoken about what she saw.  Not once has she shared her fears or her nightmares with me.  Instead she pretends everything is okay.  Why?  Because she can’t help herself.  Even in the worst of circumstances, Trixie is trying to protect those around her from pain, even if it’s her own.”

 

Mart stood up, Trixie in his arms.  “I’m taking her upstairs,” he said.  “She needs sleep.”

 

“Good idea, Mart.”  Peter spoke quietly from his corner of the room.  He had sat there quietly the entire time, listening to his daughter speak, his heart breaking.  If that bastard were alive today, I swear to God I’d kill him, Peter thought, his head in his hands.  What he did to my baby, God, how does she stand it?

 

 

Epilogue

 

I woke suddenly, filled with the conviction that I had forgotten something vital, that I had missed some crucial clue, left something essential terribly undone.  Was it Angela, the first victim?  Or was it this nagging feeling that the killer was still out there, stalking me, waiting, biding his time, plotting his next kill?  But that was ridiculous.  The killer was dead and would not be torturing any more young women.  He was gone, killed by my own hand, and horrible though it may be, I felt no remorse, no regret for his passing.

 

I have truly transformed into something terrible.  There is nothing of me left and somehow I have to face my family, knowing this.  I have to confront them, allow them to see what I have become.  Though I would rather hide myself away, hide the truth from them, they will not allow such subterfuge.  And in forcing my hand, they will be required to see and to recognize the loss of myself.  The loss of Trixie.  I don’t even feel her anymore, not even a little bit.  I barely even remember her.  She is like a myth, a fairy tale, lost to the real world forever.

 

Will they hate me for what I have become?  Will I see in their eyes, the same contempt and disgust I feel in my heart, the same disdain I know I deserve?  Have I lost them forever, to the same darkness which has consumed me?  How do I face the future when it is bleak and barren, a perfect mirror for my very soul?  How do I survive the coming years without them, for surely they will reject all that I have become and in so doing, condemn me to this purgatory of pain?  There is no escaping the truth.  I am well and truly lost to them, and myself, forever.

 

The End

 

 TBH Main