I got a phone call early this morning. Well it was noon, but for me that's the middle of the night. Especially when I'm getting ready to start my work week.
There was no one on the other end, no voice and only a shadowy image. "Yeah, right," I said when he didn't say anything and hung up. The Caller ID system identified it as a pay phone somewhere in Chicago.
I tried not to think about it knowing it could have been a wrong number- or something I really didn't want to have to think about. This is how Aaron started the last time. A series of phone calls as he got closer and closer to home.
Two hours later I got another call. Same thing, only this time, the shadowy figure held out a newspaper clipping out. The headline read "Paramedic Murdered."
I could feel the adrenalin starting to kick in, but I wasn't going to let my caller see it. That was what this was all about- a game of cat and mouse, with the cat toying with his prey. Wonder if he knows that mice have teeth too?
Whoever it was, they were still calling from Chicago. After the second call I picked up the receiver. There should have been someone on the other line. Then I remembered Darringer. He'd probably canceled the tap there. The one that would have protected me. I pulled out my incident folder. Noted the times and locations of the calls. Included a recording from the phone.
It would have been nice if I could have called the police. After thinking about it, I made two phone calls. The message was the same on each. "Aaron is out."
The first call was to Nick, the man who'd taught me a thing or two about self defense and demolitions. We dated once, then went the long, well worn trail of just being friends. Seems to be the story of my life. The good part is, its usually good friends. Nick's another brother in a long line of relationships that didn't quite work out.
After Aaron, the first time, I'd looked him up. He told me what to do, how to protect myself as much as possible, and to call him if Aaron every started again. There hadn't been time or need the last time, but now I was calling.
The second call was to my lawyer/case worker back in Baltimore. I logged the calls with her, but according to her records, and those of the courts, I had been informed of his impending release and I had decided not to pursue the case. In other words, I was on my own.
It was about then I remembered that Darringer had confiscated my gun. I called the company lawyer, told him about the phone calls. He tried to act nonchalant, but I could see the worry in his eyes. Nice to know he's not only devious, but cares too.
Now its even more important that I get myself cleared of these allegations, otherwise I'm going to be out on a pier all by myself... again.
Definitely not the frame of mind I wanted to be going to work with, but it was there all night. Ray understood, recognized it almost immediately, but also recognized the fact that I did not want to talk about it.
Work kept be busy enough, but by the time I'd gotten home, there'd been three more calls. The latest- Denver. He's getting closer.
I didn't sleep all that well, big surprise there. The phone rang at noon and then again at three. I let the machine pick up and simply covered my head and pretended they didn't exist.
With Casey still at work and Jonathan doing whatever it is he does, I realized I was pretty much on my own for now. I got up around three thirty, unable to sleep any more. I checked the tape.
He's made it to LA.
I filed the messages, copied the folder. One for me, one for the box and one for the police- if and when they'll take it.
They followed me to the bank, figure they'll see about getting a search warrant for the box. Which means they'll get a copy of this journal. Maybe somebody will figure it out before Aaron gets here. Before I end up another statistic. I mean, the man's got to get it right one of these times.
When I got to work, Ray was waiting for me. He handed me his backup pistol. "You know what to do with that."
I smiled and nodded. It wasn't registered, but I did have a license to carry. That hadn't been revoked, that I know of.
I was jumpy enough that I think Ray was regretting lending me the gun. Nothing worse than a nervous wreck than an armed nervous wreck, with reason to be nervous. I knew Aaron wouldn't try anything while I was with people. He liked to corner me when I was alone. Still its possible he could have changed his MO.
When I got off work, there was a shadowy figure who loomed under a street lamp just long enough for me to see him. I pretended not to see him as I reviewed my options. I could pretend to forget something, go back inside. I could get on the bike and go to the police (yeah, right). I could get on my bike and just ride out, get away.
None of the really did anything about the problem and for all I know the figure was someone other than Aaron. It all boiled down to one little nervous breakdown just waiting to happen. I sighed, looked at my bike and headed back inside.
Figure I'll just stay right here, with a lot of people.
I finally fell asleep, but as I drifted I had the feeling that someone was in the room. It was one of those times when I was half asleep and everything seemed to move in odd jumps. I was exhausted and yet I wanted to move.
For a few moments I wasn't sure if it was a dream, or there was actually someone there... then I felt them draw closer. I tried to scream, but all that came out was a low moan as I forced myself to move.
I brought Ray's gun up forcing myself to focus on the man looming over me- it was Nick.
I shuddered with a combination of relief and tension as I lowered the gun and flicked the safety back on.
"Jess," he said. His voice was slow and even as he held out his hand for the gun. I gave it to him, as I started to shake in earnest. He held me until the worst of it had passed.
"Sorry hon," he said softly into my hair. "Didn't mean to scare you- but I didn't want anybody to see either."
I nodded, not trusting myself to say more. I could do that with Nick-- let him see the worst of it without him taking over. He knew; he understood that I didn't want him to fight my battles for me, just hold me through the worst of it, then help me plan my strategy .
He waited there patiently and then when I finally stopped shaking he said, "tell me about it."
So I did. I told him everything: the criminal case against me for dereliction of duty; the police case against Alan and therefore me; the circumstances of Aaron's release; the phone calls tracking their way westward.
I had all the information on file, but without my case against Aaron still active, I would have to go through the whole process again. Then I realized that the restraining order had been issued in Baltimore. I didn't even know it if was still valid here- and to find out would mean a trip to the station where I was less than welcomed.
Part of me wondered if Aaron had anything to do with this, but it was too complicated for him to have worked out- only life could come up with a situation this complicated. It's like I said, if everybody with a grudge against me got together, I'd be toast.
I mulled over that a bit as Nick thought about what I'd told him. He asked if I had anything on the boys and I told him everything I had, which wasn't much. At least he agreed that the police shooting case was based purely on circumstantial evidence. We both knew that it didn't really matter though. Dead suspects don't need evidence or trials.
I looked up at Nick. I've been dealing with the whole thing in my usual fashion, just bullheadedly continuing enduring. That might work with the case against Alan, but not with Aaron. He would keep on tracking me, keep toying with me until one of us was dead.
Nick knew that too. Thing was, he had only managed to get a weekend pass, so if Aaron didn't do anything this weekend, I'd be on my own again come Sunday night.
Nick gave my arm a gentle squeeze then looked around. "Lets get you covered," he said with a slight nod.
That was it. Straight forward and to the point, just what I needed. He let me get everything out of my system and then got me back on track. No nonsense, no macho bull, just down to business.
Since my apartment was bugged, he told me to meet him at his hotel room in an hour. It meant less sleep tonight, but a lot better sleep in the future. I nodded and did as he told me to do.
His hotel room was sparse, but that was fine. We weren't there to rest, or have a romantic interlude, we were there to review my defenses, my weaknesses and where Aaron would be most likely to attack.
We were finishing up when Casey busted the door down. I looked up in surprise as Nick and Case faced off, guns drawn, both convinced they were defending me. I would have laughed it weren't so serious.
After I introduced them they both settled down, sort of. Its funny, I'm not dating either one of them, but they both had appointed themselves my protectors. It took them a few minutes to realize the same thing. Then the three of us continued.
Nick and Casey both told me what they saw, and each view was a little different. One military, one civil, both priceless. Still no matter how much we planned, it came down to me controlling the situation.
I know Nick and Casey worked out more on their own, but it was going to be hard to control the situation once I was on duty. Then I was at the mercy of dispatch, and the evening's citizens in need.
My vest was starting to smell a little funky, but I have no intention of going anywhere without it right now. There are too many cross hairs that seem intent on focusing in on me.
Then a thought hit me- I'd been so busy remembering and trying to convince myself that the shooter wasn't Alan, that I wasn't thinking about who he really was. I looked at Casey and asked him if he knew a sketch artist. He did me one better and pulled out the latest version of InterQuest's Faces (tm) , a composite picture program that would do the job. I went through the images concentrating on one feature at a time until we finally gave a face to the man I remembered from the shooting.
There was no way the man could be mistaken for Alan-- not once I got the image rendered in 3D. I wondered why Darringer hadn't thought of it, and then realized why. To him Alan was the shooter, anything I said would be a lie to protect him, so any leads I gave them were to be ignored.
Casey took the picture and promised to run it through NCIC and see what he could get. It wasn't much, but it was at least something. Nick kissed the top of my head, promised me that he'd be watching over me then just faded into the background. Now at least one of the people following me cares about me. Again- its something.
Saturday's runs were normal, smooth, almost text book perfect. Enough to put any medic worth his salt on edge. It was enough to give me hives.
I knew Nick was out there covering me, but it doesn't mean I relaxed. No, I've been at this game long enough to know better. After shift, Casey came to pick me up and take me back to his place. He'd gotten something on the picture and I could tell it wasn't good.
Nick met us there. Well, actually he followed us there without either of us really noticing, but that's what he does.
Casey waited until we were all inside and situated before reviewing his results. It seems the man I'd identified made his living impersonating other people. Word on the streets was that if you needed to have alibi, he was your man.
I thought about it and got a slight chill as I remembered my doppleganger. Casey looked at me, I guess Andrews hadn't had the chance to tell him about it.
"The week right before Andrews..." I couldn't say 'died'. I just froze. Finally I just nodded and continued. "There was a woman claiming to be me- claiming to be looking for the boys. Saunders intercepted me and we set her up. She said she'd been hired to find out the status on the case.
I hadn't really thought about it then or since. She was obviously new to the whole thing, but now, from the looks of things, she was a part of this latest mess. Even if only on the periphery.
Funny how those concentric circles seem to constrict at times.
Still, none of us were laughing.
It was hard to tell how many threads were involved in this little knot that was intent on tangling me up. How much of it was just circumstance, how much of it wasn't? How much of it was me just being paranoid? How much of it was me not being paranoid enough?
The Philips' case, the fake me, Andrews getting shot- getting killed, the fake Alan, Darringer, Martinez - Aaron, it was enough to drive anyone over the edge and none of it really fit together.
Nick told me to try and get some sleep, but it was a long time in coming. As I tossed fitfully I could hear him and Casey talking in the other room. I couldn't make out the words, but the sounds helped me doze off once or twice.
When I woke it was time for Nick to be heading back to base. "I'll be back next weekend," he promised. "You keep your head low and pay attention."
I nodded. It was easy to say, a lot harder when you're supposed to be paying attention to the patient, not the psycho in the bushes.
I could tell by his smile he knew what I was thinking. I winked at him. "You do the same."
He winked back, gave me a brotherly kiss and was gone. After a few minutes I headed over to Casey who was waiting in Therese's car and got in.
"So," I asked. "you baby sitting, or doing real work tonight?"
He smiled at me and winked. "A little of both I think."
Shift was insanity incarnate, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. Of course I consider a seven car pile up with an overturned bus a normal day so who am I to speak?
Casey took me home last night- back to the condo. The place was a mess. Someone had forced entry into the apartment. Ripped everything apart. It was almost like it had been when I arrived with several notable differences.
There was no police tape, and my stuff had been ruined. My guitar lay in several pieces, all held together by the strings- my clothes had been torn to shreds.
When Casey couldn't get the star to respond, he called in the Agency. They weren't going to accept the case originally-- it wasn't really their jurisdiction. At least it wasn't until Casey pointed out the police cameras and monitors that had been installed, and left untouched.
We were taken away for questioning, after I rounded up the cats.
Several hours later the questioning over, the investigators asked me to explain some of the graffiti I'd happily missed. It had Aaron written all over it. My guitar had been clubbed. My spare helmet, now labeled 'Dead Meat', had been smashed into the wall, every mirror and picture on the wall.
The bathroom had been the worst. Something red, goat's blood it turns out, had been smeared all over the walls. With a warning "Next time" cleaned out of it. On the other wall, three dates: 02/08/52, 06/21/56 and 02/07/57 all written in blood.
The warning was obvious enough, but the dates...
I saw them and felt a fresh chill as the significance of the first two dates hit home. They were the dates of Aaron's attacks. Those I could explain. The third, I understood all too well.
I could tell the investigator wanted to ask about it- but he wasn't sure how to begin. Casey was trying to be supportive
He'd seen this sort of thing before, but somehow, this was a lot more personal. They both waited for me to explain.
"Its my next birthday," I told them. My voice sounded small and wooden even to me.
The investigator nodded, then looked at me. "We'll get him." he assured me.
I tried to smile, but it was a bit much. Casey handed me a fresh cup of coffee and then gave the investigator a full rundown on what was happening with Darringer and the Martinez case. He also told him how someone on the Star had told the people in Baltimore that I didn't have anything to say about Aaron's release.
As he was talking I realized something I hadn't seen. "My folder!"
They both looked at me in worry and surprise.
"I have a case folder. I keep everything Aaron's ever done on hard copy... Its not in any of the pictures- I'd left it on the kitchen counter..."
Casey looked at me for a minute. "You do have copies don't you?" he asked.
I nodded, still a bit mechanically. "In my safety deposit box."
Those words got all three of us moving. It was now my only copy.
Sure enough- someone had obtained a search warrant for my safety deposit box. It had been drilled and all the paperwork inside was gone. I could feel something cold and very dark forming in the pit of my stomach.
"Don't worry Jess, we'll find it."
I almost couldn't hear Casey's promise. This was just too much.
Needless to say, I didn't go home.
Halloween-- All hallow's eve. Trick or treat. I think I've had enough of both right now. I'm sitting here dictating my journal entry with a gun aimed at nothing. I'm watching the shadows as the grow longer and longer and wondering which corner the trouble will come from first. I'm hiding from kids.
I'm hiding from my past, my present and probably my future. I hate living like this, but I have to admit-- I'm kind of fond of living. The cats seem to have taken things in stride. I wish I could. I'm just too numb to really feel anything right now. Anything but terror.
You know, I think I'd actually feel better if this were the result of some delusional paranoid breakdown and not reality. Then at least there would be the possibility of it ending.
I really wish Aaron had come with some sort of warning label. Or if he had, that I'd seen them-- recognized them, done something with him. Now I'm holed up in a virtual stranger's house, with my back to the wall wondering what ghosts and goblins will be visiting me tonight. I can tell you, this is not how I imagined my life.
Case left early this morning, promising to be back before nightfall. He's cutting it too damn close for my tastes. Half an hour before sunset, he hasn't called, no one has called. Its almost like I'm here all alone with my demons, and the demons, ghosts and goblins that are due to arrive any time now.
PM - Late
Its so weird, pretending like nothing's happening; pretending that you're enjoying all the people trying to scare you. Casey tried to cheer me up, he really did. He even invited some of my friends over... tried to turn it into an impromptu Halloween party.
It was actually fun for the most part. I mean how often do you get to see dignitaries dressed up like Urban Brawlers? I think that's what made things all that much worse.
I was lost in the crowd of my friends, when I headed for the bathroom. As I used the roll of toilet papaer, I found a date written in red ink....today's date.
I ran. I didn't say anything, I didn't even look for Casey-- I just ran.
Now I'm watching the sun come up from the relative safety of a hotel room. It's a nice nondescript room, in a nameless part of town. Even I don't have a name here.
Maybe it'll give me the protection I need. Somehow though-- I doubt it.
I know I should check in with Case, let him know I'm all right. Explain what happened-- why I left, but every time I pick up the phone I remember that if I call him, I'll be telling everyone in the world exactly where I am. Somehow, someone had found their way to the party. I could have been Aaron, or it could have been somebody else. I can't take that chance any more.
If I call him, I'm going to be running again. I really don't know where this is going to end. All I do know is that it has to end. I can't go on like this. I tried to slip out for something to eat, but it seemed that everyone was interested in my business.
The concierge, the bellhops, the lady with the hat boxes-- everyone. I caught site of the police as they patrolled the parking lot and tried to slip back into the building. Instead I ended up diving from car to car, trying to stay two cars away from its twin.
The police want me, Aaron wants me. No place is safe. I just want to hide, I want to fade into nothingness-- I want to scream.
I really need a friend, and there aren't any I can call on without giving myself away.
Like it or not-- I'm on my own. Hopefully they'll understand...