The story so far:
I reached for the door knob thinking, please let this be Esperanza. I dialed the last call on my cell phone and heard the ring in the hallway seconds later. I turned the knob to find Esperanza sifting through her purse. “Sorry, someone is calling,” she said.
“Oh, I can fix that,” holding up my cell and pressing “end call.” Her purse stopped ringing.
“I’m sorry, were you waiting long, Dr. Davis?”
“No, no, you’re fine. Actually, I wanted to make sure there were no surprise visitors,” I explained. “Please, come in.”
“Dr. Davis, thank you for letting me meet with you. At first I didn’t know how I might help, but it occurred to me after Nona’s funeral that I need to do something to save others.”
“Thank you, Esperanza. I appreciate you coming here on such quick notice."
I needed to ask a million questions, but didn't know where to begin. "Did Nona ever say anything to you? Or do you know why the ComKiller—to use the media’s label—would have or could have called from your cell phone and why he would want to call me?” Esperanza sat up straight in the mahogany chair across my desk. She had offered her full attention. Now it was my turn to listen.
“I do not know who this ComKiller is, or why he called you, Dr. Davis, but I am quite certain that it is a man who does not walk around, perhaps a spirit of some sort."
Damn it, I thought. Why is everything cryptic?
“Esperanza, my daughter was kidnapped 4 days ago. Forgive me if I sound short, but I need answers. Maybe I’m not asking the right questions; tell me to what I'm not asking. I want to avoid playing 20 questions at this point."
Esperanza looked grave. “Dr. Davis. I lost my sister and I want to help you.” Salt water collected on the rims of her eyes. She took a deep breath, pulled a tissue from her bag and dabbed. I passed a courtesy tissue across the desk.
"Esperanza. I’ve had nightmares about all of this and each murder that I see is happening before I can do anything about it." I paused. Do I tell her? "I saw Nona in one of my dreams." I pulled her file and passed it across the table. Experanza was attentive. "I couldn't save Nona, and I can't seem to do anything to save who I might see in my nightmare tomorrow.”
Esperanza reviewed Nona's file. I hoped she might find a clue. She glanced up. “I have not seen this ComKiller. He only enters me with a shudder of my spine to use my voice to call people. After I called you, I've been waiting for him, trying to doze regularly and it has happened only twice. This morning. He used me to call Virginia Lipscomb.”
“Dr. Lipscomb’s wife?”
“Actually, his mother. Since this ComKiller called you I have been able to pretend I’m asleep and listen to what he is saying over my phone. And, of course, I have the phone numbers saved in my phone. Virginia Lipscomb lives about two hours away, in Hurricane.”
“Have you told the police yet?”
“I don't know how to begin explaining this type of phone call to the police without them thinking it was me who is placing these calls.”
“Then contact the LVPD and leave an anonymous tip.”
I wanted to know if there was any margin for influencing these phone calls she was getting. “Is there any way you can control these conversations? Does he call every time you sleep?"
"No, not every time, I think only when he needs someone else to disguise his voice."
"I need to find my daughter. Victims have been turning up everywhere, so I don’t know that following a lead two hours away, that’s four hours round trip, probably in the wrong direction--"
My cell sprang to life and my heart fluttered. The phone identified the caller: Paige.
Vivaldi never sounded more precious.
A reply, inaudible through the static.
“Paige! Is that you! Keep talking if you can hear me, Honey.” More pulsing static.
Then, as clear as day, the man’s voice. “Yes. It eeze Paige.”
My stomach dropped, but my rage replied. I tore through the phone with the tenacity of an NFL coach, but more intense--a woman scorned.
“I swear you will not touch my daughter!” I growled. “You damn animal. I’ll will open you with a meat cleaver, print the commandments with your own bile and spoon feed each word!"
More static, then, “Your daughter has murdered,” the voice snorted like swine, "she must pay."
I couldn't make it out. Did he say Paige has been murdered? Or that she had committed murder?
He continued. “You should be careful Dr. Davis. You have taken the Lord’s name in vain." And he was gone.
I closed my phone, paused for prayer, and apologized to Esperanza. She was silent for a few seconds, then replied, “I understand. While we are looking for your daughter I need to say two things."
“What is it?”
"I don’t know how many clients Dr. Lipscomb had. Since Nona was one of his clients, I contacted his office and pretended to be Mr. Engram’s wife—after the ComKiller used me to call his wife two days ago. I told them he could not make his next appointment and that is when they said he was referred to you.
"Dr. Lipscomb was a member of the jury during Mr. Sanchez’ trial. Mr. Sanchez was not one of his patients; their relationship was different. Nona had seen Dr. Lipscomb visit the Sanchez residence, and was very happy when she was referred to your practice. At first, I thought Nona was killed to prevent her from taking the stand, but now that this other information has surfaced, I think the best way to find your daughter would be to ask the prison about Mr. Sanchez. Because if we find out anything about Dr. Lipscomb’s abrupt disappearance, we may be able to find a connection between the victims. I think he was making some sort of bargain because why would these two clients of his be murdered? I think they were offered."
“Esperanza, I received 11 files from his office. I patted the stack on the desk." We both looked through them. I put each file side by side, overlapping so that you could see the wallet size picture at the top left of each file. "Each one had pictures and physical descriptions," I explained. "It seemed unusual at first, since this information is not ususally in my patients' files. This pattern tells me these individuals may be targeted."
"Perhaps we should send these files to the police to prevent any additional murders," she said. I copied each one, scanning for more clues.
I agreed to accompany Esperanza to the prison, on the condition that we ride together in my car. I grabbed the 11 files and we headed out to the parking lot.
While discussing the logistics of what to ask the warden, I saw a van parked behind Esperanza, facing us. Unusual to park alone in the corner, I thought. Then I saw Esperanza’s eyes grow wide.
Before either of us could say anything there were gloved hands over both of our mouths. We were wrestled toward the van. As my accoster fumbled for the keys to unlock the door to the van, I bit through the leather glove and heard him scream. Then I heard a “thwoop thwoop thwoop,” sound, like wire whipping through the air, and what seized the scream was a sound like an axe snapping a tree limb. . He fell silent, and his weight pulled me back with him.
Esperanza’s accoster let her go, dove into the van and screeched off. I pulled the limp arm off me and spun to my feet. There was Franco.
He ran over, looked into my eyes. “Are you all right, Adara?”
“Yes. I’m fine.”
Franco looked down, nudged the assailant with his foot, and removed his meat cleaver from the goon’s back.
“Adara, you can call me a murderer, but I’ve got your back when it comes to protecting you and Paige."
My superhero chef just split my kidnapper’s back in half with a meat cleaver, and tells me he’s got my back. "Thanks, I'll remember that, Franco. Very comforting. Impeccable timing."
He helped me up as I brushed myself off. "Do you have any more news on Paige?"
Esperanza came running over and said, “We must get going. I just placed the anonymous call. An officer Bohac said they would be heading to Hurricane.
We jumped in my car and started the engine. Franco followed us in case a second car was needed. We headed to the state prison.
Achieving any sniff of a direction back to the Las Vegas city limits, let alone any podunk desert town, driving in the desert morning light was difficult since she had arrived in the dark. Barton’s successor had pulled the battery from Methra’s car, but did not anticipate getting jumped by two of his victims and duct taped like a mummy. He heard his tires sling gravel as they rode away like Billy the Kid, his childhood hero. Thank goodness they left his nostrils free, but he was sweating and they had left very little skin free for his pores to breathe. It was difficult to ignore thoughts that he would suffocate in this cave. He didn’t know whether to feel relieved when coyotes came in sniffing and hungry. They might well save his life if they didn’t decide to eat him in the process. To the coyotes, it was fear gift wrapped.
Jimmy had reached the pinnacle of God and Man. Father Preston’s preachings had taught him that God needed help cleansing the sinners. Cleansing seemed to be like spraying bleach on mold. A real good scrubbing of the planet. The potential was incredible. His mother had always told him to set lofty goals.
On the one side, it was good and noble to cleanse for God. At first, Silent Jimmy was frustrated that he had to toss away perfectly good agents. Finding new ones was tough at first but, with each door that closes, God leaves an open agent. Aside of the work for the Lord, Jimmy’s cravings, though never satiated, were pleased with this side work of killing agents. The role of puppeteer seemed maximized each time he killed another agent. The way Jimmy saw it, it wasn’t killing so much as liberating because if the agents were discovered, they would only spend the rest of their lives incarcerated.
Secondly, while liberating agents was satisfying, searching for new agents was not only getting easier, it was as close as he ever felt to any sense of humanity. Searching helped strengthen his powers, as simple as pushups strengthen the arms. At first the agents seemed few and far between. But as he searched, necessity forced him to learn to enter other agents and his grip on humanity seemed to increase from third person people watching, as he might do at the mall or a theme park, to first person—not only glad to meet you, not just gonna go all the way with you, I’m gonna be you for a while, too.
Finding agents became as easy for Silent Jim as selling chocolate bars at a train station on pay day, like he did when he was in grade school. Wow, the things we get into, he mused.
He reflected on his latest victims. Here God, I’ve cleansed two more, and now I’ve killed an agent for me, with the prospect of hand picking the next one that I will later liberate. So in essence, one for you, two for me. Thanks theres.
He was proud, until a voice inside reminded him of the original plan: 10 crosses, 10 women, 10 commandments. It wasn’t the low grumble of how he imagined God’s voice, but the quiet voice of reason that seems never to exhaust. Lacking a superego to really browbeat him to do the right thing, Silent Jim had an ego that he imagined rivaled God. In the fever of the work, he had cleansed a man and a woman, and had doubled up on some of the commandments. That’s the way it’s supposed to grow, he replied to the voice.
The guard passing by thought Silent Jim had a radio on. Since Miguel’s suicide, not even the mice squeaked in this cell. The guard paused and leaned an ear toward Silent Jimmy’s direction.
Barely audible, Jimmy didn’t realize he was speaking. “Look, 10 cleansings, 10 commandments, yes, that was the original plan on a napkin, but you have to start small. I couldn’t see then what it could become. We have 6 billion people in the world!
“No." The voice corrected.
“Whatever,” Silent Jimmy continued, “and they all need cleansing. And there are more agents than ever out there. We can’t stop now!”
“Damn!” Jimmy thought. “Did I just say that all aloud, or just think it?” No reply from the voice seemed to imply, Hey, you squawked.
What did that guard hear me say, he fretted. He tried getting back to his agent search, but it was no use. He was feeling a sickness growing, something like claustrophobia. Ten years in this cell and he never once felt crowded, even with a cell mate.
We entered the prison and I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t really know what we were looking for. Taking the steps in the hallway entrance bounced echoes off the vaulted ceiling. Esperanza and I escorted one another by our linked arms.
“Esperanza,” I whispered, “How is this visit going to help us find my daughter?”
She paused a moment, then patted my arm. "We will find her."
We got to the front desk, and a guard told us to go up one flight and through the door on the right where we could ask to see the warden. He radioed ahead to confirm our visit and had the three of us sign the log. The next hall was quiet. Franco pushed the elevator up button. While waiting, two guards in the kitchenette area off to the side held a discussion about the 10 commandments.