Ashley leaned against a police car, held her gun with both hands, and wondered how the suspect would try to use the hostage to escape. The man she and her partner, Kimberly, called the Quantum Killer had beaten her twice that evening already. The first time, he had killed the victim almost right in front of her. The second time, he had been able to flee the scene as she pursued. As she stood against the car and took deep breaths in the dark, she was relieved the chase was over. However, she had a new problem: the suspect had kicked open a front door and a woman who lived alone in the house was his hostage.
Ashley was not going to let him beat her a third time. She and four officers had secured the perimeter of the home and they had it under surveillance. She and two of the officers were at the front of the house, and two officers were at the back. The SWAT team was on its way.
Ashley took her right hand off her weapon and tapped around her body to make sure she had everything. She felt her vest, badge, handcuffs, and her hair tied back. She fidgeted to keep herself alert. It was late and she was tired. The seconds were long as she waited. She tried to keep her mind in the moment; but it wandered around the mysteries of the case. The biggest was that earlier that night, like every other night, the Quantum Killer took two victims in two cities in the same way at the same time. It had been an impossible and horrible trick.
The murders had been in the national news, so the suspect had gotten sloppy trying to make sure he would be given credit. He must have thought little to nothing of the intelligence of the police. The clues he had left were more than enough for Kimberly, her partner, to correctly identify the cities in which the crimes were to take place. In fact, she had correctly identified the possible locations of the crimes within a couple of city blocks. The women had split up and each had been allowed to lead a special team of police officers to protect civilians and arrest the suspect.
To ensure the victim would be found quickly, the Quantum Killer had been bold. The two victims had been newsstand sales associates on busy city streets. There had been one or two perfect minutes where there had been no pedestrian traffic and the suspect could strike. The back of the newsstand faced the street, so passing cars could not see inside of it. Ashley had not actually seen the crime occur, but she had spotted a man dressed like a runner step out of a newsstand. He would have blended in perfectly with other pedestrians, but looked odd as he stepped out of a newsstand. Kimberly had not seen the suspect in her city, but she had heard a woman who found the victim scream.
Ashley was snapped back into the moment when the SWAT team arrived. The SWAT teams’ vehicle looked like a mobile home painted black. It was too large for the neighborhood they were in. The SWAT team leader jumped out of the vehicle and walked briskly toward Ashley.
“Detective Ashley Smith?” asked the SWAT team leader. She nodded. “I’m Johnson. What’s the layout?”
“This neighborhood has no outlet for motor vehicles,” said Ashley. “Woods run behind the houses: five acres wide. The home is on a slab and there’s no attic. Front door and garage exit, two windows on each side, one door and a large window in the back. Bathroom windows do not open.”
“Weapons?” asked Johnson.
“A knife. Possibly a handgun,” said Ashley.
“Possibly?” asked Johnson. He scanned Ashley from head to toe.
“We did not have eyes on him when he carjacked,” said Ashley.
“One hostage?” asked Johnson.
“Yes,” said Ashley straightening her posture to match Johnson’s.
Johnson spoke into his radio, “Williams and Jones, I want intel on the suspect and the hostage.” Immediately, two men exited the SWAT team’s mobile home. They disappeared into the shadows.
“We last saw them in the kitchen,” said Ashley.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Johnson dismissively. He looked at her again as if checking that she was a woman. “Is the perimeter secure?”
“Yes, there are two…” began Ashley.
“And under surveillance?” interrupted Johnson. Ashley did not like how he was asking his questions. When she took a deep breath both to stay composed and reply, Johnson’s and her radio chirped. The SWAT team members and an officer conveyed the same message at the same time to their leaders: the suspect had walked out the back door of the house and was holding a knife to the hostage.
Leaving Johnson behind, Ashley sprinted down the side of the house toward the back. She slowed down just before arriving at the corner and prepared herself to aim down the sights of her handgun. When she peeked around the corner, she saw the two police officers on her team aiming their weapons at the suspect. He shielded himself with the hostage and controlled her movements with the knife.
The suspect was only aware of the police officers, and he faced them. Having a side view of the suspect and hostage, she saw she had a clear shot. She hesitated. It was a shot she did not want to take. If she put the suspect down, she would not be able to interrogate him. She may never find out how he coordinated the simultaneous murders. As she considered her nonlethal options, she heard a shot fired from a sniper rifle. The hostage screamed and the suspect fell to the ground.
Early the next morning, Ashley sat in her cubicle doing her paperwork for the case. She could not bring herself to put words down on the standard forms. She knew she could not put it off because she would need to participate in the SWAT team’s review and evaluation that afternoon.
Ashley was dreading seeing Johnson again. He had handled the situation perfectly, and she had botched almost everything. The SWAT unit would be relaxed and able to declare success. She would be able to declare how she allowed three victims: the man who’d been found dead in the newsstand, the driver who’d had his car jacked, and the woman who had been held hostage. All she had to show for that disastrous night was a dead suspect, a knife from the hostage’s kitchen, and a rock the suspect had in his pocket.
Ashley picked up the evidence bag in which she had placed the rock. She examined it through the plastic. It looked to her like a gumball made of orange sugar. She looked for something like it online and it looked like it could be an orange diamond. Given its size, the suspect would not have taken it from the last victim or hostage.
Finding the owner of the orange gemstone would have to wait. Ashley’s highest priority was to find the other killer. She absentmindedly took the gem out of the bag and fidgeted with it as she considered if there could be more than one accomplice out there. She asked herself, how many monsters could there be? How many people were willing to end human lives for vanity? How many were capable of taking human lives for sport? It was her and Kimberly against these monsters.
Ashley held the stone tightly and pounded the top of the desk softly and rhythmically. She fidgeted as she thought about what they could do to solve this case once and for all. She felt stretch thin. She thought, if only there were more detectives on the case like Kimberly and herself. She suddenly felt dizzy. She told herself it was the stress, but then she had double vision. She felt faint and as if she might slip out of her chair. She closed her eyes, leaned back, and put her hands on her head to steady herself. When she opened her eyes, there was a woman in front of her. It was not Kimberly, but someone who she felt she should instantly recognize – like her mother or sister. However, there was something wrong with the appearance of the woman. It was herself. She was looking at herself standing in her cubicle.
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