Eden rolled under the white bed cover before her eyes fluttered open in the unfamiliar room. She sat up like she had just woken up from a bad dream and rolled her eyeballs around the room. Realising where she was, she released her breath and plonked back on the bed. Oliver coerced her to the hospital before bringing her to his home last night. The prescribed painkillers on the nightstand helped, but still, her side hurt as she lay back down.
She coiled on the bed, the memory of the previous night invading her mind. Why would anyone attack her in her apartment? She wasn’t too friendly, but she also didn’t make enemies, at least not to the point of anyone wanting to hurt her. She heard Stray claw at the door and rolled out of bed to open it.
“Hey you,” she smiled down at Stray as she wagged her tail. “How are you?” She crouched to pick her up. Coming back up, her face was met with another face, causing her to yelp and jerk backwards.
“Ah!” Niles yelped too, startled by Eden’s reaction.
“Niles!” she breathed out.
“This is not the reaction I was expecting from someone who drove like she is Chloe King with nine lives.”
“Oliver told me you are around.”
“You were asleep in the living room when I came in last night,” Eden said.
“Yeah, I dozed off.” He paused to scan the bruises on her face. “Are you okay? Ollie told me what happened.”
Eden clutched Stray closer. “Yes.” She forced a smile.
He knew she was rattled. Who wouldn’t? She did her best to hide it and Niles respected that, so he smiled with her. “Of course, you are. No mentally weak person could drive like you.”
She rolled her eyes and snorted. “Where is Oliver?”
“Downstairs. Come on,” he beckoned and led the way.
Oliver sat on a stool by the kitchen island and had his nose in a business magazine when they appeared on the steps. At least this magazine wasn’t adorned with his face on the cover page. They’d finished descending the stairs before he acknowledged their presence. “Morning,” he smiled at them- Eden in particular, and slurped the coffee from a brown mug in his hand.
“Morning,” Eden replied, suddenly craving a cup of coffee. Oliver was different at home, he was more relaxed. He didn’t have the tormented look shrouded in a smiley visage and more worthy of note, he was wearing a white short sleeve round neck.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked Eden.
“Mum-hum,” she nodded as Stray hopped from her arms to the floor and scampered away.
“I slept well too, thanks,” Niles jabbed.
“I didn’t ask.” Oliver took another swing from his mug, keeping his eyes on Eden.
“I know,” he eyed him. “Cold-hearted human,” he muttered and poured coffee for himself from the glass coffee pot.
Oliver set down his mug. “When are you leaving?” he asked his friend pointedly.
“I am not leaving,” he answered. “Want one?” He lifted his mug at Eden and she replied with a nod.
“Will you keep staying here? Sleeping on the sofa?” he waved at Niles’s unpacked bags in his living room.
“You have a spare room.” He served Eden her coffee in a white mug.
“Thank you,” she said before taking a sip.
“I don’t have a spare room,” Oliver countered.
“It’s a three-bedroom house. Eden is staying in one—
“I am not staying. I am leaving today,” she interjected but no one paid attention to her.
“You have a room,” Niles continued. “There is still a spare room.”
“That is Stray’s room,” Oliver said blankly.
Niles guffawed. “Your dog gets a room but your friend of ten years doesn’t?”
Oliver shrugged and tipped his head aside.
“Are you going to keep calling her Stray?” Eden asked Oliver.
He turned to her and answered, “What else should I call a stray pooch that gives me an allergy?”
Eden forced air through her throat and looked at Niles.
“He is usually like that. Obnoxious.”
“Leave my house today and go back home.”
Niles threw his face aside and tasted his coffee.
Eden’s eyeballs bounced between them. So this was what it was like to be caught in a lovers’ squabble. “I will make breakfast,” she raised her hand.
“That will be a problem,” Niles smirked and opened the refrigerator. He turned to Eden with an I-told-you-so grin.
Cans and bottles of beer were all that were stocked in the refrigerator. Eden blinked at the ice oozing out of the refrigerator then moved her face to Oliver. He cleared his throat and avoided her eyes.
“Don’t you eat?” she queried.
“I do, just not at home. We can get breakfast at the café,” he said. “What time are you meeting up with the detective?”
In less than an hour, Oliver’s Ferrari halted in front of Eden’s apartment building. He parked behind two police cars and a white van with Red Hill Forensic Division written on it in blue. Eden and Oliver made for the apartment on the third floor where they met Detective Danny Kress.
Detective Danny Kress had short black hair with a round face and an average height. He looked Asian or at least, a descendant. They exchanged pleasantries and Oliver was the first to ask what the Detective had found out.
“We don’t have anything for now,” Kress replied. “CSU is still processing the area. In the meantime, I need you to give your statement to,” he looked back, “Officer Payne.” An officer with a brute build and heavy moustache marched to him. “He will get your statement,” he gave the officer a friendly pat.
The forensic team scattered around her apartment, taking pictures and collecting evidence made Eden feel invaded. But it was a better kind of invasion than the one she experienced the previous night.
“Until we know what we are dealing with,” the detective pressed on, “stay in a crowded area close by. We don’t know if this was a simple robbery or something more,” he said, nosing around the apartment. “You said nothing was stolen?”
“Yes,” Eden replied.
“Okay, we will find something,” he assured.
“Thank you. I will be at the café on the second floor after I give my statement.”
“Okay.” He had taken two steps away from them when he heard Eden call him. “Yes?” he turned back to them.
“Finding out who did this should be easy, right? I mean, you have a blood sample.”
The space between Kress’s full brow drew together as he walked back to them. “Blood sample?”
“Yes, I hurt him. Cut his thigh and I think his arm or rib. I dropped the knife,” she walked to the kitchen, “here,” she pointed to a spot on the floor.
Oliver nodded, backing her up.
Kress had been at the apartment before 7 a.m. He was the first person there. He captured the entire scene in his head and he was sure he didn’t see a knife. The CSU noticed a missing knife from the knife block. Since Eden told him on the phone last night that the intruder left with the only weapon he brought, a pocket knife, he assumed the missing knife had nothing to do with the case. “The knife you are talking about, was it from the block?” he gestured to the knife block sitting on the kitchen counter.
“Yes,” she nodded. “He pulled out a pocket knife. I made it to the kitchen and took the knife to defend myself.”
“You didn’t see the knife?” Oliver asked the detective.
“No, we didn’t.”
She was sure she dropped the knife here. Eden glanced at the floor again, there wasn’t even a bloodstain.
“Wright,” Kress called a CSU agent in white coverall and explained the situation to him.
“I will get the UV light,” he said and left them. He came back shortly after and scanned the spot Eden said the knife should be. “Nothing is here,” he said. “No trace of blood.”
“I’m not lying,” Eden said defensively.
“No, no,” Kress raised his palms, “we know you are not. This can only mean someone came after you left and took the knife.”
“And the person knew what he or she was doing. The floor was scrubbed,” said Wright. “There is no trace, the area was wiped clean.”
“Who else did you tell?” Kress asked Eden.
“Nobody.” She was sure of that. The only people who knew about the attack were Rhea, Oliver and herself and she’d bet her life that none of them tampered with evidence.
“Maybe whoever attacked you came back to get it,” Oliver guessed.
“It’s possible,” Kress said. He should have been here last night. Rhea was a friend and she wanted him to handle the investigation personally. She could have called the precinct to make the report directly, but she didn’t believe the attack was random. Looked like her instinct was right. Whoever was brave enough to come back to a crime scene to retrieve evidence and erase its trace had to be no ordinary foe. Now, he was invested in getting the son of a—
“What will happen now?” Eden asked him.
“The minute we have anything, I will contact you,” Kress promised. “Now, you give your statement and wait around. Okay?”
With a nod, Eden and Oliver turned to the door where Officer Payne was waiting. He took her statement and they made their way to Terra café on the next floor. It was close and crowded- all the best to anyone who tried to attack her with Makayla there. She was still beating herself up for not being there last night. Makayla had called her sister earlier that morning to ask why police officers were parading the building. Eden was on her way to the apartment with Oliver when she called and she had promised to explain when she got there.
In front of the café, Eden placed her hand on the doorknob and abruptly swung back to Oliver. “Are you not going to work?”
“Today is Saturday.”
“Don’t you have something else planned?”
He swayed his head. “No, not really. Why?”
“You keep following me. I told you I will come alone, but you insisted on bringing me. Now you want to wait with me at the café?”
“Is anything wrong with that?” He flapped his pocketed hands.
“Mhm erm,” she scratched her nape. He must be busy. She was a bit grateful to have someone by her side for the strange turn of events in her life right now, especially since Jay was no longer in the picture. She would have missed him more during this time if not for Oliver’s presence. However, Oliver did run a company that could probably buy a few countries. “Are you not busy?”
“Of course, I am busy,” he said, throwing his head aside and back. “I am very busy. I am responsible for 18% of this country’s GDP.”
Pride wasn’t in his tone. For him, he was simply stating a fact. “Right, right? Then, you can go,” she said reluctantly. “You don’t have to stay here.”
“I don’t, right?” he stared at Eden who looked away to avoid his gaze. “But I want to,” he said nonchalantly with a shrug.
“No reason,” he shrugged again. He wasn’t keen on the idea of leaving her alone when it’s possible someone was out to hurt her. Although Eden could clearly take care of herself, she also sucked at asking for help. He would offer it anyway and stay with her. “I just feel like,” he grinned and softly nudged Eden aside so he could enter the café.
Makayla screamed Eden’s name and sprinted to her the second she was inside. While Eden explained why cops were at her apartment, Oliver went to the spot he last had a drink with her.
He was gazing at the street through the glass wall when the corner of his eye caught a small figure shifting the seat across his table. Thea lifted herself on the seat and rolled a lollipop between her teeth as she had a staring contest with Oliver. The contest lasted more than thirty seconds before she spoke.
“You’re dating my aunt, aren’t you?”
“No,” he replied too quickly, his eyes bugging out.
Thea angled her head, sucking her lollipop. “I don’t think that is the right answer,” she snickered.
“I am not dating her,” he affirmed.
“Then, do you like her?”
His jaw dropped. He wanted to say no, but he couldn’t. His mouth would not move so he shut it back. He did like her. What was there not to like? She was fearless, drove like a ghost and had the most wonderful skin with sharp eyes. She was strong and independent. And a total badass.
Thea grinned and said, “You like her,” as though she read his mind. She shifted forward on her seat and rested her arms on the table. “You are rich, so money won’t be a problem,” she debated aloud. “But rich families tend to be stuck-up, rude, arrogant and straight-up wicked.” She gave Oliver an assessing look. “Well, you don’t seem to be that way,” she concluded, bobbing her pigtails. “You wouldn’t have been able to come back here with my aunt. But the problem is your parents,” she smacked her chin. “The rich have the cliché and narrow idea that only a girl from a rich family can be good enough for their son. They always oppose marriage—
His brows snapped together, “Marriage?”
“—to an ordinary family. The mothers are always evil.”
“My mother is not like that,” Oliver opposed.
“Really?” Thea beamed.
Oliver smiled and snapped his cheeks back. “Why am I happy about this?” he asked himself.
“If you want to date my aunt, there are three things you should know,” she paused, “except you are not interested so no need.”
He sat up. “What are they?”
She smirked. “It can’t be for free.”
He rolled his eyes and relaxed on the chair. “You peanut-size trickster. What do you want?”
“You are rich and you have connections, so you should be able to get it.”
“What is it?”
“Tickets to Disneyland. Two.”
He scoffed. “Two tickets to Disneyland? Do you think they are movie tickets you can get anywhere?”
“Fine,” he waved his hand. “I will get them for you.”
“Now, tell me.”
“You promise? You can’t go back on your word,” Thea flashed her tiny fingers.
“Okay. Here are the three things you need to know. One,” she balled her fist and flicked her index finger up, “don’t give her plants.”
“She is a good vet but she can’t take care of plants. They will starve and die.”
“Ah-ah,” he nodded, recollecting the dead flower pots in front of Eden’s apartment.
“Two, don’t ever let her cook for you. You will have food poisoning.”
“What?” he chuckled.
“There isn’t much she can’t do, but cooking,” she waved her index finger and shook her head, dangling her pigtails, “it is a no, no. Don’t eat her food. It kills faster than cyanide.”
He thought of the confidence Eden had when she offered to cook in the morning and laughed.
“Three, and this is the most important.” She beckoned Oliver to lean in and he did. “Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, let her drive. Don’t even let her near a car.”
Oliver sighed and dropped his head. “You should have told me that last week?”
Thea raised her eyebrows. “You let her drive your car?”
“I didn’t let her. I didn’t exactly have a choice.”
“At least you were not inside.” Thea studied him and realisation dawned on her. “You were inside?” her mouth parted with a gasp. “How are you alive?”
“I still can’t answer that question,” he rubbed his forehead.
“Let me guess, the car is not working again.”
“Cars. Both are at the mechanic workshop.”
“Two? Wow! My aunt has stepped up her game. Usually, it’s a car per month.”
“Why does she drive like that?”
“Nobody knows. It is one of the great mysteries of her life. She bought four cars within two years and wrecked all of them. She stopped buying cars after that. She destroyed two of my mom’s cars before she also stopped buying them.”
“Wow,” Oliver chuckled.
“I don’t think anyone has more speeding tickets than my aunt. That was how she met that cheat, Jay,” she scowled. “Of course, that was before her licence got suspended.”
“It is a good thing you are rich, you can afford the damages,” Thea said.
“No, I can’t afford it,” he said.
“Sure, you can,” she sneered.
Oliver laughed then a conversation with Eden dropped into his head. “Is it true she is a sociopath?”
“Just 70 per cent chance,” she averred causally. “She can be a little cuckoo sometimes,” she rolled a finger beside her temple.
“Yeah, I’ve seen how she drives.”
“And she could be impulsive but most times, she has a sweet side.”
Oliver’s laughter dripped with unbelief. “Sweat side?” he burst into another laughter. Eden didn’t have a sweet side as far as he could tell.
“What are you two talking about?” Eden joined them.
“Nothing,” Thea flashed her Cheshire cat grin.
“Ah,” she squatted beside Thea and showed her a picture of Stray on her phone. “What name will you give her?”
“Hum,” she swayed her head, “Snowball,” she answered.
“You’ve read Animal Farm?” Oliver arched a surprised brow.
“What is Animal Farm? A ranch?”
Eden and Oliver traded glances and giggled.
“Why Snowball?” Eden asked her.
“Isn’t it obvious? Her fur is white as snow. Look at how round and plump she is, like a ball… Snowball.”
“Uhm,” Eden looked at Stray’s picture on her phone. “Snowball, I like it. Thanks,” she patted Thea’s head. “Her name is Snowball,” she announced to Oliver.” Don’t call her Stray again. Ever.”
Detective Kress walked in and found their table.
“Detective,” Eden said as she stood up from beside Thea.
“Miss Johnson, can we go outside?”
She replied with a nod and followed him. Three steps later she noticed Oliver didn’t follow her. “Aren’t you coming?” she asked him.
“You want me to come?”
“You don’t want to come?”
Oliver stuttered and stood up.
Detective Kress led them outside the café and down the stairs to the pebbled ground. “So,” he said between a deep sigh, “we found something where the intruder jumped down from your balcony.”
“What is it?” Eden asked.
Eden and Oliver exchanged questioning looks.
“Not just any flower,” Danny Kress continued. “This specific flower doesn’t grow in Red Hill or its neighbouring towns. It’s called Calla Lily.
“A family of Lilies,” Oliver said.
“Yes. But we in the force know it as one of the signatures of a serial killer that stalked Red Hill twenty years ago.”
Eden tipped her head forward slightly. “I’m sorry, what? A serial killer?”
“We still need to investigate but that is our deduction for now. It could mean nothing.”
“You said the flower doesn’t grow in Red Hill.”
“The killer has not been heard of in twenty years and he’s presumed dead.”
“Why do you think he is the one now?” Oliver asked.
“Okay, I am going to explain to you because I know you want answers,” he shifted his weight between his feet and gesticulated as he spoke. “Now, as I said, we still need to investigate, so no need to get spooked, okay?” his eyes landed on Eden and she replied with a nod. “Twenty years ago, a serial killer went on a rampage in Red Hill. At first, we thought it was an abduction because the victims would simply go missing, and vanish without a trace. The only thing usually found at the scene of the abduction was a Black-eyed Susan flower. Later, we noticed the pattern. All victims were found eleven days after their abductions, tortured to death in the most horrendous ways– at least for those that their bodies were left still attached to their bones and limbs”
“My God,” Eden muttered, brushing her shoulders.
“A few years later, he started leaving Calla lily. The victims he left Calla lily flower at the scene of their abductions were all kids.”
“Kids?” She scratched her forehead, worry-crease etching on it. “What does a serial killer want with me?”
Two guys wearing a CSU white coverall passed beside them, heading to their van. They acknowledged the trio with a head-bob. While Oliver and Kress did the same, Eden was in another headspace to notice anyone else.
“As I said,” Kress went on, “nothing is certain now. I will get back to you tomorrow. If Black is back and targeting you—” he stopped, dreading what would happen if the monster was back again. The horror he would unleash. “Where are you staying?” he asked her. “I can have some guys watch the place, just in case.”
“She is staying with me,” Oliver announced, too boldly in Eden’s opinion but she had other things to worry about now.
“I— can’t I go back home?”
“No, you can’t. Not until we are sure it is safe. I will have officers patrol your street for the night, Mr Hasting. By tomorrow, I should have something,” Kress said.
“Okay,” Eden managed to say. “Thank you.”
“You be safe,” Kress smiled softly and took the stairs back to Eden’s apartment.
“A serial killer?” Eden exhaled sharply, realising her brush with death last night was closer than she thought.
“He said he is not certain, yet. Let’s wait till tomorrow,” Oliver said to comfort her.
A call from Detective Danny Kress woke Eden from her toss and turn sleep state the next morning. He called to ask if she could make it to the precinct. She arrived at the Red Hill police precinct less than an hour after that phone call, with Oliver sauntering behind her.
On her first foot through the door, she caught sight of the detective marching toward them. “Miss Johnson,” he offered his hand.
“Detective, good morning,” she replied and took his hand.
“Thank you for coming. Mr Hastings.” He offered his hand to Oliver.
Crap. Oliver’s hands remained in his pocket as he stared uncomfortably at Kress’s hand. It was easy to ignore handshakes from people he didn’t know or like. He didn’t mind being referred to as ‘rude’. He would also call someone rude if he offered a handshake and he was refused. It was different when it came to good people like Lessie or the detective. Kress seemed like a good-natured man. He’d still prefer not to watch him die anyway. After twenty years, getting a front-row seat to the demise of a person hasn’t gotten easier.
Eden stepped in, shooting her head between the detective and Oliver. “You wanted me to come?”
Kress has heard rumours of how the Director of SH Group avoided physical contact. For whatever reason, the rumours must be true. “Yes.” He retracted his hand and faced Eden. “Come with me, please.”
Eden’s nose twitched at the smell of instant coffee as they walked further inside the precinct. She also noticed that this precinct was bigger and had a more modern interior than Jay’s station. The incessant ring of telephones reminded Oliver of his visits to the SH customer centre. He never liked the sounds of any ringtone, which was why his phone was always on vibration mode.
They walked through three doors before Kress opened an opaque glass door labelled Unit 2 and went in. The room was spacious for ten people to work conveniently. An office was to the far right and in the centre of the room was a large collaborative office table with four chairs stationed around it, two of which were occupied by a lady and a man. In front of each chair were computers, files and everything you’d expect to find on a cop’s table.
At a corner at the far back of the room, a blonde was filling a black mug with coffee from the espresso machine, while a younger man helped himself with a bagel. They were approached first by the blonde lady. She was slim, tall and athletic. Her hair bounced at its tip as she strode to them.
“This is my partner, Detective Vass,” Kress introduced her to them.
She looked very much younger than Kress, probably his junior on the force. “Hello,” Eden greeted her.
“Hi,” she smiled and shook Eden’s hand. “Mr Hastings,” she said with a surprised look. “You are here together?”
“Yes, hi,” Oliver said which only deepened her look. A look that held the loud question, ‘why is one of the most influential people in the world at a police precinct with a veterinary doctor?’ Oliver didn’t make it his duty to explain any further and Kress continued with the introduction.
“These are my team members,” he gestured to the other three people in the room.
“Mr Hastings.” The young man with a bagel scampered to Oliver, smiling brightly.
“What?” Oliver tipped his head back, finding the guy’s grin suspicious. He was short and should be in his mid-twenties. He had curly hair and pale skin under his baggy shirt.
“He is your fan,” the second lady said, giggling with the second guy. “I think he has a crush on you.”
“This is Dash,” Kress tapped the beaming guy’s shoulder.
“I attended your seminar at Harvard on the impact of ICT on the economic and financial crises of the country,” Dash declared in a single breath. “The lecture was comprehensible, well-laid out and very informative.,” he smiled. “Very smart.”
“You hear that?” Oliver whispered to Eden.
Eden rolled her eyes at his cheeks as they widened in pride. ‘If only he was modest’, she thought.
“Thank you, Dash,” Oliver said.
“Definitely a crush,” the lady snickered again.
“That is Lori,” Kress waved at the lady.
“Hi,” Lori waved at them, tossing her silky ginger hair behind.
She wore a black blazer over a V-neck with sky blue jeans and a pair of knee boots.
“And Jax,” he pointed to the last guy.
“Hi,” Eden waved at him. Jax replied with a nod and flashed his teeth. Eden thought the team members were too good-looking to be cops. Lori was plump and beautiful in her olive skin and Jax was buff like an Italian model with his dark hair and trimmed beards. Dash was also handsome, in a cute and nerdy way which she found adorable. Vass was the queen bee with those beautiful green eyes.
“I deliberately brought you to the team because you may be stuck with us for a while,” Kress said.
“CSU analysed the flower and based on the description you gave us, there is about 80 per cent chance that the man who attacked you is indeed Black.”
“That is the codename we gave him. We didn’t know his real name for a long time because he didn’t leave any evidence.”
Eden’s breath changed.
“Dash,” Kress called.
Dash positioned himself before them with a tablet. “Attention on the screen people,” he motioned, turning to the about 120-inches digital screen on the northside of the room. “Between 1996 to 2000, Black murdered 26 people.” Using the tablet as a remote control, he brought up the profile of the victims on the screen. “He abducted them and left his signature black-eyed susan flower at the scene. He was so graciously called Black because he was always dressed in black and his choice of flower, obviously,” he gesticulated with his free hand as she spoke.
“The black-eyed susan flower means a few other things but primarily, Justice,” Lori added as Dash pulled up a picture of the flower on the big screen.
“Don’t butt in,” Dash sang to Lori and faced the screen.
“Lori is our crime analyst,” Kress informed Oliver and Eden.
“Black abducts his victims,” Dash continued, “torture them for ten days and on the eleventh day, he dumps their body where anybody can find them.”
“He tortured them for ten days?” Oliver’s eyes were glued to the screen.
“Yes,” Lori said. “11 also signifies judgement. Based on records, profilers that worked the case twenty-one years ago deducted that Black sees himself as a punisher.”
“He murders only one kind of people, bullies,” Vass added. “People that are abusive.”
“By bullying the bullies, he believes he is dispensing justice. Hence, the use of black-eyed flowers and the 11 days,” Lori said.
“Seriously guys, I am with the bell,” Dash flashed the tablet in his hand. “Don’t butt in.” Vass rolled her eyes. “Black is smart and highly meticulous,” he continued. “Some believe he’s a genius. He never left any print or evidence during his two years of killing. The first record of his murder was in 1993, May 3rd.” He pulled up the profile of a fifty-four years old man. “A shop owner went missing in Aspen Lake, Red Hill. No evidence, no motive except he has a lot of enemies because he was rude, abusive and a bully. He always hit his wife. The only thing found where he was taken was a black-eyed susan flower. He was found dead twelve days later. Coroner’s reports state that his heart gave out from shock at least a day before his body was discovered. He was tortured to death.”
“My God,” Eden shuddered as the mortifying picture of the man’s mangled body came on screen.
“His next kill was four months later, a matron at a psych ward. The next was three months later… the list goes on and on.” Dash scrolled through the victim’s profiles. “In the mid-2000, his pattern changed. At first, they thought it was another flower abductor, but it was the same person. He randomly kidnapped five children within the space of three months, leaving Calla lily flower at the scene of their abductions.”
“Why kids?” Eden asked.
“Calla lily stemmed from the legend of Hera and Zeus,” Lori cut in. “It means motherhood or to nurture.”
“He kidnapped the children to train them in the way of dispensing justice,” Jax said. Jax saw Dash angle his head at him with his arms folded across the chest. He flipped the tablet in his hand and Jax’s lips twitched with a sneer.
“On October 10th 2000, three weeks after the last child was taken,” Dash continued, “the detectives finally caught a break and found his hideout. He was presumed dead in a fire that broke out during the rescue. One of the children also died in the fire, while the other four were rescued. His body was never found neither was the body of the child—
“Stop,” Oliver intoned loudly enough for them to hear.
Eden turned to him and saw the pearls of sweat that lined his forehead. His eyes dimmed like he was running out of oxygen. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Oliver blanched as pictures from the site of Black’s death flipped across the screen.
“Oliver,” Eden was getting worried about him now. She reached out to touch his arm and asked again, “What is wrong?”
“What date were the kids rescued?” his voice quivered, sweat streaming down his forehead despite the AC tight room.
“Hum,” Dash looked at his tablet, “October 10, 2000.”
Oliver shuddered and palmed his face with a strained groan. It can’t be him, can’t it? He should be dead. “Do you know who he was? Black, did you identify him?”
“Yes. He made an unusual mistake while being chased by the detective in charge of his case back then and left a bloodstain behind. Luckily, he was already in the system for assault. In 1994, he beat a rapist into a coma with a steel pipe. The rapist was a diner owner just outside Red Hill. His blood was found at the scene, but he was never found. The rapist woke up three months later, confessed to raping 3 women who worked for him at the diner and identified his assailant as Jeff Romano. He said he worked for him for only a week and he didn’t know anything else about him apart from the name he told him. That was how we were able to identify him as Jeff Romano. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his real name. No record of any Jeff Romano matched his profile anywhere on the Red Hill database or otherwise. We only have the physical description by the rapist.” A sketched picture popped on the screen. “RPD-CSU still has his blood sample in the lab but his body was supposedly too crispy to compare DNA when the children he kidnapped were found. The entire place was reduced to ashes. They couldn’t get DNA or a print or any evidence.”
Palpitations rocked his heart causing it to beat in his ears as he stared at the place of his nightmare, Black’s cave. Oliver remembered vividly the macabre that went down inside that cave. A wave of dizziness shook him and he staggered.
Eden caught him as he found the edge of a table to support his weight.
“What is it?” Eden asked again. Oliver was terrified. It was hard seeing him in that state. She had never seen him like that and it deeply worried her.
“I was one of them,” he whispered in a shaky voice.
“What? One of what?”
“One of the kids,” he turned back to them after a long inhale. “I am one of the five kids rescued.”
Dash gasped as all of them wore stunned faces.
Oliver loosened his tie to ease his breathing. He was back at the Black’s hideout, mentally witnessing the horrors again. He breathed heavily through his mouth.
“Bring up the children’s profile,” Kress told Dash.
The pictures of the five children and their names were displayed on the screen. Apart from Oliver’s, another name caught everybody’s attention, except Dash who was busy reading out their names
“Phoebe Parker, 10,” Dash read from his tablet. “Micah Strong, 12. Fred DeRuno 9. Oliver Hastings, 12 and Eden John… hum?” He brought the tablet closer to his face, Eden Johnson, 8. He looked at Eden and realised he was the only one who had not noticed her name and picture on the screen.
“That can’t be,” Eden said, moving closer to the screen. “But… that is… that is me. How did… how… what?”
Oliver kept his eyes on the screen, taking short steps toward it. “Her name was Eden,” he said under his breath.
“What?” Dash said.
“Eden Johnson. E.J,” he gasped softly. “How could I forget?” Oliver said and faced Eden. “I told you I have met you before,” he forced a smile. “And it was very, very impactful, contrary to what you assumed.”
Eden struggled with words for a few seconds before they came out. “We were taken together? I don’t remember.”
Oliver held her shoulders and hugged her. “It’s good you don’t remember. I am glad you don’t,” he tightened his arms around her. “You don’t have to remember anything.”
As he hugged her, she felt extremely sad and heartbroken. She had not cried in years but she suddenly had an overwhelming urge to break into tears right then.
“What happened to us there?” she spoke into his shoulder.
He sniffed and stared at her. “You brave little girl,” he stroked her hair. “How could I have forgotten?” he smiled, his eyes a little moist.
“Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to remember anything,” he patted her hair with a warm smile, covering an obvious pain. “I am glad I got to meet you again.”
“This got awkward fast,” Jax whispered to Lori and she elbowed him.
“You don’t remember anything from then?” Kress asked Eden.
Oliver held Eden’s hand protectively and answered for her. “She doesn’t.”
The trauma must have been too much for her, Kress said in his mind. “But you do?”
“If both of you were taken back then, Black may be targeting both of you again,” Vass said.
“Yeah, that’s a possibility,” Kress said.
“But why now? Where has he been for twenty years?” Lori said.
“Hiatus,” Jax sneered.
Lori elbowed him again. “Not funny,” she said through gritted teeth.
“We found Calla Lily, not black-eyed Susan,” Dash said, “His objective may be to abduct not murder them.”
“Yeah, that’s comforting,” said Eden sarcastically.
“Maybe now that he is back, he wants to continue from where he stopped twenty years ago,” Lori’s theory ended with an invisible question mark.
“It’s a theory,” Vass said.
“Who the hell is this guy?” Oliver said. He was too young when he abducted him twenty years ago. He dreaded hearing anything about his abductor and didn’t bother to find out anything about him except what he was told by his parents; that he was dead. But now, it’s different. He had Eden and he would do anything to protect her from him the second time.
“Nothing is known about him,” Dash said.
“The problem now is we don’t have any solid lead,” Kress said.
“We could be dealing with a copycat,” Vass added.
“True,” Lori muttered.
“If he is going after the survivors from twenty years ago, we have to find the others and get all of you into protective custody,” Kress told Eden and Oliver.
“Can you find the current location of the remaining survivors?” Vass asked Dash.
“Sure, gimme a minute,” he fiddled with his tablet.
Eden and Oliver’s heads were spinning. Eden saw fear on Oliver’s face and she hated it. She didn’t have her memories from twenty years ago but he did and from his panic-stricken face, she knew they were not pleasant at all. She had cheated her way out of a painful memory by erasing it. “Are you okay?” she asked him.
His eyes were on their childhood pictures on the screen. Oliver didn’t remember much of his childhood, but he remembered the two months he spent in a dark room with four other kids. That one memory had clouded his entire childhood and he had learnt to build a wall around it, shutting it all in. That was probably why he didn’t remember Eden at first. The eight years old Eden Johnson that led a rebellion against the monster in a leathered apron to save him. “Yes,” he smiled.
“Found them!” Dash announced. “Fred DeRuno died in the fire. Eden Johnson and Oliver Hastings are,” he gestured to them and chuckled awkwardly, “here. Leaving us with Micah Strong and Phoebe Parker. Phoebe Parker, no known address in Red Hill. But,” he tapped the tablet, “She works as a flight attendant at… uhm. Uh, she works for you,” he told Oliver. “She is a flight attendant at Queens Air, one of SH Group subsidiaries. Micah works as a construction engineer at Roan constructions, which SH Group also own 30% of,” he widened his lips, impressed with Oliver. “He lives in building 2, flat 312, Oxford Street. Phoebe doesn’t have a current home address. Her flight is scheduled to make a round trip back to Red Hill in two weeks, but Micah is around. He is working on a construction site near Wimiler.”
“Okay, let’s get him first. Phoebe should be safe till she lands,” Kress said. “Vass and I will go see Micah. Lori, you and Jax should check for anything we might have missed in Black’s case files. Anything that can get us closer to him, how he thinks. We are not the detectives in charge of his case twenty years ago but I want you to know more than they do.”
“Yes sir,” they said.
“Dash, check any digital print of Black. He doesn’t leave any pieces of evidence, but age might have made him sloppy. Check if there’s anything we missed in his record.”
“Okay,” Dash swung into work.
Kress turned to Eden and Oliver. “We will find you—
“We are coming with you,” Eden declared.
“We are?” Oliver asked her and she replied with a definite nod. “We are,” he announced to Kress too.
“No, it’s dangerous to have both of you walking around with targets on your backs. Stay here, while I secure a safe house and a protection detail for you,” Kress said.
“If this Micah Strong was kidnapped with me, I want to meet him,” Eden said.
“I just want to—
“Hold on,” Oliver interjected, “Protective custody? I won’t be able to go to work?”
Eden rubbed her forehead, shaking it. “I can’t believe you are seriously thinking about work right now,” she muttered.
“For a while, yes,” Kress answered Oliver.
“For how long?”
“Until we arrest Black.”
“Which maybe another twenty years. I can’t wait that long. He already stole my childhood. I am not going to let that asshole steal my life again. I am facing him head on this time,” Oliver said. “We want to be part of the investigation.”
Kress chuckled. “No.”
“We won’t interfere,” Eden pleaded. “We just want to help.”
“How do you plan to help?” Vass chuckled.
“I was with Black for two months, longer than anybody. Who knows? I might have information that nobody else has,” Oliver said.
“Depends, will you let us tag along?”
Vass arched an eyebrow at Oliver and sighed. “It is better to keep them in our sights till the safe house is ready,” she said to her partner.
Kress mulled it over for a few seconds. “Okay, but you do what I tell you and you don’t wander off.”
They nodded frantically, grinning.
Dear readers, how are you enjoying Precognition so far? Kindly drop comments and review below. I’d love to hear from you. See you next Saturday.