Listen, if it weren’t for Angel I wouldn’t be here. I can handle my own. But I couldn’t protect her alone. I’m Maggie. Maggie Jones, twenty-eight blonde, average height and build, exhausted, and resident of Puyallup, Washington. Eddie always called me thin; he loved my Russian accent. Focus, Maggie.
The Detective in front of me wants me to risk everything on a gamble. He wants me to risk the safety I have worked ten long years of my life to achieve for one reason, Angel, my five-year-old baby girl. The stakes of the game? Everything. The room smells like a mixture of latex, day-old coffee, and sweat. The Detective wants me to tell him how I met the handsome, arrogant man that lived next door. I have no choice but to trust him.
“Miss Jones, did you hear me?” I look up from my pale fingers. Detective Joe Callahan has a five o’clock shadow at noon, and wore a rumpled blue suit with his tie loosened as if he had been up all night. He was handsome.
“Yeah.” I took a sip from the thick black sludge with two sugars and cream. A piece of hair fell in front of my face and I swatted the blonde lock away. “I tell you what I know. You help me protect my daughter.”
“We’ve established a safe house for you, and we will do everything we can to help you, Ms. Jones.” His voice was flat like he said the same thing to a number of women each day. I rolled my eyes. Callahan’s cell phone vibrates on the table and he picks it up, touching the screen and pulling something up. His face is masked.
“You don’t know what this guy is like. I called you guys twice and what did I get? Not even a drive by in the middle of the day.” I swung my hands wide and raised my shaking hand to cover my mouth. “The only reason I’m here is to protect Angel. I want your word, Detective, that she’s okay.”
“We’re going to do everything in our power to put him away. You have my word, Maggie.” At my nod he turns a switch on the small voice recorder in the center of the table. “State your name for the record, please.”
“Tell me what happened, Maggie.”
“Okay. Just remember, you asked for it.” I look down at the white lined paper with Angel’s drawing. “Here’s what happened…”
Ted Thomas moved in next door six months ago. At first he seemed like a nice retired army man; he was middle-aged, cute, and not afraid to help out with a fence board. I had my hands full with my daughter, a full work load as a bartender at Maxwell’s, and took classes during the day when Angel was in school. Everything was fine at first, but then something changed. Ted worked in his garage every day; turned it into a wood-shop from the sound of it because the high-pitched squeal of his saw was going at all hours.
That morning was a Monday. I saw Angel off at the bus stop and started pulling weeds from the flowerbeds out front. Ted came out to watch me. It was weird; I mean, who watches someone weeding a garden? I waived, but he just stared at me. Five for Fighting played on my iPod. I loved that song…One Hundred Years…you know the one. I ignored him and yanking the weeds out with a few blue flowers mixed in. After a few minutes I looked up. He was gone.
A few days later I bought a white mailbox at Fred Meyer. Angel and I painted it really nice with puppy paw prints and hand lettering. The next day I went out to take the old off the post, but it was rusted and wouldn’t come off. It made me mad.
I grabbed the red shovel from the garage. The front door slammed next door; Ted was out in front of his house on his cell. I didn’t wave. I was mad. Furious at my ex who cancelled again on our daughter, annoyed with his twenty-year-old girlfriend Missy, irritated at my dead-end job, and peeved about the babysitter who quit without notice halfway through a shift without telling me why. I was fiery at the world in general and my lot in life, and I was tired. I was sick and tired of living in fear.
Some people say that women don’t have rage inside them; I say those people haven’t seen Snapped on Oxygen. Let me tell you, we are quite capable of rage. It festered inside me, and I let it out on that beaten rusty old mailbox with the faded fuchsia flowers. I hated those flowers and everything they stood for. I don’t know how many whacks it took to get the thing loose, but after a while I heard a ping, a thud, and the mailbox fell onto the red carnations.
When I looked up, he was gone. Angel’s school bus came up, and later that day you showed up on my doorstep. Later that night, Angel watched SpongeBob Squarepants before dinner. I was in the kitchen cutting greens for a salad. I switched to cutting the ends off carrots and I heard the crunch of gravel outside. It was odd because the house on the left was empty; the one on the right is the one Ted lived in. I thought it was the neighborhood kids come to play, they liked to ride their bikes in the driveway, but when I looked up through the open kitchen window, I saw Ted. I screamed.
“Sheesh, Maggie. You scared me. It’s okay; I’m just looking for a cat.” He laughed. “God, you scared me.”
“You don’t have a cat.” I clenched the knife in my hand. He stood there in jeans and a long sleeve black shirt. It was over seventy out and too hot to wear that. He had a baseball cap pulled down over his head, and wore sunglasses. He smelled like soap and his hair was wet as if he just came out of the shower. Something was wrong, I just couldn’t pin it down.
“The little girl down the street lost her kitten.” He said, putting a hand on the open window sill. Only a thin mesh screen separated us. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Don’t. Do. It. Again.” I breathed heavily as I heard Angel in the living room laughing at SpongeBob. She began to sing along with the song on television. The hair on the back of my neck tingled and my forearms were covered in goose bumps.
He looked towards the street, and I saw a pair of black gloves in his back pocket. “There’s the little bugger. Night.”
“Goodnight.” I replied. I watched as he walked down the driveway—but he turned and didn’t look for a cat, instead he whistled as he walked back towards his house.
“Mom, is dinner done yet?” Angel yelled from the other room.
“Not yet.” I said, and went to check the locks on the front of the house.
“That’s all of it?” The Detective asked. I looked up from my fingers at him. He had a pen in his hand and took notes as I talked, despite the tape recorder. His hand stilled.
I nodded. “That’s all I know. I didn’t see him again after that.”
“He ran. We were able to track his movements to the Greyhound station downtown. He bought two tickets heading out of town, but never got on the bus. We are checking the airports and car rental places in town, but he’s in the wind.” Detective Callahan pulled a few photos out of a folder. “These are graphic.” “I want to know what he did. You said you would tell me if I came here.” I steeled myself for whatever evils the man had done; the worse that ran through my head was a few parking tickets, maybe a hit and run, but what splayed on the table before me weren’t parking pictures of parking tickets. They were pictures of women—the same woman—me. Each of them were thin, blonde, and in their late 20’s.
“What the hell?” I asked.
“These women have all gone missing from around the Sound. Six in total; all disappeared within the last six months.”
“That’s when he moved in next door.” A chill ran through my system. Oh. My. God. The entire time the guy next door was playing the nice neighbor to me he was doing only God knows what to these women. They wouldn’t have pulled me in here if they weren’t sure it was him, and he ran. Only guilty men run. “Detective, what did he do to them? Are they just gone, maybe they found a new home or maybe runaways?”
He shook his head. “That doesn’t fit the evidence, Maggie. We have recovered four of the bodies. We believe the man you knew as Ted Thomas was a serial killer. He picked these women for a reason.”
“You’re saying he killed them.” I shivered and rubbed my bare arms with my hands.
“He was the last one seen with Melina Andross before she disappeared. We have evidence linking him to five out of the six crimes; but his data wasn’t in our system until we followed up on the peeping tom you called in.”
I looked up to see Angel, my daughter, coming in with a uniformed man. She ran right up to me, her blonde pigtails swinging as she ran, and jumped on my lap, hitting with a thud. The uniformed officer called Detective Callahan over.
“Angel.” I kissed her cheek and pulled her into a hug.
“Did you like my picture, Mommy? It’s you, Mommy. You beat the bad man.” Angel smiled. “Do you like it?”
“It’s beautiful. I love it.” I looked down at the picture on the table. Oh, God, please don’t let her freak out. She’s doing so well with this, and she’s probably going to be scarred for life after this, and you know Eddie will blame me…oh, no. What if he uses this to try and get custody? No, he couldn’t. He wouldn’t. Would he?
“Yes. I love you, Mommy.” She gave me a wet kiss.
“I love you too, Angel.”
“Let’s get you ladies set up for the night.” Detective Callahan came back. “The Assistant D.A. will see you first thing in the morning.”
I woke at three in the morning. I looked over at the neon green digits of the alarm clock while Angel snored softly next to me. She clutched the one-eyed bear in her hands.
Come on, what you heard was nothing. There’s nothing out there that can hurt you.
I heard a whizzing sound through the open window, and a thump out front. Fear shot through me.
It’s just a movie. They’re cops. Cops like movies. It’s probably coming from downstairs.
I listened for another moment and heard another whizz and a thump, then thudding coming closer, up the stairs. The hair on the back of my arms stood straight.
That’s not a movie. Something’s wrong. Get out. Get out now.
I stood and lifted Angel; her dead weight was heavy in my arms. I carried her into the bathroom and locked the door. I looked around; there was a window and a small bathtub with a sheer white curtain. I shut the curtain, turned the light off, and flipped the latch on the window. Angel stirred.
“Shh. We’ve got to get out of here. You understand?” She nodded.
“Okay.” I set her on the closed toilet seat and opened the window, lifted her up to it and she crawled out onto the sloped roof. I followed and shut the window behind me. We could go up and be trapped or we could go down and run for it. I felt a squeeze on my hand, and looked down at my daughter. I could see her clearly in the moonlight. I held a finger up to my mouth. Angel nodded. We scooted over to the edge of the roof and I saw a trellis.
“Piggy back ride.” Angel got onto my back. “Hold on and don’t let go.”
We swung over the edge of the roof and onto the trellis. The wood frame bit into the flesh of my feet. I didn’t stop, but crawled down. We hit the ground and Angel jumped off of my back.
I took her hand and looked over towards the front of the house. I could see the unmarked car in front of the house, with a limp figure hunched over the steering wheel.
Shit. He got to the cops.
I heard movement upstairs in the bedroom through the open window. I took Angel’s hand. We made our way towards the woods in the back of the house that separated this house from the next. We just reached the line of trees when I heard the window open behind us.
“Get down.” I pulled my daughter behind me as I took cover behind a tree.
“Maggie.” Ted called, sending chills running throughout my body. Angel huddled closer to me. “I know you’re out there, Maggie. Make it easy on yourself and come to me. If you make me come after you, you will regret it. Angel will regret it.”
“Come on, baby, we’ve got to get out of here.”
We made our way toward the next property, and I was going to run right across the street, but dark vehicle came around the corner.
“Get down.” Angel and I ducked behind a shrub as a familiar black SUV slowly came around the corner. We huddled behind the prickly shrub down against the ground. It slowed.
Don’t look over here. Why don’t you go the other way? Come on, you crazy animal, keep going. Don’t stop here; please don’t stop. Oh, God, my baby. Please protect my baby…
I prayed for the first time in my life.
No one listened. The car stopped.
“Angel, I need you to run as fast as you can back to the house, to Detective Callahan. Stay in the bushes, and don’t stop for anything. You run and don’t look back. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mommy.” She said. I hugged my daughter tightly. The man was coming closer.
“Go. Run. Now.” My daughter ran back the way we came. I looked around for something to defend myself with.
“Maggie. Maggie. Maggie.” He stood in the middle of the road.
I had a slim chance. I looked around for a weapon of some kind. I made my way over to a shed. Leaning against the wall was a dark shovel. I grabbed it with both hands and held it like a baseball bat. It would work to knock him out, but I needed him close to me and in a battle of shovel versus gun, odds were the gun would win. What I needed was a distraction of some kind.
He walked towards the bushes. I didn’t have time; he would be within eyesight in a moment. I crept out of the shed and hid in the darkness behind it. The door slammed shut behind me. I watched as he came closer. I could see him in the glow of the moonlight; he looked normal—like a guy out looking for a lost kitten, only this time he had a gun.
“Maggie, Maggie, come out, come out, wherever you are.” He reached the door and flung it open.
I seized my chance and I came at him using the door as cover. He turned at my approach, but I had the rage. Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, I roared and blasted out of my hiding spot. I hit him hard with the shovel. The first impact sent the gun flying, the second hit knocked him to the ground, and I couldn’t back off until he stopped moving. I didn’t dare to take the chance.
Sirens blared in the distance. A door opened nearby and a man called out. I couldn’t turn away from his fallen and bloody body. Tears stung on my face like the first time I opened my eyes under chlorinated water.
Detective Callahan appeared. He took my shovel, and held me close as his partner, with gun drawn, checked Ted. He shook his head and holstered his weapon. I looked over Callahan’s shoulder. I could see my daughter in his plain white SUV. I knew we were safe. I knew that my Angel was okay.
“Maggie, you’re safe now; it’s over.” Callahan said.
Yeah, it’s over. My Angel is safe. We can sleep now.
“Is he…” I whispered.
“He’s gone.” Callahan’s partner said.
“He killed the officers at the house.” I shivered.
“We were coming to relieve them when we saw Angel come out of the woods. She told me where you were. You’re safe, Maggie.”
“I…I killed him.” Tears welled up inside me but I couldn’t let them fall. Oh, God, I killed him. What’s going to happen to me? What’s going to happen to Angel?
“It was self-defense, Maggie. You did what you had to in order to save yourself.” Callahan looked over at his partner, who holstered his weapon. More sirens wailed in the distance.
“Are you going to arrest me?”
“No. It was self-defense. You protected yourself and your daughter. Come on, someone wants to see you.” Callahan led me to his white SUV. Angel was sitting in the back seat. Callahan opened the door and she jumped out at me. I held her close. Angel is safe. I am safe. The tears began to fall.
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