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Sidetracked: Chapter 9


The cautious seldom err.


Frustrated, I try to keep my head here and not on Lana, who hasn’t answered my calls since she walked out of the hospital five hours ago. Duke isn’t answering his phone either.

Which will have serious fucking consequences.

My eyes settle on the swat team commander who is inside the interrogation room. The glass between us is a one-way glass, not that he doesn’t know that.

His hands are shaking. He keeps standing and sitting, acting as though he’s jittery and ready to get out.

“His twenty-year-old daughter hasn’t shown up for her college classes in four days,” Donny says, watching him with me. “The roommate says she had to go home because of a family loss. We’re tracking phone calls to see if Plemmons contacted her that way, maybe lied with the ruse of someone passing? The mother seemed genuinely oblivious, had no idea what we were asking so many questions about.”

“Brunette?” I ask him, still studying Lee Norris as he paces the room, then sits down, then stands again.

He’s definitely agitated.

He’s our leak.

“Yes,” Donny answers. “Plemmons taking her shows a level of organization that doesn’t fit with his background, or what little we know of it. He felt like he was fooling us all this time, but when we found him out, he took it as a personal challenge to one-up us.”

I nod, agreeing.

“I’ll go in. See if you can get ahold of Detective Duke. What did the patrols say?”

He tightens his lips, and I study him.

“What?” I prompt.

“The guys said Lana kicked them off her property. I didn’t want to tell you with so much else going on. She drove off and basically told everyone to fuck themselves. You included.”

I slam my fist against the wall, the sheetrock crumbling around it.

“I’ve never seen you lose your cool like you’re losing it now, Logan. Maybe you should take—”

Don’t finish that sentence,” I bite out, rubbing my bloody knuckles on my pants, ignoring the burn. “Everyone is emotionally invested in this. Not just me. Send Leonard in with us. Norris will want to attack me within the first few minutes.”

“You sure you got the head for this?”

“He’ll spill immediately. He’ll blame us for getting his daughter killed. But he may also be the lead to catching this sick son of a bitch. My head is working just fucking fine. Find Lana. Call me if you do.”

I turn and walk out of the room, and head straight into the interrogation room, where Norris jumps up from his seat, glaring at me the second I step inside.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing locking me in here?! Do you have any idea what kind of sub-committee reports I could—”

“Erica Norris is your daughter, and she’s been missing from her college classes for four days due to a death in your family. There’s been no death in your family,” I say, shutting him up.

He turns a scary shade of white, and his entire body goes lax as he falls into the chair, losing the ability to stand.

“You just got her killed,” he says in a rasp whisper. Then his eyes turn lethal as he slams his fist against the table, fury rushing in to renew his energy. “You son of a bitch! You got her killed!”

He lunges, but Leonard shows up just in time, grabbing him by the collar, as I continue to lean against the wall, keeping my expression blank.

“You leaked the raid to him,” I go on. “What phone did you use? Did he give you one?”

“You bastard!” he spits out, choking back a sob as Leonard restrains him. “You knew he had her and still brought me in?! You cold murderer!”

I push off from the wall, moving to the table separating us, and prop my hands on it, leaning over until his eyes connect with mine.

“We had him. You tipped him off. What did you think he’d do with her once she was no longer of any use to him?”

He sobs, breaking in front of me. “He swore he wouldn’t hurt her if I alerted him to any threat. He swore I’d get her back. As long as I kept my mouth shut…he swore. Now you’ve pulled me in here and there’s no chance of that!”

“You’re the reason he’s out there. You’re the reason we don’t have him in custody right now,” I remind him, an icy edge to my tone as I shut off all emotions for what he’s going through as a father.

“He wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for you and your fucking team! You set a killer loose in our state, and now he has my daughter!”

“He’d be in Boston,” Leonard says calmly, “killing someone else’s wife, daughter, sister… We didn’t make the killer, Commander. We’re trying to stop him. You took our best chance away. We finally had him.”

Norris loses it, sobbing so hard he becomes incoherent. His head drops to his arms, and he cries into the crook of his elbow.

It’s possible his daughter is still alive, but unlikely. I have to detach myself from the guilt that tries to wiggle its way in. Casualties are never easy to accept. But in this line of work, they’re always there. If you don’t desensitize yourself from it, you don’t make it two months in this field.

What he doesn’t know, is that the best chance of his daughter surviving would have been for us to raid that warehouse. He’d have run. He’d have tried to get away. Bringing her along would have been too risky then.

She’d most likely still be breathing, and we’d more than likely have him in custody.

I don’t tell him that. It’s better for him to blame us than bear the responsibility of his own daughter’s death. I can at least offer him that much mercy.

Weakly, he tosses a phone out of his pocket, and Leonard picks it up. “He sent that,” Norris whispers hoarsely. “Said he’d let me hear her voice twice a day.”

“Did he?” Leonard asks.

Norris wipes his eyes, nodding grimly. “Five seconds at a time. Just long enough for her to beg me to save her.”

He breaks again, and Leonard walks out with the phone. By now, Erica Norris is either dead or wishing she was. She may have been wishing it for the past four days.

Sometimes, the homeless turn a blind eye to anything going on around them. It’s their survival mechanism kicking in, not their inhumanity. It’s street-survival. They’ve suffered for so long, that suffering more would be too much. But with enough incentive, they’ll spill every word you need.

Right now, the ones living in that warehouse are telling what they know in exchange for cash—unethical, but not illegal. But the info isn’t much.

Plemmons claimed a backroom and kept the girl chained there. He locked it with a padlock when he was gone. Took her with him at other times.

Blood was found in that room. He’s already had his way with her, possibly even sliced her a few times to get what he needed, but not enough to kill her. A couple of suture kits were found in there, meaning he most likely repaired the damage he did with crude methods, just to keep her from bleeding too much.

For four days, she’s endured him. For four days, she’s likely prayed for death.

For four days, her father kept his mouth shut and played a dangerous game he had no right playing.

He should have come to us immediately, and Plemmons would already be in custody. His daughter would be in her own bed instead of wherever she is right now.

I walk out as he continues to sob, leaving him to cry in peace.

“See if you can get more out of him when the first wave of emotion is over,” I tell Donny as he meets me in the hallway. “Anything on Lana?”

He shakes his head slowly. “No. I asked Hadley to see if she could get a beat on her, since Alan is covered up in searching footage for this guy.”

I head straight toward Hadley’s cubicle and find her pounding away on the keyboard. But it’s not Lana she’s looking for. She’s searching the same footage Alan is.

“What the hell? Donny said you’re trying to get a beat on Lana.”

“Lana isn’t my priority right now, Logan. An innocent girl is in the hands of a serial killer, and I’m trying to help save her life.”

I love how she makes it sound like I’m a controlling prick instead of trying to keep someone else from landing in his hands.

“We know she’ll be a target, especially now. If she wasn’t on his radar before, she is since the hospital incident.”

Hadley ignores me, still typing.

“Damn it, Hadley!”

She spins, leveling me with a cold glower. “I’m looking for the girl we know is in trouble. You deal with your girlfriend—who you barely even know—on your own. He’s more than likely not skilled enough to hack the hospital feed. It’s even more unlikely that he’d be stupid enough to have been there, given how organized and smart he apparently is, given our new predicament. Leave. Me. Alone.”

She spins back around, and I blow out a long breath. “Fine. Find Erica Norris. Find him.”

“I plan to. Thank so much for your approval,” she says snidely.

I hate to admit it, but she’s right. I have no business asking her to stop looking for a girl we know is in trouble to find my girlfriend. She’d be safe and tucked into her house with police protection if I hadn’t lost my temper in the hospital. I should have texted her. My phone was dead, and I had no idea someone would notify Duke of what happened.

I didn’t want to worry her, so I was just going to tell her about it later. When she could put her hands on me and know I was okay, see it with her own eyes. Who the fuck is notifying Duke about anything?

“Why would anyone from our department let Detective Duke in on that attack?” I ask Craig as I join at the board, where he’s staring endlessly at pictures.

Even he’s trying to stop Plemmons before he strikes again.

“I wondered the same thing,” he says absently. “His chief called him. The chief is being looped in on the case progression, considering we’re sharing this case with local law enforcement to join manpower. He called Duke as a courtesy to your girl, but said didn’t have specifics to share.” Craig turns to face me. “He had specifics. He just neglected to share, and our guys wouldn’t give her any information or forward her calls to any of our phones. She’s not on your call list.”

A chill washes over me.

“He knew she’d go there,” I say tightly.

“The chief is playing us because he wants this arrest,” Craig agrees. “His department gets the least attention because we’re their neighbors. All the high profile stuff from DC goes straight to us, along with all the outlying cities too. It’s more common here than any other place that we usually wait for an invitation for.”

“So he lets her in on it through Duke, knowing she’d rush to the hospital.”

“After we’d already told him we had local law enforcement guarding the hospital, checking anyone and everyone who resembled Plemmons. We told him we thought he’d want to find a way to observe our pain and see the fear or panic he’d caused.”

“And he wanted him to see Lana,” I bite out.

“And possibly even follow her home,” Craig says, his jaw ticking. “Fucking son of a bitch. I called patrol. They told me what happened. But I’m sending one of our guys to help watch too. We have some we can spare, even though they’re wet behind the ears still.”

At least one person understands that Lana is also a target, and where we know he’ll eventually strike if he’s even aware of her.

I don’t feel as paranoid or crazy now.

“Thanks,” I tell him.

He shrugs. “People will see me as rational on the matter, but find it an abuse of power if you do it. It made sense for me to step in. But I’m stepping in because I see what you’re seeing. Everyone else just sees Erica Norris.” His expression turns grim. “She’s been dead since the day he took her, even if her heart is still beating right now.”

I know this, but I don’t want to say it aloud to everyone else. In the backs of their minds, they know it too.

“Our only chance of saving her was stripped away when her father played a sexual sadist’s game,” Craig adds on a long sigh. “I don’t have to be a profiler to know that much. Our only advantage is knowing Lana is most likely on his list. We should be concentrating all our efforts there.”

“But we can’t,” I say, the frustration welling inside me.

“Because they want us looking for this girl,” Craig agrees. “And Lana is pissed at you. Her car’s GPS was disabled shortly after she bought it. Found that out, unfortunately. And either her phone is dead, or she removed the battery to keep us from locating her that way. Clever if it’s the latter. Any reason your girl would work so hard to cover her trail like that?”

Even I admit that’s weirdly suspicious. “Lana is extremely private. She’s also not as trusting of law enforcement as I originally thought.”

He nods slowly. “Makes sense. Most people don’t trust the government in general right now. If she’s big on privacy and civil rights, it’d make sense. Does she even have wifi? Because I can’t seem to find that either.”

“I don’t exactly take the time to sync up to wifi when I’m there, so I have no clue.”

“Well, anyway, I can’t find her. I had Sarah from white collar crimes helping me out. She said the girl knew how to keep from being found. She saw this a lot when she worked sex crimes. Women who were abused repeatedly dropped off grid and became isolated and private. I doubt that’s the case with your girl, since she seems comfortable in her own skin and unafraid, but I did find a lot of similarities in her privacy extremes to what Sarah was telling me. It’s always the first conclusion she draws.”

My stomach plummets. Nothing about her has labeled her as a victim, but I think back to when I first met her. She was more detached, readily defensive, but didn’t flinch away from my touch.

No. No. My head is too crowded right now, and I’m not thinking clearly. She’s not running from anyone. If anything, she’s too brave, not understanding the severity of her situation.

“Anyone who’d ever been physically assaulted in that way wouldn’t be turning away cops, when she knows she’s a potential victim for a sexual sadist. I want her in protective custody. The protective detail is no longer good enough. They’ll take it seriously if you back me.”

“Already tried that,” he says, grim again. “The director said you couldn’t control your girlfriend using FBI resources. He doesn’t see a threat to her that can’t be handled with extra patrol. He doesn’t see him going after her at all, since he wasn’t even aware that you were involved with someone.”

“As though he’s the most observant person in the world,” I growl.

“We focus on what we have for now,” Craig says. “They’re increasing patrol, but there’s very little they can do if she’s banned them from her property. But due to what just happened with the swat commander, we’re strapped as far as extra hands go. No one with any living family members will be allowed to know what’s happening before it actually happens. That’s a lot of background checks, and then locating him on top of that—”

“I get it. The director wants all our attention focused on the now instead of the possible future. It’s as smart as it is stupid. But I’m worried I’m biased.”

He claps my shoulder. “I may be biased too, but only because you’re one of the few who knows I’m prettier than you.”

I huff out a small laugh, and he grins before heading off. I need to focus. Hopefully Lana left to find a very secure hotel, and removed her phone battery because I suggested he might be skilled with a computer.

“How did this guy know the swat commander’s name or his daughter’s?” I ask aloud to no one in particular.

“Because he does have computer skills,” Craig says immediately, as though it just dawned on him too.

“We need to get our heads cleared and start thinking like we would with any other case,” I tell the room as I turn around. “Right now, he’s in our heads, rushing our thought processes, and turning our emotions against us, me especially.”

“Turning us on each other too,” Donny says as he steps out, eyeing me. “The commander officially hates the very thing he’s always stood for. Plemmons may have a genius IQ that never got detected. There’s a reason he suddenly craved the attention. A man who’s never had something may be content in going on without it.”

“But a man who’s had a taste of something he didn’t know he wanted, will work harder to taste more,” Elise says, shocking us all as she hobbles into the room on crutches, looking battered and beaten, one arm in a sling.

“Damn it,” Craig hisses, going to grab the emergency wheelchair from the corner.

“You try to put me in that thing, and you’ll be wearing it when I’m done with you,” she snarls, stopping him cold.

Her eyes turn to me.

“I want to find this son of a bitch. He’s messed up somewhere. He’s too comfortable with this city. Too comfortable with this entire situation. He didn’t show an ounce of panic until Lisa shot him. Even then he seemed more annoyed than panicked. And if we can’t find anything on his past, it’s because he found a way to erase himself.”

“Let’s get to work then,” I tell her as she hobbles to her desk. “I get first dibbs on shooting the bastard when that time comes,” she adds under her breath, causing my lips to twitch.

As much as I fucking hate it, I have to stop concentrating on Lana. There’s a slim chance Erica Norris will survive this, but I owe it to her to give all my effort to that slim chance.


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