This wasn’t the sort of place one came to for fun, unless shooting up and dying a semi-slow death was one’s idea of a good time. Ellie peered at the addicts through the gloom of the abandoned hotel foyer, certain that every flight in this three-story ode to misery contained similar specimens.
She moved slowly, cautiously, pistol still in her holster, wending her way through tweaking zombies, trying to ignore the stench of unwashed bodies and fetid standing water. Ellie was not to be dissuaded from her task, however. She was here to catch a monster.
The racking of a shotgun stopped her in her tracks. Her arms automatically raised and she made no sudden movements. A cold, metallic fear gripped her.
Ellie wondered if she were about to die.
I think I have him. Rather, I think he thinks he has me. Pain. He calls himself Pain. A cryptic note, addressed to me, told me where to find him.
Any other day and I might play,
A funeral march for Bonnie Brae.
Why try and run away?
Song lyrics, though I didn’t know that at first. Research and reflection. What was Pain trying to say? It took me a week to figure it out. Ok, maybe more than a week. So sue me.
Bonnie Brae Avenue, Los Angeles. Drugs were plentiful, as were the people who used them. Abandoned structures. Homeless people littering the sidewalks, not even conscious enough to beg for money. And the smells were overpowering.
I surveilled the Bonnie Brae area for two days, in disguise, and then I saw him. It had to be him. A hooded figure with a stride and a presence that no junkie had. He didn’t look around before entering, like all the addicts did.
The waiting is the hardest part. I know, more song lyrics. It’s true, though. I waited for an hour before I went in, still in disguise. Then I shuffled in like a junkie, moved like a junkie, blending in as I scouted out the place.
I heard a shotgun, and a voice. Both surprised the hell out of me.
“Toss the pistol to the right. Thumb and forefinger only.”
Surprise registered on Ellie’s face, though no one saw it but a tweaking girl and a couple of rats. Neither took any note of it.
She did as instructed, still feeling like a shotgun blast was imminent. Her hands shook and her mouth was dry. Chaotic thoughts ran through her mind. Images of strawberry shakes and hamburgers ran through her mind. Long summers, buzzing bees, lemonade and sweat. A childhood that she missed terribly, every day.
“Badge and phone next. Lay them on the floor. Kick them toward the gun.”
Again, Ellie followed the commands, though the voice that commanded it was still messing with her mind. It just wouldn’t accept that the monster she had been hunting for the past three years was a woman.
Ellie turned. The woman with the shotgun shrugged off a blanket. Both gazed at each other, sizing each other up, and coming to their own conclusions. Both were essentially correct in what they saw.
“Are you…are you Pain?”
Ellie peered at the other’s face, looking for something that would tell her she might live through this.
“In a manner of speaking. You may call me Dolores.”
“Spanish. The plural of pain. I don’t think you’d like to be calling me Pain during our time together, so let’s go with Dolores.”
“Eleos Golgola. Eleos, Greek for mercy. Golgola, a Greek surname that can mean many things. Stupid is one translation. You’re living up to that one.”
Ellie didn’t respond, not being so stupid as to argue with a woman who had a shotgun and an attitude. Dolores was pissed off, and the twin emotions of anger and fear did a number on her head.
Dolores took a zip tie from one of her many pockets in her soiled cargo pants and tossed it to Ellie.
“Around your legs, just above the knees. Toss me your handcuffs, and the key.”
Ellie saw a ray of hope. Having her bind herself was a mistake.
Dolores seemed supremely uninterested in how well Ellie had bound herself. This puzzled Ellie, and it scared her a little more. Either this girl was sloppy, or she was very good at this sort of thing. Ellie suspected the latter. Dolores had left a trail of bodies across several states, yet no one besides her suspected that it was the work of a single killer. Not the actions of an inattentive murderer.
Ellie watched as Dolores field stripped her pistol and removed the firing pin. Thirty seconds. It took Ellie over a minute to do the same thing. Dolores then reassembled the pistol and tossed it back to Ellie. Another surprise. Almost like she was taunting her.
“So you aren’t going to kill me?”
Dolores looked at Ellie and smiled. Ellie felt like the smile was difficult for Dolores to manage. She also imagined that a serial killer of Dolores’ brutality didn’t have much to smile about.
Dolores lit a cigarette and sat down on a dirty mattress, crossing her legs under herself and leaning back against an equally dirty wall. She looked for all the world like a lost child of a lost generation.
“Let’s have a chat. Just us girls.”
I had the use of my hands, but I couldn’t really move around much, despite the loose zip tie around my legs. It seemed that I was immobilized just enough.
And then the woman – called herself Dolores – tossed the shotgun at my feet. The bitch didn’t even have it loaded. Ballsy. Maybe a little stupid. Maybe she was playing mind games with me. Definitely playing mind games with me.
She looked very comfortable for someone who had just kidnaped a federal agent. More screwing with my mind. Like she did this sort of thing every day. I hate to admit it, but the girl had skills.
I’m extremely good at tracking down people and getting the drop on them, but she beat me at my own game. The badge helps, but it doesn’t take care of the dirty work. That’s all me, and I was bested by my prey this time. That stings a little.
Weird that she just wanted to talk to me. She didn’t threaten me, and she didn’t intimidate me. Not in the usual sense. No getting in my face or anything like that. Just a conversation. It wasn’t until it was too late that I figured out what she was doing.
It all started with a photograph. A photograph of her dad.
“You know of me. I know you can’t see it yet, but you read about me when you were in your first Criminal Behavior class at the academy.”
Ellie strained to see Dolores. All she saw was the glow of the cigarette.
“Impossible. You’re too young to be in our textbooks.”
Dolores stood and approached Ellie. She reached into another pocket and pulled out a photograph, handing it to Ellie. Ellie took it, keeping her gaze fixed on Dolores. She had to figure this girl out, somehow.
The photograph was faded, bent, slightly torn in various spots, but the two faces in the center were unmistakable. The little girl was Dolores. The man’s face was that of Levi Dunston.
Levi Dunston, the Nun Killer.
Ellie gasped audibly. The sound echoed softly against the dirty walls, dying as quickly as her hopes of escaping her predicament. It all came rushing back to her. The daughter of the Nun Killer was the one who turned him in. She knew a thing or two about capturing a monster.
“You’re – “
“Yes. Dolores Dunston, but I changed my last name. Sagitta. Latin for ‘spear.’ Seems appropriate.”
The case was famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – for its atrocities and for its resolution. Levi Dunston had successfully kidnaped and killed twenty-nine nuns during his ten-year reign of terror. His anonymity was his strength. A world-class photographer was an unlikely suspect, and his presence in all the places where a nun was abducted went unnoticed.
The daughter was forced to assist her father in the cleaning up and the burying of the bodies. She also had to watch as he tortured the unfortunate women, and she had to do it silently. In the end, she drugged her dad and tied him down with duct tape. When the authorities arrived, they found a twelve-year-old girl waiting for them, sipping iced tea and reading a book.
“So…so why did your dad do what he did to those nuns? He never revealed that.”
Dolores lit another cigarette, offering one to Ellie. She declined, but asked for water. Dolores gave her a bottle of water that was in another one of her capacious pockets.
“He wanted them to appreciate their impending death because they were about to meet God. It always angered him that they cried and begged and pleaded for their lives. It made him…cruel. The things he did still haunt me.”
“We know the things he did, after we excavated the bodies. We had three medical examiners who needed therapy after seeing the bodies. These were hardened professionals who had seen what they thought was everything.”
“Mmm. Well, I saw it in person.”
“That explains a lot.”
“Yes. Daddy issues. Like so many of us.”
Ellie gazed at the girl in front of her. She was young. Twenty-seven by her calculations. Dark hair, but it could be a wig. Green eyes, but they could be colored contact lenses. Her baggy clothes didn’t reveal much about her body, but her movements suggested that she was athletic and strong.
“How did you get so good at tracking down these serial killers? You must have resources. Major ones.”
“As do you.”
“Sure, but – “
“Just like you, I do what I have to do.”
Ellie looked away from Dolores, feeling like the girl’s eyes were reading her secrets. The gloom deepened as the day wore on, and Ellie could see little beyond her immediate surroundings. Grease, dust, and dead cockroaches.
“I do my job. The badge demands it.”
“As do I.”
“You make it sound like we’re the same. We’re not.”
Dolores stood up and approached Ellie, and this disturbed Ellie more than she cared to admit. This girl, this kid who captured the man who had terrorized a nation, wasn’t playing by the rules.
“True. You have a badge. Like ketchup, it covers a multitude of…well…let’s call it sins.”
Ellie fidgeted. The girl was too close.
“I walked past you three times before you came in. I knew it was you. You dressed like a junkie, but you didn’t have a junkie odor. No smell of piss or shit or sweat.”
Ellie watched as Dolores wet herself, right in front of her. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the sight, though she dearly wanted to. Soon, the acrid scent of urine filled her nostrils.
“You have to be committed. That’s why you’re zip tied and I’m not.”
Ellie didn’t know what to say. She had never met anyone like this girl. The smell of her urine and the sight of her wet pants amped up her fear. The girl may not kill her, but she damn well could do anything she wanted with her.
Dolores sat back down, her point being made. The smell of urine nauseated Ellie, and the girl’s eyes bothered her.
A fitful silence followed, interrupted by coughs, moans, and the sound of junkies relieving themselves in the foyer. A couple more haunted souls wandered in and headed straight upstairs. No one seemed to care what was going on between Ellie and Dolores.
“So, this last guy you killed. That was messy.”
Dolores chuckled. This did nothing to make Ellie feel any better about her situation.
“Yes, well, a woodchipper is, by its very nature, messy. That is, when you feed a human being into it.”
“But only the bottom half. Why not all the way?”
“Figure it out. You’re a behavioral specialist. Impress me.”
“You sawed off the legs of the woodchipper so that it would be easier to get him in. You mulched him, so to speak, to his navel, so his legs were, in effect, cut off as well. That seemed important.”
Dolores shook her head.
“No. Not even close. I’ll give you some more hints. Did you notice that we had been at the kill site all day?”
“Yes. Well, sort of. There was a campfire, and someone had cooked some meat in a skillet. Was that you?”
“There was also a dead chicken. What do you make of that?”
Ellie shook her head.
“That puzzled me. Still does.”
She looked questioningly at Dolores.
“I fed the chicken in, feet first, to demonstrate the pain he was going to suffer. It takes two minutes to kill a chicken, if you go slowly enough. It broke its wings trying to escape the pain.”
Ellie shuddered. She couldn’t imagine someone doing that.
“I wanted him to see what he was in for. He had to contemplate it all day long. I told him, over and over, that this was going to happen to him at sundown.”
“That’s very cruel.”
“He was a cruel person. Tortured his victims before he killed them. An eye for an eye.”
“Dragging religion into it?”
“Just giving God a head start on the punishment phase. I like helping out the Big Guy when I can.”
Ellie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This girl was more monstrous than she could ever imagine. What bothered her most was this girl used to be human. She probably played with dolls and watched cartoons and sang silly songs she had heard from children’s television programs.
The sun started creeping in through the windows, but weakly. The years of neglect had left an almost impenetrable film of dirt on them. Like everything else in the abandoned structure, despair took over.
“Microscope, telescope, mirror,” Dolores said, sitting herself back down on the mattress.
“You law enforcement types. You’re good with forensics. The microscope. Then you move on to telescope. Looking at the big picture. Who is he? Where will he strike next? What sort of victim is he seeking? Again, very good at that.”
“And the mirror?”
Dolores didn’t speak for a few moments. The sound of dripping water made its way back into Ellie’s consciousness. It bothered her, the drips, because she couldn’t make them stop. No one cared enough to make them stop.
“That one should be obvious.”
‘It isn’t. Not at all.”
Dolores didn’t respond right away. Silence rippled through the heavy, malodorous air, causing Ellie to shift uncomfortably. Why this was so, she couldn’t say. Mirrors seemed so innocuous. Just something to show one’s reflection.
“What do you see when you look in a mirror?”
Dolores’ voice was soft, almost kind; the question felt more like a comforting statement than anything else to Ellie.
“I see…me. Just me.”
Dolores sighed before lighting another cigarette. The sun’s rays had made their way to where Dolores sat. Though weakly illuminated, Ellie could see Dolores’ face. Sad. Careworn. Weary.
“You should be seeing me.”
Ellie didn’t understand. Like everything else about this encounter, Ellie felt like she was two steps behind a mere girl.
“Well, I don’t. I see my face. That’s it.”
“What do you think I see when I look in a mirror?”
Ellie was surprised by the question. It seemed absurd.
“You, I suppose.”
“I see you.”
Ellie blinked in frustration. This wasn’t going anywhere.
“Yeah, ok. Why?”
Dolores leaned forward and gazed at Ellie. Her eyes were hard and blue. Ellie felt like the girl might bore a hole through her head if she continued to stare at her.
I felt my whole world crashing around me when she said his name. How she knew is beyond me. Maybe she was just guessing, but I didn’t think so. She confirmed my worst fears when she provided details about what I did.
The man had to die. He crept into women’s homes and blitzed them. Rape and strangulation followed. The evidence was all circumstantial, but it was compelling, so compelling that I felt like I had to do something so no other woman would meet such a horrible fate.
So I did. I dressed up in a short skirt and revealing top, knocked on his door, and got myself invited in. Shot him in the back three times and left. What I didn’t know was that Dolores had also been hunting him, and that she witnessed the whole thing.
Now I understand everything. Why Dolores left me that note. Why she didn’t take great pains to bind me. Why she was, for lack of a better word, kind to me. She never intended to kill me; she simply wanted to let me know that she knew what I had done. But it was a little more than that.
I can’t pursue Dolores any longer. She made sure of that.
The girl, before she took off, left me with a message, one that didn’t make sense until today. Too clever, that one.
The animal gets what the animal needs.
It’s funny, you know. The humanity inside monsters. Makes us more dangerous. We find reasons to kill, we justify our actions, we rationalize. We think God is on our side, and we can even find Bible passages to back us up. We sleep peacefully at night because we’re human.
My life won’t change because of this little episode with Dolores. Well, one thing will change, starting tomorrow.
Yard sale. All mirrors, free.