"You have committed the most heinous of crimes, and you have shown no remorse. The court imposes the maximum sentence the circumstances will allow…life without parole."
A woman's penetrating scream drew every eye in the courtroom. From his seat in the back, Detective Mac Jackson looked over at the family of the convicted and at the boy glaring back at him with dark, hate-filled eyes. Even when his mother's cries grew louder, and the uniformed officers dragged away his father–a brutal murderer with a shaved head and a spider tattoo curling all the way around his thick neck–to begin the life sentence Judge Marshall had just handed out, the child's rigid stare didn't waiver. Jackson read a warning in those eyes: this isn't finished.
Detective Shaun Hodges leaned in closer to his partner. Together, they'd brought Bodie Allure to justice for killing a child younger than Jackson's own son. "We did it." The jubilant punch struck him in the side of his leg.
Jackson glanced at the family of the victim, a few rows in front of him, eyes cast down in despair, exuding anguish so raw, he had to close his eyes for a second. A life for a life, that's what they'd wanted. Taking the advice of his lawyer, Bodie had pleaded guilty and escaped the death penalty.
Unlike Hodges, Jackson didn't feel like celebrating. Murder left him weary. The murder of a child left him drained, used-up, like somebody had sucked all the good air out of the world and extracted the energy from his body. Although he'd spent many years on the force, seen some terrible things, he never got used to the death of a child. Perhaps it was the one remaining sense that reminded him he was still human; that this damn job hadn't turned him into a machine.
He nodded. "Yep, we did it." Finally, he got up to leave, passing the victim's family; a broken mother and father, clinging to all they had left: their seven-year-old twins. Tears ran down their cheeks, droplets falling from the end of their noses and onto the children's heads. The twins looked bewildered.
Jackson doubted they understood the significance of today. As he made his way from the courtroom, he thought about Bodie's long criminal history. The man had grown from a violent teen into a brute with no conscience. A true psychopath. Thanks to the guile of his lawyer, a technicality had resulted in his previous crime, a rape and robbery, being thrown out. Jackson couldn't help wondering if the law had failed the Croft's; if Cameron might still be alive had the judicial system done its job.
He drove back to the station in a pensive mood. Cameron Croft had been the eldest of the Croft's three kids. Tall and skinny, he'd made it to eleven. Then he'd crossed paths with Bodie Allure, who'd snatched him from the driveway of his Sacramento home. His neck had been snapped like a twig, only a week after the rape and robbery charge had been dropped. Jackson switched lanes, trying simultaneously to change his train of thought. No such luck. Events soon after the murder filtered back. He remembered the family's reaction; how they'd crumbled in front of him when he'd given them the news that Cameron had been raped, sodomized, choked, and broken. He thought about his own son, Bryce, unable to imagine anything worse than losing a child. Raymond, Cameron's father, had told him he wished he were dead.
An experienced officer in his mid-thirties, Jackson found telling the families a loved one had died the most distressing part of his job. When a youngster had died the stress doubled. In solving the Croft case, he had excelled. Good instincts and an uncanny accuracy with a hunch had enabled him to track down Bodie quickly. From time to time, that sixth sense he seemed to possess even got Hodges spooked, or so he'd said. Jackson reached the station and pulled into his usual spot, chewing on a hunch that Bodie would not fair well in prison for raping and murdering a child. Even hardened criminals detested child molesters and Jackson knew it. He imagined if Bodie didn't, he was about to find out the hard way.
* * *
"Seems like the Croft's got their wish."
"What d'you mean?" Jackson frowned when the Sacramento Bee landed on his desk six weeks later, almost knocking over his coffee. Ready to berate Hodges for his carelessness, the words caught in his throat when he saw the article Hodges'd circled. He read it quickly. "Well, well, well. Can't say I'm surprised." He grinned up at his partner. "He should have pleaded not guilty. He'd have lasted longer on death row."
"Nah, saved the state a lot of trouble," said Hodges, perching on the corner of Jackson's desk. "Saved the taxpayer's money." Ironically, Bodie had been sodomized and beaten to death by other inmates housed in the general population at San Quentin State Prison. He'd died the same way he'd killed Cameron, thanks to his lawyer's advice. "Ironic, huh?" Hodges took back his paper.
"Certainly is. Good to know there's still some justice out there."
"Think the Croft's know about it yet?"
"I don't know." Even if they did, Jackson doubted it would bring them any comfort. Nothing would bring back their beloved son.
* * *
"He's dead. He'll never hurt anyone else." Her father's blunt words echoed in her head, but Jessica Croft didn't feel safe. What did he know? He didn't know about the bad man who came to her at night, terrorized her in the dark, an arm like a tree branch around her dead brother's neck. The vicious, snarling brute that made her wake up in the dead of night in sopping wet sheets.
She couldn't tell him. After Cameron died, no one spoke about the murder. No one spoke about anything to do with the murder, or the trial. Instead, the fractured family withdrew into themselves, withdrew from life, the parents dragging their scared, confused children into a bizarre existence that rarely strayed past the walls of their small, two-story home.
* * *
One chilly evening in late November, twelve months after Cameron's death, Jackson got another call that horrified him. "You're kidding me?" he said to the dispatcher when she gave him the address.
"I'm afraid not. The neighbor reported hearing a gunshot. You better get over there."
Did Bodie have someone on the outside who'd gone back to the Croft's to settle a score? Had someone murdered the rest of the family? Hurt the other children? "Jeez, I hope not," he muttered, gunning the engine of his black and white.
* * *
The twins had been in bed for hours. Sometime earlier, Jessica had woken, hair stuck flat against her sweaty forehead, nightdress stuck fast to her clammy legs. Only babies wet their beds. At eight-years-old, she felt like a baby. The moon's illumination cut a sliver of light through the blackness of her room, and she used it to chase shadows while her eyes focused. Out of her sodden bed, she pulled the wet nightdress over her head and felt around in her dresser for another. Once she'd put it on, she closed the creaky drawer slowly, and did what she did almost every night.
With Bear, her beloved, scruffy, brown teddy, under her arm, she made her way out of her own cream-colored room, that never seemed so terrifying in the daylight, and inched along the hall toward her brother's room, and his dry bed. His bed would be safe. The bad man never ventured into Judd's room. The evil in her nightmares had no face, yet she knew it well. Always at the core, she saw her dead brother, a massive, tattooed arm tight around his neck, his chest muscles open, mouth drawn back, teeth exposed. He made no noise as the scream originating in his diaphragm lost its tone in his throat, and died on his lips. Trapped forever in the inky darkness of her dead brother's eyes and the horror that filled her nights, she wondered how, if Bodie was dead, he could still get to her in the night?
Judd barely moved when she slipped into the bed beside him, so familiar had the ritual become. Gradually, Jessica slipped into a fretful sleep.
The ominous boom jolted them awake. A deep, loud crack bounced off the walls, creating a rumbling, evil echo. Terrified, Jessica clung to Judd. "What was that?" she whispered.
Before he could answer, a chilling scream filled the night air, and then a strange sound came, a kind of wailing; the sound of insanity.
"Come on," Judd urged, sliding out from under the sheets.
Against all her eight-year-old instincts, Jessica climbed out of the warm bed behind him, shivering in the cold night air, and clinging to his old, blue-flannel pajamas. At the door, he craned his neck and peered into the hall. When he stepped out, she followed. Together they crept toward the stairs.
"Who's down there?"
"I don't know," Judd whispered, "but something's happening. Something bad." From the top of the stairs they heard another low wail. "Mom." As soon as Judd said it, Jessica began to sob. "We've got to go down there," he said.
"No, I'm too scared."
Judd sounded miserable. "Me, too. But we can't stay here." Jessica buried her face into Bear's neck. If Judd went downstairs, she would go, too. She didn't want to go; she wanted to run far away, wanted to hide. She knew she'd do whatever Judd said, for she trusted no one more than her brother.
"Come on, Jessie." He stood up with a bravery she didn't understand, took hold of her hand, and pulled her slowly down the stairs.