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“What is wrong with you, Lily?” the woman asked breathlessly, as the dog continued to tow on the leash. Her usual leisurely jog was turning into a sprint to the finish line, straight up the biggest hill in the neighborhood. She felt as though her legs would fall off and her lungs would explode at any second. However, her already racing heart received an even bigger jolt when they reached the top, and blue lights flashed everywhere around her home, and the house next door. The dog no longer had to pull on the leash as Aaliyah stretched out her legs and raced through the darkness to the perimeter that had been set up at the curb with yellow tape that read, “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS”
Neighbors milled about everywhere, trying to see what was going on. She heard snatches of their conversations as she tried to get the nearest officer’s attention. Stone faced, he didn’t respond to her waves and calls of “Officer!” However, she couldn’t blame him, as neighbors were doing much the same.
“I think it was a break in…”
“Do you suppose anybody was at home?”
“You should always invest in a good security system.”
“Is it true that shots were fired?”
She had heard enough. Aaliyah ducked under the caution tape, only to be confronted by the very officer she had been trying to wave over.
“Back behind the caution tape, Ma’am!” he said firmly.
“I’m sorry, but…”
“Behind the tape,” he repeated, carefully enunciating each word.
He put his hand on her shoulder as though to steer her toward the barrier, then froze as a menacing growl erupted from the throat of the large dog at her side.
“Down, Lily!” she immediately said, and the sound stopped abruptly. She patted the dog’s head affectionately to reward her for her obedience. She often forgot how intimidating the Mastiff could be to those who didn’t know what a marshmallow she was.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause any trouble,” she said as she ducked back beneath the tape, “but I’m Aaliyah Wyndham. That’s my house.” She gestured toward the dark cream, two-story structure. “I just need to know what’s happening here. Where is my brother?”
The officer’s face changed from stony to sympathetic in a flash. “Come with me, ma’am,” he said, lifting the police tape.
“Is he all right?” she asked anxiously as they walked toward her house.
“I don’t know, ma’am. I’m just working the perimeter. The detectives will be able to tell you more.”
Their legs quickly crossed the distance between the lawn and the front door. She ran up the stairs and into the foyer. Lily bounded inside, toward the great room in back, barking her head off with glee.
Then she finally heard her brother’s voice. “Down, you mangy mutt! Kitty, is that you?” he asked, stepping into view.
“Derrick, I’m so glad you’re all right!” Heedless of the officers milling about the rooms, she ran across the foyer and threw her arms around her big brother.
“Hey, I’m fine, pud. There’s no need for tears.”
She hadn’t even realized she was crying until he said something. She batted at the tears and hit him in the chest, backing away. “Why did you scare me like that? What is going on here?”
“Hello, Ms. Wyndham,” said a middle-aged man wearing a suit. Frowning had worn permanent lines into the café au lait skin on his forehead and around his mouth. However, the crow’s feet at the corner of his brown eyes also hinted at a sense of humor. Right now, his eyes exhibited a sober intelligence. “I’m Detective Daniel Rodriguez. This is Detective Lee Han,” he said, nodding toward a man of similar age and demeanor. There’s been a break in. Perhaps it would be best if we sat down before we explain.”
“I can’t sit still while I’m upset. Why don’t you come into the kitchen while I make some hot drinks? It’s cold outside.”
He looked questioningly at a woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties, wearing a jacket that read SLED in capital letters on an emblem on the front. She nodded her approval. Aaliyah knew from growing up in South Carolina that SLED was the abbreviation for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, an agency with statewide jurisdiction.
“Fair enough,” he said. Derrick and the three officers followed Aaliyah into the kitchen while everyone else continued working. On the way, Derrick introduced the woman as Sophia Randall, the lead forensic examiner on the case.
Everyone sat at the kitchen table while Aaliyah washed her hands and set the kettle on for tea. As she worked, the detectives talked, exchanging a few pleasantries first. Then, they began.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of the serial robber who has been working this side of town,” Detective Han began tentatively.
Aaliyah whirled abruptly. “You mean the serial rapist? You mean he was here?” The man had been terrorizing the Northeast community in Columbia, South Carolina, targeting women who lived alone for robbery and rape. He would break in while they were away, and lie in wait for them. When they returned, he would sexually assault the women, bind them up, rob them and drive away in their vehicles. The police had been after him for the past two weeks. She could feel herself beginning to panic. He had been in her house!
“Kitty! Kitty, calm down. You’re safe. He’s gone.” Derrick’s voice finally penetrated as he grasped her by her upper arms and gave her a slight shake.
“Dear God, I could have been…”
“Thank God you weren’t,” interjected Detective Randall.
“You’re right. I’m okay, now. Continue, please.”
Detective Rodriguez picked up the thread. “As far as we can tell, he cased this house by breaking in next door. We haven’t been able to contact the owner.”
“He‘s away a lot on business.” she provided.
“Well, apparently, the man in question has been staying there for a couple of days now, watching you, and learning your routine. Your brother tells us that you go jogging about the same time every evening. That’s probably why he chose this time to break in,” Detective Rodriguez continued.
“What we don’t understand,” began Detective Han with a puzzled frown, “is why he would vary his routine. After recognizing certain similarities, we began looking for similar crimes. By looking at crimes with a similar modus operandi that were committed in this area, we believe we‘ve identified the majority of his victims, and he never chooses a woman with a man,” he nodded toward Derrick, “or a dog in the home.” He nodded at Lily who was lazing on a nearby rug.
“Well, that’s easy enough to explain,” said Derrick. “I don’t live here, and neither does the dog. We both moved in to look after Kitty.”
“I’m sorry, but Kitty?” asked Detective Randall.
“It’s a pet name,” Derrick laughed. “Apparently, when Mom became pregnant with Aaliyah, I was about twelve, and began asking for a cat. My parents didn’t want cat with a new baby on the way, so they kept telling me that I could play with the baby when she got old enough, instead. Somewhere along the way, I began calling her Kitty Kat while I talked to Mom’s stomach and it stuck. The only time I call her Aaliyah is when she‘s wearing a suit. I figure that she’s lucky I didn’t ask for a puppy.”
They all shared a laugh.
“Anyway, our parents and I have been asking Kitty if she would move in with me or with them ever since the story broke a couple of weeks ago. Being hardheaded and independent, she wouldn’t do it. Being a lawyer, arguing comes naturally to her, and Mom and Dad started making noises about canceling a trip they’ve been planning for months. That’s when I moved in two days ago. I’m an architect and at the moment, I’m designing a project, so I’ve been able to work mostly from home. There has been nothing to alert the rapist to my presence, because my car is parked in the garage.
“As for the dog,” began Aaliyah, “my parents brought her over last night. I’m keeping Lily while they’re in Europe. I dropped her off this morning with my neighbor, Dr. Shauna Blake, who is a partner in a local veterinary practice. She took Lily in to work with her for a routine checkup and grooming, so I picked the dog up from her house while I was out jogging and took her for a run.”
“Well that explains a lot,” said Detective Randall. “From what we can tell, he broke into the house through a back window that leads out into the yard. He apparently began walking around the house without really trying to be quiet. After all, he didn’t believe that anyone was at home. In the meantime, your brother had come down the back stairwell that leads directly into this room. He heard someone walking around and assumed it was you so he called out. The suspect ran out the front door on foot, then through a couple of your neighbor’s yards, before meeting with someone driving a blue four-door sedan. We suspected that he must have an accomplice, but until now were never able to prove it. From this incident, we were able to obtain a description and a license plate number, and we hope we’ll soon have two suspects in custody.”
“Now the only thing left to do is to locate your neighbor, so that we can notify him and seal the house,” Said Detective Han. “That’s where you come in.”
“Well, I don’t know him very well, because he keeps to himself.”
“Any idea where he works?” asked Detective Rodriguez.
“No, I really don’t. I don’t want to seem mean, but he’s been pretty standoffish with me, though from what I’ve seen of his guests, I understand that he socializes with several people in the neighborhood. Maybe you’d have better luck with one of them.” She gave them a list of names, and pointed out where their homes were located on the community map, as none were on this street.
“Well, I think that about does it,” said Detective Han, giving a card to her and to Derrick. “Call if you have anything to add. We’ll be in touch.”
The other detectives also gave their cards. She couldn’t help but notice that Derrick held Agent Sophia Randall’s hand a little longer than strictly necessary. He held her eyes even longer as he murmured, “There are a few things I’d like to discuss further with you. I’ll be calling.”
“I’ll look forward to it,” she smiled. A woman in her mid thirties, she possessed smooth brown skin, big brown eyes, and the sort of curvy figure that Beyonce‘ Knowles had made legendary. She also had a beautiful smile, a curly mop of natural hair that was kissed with blonde highlights…and no ring.
“This could be very interesting,” thought Aaliyah with a smile as she ran for the shower. A successful partner in an architectural firm in his late-thirties, her big brother might have finally met his match.
Well, let me know what you think! This is a completed novel that I wrote years ago. Your input will determine whether it stays or goes.