(NOTE: You may notice I retconned a name and applied it someone else. I think it just sounds better this way. And to reviewers, please try to be specific in your feedback. Single-sentence reviews like "good story" or "I liked it" don't tell you much. Thanks)
"Gabrielle Tyler, seventeen." Jeffries announced, placing a report on the desk around which the other detectives were sitting. "Performed CPR on a classmate at school after she stopped breathing three weeks ago. Her mother reported her missing after she didn't come home from the restaurant she was working at last night."
"So he is stepping up his schedule." Stillman said
"Uniforms are staking out the apartment and the warehouse, in case he comes back." Scotty said.
"He's not gonna do that." Vera said, shaking his head. "This guy's crazy, not stupid."
"Then where's he keeping her?" Lilly asked.
"Assuming she's still alive." Scotty said, grimly.
"If he knows we're closing in, then this is probably his last stand." Stillman said. "I don't think he's gonna do it quietly."
"Well maybe it's time we had a talk with Seth's father." Lilly said. "Maybe he can shed some light."
Stillman nodded. "In the meantime, Miller's talking to Gabrielle's mother, seeing if she knows anything."
Angela Tyler, an attractive, but modest looking woman in her forties, gripped the cross she was wearing around her neck and took a breath.
"Mrs. Tyler." Kat said, giving her a sympathetic look. "I know this is difficult, but can you think of anyone who might have shown any interest in your daughter in the last few days, maybe asking about her saving that other girl at her school?"
Angela shook her head. "She got her picture in the paper, but that was it. I don't understand. What does that have to do with this?"
Kat paused a moment. "We think someone may have targeted her because of it."
Angela put her hand to her mouth at this. "Oh my God!" She whispered, closing her eyes. "I can't believe this is happening. The last time I saw her I..." She took a deep breath. "She was such a smart girl, hard-working, could've done anything. She just had trouble sometimes believing in herself..."
("Russian Roulette" - Rihanna)
Angela looked at her daughter as she pulled into the restaurant parking lot and turned the engine off.
"Honey, I just want to talk to you about something, okay?"
Gabrielle sighed and adjusted her hostess' badge.
"Look, I know you don't like me bothering you about this, but I think you're writing this off too soon."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes but Angela continued. "Look, Princeton is a great school. You have the grades, the academic achievements. You're just the type they're looking for. You know what kind of opportunities you'd have with an education like that?"
"And every other kid my age is thinking the same thing, and they're all applying." Gabrielle answered.
"You've been talking about that school for years," Angela put a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "I know you're scared, honey, but you can't let that stop you from going after your dreams."
Gabrielle gave her mother a sad look. "I have to go in or I'm gonna be late."
Angela sighed and lowered her head as her daughter got out of the car. She watched as Gabrielle walked towards the door, a young man smoking a cigarette giving her a look as she passed him by...
Angela shook her head. "I shouldn't have kept pushing her like that. It was her decision. I just hated the thought of her throwing a chance like that away because she was afraid."
"That man you saw outside the restaurant," Kat said, sliding a picture of Seth towards Angela. "Is this him?"
Angela stared at the picture for a moment, then looked back up at Kat. "Yes, that's him. Is he the one who took her?" Angela started breathing heavily. "Who is that man? Who is he?"
Stillman and Lilly gave a nod to the fifty-something man tying down the boat at the end of the marina.
"Frank Morrison?" He asked, getting a nod in response.
"Lieutenant John Stillman and Detective Lilly Rush" Stillman said, extending a hand. "We met at one of your award ceremonies, the one back in '98."
"Oh yeah, those." Frank said with a groan. "Only thing about the job I don't miss. I was just doin' my job. I never wanted anyone putting me up on a pedestal like that."
"Nice boat." Stillman said with a smile, inspecting the craft. "A lot nicer than the one I got."
The bearded, middle-aged look the boat over and gave a shrug. "Well, we've had good days and bad, but the price was right." Frank then turned back to Stillman uneasily. "Something tells me you're not here to talk about boats though, are you?"
"Frank, have you heard from your son Seth recently?" Stillman's smile faded as his voice took on a more serious tone.
"Seth?" Frank looked puzzled. "I haven't heard from him in ages. What's this about?"
Lilly took a breath. "We think Seth may have been involved in the abduction of a young woman last night."
"What!?" Frank said, recoiling. "Where did you get that idea?"
"Her picture was found in his apartment." Lilly continued. "We also found pictures of three other people who'd been reported missing over the years." Lilly paused for a moment. "We found the remains of the other three a few days ago."
Frank shook his head. "No, that's a mistake! You got the wrong guy!"
"Frank, I know this is hard to hear, but we've got eye-witnesses that put Seth interacting with all four of the victims before they disappeared." Stillman said softly. "Now I wanna bring him in safe, but that'll be a lot harder if something happens to this girl first."
Frank shook his head. "No, this is wrong! Seth had some problems growing up, but he's not a kidnapper and he's certainly not a murderer!"
"Problems?" Stillman asked.
Frank sighed. "It wasn't easy for him growing up. His mother took off after his sister was born. He had trouble making friends. I tried to be a good father but my job kept me away a lot and I'm not sure I always did my best when I was there. I think his sister was the only one he was close to." Frank blinked as his eyes began to moisten. "She was always writing, wanting to a journalist, he always loved that."
"Frank..." Stillman said, gently.
"It was my fault, what happened, what I said..." Frank said, looking tired and far away.
"What you said?" Lilly asked.
"It's every fireman's worst nightmare, what happened." Frank shook his head. "But what I said after, that's what haunts me..."
As Frank's car screeched to a stop outside the burning house, he leapt out and stared in horror. One of the group of firefighters outside rushed over to him.
"Frank, Frank!" The firefighter yelled as Frank rushed towards the house.
"My kids!" Frank yelled. "Where are my kids!?"
"Seth's fine!" The firefighter said calmly. "He got out of there okay."
Frank looked over to see the twelve year old boy sitting in the back of the ambulance, paramedics standing over him. Frank ran over and pulled the boy into a hug.
"Seth, Seth." He whispered for a moment, gripping the boy tight as he could, before pulling back. "Where's Ellie? Where's your sister? Did you see her in the house before you got out?"
The boy nodded. "I... I was scared" Seth said softly. "I'm sorry."
A look of horror passed over Frank's face as he turned back to the firefighter.
"I'm sorry, Frank." The other man could only shake his head and give a sad look. "I'm sorry."
Frank looked as though he was about to lose his footing for a moment. "No.... no. No! God, no!" He then swung back around to his son. "We had drills. I taught you what to do if there was a fire." He continued, raising his voice. "I told you to look out for your sister!"
He grabbed the boy by his arms and shook him. "Why didn't you help her!?" Frank screamed as Seth stood there, horror in his eyes. "Damn you! Why!?"
The firefighter pulled Frank back. "Frank, hey! Come on! Easy, he's just a kid."
Frank stepped backwards, then stumbled to the ground, weeping.
Seth was still standing there, a far-off look of horror still etched on his face...
"The inspectors found out later some idiot neighbor'd knocked over an ashtray with a lit cigarette in it. The fire spread to our house before anyone could do anything." Frank said.
The two detectives said nothing.
"I didn't know what I was saying." Frank continued hoarsely. "I apologized later, but still, there was always something different about him. It's like he was still living at that point. God forgive me, but nothing I said or did after that seemed to help. He ran away when he was eighteen. I tried to track him down a couple of times, but he made it clear he wanted to be alone." Frank looked at the detectives, heartbroken. "I think I lost both my kids that day, but one of them was my doing."
"Frank, can you think of anywhere he'd go? Anywhere he'd feel safe?"
Frank shook his head. "I wish I did. I really do."
Lilly looked down for a moment, her mind racing, when two words passed through her head, just for a moment.
"The house where it happened, is it still standing?" She asked.
Frank looked at her, slightly confused, then nodded. "We moved after that. Developers bought up the whole block a couple of years ago but they went out of business before they could break ground."
Lilly looked at Stillman, who nodded, before turning back to Frank.
"The house." Lilly said urgently. "Where is it?"
In the grungy basement, Seth stared at the newspaper article on the table before looking over at Gabrielle, still screaming through the gag and pulling at her plastic restraints. It didn't matter. She couldn't break them. He hadn't had time to get her out of the clothes, and the gag had been a necessary change, but he was sure no one would hear her screams in this deserted neighborhood anyway.
This is where I should have been along, he thought. Doing it elsewhere had been a mistake.
And that wasn't the only mistake I made, he thought, setting down his cigarette and picking up the gas can.
Gabrielle's screams got louder as he doused her body with gasoline, then raised the can over his head and let the fuel pour out, all over his own body.
Outside the sirens grew louder and the lights brighter as the small fleet of police cars sped towards the house.
Shaking the last few drops from the gas can, Seth threw it aside, then picked up the newspaper.
"You still think you're brave?" He asked, showing her the article, as she continued struggling and screaming.
Seth then turned the newspaper back towards him and reached for the cigarette.
Seth spun around at the female voice coming from the stairwell. The female detective was pointing a gun at him and stepping towards her.
"Help me, please!" Gabrielle pleaded through the gag.
"Let her go, Seth." Lilly said.
Seth looked at her for a moment. "I can't do that."
"I know why you're doing this" Lilly said calmly.
Seth gestured at the struggling Gabrielle. "She's just like all the others, letting them put her on a pedestal when she knows it's a lie. People have to see the truth, that--"
"That she's afraid?" Lilly asked.
"Like you were?" She continued. "When your sister died?"
Seth closed his eyes in pain for just a moment. "I wanted to save her. I wanted to be like my dad was, I wanted--"
"I know." Lilly said softly. "I know."
Seth's eyes narrowed. "You don't know anything."
"I knew someone like you once. Someone who saw people he thought were brave and strong, and hated them for it, who wanted to make them pay, because he wasn't strong enough when he needed to be. That's what this is really about, isn't it?"
Seth shook his head in confusion.
"You couldn't save her. You weren't strong enough or brave enough." Lilly gestured at the trembling Gabrielle. "That's why you hate her, and all the others. But it didn't make you feel better, did it? Otherwise you wouldn't have to keep to doing it, so what makes you think it'll be different now?"
Seth raised his arm, showing the gasoline dripping from it. "Because I'm going to do what I should've done all along, what I should've done here."
"Die?" Lilly asked shaking her head. "That's what he thought he needed to do in the end. That won't work either. All you'll do is leave people with the same feelings you had, the same questions. 'Why couldn't I save him?' 'Why wasn't I strong enough?'"
"I know what that's like, to lose someone I love." She continued. "Someone you'd give anything to save, to be strong enough for her. I know how it feels after they're gone. Don't do that to someone else."
Seth backed away from Gabrielle and collapsed into a corner. Lilly turned away and waved in two uniform officers who rushed over to Gabrielle's side and began to cut her free. Lilly crouched down next to Seth.
"You're just like they were." He said weakly. "They understood in the end too."
"The others?" Lilly asked, looking at him intently.
Seth nodded. "They wanted to help me, even after everything that happened. I convinced myself they weren't brave in the end. But they were." Seth looked at her. "And that just made it worse..."
"You still think you're brave?" Seth said.
"Please." Charlie whispered from his raw throat between breaths. "Please, why are you doing this?"
"You still think you're brave?" Seth repeated. Not waiting for an answer, he pulled the cigarette from his mouth and pressed it gently against the newspaper until a small flame started. As the fire grew, the man walked over to Charlie, holding it closer to him.
"Did you lose someone?" Charlie asked weakly.
Seth stopped in his tracks. "What?"
"Is that what this is about?" Laurie asked, a hint of curiosity emerging from the fear in her eyes.
"Someone you couldn't save?" Victor asked. "Is that it?"
Seth took a step back uneasily.
"That's it, isn't it?" Laurie said, surprised. "You couldn't save someone."
"And you're trying to prove something, aren't you?" Victor said.
"Stop." Seth said quietly. " Stop it."
"It's all right, you don't have to do this." Charlie said.
"Who was it?" Laurie asked reassuringly. "Someone you cared about?"
"Someone you loved?" Victor asked.
"Stop." Seth said weakly.
"It's all right." Charlie said calmly. "Tell me what happened."
"STOP IT!!!" Seth suddenly screamed, throwing the burning newspaper down on their body, which was immediately engulfed in flames. Seth tried to look, but the heat was too intense, forcing him to look away.
His breathing grew quicker as a whimper escaped his lips. Then another, before he finally fell to the floor, sobbing profusely.
Seth laid there weeping long after the fire had burned itself out.
("Superman (It's Not Easy)" - Five For Fighting)
Angela quickly emerged from the crowd as she saw the uniformed officers walking her daughter, wrapped in a blanket, from the house. She ran towards Gabrielle and the two threw their arms around each other.
Lilly watched for a moment before turning to see Stillman and Jeffries walking the handcuffed Seth out of the house towards the police van. As they placed him inside, Seth gave her a solemn look, which Lilly returned, before they closed the door...
Tom gave Amelia a friendly nod and wave as she walked into the diner. She waved back as he passed by, giving her a pat on the arm as he did. She turned to the table in the corner where Charlie was still typing away on his laptop. He stopped and looked up, giving a smile as he saw her. As she looked back wistfully, Charlie continued smiling until he faded away. Amelia blinked back tears and smiled...
In storage, Scotty and Vera stacked the three case boxes in with the others, Vera giving one of the boxes a light punch as he did. As Vera walked away, Scotty turned around where Victor and Laurie were looking back at him, content. The two faded away and Scotty gave the boxes one last look, before walking away.
Lilly looked out over the vacant lot. The house that had stood there had been demolished by the city nearly three years ago, the debris nearly all removed. Looking down at the start of the walkway, however, she could make out the rusted remains of a mailbox peeking out from under the dirt. Barely legible on it was the faded name MARKS. Lilly stared at it for a moment, before bringing herself to turn away, and walk back towards her car.
Stillman gave Frank a nod as he walked towards the holding cell. He stood there silently in front of the bars until Seth looked up, first confusion, then disbelief showing on Seth's face. Seth finally raised his hands, placing his hands over the bars. Frank placed his own hands over his son's. Seth looked down at their hands, then up at his father, a hint of a smile appearing on his face...
Angela kissed Gabrielle gently on the head as she sat down at the computer. The mother and daughter gave each other a smile, before Angela walked off. Gabrielle looked at the screen, Princeton's mailing address already on it, took a deep breath, and began to write.