"Whodunit?": A Murder Mystery One-Shot TwiContest

The Case: 4:15 a.m.

Alias: Bella's Executioner

Beta: TwilightMomofTwo

The Suspects: The usual- mostly Charlie Swan

Liability: Stephenie Meyer is Bella's creator. I am Bella's Executioner.

This story is fairly canon. Set six years after Breaking Dawn, it is a look at what Bella's secret has done to her father Charlie Swan. Rated M: Mature, graphic content. Disturbing images and no apologies for them

To see other entries in the "Whodunit?" contest, please visit the C2:

.net/community/Whodunit_A_Murder_Mystery_Contest/74419/

A/N: It has been six years since his daughter married Edward Cullen. Charlie Swan knew that something happened to his daughter but for the most part he put his head down and just accepted whatever life he could have with her. After the Cullen family left town three years ago, Charlie started to let go of the worries that had haunted him since the day Bella admitted she was dating Edward. A phone call in the middle of the night that leads to a gruesome crime scene will pull them all back up to the surface. Now his duty as Sheriff demands that he discover the truth to protect his town. But can he do his duty while fighting the gnawing question in the back of his mind- "what has my daughter become?" Written for the Whodunit? Contest.

Rated M: Mature, graphic content. Disturbing images and no apologies for them.

And a big, big, big thanks to my awesome Beta: TwilightMomofTwo! She is awesomely snarkilicious!

Please review!

"It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't." - Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

(Forks, Six years after Breaking Dawn)

Charlie Swan.

4:15 a.m.

The call came in around four in the morning. I wasn't sleeping. My wife came downstairs to see what was wrong, why someone was calling us so early in the morning. She had to know it was from the station. She might not have been married to a cop for twenty years, but she knew what kind of dedication I had to my job.

"No worries honey." I assured her as I strapped on my belt. I leaned in to give her a kiss. "You go back to bed now, Suzy."

She nodded and gave me a weak smile. The way her eyes fell slightly made me sigh. I had made a promise to myself when I started allowing my heart to love Sue Clearwater that I wasn't going to make the same mistakes I had in the past.

The air was freezing on my neck as I made my way to the cruiser. I kicked my boots on the doorjamb to get the excess snow off the bottoms. I pulled out and didn't even bother turning on the heater. It was less than a five minute drive to the station—the car wouldn't even have time to warm up.

I didn't bother with the radio either. I just wandered through thoughts of plenty of other nights like this. That look in my wife's eyes was kind of haunting me. Renee had that look in her eyes at first too. She'd worry. Then she'd try to look understanding. And then after Bella was born she'd just stay in bed. I drove her away—I took full responsibility for that. Renee and I were never meant to be together in the first place. I was some dumb kid who believed I could be good enough for her, but she deserved a guy who could love her and not some damn badge more than her.

I was always just sorry she took Bella with her when she left Forks.

There was only one light on when I pulled into the lot. I knew I wouldn't be staying long. Deputy Newton had told me that the body was still lying out in the woods.

I rolled my eyes as the boy spotted me. Michael was a good kid, but he really should have stayed in the family business and took over the shop from his mom. I wouldn't say being a sheriff in Forks was a grueling job. We had a relatively low crime rate. But Mike was still a little too soft around the edges for this life nonetheless.

When a crime was committed here it was usually pretty bad—pretty bloody. Living surrounded by the wilderness the way this town was, that was simply the cold hard reality. Newton was usually the first to puke at a scene.

I swallowed a grimace. I didn't really want to see the kid lose his dinner tonight.

"Go home, Mike," I said, shutting my door and taking the file from him.

"I'm good, Chief. I… I promise… I…" I glanced up from the report and noticed that even in the dark, Mike was whiter than my snow-covered boots.

"You been out there tonight?" I cocked my brow.

"N-n-no…," he stuttered. I chuckled darkly. I wasn't proud that I could look at a body pulled into fifteen pieces and not spew the contents of my stomach onto the dirt, but that was what this job called for me to do.

"Go home, Mike." He didn't put up much fuss. He just nodded—good thing, too, since the pale tone of his flesh was turning green before my eyes. He made it to his car and headed off into the darkness without another word.

I sighed. Forks was pretty quiet at night. Dead quiet.

I picked up the CB from my desk and turned it on. "Dave? You guys all set up?" The three guys of the crime scene unit were always ready to set up at a moment's notice. There wasn't much else to do around here.

"Roger, Charlie." I nodded. I strapped my unit on my belt and headed out in to the near forest.

The flashlight I held seemed kind of pointless to me. The moon was full enough to make the whole damn town look like it was already midday. I held the light but didn't turn it on.

The snow crunched under my boots. I took my time finding the crew. I had grown accustomed to walking the woods at night, alone. Sue didn't know about it. Well, hell, maybe she did but I never talked to her about it. I couldn't really explain it. But the night Bella showed up at my door and told me they were leaving…

I put my hand in my pocket with my shoulders shivering slightly as a crisp wind kissed the back of my neck again.

I was thinking about Bella more and more these days. I missed her. That was to be expected. But lately I had been having dreams about her—my brain talking to me like it had all those years ago when she first moved back to Forks. I found that the winter reminded me of her in ways I never thought it might. The snow was as white as her skin. And the cold reminded me of her touch.

It was ironic. Bella had always been the warmth around my heart. Her eyes were always melted chocolate and her blush was just a proof of innocence warmly kissed across her cheeks.

Edward Cullen changed all that.

I shook my head, pulling my pistol from my hip holster. I didn't want to think about it. Why was I suddenly so interested in pulling up the past? I could hear Dave and Jim talking—heard Dave's old hound barking lightly.

"Chief?" Dave called as twigs snapped under the weight of my boot.

"Yah," I said loud enough for them to hear me. My nose twitched with a smell that instantly pulled flashes of bad memories from my mind. Memories of death. The coppery flavor in the air told me what I would find. I looked down and noticed some red stain on the freshly fallen snow. "Got some blood over here!" I hollered. I heard one of them start back towards me—I nodded over my shoulder to where the blood had lightly dripped when I met Keith and I kept going toward the scene.

Forest murders were hard to get much evidence on. We had big creatures that hunted these woods—blood was something pretty common to find on the ground around here.

I swallowed, as I got closer to the body. I could smell it. It wasn't that I didn't sympathize with Newton when he lost it around stuff like this. I understood-- every human being could understand. The smell of rotting flesh and exposed organs was not like smelling mom's freshly baked cookies.

I found a finger first. Just one. The pointer finger of... what looked to be a young girl. The nail was painted a soft pink.

I swallowed hard. This was going to be a long damn day.

"Finger." I said plainly. Keith was still scouting out the rest of the blood trail to the east of my location so Dave came back with some bags and the camera.

"How bad?" I asked quietly. I could see Jim no more than ten feet from where I was standing. He was paler than Mike.

"You found a finger ten feet from her body, Chuck… Pretty bad." I clenched my jaw.

I hated seeing dead kids. I didn't like seeing any death, but kids were the worst.

"Who?"

"Dunno. Her face was..."

I nodded and closed the distance to the body. You had to think of them that way—bodies. Not people. People haunted you. Thinking of them, their names and such, made you consider your own mortality. That's why Mike gagged at these things-- he hadn't reached that point yet. That point when you detach and say it's just a body.

Problem for me was I didn't want to see this one. I had been thinking about my own baby girl too much lately-- that pink nail on that delicate finger didn't just belong to a body.

It belonged to someone's baby girl.

I looked at my feet as I stepped over the low brush that had concealed the scene from me a moment ago. I took a deep breath and caught sight of the mutilation from my peripheral vision.

"Hey Jim."

"Chief."

We nodded to each other. I took one more deep breath... and then turned toward the body.

"Shit." It just came out before I could process any of what I saw. I was tearing up with some emotion that I couldn't fully comprehend.

She lay in… pieces-- that much should have been a given from finding her finger so far away. But... everything was detached. Everything. It looked like some twisted science experiment.

She looked to be no more than six or seven. About the age Bells was when she moved to Phoenix with Renee.

Her hair was a chestnut brown in the light of the lowering moon.

I turned away from the sight-- my knees going weak and a burning acid churning in my stomach. In that moment, I had more sympathy for the kids who were new to the squad than ever before.

It was like being reminded I had a heart when I didn't even realize I hadn't been using it in the first place. I didn't usually lose it like this at a crime scene. Maybe late at night, after the house was completely quiet, I might sneak down to the kitchen and think about it. See the faces of the good people I read about in coroner's reports. Maybe in those moments when I was driving in the cruiser or watching sports on the flat screen, I might get lost in a backward-looking memory of the brutality I had witnessed in this world.

But even green out of training I had never felt the urge to just pass out before.

All I could see was Bella. The innocent spread of her brown eyes as she explored the world as a child. She was wearing a god-awful pink tie-dyed dress that her mother had made. And she was frowning because she didn't want to leave me. She put her tiny arms around my waist and peeked up—"I love you,daddy," she whispered.

"Chief! CHARLIE!" I felt a sting across my cheek at the same moment that my vision cleared.

I grunted with the effort to pull myself back to consciousness. I could still hear Bella's tiny voice echo in my ears. I love you,daddy.

I shook my head. "Sorry guys," I muttered. Both Dave and Jim shrugged it off. I could see the worry in their eyes even if their bodies seemed relaxed. I really must have seemed crazy lately.

Sue kept nudging me to retire even though I was nowhere near the age for it. She worried about the strain on my heart, since her first husband had died from a heart attack out of the blue.

I stood and put my pistol back in the holster that had lain against my right hip for twenty-six years. I couldn't imagine the next twenty-six years of my life without the weight of the piece there. I wouldn't feel like a whole person if I were to give up this badge on my chest and that gun on my hip.

"Well... any ideas." I tossed the useless flashlight into Jim's tool kit that he had opened a few feet back.

"Too meticulous for an animal... a serial?" Dave mused.

"In Forks?" Keith asked, putting the blood sample in the box next to the flashlight.

"It is the perfect place..." Jim defended.

"People don't even know we exist," said Keith.

"Secluded, you dope.... that's what makes it perfect."

I didn't say anything. I just kept staring at her face. I agreed no mindless creature had done this to her. If an animal wanted to tear apart a body for feeding, it fed on every piece. It didn't tear for the thrill of doing so.

There were three deep slashes across her face. They were red... but dry.

"Blood?" I said crouching down to inspect the scene closely. With as much as I found at the edge of the snowfall, I would have expected everything around us to be tainted red.

"That's the weird thing, Chief," Jim kneeled down next to me. "None. She is bone dry and the earth around her is, too."

A chill ran down my back that had nothing to do with the winter weather.

***

5:36 a.m.

An hour later I was back at my desk at the station and the boys were bagging everything up.

Dave was going to send the blood to the Lab in Port Angeles but that would take a couple of days to get any results back.

I wanted to call it an act of nature and claim some giant dog mauled her. Call it a day. But there was a nagging pressure in my brain that warned me it was something different.

There was also a swelling ache in my chest that threatened I might want to let this go-- and reminded me I might not like what I'd find at the end of this chase if I investigated what happened.

Need to know, Charlie. I repeated my mantra to myself under my breath.

I ran my hand down my face and released a heavy breath. I picked up my phone and called home.

"Hey, sweetheart," I paused and listened to Sue remind me that she loved me-- she told me she was proud of me. "I know honey, thanks."

"How bad was it?" Sue was a whole other type of woman than what I was used to. Renee never wanted to hear anything about my job. She would tell me she was proud of me for the work I did, but she liked to keep an innocence in seeing the world that was shattered easily by everything I saw once the badge went on.

Sue had seen it all. She wanted to hear my stories, not because she liked hearing about what I went through, but to help me work through what I was dealing with after the fact.

"Bad," I all but whispered.

There was a second of silence between us. I was trying to forget the image of a daughter lying out there, she was figuring out the right response for me.

"When you comin' home?" she said it in a way that made me feel better. Most wives would say that expecting something of their husband-- telling him that he needed to remember to hold her needs higher than his job. But the way Sue said it was a welcomed relief. Told me that when I did come home she would be waiting for me and she would make the pain go away.

"I dunno, honey," I said truthfully. I still didn't really know what the hell we were looking for.

"I love you, Chief Swan." she said quietly. I smiled.

"Love you too, Suzy." I hung up the phone.

I was so distracted that I knocked over the pencil cup next to the device and that set off a chain reaction of everything on my desk falling over. An old Styrofoam cup filled with coffee tumbled causing a picture frame to fall of the edge of the desk. "Damn it," I cursed and got up to retrieve the frame. I didn't have to look at it to know who would be staring back at me in that picture. It used to be just a picture of Bella. The one they took at school.

Every year I would check the mail twice a day around picture time. And every year Renee would faithfully send me the newest picture of our daughter. With the exception of the year that Edward left... or "his family moved" I guess Bella preferred I call it, other than that year I put the new picture in this frame on my desk. That year I bought the pictures and hid them in my desk at home. I couldn't look at the proof that something was tearing my baby girl apart.

Bella's face had become washed in death without Edward. She screamed every night in her sleep. That picture was some beacon that reminded me I was the worst parent in the world. That picture made me feel more helpless than anything else in my entire life ever had. There was nothing I could do for her.

The minute Bella met Edward... I was helpless to change any of that.

I turned the frame over. If I were to pop off the back I could look at the slow procession of my daughter's growth. From a gap-toothed kindergartener to senior in high school, there was a memory for each year of Bella's life in this frame. Up to the last picture that was now the only one visible through the glass front.

The picture that was displayed was of Bella's new family. They were all almost too beautiful to look at. There was Edward with his perfect, pale face, Bella with her hauntingly unrecognizable beauty, and little Nessie. I smiled as I put my finger on the side of my granddaughter's face. I ignored the fact that it was the face of a ten year old though I knew she was only three years old when this picture was taken. She looked so happy-- they all did.

They were all dressed up for my wedding. Their clothes just made them look more beautiful. I ran my finger from the smiling face of my granddaughter to the beaming face of my daughter-- it was not the same face I would find behind this picture. If the other pictures were a record of Bella's growth and change in her life up to the moment she met Edward, this picture was proof that her life was set forever now.

She hadn't changed at all since she married that boy six years ago.

I propped the picture back up on the corner of my desk. I knew that if I picked up the phone right now I could talk to Bella in a heartbeat. I was positive that if I indicated I needed to see her she would be in Forks by nightfall tonight. So why did I suddenly feel a kinship to the parents of the girl I saw this morning? Why did looking at this picture make me feel like I knew what it was like to lose a child?

I started when a hand clapped my shoulder.

"Geez Seth," I hissed. "You have to stop sneaking up on me like that."

Seth was my stepson, and a damn fine kid if I did say so myself. He beamed his effervescent smile at me and sat on the edge of my desk.

"Aw, sorry Charlie. I said hello but you were..." he glanced over at the picture of Bella and Edward, and he pouted slightly. "Busy."

"You hear from Jake lately?" I prodded casually. I would never hide the fact that I knew if Bella had ended up with Jacob Black there would still be a changing picture of her in my frame.

"Nah. Last I heard from them they were headed off to Europe. Ness wanted to see that leaning tower in Italy and that other tower in Paris."

I cracked a smile. "Yah, guess that ain't the life for us, huh kid?" He chuckled.

"Nope."

"So what brings you by?" I shuffled stuff in front of me--mindless movement, really. I didn't want Seth to see the report of the poor girl. Not only would Sue have my hide for it but I really just didn't want anyone else around me to have to bear the weight of that crap.

Seth's face fell into lines of serious intensity. I watched him with weary eyes. It was like watching Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. "Don't look into what you found this morning." My head popped back from him like he had just took a swing at me.

"Excuse me?"

"It's...," he searched the space between us for an explanation. Suddenly the hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end. "Need to know."

Any other case any other day I might have nodded and accepted it. But something about this case had already gotten under my skin. I couldn't just look the other way this time.

My fist slammed against the desk. "I need to know, Seth! Who the hell gave you the right to tell me what I do and don't need to know?"

The kid sat unfazed by my outburst. That was the one really creepy thing about Jake and his gang at Push-- they were all so reserved and calm. Reminded me too much of the Cullens.

Seth narrowed his eyes. "Bella," he said flatly.

My heart clenched at the sound of her name. I thought it fifty times in the last hour but to hear someone else say it... to hear it said out loud, it only helped flame my aggravation.

I leaned forward, putting my palms against the desk-- narrowed my own eyes right back at the kid who was now living under my roof.

"Too damn bad… she's not here," I spat.

Seth's jaw clenched. "You won't like what you find Charlie. Leave it alone..."

"And what!?" I slammed my fists again. "Risk the lives of the good people of this town? That wasn't some attack by an animal..."

"Yes, it was."

I froze. The steel in Seth's face made my memories flood my mind. Bella's face was behind my eyes once more.

He wasn't talking about just normal wildlife.

"Need. To. Know." Seth seethed. I was sure my expression told him I understood where he was going with this. He was a... werewolf after all.

I shook my head and rolled my eyes. "You've gotta give me something, kid. I mean..." I lowered my voice and looked around. Everyone around us was lost in his or her own little world. We were in a bubble of secrecy. I looked back at the kid who apparently knew much more than me.

"You guys don't kill. That..." I swallowed as the image of her scratched little face flashed in my mind. "That was something new."

Seth looked down at his hands. After a minute he sighed and looked out the window behind me. "I can't tell you anything else, Charlie. I really shouldn't be telling you this at all. But... I want to protect you and keep you safe."

He bit his lip before meeting my eyes once more. "Don't worry. We'll stop it but... just stay out of it, okay?"

He raised his brows in hopeful expectation. I nodded briskly and stalked off.

The conversation was done.

I told myself I was just going outside for some fresh air, to clear my head. My heart was racing and my mind was spinning and I just kept walking. The sun was rising and I didn't even realize I wasn't wearing my coat. The snow season had just begun so there were constant soft flakes floating in the air but I wasn't cold enough to turn back. Maybe I was cold enough-- mostly I just felt numb.

My approach to my job had always bugged Renee, or maybe it wasn't my job and it was just me. Maybe what bugged her was the man and not the badge he hid behind. But she hated how I bottled everything up. I never talked about much of anything. I talked even less about my job. I preferred to just be alone with my thoughts.

I turned left at the street corner. I wasn't purposely going anywhere but if I had to amble in a direction I preferred to not head into the woods for the moment.

I didn't look up while I walked. I just watched the lines in the sidewalk flow under my feet. I wouldn't like what I would find. It was an animal... Bella had something to do with it.

No. Bella had nothing to do with it. Bella just told Seth to keep me shielded from whatever it was those boys were involved in.

When the pavement ended I noticed dirt with some patches of grass replaced it under my slow stride. The first head stone to come in my peripheral made me stop.

Jack Murphy. I remembered Mr. Murphy. He was my high school history teacher. He died last summer of complications due to age. I never understood that cause of death. It was like saying he was just too old to still be alive.

I put my hands in my pockets and traced the letters etched in the stone with my eyes. So that was what we were in the end? A couple of grooves in a rock shoved in the dirt in a place where people never really liked to visit.

I ran a hand through my hair and left Mr. Murphy to his peace. I had very few words for the living... I was at a loss for words to speak to the dead.

I looked around as I continued to walk further into the graveyard. So many stones with so many letters chiseled into them. As a cop it made me feel so helpless. I knew that everyone lying here wasn't necessarily dead because someone failed to protect them, but it still made me feel responsible. I wished for the ability to dig them all up and give them a second chance.

I hoped that they all had long happy lives with no regrets. That their lives had meaning and love and that if they hadn't I wished I could grant them that opportunity.

I got it. I had an okay start with Renee and a second chance with Sue. And most of all I had a kid. I knew that even when I ended up here, next to my dad and my granddad, I would never fully die. I was alive in my daughter's stubborn spirit and her daughter's curly hair.

I found a quiet spot under a tree, near a patch of lawn that had yet to be turned over for fresh graves. I rested my head back against the trunk that had probably been growing in this cemetery since I was a kid.

I closed my eyes. Exhausted.

And I thought of Bella.

***

I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel. The car was silent but neither Bells nor I were big talkers.

It was quiet but comfortable.

We passed the post office and Maureen leaned out the door to wave. I smiled and nodded as I subtly waved back. She threw a big thumbs-up my way. I rolled my eyes and glanced at Bella out of the corner of my right eye.

She was busy watching the other side of the street so she missed the mail lady cheering me on. Bella would be mortified to know that the whole damn town was excited for me. She would be equally embarrassed to know I bragged about her endlessly to everyone who would listen.

I was proud of my little girl. Everyone around Forks knew it was a very big deal for me to have her back.

"I fixed up the bathroom-- put some shelves in for you." The awkwardness between us only came when I tried to make small talk.

"Oh... right. One bathroom for the two of us," she mumbled quietly.

Damn. I should have started by talking to her about something else. She looked pretty down already. Reminding her that she'd have to share a tiny bathroom with her old man wasn't going to brighten her day.

I smiled as I remembered what might help lift her spirits. I told her about the truck. She proved that though we lived hundreds of miles apart and she was around Renee more than me, she was very me in many ways.

She all but negotiated her truck even after I told her it was a gift. Was I that stubborn when someone offered to do something for me?

We settled her in. It didn't take long. Bells was low maintenance. Not like Renee at all. I took her to the diner for dinner that night. I didn't intend for my daughter to think she had to earn a place in my house with cooking for me. I also hoped she was a better cook than her mother if she did want to cook. I lost twenty pounds in my first year of marriage to Renee.

We fell into a quiet rhythm. Bella went to school, I went to the station. At night she made dinner and I watched baseball on SportsCenter.

It wasn't the same as when Renee was waiting for me when I got off work. Back then I was excited to rush home and see my family. Relax but connect with my wife. Now I was just anxious to get back to Bella. I felt like I lost so many years—minutes of her life. I wanted to see if her hair had grown since I saw her that morning. Wanted to see what I could say to make her smile. Wanted to help her with her math homework or help build her science experiment.

I didn't kid myself, she wasn't a kid. For the most part I prepared myself to be ignored or left on the sidelines. But just knowing she was in my house was more than enough to make my chest swell with pride.

I watched her sleep that first night she was home. It took her forever to fall asleep. The rain was coming down in buckets that night and she had always been adverse to that weather. As a baby I would hold her in that rocking chair that belonged to my grandmother. When it rained, the only way to get Bella to sleep was for me to hum her to sleep while rocking her in that chair.

I sat there all night, until an hour before my shift started. She still mumbled in her sleep. And she still looked just like that tiny baby I held in my arms. She did to me at least.

I was tempted the next night to go back to her room and watch her again. But I decided against it. At some point the parent has to grow up too. Bella wasn't a baby anymore. And she was under my roof. She was safe in her bed.

Everything was fine until the day that damn van slid across the parking lot and headed straight for her. From that moment on… Bella was definitely not my little girl anymore.

From that moment on… Bella was Edward's.

I was standing out on the back lawn—watching the sunset. Bella's hand was on my shoulder.

"Dance with me, daddy?" sheasked quietly. I smiled and turned. She was a vision in her prom get-up.

"Alice works wonders," Ijoked. She put her feet on top of mine and I rocked us back and forth.

I turned her out and when she came back to my embrace she was dressed in a gorgeous white gown. Her hair was piled on top of her head and there was a ring on her left hand that I couldn't take off with all of my might.

"Don't be sad, daddy. I'm happy," she whispered.

I looked over her shoulder and saw him… His face was expressionless. His features were frozen in the same form as they had been all the years I knew him. His gold eyes watched me with a promise I wished I could trust.

Unconsciously my hands gripped around Bella's waist. He'd have to fight me for her.

His eyes narrowed.

"Daddy…," Bella's voice drew my attention back to her. My heart broke to find Edward's Bella standing in front of me. Her skin drained of life and her eyes now as gold as his.

"You have to let me go…,"she warned.

I shook my head. "I'll fix you… I… I'll protect you…"She shook her head at my words.

"Let me go…" Her voice was restrained

I looked back to find Edward gone. My hands tightened on Bella. Hope swelled inside of me… maybe this time…

I looked down. Her eyes were practically glowing red. A growl was rumbling in her chest. Before I could say anything she lunged toward my throat.

"NO!" I screamed. I woke up in the graveyard. My chest was pounding with fear and I was covered in a thin sheet of white from the lightly falling snow.

I sighed and slammed my head back against the tree. Tears threatened to fall. I choked them back. I didn't really know what I was crying for.

Bella had a good life with Edward. She was happy.

What was this constant worry in my mind for?

***

12:45 p.m.

Lunch. At the diner. A burger and a side salad. Bella would tell me to cut back on the red meat but my compromise was the salad. I felt like a damn cow while I chewed the lettuce but I just kept quiet and watched the world pass by the window.

The regulars were hanging around their usual spots. Everyone talking about new versions of old things. The gas station was getting new pumps. Again. It happened every five years or so. It was apparently worthy of diner gossip.

I swallowed and noticed a big red classic truck drive down the street. It was a Ford, not a Chevy, but it was enough to end my appetite.

I headed out into the afternoon sun and back to the station.

***

4:56 p.m.

I was finishing up some back-logged paper work, keeping myself busy. Remembering mundane facts from weeks in the past was something that kept my mind occupied. Some of the facts were vague since my memory wasn't what it used to be.

Dave tossed a file on my desk. I glanced up at him. I knew it was about the girl this morning.

"She's not from around her. Found her on a missing-persons database from Vancouver."

"Canada? They brought her across the border to..." I shook my head and opened the file. There was a part of my mind that was telling me not to. The memory of Seth Clearwater staring me down at this very desk and telling me I would regret going any further into this investigation.

But I had to see what she looked like.

My chest squeezed at the picture of a little kindergartener—her hair in dark blond pigtails, her right front tooth missing and her smile shining all the way to her eyes. She wore a soft baby blue sweater with white buttons down the front.

I closed the file before even reading her name.

Seth was right. I regretted it. I didn't regret it because I suddenly didn't want anything to do with it. I regretted it because I knew the second I saw that little girl's innocent face that I couldn't walk away from this.

Even if the battle would be fruitless from the get go, sometimes you just had to rush into the fight anyway. I knew I couldn't change anything to help her but that didn't mean I would just sit back and wait for the next girl to be harmed.

I had done that already...

I glanced at the frame on the corner of my desk; it had fallen over again. The haunting image of my daughter and her family was covered while the promise of her matching innocent picture of her first year in school lay concealed just under the back that faced me.

I took it as a sign.

"So what do we have?"

"First, she wasn't kidnapped in Canada, her family was vacationing in the States and she was reported missing two days ago near Seattle."

I frowned. "Okay?"

Dave smiled. "That blood you found... it's not hers." I shrugged. I wasn't going to question how he got results that soon, but I failed to see why he was so happy. That probably meant the blood belonged to a hunter or an animal that had been hunted.

"So....," I prompted.

Dave's smile grew. "It belonged to a young man with a warrant out."

"What..."

"Murder. He was still a minor. He had two counts against him in California and one in Oregon. Guess we can see he's was just moving up the coast."

I pulled out the rap sheet on the kid. Jesus, he was only seventeen. Bella's face was in my head again-- her new face.

"You don't think it's just a little convenient?" I didn't recognize his face or his name. Dave scowled.

"What's convenient? That he killed a little girl?"

I shook my head. "No. I just mean that we found his blood and it flagged so fast."

"Yah... well that's one of the things. His little spree started only a week ago. FBI and all that was looking for him. But they claim they got him. Said there was a stand off and he was taken down."

I shrugged. "Then why am I looking at this?"

Dave sighed. "Because he was buried three days ago in his hometown-- Chicago."

"When did she..."

"The little girl died last night-- not even fifteen hours ago and the blood that belongs to this creep, that we found not twenty feet from her body, was just as fresh."

"Who've you sent out?"

"Newton and Reynolds asked around earlier today, no one really recognized him. Some folks said they thought they saw a guy about his age hanging out around the bridge near the turn for the old Cullen place."

My head snapped up. "Why would he be there?"

"Empty. I mean... I hear they have some high-grade security systems. Newton's been there before and he says he doesn't believe the place can be penetrated but..."

I nodded. "Take the guys and make a sweep of anything close to the woods," I told him.

Dave's face was confused as he took the file back from me.

"I'll go to the Cullen place."

"Alone?" he asked.

I nodded. Though I was sure I wouldn't be.

***

5:21 p.m.

Winter hours meant the sun was already starting to set when I turned on the drive to the Cullen house. I knew better than to come here without backup. This had to be where the kid was hiding out.

I had made a promise to Seth to stay out of it. I'd made said promise only because I knew this whole damn thing had to center around Seth's other life. I was keeping my guys safe by keeping them away from here.

But I was still the Sheriff of this town—it was still my personal duty to protect and serve.

I took my gun out and fished around for a flashlight. Naturally tonight the sky was covered in thick clouds. I couldn't see the moon or the stars. All I could find was a tiny key ring light that I used when fishing at night.

"Great," I muttered under my breath.

I eased out of the car. I really didn't want to run into Seth and Sam and all those guys because I knew they'd be pissed. But I couldn't help but hope for some backup.

A constant chill was running down my back. If what Dave found was true… I didn't have the slightest idea what to expect here.

The house was dead silent as I walked around to the back door. There was no sign of anything around. I noticed that I didn't even hear the sounds of nature—even in winter you heard some birds and creatures in the woods. The air was void of all sound, except the beating of my heart and the quiet puffs of my breaths.

I had a key to the house that Bella gave me that night she left town. She told me the house was in the family and that meant it belonged to me as much as them. I'd never stepped foot on the property since they left.

I had told myself it was simply because there was nothing I needed up here. As I choked back tears I didn't even process, I realized I didn't come here because it reminded me too much of Bella.

The house was dark and empty.

Quiet.

I didn't know my way around the place. I took a guess and headed toward what I believed was the kitchen. I was out of my element here. I assumed there would be a basement or a cellar. I had watched enough movies with serial killers in them to guess he would be hiding in a basement.

I could see an orange glow from the corner around the end of the kitchen.

Shit. I took the safety off and headed toward the light. There was a door that led downstairs—to a basement. The light seemed to be coming from down there. I made one quick sweep of the dark room around me.

The basement air was stale and cold. I could smell it the second I reached the first step. Copper. Blood.

Bad things went on down here.

It was stupid to head downstairs without going back to the car and calling in support. Finding Seth's number and alerting the paranormal Scooby Gang to come out and help me. But some morbid obsession had me pushing down in to the space.

I was scared in the majority of my mind, stubbornly proud to do my duty in the rest. And the image of my daughter—red eyes and bared teeth - was flashing across every thought I had.

It was dark but for the winking light of the ready to burn out light bulb suspended from the ceiling by a single electrical chord. It looked as though the fixture had been torn clean off from the ceiling. This place was not like this when the Cullens lived here—this had to be the spot where the bastard killed that little girl.

I could hear water dripping—scratch that, as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light I could see and smell the evidence of pooled and dried blood. Some of it was still fresh and dripping from a table in the middle of the room.

There wasn't anything else down here. No tools. No souvenirs. No proof that anything but blood-letting had happened. Not even instruments to cut bodies with.

There was a shuffle of noise on the floor above me-- I made for the door, bolting up the stairs as fast as my middle-aged legs could carry me. I saw the door closing as I made it to the last five steps. I leaped and slammed the full force of my body weight against the door.

The person on the other side lost their footing and I pinned them beneath me as soon as I was through the doorway.

I shouted at him-- started screaming Mirandas when I wasn't even sure who or what I was sitting on.

I turned him over with all the strength I had in my tired arms. It was the boy… the one the feds said was dead. It didn't seem to bother him that I wasn't trying to talk to him. All he did was snarl and thrash.

He wasn't human.

He couldn't have been.

I looked at the blood running down the side of his cheek from a deep gash in his forehead. The door had cut him when I blocked him from closing it.

Blood.

Actual red blood running down his face-- produced from inside his body and bled out just like any normal human.

Just like the blood from that defenseless little girl had run all over the floor beneath where we sat.

My eyes and my hands could see the truth. He was human. But my heart and brain were saying two different things. How could a human being do the things he was doing? How could a creature with the potential for so much compassion and good do something so animalistic and evil?

I tried to cuff him, and he took the advantage and kicked me off of him. I landed with a grunt—my head slamming into the cabinets.

He growled like Edward's Bella had in my dream. But something was off.

There was blood running down his face and his eyes… his eyes were pale and green. Not blood red.

I braced myself for the fight. My gun was a foot to my right. Once he moved I would make a move for the weapon. He would get a few hits in but I could turn the situation around if I could just reach the gun.

The boy continued to glare at me and snarl, with saliva dripping from his lips and teeth like he was a rabid dog. But he didn't make a move toward me.

My heart was pounding in my ears. My brain was in overload. I just kept hearing Bella's voice in my head—Let me go daddy…. Let me go.

I couldn't. I had to fight for her. Fight to keep her safe. It didn't matter where she was… this bastard had to be stopped so that I knew he could never touch her.

My breath was choppy as I wracked my brain to distract the boy. A low rumble in the darkness behind him made my heart stop completely.

I looked up to see a pair of blazing red eyes.

The very air in the kitchen shifted—it was freezing in seconds. I was locked in place. I couldn't move even if I had wanted to. I panted as I saw the eyes moving closer.

Skin whiter than the snow that was probably still falling outside came into view… I braced myself. Irrational panic was telling me to prepare myself to kill something I loved very much. Made me see my little girl walking toward me.

I was so distracted that when the boy started inching closer to me I almost missed it. I couldn't fight him.

I wanted to.

I had to.

But I was torn. There was the unnatural evil hidden in the shadows—the fear of the unknown that was gripping me and holding me in place. And then there was the knowledge that though this boy in front of me was a monster, he was human. He had rights. Until he hurt me I had a duty to bring him in alive.

The blood gushing down his face dripped across his nose, and he froze. He sniffed the air as if the copper of blood was ambrosia. His eyes rolled back in his head and his tongue whipped out to taste his own blood that was pooling on his upper lip.

My stomach turned. My brain seized. And on instinct I leaped for the gun.

Everything from that moment on was a blur and fueled with adrenaline so thick that I would later remember the entire night as one dark haze.

The demon in the corner never got close enough for me to see. The window behind me shattered and four large wolves hurdled over me just as I reached the gun. I turned on the boy who was lost in blood lust and emptied my clip.

Until this day I had always closed my eyes when I fired my weapon. I was an excellent marksman but I always lined up my shot and closed my eyes as I squeezed the trigger.

Until this day I'd never seen the life drain from the creatures I'd killed.

I kept my eyes wide with the need to see the evil seep from the would-be innocent life of the child I'd just shot to death. I focused on his death as I heard the unmistakable sound of flesh ripping and bones breaking—you didn't grow up hunting in these woods all your life and not recognize those sounds.

I don't know how long it took for my brain to come back around to working. I just kept watching the blood. I couldn't hear too much from the wolves anymore. I heard some high popping sounds and then some hushed voices.

Once the boy lay in a river of scarlet liquid, his body no longer moving, my legs found the strength to stand. I wobbled toward the door. Seth caught me as I fell into the cupboards along the side wall.

"Whoa, Charlie. Easy." His arms were around me and he steadied me out the door and into the yard.

The air was cold and stinging and refreshing on my lungs. I was shaking from head to toe. My mind was no longer haunted by Bella's words—now it was just silent. Deafeningly silent.

"Wha'… wha'… what…," I started speaking. I had no control over any of my motor functions.

"Sam… Leah had the matches," Seth yelled back toward the house.

"Leah?" Sue's daughter. Seth's sister. She was here? She was… I swallowed. One of them?

Seth's eyes were grave as he regarded me. I just nodded and kept trying to stay conscious.

"I'm not even going there, Charlie. I knew the second Sam told me to warn you that it would only spur you on… You're damn lucky we caught the scent when we did…. A few seconds more…"

"The kid? What about the boy?"

Seth face softened and a deep sadness fell in his eyes. "Dunno. I have some theories but… it's need to know stuff." He shook his head and looked back at the house. "Three days… how in the hell could he still be human…," he muttered to himself. "And that sick bastard was gonna just sit there and watch him… coulda just killed you… but he liked to watch…"

I closed my eyes and tried to block out what I heard.

Seth carried me to the cruiser. He deposited me in the passenger seat and drove me home. I didn't object. Turning my head, I noticed the Cullen house in flames as we left. "Get on the radio and warn the department that the house is on fire… tell them it was when you got there. They'll find the evidence of the kid… it will close the case."

Smart kid. I did what he told me to. Knew that the fire department would come put the blaze out before all traces could be erased but hoped whatever they needed to burn would be destroyed.

"Venom burns fast. Won't be anything left of the other one soon. No worries, Charlie."

Venom… I shook my head. Need to know… I didn't need to know.

Seth parked in front of my house. How late it was, I wasn't sure. It was pitch black outside.

I was completely numb. My hands were covered in the boy's blood. "Shit," my mouth said.

Seth looked down at my hands. He started the car back up and drove up the street to the forest. He drove as far as he could and stopped near the stream where I fished as a kid.

"Come on, Charlie," he whispered.

I followed—blindly. For a minute it was hard to remember which of us was the kid.

I reached down to the freezing water of the stream. I couldn't feel the cold—I was so numb all over. The water almost felt warm. I watched in morbid fascination as the red washed from my skin and dissipated in the flowing water.

I stared at my cleansed hands.

"Promise me something, Seth," I spoke in a monotone voice. Expression and emotion were on hold until my brain could catch back up with my body.

"She's not like the others… nothing like the one in there tonight, Charlie."

I clenched my hands to fists. I had killed a seventeen year old boy tonight. Whether he deserved it or not didn't matter. Whether my survival depended on his death or not didn't matter. The badge on top of my heart reminded me that what I did was unjust and wrong.

I no longer understood the word monster.

"Thank you, Seth."

I pushed off from the bank and slowly walked back home.

***

Midnight.

I crawled into bed next to my wife. She wasn't asleep-- she was waiting for me. I snaked my arms around her soft body and kissed the back of her neck.

Sue smelled like home. Like the smoke that rolled out of the chimneys when the winter cold set in the air. Or the spring water that dripped off the fish I caught on weekends. Her skin was dark and earthy, as smooth as the sand on First Beach just after it was kissed by the ocean waves. Her voice was soft like the winds that blew through meadows hidden by the forest and her fingers were rough with the reminders of the hard work life demanded from her.

But mostly she smelled like good times. She reminded me of my best friend Harry—her first husband. She was a woman of the earth and I clung to her like she was the only thing that kept me from sinking into it.

"Goodnight, Charlie," she whispered. She brought of my hands from her chest up to her lips and kissed my skin gently.

I wished I could shield her from touching my hands. Hands that still trembled with the need to stop the evil that I saw today. But I needed Sue's love right now. I needed her lips to touch my flesh and remind me that something good was still in my life.

I closed my eyes, expecting the dream to come again.

It didn't.

I awoke from a dark unconsciousness and got out of bed. I threw on my sweats and my plain black hooded sweatshirt. I slipped into my snow boots when I reached the bottom of the stairs and walked out into the early morning dark.

I wandered under the canopy of the forest.

I stood still, listening to the forest. Everything was peaceful and quiet. Cold. Covered in a blanket of pale white.

Fresh.

I looked at my watch.

4:15 a.m.

************

A/N: Charlie was not attacked by the vampire at the Cullen house because he is meant to never really see that vampire. At that moment in Charlie's mind he is confusing a monster for his daughter. He is facing his fear of what Bella is but still denied the opportunity to really see what Bella is. He also fears that the monster stalking in the shadows might actually be Bella. This vampire wanted a show, wanted Charlie to die slowly and to watch it happen. He wasn't interested in killing Charlie with his vampire abilities.

One other note—the boy is not a full vampire. The facts behind this are for me to know… and you to give me your theories on.


Thanks for reading!