The Case of the Spectral Stalker
Notes: The characters from the show are not mine and the other characters and the story are! This story is part of my Perry mystery series, but the previous installments shouldn't have to be read first to understand this one. (And the little oneshot I previously wrote has no real connection with this story at all.) Today we visit with characters from season 4's The Misguided Missile. Also, I leave a little reminder that I've moved the time period to the present day, but I don't think it disrupts anything. It does alter which wars the characters fought in, but that's such a minor plot point.
It had been raining heavily in Los Angeles for several hours. Della stood on the corner, holding an umbrella over her head as she waited for her cab.
Her car just had to break down at the most unreliable times. She rarely used it as it was, since Perry picked her up for work and took her home. And when she needed her own car it was often in the shop or dying on the road.
She looked at her watch in agitation. Perry had been expecting her back with the information he had sent her to retrieve for their latest case. She was over an hour late.
At last she perked up. A yellow cab was pulling up to the curb. She stepped back, not wanting to be splashed on by the pools of water in the gutter.
The right rear door opened and a distinguished man alighted. Della regarded him in surprise. From the insignia and decorations on his coat, he was an honored officer in the United States Air Force.
Noticing her, he held the door open. "Miss?"
Della snapped to her senses. "Thank you," she said, climbing into the warm backseat. The mysterious man nodded and shut the door after her. Then, as Della watched in amazement, he opened an umbrella and started down the street.
"Military man," the cab driver commented. "I don't see a lot of them in here."
"Who is he?" Della asked, curious.
"Honestly, I have no idea," he said. "My passengers hardly ever give their names, just addresses. And when they pay me in cash instead of with a check or a card, well . . ." He shrugged. "They're free to remain completely anonymous.
"So, where can I take you?"
"The Brent building, please," Della requested.
"You got it." The driver pulled away from the curb.
As he headed up the street, Della looked towards the sidewalk. The Air Force officer had already disappeared.
She leaned back. "That was odd," she said to herself. "How did he get away so fast? All the buildings here are closed."
But within five minutes she was no longer thinking about it. She had other things to worry about.
Perry was unable to sit still. He got up, paced his office, looked out the balcony doors at the rain, and came back to his desk. Della had called to tell him she would be late getting back. Gertie had taken the message, as Perry had still been in court at the time. But now it was dark and court was out for the evening. It had been out for over an hour, in fact. And Della was still not back.
He grabbed for the receiver. Maybe he should call her.
Before he could make good on that decision the phone rang. He snapped it up. "Hello?" he almost barked.
He frowned. It was not Della's voice, but it was familiar. It was also hysterical. He could not place it. "Who is this?" he demanded.
Of course. His friend Major Jerry Reynolds, stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base. Perry perked up. "Jerry, what's wrong? I barely recognized your voice."
"Perry, I'm being stalked."
"Stalked?" Perry was in disbelief. "By whom?"
"Well, that's the thing. I'm afraid you'll think I'm crazy if I tell you. I think I'm crazy!"
"Jerry, you're one of the most sound people I know," Perry said. "Where are you? The base?"
"No, I'm in town," Jerry said. "That's also part of it. I'm on leave because my C.O. thought I should get away for a while. But it hasn't helped. The man stalking me followed me here!"
Perry frowned deeply. "Don't keep me in suspense," he said. "You sound like you know who this man is."
"It's hard to explain at all, but especially over the phone. Can I see you tonight? Maybe in ten minutes?"
Perry raised an eyebrow. "Of course," he said. "Come to my office."
The relief in Jerry's voice was evident. "Thank you, Perry. I'll be right there."
Perry was left with the dial tone. He hung up, shaking his head. "Strange," he said to the room. He glanced to the aquarium against the opposite wall, idly watching the fish swim about as he considered what he had just been told.
He and Jerry had been friends for years. They had been in combat together during the Gulf War. After the war, and when Jerry's term of service was up, he had decided to stay on and make a career out of the military. Perry had left, pursuing law instead. They had kept in touch ever since.
Several years ago Perry had visited Vandenberg Air Force Base on Jerry's request. He had been just in time for a case involving a misguided missile and for Jerry to end up accused of the murder of an investigator from the inspector general's office. The situation had only been made stickier by the fact that Jerry and the investigator, Captain Michael Caldwell, had once been friends but had parted ways due to an unsolved mystery that had resulted in hurt feelings and pride on both sides. They had not been on good terms since then. But Perry had cleared Jerry, and as far as Perry knew, Jerry had been doing alright since then.
The door flew open, admitting a harried Della. Unbuttoning her damp coat, she took out a dry folder and set it on his desk. "Here's the information you wanted, Perry," she said, still catching her breath.
Perry took it. "It took a while for your cab to come," he observed. "I was getting worried." He flipped it open and began skimming through the contents.
"The nearest driver was delayed," Della said. "He was driving someone in the Air Force to the same spot where he picked me up."
Perry looked up with a start. "It wasn't Jerry Reynolds, by any chance?"
Della shook her head. "I've never seen him before," she said. "He was very polite. He held the door for me and then closed it before leaving." She paused and blinked. "Why would it have been Jerry?"
"Because he's in town," Perry said. "He said someone's stalking him. He's coming over to discuss it." He perked up at the sound of the front door opening. "That's probably him now."
Della turned and looked through her office's open door and into the reception room. "It is," she said in surprise. "As Paul says, there's never a dull moment."
She stepped into her office. "Hello, Jerry," she greeted with a smile. "Perry's waiting for you."
"Oh good," Jerry said, obviously occupied. "Thank you, Miss Street." He hurried past and into Perry's office, shutting the door after him.
Della raised an eyebrow. Then, shrugging, she started to get out of her coat.
In the office, Perry was frowning at Jerry's uncharacteristic agitation. "Alright, I think I've been waiting long enough," he said after greetings had been exchanged. "Tell me what's going on! And try to sit down and relax!"
Jerry sighed. "I've been trying that for days, Perry," he said. "It's not working." He started to pace the room. At last he stopped, looking towards Perry at the desk. "I'm being stalked by a dead man!"
Perry went rigid. "You'd better start at the beginning," he said.
Jerry straightened and crossed to the chair in front of the desk. "It started several weeks ago," he said. "I noticed a figure just outside the base. Well, civilians aren't supposed to be that close without clearance, as you well know. So I went over to the gate for a better look. Only by the time I got there, no one was around. I went out and looked for almost an hour and never found anyone.
"A few days later I got a phone call. When I answered, a voice asked if I was Major Reynolds. I said Yes. Then I heard something like a groan and the connection cut off."
Perry frowned. "Did you recognize the voice?"
"I wasn't sure. I thought I did, but I couldn't place it. It sounded . . . both muffled and pained."
"Or sick, perhaps?" Perry supplied.
"Perhaps," Jerry nodded. "It wasn't until another week later that I saw him."
"Him?" Perry repeated.
Jerry looked at Perry, his eyes wide, bloodshot, and haunted. "I was surveying the area for our next test launch when he came staggering out from behind some crates. He stood there for a long moment, just staring at me while I stared back. He was gripping the top crate, as though he needed it to keep himself balanced. Finally I said something. It seemed to snap him back to himself and give him a burst of adrenaline or something. He turned and ran. I chased him all over the test area and through a hangar, but he got away."
"What did you say?" Perry asked.
"His name." Jerry leaned forward, taking off his hat and digging his hands into his hair. "It was him. I knew it was him, even though it couldn't be him.
"Well, I saw him a couple more times—lost him both times—and the last time my C.O. found out about it. He talked to me, had me talk to the base psychiatrist, and they decided to ship me out here for a week or two while they tried to get to the bottom of it. But they can't get to the bottom of it!" He straightened, looking to Perry with wild eyes. "They can't, because he's out here too! He followed me here! I just saw him about thirty minutes ago on the street! But when we saw each other he turned and ran again, just like before." He slumped back in the chair. "I'm losing my mind, Perry. I don't know what to do anymore! Obviously I'm not fit to be in the Air Force."
"Just a minute," Perry interrupted. "You still haven't told me this man's name."
"It's Mike," Jerry said miserably. "Captain Mike Caldwell."
Perry stared at him. He had been thinking that Jerry must have seen someone only assumed dead, perhaps a friend long listed as Missing In Action. But this was completely different. This was indeed impossible.
"Jerry," he said at last, speaking seriously and gently, "it couldn't be Captain Caldwell."
"I know!" Jerry burst out, throwing his hands in the air. "I know it couldn't be!" He leaned forward. "I saw his body, Perry. I was the one who found him lying on that test field after Dan Morgan murdered him. I saw that the left side of his head was bashed in!" He slumped back, shaking his head. "There was no mistake. It was Caldwell and he was dead."
His eyes hardened. "And there's no mistake now. I've been seeing him everywhere. The last thing he looks is dead."
Perry picked up a pen and began toying with it. "I don't doubt your word, Jerry," he said. "You're seeing someone, obviously someone who looks a great deal like Caldwell." He set the pen down and looked up. "Considering all that you've told me, someone may very well be doing this to you on purpose, wanting you to think Caldwell is haunting you, wanting you to feel that you're going insane. Perhaps someone who is trying to rout you out of your position at Vandenberg."
Jerry sat up straight. "I knew you'd be able to start making sense out of this, Perry," he said. "What you're saying might be true. Except other than Caldwell and Dan Morgan, I can't even think of anyone who'd have anything to gain from it."
"We'll figure it out," Perry vowed.
"It would help if someone else had seen him too," Jerry said. "Then at least we could prove I'm not crazy."
The soft knock on the door brought their attention up. "Come in," Perry called.
Della eased the door open slightly and peeked in. "I'm sorry to interrupt," she said, "but . . ." She looked a bit awkward. "I couldn't help hearing some of what you've been talking about."
". . . Oh." Jerry looked down. "I'm sorry. I got carried away and yelled too loud."
"Oh no, it's alright," Della said quickly. "I'm the only other person who heard. And . . . well, what did Captain Caldwell look like?"
Jerry opened his left front pocket and fumbled with a newspaper clipping before drawing it out. "I found this and took it to compare it with the man I've been seeing," he said. "It's a perfect match."
Della took it, her eyes going wide at the image. "I saw him tonight!" she exclaimed.
Perry was instantly alert. "The man coming out of the cab?"
"Yes!" Della nodded. "I'm positive. And he certainly wasn't a ghost."
Perry grabbed for the phone. "Jerry, what's your commanding officer's number?" he asked. "We need to make him understand that the danger here is not in your mind."
Hamilton sighed, pulling his coat closer around him as he took an evening paper out of the box. It was a cold and blustery January night. The rain was letting up for now, but according to the weather forecast it was going to carry on to varying degrees all through the night. He wanted to get home before it grew violent again. Climbing back into his car, he dropped the paper on the passenger seat and pulled away from the curb.
Los Angeles was still recovering from the bizarre earthquakes of over a month ago. Most of the structural damage had been mended, but there were still people's lives that had been disrupted and not repaired. For some, they would never get that chance. And as for Vivalene, one of the causes of the disaster, she was still completely unresponsive in the prison hospital ward.
Hamilton was not sure what to think of it. It was like a bad dream or a kid's bedtime story. Vivalene and her cronies had used some kind of ancient box to cast a spell across Los Angeles County that caused almost everyone to forget some or all of their memories. Only he and Paul had remembered everything and had strove to get the others to remember too. Before the end of the disaster several people had nearly died, including he himself. The final result was that Vivalene's cruel spells had backfired on her and now she was in a coma, a coma that could apparently only be broken by someone who cared enough about her personally to revive her.
Hamilton did not want to think about that last part at all. He wanted to think it was a coma that was not brought on by magic. He wanted to say there was no such thing.
But he had given up saying that, at least about everything connected with that mess. He tried to think about it as little as possible. That, however, was difficult when the situation had affected him and the others so deeply. Lieutenant Tragg, Mignon Germaine, and young Howie Peterson were especially still shaken after what had happened and what they had said and done.
The sight of a man in his headlights forced him to slam on the brakes, his eyes wide in shock. The stranger brought his hands down hard on the hood, as if to brace himself. His dark hair was wild and wet, the loose pieces slipping into his eyes.
Hamilton opened the door and stepped out. "Are you out of your mind?" he cried. "What are you doing, running into the street like that? You could've been killed!"
The haunted, panicked look in the man's eyes made him take a step back. Instead of answering, he straightened and ran past, vanishing into the night.
"Hey!" Hamilton called. "Come back!"
But the stranger had no intention of doing so. And Hamilton had no intention of leaving his car in the middle of the street to chase after him on foot. Muttering to himself, he got back inside and drove on. Hopefully that guy would not get in the way of any more moving vehicles tonight.
He might not be so lucky a second time.