The room was empty. Stacy Gilmore lay down her lap-top, some papers, and various office supplies. The quiet gave her time to think and pace. The Chronicle offered her a six by eight space as her office. For the most part it was enough to accommodate her, but when she had a deadline it felt cramped. Stacy needed to spread herself out when she had to think. That meant space. She was a pacer, and if it was a really a big story, she needed to run. Moving made her brain function. The cubicle sometimes made her feel like a lion in a birdcage. Today was one of those days, so she borrowed the vacant space across the hall. This was important. If she didn’t word this right, it could be the difference between a girl’s life or death, literally. She glanced down at the note on her desk. The note from, “The Doll Maker.”
Later that evening, after walking Sampson, her German Shepherd, she poured a glass of Cabernet and plopped on the sofa. Sampson obediently sprang up beside her and rested his head on her lap, chocolate eyes staring up at her. She scratched his ears, and he rolled over for an extra belly rub. Stacy reached for the remote and clicked on KLP news. Sipping her wine, rubbing her dog’s head, she sat back for a restful evening.
Margie Cooper’s face filled the wide, plasma screen TV, her expression of concern on the usually composed anchor made Stacy sit up and pay attention. She adjusted the volume. Just as Margie was about to speak, Stacy’s doorbell rang. “Shit!” She pressed the record button on her U-Verse, and placed her glass down on the coffee table. Sampson sprung from her lap and rushed toward the door. Two loud barks and then he sat by her leg waiting to see if the person on the other side of the door was friend or foe.
Stacy squinted in the peephole. A well dressed man in a camel colored raincoat stood in the hallway. “Can I help you?” she asked before opening the door.
“Ms. Gilmore, I’m Detective Frank Kramer from NYPD. May I speak to you for a moment?”
“I’m opening the door with the security chain, please show me your identification.”
“Absolutely.” He reached into his coat pocket and retrieved his wallet. Flipping it open he held up the badge and ID.
Stacy fastened the chain and opened the door five inches. Samson stood guard, teeth and growl at the ready.
“Samson, stay.” Stacy read the name and ID number. “Sorry, I’m a born and raised Bronx girl. Hold on one sec.” She reached for her cell and called the local police station. After verifying Detective Kramer’s identity she removed the chain and opened the door.
“Please, come in. I’m a little cautious these days. Being a reporter and writer, I see a lot of ugly.”
“I understand, Ma’am,” he said with a southern drawl.
“Did you say, New York PD?”
“Yes, Ma’am. I know, I was born and raised in Atlanta and just can’t seem to lose the accent. May we talk?”
Stacy smiled. “Sure, come in.”
He looked down at the large ninety-pound dog staring at him. He took off his leather gloves and with his right hand lowered it to Sampson’s twitching nose. After a moment of sniffing, he was rewarded with a wet tongue. Kramer crouched and rubbed the Shepherd’s head.
“Now I know you’re one of the good guys. He’s very picky about his friends.”
“I raised dogs back home. He’s a handsome guy.” Kramer looked up at her. “Ms. Gilmore, I need to speak to you about a recent letter you received from The Doll Maker.”
She moved into the living room and motioned for him to have a seat.
He sat on the sofa and pulled out a black notebook. “I don’t know if y’all heard of him yet. He was recently nick-named the Doll Maker, but he’s been on the radar of the FBI for several months. Recently, he kidnapped a child in my jurisdiction. Also the child is the daughter of Pamela and Richard Carlson.”
“Of Carlson Resorts?”
He nodded. “I’m sure y’all soon be approached by Agents Wells and Flair. They’re with the Bureau.”
“I wasn’t aware the girl was that Montana Carlson.” She reached for her glass and took a sip. “Oh, can I get you anything?”
“No thank you, Ma’am.” He held up his hand. “As you may already know the Doll Maker is responsible for the torture and deaths of several young children in the past couple of years. He’s an evil psychopath who enjoys hurting children. He’s contacted us and informed us regarding a letter he sent you, Ms. Gilmore. Are you privy to this?”
“Yes, I have it in my office. I was agonizing about it all day.” She rubbed her mouth and chewed on her lip.
“Can we see it?”
“I’ll get my coat.” Stacy stood and headed for the closet.
Dear Stacy Gilmore, staff writer, The Chronicle.
I love your writing and would find it a privilege and an honor for you to write my story. I am a very interesting person, Ms. Gilmore and it would very much be in your very best interest to write about me and my amazing talents. You see, I am an artist. I am the Doll Maker.
You may say so what, there are many fine doll makers in the world, but I am the very best. I make very life-like dolls. I make real dolls. And I find my models from the very finest families.
I am forwarding a few of my very favorite photos of my very best work. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did in making them.
If you choose not to write about my many skills, I will just have to make one more very beautiful doll for you. This one will be very special just for you. You have twenty-four hours to let me know your decision.
Your new friend The Doll Maker.
Stacy stared at the deformed bodies of four young lives wiped away. Body parts removed and placed in all the wrong places. Eyes sewn shut, tongues removed. She covered her mouth and bit her lip trying to control herself. “Am I responsible for keeping Montana Carlson alive. Even if I did what this freak asks, there’re no guarantees he would hold up to his end of the bargain. Deadline. If I don’t meet that deadline, a young girl will be killed.” She stared at the detective. “This is a big deal, detective.”
The next day the FBI agents Kramer promised had appeared. Also a profiler and countless other official government representatives.
Her mind raced. The profiler told her about The Doll Maker’s ego and education. The use of the word ‘very’ endlessly throughout his letter. His idea he’s in charge, and everything is less important than himself. His thoughts of the children as mere toys for him to play with and having no meaning or compassion for them as human beings. All the words screaming in her brain. She paced the small space. The hardest part was when Kramer presented her with the photo of seven year-old Montana. The innocence. What was she thinking? How terrified was this child? How terrified would any human being be? Stacy slid off her heels and replaced them with Nike’s. She ran and thought until she was completely out of breath. This was the deadline of all deadlines.
Montana smelled something in the other room. What was it? It reeked of stinky meat. Like when her grandmother used to boil chicken insides for the dogs on the farm. Thinking about her grandmother and visiting the farm in Montana made her hurt. She was named after the state because that was where her daddy was raised. Her mommy often told her, Daddy came from having nothing to becoming one of the richest men in America. Her eyes stung. She just wanted to go home.
Montana tried to untie her wrists but the duct tape ripped at her delicate skin. Blood dripped and made the bondage seem looser, but she couldn’t get her hands free. Why was this happening? What was that evil person going to do to her? Her parents always told her about strangers, but this was different. This was someone she knew. Someone she’d met many times. Someone she trusted, so why was this happening?
The door opened a crack and a sliver of light shone in. Being in complete darkness, the small amount of illumination stung her eyes. As the door creaked and opened wider, she saw the figure silhouetted until it came into focus.
She sobbed, her petite body trembling. “Why? Will you let me go if my daddy gives you money? He will, you know.”
“Shut up! I don’t want your father’s money. I want something else and only you can give it to me, Montana.” The Doll Maker strode into the room.
Naked, except for her bonds, and sitting on the dirty floor, Montana backed into the corner. The Doll Maker came closer and she could almost smell the anger and insanity. Seven year-old Montana Carlson knew she wouldn’t see her eighth birthday.
Detective Kramer tacked the photo of Montana Carlson onto the bulletin board next to the one of Julia Trial, Supreme Court Justice Michael Trial’s eleven year-old daughter. Under her, the deformed body of Claudia Samson, daughter of Eugene Sampson founder of Sampson Electronics. Jonathan Perkins, son of Perkins Outfitters. and the first victim, Roger Sweeney, son of Patrick Sweeney president of Crystal Enterprises.
He stepped back and tried to connect the dots. “What do these children have in common?”
“They all come from wealthy parents,” Rich Peeples, Kramer’s partner said.
“Besides the obvious. They’re different sexes, different ages, and different races. None of the parents have anything in common other than wealth.”
“True. Maybe think outside the box.” Peeples tapped his index finger over his mouth.
“The Doll Maker gets his rocks off hurting innocent kids of high profile people. Why?” Kramer opened his desk draw and pulled out a cigarette. He placed it between his lips, lit it and sucked in the smoke. “Attention?”
“You know you can’t smoke in here.”
“Fuck it.” Kramer shrugged. “It’s my fucking office. Damn stupid government rules. There’s an asshole butchering kids and everyone gives a shit if I smoke or not. Fuck them.” He took another drag.
Peeples raised his hands palms up. “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I don’t give a shit what you do to your lungs, I’m just saying.”
“I’m sorry, partner. This case is killing me, and the Feds are up our asses trying to take it away.”
“Hey, turn up the volume on the TV. It’s that reporter the Doll Maker contacted.” Peeples nodded at the screen.
Kramer hit the volume on the remote and they watched as Stacy Gilmore gave her report on the Doll Maker.
“Funny.” Peeples sat on the corner of the desk.
“This is the biggest story since Son of Sam. I’m just saying it’s funny that a reporter like Stacy Gilmore was the one he contacted. I mean, why not Cassie Brown? She’s like the biggest journalist out there right now. Gilmore is small peanuts compared to her.”
Kramer turned to his partner and grabbed his shoulders. “Rich, you’re a fucking genius. The one thing that does connect all these kids is their parents, and the only thing other than wealth they have in common that we can see, is Stacy Gilmore. She has interviewed or reported on all of them except for Patrick Sweeney.”
“Actually, I think she wrote an article on him too, way back in the nineties.”
“It’s so nice to meet you, Senator Gleason. I’m honored you’re allowing me to interview with you on your up and coming election for The Presidency.”
“Please Ms. Gilmore, come in and have a seat. Allow me to introduce you to my wife Anna, and my son, Jason. He’ll be turning eight next Tuesday,” Senator Gleason boasted.
“It ‘s a pleasure to meet you. You must be so proud of your daddy, Jason.”
The small boy nodded.
“I’m so looking to get to know you and your family throughout the election, Senator. That is a fine young boy you have there.” Stacy Gilmore pulled out her recorder and presented her most charming smile.