Be A Good Girl – Tess Diamond

Fifteen years ago She felt numb. Like her entire body had been shot up with Novocain. Her arms lolled to the side as he carried her like a doll through the orchard. She could see the thick green leaves of the olive trees above her, her eyes drifting shut every few seconds. She was so tired. His face swam in and out of her fuzzy vision as she felt the ground against her back. He was setting her down. Run, her mind said. But her body couldn’t obey. She couldn’t even lift her pinky. Every muscle felt locked in place, paralyzed, her limbs useless. She kept trying to move, tears tracking down her face as she struggled in vain. He began to hum, his palm cradling the back of her head gently as he pulled her double braids up and over her shoulders. The gentleness made fear spike in her, adrenaline filling her body, her legs unable to respond. He smiled.

“It’s all right, sweet thing,” he cooed at her, like she was a puppy. “It’s better this way. You’re serving a purpose.” His smile grew wide. “You’re my lesson.” He drew away from her, and all she could see were the branches of the trees and the pieces of sky and stars between them. The trees were beautiful, she thought. So beautiful. At least she was here, in the trees. As his hands closed around her throat, her eyes slipped shut.

And never opened again. Chapter 1 The second she came into view of the cell block, the hooting and hollering started. Abby’s stomach twisted, a reactive response that almost any woman had when getting catcalled, but being in the prison intensified the stress. She refused to show it, squared her shoulders, and stared straight ahead. Keeping her face a smooth mask, she followed the guard down the narrow hall of the block. Cells lined both sides of the hall, prisoners pressing against the bars as they craned to catch a glimpse of her. For some of them, she was their first look at a woman on the block in years, maybe even decades. It wasn’t often that Pinewood Correctional Facility let journalists inside general population, let alone solitary confinement. But that was exactly where she was headed. She’d been a tight ball of nerves—a mix of fear and anticipation—since she’d gotten the call.

He had finally consented to see her. It had taken over a year and at least fifty letters, but she’d made it happen. Her daddy always did say she was a determined girl. She’d grown up to be an even more determined woman. And she was going to get what she wanted. What she needed. “Stay close,” Stan, the guard said, casting a glance at a prisoner pounding on the bars as they passed. Abby adjusted her stride so she was just within a step of him. She was a tall woman, with curvy hips and muscle tone on her arms that came from hauling hay bales instead of the gym. Coming home five years ago had meant going back to her roots—quite literally.

When she’d arrived, her father’s almond orchard was in dire need of some TLC, and she’d put the work in, on top of caring for him. When he’d passed away two years ago, he’d passed knowing the orchard was back to flourishing. She hoped it eased his mind. He had always been a hard man to please. When she and Stan reached the end of the cell block, he opened the barred door, ushering her into another hallway. The silence of this part of the prison was abrupt and strange after the noise of the cell block, and it took Abby a moment to adjust as she walked alongside him. “You okay?” Stan asked, looking at her, his gray eyebrows drawn together with concern. “I know they say some filthy stuff.” She smiled reassuringly at him. “I can handle it,” she said.

“So is this visit for a new piece?” he asked, opening another door with his ring of keys. “I read that story you did, the one about that heroin addict. I liked it. Thought you did a good job, showing how the addiction was a disease and how we need to approach the drug problem like an epidemic.” “Thank you,” Abby said. Normally, she’d be delighted her work had affected him, but her mind was on other things. On the man somewhere in this prison, who held answers to questions that had haunted her for years. “That’s so nice of you to say. And I’m afraid I can’t give any details about my works-in-progress. Contracts, you know.

” She shot him another smile, hoping he’d drop it. Luckily, at that moment, they came to a stop in front of a thick steel door that had SOLITARY CONFINEMENT stamped on it. Abby took a deep breath, her eyes settling on the words. This was it. In just minutes, she’d be faceto-face with him. Her heart was hammering in her chest at the thought. She turned back to Stan, and was surprised at how troubled the older man looked. “Are you sure about this?” he asked her. “I’m a big girl, Stan,” she said. “You don’t have to worry about me.

” “Look . ” He licked his lips, looking nervous. “He’s tricky. Really tricky.” “I’ve heard the rumors,” Abby said. She didn’t need the rumors. She knew from real life exactly how sick the man she was about to meet was. She had spent the last two years learning everything there was to know about him. She’d talked to every teacher he’d ever had, every relative who was willing to speak to her and not slam the door in her face. She’d talked to every single person who’d even had a modicum of contact with Howard Wells, better known as Dr.

X. She knew him. And she was about to use that knowledge to get what she wanted from him. “I just want you to be careful,” Stan said. “He knows exactly what to say to get to you.” “I know he talked an inmate into killing himself,” Abby said. “Not just one,” Stan said quietly, looking over his shoulder nervously before lowering his voice and adding, “And not just inmates.” Abby’s eyes widened at the implication. She knew she should press Stan for more information, but she also knew she could ferret out the truth herself with a little research. She didn’t want to make him even more nervous, especially because he was authorized to cut her meeting short if he deemed the situation unsafe.

“I appreciate your concern,” she told Stan. “But I’ll only be asking him questions.” “Okay,” Stan said. “Just don’t get too close.” He took her through the same rundown she’d gotten when she’d first entered the prison: no contact, no passing the prisoner anything, and no getting within even ten feet of the prisoner. Abby had a feeling that the last one was a specific rule for the man she was about to see. The solitary wing was quiet as they walked through it to the very end, where a door led to another, even more isolated section. “Inmate 3847, your visitor is here,” Stan called out. Abby’s skin prickled at the change in his voice. When talking with her, he had been kind, almost grandfatherly.

But now, his voice was stern and authoritative, full of “don’t fuck with me” attitude. “You sit here,” Stan said, pointing his baton at the bench set a good ten feet away from the thick, clear plastic wall that made up the front of Howard’s cell. “Inmate 3847, come forward.” There was a pause, and Abby had to bite the inside of her cheek as he shuffled into view. Howard Wells was fifteen years older than the last time she’d seen a picture of him, but he was no less terrifying. Goose bumps—the dreadful, horror-filled kind—spread across her skin as his eyes met hers. His hair was gray now, slicked back, the comb tracks visible, like he’d carefully groomed it for this meeting. His orange jumpsuit was clean and tidy, his bright blue eyes shining in his craggy face. His feet were shackled, but instead of his hands being cuffed, he was in a straitjacket, his arms lashed to his sides. Despite this, he held himself like he was the emperor of his own tiny kingdom.

Like she was a serf who had the honor of experiencing his presence. Abby showed no emotion as she sat down, placing her notebook and pen in her lap. Stan hovered in the corner, and Abby gave him a small nod. “I’ll be right outside,” he said. “Panic button is right here.” He pointed meaningfully at the red button on the wall. “Don’t try any of your manipulative shit, Wells.” A light tsking sound filled the air as Stan left them alone, and Abby stared at him. He came forward, so he was just inches behind the thick sheet of Plexiglas that kept him from going for her. “Abigail Winthrop,” he said.

“Hello, Howard,” she said. She refused to call him Mr. Wells. And she certainly wasn’t going to call him Doctor. There wasn’t going to be any deference here. She wasn’t playing his game. She was here for answers—and she was going to get them. “You’ve been very persistent,” he said, looking her up and down, his mouth twisting in a way that made her stomach churn. She felt assessed, like a piece of meat, an object. But she stamped the nausea down.

That’s what he wanted her to feel. “As I said in my letters, it’s very important I speak to you.” “So,” he said slowly, like he was savoring the words. “Which of my girls did you know?” This time, she wasn’t able to stamp down the revulsion she felt. His girls. As if he owned them. As if by killing them, his victims belonged to him. Disgust curled inside her, and she had to stop her fists from curling too. She wanted nothing more than to get behind that Plexiglas and deck this bastard like the take-no-shit farm girl she was. But she had to confirm her suspicions.

And that meant she had to stay calm. She had to get him to make a mistake. She wasn’t stupid. He could pretend all he wanted, but he knew exactly who she was. He might’ve been in solitary, but a man like him? He had his ways. But she was going to let him draw his guessing game out. She wanted to know everything about how he viewed Cassie, how he talked about her, how he looked when he talked about her. She was going to get to the bottom of this, even if it meant manipulating one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. “You’re what . early thirties?” he asked, openly assessing her now.

“None of my girls had younger sisters who’d be that age now. So you . you must be a friend.” His eyebrows raised in mock concern. “Did I take your best friend away from you?” Abby didn’t reply as she opened her notebook, flipping through the pages filled with her cramped handwriting. She did this deliberately slow, watching as he peered at the book, his interest evident. Solitary drove most men to the brink. But this man? He wasn’t even close to the edge. He was bored. That’s likely why he manipulated the other inmates—and apparently at least one guard—into killing themselves.

It was a way to alleviate his boredom. A bored serial killer was one who slipped up. Especially if she got him talking about the right things. “Maybe a cousin?” he suggested, his mouth thinning at her silence. “A niece?” Abby uncapped her pen, dropping it into the groove of her open notebook, and finally looked up to meet his eyes. And then she waited again. She counted silently to five, her pulse thundering in her ears as she refused to look away. Sweat trickled down between her shoulder blades, gathering at the small of her back. Finally, when she had his complete attention, when it was just the two of them and his eyes drilled into hers, waiting for her to speak, she said: “Cassandra Martin.” She enunciated each syllable with deadly weight.

“You’re going to tell me everything.” She looked down at her watch. “You have twenty minutes.” Chapter 2 Sweat trickled down Paul’s forehead as he bolted down the alleyway. The muggy DC air was so thick he could almost taste it as he moved, swift and silent, gun raised, eyes trained ahead, where the alley split off in two directions. “We need him alive, Paul.” It was Agent Grace Sinclair’s voice in his ear. His profiler was back at headquarters. She’d sprained her ankle on their last case and still hadn’t been cleared for field duty, a fact that made her use everything from espresso to chocolate chip cookies, trying to bribe him to clear her. The problem with being friends with a profiler was that they honed in on all of a man’s weaknesses.

But Grace was no match for Paul when it came to the safety of his team. He wasn’t going to let her out in the field injured, no matter how many cookies she baked. Paul was almost to the fork in the alley, his pace slowing as his hand tightened around his Glock. “You’re going to want to take a right, boss.” This time, it was Zooey, the team’s tech and forensic expert, on the radio. “Security cameras show he ran into a dead end. He’ll be heading back your way in twenty seconds.” “Got it,” Paul said quietly. He moved to the right side of the alley, flattening himself against the brick wall as he moved swiftly toward the corner. “Ten seconds,” Zooey said.

Adrenaline pumped through him. A child had been taken from his mother. And he wasn’t going to let either of them down. “Five. Four. Three. Two. One.” A man in a tattered jean jacket bolted into the alley, looking around wildly. “Harry Jordan!” Paul’s voice boomed out, his gun trained on him.

The man jerked at his name, spinning around. “Put the gun down,” Paul warned, moving forward. Harry stared at him, his face falling. “I didn’t—” he started. “Put the gun down, Harry,” Paul said again. “Put it down and we can talk.” “Yeah, about what?” Harry asked. “You’re just gonna shoot me.” The gun in his hand wasn’t raised. Paul had the upper hand here.

And he needed to know where Harry had put the kid. “I don’t want to shoot you,” Paul said. It was the truth. He wasn’t that man. He’d taken lives before, necessary acts to protect others, but he knew the cost. “All I want is to bring Brandon home safe.” “Brandon is my son!” Harry shrieked, his voice going from quiet to screaming in just words. “Paul, he’s escalating,” Grace said over the radio. No shit, Paul thought. “He is your son,” Paul agreed.

“But Haley is his mother and she has sole physical and legal custody. The courts decided that you need a year’s worth of clean drug tests, before you’re allowed to see him.” “It isn’t fair!” Tears tracked down the man’s face and Paul took advantage of his distraction to move forward. “I know you’re hurting,” Paul said. “But this is where you prove that you’re a good father, Harry. This is the moment where you put Brandon’s needs before your own. And right now, Brandon needs to be safe at home with his mother. And you need to focus on getting clean.” Harry’s face crumpled, like a building collapsing within itself. “I tried getting clean.

I did. It’s just . God, it’s so hard. I just wanted to spend time with him. And then Haley said all those things in court—” More tears down his face. “They were true,” he said. “God, they were all true.” “Careful, Paul,” Grace warned. “We might not be looking at homicidal behavior here. This may turn into suicide or suicide-by-cop.

” Paul’s stomach clenched. Grace’s read of the situation was right. Both his training and his gut were telling him so. He needed Harry to stay calm and to not panic or get too low. He breathed in and out, wishing like hell that Grace was here to do this. Or Maggie Kincaid, the elite negotiator that worked on a case-by-case basis with his team. Both of them were better at this than him. But right now, it was on him. “You put the gun down and tell me where Brandon is, Harry, and I will personally talk to the DA about getting you in rehab. You can get clean.

You can be a good father to your boy. You can start right now, by telling me where he is and putting that down. It’s so easy. Simple. You want to be a good father, right?” Harry nodded, but his grip on his gun was still tight. Paul eyed it, weighing his options. “Then let’s get started,” Paul coaxed. “Where’s Brandon?” Harry’s face crumpled, his shoulders slumping as all the fight seemed to drain out of him at once. “My buddy has a cabin outside of the city in Monkton. I took him there.

” A flash of hope went through him—but he knew this was far from over. Just because Harry was handing over Brandon’s location didn’t mean he was going to come quietly—or at all. “What’s the address?” Paul asked. “39821 Beaverton Road,” Harry said. “Got it, boss,” Zooey said in his ear. “Agent Walker is in that area, questioning the grandparents. I’m sending the coordinates to him now.” “You’re doing great,” Paul told Harry, trying to sound as reassuring as possible. Harry still hadn’t lowered his gun—it wasn’t a good sign. “You’re doing what’s best for Brandon.

Now it’s time to do what’s best for you.” Harry’s hands went up and Paul tensed, the grip on his own gun tightening. But instead of pointing the gun at him, Harry clutched at his head with his free hand, tears coursing down his face as he placed the gun at his temple. Grace’s instincts and his own gut were right. This guy wasn’t a murderer. He was suicidal. Fuck. He felt horribly ill equipped for this. Usually when something like this happened, he had Grace at his side. As a psychologist, she had way better tools at handling a suicidal perp.

“No, Harry, don’t do that,” Paul said, his body going cold. “Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t do that to your kid.” “He’s better off without me,” Harry moaned. “No, he’s not,” Paul said. “Don’t do that to him. Don’t make him grow up like that. You screwed up, Harry. You’ve made mistakes. But you’ve got a disease.

And you can get help. You can recover.” “You don’t know what it’s like,” Harry said, and Paul watched in horror as his finger shifted toward the trigger. “I do, actually,” he said. The man’s eyes, which had been unfocused and desperate, suddenly slid back to him. He had Harry’s attention. Good. He was going to need it. “First ten years of my life, my dad was blackout drunk for half of it, the other half, he was still drunk, but a happy drunk. Jovial.

The life of the party. He was a funny guy when he was drinking. Everybody loved him. My mama loved him too.” The gun was still on Harry’s temple, but Paul could see his finger twitch away from the trigger, so it was resting on the barrel instead. Progress. Good. “She had five children with him,” he continued, taking a small step forward. “And the day he drove drunk and crashed his car? She kicked him to the curb that day and told him he wasn’t allowed back until he got sober and stayed sober. So I think I know a little bit about this from your boy’s perspective.

” Another step. Harry was watching him, transfixed, like Paul’s voice was the only thing keeping him afloat. “I know what it’s like to have a shitty addict dad,” Paul said, his confession quiet and somber. “But you know what, Harry? I also know what it’s like to have a sober dad. One who coached my Little League team without the aid of a flask of whiskey, and who built a car with me when I was sixteen . the man who decided he loved his family more than he loved getting drunk. He made a choice. He confronted his disease. And he put in the work to get sober and to get his family back. When he passed a few years ago, he passed knowing that he’d done that work.

He died sober and loved, surrounded by his children and friends and grandkids. That’s the kind of life you want, Harry. That’s the kind of death you want. You want to die when you’re old, clean and sober and loved, and surrounded by people who care about you. You don’t want this. You don’t want Haley to have to explain to Brandon what happened to his dad. Don’t take yourself from him. Decide right now to do the work. You put that gun down, Harry, and I will get you the help you need. I swear on my dad’s grave.

” Harry’s large tormented eyes stared at him, the hope in them beautiful and terrible to behold. “Just hand over the gun,” Paul said. “Be the man you need to be for your son.” Harry’s hand shook and then, finally, he lowered the gun. It clattered to the ground and Harry fell to his knees, sobbing. “Okay, Harry,” Paul said, kicking the gun away and taking the cuffs out of his pocket. “I’m gonna do this gentle, okay?” He carefully restrained him, helping him to his feet once his hands were secure. “It’s going to be all right,” he assured him as Harry began to stumble down the alley next to him, still shaking with sobs. “Boss, I just got word fromAgent Walker that he has Brandon. He’s fine.

No trauma or awareness of the situation. He thought they were on a camping trip and that his mom knew all about it,” Zooey said over the radio. Paul felt a small sense of relief. Someday, Brandon would learn the truth. But at least for now, he could be unmarked by any trauma or worry. His mom would find a way to explain it to him when she thought it was appropriate. “I’ve called Haley and she’s on her way here to meet them,” Grace added. “Good job, Paul. You defused the situation like a pro.” “We’re heading in,” Paul said.

“It’s going to be okay,” he told Harry again, as he opened the back of his SUV and shut it once Harry was safely inside. Paul drove to headquarters, where Harry would be placed in custody. He’d meant what he’d said—he’d work the system to get Harry the help he needed. But he also knew that with kidnapping charges laid against him, it was likely going to be a very long time—if ever—before Harry and Brandon were reunited. It was always harder when the bad guy wasn’t completely bad. When he was a victim of sorts as well. A victim of life, of abuse, of addiction. Paul had seen it all. It never got easier. Never.

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