When Evil Finds You
Beyond the Veil Part III
You can read Part II here.
Content warning: Profanity, references to sexual assault
April 21, 1999
Nirali Patel could never tell her traditional Indian parents exactly why she resisted their kidding-but-not comments about finding her a husband for her graduation gift. Of course, she always played along, promising she’d go to India with her father to find the right man when she finished college. But really, she didn’t want to marry at all. Not a boy anyway.
Well before puberty, she’d had feelings she could never share with her family, a longing that her friends might be more than friends. In elementary school, she’d draw stick figures of herself holding hands with Denise, her best friend. Starting in junior high, she’d moved onto to more visceral thoughts, wondering what it would be like to touch another girl—feeling soft, smooth skin pressed up against her own.
But this… was not what she had in mind.
“What are they going to do to us?” Katie’s whole body vibrated with terror, her skin gone sticky with sweat and dirt.
“I think that should be obvious at this point,” Nirali whispered back, wrapping her arm tighter around Katie’s waist, pulling her close against her own body as they huddled in the corner.
“Do you know them?” Katie hissed, a note of accusation in her words.
“No, I’ve never seen them before. I was about to ask you the same thing.”
Nirali could hear the shame in her own voice. Ever since the boys had stepped outside, she’d been stewing over the fact that these were probably Katie’s friends… some lowlife football players she’d met at one of her popular girl parties. Even as she comforted this girl she had no business even talking to, she’d been silently accusing her.
For a moment, they let the silence fill the dimly lit trailer, letting the distant sounds of the boys’ laughter punctuate their misery.
The day had gone so well. Nirali had gotten not one but two medals at the Forensics tournament—one for mock Congress and one for comedic monologue. But the best part had been when Katie came up to her after the awards ceremony, looking perfect in her skirt and heels.
You did so great! Obviously, I wanted to place first, but you totally deserved it.
Nirali had been so shocked at the beautiful rich girl from Blue Valley speaking to her, all she could do was blush and mumble out something like, you were really good too.
Then had come the offer, the one that made Nirali’s stomach flip like it never had before. A bunch of us are going to AMC Lanes, you know, the old King Louie’s. You should come!
Desperate to go, Nirali had been forced to admit she’d been driven to the tournament by her brother, and that he wouldn’t be interested in coming.
That’s okay, you can ride with me. She’d smiled then, and pointed to Nirali’s long hair, braided all the way down her back. I would straight-up murder someone for hair like yours.
She’d laughed, not sure what to make of the strangely aggressive compliment, but happy to have been given it anyway. And out they walked, out the doors of Piper High School, a small, rural school with a damn good debate team and not much else. They were almost to Katie’s red Mazda Miata when a van door slid open, revealing a scene that might have been out of a buddy comedy—a stupid, low-budget comedy—except for what happened next.
Three white boys, one skinny, one fat, and one a classic jock, all grinning in a way that sent a jolt down Nirali’s spine, set every instinct she had screaming at her to run. But she hadn’t. And neither had Katie.
They just stood there, plastering polite smiles on their faces like idiots, not even getting out a scream until it was too late—when the fat one had Nirali by the waist, his grip like iron as he dragged her into the van.
This is a joke, right? Some weird, practical joke?
It didn’t take long to understand no one in that van was joking.
Now she could hear all three of them just outside the trailer, the smell of pot smoke drifting in through the cracks in the rusted door frame.
“We could run,” Katie said, without any actual hope in her voice. “Our legs aren’t shackled.”
“Pretty sure that Drew guy could catch both of us,” she retorted, the name of the repulsive leader of the group like acid on her tongue.
She didn’t know how long the van ride had been. Maybe a half hour, but probably more. However long it was, Drew had spent the entire time assaulting Katie, with the other two boys cheering him on. They remained nameless for now. Internally, she called them Fatso and Skinny. But once they were done with their beers and their joint, she imagined she’d be learning their names too.
She and Katie were both naked and without shoes. And they were in the middle of nowhere. Even in the dark, Nirali had seen their surroundings when Fatso had yanked her out of the van. Empty Kansas grasslands for as far as the eye could see. Other than the trailer they were in, there were no buildings, no hills or boroughs, not even corn. High or not, they would have no trouble catching them if they ran. There was no escape.
“At least we’d go out fighting,” Katie sobbed, every muscle in her body tensing as she desperately tried to stifle her cries. But it was too late.
The sound traveled, and the laughter from outside stopped. It was replaced by shuffling movement and the sound of the door creaking open.
Skinny came in first, holding that stupid camcorder in front of him, his eyes glued to the viewfinder instead of directly at them. Maybe it made it easier for him to detach from what he was doing. He was the classic stoner type and, if they ever made a live-action Scooby Doo, he’d be the obvious choice to play Shaggy.
Then came Fatso. Now in the bright fluorescent lights of the trailer, Nirali saw she’d chosen his nickname badly. Yeah, he was a big boy, but he was lineman big, not man-boobs big. And unlike Skinny, he didn’t seem to be enjoying himself at all. Scowling as he entered the trailer, he carefully avoided looking at Nirali. She hoped briefly it was shame, that he didn’t want to look at the bruises he’d left on her arms. But that was wishful thinking and she knew it.
Finally, Drew came in. She hadn’t needed to give him a nickname, but if she had, it would have been Varsity Blues. Wearing cargo shorts, a polo shirt, and one of those stupid pooka-shell necklaces, he was like the love child of Scott Caan and James Van Der Beek. And if she’d seen him at the mall or at school, Nirali would have thought he was a nice boy. One she definitely would have accepted a ride home from. And Mom would have been so mad. What did I tell you about boys? They don’t want to be your friend. The only place you should spend time with them is here, in our house!
Assuming she lived through this, the first thing she’d do was tell Mom she was right and apologize for calling her ignorant and controlling. But given the way Drew was looking at Katie as she cried and shook, that was probably wishful thinking too.
“You two losers take the brown one in there,” Drew tilted his head left, where a hallway led to another room.
“No way, man,” Skinny snapped. “I don’t like brown pussy. At all. And you got the hot one the whole way here.”
“And you should be grateful,” Nirali heard herself say, her voice low and neutral.
The boys froze, all three of them taking a beat before turning to look at her, shocked beyond measure she would deign to speak to them.
Her stomach twisting into a knot, Nirali steeled herself to meet their gazes, and clutched Katie tighter as she whimpered.
“Only his DNA is inside her. Not yours. And despite what you might be thinking, there’s nothing you can do to our bodies to get rid of all the DNA. You can dump us in a river, bury us in a landfill… it won’t matter. We’ll be found eventually. And when we are, it’ll be his door they knock on.”
Skinny’s face dropped and he snapped his head around to look at Drew, who kept his eyes firmly on Nirali.
“Our DNA isn’t on file,” sneered Fatso. “And we don’t go to Piper. No one will think to test us.”
“You’re right. I’m sure there were no cameras in that public high school parking lot you snatched us from,” retorted Nirali, nodding at the keys in his meaty hand… with the dark blue U.S. Navy lanyard hanging from them. “And I’m sure they don’t draw blood from you when you go in the military. I’m sure they won’t keep your DNA on file forever.”
She had no idea if that was true, but watching the color drain from Fatso’s face gave her a brief glint of satisfaction. It was obvious these idiots hadn’t planned anything out. They’d literally just been hanging out and randomly decided to commit kidnap and rape. But them going to jail was pointless if she and Katie died here. She had to turn Skinny and Fatso against Drew. She had to convince them it would be okay if they let them go.
Her legs shaking, she struggled to stand, untangling herself from Katie, who crumpled further into herself. Using the counter for balance, she shoved her embarrassment at her nudity aside, and squared her shoulders as she spoke directly to Fatso.
“We all have shitty friends. And no one’s going to hold it against you that this rich asshole dragged you into this. You can be a hero tonight. And the Navy… they’ll be so proud that—”
Drew launched himself across the tiny room, moving so fast Nirali’s tongue hit the back of her throat as the boy in the pooka-shell necklace wrapped his hand around her neck, driving her back and down. The corner of kitchen counter striking her temple.
A blinding, body-spasming pain exploded in her skull.
Time didn’t slow down at all, not the way they say it does in books. It was all so fast, barely the blink of an eye between Fatso’s wavering loyalty and now.
She could feel the plastic flooring underneath her shoulder as she struggled to breath, but not much else. Her limbs were frozen, like she’d been dropped in ice water and she couldn’t feel her head at all, nor see a thing. In her last conscious moment, all she heard was Katie screaming her name.
April 5, 2003
One of the only upsides to Katie’s “insight” was her new understanding of men, of how they needed sex like she needed water. It wasn’t something she understood before that night. But she understood now. Even after she started wearing the habit, male attention didn’t stop. The looks still came, sometimes even pickup lines. And despite what the defensive young men insisted, no, she was not just “being paranoid.” She was able to actually see what the pervs were thinking. All she had to do was let her hand brush against them and she got the full vista of their imagination.
Most of them were just trying to imagine what her breasts looked like. And a good number of them had a nun fetish—the whole “good girl turned bad by this one guy” type deal. Guess that won’t be a problem anymore.
She no longer wore the habit, though her long skirt and hoodie were just as modest. Nothing that should have turned a man’s head. But turn they did, even as she kept her eyes firmly on the one man she gave a single shit about.
She smiled as she approached the baggage claim, not needing to touch him to know he was nervous.
Tall and lean, Frank wore pretty much the same thing every day—a polo shirt tucked into jeans. Maybe a nerdy getup for other guys, but on his well-muscled body, it was sexier than a speedo.
He waved at her and she waved back, walking faster.
He opened his mouth to greet her as she approached, but before he could get a word out, she flung her arms around his shoulders, squeezing herself against him in a tight hug before he could back away.
She sighed as she felt his love wash over her, as well as his guilt for being attracted to her… and his strong suspicion and worry about why she was back in Kansas City. Why isn’t she calling her mom? rang strongly through his mind. He knew something was up. Of course he did. And she was being truly shitty right now by taking advantage of him. But honestly, there was no other way.
The sight of Katie’s shaved head wasn’t something Frank had been prepared for. Nor was the hug. The barely half-inch of fuzz covering her scalp grazed his chin as she pressed into him, twisting his stomach in all the wrong ways. And when she pulled back, she was near tears.
“Sorry, I probably should have warned you,” she said, rubbing the top of her head and chuckling.
“Bullshit,” he said, trying to keep his smile genuine. “You look like yourself.”
She was still beautiful, hair or no. And the nervous smile she gave him as they walked away from the baggage claim made her more so. She didn’t have any luggage, just the large backpack she’d taken on the plane with her. But the days of being able to greet someone at the gate were over.
He’d gotten to the airport a full half hour before she landed and had spent it pacing at the baggage claim, trying to check his reflection in the shiny metal bag conveyor. He was like a teenager on his first date… only worse. If you’re on a date, you know what the hell to do. Open doors for the girl, tell her she looks nice, ask questions. Then after dinner, walk her back to her door and, if she seems okay with it, give a single kiss and ask if you can call again. That’s it.
But this whole thing with Katie… he didn’t know what this was. The secrecy and suddenness of her visit. The fact she’d left the convent when she was so sure she wanted to be a nun. And calling him, of all people. He didn’t need his cop instincts to know something was wrong. But now she was here. And Katie was talking as if this was just a regular visit, like something she did all the time.
“I got called out for a ‘random’ pat-down again,” Katie laughed. “It’s always fun to see the look of surprise on their face when they see I’m white.”
Frank cocked an eyebrow at her, holding the door for her as they walked outside, both of them giving a glance to the armed National Guardsmen standing sentry. “Why do you say that?”
“Well it’s not really random if everyone getting frisked has a Muslim name.” She smiled as she walked through the door, coming to a stop at the curb. He pointed at the terminal parking lot across the street and together, they crossed.
He kept his retort to himself, being fully in favor of profiling. After all, it wasn’t Scottish people blowing shit up. But Katie’s dad was a sore spot for her and he didn’t want to start off on a bad note. She’d just gotten here.
On one of his many visits to the Tahiri house, he’d asked why Janet had gone back to her maiden name, while Katie had kept the name of her Albanian father who left when she was seven. Apparently, he’d run back to the old country to avoid paying child support. But Katie kept his name and Janet had shot him a “don’t go there” look when he’d started to ask about it.
“Are you still driving the Jeep?” she asked, looking around the crowded lot for his neon-green Jeep Wrangler.
He forced a smile. “No, I had to get something more respectable for the… I mean, I’ll be forty-five in a few months. Can’t be driving around like a beach bum.” He pointed to the very respectable Ford Explorer at the far end of the lot. The one he’d be driving to Texas in less than a week. But he didn’t want to tell Katie about the new job until he knew what brought her back home.
“That’s too bad. I liked it.”
“Well, you’re young,” he said, not quite managing to keep the sadness out of his voice. He unlocked the Explorer and Katie threw her bag into the back seat before climbing into the front passenger seat, using the handle to hoist her small frame into the SUV.
He waited until she was seated with her seatbelt fastened before he got into the driver’s seat, closed the door, and put his key into the ignition.
But he didn’t turn it.
Instead, he sat, letting the silence turn uncomfortable.
People hate silence. So if you stared at them long enough, they’d start talking. And yeah, nine times out of ten, whatever came out was bullshit, some story they’d rapidly concocted. But in that bullshit, a good detective could find the truth.
Frank never made detective. But he was about to become one for a national agency. May as well get some practice in.
The clock on his dash had an obnoxiously loud second hand and it only took thirteen clicks before Katie broke.
“I need help and you’re the only one I can trust,” she whispered, the tears he’d seen in the airport strangling her voice.
Not good enough, honey, he thought, turning to look at her, but still remaining silent.
He watched her squirm, feeling his stomach twist at the sight of her tear-filled eyes. They were brown like his but shone amber when she cried. She was in trouble and his first instinct was to reach out and make it all better. But that would have to wait.
She was a bad liar. And there was something else going on here. Something other than PTSD.
After a full minute of quiet weeping and intermittently looking up at him, Katie relented. Pulling her hoodie tightly around her, she sunk into the seat. “I left the convent because they can’t help me. I thought they could. That they could make me normal again. But they can’t. So I have to find another way to fix whatever’s wrong with me.”
He sighed and leaned closer to her. “There’s nothing wrong with y-”
“Don’t patronize me! You know there is!” she screamed, slamming her palms hard on the dash and sending Frank back into his seat with a jolt. “You saw what I did to those fuckers and you know it’s not normal. And that’s not even all of it…”
She pressed her lips together hard and closed her eyes, as if doing battle with the words she so badly wanted to say next, but didn’t. Instead, she took a deep breath, and opened her eyes to look at him, a resolute look in her eyes.
“I need to know what happened to me. I don’t remember anything after they killed Nirali and I have to know. I can’t live like this. I need the camera.”
Frank felt a knot in his chest and he leaned back in his seat, looking away from her for the first time since they got in the car. What the hell could he say to that?
When Katie had finally been able to talk, to tell the detectives (and the psychiatrist) what happened to her, the news that one of the perps had filmed the whole thing came screaming over the radios with orders to find the camera. A silver Sony Handycam with a flip-out display. By that time, Frank’s official involvement with the case was over. So the Olathe police and citizen volunteers had combed the trailer, the surrounding fields, and roadways looking for it… which was odd, honestly.
With all three kidnappers dead, it wasn’t like they needed the footage for trial. But after the coroner’s report showed just how they’d died… that raised a lot of questions. And Katie hadn’t been terribly forthcoming. She’d claimed she had no idea what became of the camera, or even which of the boys had been holding it. Even then, it was obviously bullshit. And more so now.
“Honey, you know I don’t have it,” he said, his jaw tight. “Did you stash it somewhere?”
Katie screwed up her face, silently asking if he was stupid or something. “No, of course not. Catherine Sutterfield has it.”
Frank leaned back in his seat. “The reporter? Why... what makes you say that?”
Now it was Katie’s jaw that clenched. “The things she wrote. The only way she could have known some of it is if she was there. Or if she had a recording of it.”
He let out a disgusted sound that was half sigh, half groan. That bitch! No wonder she and the newspaper settled in Katie’s defamation suit. If the case had gone to discovery, the paper would have to reveal they had evidence and kept it from the cops. Why the hell would she do this? Why obstruct an investigation?
“And you think she’ll give to me?” He held his hand up, cutting off her protest. “I’m not with KCPD anymore, Katie. Yesterday was my last day. And even if I was still on the force, it was Olathe’s case and as far as I know, Sutterfield still lives in Lenexa. I can’t even fake having the authority to start asking questions.”
She leaned across the center console, getting her face as close to him as possible and allowing him to see the determination in her eyes.
“I just need to be close enough to touch her.”
Frank felt his jaw go slack and his eyebrows dart together. The steely determination in her eyes, the way she leaned it. Everything about her body language screamed she was telling the truth. That she was finally being honest. But what the hell did she mean by that?
Obviously seeing his confusion, she took a deep breath and carefully enunciated: “If I can touch her, I’ll know where the camera is.”
“I can do things, Frank. Since that night. It’s why I trust you and no one else. It’s why I wasn’t afraid of you when you found me in the field even after what happened. I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.”
Jesus. I should have listened to Janet and told her to do in-patient care. Her PTSD obviously wasn’t being managed. And the convent wasn’t equipped to heal her. It wasn’t a hospital, after all.
He closed his eyes, breaking the intense eye contact they’d held for what felt like hours. “Katie, honey-”
“It’s also how I know about your wife and your daughter!” she shouted, cutting him off, the desperation in her voice not dulling the sharp sting of what she’d just said.
“Don’t,” he snapped, holding up a finger to her face. “I’m sure that bitch Sutterfield told you a lot of things about me…”
“Yeah she did and they were all lies. You would never hurt Tess-”
“For fuck’s sake!” He yanked open the door and catapulted out of the SUV, the sound of his daughter’s name stinging him like holy water does a demon.
Suddenly sweaty and out of breath, he paced away from the car, barely hearing the passenger door open and slam shut again.
Katie rounded the back of the SUV, but didn’t advance on him further. She merely waited a few seconds before quietly asking, “How else would I know she’s not really your daughter?”
The question stopped his frenetic pacing cold. Hands on hips, he looked at her under a heavy brow, the sweat on his forehead cold in the night.
“Your wife had an affair with your brother,” she continued. “And you never knew. Not until all the weirdness with your neighbor.”
At that, Frank’s stomach dropped and the anger evaporated, the shame following swiftly on its heels. He looked at her, this petite little woman with a shaved head, the lights in the car lot illuminating her just enough to see the sincerity in her eyes.
No one… no one knew Tess wasn’t his biological child. Just him as his whore ex-wife, Maddie. Not even his piece of shit brother knew Tess was actually his. He hadn’t told anyone of his wife’s unforgivable betrayal. And Maddie damn sure wouldn’t have told anyone either. Certainly no one knew about everything that had gone on with his ex-neighbor—the disgusting Satanist and his delinquent son.
When you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
Sherlock Holmes was dead on. And Katie could only have learned what she knew from him. No one else.
Still out of breath, he bent down, resting his hands on his knees and tried to make sense of what the hell was going on here. This wasn’t how he thought the night was going to go.
“Are you mad at me?” she asked timidly.
He coughed out a laugh, taken off guard by the question. “It’s not a good feeling, Katie. Having you know things about me.”
“I know and I’m sorry. I don’t want it. I was hoping God would take it from me. There’s a lot in other people’s heads I don’t want to know.”
He had to nod at that. Hell, he got sick at some of the crap people kept on their computer hard drives. He couldn’t imagine actually seeing inside someone’s head.
He steadied himself with the knowledge that he wasn’t the worst person in the world. Selfish and cowardly. But not depraved, at least. As he straightened, he made a note never to let her touch him again.
“So what do you want me to do?” he asked, hearing the exhaustion in his voice.
She gave a quavering smile. “See if Sutterfield will meet you somewhere. Then I can come up and just tap her on the shoulder. That’s literally all it’ll take.”
“And what happens when you get the camera? What will you do with it?”
Her brow knit together, seemingly in bafflement at the question. “Watch it…obviously.”
“And then what?” he pressed, seeing that she hadn’t thought this through. “What will you do with the knowledge you acquire? What if you watch that video and see that yes, you were the one to rip those boys apart with your bare hands? How will that help you?”
He’d expected her face to crumple at his question, for her tears to return and to sputter out that she didn’t know, and that all she wanted was to be happy again.
But she didn’t do any of that.
Instead, she stood hands on hips and feet planted firmly in a superman pose and said through gritted teeth, “It will help me know if I’m merely possessed by evil or if I am evil. I’d kinda like to know if going to Hell is a certainty or just a possibility.”
Frank had faced down evil and Katie certainly wasn’t that. But he knew it was useless to try and tell her so. She’d react exactly as she had in the car when he’d said nothing was wrong with her.
Well, if everything she said was true, it seemed there was something wrong… but not with her. Just like nothing had been wrong with Tess. But with her, he was too invested in his own reputation to see something wrong was being done TO her. He wouldn’t make the same mistake this time.
Something was hurting Katie and it made her worry for her soul. A worry he knew all too well.
As the silence stretched on, Katie shifted her eyes down and asked, “Will you think it over tonight?”
Without hesitation, Frank nodded. “Yeah. I’ll do that. Where are you staying?”
“The Doubletree in Overland Park,” she smiled weakly. “Less chance of running into anyone there.”
He nodded, knowing the truth of it. It only took a few minutes on the highway to get from one end of the Kansas City metro to the other. But people tended to stick to their own little corner of it. He tilted his head and they both went back to the SUV, silently getting into their respective seats, and saying nothing as Frank started the car and put it in gear.