Thank you for coming this late at night,” the detective said as he sat down at the table. Before him, dressed in hiking clothes, sat Ben Stryker. “We just have a few questions.”
“Your officer made it sound like I had little choice,” Stryker said. He looked about the room and his gaze rested on the glass behind the detective. He looked back at the police detective and a dawning hit his face. “You’re Peter Mitchell’s father.”
“Yes,” Detective Mitchell said. He looked at Stryker a moment, trying to gauge the reason for the comment.
“He’s friends with my boy, Will,” Stryker said with an affable air.
“Yes. Though that’s not what we brought you here to discuss,” Detective Mitchell said. “There’ve been a few break-ins around here lately. Have you heard about them?”
“I have. Don’t know much as I pay little attention to the papers. Too much negativity right now,” Stryker said. “It’s a full time job being a single parent these days.” He folded his arms, and took in a deep breath and yawned.
“Hiking again?” Mitchell asked.
“Yes. I’ve been hiking in the evenings lot more lately. Helps with stress,” Stryker replied.
“Do you know anyone at Wilson’s Printing Shop?” Mitchell asked. He took out his pen and opened the folder on the table. He looked up at Stryker and waited.
“I’ve seen Wilson around, but I don’t really know him,” Stryker said.
“You ever been in his shop?”
“I believe we used his services for our wedding. Michelle looked after that,” Stryker replied. “I may have picked up the invitations. Don’t recall really. So much has happened between then and now. Was the shop broken into?”
“Yes,” Mitchell said. “You write a bit, is that correct?”
“It’s a hobby really,” Stryker said. “I have a blog and I dabble. Nothing serious.”
“What do you make of this?” Mitchell handed over a plastic bag. Inside was a single piece of black paper six inches by four inches. On it was written two lines in white:
Your ink stains the very paper you print upon
You stand with the corrupt, your honour is long gone
Stryker took a moment to read it, made a grunt and handed it back to the detective. “A couplet.”
“Signed off by ‘The Affected.’ Fifty copies were posted all over the shop. You post poetry on your blog?” Mitchell asked.
“No,” Stryker said with a laugh. “Poetry to me is very personal.”
“I see. Of course. A poet must pierce his own soul to write poetry. You know Carl Worthington?”
“The lawyer? I do,” Stryker said.
“You ever been in his office?” Mitchell leaned back in his chair, watching.
“Yes,” Stryker said. His face turned serious. “He helped with Michelle’s will and with settling her estate after she died.”
“His office was broken into, too,” Mitchell said.
“Seems an epidemic,” Stryker said. “Not sure why you think I’ve anything to do with it. I’m no thief.”
“Well, nothing’s been taken. Just another of these notes with copies plastered all over the office.” Detective Mitchell handed Stryker another plastic bag with the same style of note:
You have sold your soul for a few measly dollars
To those who inflict pain like common street brawlers
Stryker shrugged and handed back the note. “Not everyone likes lawyers I suppose.”
“You’ve mentioned your wife a couple of times. How did she die?” Mitchell asked with an even tone.
“She was young. What 34?”
“37, but yes she was young.”
“It’s tough to raise a kid without a mother,” Mitchell commented.
“You’ve experience with that?” Stryker asked.
“No. Just commenting.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t then.”
“Comment on things you know nothing about.”
“Of course. I meant no offence,” Mitchell said. He rummaged through the file in front of him. “Another company was broken into. Again nothing taken, as far as the owner knows. It’s a liquid gas supplier.” Mitchell flipped through some papers. “You know the one I mean. They supply propane to all the gas bars. What is it called?”
“The only one I know of is GasPro,” Stryker said.
“Yes,” Mitchell said with a snap of his fingers. “You know them?”
“Only by reputation,” Stryker said.
“A note, copied numerous times like the others, was left.” Mitchell handed Stryker the third plastic bag.
You supply and support evil while you revel
With willing collaboration you’re a devil
“Where were you on the night of the 15th?” Mitchell asked.
“At home with my son,” Stryker replied.
“Same with the 2nd and the 10th? They were the nights of the first two break-ins,” Mitchell said.
“My routine is pretty boring. Work then home with Will. Occasional hiking.”
“We’re concerned about this pattern,” Mitchell said, making notes. “It suggests the work of someone bent on revenge, not thieving. Those are the most dangerous kinds of criminals. Axes to grind. Moral superiority complexes.”
“Someone has been hurt?” Stryker asked.
“No, but certainly there is fear. That’s a kind of hurt, isn’t it?” Mitchell asked.
“Yes. I feared for my wife’s life as she was dying. I feared for my boy as his mother withered away,” Stryker said, leaning forward. “But it seems not everyone cares about the fears of others.”
“Or they care too much,” Mitchell said. “This is a campaign of fear.”
“They’re still operating as normal, right?” Stryker said with a shrug.
“Not my concern right now,” Mitchell replied.
“A common enough refrain from the police,” Stryker said with a sharpness in his voice. “Polluters are allowed to carry on polluting.”
“You know Lawrence Casewell?” Mitchell asked, changing the subject.
“Yes, he was a good friend of mine. Haven’t seen him in a while,” Stryker replied.
“Had a bit of a falling out did you? Why’s that?” Mitchell asked.
“I have a child and not the time to devote to our old pursuits,” Stryker said.
“Going to bars and golfing. That sort of thing.”
“His PR firm was broken into as well,” Mitchell said, passing another note.
With your mouth wide open you assail common sense
Speaking for a corp who claims health as a pretense
“Larry does have a big mouth. Loves to talk anyone up. He’ll say anything to get an advantage,” Stryker said. “I take it nothing was stolen.”
“That is correct, but it’s quite a pattern that’s developing,” Mitchell said. He motioned with his hands toward the messages on the table.
“If you say so,” Stryker said.
“I do. In fact the Captain thinks you’re the one most likely to have committed these crimes. Hiking as you were: alone with no alibi,” Mitchell stated. He paused. “I’m not so certain.”
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in life,” Stryker replied. “But then there’s a lot of things we can be certain of.”
“Such as?” Mitchell asked.
“Cancer is more environmental than genetic,” Stryker said.
“You mean pollution?” Mitchell asked and Stryker nodded. “That brings us the last note. Left after a break-in earlier tonight. You were hiking again? Alone?”
“Yes,” Stryker answered.
“This note was left in the home of the man who own’s Red Cedar Plastics. You’ve accused his company of dumping sludge into the Birch River. He denies that of course,” Mitchell said.
“A lot of people accuse his company of dumping,” Stryker said.
“Your home backs onto that river, does it not?” Mitchell asked.
“It was my wife’s parent’s place before they died.”
“Interesting,” Mitchell said as he jotted notes down. “Down river from the plant?” Stryker nodded. “Well, here’s the letter.”
Profits before clean water leads you to destroy
People died for the dirty riches you enjoy
“That is as succinct a statement on Red Cedar’s practices as I’ve ever seen,” Stryker said and put the bag on the table.
“Red Ceder supplies a lot of jobs to the community. The company has donated to local health initiatives, too,” Mitchell said.
“Guilty conscience,“ Stryker said.
“That reminds me. Do you know what people in the station are calling you?” Mitchell asked. Stryker said nothing. “The Conscientious Cat Burglar. Has a bit of a ring to it.”
“I’m not that kind of person,” Stryker said.
“Of course not,” Mitchell said, waving his hands. “I apologize. Didn’t mean to suggest you were. It’s just…” Mitchell paused and took in a deep breath. “The prosecutor is hot for this one.” Stryker said nothing. Mitchell watched him for a moment. “He wants this wrapped up before the media at large gets to it. You know. Bad publicity for the county and all, what with tourist season coming on.”
“His family does own the largest inn around,” Stryker said. “They would have much to lose, economically. Mind you, no one would die from bad publicity.”
“That’s the god’s honest truth, isn’t it?” Mitchell pulled out a picture and slid it across the table. “Michelle was very beautiful.” The deliberate change in subject and tone, Mitchell hoped, would catch Stryker off guard.
Tears welled in Stryker eyes. He wiped them away. “Yes, she was.”
“She was taken too early,” Mitchell said, with a somber note. “It’s understandable that you would want some kind of explanation for her death. Some kind of reason. Someone to blame.”
“Do you think Michelle will be the only one to die of tainted water?” Stryker asked.
“I’m not a scientist, Mr. Stryker. Just a detective with a family,” Mitchell said.
“You need to protect your family,” Stryker said, his voice rising. “Before it’s too late.” He shook his head and clenched his jaw.
Mitchell watched Stryker for a moment. “Some in the police community feel that escalating incidents like this will ultimately become violent.”
“Why?” Stryker asked. “Nothing in these notes suggest to me that the perpetrator will turn violent.”
“You’re sure about that? Is that because you are the burglar?” Mitchell asked.
“No, I’m not,” Stryker said.
“Not sure or not the burglar?”
“Neither,” Stryker retorted. He folded his arms and stared at Mitchell.
“Well…” Mitchell started then stopped. It dawned on him that Stryker, whose hobby was writing, was playing semantics. Nothing was stolen. “Perhaps the Conscientious Cat Burglar is not accurate.” He leaned back in the chair. “The Conscientious Cat Courier, leaving notes but not stealing anything, is a better label.” Stryker looked away. “Word games will only get you so far. Trespassing and breaking and entering are crimes. In fact the victims of these crimes are asking for increased penalties.” Stryker remained quiet. “They really don’t like that their actions, motives, and honour, are being questioned.”
“I’ve no sympathy for them,” Stryker said.
“Neither do I. But I have sympathy for you,” Mitchell said. “You know, coming clean has a more positive affect than just a cathartic release. It can mean a less harsh sentence.” Stryker looked down at his hands and fidgeted in his chair. “Think of your boy, Will. Did you break into these homes and businesses and leave these notes?”
“I…” Stryker said, but stopped. He opened his mouth a couple of times and closed it each time. Tears streamed down his face. He glanced at the detective and was about to answer.
Mitchell nodded. He then closed the folder with an abrupt display of finality. After a time he stood up and pushed the chair under the table. “I think we’re done here.”
Stryker’s mouth fell open. A dumbfounded expression crossed his face. “I’m free to go?”
“Yes,” Mitchell replied. “I’ve got the answers I wanted.” Stryker stood and Mitchell stuck out his hand.
“Am I being charged?” Stryker said as he shook Mitchell’s’ hand with some apprehension.
“No.” Mitchell then turned and opened the door to the interrogation room. The two men left and proceeded down the hall to the front entrance. Mitchell stopped at the front reception area and Stryker continued, looking around as if there were a trap of some kind.
“Hey Detective,” the receptionist said. “I heard your boy is in the hospital. I hope he’s ok.”
Stryker stopped and turned around. Mitchell, eyes watering, looked at Stryker as he answered the receptionist. “It doesn’t look good.”