This story is by Kat Canfield and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As soon as Ileana walked through her front door, her intuition kicked in. Someone had invaded her home. Her skin prickled. Bile rose from her stomach. At first, nothing appeared amiss. Then her eyes landed on the two black roses lying crisscrossed on the back of the couch. He’d been here; the monster with no face. The police still didn’t know if it was a man or a woman, though her cousin, Detective Lorenzo Rodriguez, leaned toward a male.
Ileana backed out the door. Her hands shook so hard dialing nine one one on her cell phone seemed impossible.
“Nine One One, what’s your emergency?” a pleasant female voice asked.
“I need the police,” Ileana answered. “Someone has broken into my house.”
After giving the dispatcher the details, Ileana stayed on the line while waiting for a uniformed officer to respond. Tears formed in the corners of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. Toughen up, cupcake became her mantra. Though not the first time, it still didn’t make it any easier. In fact, she found it harder each time she faced these intrusions.
Once the officer arrived, she disconnected from the dispatcher. Now that a police officer stood with her, she relaxed a little. She dialed her cousin next.
“Lorenzo . . .” was all she got out before he interrupted her.
“I heard the call go out, Ileana, I’m on my way. Stay outside by the officer’s car until I arrive.” Lorenzo abruptly ended the call.
The officer waited with her until a second uniformed officer arrived. Ileana waited behind the two patrol cars while they searched the inside of the house. She felt exposed standing in the street. Was he watching her from a hidden vantage point? Lorenzo arrived just as the uniforms came out. First, he hugged Ileana, hoping to assuage her fear.
“You’re shaking like a leaf,” he said to her.
“He has that effect on me. Do you think he is watching?”
“Do you feel like he is?”
“Maybe, I’m not sure. It’s been going on so long I think the feeling is always there.”
“If he his, from which direction is it coming? No, don’t turn to look, just tell me.”
“From behind me.”
Lorenzo scanned the neighborhood over her shoulder. Nothing appeared amiss. When the first incident occurred at her house, the cops had canvassed the neighborhood. All the neighbors were familiar with each other. No one stood out as a suspect.
“Hey, Detective Rodriguez,” one officer addressed him. “There’s no one inside. They pried the back door. I’ll try to pull prints.”
“Anything disturbed other than his calling cards?”
“Yes, I remember you said motion-activated cameras were installed after the last break-in. Well, the bastard took what I would say is a baseball bat to them. They’re toast.”
“Great, let’s hope our perpetrator appears on them before smashing them. They upload to the cloud.”
“I’ll start the paper if you two want to go check inside.” The officer walked to his car.
“I’m not going in, Lorenzo, until you remove those roses. I can’t look at them. Why is this monster doing this?” Now the tears rolled from Ileana’s eyes. Her whole body shook.
Again, Lorenzo pulled her to him. The two were first cousins on her mother’s side. Like most Hispanic families, they were close. He thought of her like one of his sisters. When he found this guy…, well, the guy might not make it to prison.
“We have gone over this several times, Ileana, but are you sure there isn’t someone you dated that might still carry a torch or a grudge? Anyone you can think of who won’t let go?”
“No, with my job at the track, I don’t have time for a personal life. In the last year, the only people I’ve been around are family and track workers. Poppi handles the horse owners, so I’ve no contact with them. The only person I know I have pissed off is Jaime Garza, and you checked, he’s still in prison.”
“He’s out now. But the stalking started before he got released. According to the Parole Board, he moved to Georgia and is reporting daily. I can’t understand how it could be him.”
“I can’t think of anyone else, Lo.”
“You hang with Officer Eades. I’ll retrieve the evidence.”
Lorenzo walked into the house. Inside, he bagged the roses; maybe they’d be lucky and the guy pricked himself so they could collect DNA. Whoever this person was, he was good. In the five incidents so far, no evidence collected other than the roses.
“Hey, Detective,” the other officer – Reed if he remembered right – called to him from the back door.
Lorenzo crossed through the kitchen to the mudroom with a door to the backyard. Black dust covered the door around the knob and deadbolt.
“Any prints?” he asked her.
“Smudges, I’d say he wore gloves. He picked the lock and is quite professional. But left a note on the back of the door.”
Lorenzo stepped outside. Lettered with a wide stylistic black Sharpie, the note written on the back of the door read, UR Dead. He couldn’t let Ileana see that. She and the rest of the family were spooked enough without a death threat.
“Take a picture of it. Then I will try washing it off. This monster has Ileana scared enough without her seeing it.”
“You got it, Detective. Perp likely jumped the fence between the yards. I found nothing else.”
“Thanks, Officer Reed.”
Lorenzo walked back through the house and out the front door.
Ileana watched him emerge. His shoulder hunched forward as he walked toward her.
“Lorenzo, what’s wrong? Did you find something else?”
“No prints, just smudges like before.”
She could tell he was lying.
“I think you should go stay with your parents tonight. I don’t want you here alone tonight.”
“After weeks of impressing upon me to make it look like I’m not afraid, now you think I need to stay around people? What’s changed your mind?”
“It is escalating, Ileana. Each time he ups the game. Just stay with the family tonight, please?”
As much as her fear of this person shook her to her core, being told she couldn’t stay in her own house incensed her more. Full of bravado, she ran toward her front door, Lorenzo close on her heels. She didn’t stop once inside; instinctively, she went to the back door. She exited the back door, surprising Officer Reed.
Ileana stood in the backyard and looked at the back door. The shaking returned.
Lorenzo observed his cousin’s pallor change from ghostly pale to translucent. Dead bodies on some of his murder scenes didn’t look as bad as Ileana did right now. He caught Ileana in his arms as her knees buckled.
“He means to kill me, doesn’t he?”
Lorenzo witnessed cold dread in her eyes.
“I don’t know his intentions, but, yeah, it appears so. Will you go stay with your parents for a few days?”
“No, Lorenzo, I can’t take the chance he might take his threats to their home. I can’t stay here now either.”
He allowed her to stand back on her feet.
“I will not let this monster take control of my life anymore.”
Was that the color returning to her cheeks? Her shaking stopped. Her tough Cuban backbone returned. He saw the anger ignite into a scorching ball of fury at the news she couldn’t stay in her home.
God help this guy if she ever got her hands on him.
“What are you going to do, Ileana? Where will you go?”
“I won’t let this harm me or our family. I’ll head north and find someplace where he can’t find me. There are lots of race tracks where I can work. Since my sister is living outside of the country, I’ll use her credentials for admittance to the tracks. I’ll build my life again. I’ll show this monster I’m not going to be his victim.” With that, she strode into the house.
Following her back into the house, he knew she meant it. It would be up to him and his police officer siblings to capture the monster and allow Ileana to one day return home. He hated that his chosen profession had failed her. Law enforcement should protect her and capture this monster. Someday, this person would be caught and justice could prevail.