Rachel’s boys loved that Ben dropped them off for school. They were especially excited at the prospect of riding in his unmarked squad car. Their excitement was quickly dashed, when Ben told them Marty had his car and they’d be going in Rachel’s van. On the ride home, he called Marty, who was less than thrilled about Ben’s absence for the day but understood the magnitude of what was happening. Ben pulled into the driveway, promising himself that he and Rachel would be car shopping before the end of the week. He wanted to drive that van, off a cliff.
He walked into the house and found Rachel sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. There was a box of tissues on the table, her eyes puffy and red from crying. Ben came and sat down next to her. He pulled her closer to him, and she rested her head on his shoulder.
“The boys are safely deposited at school. What do you say, we go back upstairs and get some rest? Do you think you could sleep for a bit?”
“Ben, I have to show you something.” She looked him in the eye as she said it.
“Okay.” He said nervously.
She stood up and walked around to the other side of him where there was more room in the small kitchen. She turned her back to him and let her robe drop to the floor. She reached behind her and slowly pulled up her nightgown. Ben thought he was going to vomit; he had seen those marks before. There had to be at least a dozen burnt-in brands on the back of her upper thighs and butt. Rachel held her nightgown up but said nothing. They were the same brands on all of the victims of the South Side Strangler.
“Rachel,” he tried to say as calmly as he could, “you have to tell me where got those burns?”
Ben stood up and slowly walked around to face Rachel.
“Derrik Hall, he’s the friend of Rhett’s that I was talking about last night. He is the devil, Ben. He did this, Rhett sat there and watched him do this.” Rachel sobbed. “This is why I don’t like to have the lights on; I didn’t want anyone to know.”
Ben wrapped his arms tightly around her as she slowly moved to the kitchen floor. She was so upset she couldn’t stand. He helped her down as she sat on the floor and cried. Ben knew Derrik Hall had to be the name of the perp. He needed to know more, but Rachel was so fragile. He held her and stayed quiet as long as he could.
“Rachel, honey, what does Derrik look like?”
“What? Why do you want to know what he looks like? How that important in any way?”
“I have seen that brand before. Rachel, what does he look like? Honey, this is important.”
“He works with Rhett. He is our age. Maybe a little over six feet tall, white, thin.”
“What color is his hair?”
“It is dark blonde.”
Ben thought he was going to vomit again. He stood up and pulled out his phone. As it rang, Rachel stood, alarmed.
“Ben, no, you promised, you can’t tell anyone! No please.”
Ben pulled the phone away from his ear.
“Rachel, the man that has been leaving dead women all of over the city has been branding them with the same brand in the same spot. I would know it anywhere.”
The phone continued to ring. Ben put it on speakerphone as he searched through his photos for the artist rendering of the suspect.
“Is this him?”
Ben knew by the look on her face that it was. The call went to voicemail.
“Ben I don’t want to be involved in this, I don’t want my boys to know. Please.”
Ben redialed Marty’s cell. It rang two times before he picked up.
“Hey man, I’m in the evidence locker, can I call you right back?”
“The guy’s name is Derrik Hall. He works with Rhett Lawson.”
“What? What guy?”
“The guy, our guy!”
“Wait, how do you know this? It is a long story. I have a positive i.d. from one of his victims.”
“Who are you interview…” Marty stopped mid-sentence. “Rachel?”
“Holy shit! We got him! Are you coming in for the collar?”
“No, I need to be here. Call me when you have him.”
Rachel got up and walked out of the room as Ben finished his conversation as quickly as he could. Marty would keep him informed of any updates. He climbed the stairs, knowing Rachel was in bad shape. He walked into the bedroom and saw her curled up on the bed. She looked so small and fragile in the bed by herself; it broke his heart. Ben walked around the bed and knelt down beside her.
“Rachel, honey. I am sorry I had to call it in. I know how hard this was for you. You have saved a lot of lives this morning and gave justice to others that weren’t so lucky. Can you tell me how and when this happened? Please, it is really important.”
Ben noticed she had begun to tremble from the adrenaline of reliving the trauma. He stroked the side of her face.
“Honey, look at me, you are safe. I promise nothing will hurt you anymore. I think you are the strongest woman I have ever met.”
“Will you lay next to me?”
Ben kissed her cheek and came around and got in bed next to her. He thought she would roll over, but she didn’t.
“I want you to hold me from behind.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I don’t want that to be taken away from me anymore. This has taken away enough in my life.”
Ben scooted up behind her but didn’t press his body against hers; he wanted his touch to be gentle. He draped his arm over her but did not hold her tightly. He felt her body tense.
“I love you and am so incredibly proud of you.” He said softly.
She laid like that as long as her body would allow until she rolled over to face him. She took a deep breath.
“I am going to try to tell you the whole story. I am not sure if I can, I’ve never told anyone all of it.” She reached for Ben’s hand, and he grabbed it gently.
“After the first time with Derrik, I wanted to leave Rhett. I didn’t know what to do. I had pushed everyone away by that point. My own parent’s wanted me to leave Rhett; when I refused, they stopped speaking to me. They didn’t know about the abuse; they just knew I wasn’t myself. Even my relationship with Becky was strained. I didn’t have anyone to turn to, so I went to Rhett’s mother again. She called me a dirty whore and told me to get out of her house. She thought I was having an affair, and making up some wild story to cover my tracks.
After that first time, Rhett was different. He was happy like I said, he was the man I had married. It lasted for about six months. I was dumb enough to think it would last. I was very careful not to drink and to stay aware, even though things were back to normal, part of me knew. I was so stupid. Derrik came back at; first, he just hung around the house with Rhett after work and on weekends. I told Rhett I didn’t want him in our home, Rhett ignored me.
One evening I came home from shopping. I had left the boys with Rhett for the afternoon. When I got home, he told me his mom had the kids. I knew something wasn’t right; my mother-in-law never looked after my kids. When I saw Derrik walk out of our kitchen, it sunk in, what Rhett had planned. I never consented, I fought him. Rhett just walked out of the room.” Rachel sobbed. “ I just couldn’t understand how my husband, the man I loved, who I had children with, could be okay with all of it. The next day when I went to pick up the kids, I talked to Rhett’s father. I needed help; I wanted my marriage to work for the boys’ sake. I told him I was going to have to leave if it didn’t stop and he promised me that things would get better. Andrew was always a stern man; I believed him. He talked to Rhett, and it stopped completely, but Rhett was so unhappy and violent.
One night Rhett sat me down and told me he needed me to be with Derrik. He said he could limit to maybe once or twice a year, as messed up as it sounds, Rhett spun it as if it was just sex I… Derek was a very violent man. I imagine it would be what having sex with the devil would be like. I thought Rhett was nuts, we both were, but I still felt that we could fix our marriage. I was so delusional. The last time Derrik came by I ended up with some of these. I didn’t scream; I didn’t want to wake the boys. I remember thinking, that it could not last forever by Monday, they would both be at work, and I would take the boys and disappear, start a new life.
The day I tried to leave, we got into the car, Tommy was three. I had Evan in his car seat, and as I loaded the car, Tommy vomited everywhere. He came down with a bug. I brought both boys in and cleaned Tommy up, but it was clear that I was going to have to leave the next day. That night, Rhett brought Derrik home with him again, I fought. I screamed, I knew I would wake the boys, but I also knew I couldn’t live through that again. A neighbor heard me screaming and called the police. I was so beat up that the cop wrote it as domestic assault. He took Rhett to jail. I kept trying to explain that there was another man in the house, but the cop didn’t believe me. Rhett told the police I was crazy and they believed him. They searched the house but didn’t find Derek. The police said I was confused. When he took Rhett, he left Derek hiding in the house. That night I thought I was going to die, I learned Rhett had kept Derek in check.
The next morning Andrew brought Rhett home. He found Derek in the house and put an end to it. I was so out of it; I don’t remember a whole lot of it. I complied because I was terrified for the boys. Andrew had a doctor come to the house for me. Andrew came over a few days later and told me if I stayed with Rhett, that we would never see Derek again. I didn’t believe him this time. I tried to leave twice after that; Andrew found me each time. Rhett didn’t seem to care about our marriage until I disappeared. He didn’t want to be married to me if I wasn’t willing to do what he wanted.
I turned up pregnant with Luke, and Rhett didn’t want him. He thought Luke was Derek’s son. I honestly can’t say.”
Ben was speechless. He pulled her in closer as tears ran down his cheeks.
“I left a month after Luke was born. I went to Becky and told her that Rhett had been hitting me. She and her husband, Jack, me get out. By that time, I made a will and wrote down all of the abuse and put it in a safety deposit box. I wanted Becky to have the boys if something happened to me. Andrew tried to scare me, but at that point, I didn’t scare so easily. I had looked into the eyes of the devil. I knew if Andrew killed me, my boys would be safe away from Rhett. “
Ben held Rachel in bed. Neither of them said anything for a while; the noise of their breathing was the only sound that filled the sunny bedroom. Rachel propped herself up and turned to look at Ben.
“Ben, I know this is a lot. If you don’t…”
Ben sat up before she finished.
“Do not even finish that sentence. Rachel, I love you, there is nothing that would change that. I think I love you more today than I did yesterday, and I will love you more tomorrow… We can’t change what happened to us in our past, but we choose how our future goes. Look at you, raising your three boys; you are a fantastic mother to them. Rachel, I think you are the strongest woman I have ever met.”
Ben leaned in and kissed her on the lips softly. He pulled away and caressed her cheek. She grabbed his hand and pressed a kiss into his palm.
“Do you remember you once asked me why I became a detective?”
“I didn’t give you the full answer to that question at the time, because it didn’t feel appropriate. My mother is the reason I became a detective. She was attacked one night coming home from the grocery store. I was little, maybe seven. She was alone, and a man grabbed her. My dad couldn’t handle it, and it made him crazy that someone had hurt her. You know, I am sure she hurt, but she never showed it to me or my older brother Joel. You remind me a lot of her. That is why I became a detective, to get guys like Derek and the guy who attacked my mom off of the street.”
“Ben, I don’t know what to say.”
Ben grabbed Rachel’s hand and brought it close to him.
“You remind me a lot of her, your strength, how you are with the boys. I hope that doesn’t sound weird.”
“Not at all. Can I ask a question?”
“About your mom?”
“How do you know about it? It isn’t exactly an open topic of conversation for most families.”
“Well, I remember a lot of it, even for being so young. I didn’t know the details until I was much older. My older brother Joel and I went to the library and thumbed through old copies of the newspaper. We found the story. I mean we had always known something bad had happened, but we didn’t know the details. I remember sitting in the old dusty basement of the library looking at pictures of my mother’s swollen face in the paper. I was so angry. I ripped the page out of the newspaper book and took off with it. I didn’t want anyone to see her like that. She was my mom. It took me three years to get the courage to finally ask her about it.”
“How did that go? I dread that conversation with my boys.”
“She was surprisingly open about it. She just said that bad things happen in life sometimes, things we can’t predict or change. It is our job to watch out for each other and the ones we love. When bad things do happen, that we focus on what is important and hold onto that tight. My brothers and I are what she held onto. From that day on, I knew what I wanted to do; I wanted to be a police officer. I wanted to help women like my mother.”
Rachel wiped a tear from Ben’s cheek and then her own.
“I want to hold onto you, Ben.”
She reached over and wrapped her arms around him, and he reached his around her. She leaned into him as he kissed the top of her head.