Chapter Eighteen ~
After they were finished with their naps, the rest of the afternoon went by pretty fast. Jude, Jackson and Amy showed the pastors and their wives the Masters Estate. Afterward, they ate an early supper of chili and peanut butter sandwiches.
They headed back to Church around five-thirty. It was another awesome sermon, this time given by Isaiah Cobb. It was about marriage and the family, and Jude enjoyed it immensely, filing away the information for his future.
He’d called Lauren and brought her to Church with him. He’d been serious about not neglecting her anymore. He loved her like a sister and wanted to keep her safe. He fully intended to bring her to the Masters Estate with the rest of them so nothing else happened to her.
Jude spent the ride home thinking about the killer. Why haven’t we heard anything from him? What’s he up to? He didn’t think it boded well for them that he’d remained silent. He and Jackson had spoken about it before they’d left for church and agreed he was up to something even more evil than before. He should've been enraged the weather hadn’t permitted him to beat them back here, but they hadn't heard a peep from him and there hadn’t been any kind of security breach, so he breathed easier about that. The retinal scanners had been installed that morning and Jackson had assured him there was no way to get in now unless he was invited. I just hope he’s right.
Jude chose the silent moment in the car to turn to Lauren and say, “I've been meaning to talk to you..."
"Is there something wrong?" He could hear the suspicious tone in her voice, and he smiled.
He wanted to tread lightly because he didn't want to make her angry. "I think you should come and stay at the Masters' Estate."
"Why in the world would I do that?"
"Jackson and I talked it over, and we both think you're in danger. If you think about it, it's not logical for Max to let you live. He'll be afraid he said something he shouldn't have, and that’ll make him eager to shut you up," Jude said quietly.
"I think he’s right, for what it's worth," Justy said as she turned around and looked at Lauren. She could see the fear on her face plain as day, and she knew Jude did too. She ached for a closer relationship with him, but knew now wasn’t the right time. He needed to catch the person who’d killed her parents so violently...
"I'm sure the Masters have enough going on at their house right now," Lauren stalled.
"It was Jackson's suggestion that I ask you. He's already arranged a suite for you."
"He has? Why are these people being so nice to everybody?"
"They're being nice because that's how they are. Just stay there with us. It would make us all feel better, not to mention it would make our jobs easier by letting us protect everybody in the same place.”
"Now that sounds logical," Lauren said.
"Then it's settled." Jude smiled into the mirror. His phone rang just then and he picked it up from the middle of the seat. "Hello?"
"This is Otis, Jude."
"Hey Otis, what's up? Is something happening?"
"You remember how I told you this morning I put a tracker on the killer's van? He's at your partner's house right now. I followed him from a couple blocks back. He's been in the same spot for about an hour. I think he's waiting on her."
"It's a good thing she isn’t going home.”
"Where is she?"
"She's in the car with us.” He liked the way the ‘us’ sounded, and he stole a glance at Justy, and she blushed. “Lauren’s gonna be staying at the mansion with everybody else. It'll make it easier for everyone in the long run."
"That makes sense. I take it you don't want to tell her just yet he's there?"
"That's exactly right," Jude said. "I'll see you back at the mansion. You might want to call and get that taken care of."
"Do you want me to call the police?"
"That's right. I'll see you there." Jude ended the call and turned into the driveway of the Master's Estate.
"You're gonna love staying here. Every time I come and stay I find it hard to leave. It kind of spoils you, you know?" He chuckled as he pulled up into the garage. All vehicles going to the Masters Estate would be pulling into one of the many different garages attached to the house. They weren't taking any chances. The killer could be lurking around outside anywhere.
The police arrived at Lauren's house, but there wasn’t anybody there. The white panel-van was sitting in front of her house, but it was empty.
Officer Anderson called Jude when they'd canvassed the whole property. "Do you want me to go in and look around?"
"Yes, that's what I want. Call me back when you're done."
Jude was sitting in the living room with his friends when the officer called back. "There's no one here, and it doesn't look like anything's been disturbed. Of course I can't really tell, not knowing what it looked like before."
“You didn't see any glitter, or a note sticking out somewhere?" Jude asked, holding his breath. Something wasn't right. The killer was changing his m.o. The man they'd been dealing with would've already killed someone else and thrown the body to the media to cause chaos. What was he up to? "Okay, go ahead and leave. Make sure you file a report." Jude hung up the phone and rejoined the conversation with his friends.
"Who was that?" Jackson asked curiously.
Jude looked around the room, trying to decide if he should say something. He figured he might as well. Lauren was going to find out soon enough, anyway. "That was a police officer. They just did a search of Lauren's house and property. We put a tracker on his van this morning and Otis followed him to her house and waited outside for over an hour, but when the police got there the van was empty and there was no sign of the killer. He's playing with us. Almost as soon as he pulled away from the mansion the tracker signal went off, so he knows it’s there. It came back on just a little while ago, and that's how Otis was able to follow him. Other than the obvious fact he's toying with us, I can't figure out what he's up to."
"He's trying to confuse you. He's using evasive maneuvers. He's probably sitting back studying you guys just like you've studied him. He's gonna strike when you least expect it," Shepherd Adams said confidently.
"How is that possible? I expect him to strike at any time. He probably already has, and we just don't know it yet," Lauren said in irritation. "It makes me angry that he was at my house. I can't believe I was dumb enough to think he was an okay guy."
"Lauren, there's no sense in coming down on yourself like that. You made a mistake. We all do. You just have to go forward and put it behind you," Isaiah Cobb said gently.
"How can I do that?" She asked in a raised voice. "I slept with a serial killer not once, but many times."
"Not to be mean or judgmental, but I suggest you don't 'sleep' with anyone else until you get married," Shepherd Adams said in a cautious voice.
"I know that's right. I wish I could take that one back for sure," She replied.
"I think they’re serious, Lauren. According to the Bible we aren't supposed to sleep with anybody until we're married," Amy said.
"Really, that's a little odd, isn't it? I mean, how are we going to know if we're sexually compatible with someone if we haven't tested the waters?"
Both pastors looked at each other, and then at Lauren.
She said, “I said something bad, didn’t I?”
“Uh, yeah you did.” Jude said. “You aren’t supposed to have relations out of wedlock.”
Lauren’s face reddened. “Oh, I didn’t know that. I’m sorry if I offended either of you.”
“It’s okay, you’d be surprised what we hear,” Isaiah said with a small grin.
“Yeah, but I was carelessly talking about committing sin as if it were nothing. I broke one of the Ten Commandments.”
"You may have already broken it, but that doesn't mean you have to continue to," Shepherd Adams said.
"Yeah, I guess that's true." She pushed her short brown hair behind her ear. It was a nervous gesture, the hair wasn't even long enough to cause a nuisance yet.
"How long ago did you cut your hair?" Shepherd asked.
“How did you know I cut my hair?” The surprise was plain on her face.
“I was an agent before I was a pastor, it comes naturally.”
"I used to wear it like this all the time when I was younger, but I grew it out a few years ago. I loved it, but Max didn't. He told me I needed to get it cut or he would find someone else to be with. At first I thought he was teasing, but when I didn't cut it, he got angry...It was the first time he raised his voice at me."
"Why do you think that was?" Jude asked Shepherd. He'd caught the look on the pastor's face and knew he was trying to get at something.
"I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing there was someone significant in his life that had short hair and he was trying to recreate that relationship with Lauren," He answered.
"Ew..... That is so sick," Lauren returned. This just keeps getting worse and worse. I don't have a clue how I allowed myself to be so fooled."
"The most confusing thing about serial killers is they seem to have some kind of charisma that draws their victims to them. You know, it's almost like an almost involuntary pull?" Shepherd said. "It stands to reason this one is no different. He charmed you because that's what he does. That's how he gets close to his victims."
"He didn't do that with all his victims, though," Lauren told him. "He came in on Justy's parents in the middle of the night."
"It's possible he didn't kill her parents. I'm just as convinced as Jude and Jackson that some of these murders have a woman's touch. He had those two other women doing his bidding, and I think one or both of them did that killing, and then he helped them clean it up," Shepherd said.
"This is just too sickening to contemplate," Justy said from her place on the dark brown sofa. She twisted one of the cream-and-brown-colored throw pillows in her lap.
"You guys didn't talk to Lydia, I did. You didn't see the desperation and despondency in her eyes. A mother will do almost anything to protect her children," Amy said into the silence of the room.
"Did we find her family and get a security detail on them?" Jude asked at the reminder. He was already pulling his phone out to make the call.
"I actually sent a few of my men to keep a watch on their place. Everything is all clear for now," Jackson said with a reassuring smile.
"Thanks Jackson. You’re the most thorough guy I've ever known," Jude said. This was another indication he wasn't up to par in this investigation. Thanks to Jackson's quick thinking, Lydia's family might just remain safe.
Jude sighed tiredly as he rubbed his hand through his blonde hair. This case was getting him down and he couldn’t let it. “I think I’m gonna hit the hay, guys.” He got up to leave the room, intent on praying for a few hours to ease his mind. Worrying wasn’t getting him anywhere and he needed to talk it over with God and leave it to Him to take care of. Being emotionally attached to Justy was making his brain like Jell-O.
“Goodnight, mate,” Jackson said.
“Are you okay, Jude?” Justy asked as she moved to get up.
He put up a hand to stop her. “It’s okay, really. I’m just tired and need some alone time.”
“I’m fine,” He reassured her. She settled back on the sofa as he left the room.
“Dear Father, give me strength,” he began as he climbed the stairs.