Evil in Paradise - Part 3 by Begin Again
Note - Part 2 of Evil in Paradise was posted today as well.|
After notifying the park rangers and police, the girls led a team of law enforcement back to the remote area they had been earlier in the day. Each of them told their story of hiking and frolicking in the stream before hearing the screams. Asked over and over if the sound could have been made by wildlife, each girl assured the investigators they were positive it was a woman's scream somewhere deep in the woods.
Satisfied that the foursome couldn't offer anything further, the girls were escorted back to the lodge while another team began searching the wooded area. Needing to calm their nerves, they gathered at the bar for drinks and to await any information.
As dark settled in, the search was called off until tomorrow at dawn. Nothing out of the ordinary had been discovered, but considering the recent discovery of the hiker, no one was dismissing any possibilities for the time being.
Taylor suggested they have dinner and try to enjoy the remainder of the day. Visibly shaken by the current events, Carrie declined, stating a warm relaxing shower and sleep was what she needed. After much pleading, the trio accepted Carrie's decision to skip dinner and headed off to the cafe after bidding their friend good night.
The brilliant full moon illuminated the walkway. The fresh mountain air tinged with touches of jasmine and wild flowers soothed Carrie's shattered nerves as she strolled toward her cabin. As she passed Joy's cabin, she was surprised to see her car still parked there. During their morning conversation, Joy had told her she was leaving shortly to drive to the city.
I wonder what prevented her from leaving? She was eager to visit her friends and wanted to arrive in the city early.
Carrie moved closer to Joy's car and peered through the windows. A small cooler and several maps were on the front seat. She could see a suitcase on the floor of the back seat. It was obvious Joy had been ready to leave after their early morning coffee.
Climbing the few steps to the cabin porch, Carrie knocked on the door. The cabin was dark inside, but she waited and tapped once more. Leaning her ear against the door, she listened, afraid her new friend had accidentally fallen and needed help.
"Joy ... hello, Joy, are you there?" The interior of the cabin was quiet and dark. Frustrated and worried, Carrie stood on the porch, scanning the lodge parking lot. She hadn't seen her friend at the bar or the cafe and it didn't appear she was at the cabin either. Visions of Joy lying helpless somewhere put goose bumps on her arms and bristled the hairs on her neck.
Normally, a calm, cool and collected person, she finally scolded herself for being so worrisome.
You're letting everything get the best of you. Joy probably had a change of plans and is spending the evening with someone else.
Failing to convince herself, she plodded off toward her own cabin, feeling foolish about her concern. A hot shower and sleep was what she needed and tomorrow they'd be enjoying Paradise again.
Sleep had been difficult, almost impossible, for Carrie. Sometime after midnight she'd succumbed to the need for assistance and took a sleeping pill. She rarely took any medicine, except on extreme occasions like this one. The events of the day and the effects of the medication kept her asleep well past her usual rising time. The loud banging on her cabin door stirred her from the drug induced stupor.
"Carrie ... Carrie, are you in there?" Taylor's voice bellowed from the other side of the door.
"I'm coming." Pulling the thin blanket off the bed, Carrie wrapped it around her and shuffled toward the door. "Hold on, will you?"
Taylor continued to pound on the door. "Open the door, will you?"
Flinging the door open, her blurry eyes took in three frightened faces. Adrenalin surged through her body bringing her wide awake. "What's going on? What's wrong?"
The three friends pushed into the cabin, all of them talking at once.
"After hearing the newscast, her friends reported her disappearance."
"Oh God, she's missing."
"She never made it to the city."
Carrie's throat restricted as fear tightened her chest. Last night rushed through her mind as she recalled wondering about Joy. Swallowing hard, she could barely speak, "Are you talking about Joy?"
Everyone nodded, but Taylor spoke first, "Her friend contacted the local police after hearing the broadcast last night about the hiker. They were worried that her car might have broken down and she was stranded somewhere."
"Her car ... her car is still here. I saw it last night."
"Yeah, one of the park rangers saw it too and notified the police. They've called in the FBI and reporters are swarming the lodge, trying to interview everyone. They approached us about the scream we heard yesterday, but the rangers cleared them off the premises real fast."
Carrie collapsed on to the bed, burying her face in her hands. Natasha sat down beside her and cradled her friend's head against her chest. "We don't know that something's happened to her, Carrie. Everyone's drawing the worse possible conclusions without any evidence."
Carrie tried to stifle a sob. "I knew last night something wasn't right. I should have told someone about her car." The tears started to stream down her face. "I might have been able to-"
"Stop it! You stop blaming yourself right now. You had no way of knowing that she might be missing."
Taylor clicked on the television. "Maybe they have found her. She could have changed her plans, you know."
A reporter, standing near the Lodge entrance, was talking. "The label "serial killer" is being whispered in hushed tones among the citizens of the nearby town of Paradise Valley. With the discovery of Jenna White's body several days ago and now the disappearance of a local environmentalist, Joy Armstrong, fear is running rampant in this small peaceful area. The last time a violent crime was committed in the area was over thirty years ago."
"Serial killer?" Natasha gasped. "Brother, did we pick the wrong spot for a vacation."
"Don't be getting your panties in a wad, just yet, Nat. There is no proof that anyone else has been killed or that the two women are even connected in any way." Ceasing on an opportunity to show off her knowledge of law enforcement, Beth tried to reassure the girls.
Taylor flipped the channel, searching for any further details. She stopped on another newscast. A reporter was interviewing one of the park rangers outside the ranger station.
"The FBI denies that there is any reason at this time to connect the two women."
"See ... what did I tell you. Even the FBI doesn't think Joy's situation is related to the dead girl." Satisfied she'd confirmed her knowledge, a tiny so-there-smirk crossed Beth's face.
A knock at the cabin door startled the foursome. In their eagerness to enter this morning, they had left the door standing open. A tall man in a dark suit loomed in the doorway.
"One of you, Carrie Underwood?" The man's eyes surveyed the girls and the inside of the cabin in one sweep.
"Pulling the blanket tighter around her, Carrie meekly answered, "That would be me."
"Sorry to bother you, ma'am. I'm Agent Stafford with the FBI. We'd like to ask you a few questions about Joy Armstrong."
"Me? What could I possibly tell you?" Natasha wrapped her arm protectively around her friend.
"According to the cashier at the cafe, it's possible you were that last person to see Miss Armstrong."
"Oh my ... I don't know how I can help, but I'll certainly try."
"Tell you what, why don't you get dressed, and I'll meet you in the cafe in about twenty minutes. Okay?"
"Sure ... whatever I can do to help."
Agent Stafford nodded and started to walk away. Taking a step or two, he stopped and turned back to the girls. "I'd like to hear from each of you about that scream you heard yesterday, too."
"Oh no, you don't think-"
"I'm not jumping to any conclusions, ma'am. Just want to cover all my bases."
"We've already told the local police everything we know and took them to the site. I doubt there's anything else we can add."
"Well, if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you to take two of my fellow agents to the spot and describe exactly what you heard."
"Sure, if we can help. Joy was a real sweet girl." Taylor shook her head sadly, fearing the scream had been a brutal call for help from their new friend.
Thirty minutes later, the three girls were retracing yesterday's hike and Carrie was sitting in the cafe with Agent Stafford.
"Coffee and something to eat?" Realizing Carrie had probably been asleep prior to her friends announcement and his arrival, he politely offered her breakfast.
"It's not necessary." It was obvious Carrie was quite distraught as her voice quivered when she spoke.
"There's nothing to be nervous about, Carrie. My friends say I don't bite." His voice was warm and comforting, unlike the one he used earlier. It had been bold and forceful, a voice that demanded attention and got it. He patted Carrie's hand before ordering two coffees, two cream cheese bagels and whatever the house spread was.
The tears spilled over the brim of Carrie's eyes. Agent Stafford handed her a napkin and she quickly wiped them away. Sniffling, she apologized, "I'm sorry. I'm not normally this emotional."
"No apology necessary. Though I must say, I've never had anyone burst into tears because I ordered them a bagel." His smile lit up the room.
"It's just that yesterday Joy told me to be sure and try the bagels and vegetable spread. She said it was to die for." Realizing what she'd said, Carrie fell into another bout of weeping. Agent Stafford sat quietly until their coffee and bagels arrived.
"Would you like something else? A muffin?"
"No, no ... this is fine." The waitress served their order and then left them alone. Carrie swatted away the last tear and took a sip of her coffee before speaking, "Thank you for breakfast and for not thinking I was acting foolish ... or at least not telling me so. My boyfriend would have been quick to point my foolishness out."
"Then your boyfriend is a fool." He flashed another smile at her and then lifted his coffee mug to his lips.
Over the next few minutes, they chatted casually about Carrie's life in the city, her friends, and what brought them to Paradise Lodge. His easy nature soon had her relaxed and feeling more confident in her responses. Finally, he moved the conversation toward yesterday morning and Joy.
"How would you describe Miss Armstrong's attitude? Did anything seem to be bothering her?"
"No, on the contrary. She was real pumped up over going to the city to spend a few days with her friends. She said she was leaving right after breakfast."
When you left her, did you see where she went? You said she was leaving, did she head for her car?"
"Probably, I'm not sure." Carrie tried to picture yesterday morning in her mind. "Wait! We started to leave and a man walked up to her. I waved goodbye and went to my cabin."
"A man? Can you describe him?"
"Oh, gee, I really didn't give him much thought."
"Think hard, Carrie. He might be our clue to what happened to Joy."
Closing her eyes, Carrie envisioned Joy and her walking out of the cafe, the man approaching and calling out Joy's name. "They knew each other. He called her name and I think she said his too."
"Do you remember it?"
"No, I'm not even positive she did say his name. I know she waved and said something, but I'm not sure what it was."
"Do you remember what he looked like?"
Carrie closed her eyes again. She could see Joy standing there and the man shaking her hand. "He was shorter than Joy. He had brown hair and he wore some kind of jumpsuit or cover-all. Like the kind maintenance people wear or maybe farmers."
"Hmmm ... anything else?" He waited patiently while Carrie tried to remember. "Think hard, Carrie. Sometimes the smallest little detail ends up being the perfect clue."
"I think he might have had something on his cheek. It looked dark. Yes, yes, I think it was grease or something."
"You did great, absolutely great. Excuse me while I call this information into my boss." He stood up, pulled a cell phone from his pocket, and stepped away from the table. Standing by one of the bay windows, he talked to someone and then returned to their table. "Got someone on it right now. We'll be checking out the maintenance people at the lodge and anyone in town. Thanks for your help."
He stood to leave, but hesitated for a brief moment. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a card and handed it to Carrie. If you think of anything else or just need to talk, please call me." He gripped her hand in his and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Call anytime, Carrie." Releasing her hand, he smiled and walked away.
She watched his broad shoulders disappear around the corner. She'd felt a strange emptiness when he'd let go of her hand. Agent Stafford had left quite an impression and as she held his business card, she wondered if their paths would ever cross again. She hoped she'd helped them find Joy, too.
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