Evil in Paradise - Part 6 by Begin Again
True to his word, Darryl stopped at the Paradise Bar. News of a possible suspect traveled fast and the agents from the other team had immediately offered their assistance. Carrie's friends were calling it a night and met him on the path. After learning about their friend, they promised to check on her and he hurried toward Jackson's place.
Steve greeted his boss at the door.
"Whatta we got?" Darryl Stafford was strictly business now.
"This guy's got a record a mile long. Most of it's petty theft and one assault. Something about a guest accused him of being a Peeping Tom and they got into a tussle."
"Surprised the Lodge didn't fire him?"
"Later, the guest recanted his story and the matter was dropped. According to the staff, he's well liked. Keeps to himself and does his job."
"So, if he's so clean, what got you so excited?" Having left Carrie in distress, the possibility of this being a wild goose chase irritated him. It wasn't like Steve to blow things out of proportion, but this case was stressful to everyone.
"Appears the guest might have had it right after all." Steve pulled opened the drawers of the dresser and waited for Darryl's reaction.
"You got to be kidding me. This pervert is either a cross dresser with excellent taste or he's stealing the lingerie from the guests."
"It gets worse." He led Darryl to what appeared to be a closet. Pushing against the back wall, he moved it aside. His movements got the reaction he expected.
"Damn!" Darryl stepped closer to the closet, scanning the pictures plastered on the wall behind the false one. "There must be hundreds of them."
Snapshots of women in various stages of undress lined the wall. It was obvious an unsteady hand had taken the photos. Every naked part of the anatomy was photographed and displayed. "I recognize several of the cabins."
His heart skipped a beat. Lying on a small table next to a black brassiere were photos of a woman. Her face wasn't visible but Darryl immediately recognized the honey blond hair. Another photo had fallen on the floor. Stooping to pick it up, he immediately saw her face. This picture was much clearer. Bile rose in his throat as he thought of the sick pervert who'd violated Carrie's privacy. At that moment, he was glad the guy had been taken away and booked. He would like just five minutes alone with him and the pervert would never violate another woman's privacy, especially one Darryl cared about.
Slipping the one recognizable photo into his pocket, he returned to his agent's side. "Anything connecting him to the murders?" One inkling of evidence and he'd have Jackson tried and convicted in no time.
"Nothing yet, but the guys are going to go over this cabin with a fine tooth comb. You can count on it."
"Okay, I'm going to catch a few zz's. Anything else comes up, just call me." Darryl headed toward the door.
Steve followed close behind him. As the two agents stepped out on the small porch, Steve lit a cigarette, inhaled, letting the smoke drift into the night. He let his boss reach the bottom landing before speaking, "Want me to misplace any of the other pics?"
Darryl stopped in his tracks. He should have known Steve wouldn't have missed anything. He was one of the best agents he'd ever known and was proud to have him as part of his team. He turned his head to meet Steve's gaze. The tip of his cigarette glowed in the darkness.
Without saying a word, Darryl reached into his pocket and handed Carrie's picture to Steve. His stomach turned as he thought of others looking at her body. It was evidence and he had no idea what he'd been thinking when he'd taken it.
Reaching out and taking the picture, Steve took his cigarette from his mouth and placed the burning ember against the woman's face until it was charred and unrecognizable. Their eyes met, but neither man said a word. Crunching the butt beneath his shoe, the agent nodded and disappeared inside the cabin.
Early the next morning, a knock at the cabin door startled Carrie awake. Fear gripped her as memories of last night washed over her.
Someone knocked again. This time the rapid tap was stronger followed by a young woman's voice, "Miss Underwood, are you there? I have a flower delivery for you."
Flowers? Who'd be sending me flowers here?
Thoughts of Darryl flooded her head. She couldn't help remembering the gentle way he'd tried to console her and the kiss he'd so softly placed upon her head.
Carrie grabbed her robe, slipped into it, and hurried to the door, calling out to the young woman, "Just a sec, I'll be right there." Running a brush through her tussled hair, she opened the door and peered outside.
A young teenager holding a huge bouquet of flowers smiled back at her. Carrie recognized her as one of the girls working at the front desk.
"Not often anyone gets a flower delivery around here. Thought it must be for something real special so I couldn't wait to deliver them."
Carrie reached out and accepted the flowers from the girl. "They're absolutely stunning."
Thanking the girl for delivering the exquisite bouquet, Carrie closed the door and admired them. Reaching for the card, she silently chided herself for being so excited and for hoping they were from Darryl.
Tearing open the envelope, she quickly read the card.
Business meeting was perfect. Off to Myrtle Beach. Thinking of you. James
James had sent her flowers. A river of thoughts and emotions flooded her mind. One second, she felt guilty for wanting the flowers to be from Darryl, and the next moment, she was pleased that James had taken the time out of his busy schedule to think of her. Immediately following the guilt trip, she felt sad that the message was so matter of fact. She'd hoped for something a bit more sentimental or a note saying he was joining her after all. Finally, she pinned her thoughts on the words 'Thinking of You'.
She made the decision to call him and thank him for the flowers. Maybe, just maybe, he was missing her and would join her here. Dialing his cell, she waited for his velvety voice to answer. Instead, a familiar female voice said hello at the other end of the line.
"Darcy?" Carrie was startled to hear James' secretary answer his cell phone. She wasn't aware that she'd accompanied him on the trip.
"Carrie, I'm so glad to hear your voice. Is any of those murders happening near you?" She sounded truly concerned.
"Unfortunately, the girls and I are right in the middle of all of it. I didn't realize it had made the national news."
"It's been on every channel. I was really worried about you, not knowing how close you were. You should come home. If I were you, I'd have been long gone before now."
"I have it from a good source that the FBI are close to making an arrest." Remembering the reason for her call, she continued, "I was calling to thank James for the flowers. Is he there with you?"
"With me? No, why would he be with me?" Darcy thought the remark strange and then she remembered she'd answered his phone. "Oh how silly of me, James had his calls transferred to my private line. Just in case a customer tried to contact him. Guess he's serious about chilling out this weekend."
"He's not taking any calls? That's strange, isn't it?"
"Thought so too but I'm not one to question the boss. Glad you got the flowers. Did you like the Bird of Paradise? I just love their brilliant color."
"Darcy, tell me the truth, did you order those flowers for James?"
"Darn, I never could keep my mouth shut. He asked me to send them before he left on the trip. I'm sorry, Carrie."
"Sorry, for what? Doing what your boss told you to do?"
"It's not that he isn't thinking of you. It's just, he knew he'd be so busy, he didn't want to forget." Darcy struggled to cover her tracks, not wanting to hurt Carrie, but knowing James hadn't thought of the idea until she mentioned it. He'd off-handedly told her to take care of it.
"Maybe we've both been so busy that we're neglecting each other." Carrie thought for a moment and then added, Do you know where he's staying in Myrtle Beach?" She sensed Darcy's hesitation. "It's okay, hon, I'm sure you can tell me."
"It's just that he was so adamant of no calls. He said it was just a weekend of vegging out and not thinking about anything." Being James's secretary, she'd felt his wrath many times when she'd not followed his instructions to the letter.
"Darcy, we are almost married. I'm sure he didn't mean the message for me. He's probably worried sick wondering if I'm anywhere near the area. Just like you were."
"You're probably right. I hadn't thought of it that way. Just a second and I'll get the address for you."
While waiting for Darcy to return with the address, Carrie made the decision to leave Paradise Valley and surprise James in Myrtle Beach. Maybe relaxing together on the white sandy beach was exactly what they needed. Wanting to surprise her fiance, she simply took the hotel name, address and number from his secretary, exchanged a few words, and said goodbye.
She called Chattanooga's airport, found a flight to Myrtle Beach, and without giving it any further thought, she set her surprise in motion. The scheduled flight gave her five hours to pack, tell the girls of her decision, and drive to the city. Confident that James would be thrilled to spend the weekend with his fiance, she rushed about the cabin, tossing her belongings into the suitcase. Once finished, she decided she should make a courtesy call to Darryl.
Disappointment washed over her when his voice mail answered. She hadn't realized how much she'd wanted to hear his voice again. "Darryl, this is Carrie. I'd hoped to speak to you before I left, but unfortunately, time is short and you are obviously busy solving the case. I've ... uh, I'm ... oh, darn, there's just no easy way to say this. I've decided to leave Paradise Lodge and join James in Myrtle Beach." Her voice quivered, knowing she might never speak to him again.
"According to the local news, the townspeople believe you and your team are heroes, solving the case so quickly. I'm proud of you. All the girls have my cell phone number, if you should need to reach me ... to identify the man talking to Joy ... or for any thing."
She stood there, holding on to the phone, not wanting to end the conversation. It seemed so final. Finally, feeling silly, she spoke again, "You've been great, Darryl. Under different circumstances, I think we would have become great friends. Take care." She ended the call and let the tears slowly cascade down her cheeks.
It's better that I leave now before something happens that we'll both regret. I belong with James.
The words sounded less than convincing even to herself.
Having already exchanged tearful goodbyes with the girls, she loaded the suitcases into the rental car, took one last look around the property, and climbed behind the wheel. As she backed out of the parking space, Taylor ran across the parking lot, calling her name.
"Carrie ... Carrie." Breathless, she approached the red convertible, leaning against the driver's door. "Are you sure you are okay to drive by yourself to the airport. I'd be glad to ride along and then turn the car in later."
"Nonsense, Taylor. Peter will be here in a few hours. You don't need to be running around the countryside babysitting me. Besides, they have the guy safely behind bars."
"I suppose you're right, but I won't feel right until you call me and tell me you are sitting on the beach with James, drinking Hurricanes and enjoying each other's company."
"I promise to call as soon as I'm at the hotel." They exchanged hugs and kisses before Carrie put the car in reverse and waved one final goodbye.
Returning to the cabin, Taylor turned on the television as a new bulletin flashed across the screen.
Town outraged at FBI accusations.
She sank into the overstuffed chair as a reporter interviewed the owner of the lodge.
"It's my understanding that Jackson was hired as a handyman about four years ago. Were you aware of his past history?"
"In this neck of the woods, we believe in second chances. He'd served his time and deserved a break. Jackson was a hard-worker. Can't say that I ever had any problems with the man. He usually ate lunch and dinner at the cafe and often relaxed with one beer and a bowl of soup after work. Never complained about the odd hours. Kept to himself most of the time."
"What about the items found in his room?"
"Can't say I know anything about it."
"Do you think the FBI has the right man behind bars?"
"Well, I'm not in law enforcement, but if I was in charge of this case, I'd keep investigating. There ain't no way that Jackson is a murderer." The owner of Paradise Lodge abruptly ended the interview by walking back inside and shutting the door.
A chill ran up and down Taylor's spine.
What if that dirty ole man is just that, a pervert? Could the killer be walking among us, laughing at the FBI and their mistakes?
She was glad that the guys would be here soon. She'd be even happier when Carrie called, but that would be hours from now. Turning off the television, she went in search of the other girls.
There's safety in numbers.
Meanwhile, Carrie couldn't resist stopping one last time at a rest area overlooking the surrounding mountains and valleys. Standing at the lookout point, her mind drifted back to Darryl and the enjoyable evening they'd shared before he'd told her about Joy. Lost in thought, she didn't hear or see the man until it was too late.
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