I have to tell the truth. Because that’s who I am. Caitlyn Cassidy, honest to a fault. And the truth is the story I am about to share with you changed how I see the world and maybe even how the world now sees me. When I am done, it may just change yours as well.
There are a few things you should know before I begin. I don’t like drawing attention to myself. Truly. I have shoulder length brown hair. I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl. I have worn heels once – my mother’s funeral. If I have my way, I won’t ever again. I don’t want to be noticed. Most of the time my wish is granted.
Until they see my eyes.
Shortly after I was born, my gray pupils slowly changed into slits, leaving me with honest to goodness cat’s eyes. Sounds cool, right? It is to some extent. It has its drawbacks. More on that later. But remind me in case I forget.
I’m a 4.0 student at a small college in Vermont with only a handful of friends. And those friends I hold dear. You’ll meet them all before my story ends. They certainly are memorable.
Anyway, there are a few things you should know about me from the start.
I despise anything superficial. Friendships, politics as a whole, people – especially superficial people. If you’re going to be fake I want no part of it. Ever. And ever. I don’t watch television. It is a complete waste of time and imagination. I don’t do excuses or apologies. Keep it real to begin with, be upfront and honest, and you won’t need to say you’re sorry or formulate trumped up reasons.
Okay, now I know what you’re thinking: this girl is more negative than polyatomic anions! Not so. There are plenty of things I appreciate and enjoy. Books. Even computers. They’re an endless source of information at our fingertips vastly under-utilized by the world. Let’s see… what else? Pizza. Simple, tasty, no need for utensils, good hot or cold = brilliant!
This list feels ridiculously short.
Studying? I do like studying. Crazy right? It provides purpose; a real cost to benefit ratio that pays dividends.
Regardless – I cringe every time I hear someone say irregardless – I should have been studying the day I met Detective Roy Richardson. But I wasn’t. And this is where the tale begins; the Launchpad to which the very foundation of all my beliefs exploded into countless pieces.
August 27, 2014: the day before the first day of classes and the beginning of my junior year in college.
Professor Samuel Richardson was the head of the psychology department. An esteemed faculty member, his office overlooked the vast courtyard in the center of campus. One of the original buildings, most walls, including the interior ones, were red brick and mortar. He was an older man with more gray than black hair remaining on his head. Most days he wore a plain white shirt with a varying colored bowtie; an anachronistic symbol, he called it, that kept his head in the past while his Under Armour sneakers kept him moving to the future. Thick eyebrows and thin lips framed in a kind, oval face. He could often be found down in the courtyard on the days with nice weather, chatting with students about current events. Approachable and friendly, most students referred to him as Professor Rick to which he did not object.
Today was no different.
When I knocked on his office door he implored, “Come in, come in!” Unpacking his things, he smiled at me as I entered. “Caitlyn!” He was one of the few people who called me by my full name. “How are you? Didn’t summer feel long this year? How are you? I couldn’t wait to get back on campus and dig in!”
So many questions and comments I didn’t know where to start. Add that to my list of things I don’t like. The professor was always like that. Somehow I learned to look past it.
I only chose to address his last remark. “I didn’t have to go home. I spent the summer here taking two extra classes.”
He stopped unpacking. “That’s right. You’re a double major! I almost forgot!” Moving again he encouraged, “have a seat, have a seat! I can make some tea for us if you can stay a while?”
Something was off. I just couldn’t figure out what. Yet. I’d visited him many times before and never been invited to stay for tea. He knows I’m a double major: computer science and psych. I sat down in one of his high back leather chairs and decided to play this one out.
“I’d love some tea.”
He nodded and went immediately went to work getting the hot water from his personal water cooler; one knob got you ice cold water, the other scalding hot. He’d just handed me my cup of tea when a knock came from outside the office door.
His usual friendly beckoning ensued. “Come in! Come in!”
The door opened to reveal a man who looked tired and filled with angst.
“Roy! To what do we owe the pleasure?” The professor didn’t wait for a response. Crossing the room, he put his arm around the man. “Roy, I’d like you to meet Caitlyn Cassidy, one of our institution’s best and brightest.”
The new arrival extended his hand to which I fist bumped. I don’t like shaking hands. Add that to my list of dislikes. Sixty seconds ago he could have been going to the bathroom and forgot to wash his hands, picking his teeth, scratching some unsightly area or all three! The last thing I wanted was to hitch a ride on that germ train.
“Caitlyn,” the professor continued while the man seemed to take my greeting in jest, “I’d like you to meet my younger brother, Roy. He’s a detective on special assignment from the governor!”
The professor beamed with pride.
I sized up the newbie. His hair sported much less gray than his brother’s. His dark face had an exorbitant amount of wrinkles; crow’s feet by the eyes and horizontal lines filled his forehead. His eyes were dark like he’d seen too much.
The professor got to the point. “What brings you by, Roy?”
The grim detective reached inside his jacket to pull out a small pad of paper. “I’ve been asked to take over a high profile case and I could sure use your help.”
Professor Richardson touched his chest. “My help?” He chuckled uncomfortably. “I’m not sure how I could be of service.”
Roy flipped a few pages over in his notepad. “I’m sure you’ve all heard about the abductions in the area. Local authorities are quickly coming up empty so I was asked to take the lead on this one.”
The professor’s eyes grew large. “Oh my!” He sat down in his desk chair unable to hide his sudden nervousness. “This sounds dangerous!”
Color me intrigued.
“It gets worse,” Roy added. “Blood at last night’s abduction suggests these are not just kidnappings. These are possible murders. We’ve yet to find a body. There have been no ransom demands.”
I quietly sat sipping my tea and looking out the window, pretending not to listen.
“Oh my!” The professor repeated with jocularity. “How can I possibly help?”
Roy put the opened pad of paper in front of his brother. “This information needs to stay in this room you understand. Miss?”
My inquisitive side screamed to get out. I bit my tongue and feigned apathy. “Hmmm?”
“What I am about to share is confidential.” He repositioned his gaze from me to the professor. “Can she be trusted, Sam?”
Roy seemed satisfied with his brother’s assurance. “The assailant has been leaving behind notes. They’re cryptic. So far our experts can’t seem to tie them to the scene in anyway; not that they’ve had any luck cracking this insidious method of a calling card.”
“And you think I can crack it?” The professor’s skepticism was well founded.
“Not really,” Roy admitted. “I’d like to give you all we have on the cases. Review it and give me your best shot at a profile for the person doing this. Knowing how they think, operate and see the world could really help me find the break I’ve been looking for.”
“How many abductions have there been?” Dammit! I should stay out of this. Who am I kidding? Super Glue to the lips wouldn’t have kept my mouth shut at this point.
Roy welcomed the question. “That we know of? Last night makes two.”
“And do you have last night’s note?”
“The original is locked up in evidence, but I photocopied it this morning.” Roy dug into his other coat pocket and unfolded a mostly white piece of paper.
I held out my hand. “May I?”
“Roy!” The professor’s interjection startled us both. He stood up with a shot. “Can I see you outside please?” His voice was pleasant. His eyes said something altogether different. He didn’t wait for an answer. He left the spot behind his desk, opened his office door and waited for his brother to follow. Once outside, the usually jovial professor I knew turned terse. “Roy, what are you doing?!”
In haste, the door hadn’t completely latched. The quarter inch gap sufficed in letting their conversation slip through. Regardless – see how I used the word properly there – I put my tea on the corner of the desk and crept closer.
“You said it yourself, Sam! She’s the best and brightest! Why not give her a look?”
“She’s just a girl!”
“And you don’t want her to get involved?”
“Where is the harm in showing her last night’s note? She’s a big girl!”
I opened the door all the way and stood with my hands on my hips. “I am a big girl. Show me the note.”
“I don’t approve!” The professor continued his protest out in the hallway alone while Roy joined me inside. “This is highly unconventional! Illogical! Contemptible even!”
He placed the paper on the desk near my cup of tea. Smoothing it with his hand, he stood back. “Sam, it’s just a bunch of random dots. It isn’t that big of a deal.” He turned to his brother still pouting in the hallway. “Come inside?” When the professor acquiesced, Roy added, “If our trained experts can’t crack it, I don’t know that she will have any better luck.”
Puzzles. Add that to my list of things I love. Well, not puzzles per say. With a jigsaw puzzle you’re given all the pieces and an image to adhere them to. Time and persistence can crack something like that. Sudoku uses numeric logic. Crosswords rely on the person completing to simply memorize random facts, pop culture and otherwise, and apply them to hints turned sideways. No, I like life’s puzzles; the ones where you have no picture to assemble the pieces to, no obvious predetermined logic. They confuse you. They require real analyzation. They make you want to pull your hair out the more familiar you get with them. Kind of like me.
I snatched the paper off the desk and dropped into my chair. Challenge accepted. I could feel the eyes of the professor and the detective pressing in on me. Really? Sticking the paper in my mouth – hello, you’re worried about germs? – I grabbed the arms of the chair and noisily thumped the chair to face away from them in three tries. The detective was right about one thing: they were just dots. He was wrong about them being random.
Without turning around, I held my hand in the air. “I need a pencil and a ruler.” Some people have told me I am impatient. Opening and closing my hands in rapid succession I begged, “Come on, come on.”
The sound of a drawer opening and things of various sizes, shapes and makeup being rummaged through came next.
Roy placed the pencil and ruler into my hand. “You’ve already figured it out? Seriously?”
I looked up at his face staring down at me. “I can’t work with you hovering over me. Stand somewhere else.” I heard his parting footsteps and slid my butt forward in the chair. Leaning over to reach the mahogany side table, I put the ruler on the paper. “I can mark this up?” I didn’t wait for an answer. I drew five straight and even lines in, through and around the dots. The paper now looked like this:
I gathered the paper. I silently examined my work to be sure I was right. I hate being wrong – add that to the list – and being publicly wrong was never an option. Know how some people declare ‘never say never’? Well I can.
I left the chair and turned to face them while holding the paper to my chest. “What was the name of the person abducted?”
Befuddled, Roy stumbled in response. “Ah-eh-ah… Barb Helmsley.”
“That doesn’t correspond with what I have here.”
“What is it that you do have?”
Roy actually laughed. At me. I know the list is growing and you’re rolling your eyes right now, but please add that to my list of things I despise. Highlight it. Underline it. Move it to the top of the list. For a moment I contemplated crumpling the paper and storming out. Maybe I should have. But I was right. And the opportunity to throw it in his face was entirely too tempting.
Roy looked confused. Big surprise there. “I’m sorry. What?”
I handed him the sheet. “The dots. They’re musical notes. G-A-B-E-F-A-D-E-C-A. If he wasn’t your victim or a name matched to the previous abductions I’m pretty sure he’s the next victim.” I guess six years of piano lessons really did pay off.
Roy looked at the professor, then to the paper before finally settling on me as his focal point. “How did you? They are just dots. How did you see that?”
The professor tapped his brother on the shoulder. “Perhaps you should save the how for another time?”
The detective was completely flabbergasted. And I loved every second of it.
“Right.” Roy agreed somewhat stupefied.
He left in a hurry; half thanking me and half promising to get the rest of the file to the professor by the end of the day. While Professor Richardson said goodbye I paused to check out a picture on his bookshelf. Last winter a group of college students volunteered to feed the homeless in New York City. One night, after a long day on our feet, someone snapped this photo of the lot of us. The professor stood among us in the middle of a messy soup kitchen. I was to his left with my roommate – you’ll meet her next – and Kenmore – the closest thing I have to a friend my age – and Dexter; this boy who has asked me out on a date seven times in two years. There were others, but I never cared to know their names.
“It was a wonderful time. Wasn’t it?”
The professor stood behind me and admired the photo over my shoulder.
I nodded. For some reason I felt embarrassed that he caught me staring at the picture. “It was incredibly tiring.”
“But wonderful just the same,” he jubilantly countered. His expression changed. “Listen, Caitlyn, I know my brother appreciates your assistance. I know a large part of you enjoyed cracking that code.” He hung his head after returning to his chair. “Please promise me you will stay out of this. I don’t want you getting distracted from your studies… Or getting hurt. You understand, don’t you?”
I sipped my now cold tea and observed him over the rim of the cup. Something was off with him. And I was going to find out just what that something was.
“Yeah, I understand.”