Helen looked over at the sleeping stranger. He was definitely drunk enough earlier in the night that he wouldn’t suspect her slipping a few sleeping pills in his drink, none of them ever did. She leaned over and tugged off a few strands of his hair. She couldn’t just cut off a lock, she needed the follicle at the root of the strand, an important detail she’d learned though many trial and errors. Helen placed the strands in a certified baggie. She pulled a black sharpie out of her hand bag and ripped the cap off with her teeth. Almost illegibly she scribbled “Connor Gilman” on the front of the bag and slipped on her skin tight black dress before fleeing the scene. Staying the night was never her protocall, and being a presumed slut meant the men didn’t think it was necessary either.
The sky was starting to fill with a warm orange as she climbed into her Uber. She wondered to herself what the stranger driving would think if he knew she had baggies of hair tucked away in her purse, and she smiled.
“Have a good night?” The driver questioned.
“Sure have, Mr. Sir. Every night they get better and better.”
He laughed. “Mr. Sir, huh? Never gotten that one before.”
“Don’t flatter yourself too much, I call em’ all that.”
They bantered back and forth to fill some white noise as they neared her home.
“Wow, you live here?” The driver beckoned. “I always thought this was an office building.”
“Common misconception.” She opened the car door and slipped out without offering any parting words.
She reached into the side pocket of her purse and pulled out her key fob, letting herself in. Precisely disabling the intricate alarm system, she punched in the fifteen-digit code. Helen leaned against the stair bannister for support and peeled off each of her black heels, one by one, leaving her feet with only panty hose to fight the cold tile steps. They barely got a taste of her toes as she skipped every other on her way to the top floor. Her home office door was slid open but the motion lights hadn’t sensed her in the room yet. After a few steps, the blue lights clicked on in a ripple and her walls were illuminated. The technology always took a little longer to boost up but it followed suit rather quickly. Middle of the night or not, she’d never be able to fall asleep until she knew for sure. Helen walked over to the lab table and prepped the Connor Gilman sample for testing. She placed the strands in a tube and shook it up with the clear liquid. The tube was then placed on a rung and pushed into a white machine that growled noises. Because the hair takes some time to break down into its parts, Helen walked to the kitchen and brewed herself a cup of coffee. She stirred her spoon around and stared at the clockwise tornado of hot dark liquid, deep in thought she tried not to get angry when Kate returned to her memories.
The humming from the lab stopped abruptly, meaning that the sample was complete. The computer screen was glowing with the results. She pulled up a separate window and compared the Connor Gilman sample to the DNA of the man responsible for taking Kate away from her. Their samples didn’t match. Connor Gilman’s spiked up in the wrong areas and the colors were blatantly different. Helen smashed her fist on the table, shaking the keyboard. She stood up quickly and flung the sample across the room. It shattered as she slid to the fetal positon on the floor. She sat there for a while, palm to face.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” She repeated to herself while her fist pounded on her forehead, until Helen belted a scream to break the piercing silence that surrounded her. Then she just stopped. She stood and walked over to the wall on the far side and began rearranging pins on the board as she wondered aloud to herself.
“We’ll if it’s not you then… well his alibi…” the mumbles continued as she moved the pins away from Connor Gilman’s photo. “This is the only one that makes sense,” she said when she realized that there was only one suspect her arrows now pointed to.
She gazed at his photo, unsure if she was looking into the eyes of the man that killed her younger sister. Her heart pumped at an aggressive pace and her cheeks turned as red as her hair. Thinking about her sister brought on a thousand different emotions at once. The whole point in this was to find closure and for someone to take responsibility for the crimes they’d committed, but above all she wanted what she couldn’t fight to get back, her sister. So, stealing DNA from drugged strangers would suffice.
It’d been about eight years since Kate passed away, and the case had been deemed unsolvable by the police four years after her death.
“There just isn’t enough evidence,” the police would tell her. “The motive is unclear and the body doesn’t give us any clues as to how it happened.”
And that was it. Four years of searching and they shut down the case and filed her sister away into some locked cabinet in a sheriff’s department, labeled another unsolvable murder case.
At first Helen grieved. She rarely left her bed for anything other than the occasional food binge, and the leave of absence from her job at the FBI turned permanent. It wasn’t until she started piecing together the murder herself that she found the strength to continue. It started out as conspiracy theories, but this time she was so sure she had it figured out. If it wasn’t Connor Gilman, then it absolutely was Jason Pearson. Jason wasn’t a typical suspect. He wasn’t her ex-boyfriend, creepy internet stalker, or father. He was an absolute stranger. A likely psychopathic stranger with no real motive. He just happened to be caught on camera walking by the building that night. She’d analyzed the video from the security cameras millions of times and zoomed in on, what felt like, hundreds of faces. She started researching his.
J-A-S-O-N P-E-A-R-S-O-N, she typed into the NNCP (National Name Check Program) section on her old FBI computer. Several faces pulled up in a row on the monitor, like a Facebook search, but she already knew who to click for. His photo wasn’t a mug shot, which meant he’d never been arrested for a crime before. That didn’t matter however, because all she needed was a location. The information listed said that he’d grown up in a small town in Iowa but moved to Chicago for college and never left. He was currently working at a bar in the downtown area. Helen was surprised at how easy this would be, seeing as he already worked in a bar, she wouldn’t have to lure him out for a date.
Her mind was too wired for sleep so she started planning. She pulled up his Facebook page and noticed he had a lot of photos with a blonde woman, so she set aside her blonde wig. The bar he worked at looked like a dive so her outfit needed to fit the scene. She found a tight pair of jeans and a low-cut top. He wasn’t gorgeous, and she’d had prettier suspects in the past so she didn’t think he’d be hard to charm. She laid out a baggie and packed away her sleeping pill bottle before finally curling into bed. The next day she would meet the man she believed to have murdered her sister. She slept wonderfully.
The morning and afternoon flew by because she was so giddy with vengeful excitement.
She put on the blonde wig and stared at herself in the mirror. A photo of Kate was taped up on the wall and with the help of her new hair, the two surprisingly seemed to look a lot alike. The night was young when she called an Uber for the bar. She put a handle of grey goose to her mouth and chugged for a few seconds before the car arrived.
“Helen for Beaumont’s bar and grill?”
The car putted along the drive downtown. Roads were busy because it was a Saturday night so the drive took longer than normal. It was still only 8:00 pm when she arrived, so the kitchen was open and dinner was being served. She ran through her plan of action while she walked to a booth at the end of the bar. The lights were on and a few intense games of pool were under place, and for the most part she couldn’t see anyone that looked like Jason Pearson.
“Can I getcha something to drink?” A waitress asked.
“Vodka tonic would be grand.”
Seated at the booth she started to take in her surroundings. The bar to her right and the pool tables in front of her. A set of swinging doors leading to the kitchen were on the other side of the room and she noticed a few bodies moving behind them, silently hoping one was Jason Pearson. The doors flung open and a bus boys walked out while throwing a white towel over his shoulder, followed by bartender with shaggy dark hair, and she immediately knew it was him. Jason was in the flesh, and anticlimactically he was organizing some bottles against the wall.
Helen didn’t get nervous, she got excited. Every time she met a suspect for the first time she got a rush of energy. The thrill of her charade was a feeling like no other. Four years in the making and she’d narrowed them all down to one man. So many sneaky nights of seducing presumed killers in hopes of vengeance. She was ready to end it.
The bar was beginning to fill up and she decided to hit the restroom to touch up her lipstick before she’d begin her flirtation with Jason. She smacked her blood colored lips together, inches away from the bathroom mirror. She ran her hands under some cold water and pinched her cheeks a few times before gliding onto the bar stool. Her elbow rested on the sticky surface as she hooked a twenty between her middle and pointer finger.
“What can I fetch ya, my lady?” Were his first words.
“An old fashioned,” Helen smiled confidently.
“I like a girl who knows what she wants,” He said, just creepy enough that Helen could picture him being a murderer, but it didn’t scare her, she was ready.
He returned with the drink and slid it in front of her while leaning over the bar, he questioned, “I feel like I’ve seen you before, do you come in here often?”
“First time go-er actually, I’m new to the city. Just moved here last week,” she lied through a Colgate smile. It came so easy to her, playing the role and acting the part. “Are you from here?”
“No actually, I grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa.”
“Sounds dull,” she joked.
“You’re damn right,” he replied with a laugh.
Helen already had him wrapped around her finger. They spent majority of the next few hours bantering back and forth about life in the Midwest and how he’d dreamed of opening up his own bar someday. Helen switched to beer not soon after her old fashioned and she forcefully persuaded him to take a few shots by putting them on her tab.
“What time do you get off work?” Helen asked, while crossing her right leg over her left.
“I’m off at close, which is in, what, ten minutes?” He locked eyes with her, “wait for me?”
The two were soon making out in the back of an Uber to his subpar apartment in Chicago. When they reached the door, she insisted he make them drinks inside.
“Best idea you’ve had all night,” he replied, as he fumbled inside to the kitchen. He grabbed two glasses and poured a heafty shot of vodka into the one he intended to give to Helen and a much smaller one for himself before splashing some tonic on top. While he was prepping the drinks, Helen was parked on his love seat, and managed to grab a pill from her purse so she’d be ready to sink it when the opportunity arose. He returned to the living room, double fisting the glass cups.
“Voila!” He exclaimed once they’d been placed on the table.
She took a sip and replied, “you call this a drink? I thought you were a bartender, Mr. Sir.”
He looked confused and held up a finger, motioning for her to wait. Jason retraced his steps to the kitchen to grab the handle, while in the meantime Helen took advantage of her time, slipping the pill in.
“What, what are you doing?” Jason stuttered.
Helen shot up straight, stunned that she’d been caught. “Oh! Nothing! I was just—“
“No, I saw you! You were slipping something in my drink! What is this?”
“It’s not what it looks like,” she said innocently while standing up off the couch, walking toward Jason.
“You stay away from me!” He yelled as she neared.
She lurched forward, tackling him to the ground. She quickly had him pinned but he kept squirming to get free. Panicked, Helen reached for the glass on the coffee table and shattered it to the ground. “I know what you did,” she sternly said, holding a shard in her right hand above his neck, “and it’s high time you paid for it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Jason screamed at her, his eyes filled with fear.
“Kate McCann! Remember now? This is for her!”
“I swear I don’t know who that is, I swear!” He begged.
Helen wasn’t listening, at this point her adrenalin had kicked in, and things escalated very quickly. She thrusted the jagged edge of the broken glass into the throbbing vein on his neck. In one swift motion, seas of red stained the hardwood floors. Helen stood up and gazed down at the gruesome view, letting the glass shard fall to the floor. She wasn’t filled with remorse, she felt powerful, and as she looked down she stared at his shaggy head of hair. She tugged off a few strands and put them in her baggie, and then she decided she’d leave him there, just like he’d left her sister. However, before leaving, she washed her hands, wiped her finger prints off the glass, and made sure not to leave any of her own hair strands behind, even if they were from her wig.
The ride home was a blur. She didn’t remember calling the Uber but there she was, sitting in the lab, staring down at a blood stain on her jeans. It wasn’t just a splotch of red, it was kind of in the shape of a bird. It had a little peak on one side and on the other a wide spread mark that resembled a pair of wings. She tilted her head to get a different perspective on it and it just looked like a blob. Helen shook her head back and forth until she remembered she had taken some of Jason Pearson’s DNA. Quickly, she grabbed her purse and threw the baggie of hair out onto her lab table. She shoved the strands into a test tube and vigorously shook it up before shoving the rack into the white growling machine.
“Come on, come on, come on!” Helen used both her hands to shake the machine, knowing very well that it wouldn’t hurry the process along any faster than before, but she kicked it with her foot anyways.
The machine let out a few separate hums as if it were confused.
A few minutes later it clicked back into gear and spewed out the results on the computer monitor. Helen quickly pulled up a separate window displaying the DNA formation she’d practically memorized over the years. The same blue and red double helix attachments hadn’t changed since the last time she’d looked.
Jason’s DNA was now seated on the screen next to her sister’s murderer, except they didn’t match. Helen ran her finger along the screen, looking for similarities between the two like she was looking for Waldo in an iSpy book, but it was obvious there wasn’t any.
Helen stepped away from her screen. She began walking over to the far, well lit, wall on the other side of her lab. She looked her criminal board up and down for a few seconds, recalling the other men that once resided on it, and then she removed the photo of Jason Pearson and started re-arranging the pins.