I follow him in my nondescript, black Honda I paid cash for the week before. Having an extra car, one that blends in, is important to my cause. I park at a distance, and we watch the house together.
At around four o’ clock, the time we usually spend at the park, the brown, wavy-haired woman comes walking out the door. She’s toting her two children with her, per usual, all three of them wearing matching North Face raincoats. I am not particularly surprised that he knows where she lives; after all, I’ve been digging through his trash for months now. She loads them into her car, and Leroy and I dutifully follow. It’s like a mother and her psychotic ducklings, I think.
She parks in the mall’s above-ground garage, and leads her children inside as they struggle and pull to get away from her and run ahead. Leroy and I follow her in. He sits outside of JCPenney, watching the indoor playground area, minus his Camels. Instead, he holds a styrofoam cup of coffee, and a newspaper he pilfered from the trash. I take the escalator to the second floor and look down on both of them. How is it that she has never noticed this lingering man, appearing at the spots she frequents with her children?
I have, on numerous occasions, entertained the idea that Leroy is an estranged relative, or ex-husband of the woman. Perhaps these are his children. Perhaps Leroy is a private detective hired by her paranoid husband, paid to keep track of what she does on a day-to-day basis. Can you really be so lost in your own world that you fail to notice how it’s coinciding with that of a sick man? Either way, I’ll be her eyes. I won’t let him hurt her or her children. I’ll hurt him first. There will be no more Nevaeh Anthonys on my watch.
But, she does get hurt, the wavy-haired woman who the news calls Jane Doe. They don’t show her face, instead the camera zooms in on her hands, and I recognize the diamond-studded ring she wears on her thumb. The man who sexually assaulted her is still at large. When I turn on the news and see the story, my whole body begins to shake. This is my fault. I had to work. I should have taken off to watch him more carefully. I sit down and press my hands between my knees to keep them still. The reporter is standing in front of a parking garage at a local mall. I recognize it as the one where Leroy was watching her. The rapist, a man she describes as being in his late thirties, abducted her here in this busy mall parking garage, forcing her into the trunk of her own car, and then driving away. He drove her to a park two hours away, where he brutally assaulted her for hours, and then simply walked away without her ever seeing his face.
I turn off the television. This is my fault. I knew what he was planning to do, and I could have stopped him. How? I ask myself. By telling the police that I was stalking a man who was stalking a woman? Maybe they would have listened to me, sent a cruiser to investigate, but without proof, without the crime, nothing could be done.
I think about a movie I watched with Judah, one in which Tom Cruise is part of a specialized crime unit which prevents crime based on foreknowledge. The discussions that resulted between us were heated. I thought that preventing a crime before it happened was ingenious. Judah insisted that tyranny always came wrapped in someone’s good intention.
“Any of us could do something wrong. Should we be arrested—and possibly executed—based on what we might potentially do? Imagine what that would look like in real life. Would you want to live in that society?”
He’d had a point. And I thought about his speech as I followed Leroy around town, waiting for him to do something bad so I’d have a reason to punish him.
I pick up the phone and call the number the reporter gives at the end of the news story. It’s a crime hotline; the person handling the call is a man. His voice is high and nervous. It throws me off, and, for the first few minutes of the call, I find myself stumbling over my words, sounding as unsure as he does.
“I have information about the news. I mean, the rape story that was just on the news,” I say. Before we can go any further, he asks if I want to give an anonymous tip, or if he can take my information.
“I don’t know,” I tell him.
I don’t want anything tying back to me in the end.
“I suppose they can contact me if they need to.”
Once he has everything he needs, I tell him about Leroy. How I saw him following a woman to the mall. And even as I am speaking, I can hear how ludicrous my story sounds. When he asks me why I was following Leroy, I tell him it was because he looked like a rapist. There is a long pause on his end.
“Hello…?” I say.
“Yes, I’m here. I was just getting this all down.”
I imagine him rolling his eyes, sharing the story later with his coworkers. Some girl called in, convinced she’s been stalking a rapist. Another nut calling in and wanting to feel important. Sending the police on a wild goose chase, wasting the taxpayers’ money. I hang up before I can finish. This is my fault, and I need to fix it before he starts his ritual again.
I’ll take care of Leroy Ashley myself.
I go see the wavy-haired woman. Not see her in the way that normal people do, where you knock on the door and get invited in for coffee. I watch her house for days, parked underneath the wisteria across the street, fresh, black coffee in the cupholder at my side. Cars come and go—family, friends, pizza delivery. I read the book I brought, a bestseller that everyone is talking about. But every few minutes my eyes dart away from the words to check for her.
I don’t see her until a week later, when she walks to her mailbox. I remember her from before, carefree and happy, easy smiles for her bouncing children. She liked to wear dresses in bright geometrical patterns, lime green pants, and peasant tops. But when I see her now, she resembles nothing of the before. In a sweatshirt and faded denim, she has her hair piled on top of her head. Her face is pale and fearful. Before she takes the mail out of the box, she looks left and right as if checking for a predator, then she scurries back into the house. Anger floods me. What did I come here to confirm? That Leroy had broken her soundly enough for me to justify punishing him?
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