Detective Doug Tepper sat discretely at a corner table. The foot traffic at the food court was heavy, as you would expect mid-afternoon on a Saturday at the mall. Tepper had arrived early in the hopes of spotting his subject as he entered, but it appeared that either his man was late or not showing up at all. Impatiently he sipped at the near empty soda sitting in front of him. Desperately he hoped the man was just late. Tepper had put a lot of hours in on this case, and, instinctively, he knew that if they didn’t get the guy today, they might never get another chance.
The Lifeguard. That was the moniker his perp went by as he preyed on teens and pre-teens alike, using the anonymity of a computer and high-speed access. There was no way of knowing how long The Lifeguard had been operating across the internet; no way of knowing how many victims he had already claimed. This time, however, he was going to be in for a big surprise. Tepper’s face turned sour. That was assuming the guy showed up.
Scanning the food court once more, the worried detective’s gaze alighted upon something that made his heart skip a beat. Blinking carefully he focused once more on the object - being sure of what he saw. A book. A black bound, leather book sitting on a table in front of a man wearing a red sweater.
Speaking into the wireless microphone attached to his left ear, Tepper quickly warned his team that he’d spotted their subject. Casually he rose from his chair, and began to amble in the direction of his target. He didn’t want to startle the man into running. Once the detective was close enough, he began to relax. He had him now.
Plopping down into the chair opposite the middle-aged man with the book, Tepper allowed himself a small smile.
“Good reading?” It was the code they had worked out.
“The best.” The Lifeguard’s answer was equally cool.
Tepper’s brow furrowed. “You don’t seem surprised.”
Folding his hands across his book, The Lifeguard leaned into the conversation and whispered conspiratorially, “I always anticipate this possibility every time I set up a meeting.” Leaning back in his chair again, the man shrugged his shoulders. “It’s an occupational hazard.”
Letting out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, Tepper caught himself before he did anything that might jeopardize the arrest. Why did he ever think men like this would be remorseful? They never were. In fact, there always seemed to be a hint of satisfaction in their voices, as if they were proud of their accomplishments.
“Well, your days in this occupation are over, my friend.” Reaching across the table and picking up the book, Tepper waved it under the criminal’s nose. “And this will be all the evidence I’ll need to put you away for a long, long time.”
The Lifeguard shrugged once more. “If so, then all I can say is that I had a long run and it was well worth it.”
“I doubt very seriously that the parents of your victims would agree.” Tepper’s words were frosted heavily with icy harshness.
The man didn’t hesitate to answer. “I think that you would find that most of your so called ‘victims’ concur with me.”
“That doesn’t matter. Your victims are all underage and legally unable to make these types of decisions for themselves.”
“Actually, a great many of them are now well over the age of legality.”
A chill ran down Tepper’s spine as huge numbers tossed themselves around in his head. How long had this man been on the loose?
“Tell me Detective…”
The man nodded. “Tepper, will you be reading the evidence against me yourself?”
Now Tepper shrugged. “As the lead investigator on the case it is my duty to do so, yes.”
A smile snaked across the lips of The Lifeguard. “Very good. If you’d like to speak with me again afterwards, be sure to look me up.”
Sensing what he was getting at, Tepper felt that chill again. “You are a dangerous man.”
“Dangerous? Coming from you, that’s a high compliment indeed.”
As the rest of his team left with The Lifeguard in custody, Tepper looked at the book he still held in his hand. Turning it over he read the words, worn and faded with use, engraved across the front cover.
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