I’ll Be Waiting



    Matthew Stevens blew on his hands and stomped his feet. It was so cold that his breath was icing up the windshield, even with the faulty heater on. For perhaps the thousandth time in the last three and a half years he thought about why he was here.


    He and his brother Daniel had married sisters, Jill and Carolyn Johnson, whom they met at Cal State – San Luis Obispo. Both brothers, software engineers, found jobs with Hewlett Packard in Santa Rosa and ended up living just five blocks apart. Children came, first for Daniel, the youngest, with two, and then a year later their wives delivered baby girls just two months apart. “Fantastic,” said Matt, “Double cousins.” But the two became much closer than cousins. It was as if one could read the other’s mind. At six they were pixie cute – both blue-eyed, with silky blond hair and a habit of wearing each other’s clothes. Melanie and Esther Stevens – people would ask if they were twins.


    In August both families headed for their yearly trek to Comanche Lake, southeast of Sacramento, for a three-day weekend of swimming, boating, and fishing. They stayed at the Wildwood State Campground – lots of picnic tables – even permanent toilets and a wash facility – gorgeous pines everywhere. The afternoon of the second day, the older kids and the dads went out on a yellow rubber raft, about 300 yards off shore – to try to catch some steelhead trout, maybe even snag a Kokanee Salmon.

    The six-year-old girls asked their moms if they could go and play Hide and Seek, up at a little inlet, 200 yards away, just out of sight. They said yes, but to go no further. Hand in hand the girls skipped off, ponytails swinging in unison. A half hour later, Esther came back, but without Melanie. “Where is she?” her mother Carolyn asked, jumping up. “I can’t find her, it was her turn to hide but she never came when I called, ‘Olly Olly Oxen, All In Free.’ I think she’s just being silly.” Immediately the two mothers ran to where the girls had been playing, and began shouting. No reply. They split up and spread out through the pines. Jill got on her phone and called Matthew. She could see them paddling for shore as fast as they could.


    They all started searching outward from the small bay, shouting Melanie’s name, enlisting some of the other campers. The panic grew and grew. Nothing, just one of the two butterfly barrettes that she had been wearing – lying beneath a large Sugar Pine. Daniel called the police and within a half hour two patrol cars showed up. The officers listened to the story, and began a formal search, even though they were sure that Melanie would quickly be found.


    She wasn’t, and despite the use of a helicopter and dogs, and over 350 searchers, there were no clues. Two weeks later, after dragging the lake, the FBI called off the search. The families were beside themselves – Jill kept getting feelings that her daughter was still alive; they just needed to concentrate their efforts. Their church had a special fast and prayers, beseeching God to help them.


    Every spare moment over the next month the two families searched for Melanie, ranging further and further away from the lake. They tried clairvoyants, astrologers, telepathics and psychics, and met with other families who had lost children – agreeing with their advice of never giving up hope. Each day a family member logged on to the National Center for Missing Children. But not a trace. Months went by and nothing. The families and their friends began to believe the worst. After a year almost everyone came to the conclusion that she was gone, even though the two families still prayed every night for her return.


    Two years passed, each family had another child, and life pretty much returned to normal, except for Matthew. Matthew prayed that his days would quickly turn into weeks, then months and then one day, the anguish from loss of his niece would finally be over.


    At the beginning of the third year, they got a call from an FBI agent that had been present on the original investigation. He had some news. A man named Simon Lester had been arrested on a charge of attempting to abduct a young girl at a campground just 170 miles north of the original Comanche Lake site. Lester claimed that the girl approached his camp and he wasn’t doing anything other than talking to her. Lester was short, balding, narrow-eyed and rat-faced, but with the physique of a body builder. As the police searched his apartment, they found a couple of things that might connect him to Melanie’s disappearance. There was a pink and white butterfly barrette and a container of chloroform.


    The man was arrested but refused to talk. His lawyer, who was also his brother-in-law, said his client found the barrette five weeks after Melanie went missing, and he used chloroform as a sleep aid. Lester had retained a Comanche Lake Park entrance ticket that corresponded to the later date, giving him a convenient alibi. He maintained his innocence and made bail.


    The justice system ground slowly but after three months the DA decided not to charge him in Melanie’s disappearance – just not enough physical evidence. But he did put Lester on trial for the Attempted Kidnapping of the other girl. But there was only one witness.   That trial went for two weeks, but Lester was very ably defended. At the end the jury hung, with nine voting for conviction and three holdouts. After pressure from the girl’s family, and the Stewart’s, the DA decided to try him again. This time Lester was convicted.


    At his sentencing, a large number of friends and relatives from the Stewart’s and other families were present, all sure that this was the man who had taken Melanie. When the judge asked if anyone had anything to say, several spoke, then finally Carolyn Stewart stood. “In the fourth Chapter of Ephesians, the Savior teaches the importance of forgiveness.  He knows that our natural tendency is to strike back in vengeance, to seek revenge against those who hurt us, but we are supposed to forgive, no matter what. So, Simon Lester, you have our forgiveness. We cannot allow ourselves to live the rest of our days with our hearts broken, filled with anger, bitterness and hatred.”


    But Matthew was furious, grinding his teeth as he watched the Judge pass a sentence of five to fifteen years. Lester turned and grinned at the families, and then, looking directly at Matthew, winked. As the prisoner was guided toward the waiting guards, Matt jumped the railing and put his mouth to Lester’s ear. Lester just shook his head and laughed. The bailiff dragged Matt back. “What did you say to him?” said his wife Jill.   “I told him that I didn’t forgive him, and that he is going to hell.” But in reality, what Matt said was, “I’ll be waiting.”


    Simon Lester applied for parole after three years. The time was right for an early release – the state had just set guidelines for shorter sentences. The consensus was that prisoners with good records should be released to offset the incoming rush of those more violent. Lester had continued to maintain his innocence all through the years. Matthew appeared before the parole board with many others and said that he believed Lester had paid for his crime, and that he thought the man should be released. When his extended family and his wife heard this, they were glad that Matt had finally put this horrible ordeal behind him.


    But he hadn’t. The years had slowly slipped away while Lester was in prison. Matthew’s sleep was filled with nightmares about Melanie and his own daughter. Many times it was Esther who was taken – she reached out to him screaming – “Daddy, save me!” He would awaken with a jerk, jumping out of bed – it happened more often than not.


    He tried to reconcile what had happened, to find forgiveness for Lester in his heart. He went back to church, met with a psychiatrist, talked at length with Jill and prayed each night. But he could not get the image of Melanie being dragged off to be assaulted and killed out of his mind. He thought about her every day. What if it had been Esther’s turn to hide that day? Would she have been taken? He couldn’t believe God would let this happen to an innocent child.


    His wife said that over the years his countenance had changed, and the wrinkles in his face had deepened. The sides of his mouth had turned down, and that he seldom laughed or showed real excitement. She knew he was still grief stricken by Melanie’s disappearance, even though they had discussed it again and again. She felt like he was not living as a husband for her and a father for the kids, but for vengeance. And she was right, he fantasized about what he would do if he could ever get his hands on Simon Lester – Choke his life out, skin, drown or burn him to his death. Maybe even bury him alive.


    So now here he was on this freezing night outside the Folsom prison, sitting in his cold car waiting for Simon Lester to be released – that is why he wanted him paroled – so he could finally get at him. He knew that Lester’s attorney/brother-in-law, John Jacobson, was going to pick him up, and he intended to follow. He didn’t really know what he would do when he caught up with Lester. His fantasies for Lester’s death hadn’t lessened over the years, and he had started to lose belief in his ability to actually kill someone. He had no weapons, and no plan. He just wanted to do something to avenge Melanie. He had taken a leave of absence from work to be at Lester’s release over his wife’s objections. He was going to do something.


    Matthew followed Jacobson’s car to his house in Sacramento and watched both go inside. It appeared that Lester would be there for the night, so he checked into a motel. He staked out the place first thing in the morning and again followed the silver Lexus. He got away with it for most of the day, but then he was spotted.


    Jacobson stopped at a stop sign and walked back to his car. “What are you doing, following us?” “I’m not doing anything illegal, I just want to know where Lester is going.” “You keep this up and I’ll file a harassment charge against you,” said Jacobson. “File away, you S.O.B., I’m making sure that he doesn’t have a chance to take another little girl.”


    “Look, I know who you are, and I’m sorry for what happened to your niece, but I believe my brother-in-law to be innocent, and in any event he has done time in prison. I think I understand how you feel, but you have to stop this, otherwise you give me no choice.”


    The next day Matthew followed again but further behind. Jacobson called the cops and they pulled him over at 11:00. No ticket was given, but they said the next time this happened, he would be arrested for harassment.


    That night at the motel, he was feeling depressed and uneasy, finally realizing that if he really did do anything to Simon Lester, he would be putting his hatred before his love of his family and everything else he valued, and would probably end up in jail. Just seeing the man had somehow cooled his anger.


    The same night he got a call from Jill saying she had had enough. He was putting this obsession in front of everything in his life. If he didn’t stop this behavior and return to being the man she had married, she was going to take the children and leave him. In the morning, he packed up and headed for home, but the heavy sadness would not leave his heart.


    He did everything he could to bring happiness to himself and those around him, but the nightmares still came – about once a week. Two policemen showed up five weeks later and wanted to interview him. It seemed that Simon Lester had disappeared and Matt was the prime suspect. But once the DA found out that all of Matt’s movements could be traced, they dropped the inquiry. “Please God, don’t let this start again. Please don’t let this demon prey upon another child.”


    A month later, his cell phone rang. A man named Les was on the other end. “I have some information about Melanie, could you meet me at the Sample Café, say in an hour? I know what you look like, and I’ll wave as soon as I see you.” “Why should I come, I’ve had these calls before, they all turn out to be a money scam or information from a psychic, an astrologer, or a vision from some sort of cult?” “I want nothing from you,” said Les,”I just want to help.” “Alright, but if it’s some sort of nonsense I’ll leave immediately.” “Agreed,” said Les.


    Matthew looked around the café as he entered. At the back of the restaurant was Les. In a split second Matt evaluated him. In his late thirties, of medium height, bristle-cut salt and pepper hair, hazel eyes but an unremarkable face. He was dressed in beige pants and a long-sleeve blue shirt with the cuffs rolled up. Matthew could see that he was very fit. The man walked forward to greet him with a handshake, nothing registering on his face but determination. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Stevens, I know that you are sick of worrying about what happened to Melanie.” I believe the information I have will settle your mind, can we sit down?”


    “First let me tell you what really happened at the campground. When Melanie went to hide, she saw a small red balloon tied to a bush. It was another seventy-five yards from where she had hid. The balloon was behind a big pine but deeper into the forest. Curious, she went closer and as she reached out to touch it, a man, who we now know as Simon Lester, put an arm around her forty-five pound body, and pushed an ether-soaked sponge to her face. As she went slack he doubled her up and stuffed her in a very large camouflage backpack. Then he rapidly trotted the half-mile back to his car. No one saw him. He took her to a cabin outside Mindin, Nevada and ended her life.


    “How do you know all this?” said Matt, “Why should I believe you?” “Here are some pictures that I took at his cabin along with the dress and shoes she was wearing. Also here is a picture of the three graves I unearthed.” “Three?” said Matthew. “He took two other little girls, one from Indiana and one from Arkansas. I have all of the documentation for these children. Melanie’s is in this folder for you. There is a full confession.”


    “But how did you get all these details?” “Like you, I have been waiting for Simon Lester to get out of prison, but unlike you, I watched from afar – watched you follow him and get into trouble. Three weeks after you returned to your family, I was waiting when he went into a convenience store for cigarettes. You were gone and his brother-in-law was giving him more and more time on his own. As he came to the back of the store, the clerk was busy and distracted; I injected him with pentothal, and dragged him out back to my van. By the time his brother-in-law came looking, we were miles away.


    “I took him to my ranch, and there began to extract information from him. After three days he had told me everything, including every single detail of the abductions, minute by minute.” “How did you get him to talk?” “The police, FBI, the military and other authorities are limited by regulations that prevent them from penetrating the deepest fears a subject might have. I was not bound by any such restrictions in my quest to find out what this monster had done.”


    “Needless to say Simon Lester has now passed away and resides in hell. I will send all of the evidence of his crimes to the FBI. I doubt they will spend much time looking for me. When they come – to talk with you and your brother and your families, please omit most of this conversation if you possibly can.”


    Matthew nodded his head, not sure what he was feeling. “And this crystal container, these ashes are for you to give to Daniel and Carolyn. It’s Melanie’s remains, I was sure that they would not want to go through the grief of seeing her desiccated body after all this time. This will be the end, not always having to wonder if she is being held captive, somehow still alive. I know you are thinking, was she tortured, did she suffer, a little girl not understanding why someone would want to hurt her? In examining her remains and in extracting details from Lester, I believe she died almost instantly. He did confess that he damaged the girls’ Achilles tendons, to ensure they didn’t escape.”


    Matt looked right in Les’s eyes. “But why did you do this? Who are you?”

    “I’m just someone who lost a child, just like your niece. I have the training and the ability to make sure that a particular person doesn’t have the opportunity again.”


    “I believe that there are creatures in human form like Lester, who don’t have any souls, or whose souls have been eaten out of them by evil. I believe in the absolute physical reality of evil. They can’t repent, they are incapable of not sinning; these demons are simply too dangerous to stay on this earth.”


    “Will you come and talk to Daniel and Carolyn?” “No, and if you will wait a few days before you contact the authorities, I would appreciate it. I’ve already talked with other girls’ parents.”


    “Will I see you again?” “No, you will never again see me. I’m glad I was able to help you, your family, and others come to a finalization of this terrible tragedy. Go home, give thanks for the family you have, and let this nightmare pass from you.”


    “What are you going to do now, where are you going?”


    “I have unfinished business in other places,” he said, looking directly into Matthew’s eyes. Then the man nodded, and walked out the door of the café.


    That night Matthew Stevens looked up at the stars for a few moments, wondering if one might be Melanie, then climbed into bed, closed his eyes, and fell into a dreamless sleep.


    Joseph Ollivier

    July 2017


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