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Predator

A cautionary tale

By Barb DukemanPublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 17 min read
3

Beth signed sat in front of her laptop which cast an eerie shadow on the wall behind her. Her friends encouraged her to join an online dating site to find a decent person. After a string of losers since she left college, she had nothing to lose. Her father, a local sheriff’s deputy, warned her about those sites being dangerous. He’d seen the damages firsthand.

She looked at the list Hannah had given her: Bumble, OkCupid, Match.com, Tinder. Tinder was the only one she had heard of, so she signed on to set up a profile. Log in, the site said. Sounded a bit pushy already. Log in with Google or with phone number. Great. “Now I’ll be getting all sorts of sex spam,” she said to her calico cat, Pika. “How about phone number? I can always change that if I have to.” She typed in her number and hit enter. Gender? F. Name? Beth.

Photo. A feature photo of her to share with the world. She scratched the back of her neck trying to think of a photo she didn’t hate. She flipped through her online photos searching for a passable one. Scroll, scroll, scroll. She stopped at one she had taken in front of a salon; she had just gotten a cut and color. The pink top she was wearing that day draped across her shoulders, and her sunglasses were perched on her head. Not bad. She uploaded that non-descript photo to her profile.

The next step was setting up a bio. “What kind of profile do I have?” she asked Pika, sitting contently on the desk near the keyboard. “My social resume is empty. I dropped out of college before getting my AA. I have a low-paying job with nothing to show for it after three years.” She sighed. “This is not going to work.”

To create the biography, she had to think about what she wanted. A long-term relationship? A one-night stand? Marriage? FwB? Moonlit walks on the beach? She typed a paragraph and deleted it. “This is stupid, Pika. What would you write?” At the sound of her name, Pika’s ears perked up. “Good idea." She typed, "Enjoys lounging around with friends whether at home or out, appreciates a good meal, but won’t turn down a quick treat. Sometimes I prefer to be left alone, but I am loyal, fierce, and delightfully catty. I don’t need jewelry or cute clothes but like being pampered. I could comfortably be your friend.” Beth smiled and continued. “If you like Dean Koontz, playing cards, and taking care of plants, we’d get along fine.” She looked at the paragraph and scratched Pika’s head. “Perfect. Thank you for the inspiration.”

The site sent her to a section to upload more pictures. “More photos? Isn’t there more to me than a photo?” Back to scrolling. She thought this time she’d pick out the bad ones. If anyone would still want to check her out after those photos, maybe he wouldn’t be so shallow. There was a photo of her at the zoo, one of her at the beach making a crazy face, another one by a fountain with the peace sign and duck lips. “Do you want to be in the photo?” she asked Pika. “No, you’d be the celebrity and steal the spotlight.”

She finished up and completed the process. Hannah’s face popped up on her phone. “Oh, hey. I was just gonna call you, “ Beth exclaimed. “I finally made the Tinder profile you told me to. Now what do I do?”

“When you keep your site up on the phone, guys will see your profile. If they don’t like you, they pass you up like a wilted salad by swiping left, as in left out. If they like what they see, they swipe right as in you may be the right one. If you do the same, swipe right, then you’re a match.”

“What does that mean?”

Hannah continued. “You can start a conversation, or exchange numbers, or go out on a real date.”

Beth thought about it. “That doesn’t sound too hard.” She placed Pika back on the desk. “What’s the downside?”

“Creepers,” Hannah said. “There are douche-canoes out there who shouldn’t even belong on there. There should be background checks, or at least a police report to prove innocence,” Hannah laughed. “I’ve swept left so many times because the vibes were Bill Cosby-level.”

“But you and Wayne have been dating a while now? Right?” Beth asked.

“It’s not even two months, but yeah, we’re hitting it off for now. He seems nice. I’ve met his dad, so that’s a plus.”

“Why?

“When they’re willing to have you meet their family, they’re really putting their trust in you. Families can bring up embarrassing moments that may not be as funny as they think. It can get awkward.”

“Good to know. When I find someone I might like, how do I set up a date?” Beth anticipated finding a match.

Hannah replied, “The internet is a wild and untamed place. Set up a date in a busy restaurant, not too close to your apartment, and let me and Morgan know so we can spy on you. Safety first.”

“I like that idea.” Beth said. “Now what?”

“After we hang up, check the app on your phone. If someone liked your profile, you get a notification that you’ve been matched. Then you send messages back and forth. If you like what you read, you set up the date.”

“That sounds easy enough. What will I see on my end??

“You’ll get a bunch of guys’ photos and bios. If you don’t like them, swipe left, and you should never see them again. Swipe right and wait. It’s that easy."

“Ok.” Beth saw it was feeding time for Pika. “Gotta feed kitty before she gets angry. Talk to you later!”

“Good luck. And be careful.”

Pika ate her Sheba and meowed for more. Beth thought maybe a treat would be better and picked out Pika’s favorite Sassycat flavor. Night had fallen, and Beth curled up on the sofa with her phone and a satisfied cat. Wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket, Beth checked her Tinder.

There were five likes for her already.

“Damn. They don’t waste time, do they?” She looked at them. Too old – left. Works 60 hours a week – left. Lives in Germany – left. Raises birds of prey – interesting, but left. Lives with his parents? – Dear lord, left. This is not as fun as I thought, Beth mused. I hope I don’t come across this pathetic. She turned in for the night, and Pika curled up like a croissant on her bed.

The following morning, she awoke and got ready for work. Beth fed the cat, gathered her keys and bag together, and tossed her phone in the outside pocket. The drive to Penney’s wasn’t long from her house, but the traffic was awful. She listened to the morning DJs talk about the latest news. Another brutal murder in her town. It was the second one in the last two months. Because they happened during the day, Beth felt safe at work. She pulled into the parking lot and started her day in the Children’s Department.

Eight hours flew by; offended parents, irritable children – by the time she got home, she was exhausted. She heated up some leftovers and checked her phone. There were more profiles to look through. She brought her food over to the sofa where Pika followed the smell. Beth looked through the profiles, finding something wrong with one after another. Then she came across Chad. This one, she thought, has potential. He loves to read, enjoys foreign food, and would rather stay home, watching a movie or playing games. Hmmmm, she thought, and swiped right.

It was a match. He texted first, and they continued for an hour.

• I’m glad to meet you, Beth.

• Same here. Who’s your favorite author?

There are so many out there. I can’t pick just one.

• I love horror stories. Koontz is my favorite.

• I love horror, too!

• What’s your favorite restaurant?

Panda Express. It’s just a few minutes from my house.

Beth thought about that answer. For someone who brags about liking foreign food, Panda Express is an unusual choice.

• Would you like to have dinner tomorrow? Panda Express at 6?

• Which one?

• The one on Mariner.

• Ok. I’ll see you then.

• Sweet! I’ll see you tomorrow.

Beth texted Hannah and Morgan immediately: “I have a date with him! Chad. Tomorrow. I need you guys to be there! 6 pm.” Morgan and Hannah texted back and agreed to show up and do some serious spying.

The next day Beth was so nervous. She hadn’t been on date in such a long time. A white top with jeans, her new sandals, and pulled her hair up in a messy bun seemed perfect. She checked out the menu online ahead of time so she would know what to get. Acting like a schoolgirl, she patted Pika on the head and then trotted out to her car.

The restaurant wasn’t too far from her house as well. That was convenient. Inside the restaurant, she scanned the tables and located him. He wore a blue cotton shirt and a baseball cap. Walking over to him, she looked around to find her friends; they were two tables over. Beth sat down in the chair across from him and set her purse down on the seat beside her. “Nice to meet you, Chad.”

“You’re a lot prettier in person.”

“Um, thank you?” Beth replied.

“That didn’t come out right. I mean, you’re more than I expected. You might be too good for me.” Chad was smooth.

Beth blushed. “Oh, I have my bad habits.” She laughed. “Maybe you’ll change your mind.”

“No, I don’t think so.” Chad saw her looking at the menu, and said, “Oh, I already put in our orders. I hope you don’t mind.”

Beth looked confused. What if she were allergic to something? What if she didn’t like it? Who orders food for someone they just met? “Oh, thank you,” she said hesitantly.

“You said you liked chicken, so I got you chicken lo mein.”

Beth thought about it. I never mentioned anything about chicken. “Sounds good.” She sat up a little straighter. “So, Chad, how is it that a handsome man like you hasn’t been taken?”

Chad laughed, “Oh, I’m hard to catch. I’m just waiting for the right one.”

Beth tilted her head a little. “Tell me about your parents.”

“They’re both dead.”

The smile on her face washed off. Awkward silence fell between them.

Beth was trying to find something to say when the order was called out. “There’s dinner.” He got up to get the trays with the food and sodas. Beth glanced over at Hannah and Morgan and gave them a “I don’t know” shrug.

After dinner, Beth became a little looser with her conversation, giggling more than usual. She let him doodle a fake tattoo on her arm with a Sharpie. “What are you doing?” she asked.

Chad looked up, “Just wondering if you had any other tattoos.”

Beth said, “You might just find out.” Instantly she regretted what she said. “Do you have any?”

He smiled mischievously, “You just might find out.” His doodle finished, he asked, “Are you available Sunday for lunch? We can meet wherever you want to go.”

Beth pretended to check the calendar on her phone. “Looks like I'm free that day. How do you feel about Sonny’s Barbecue up the road?”

“Great idea.” Chad answered. “I can’t wait to see you again.” He helped her up, and her unsteady gait surprised her. It was just a Coke. He escorted her to her car. “Are you feeling all right?”

“I’m just a little tired. Thank you, Chad. I had a lovely time.” She started her car and drove off. Morgan called her and the Bluetooth kicked on.

“What was he like? How did it go?” Morgan asked.

“We made another date. Sunday. Sonny’s.”

“Already? That was fast. What’s he like? Is he as nice as he is hot?”

Beth wrinkled her brows. “I don’t really remember.”

“It’s your first date in a couple of years. You’re bound to be nervous. I’m so excited about this. You gotta tell your folks you’re back in the dating pool.”

Beth said, “Tomorrow. I’m just really tired now. Chinese food makes me sleepy.” She ended the call and pulled into the complex parking spot. She walked up the sidewalk to her small apartment. After locking the door, she heard a knock. She looked out the peephole and saw Chad. Confused, she opend the door and asked, “What are you doing here?”

“You didn’t look well, so I followed you home. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, it’s ok.”

“Can I come in?”

Beth was a little foggy but said, “Sure.” Pika appeared and hissed. “Pika! Don’t be rude to my guest. Chad, meet Pika.”

“Um, hi Pika.” The cat ran and hid.

Beth pulled Chad’s arm. “Let’s watch a movie.” Chad followed her to the sofa. “I’ve always wanted to watch ‘The Shape of Water.’" Beth plunked down on the sofa and was out for the count. Around midnight, Beth heard her cell ring and scrambled to find it. Disoriented, she heard the front door slam and looked at it. She found her cell; Hannah wanted to know how the date went since she was completely offline for the last five hours. “What do you mean off?” She looked at her phone which was still on. “Look, I’m tired. Good night.” She fell back asleep on the sofa.

When she woke up the next morning, Pika was angry and hungry. Loud meowing got Beth up, and she automatically reached for the cat food. “Pika, I met this guy. You’d like him. His name is Chad.” After feeding the cat, she looked down and noticed her shirt was unbuttoned and her pants were on the floor. She’s always been neat with putting her clothing away. She also felt a little sore but couldn’t recall why. The couch could be uncomfortable, but why was she on the couch? Beth called her dad to tell him she was coming over. She needed some good coffee.

Gene Wilton, Beth’s dad, was high up within the county sheriff’s department. He opened the door and welcomed his baby with a big hug. Beth smiled and said, “Do you have the coffee going?”

“Of course, Baby. Your favorite, Irish crème.” They walked over to the antique dinette table and sat down. Gene brought the coffee over in her favorite Winnie the Pooh mug and set it down in front of her. Suddenly his demeanor changed. “That mark on your arm. Where did you get it?” He used a demanding voice that scared her. “Where did you get it?”

“Yesterday, Dad. I went out on a date-“

“A date? Where?”

“Panda Express. I think he’s an artist. He doodled this on my arm.” She gave him her arm. “I met him on Tinder.” She pleaded her case. “Hannah and Morgan were there; they were watching us.”

Her father almost burst. “What have I always taught you about sites like that? You could have been…” he didn’t finish that statement. Abruptly he got up and went into the den, passing her mother who was coming in.

“What is he all upset about?” Her mother, Evelyn, asked. “He was in a jolly mood this morning.”

“I told him I went on a date, and he lost it.” They could hear talking in the den, a phone conversation, low and urgent.

Gene came back in sat down at the table. “Beth, I need to hear everything that happened last night.”

Beth started recounting the Tinder conversations, the midnight call, and ended with her clothes in disarray this morning. Her father took a deep breath, and said, “You are in danger. That mark, an infinity symbol divided by 0, was found on both the girls murdered in the last two months. That information wasn’t made public.”

Beth’s face turned pale. “I think I’m gonna throw up,” and she ran to the bathroom. Evelyn followed her into the bathroom to help her daughter. A moment later a text message flashed on Beth’s phone. Gene picked up the phone and read it: “I don’t know who this is but Chad is still mine he’s sleeping right here you slut you better leave him the fuck alone.”

He wrote down the phone number and called the station again. “Trace this number. 352-555-1883. Yes, geolocate as well.”

Beth came back in and saw her dad with her phone. “Hey, that’s mine. What are you doing?” She grabbed the phone out of his hand and read the text. She slumped down into the chair. “He’s got an ex?” She started shaking. “He’s still sleeping with her? This is a freakin’ Lifetime movie.” She looked at her arm again. “What did I do?”

Gene bit his lip. “Baby, listen, did you plan to meet up again?”

“Yes – tomorrow for lunch at Sonny’s.” She took a drink of coffee. “I can’t go now.”

“Honey, you need to do something else. You have to take some tests down at the hospital. You might have been assaulted.”

“No, that, no – that couldn’t have happened. I got home..." - back to the bathroom she ran.

Gene talked with his wife, “Go with her to Bayfront. I’ll send some female deputies there ahead of you.” Beth walked back from the bathroom slowly, in a daze, trying to comprehend what had happened as her mom helped her out. When the door closed, Gene took Beth’s phone and looked up her contacts. He found Hannah’s number and pressed call. The phone rang. “Hello, Hannah? Yeah, this is Beth’s father, Gene. Yes. I’m fine. Listen, I need something very important. Could you recall what Chad looked like?” there was a pause. “Ok. What do I do? Just press the app? Ok.” While he was on the phone with Hannah, Gene opened the Tinder app up, and Chad’s photo was there. He screenshotted it and sent it to his phone. “Thank you, Hannah. I’ll catch you up later. You may have saved her life. She’ll be ok. Yes. Yes. Bye.” He sent the photo to the sheriff’s office.

The next day Gene and three other undercover detectives sat in a booth at Sonny’s. It was past lunchtime, and the crowd was light. They constantly scanned the restaurant as they pretended to pick at their food. Around 2 pm, Chad came into the place and found an open booth. He sat down and started to text someone on his phone. Gene and the squad slowly approached him at the booth, blocking him in. “Chad Evans? You’re under arrest. You have the right….” and the rest of his rights were read to him. He was roughly lifted up, handcuffed, and practically dragged to the cruiser waiting outside. Gene texted his wife: “We got him.”

Beth was at her apartment with her mom there to watch over her. When the text dinged, Beth heard it and looked at her mom. “What is it, Mom?”

“They got him, Sweetie, they got him.” Evelyn patted her as Beth started to cry.

“How could I have let this happen? How did I not see this? I just wanted some company.” Her crying became sobbing, “How?”

Gene let himself in. He hurried over to his baby and asked, “How are you feeling, Sweetie?”

Beth stopped crying, replying, “Tired. Dirty. Sick, but I’m ok. Did they….find anything?”

Her father tried to reassure her. “No STDs, but enough DNA to tie him to the other two girls. You were drugged.” His law enforcement heart began to break when he saw his daughter start weeping again. “You were lucky this time. There’s enough evidence to put him away for the rest of his life. You won’t have to testify.” He kissed his daughter on the top of her head.

She looked up at him, sadness on her face, redness in her eyes. “Thank you, Dad. Next time I’ll remember what you said about those sites. I’m staying home with Pika from now on.” She looked at her mom. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry-“

“Shhhh. It wasn’t your fault. Shhhh. He was a bad person. You didn’t know. Close your eyes and go back to sleep.” Evelyn looked at her husband as tears rolled down his face. He turned away, and Pika crawled up on the couch and cuddled with Beth, happy to feel the safety of family around her.

innocenceinvestigationfictionCONTENT WARNING
3

About the Creator

Barb Dukeman

After 32 years of teaching high school English, I've started writing again and loving every minute of it. I enjoy bringing ideas to life and the concept of leaving behind a legacy.

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  • Shirley Belk2 months ago

    A parent's nightmare...truly. Well done and relevant in today's world.

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