Into the Abyss: A Violet Darger Novella
"Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster. For when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -Friedrich Nietzsche
The Violet Darger series continues with this gripping novella, Into the Abyss.
Will Violet Darger agree to a face to face meeting with the man who shot her?
Still awaiting trial, infamous serial killer Leonard Stump has hinted at the locations of additional bodies — more desert graves waiting to be uncovered. He wants to talk, but he has one condition. Violet Darger must be present at the interview.
Now the pressure is on. Should Darger head to Vegas and sit down with Stump? Everyone else seems to think so.
It’s a chance to close some cases and give families closure, they say. A chance to learn something crucial about the criminal mind, they say. A chance to do something good.
So why does Darger feel like it’s all going to go terribly wrong?
While the Violet Darger novels can be read in any order, we recommend reading this short after having read the earlier books in the series. Here is the full list of Darger books in chronological order:
Dead End Girl (Violet Darger Book 1)
Image in a Cracked Mirror (Violet Darger Book 1.5)
Killing Season (Violet Darger Book 2)
The Last Victim (Violet Darger Book 2.5)
The Girl in the Sand (Violet Darger Book 3)
Bad Blood (Violet Darger Book 4)
Five Days Post Mortem (Violet Darger Book 5)
Into the Abyss (Violet Darger Book 5.5)
Release date: September 30, 2019
Publisher: Smarmy Press
Print pages: 82
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Into the Abyss: A Violet Darger Novella
The gym smelled like sweat, rubber, and floor cleaner. Industrial. Bodily. Astringent.
Not the best bouquet, Darger thought, but then she had experienced worse. Some of the gyms she’d endured through the years employed “scent marketing,” which was fancy corporate lingo for pumping in an overwhelming reek akin to a bathroom air freshener. No matter how much vapor they jetted among the bench presses and stationary bikes, however, the sweaty gym smell still persisted there underneath it all. The resulting fragrance was as if someone with bad B.O. had bathed in Country Time Lemonade.
Darger figured they might as well just let the gym smell like a gym and be done with it.
She lingered now off to the side of the main floor, waiting. After a second, she lifted her water bottle to her mouth, sipped, and mopped the back of her hand over her top lip, the last more out of nervous habit than any necessity. Gyms always had a way of making her self-conscious, turning her gaze inward, dredging out all her fidgeting twitches and ticks to fill the time.
She didn’t particularly like gyms much as a rule, but it was raining outside, and she didn’t want to break her streak. She’d gone for a run every day for the last 23 days in a row. It was the most she’d run since she’d been preparing for training at the Academy years ago. Getting back into it was hell at the beginning. Her lungs felt ready to burst after the opening half-mile. Her thighs and calves were threatening to cramp at mile two. But she’d pushed through the pain, and then the effort felt good again. She’d forgotten the zen-like peace that settled over her after the first few minutes. The soothing metronome-like beat of her pulse in her ears.
A few feet away, an overly tan man with a neck as thick as Darger’s waist finished his deadlift reps by dropping the weight bar with a clang. She blinked but did not flinch.
The gym atmosphere didn’t exactly foster that same level of serenity as the great outdoors, but she wanted to keep her streak going. So she was here.
Unfortunately, Darger had spent the earliest part of the morning waiting for the weather to clear. When that hadn't happened, she’d come into the gym. But apparently she wasn't the only one with that idea, and now the place was packed.
Every single elliptical and treadmill sported a slicked-up human body churning away at its machinery. She couldn’t help but think of hamsters endlessly spinning their wheels, going nowhere at great speed.
So Darger watched and waited, water bottle clutched in her hand. Any vacant machine would do, and she was first in line for it.
She’d been milling around for several minutes when a small, perky girl with a ponytail walked up and thrust out a hand. She had big brown eyes that reminded Darger of a Disney princess or maybe a baby deer.
“Hi! I’m Laurie!”
A deep dimple appeared on each of the girl’s cheeks when she grinned.
“Violet,” Darger said.
She smiled politely but hoped the girl wasn’t here to make a gym buddy. Darger didn’t come for the chit-chat. She didn't come at all if she could help it, but the weather had forced her hand.
“I noticed you standing here waiting for a machine, and I thought you might be interested in trying one of our classes.”
Darger started to decline the offer, but Laurie interrupted.
“It’s free! And it beats standing around doing nothing, am I right?”
There was a door not far from where Darger had been standing, and as people came in and out, she’d caught glimpses of a high-intensity cycling class already in session. It wasn’t exactly the solo run she’d been hoping for, but it didn’t look so bad. And she’d already been waiting around for over ten minutes.
“What the hell?”
She’d climb on a bike and this pint-sized fireball would yell encouraging things like, “Push it, just a little further! You can do it!” and all the while her little ponytail would be bouncing back and forth like a swishy pendulum as she peddled her hardest.
Laurie led her across the gym, passing by all of the machines. Darger noticed with regret that one of the ellipticals had finally opened up. She could try to weasel out of the class now, but she wasn't sure she could take the guilt if Laurie flashed her a sad puppy look with those eyes.
The girl pushed through a door into another room reserved for classes, and the first thing Darger noted was the lack of equipment.
"Wait." Her eyes fell on the line of mirrors along one wall. "What kind of class is this?”
“It’s called Muse! It’s basically choreographed dance aerobics with an emphasis on the mind-body connection, and it’s super fun. I promise!”
Darger took a step backward. Choreographed dance aerobics? This was not what she’d agreed to.
“I really don’t dance. Like… never.”
“That’s totally fine! I didn’t either when I first started. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it in no time.”
Seeing the hesitation on Darger’s face, Laurie added, “And we need at least five people, or we have to cancel the class.”
Darger glanced around, mentally counting. Not counting Laurie, there were four other women in the room.
At least if there’d been a crowd of people, Darger could hide in the back, maybe slip out after a few minutes. But no. She was going to be stuck front and center in this son of a bitch.
Laurie was staring at her hopefully with her big doe eyes.
It came as no surprise to Darger that, in terms of dance, she was a clumsy idiot. Absolutely terrible. The choreography seemed simple enough, but Darger had never been a dancer, so when Laurie rattled off instructions like, “And now we grapevine to the right!” she had no idea what she was supposed to do.
But Laurie was relentlessly positive and encouraging, and after ten or fifteen minutes, Darger found herself relaxing. She worried a little less when she forgot a sequence or went left when she should have gone right. And she was actually working up a sweat.
The music they were “Musing” to (Laurie’s words) was atrocious. Pop song after pop song that all sounded the same to Darger. Monotonous beats. Overproduced, Auto-Tuned, and repetitive. Many of the songs seemed designed to be annoying on purpose, like the songwriters and producers had been explicitly trying to create toxic earworms to rot brains across the globe.
After thirty minutes, Laurie wiped a bead of sweat from her brow and called for a break.
“Hit the bathroom, get a drink of water, whatever you need to do,” she said, clapping her hands together. “We’ll meet back here in two minutes.”
Darger strode over to the corner of the studio where she’d left her things. She sucked down a few gulps of water and got her phone out of her bag.
She’d left a message for Loshak several days ago and never heard back. It hadn’t been anything urgent, just wanting to check in with him, see how things were going at the BAU. But the fact that he hadn’t returned her call was starting to bother her. Was he angry with her? Or in trouble somehow? She’d begun obsessively checking her phone every few hours to make sure it was still on, that she hadn’t somehow missed his call, that her voicemail was indeed working correctly.
Laurie bustled back into the room and saw Darger on her phone.
“If you post a gym selfie on Instagram, remember to use the hashtag #MUSEFIERCE!”
Darger had no plans to take a selfie of any kind or be hashtagging anything whatsoever. Photographic evidence that this had transpired? No thanks. She didn’t even have an Instagram account, but she figured that fact might disturb young Laurie beyond belief, so she only smiled and said nothing.
She was about to drop her phone back into her back when it suddenly started buzzing.
Without even looking to see who was calling — it had to be Loshak — she picked up.
“Violet. I’m glad I caught you.”
The cool, feminine voice on the line did not belong to Loshak, but Darger recognized the polished tone. It was Margaret Prescott.
If Darger had bothered to look at the name on the screen, she wouldn’t have answered. She wasn’t sure where she stood after walking out on her last meeting with Dr. Prescott. Darger had still been grieving over the murder of a friend and colleague, and Prescott’s nonchalance just minutes after the memorial service had pissed her off. Now that she’d had some time to come to terms with everything, she realized she’d probably screwed up her chances of landing a position with Prescott’s consulting firm.
The thumping bass and robotic snare beat of a Nicki Minaj song blared out of the stereo speakers mounted overhead as Laurie got the class started again.
“What on earth is that racket in the background? It sounds like you’re in a dance club.”
Darger rolled her eyes.
“I’m at the gym. Hold on a minute.”
She slid through the doors and into the relative silence of the main gym area.
“OK. I’m here. What is it?”
“Well, first I wanted to apologize for the misunderstanding after Fowles’ memorial. As a woman making my career in the Bureau, I had to tread very carefully when it came to expressing my emotions. As a result, I still have a habit of holding myself in check, keeping a stiff upper lip as the Brits might say. I know I can come across a little brusque sometimes, and I believe that may have offended you. For that, I am sorry. I should have been more supportive, especially considering your own ordeal.”
Darger clucked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She was a little taken aback. An apology? From Dr. Prescott? It even seemed genuine. Downright heartfelt. Margaret Prescott didn’t seem the type to go around offering olive branches.
“Thank you for that, though I think I probably owe you an apology as well.”
“For storming out of the coffee shop like I did. It was rude and impulsive.”
Prescott let out a choked half-laugh. Not exactly her usual jackal’s howl, but the intensity was still there beneath the surface.
“Oh please. Half of my professional meetings end with one party or the other stomping away in a huff. Consider it forgotten.”
A slight pause followed, and it occurred to Darger that Dr. Prescott hadn’t just called to apologize. She wanted something.
“Well, I have another reason for calling as it happens. Something I think you’ll find of particular interest.”
Darger heard the thud of the other shoe dropping in her mind.
“I need a favor. Something has come up that only you can help with.”
Darger’s lungs sucked in an involuntary gasp of breath and seemed to get stuck at the apex of the inhalation, all of the muscles along her spine tightening into a rigid line.
She hadn’t been prepared to hear that name. Not here. Not now.
She fought to keep her voice level and calm, though her mind ran through a thousand terrible scenarios, landing on the worst.
“He hasn’t escaped. Has he?”
“Goodness, no,” Prescott assured her. “He’s in the Clark County Detention Center awaiting trial.”
So he was out of the hospital then. Declared fit to stand trial. She’d been holding out half a hope that he’d die there in the ICU. No matter how many times the doctors had assured her that he’d live, she reminded herself that relatively healthy people contracted nasty infections during hospital stays all the time.
She exhaled and worked up the nerve to ask the next question.
“What is it you need, exactly?”
“Well, I’ve been working with the State Attorney’s office in Nevada. I’ll be an expert witness for the prosecution during the trial, so I’ve been conducting interviews, working up a preliminary report.”
Darger wasn’t sure what to say. Why hadn’t Prescott mentioned before that she was working on the Stump case?
“I didn’t realize you were involved with that,” she managed finally.
“Oh, it’s a fairly recent development,” Prescott said. “These things tend to come together quickly.”
A tiny wave of relief washed over Darger. It wasn’t like she was entitled to know about every case Dr. Prescott consulted on, but for Darger, the Stump case was personal. It would have felt a little odd for Prescott to have kept something like that a secret.
“I’ve had very enlightening talks with Emily and Nicole. But Claire Garcia, the one who escaped back in 1993, she’s been very reticent about speaking with me.”
Darger frowned, not sure why Prescott thought she’d be able to help with that. From what Darger knew, Claire Garcia had never been willing to discuss her kidnapping publicly. She’d turned down a TV interview with Barbara Walters, several book deals, and more. If anyone could convince Claire to talk to Dr. Prescott, it probably would have been Loshak. And even then, Darger doubted it would change Claire’s mind. In any case, she wasn’t about to offer up that detail to Prescott.
It wasn’t until she’d finished this thought that all of the pieces fell into place.
Prescott wanted an interview. Not with Claire. With Darger. After all, wasn’t Darger technically an “escaped victim” of Leonard Stump?
“You want to interview me. For your profile.”
“Oh, that’s a given. But I’m afraid there’s a more pressing matter at hand,” Prescott said. “We think there are more victims. More bodies we don’t know about. A lot more.”
This wasn’t a shock to Darger or surely anyone else who’d worked the Stump case. Stump had been in hiding for twenty years, and an appetite to kill as powerful as his didn’t just fade away. On top of that, many had suspected there were victims from before his first arrest that had never been accounted for.
“There’s more than enough evidence to convict him with what we’ve already got,” Darger said. “As soon as Stump’s attorney runs through his bag of tricks for stalling the trial, that is. Why would Cooney be worried about finding more bodies?”
“This isn’t coming from the DA’s office. Stump offered to tell us where to find them.”
Darger’s mouth dropped open in surprise.
“Offered?” Darger repeated the word, incredulous. “In exchange for what?”
Before Prescott could answer, Darger’s mind raced to the most logical conclusion.
“Jesus, is the District Attorney considering a plea deal?”
If he was, then something had gone terribly wrong with the case. The last time she’d spoken with Doug Cooney, the lead prosecutor, he’d been rubbing his hands with delight at the prospect of a slam dunk death penalty case.
“Absolutely not. He’s been quite clear that there are no deals to be made. He intends to go to trial no matter what.”
“Then why? Why would Stump give you more victims — more evidence to be used against him — if not to get the death penalty taken off the table?”
“Well, he’s not confessing to the murders themselves, of course. I assume you’ve heard that he’s using the John Wayne Gacy defense.”
“Oh right. The old ‘I didn’t kill them, I only helped hide the bodies’ excuse,” Darger said with a derisive snort. “Followed by, ‘And I can’t tell you who the real killers are, because then they’ll come after me.’”
“Exactly. It’s a preposterous defense strategy, but I suppose the ludicrous is all that’s left when the evidence is this damning. Anyway, what he’s told us is that he knows, quote, ‘of the location of more bodies.’”
The strange sensation of not being on totally solid ground came over Darger, and she leaned back against the wall for support.
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