The dark brown liquid beckoned his dry, parched throat. He reached for the half-filled whiskey bottle. His eyes burned. His head pounded. Just one more. As if the bottle could hear his never- ending request.

Edward Bailey belched. He tried desperately to adjust his blurry eyes to the unearthly figure sitting across from him in the worn-out cushioned chair. “What do you want from me?” His words slurred. “I told you before…I did the best I could!” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Go away already!”

The retired, middle-aged detective flopped back against the stained sofa. He dared not open his tired eyes. He knew she’d still be there. Lately, he couldn’t get rid of her, no matter how much he drank. She just sat there—with a tiny smile on her pretty, young, transparent face.

Suddenly, his cell phone chimed. “Damn!” he mumbled to himself. Slowly, he opened his weary, green, fading eyes. The apartment had grown dark from the storm brewing outside. His shaky hand reached for the ringing cell phone sitting on the end table. “Bailey,” was all he could muster without throwing up. Nausea circled inside his empty stomach. It was then he noticed she had finally left him alone.

“Hey, Eddie…how’s retirement treating you, Buddy?” asked a familiar male voice. Edward’s mind twirled with names and faces. He knew that voice. If he could just focus. “Geez, man. You hitting the bottle again? It’s Charlie—Charlie Weaver. How could you forget your partner, for Heaven’s sake? We were joined at the hip for over fifteen years. Eddie, man, I’m telling you this because I care…you need to clean yourself up!”

Edward’s inability to eat or sleep for days had finally caught up to him. Seconds later, he vomited on the trashed wooden floor.

“Eddie? Eddie…are you alright?” Silence filled the line between the two men; “Give me a call when you’re sober.”

Edward dropped the phone. Darkened images meshed together inside his mind, leading him into a deepened realm of unconsciousness.

The next morning, Edward could barely move. His whole body ached. The putrid taste inside his mouth made him gag. Forcing himself to get up off the vile floor, he staggered to the bathroom. Without looking in the mirror, he opened the cabinet and brushed his slimy teeth. Then he undressed and took a scalding shower. Water droplets felt like needles sticking into his skin. Edward scrubbed his matted hair.

It seemed like only yesterday when he’d been a rookie cop with the Whisper Rock Police Department. Working his way up to lieutenant, he handled more complex cases over the ensuing years. And so, when it was time to kick back and relax, he grabbed the reins with both hands.

As with any devoted detective, leaving the force with each and every case closed is a definite must—an unwritten code among homicide detectives. And so, this was with Edward Bailey. In all his twenty-five years on the force, each and every case had been solved – except for one. Sarah Lewis. A pretty ten-year-old with long blonde hair shaped into pigtails with pink bows. Her bright blue eyes shined with the dreams of a promising future. But as fate would have it, Sarah would always remain that ten-year-old little girl.

Sarah Lewis was first reported missing on May 10, 2009. Within hours of receiving the frantic call from her mother, dozens of volunteers and law enforcement agencies from around the county jumped into action. Searches of fields, streams, empty buildings—everywhere a little girl could possibly hide or be kept was searched, leaving nothing unturned. Sadly enough, it wasn’t until two backpackers, hiking their way back inside the vast wilderness, miles from the remote town of Whisper Rock, stumbled upon a decomposed, unrecognizable corpse that Sarah Lewis had finally been found—or what was left of her.

Edward Bailey and a task force filled with highly experienced law officials did what they did best: pushed to find justice for Sarah Lewis, and some form of closure for her grieving family. Days, months, years flew by with no new leads. Until one day, when her case had become cold, Sarah Lewis’s Murder Book, along with every piece of evidence, was placed in a large cardboard box onto a dusty shelf–sitting silently, waiting for answers.

As Edward stood by the bathroom sink, combing his wet hair, he remembered the call from his estranged friend, Charlie Weaver. Edward turned to leave the bathroom but stopped abruptly at the apparition. She was there again. Sitting on top of the closed toilet lid. Grinning from ear to ear, like happy kids usually do. But what did she have to smile about? She died a horrific death.

Edward let out a huge sigh. He left her behind to find his phone and finish dressing. Sarah was everywhere. At first, he’d been creeped out by her ghostly presence. In fact, he became self-conscious walking about his apartment in his underwear. But Sarah didn’t seem to mind. She came and went as she pleased. He knew deep inside this had become his punishment. A constant reminder of what a huge screw-up he’d become. Leaving behind her memory—collecting dust on a metal shelf.

And so, as he bent down to tie his sneakers, he looked up at the long-lost girl, who was now on a kitchen chair, swinging her pale legs back and forth, without a care in the world. “I know it’s the booze,” he mumbled. He stood up and whispered, “I wish you could just tell me who did this to you!”

She giggled as the papers strewn on the table scattered everywhere.

“Hey! I don’t need a bigger mess!” he shouted to no one. And then he saw it. On the floor in a heap, last week’s front page stared back at him. Slowly, he reached down and lifted the crumpled newspaper.

The front-page headlines glared: Serial Killer – Jason Allen Captured. Edward scanned the article for information. He’d vaguely remembered hearing about the murder spree. And now after countless victims, this evil man had finally been caught. It went on to say Jason Allen had murdered what seemed like endless victims over the past ten years, many of them young girls between the ages of ten and fifteen. And it was only because of his latest victim’s brave escape that authorities were led to his cabin, hidden deep within the unending backwoods of Whisper Rock.

Could it be possible Sarah Lewis, too, had been abducted and murdered by Jason Allen? That she had been one of the many, many victims of this evil predator? Edward’s mouth grew dry. He licked his cracked lips. Instantly, he grabbed his cell phone and called his former partner, Charlie Weaver, “Charlie, Eddie. Hey, I know this may sound crazy, but I just read about Jason Allen. Maybe he was the one who took Sarah Lewis and dumped her body out in the woods…the evidence from her case should be resubmitted for DNA testing and…”

“Eddie…it was a match. Allen murdered Sarah Lewis,” said Charlie.

“A match?” Edward chewed on his thumbnail.

“Yes. It seems Allen has been doing the unthinkable for quite a while now. More than we could have imagined. In fact, unsolved murder cases have been pouring in to see if Allen can be linked in some way to those victims,” explained Charlie.

“That scum doesn’t belong here—even the death penalty is too good for someone like him,” scoffed Edward. “You wouldn’t believe how her case has haunted me—you know, over the years. I’d wake up every morning, and she’d be sitting at the table. Smiling. Just smiling. At night, I’m brushing my teeth…she’s sitting on the commode. Can you believe that, Charlie? Smiling. Everywhere I turn, there’s Sarah Lewis. Smiling.” Edward’s eyes filled with tears. “I…I let her down, Charlie. I didn’t find the person responsible for her death. I made a promise I could not keep.”

“Eddie…listen to me. We all did the best we could. None of that matters now. We got him! Sarah Lewis’s murderer. And Eddie, don’t be a stranger.”

Edward closed his cell phone and wept. Wept for the little girl who had her whole life ahead of her but had it snuffed out in an instant. Wept for the family that grieved so long for the loss of their loved one. And wept for himself that maybe now he could finally find the peace that never could be found in the bottom of an endless bottle.

There would be no trial for Jason Allen. The despicable coward hung himself inside his jail cell with shoe strings provided by a neighboring cellmate. He would serve no time behind bars for the unspeakable atrocities he committed against the young and innocent. What justice would truly be served for Sarah Lewis and the others? Edward Bailey didn’t know. He could only hope this horrible, evil man got what he truly deserved on the other side—wherever that may be.

But one thing Edward did know for certain was, Sarah Lewis had finally found her way to tranquility. For, after the day Jason Allen committed suicide, Edward never saw the smiling face of Sarah Lewis again.

Alice Baburek is an avid reader, determined writer and animal lover. Retired from one of the largest library systems in Ohio, she challenges herself to become an unforgettable emerging voice.