Set in Western Pennsylvania, the crime novel Anonymous Caller begins when a young reporter on a small town newspaper takes a call from a woman claiming to have been raped by the son of a powerful councilman. The rape victim tells the reporter that the larger regional newspapers are refusing to report on the rape. The young reporter, looking at her first big story as a professional, runs with it. But this is more than a rape story, as the investigation puts a spotlight on the town’s corrupt power structure, and the reporter realizes that she's going up against some very dangerous people.
Excerpts from ANONYMOUS CALLER
All excerpts copyright©2017 by Susan T. Parker
He slapped her hard across her face, so hard it sounded like a crack of a baseball bat. “Look at me when I’m talking to you, bitch.” He had a knife so she did as she was told. He pressed the knife to her neck, forcing her to stare into his cold eyes, and then slid the tip of the blade down her chest and stomach, making a few nicks and drawing blood along the way. He wanted to see fear in his victim’s eyes. The knife triggered flashbacks to her youth when she witnessed her father threatening her mother with a knife and beating her mercilessly. She had a clear memory of her mother taking a bath afterward and the water turning pink from the blood.
Using a white handkerchief, her attacker meticulously wiped the blood from his knife and then began picking up his clothes that were scattered around the bedroom, a sign – she hoped – that he was about to leave. She heard him cleaning up in the bathroom. She would never be able to use that room again or her bedroom. When he reappeared, he warned her not to go to the police. It would be useless anyway, he said. His father, a man of tremendous influence, would see to it that any charges filed against him were disposed of immediately.
She heard her apartment door click shut. Her attacker was finally gone; she began to struggle to free herself from the duct tape that bound her wrists to her bed’s headboard. It wasn’t easy, taking more than a half hour, she guessed. She had lost all track of time. When she was finally free, she got to see, for the first time, the number of puncture wounds, scratches and bite marks that covered her body.
Every part of her ached. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, and just sat there motionless for a few minutes, head in hands, trying to come to grips with what he had done to her. She finally stood up, but her legs were wobbly. She had to sit down again.
She wanted to cry until she couldn’t cry anymore. She had been violated in the worst way a woman could be violated. But the tears would have to wait for later. First she had to get herself to a hospital. She would take with her the clothes that she had been wearing, which were now ripped and stained.
Picking up her torn clothes and placing them in a plastic bag sapped her of what little strength she had left. She tried calling her best friend to drive her to the hospital, but there was no answer.
She slipped on jeans and a T-shirt, which was no easy feat in her condition, and laced up her sneakers. She tried her friend again, but still got no answer. She considered calling 911, but quickly ruled that out. She didn’t want to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. She grabbed her purse, car keys and the bag of torn clothes and glanced around to see if she was forgetting anything important before turning off all the lights. She doubted she would ever return to her apartment.
The pain was so intense on the drive to St. Anne’s Hospital that she had to pull over twice. She hadn’t been on a first-name basis with God for years, but that night she asked for his help.
When she got to the hospital, a security officer saw that she was in obvious distress and offered to get her a wheelchair. But she declined his assistance, preferring instead to walk into the hospital on her own.
Upon entering the emergency room, she was met by an older woman who manned the check-in desk. “I was raped tonight,” she said so softly her words were barely audible. She couldn’t look the woman in the eye. She placed the plastic bag containing her torn clothes on the desk, and the tears that she had been holding back all night began to flow uncontrollably down her cheeks.
Most reporters and editors of the Broward Journal-Gazette had gone home for the day. They had families and lives outside of the newspaper. But Caitlin was still at her desk, even though the next day’s edition had been put to bed already. Her life was the newspaper.
Her ambition was to be an investigative reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper one day. But her present-day reality was far removed from that. She was a reporter for a small town newspaper. The tiny newsroom had battered desks and chairs and outdated computers. Take away the computers and it looked like something straight out of the 1940s.
She covered the police department, which was one of the more plum assignments, but the crimes she wrote about – DUIs, domestic abuse and public intoxication – were minor when compared to those that occurred in bigger cities. There hadn’t been a major crime reported since she joined the newspaper, which was good news for the town but lousy for a reporter in search of a juicy story. She was a journalist going nowhere fast, and this frustrated her.
She was about to call it a day. She could just as easily commiserate at home over a beer and pizza. But as she grabbed her purse, the phone on the news desk rang. Caitlin tried to disregard it, but her curiosity about who could be calling the newsroom at this late hour won out.
“I’d like to speak to an editor or reporter.”
“I’m a reporter. My name is Caitlin Rourke.”
“I have a story that might interest you.”
She was prepared for the woman to tell her about an engagement announcement, an upcoming PTA event or the score to her son’s little league game.
“I was raped Monday night.”
If the caller meant to shock Caitlin, she succeeded. Caitlin didn’t know what to say. And that was a first for her. She always, or almost always, had a quick comeback.
“The guy who raped me is the son of a prominent, powerful city official. I contacted some of the major newspapers and television stations in the region, but they weren’t interested. As soon as I mentioned the word ‘rape,’ they turned a deaf ear.”
“So the Broward Journal-Gazette is your last resort?”
“Are you interested in what I have to say or not?” the female caller asked sharply.
“Yes. I’m interested.” Cut the wisecracks, Caitlin scolded herself.
“I had just had dinner with the city official’s son Monday. I was saying good-bye to him at the door to my apartment when he pushed his way in, overpowered me and raped me.” The caller was so matter-of-fact, Caitlin thought. It was as though she was reporting the details of the rape of someone else.
“Did you report the rape to the Broward Police Department?”
“Yes that same night. An officer came to St. Anne’s Hospital and took my statement. You can get a copy of it from them.”
“I’ll check it out tomorrow. It would help if you’d tell me the names of the city official and his son, as well as your own.”
The anonymous caller refused to give her name, which Caitlin could understand. But she also was mum about the identity of her attacker, and that mystified the Journal-Gazette reporter. If she were in the caller’s shoes, she’d want to hang her attacker out to dry.
The young woman did reveal that her alleged attacker recently was thrown out of the University of Pittsburgh after a female student there filed a sexual harassment complaint against him. “I just found this out.”
Caitlin asked the woman to call her back at three the next afternoon. “I’ll let you know then if I obtained the statement that you gave to police. The police here have a tendency to bury serious complaints, making it difficult for reporters like myself to find them.”
“Okay. I’ll call tomorrow.”
And with that, one of the most intriguing conversations of Caitlin’s short career as a journalist came to an end. Her reporter’s instinct told her that the woman was telling the truth. Maybe as a female she was biased, she thought, but she didn’t think so.
This could turn out to be a major news story. Little did Caitlin know that she was about to enter into a nightmare with real-life monsters. This one phone call would change her life, both professionally and personally.
She was anxious to get a copy of the statement, and to talk to the police and someone in the prosecutor’s office. But first she had to run everything past her editor, who wasn’t too happy with her at the moment. He was exasperated by her uncanny ability to rub some people the wrong way. Maybe it had something to do with her Irish temperament. She knew she could try people’s tempers.
Caitlin, who had shoulder length red hair and green eyes, was Irish to the core. Her great grandparents on both her mother’s and father’s sides emigrated from Ireland in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The men came to western Pennsylvania to work in the steel mills and coal mines, while the women were employed in the homes of the wealthy as maids, and sent money back to help their families in Ireland.
While Caitlin was raring to get started, the female caller was having second thoughts. She wondered if calling the Journal-Gazette reporter had been such a good idea. Her assailant had vowed to seek retribution if she told anyone about the attack.
But she couldn’t live in fear for the rest of her life. By contacting the newspaper, she was striking back and becoming less of a victim.
* * *
Caitlin woke up early Wednesday. She wanted to get into the newspaper office early to talk to her editor about her phone conversation of the previous night before he got too busy.
After showering and dressing, she ate a light breakfast, took her dog, Trouble, to the local dog park to exercise for a half hour and then fed him. She named him “Trouble” after hearing the Taylor Swift song, “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
She got in her Honda Civic for the short ride to the newspaper office, which was on Main Street in downtown Broward, a small city located in western Pennsylvania, about a hundred miles east of Pittsburgh.
Caitlin’s editor, Jim Haggerty, was already in his office when she arrived. She told him about the phone call that came into the newsroom the night before, and asked for the go-ahead to follow it up.
“It took a lot of guts for this woman to file a complaint with the police, undergo an invasive rape test and then call our newspaper. Many rape victims wouldn’t do this.”
Caitlin didn’t tell her editor that she also had been sexually abused when she was younger, and that doing the story would be as cathartic for her as it would be for the female caller. Unlike her caller, she had kept quiet when it happened to her. Caitlin didn’t think anyone would believe her at the time. But now she was older and stronger, and a journalist with a voice.
“I did some reading on the subject last night. Approximately sixty percent of sexual assaults are not reported to police, according to the Department of Justice. And even when arrests are made, prosecutors are often reluctant to pursue rape and sexual assault cases. A significant number of rape kits don’t even get processed, but rather end up gathering dust on shelves. Many victims know their rapist, but acquaintance rapes are the most difficult for prosecutors to win. And according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest Network in Washington, D.C., the majority of rapists will never spend a single day in jail or prison,” said Caitlin, rattling off information she’d gleaned from the internet.
Her editor considered her request. “You can see where it takes you, but I don’t want to get any phone calls from the police or prosecutor’s office about you,” Haggerty warned Caitlin, who’d joined the newspaper six months earlier right out of college. She had good reporter instincts, but her people skills left a lot to be desired.
“I’ve gotten more complaints about you than anyone else on the newspaper, including myself, and I’ve been here nearly twenty years,” he said. “The owner has suggested that I consider firing you.”
“You’re kidding,” Caitlin responded.
“No. I’m not.”
“I’ll save you the trouble. I resign, but first I want to do this story on the alleged rape. I promised the woman last night that I would look into it,” she told Haggerty.
“I didn’t say you were fired, did I?” her editor countered.
“No, but I don’t stay where I’m not wanted.” She knew she had stepped on some toes in reporting the news, but most reporters did. That went with the job. Didn’t it?
After grabbing a cup of coffee, Caitlin headed for the police station, which was within walking distance of the newspaper. The building that housed the police force was old (dating back to the late 1800s) and was far too large for a department of only fifteen police officers and detectives.
“Good morning, Sergeant Jacobs,” Caitlin said as she entered the building. He was seated at a large mahogany desk in the lobby. He was always sitting. Caitlin couldn’t recall ever seeing him standing. Everyone who had business at the police station had to go through the sergeant.
“What brings you here today, Caitlin?”
“A woman called the newspaper last night and said that she filed a rape complaint with the Broward police on Monday. I want to get a copy of it.”
“I don’t recall any rapes being reported this week.” He flipped through the stack of reports on his desk. “Just as I thought. There’s no rape complaint.”
“Can I look at the reports?” Caitlin asked. She didn’t trust Jacobs. For that matter, she didn’t trust most of the members of the all-male police force.
“Go right ahead.” The reports sitting on the sergeant’s desk dealt with the type of petty violations that she was used to seeing each day.
“Are you sure these are all of them? Could the report on the rape and the victim’s statement be upstairs in the squad room?”
“All reports should be right here on my desk,” Jacobs said, patting the pile of reports.
“’Should’ is the operative word. Could you double check with the people upstairs? Humor me,” Caitlin pleaded.
“Okay, Okay. I’ll make the call.” After speaking with someone in the squad, or pretending to, he turned to Caitlin and told her that the department had no record of a rape being reported.
Jacobs asked her if she knew the rape victim’s name or which police officer took the statement. “It would make things much easier.”
“No and no,” she muttered.
“I suggest you find those out before you come back.” Caitlin didn’t like Jacobs telling her how to do her job. She was just starting out as a reporter, and admittedly was a little green, but she was by no means incompetent.
Caitlin got the impression that rape, at least this reported rape, wasn’t a priority of the Broward Police Department. She knew from the little research that she’d done so far that many police departments didn’t consider rape to be a serious crime. And they believed that the majority of rape claims filed by women were false.
Caitlin left the police station empty-handed and irritated with Jacobs, but she wasn’t giving up. She was determined and tenacious. Her next stop was the prosecutor’s office, which was located in the same building as the Broward Courthouse, only two blocks from the police station. She liked the fact that everything she covered – the police, the prosecutor’s office and the courts – was within spitting distance of the newspaper.
The prosecutor’s office was on the second floor of the courthouse. Caitlin hoped Bill Reese, an assistant district attorney (ADA) for Jeffers County, which included Broward, would be in; he was always the most forthcoming with information.
Luckily for Caitlin Reese was at his desk. Without even looking up from what he was reading, the ADA brusquely asked her what she wanted.
“I don’t always want something,” she shot back. “Yes you do, Caitlin,” Reese said.
“Okay, you got me there. A woman called our newspaper late yesterday, saying she had been raped Monday. She said she had a rape exam done at St. Anne’s Hospital and gave a statement to the Broward police. But I just came from the police station, and they claim to have no record of a rape. Has the prosecutor’s office heard anything about it?”
“Nothing has crossed my desk. Do you have any details? That would help.”
“No I don’t. Don’t yinz have this backwards? You and the Broward police should be providing me, the reporter, with details, not the other way around. Could you use your influence to get information from the police or the hospital?”
“I’ll see what I can do, but I’m not promising anything,” said Reese, who was tall and wiry. His brown hair was of medium length and he sported a short beard.
“Thanks.” Anyone listening to the exchange between the two would think that Reese disliked Caitlin. She did get under his skin at times. But if the truth be known, Reese looked forward to her daily visits.
As Caitlin slowly walked back to the newspaper office, she realized she had no story unless the rape victim called her back. She had to convince the anonymous caller to give her a copy of the complaint.
Her thoughts were so focused on the rape that Caitlin nearly collided with her editor when she walked into the newsroom. “How’d you make out this morning?”
“I batted zero with both the police and prosecutor’s office. Police say they have no record of the rape. My only hope is for the woman to call me back today.”
“It sounds like the police may be screwing with you,” Haggerty said.
“Or the woman who called me could be lying. But I don’t think so. I’ll stay near the phone in case she calls.” Caitlin sat at her desk and ate her lunch, which consisted of a chipped ham sandwich and a bottle of pop.
A few minutes past three, as promised, the alleged rape victim phoned the newspaper, asking for Caitlin. “Were you able to get a copy of the statement that I gave to the police?”
“No. A police sergeant said no rape complaint was filed this week. The prosecutor’s office also said it was unaware of a reported rape.”
“The police are lying,” the caller said flatly.
“I figured as much.” Caitlin asked the young woman for the name of the officer who took her statement at the hospital.
“I think his last name was Davidson.”
Caitlin asked the caller to provide her with a copy of the statement that she gave to police and her hospital discharge papers.
“When do you want them?”
“As soon as possible.” The caller could either fax them to her or drop them off at the front desk in the lobby of the newspaper.
“I don’t have access to a fax machine. But I’ll bring them by the newspaper within the hour.” Caitlin was surprised by how agreeable the woman was being.
“Before you hang up, could you tell me your first name? I’m getting tired of referring to you as the ‘woman who filed a rape complaint’ or the ‘caller.’”
“My name is Jacqueline, but my family and friends call me Jackie.”
Caitlin waited impatiently at her desk, staring at the newsroom’s wall clock as it ticked off each passing second. It wasn’t long before the lobby secretary called to say that a package had arrived for her.
“I’ll be there in a jiff.” She sprinted down the steps.
Caitlin quickly glanced at the contents of the package, noting that Jackie’s last name was Rosen. She was no longer a faceless victim to Caitlin. The reporter headed back to the newsroom, where she ran off four copies of Jackie Rosen’s police statement and hospital discharge papers.
She gave one of the copies to her editor, and told him that she was headed over to the police department to show them Rosen’s statement, and to ask them what action they intended to take against Councilman Edward Michaels’ son.
Sergeant Jacobs still was at his desk when Caitlin returned to the police station. He glanced up and asked her if she had the name of the officer who took the victim’s statement.
“I’ll do you one better. Here’s a copy of the actual complaint-statement. You can keep it since the department can’t seem to locate the original. I’d like to know whether the police plan to arrest Evan Michaels, the councilman’s son,” Caitlin said.
“I don’t know what will happen to Michaels,” Jacobs answered as he began reading the statement-complaint.
“When you find out, call me at the newspaper.”
No sooner had Caitlin left than Jacobs was on the phone to the police brass. “Caitlin Rourke, the police reporter for the Journal-Gazette, has gotten a copy of the rape complaint filed against Evan Michaels. She must have gotten it from the victim. She gave me a copy and wants to know if we’re going to arrest him. I didn’t know what to tell her.”
“Just stall Rourke. Call her and tell her we have to investigate the case before any charges can be brought,” Jacobs was told.
Caitlin was cutting it close. She had less than an hour to write her story for the morning edition. Jacobs called her with a canned comment from the police department. She didn’t expect the police to say anything substantive. They never did. She began typing her story . . .