AU-FBI files Universe (seven)
Notes: This is the first of, I don’t know how many, FBI files that I plan to write. I had to make a few changes as far as canon goes. However, the ‘boys’ don’t change that much. Finally, I get to use all the information I learned during my Criminal Pathology and Investigation classes.
Special Thanks: To Julie, Katherine, and Antoinette for taking the extra time on this one!
Please send comments and suggestions to email@example.com
Whether or not Death walked through the unseen parallels of life taking the lives that were due, or it simply moved about claiming lives as it went by…nobody knew. However, it was rarely welcomed, particularly when it claimed someone so young, so vital, and so honorable...
Mary Travis clasped onto the American flag with one hand, and her son’s in the other. Her long black dress, tears, and look of utter despair revealed to all the loss of someone close to her and her child. Her husband’s death had been unexpected and quick. One moment he was telling her over the phone that he’d be home in time for dinner, and the next he was lying face down at a gas station with a bullet in his heart. His latest assignment had inadvertently been his last.
Steven’s father and mother sat behind their daughter-in-law, their hearts grieving for the loss of their son. Their minds swam with memories, the things they’d done wrong, the things they should have done, and the things they’d never be able to do. Steven had been their only child; he was supposed to bury them…not the other way around.
Chris stood back with his men, wishing the rain would stop. His black overcoat was soaked through, much like those worn by his men. Nobody could say anything; their hearts were mourning the loss of one of their own. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. It was just weeks ago when all of them had been at Inez’s Bar and Grill, talking about drinking beer and watching Monday night football when they were too old to do anything else.
That wasn’t going to happen now.
For the first time in his life, Chris was burying one of his men. His team of specialized FBI agents was losing a friend and brother. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
It wasn’t supposed to happen at all.
JD wiped his eyes and face. At least the rain mixed with his tears…disguising some of his grief. He’d never lost a friend before, and it was harder than he had ever imagined. He stood between his friends, surrounded by the people he’d worked with for over a year, people he thought of as family.
Josiah placed a comforting arm around the kid’s shoulders, not knowing what else to do. Only through time would they be able to get over their grief. Josiah looked up when a flash of lighting creased the sky. How appropriate, he thought, the turmoil in everyone’s hearts matched the turmoil in the sky.
Chris slapped Vin on the shoulder as he walked by. The team had decided to go to a bar, get some drinks, and remember a friend. People walked by, their faces sullen and eyes reddened. Chris ran his hands through his wet hair and bowed his head when Orin Travis stepped before him. For a man who’d just lost his son, he stood strong, determined, and composed.
“Sir,” Chris acknowledged.
“Chris,” Orin replied. “I want you and your men to take the next week off and recuperate.” He paused looking toward his wife who was consoling Mary. “Then, on Monday, I want you to go see Agent Harrington about finding a replacement for my…” he paused, “…for Steven.”
Chris nodded. He didn’t want to think about that at a time like this, but if Travis saw the importance, then so would he.
“It wasn’t your fault, Chris,” Orin said, “Stop blaming yourself.” He patted Chris' arm and headed toward his wife.
Chris watched, in amazement, as his boss moved to comfort his wife, daughter-in-law, and grandson. He handled pressure like a champion. As the cars started to pull away from the graveyard, Chris started walking through the grass, careful not to step on the gravesites. Flowers, some dead, and others still in full bloom lay at headstones. As crowded as this place was, it seemed lonelier than anyplace else on earth.
“Ready?” Vin asked, opening up the driver’s side door of his GMC truck.
“Yep,” Chris answered, sliding onto the passenger seat.
“How’s Travis?” Vin questioned, slipping behind the wheel.
“A rock,” Chris said, pushing the cigarette lighter in, and then he reached into his jacket and pulled out a pack of smokes.
“Thought you’d quit?”
“I did,” Chris responded, lighting the end of his cigarette.
“Hell,” Vin sighed, “Let’s go get drunk.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The saloon wasn’t really a saloon, but rather a bar and grill decorated with a western motif. Spittoons were stationed separately about, filled with sand for smokers to place their cigarettes. Antlers hung above the door and bar, and batwing doors led to the bathrooms.
Buck filled his beer glass from the pitcher that needed to be refilled. No one had anything to say, at least anything of value. They all tried to ignore the laughter around the room…they didn’t have anything to be joyous about.
“How long before our next assignment?” JD asked, biting on a pretzel.
“We’ll find out next week…probably after we get our new agent,” Chris responded, finishing his beer.
“What about Steven?” JD looked at the men sitting around the table.
“What about ‘im?” Chris asked flatly. He tried to sound cold, but his pain was obvious.
JD shrugged his shoulders, trying to find something to say. “Just doesn’t seem right, lettin’ his killer go free.”
“He ain’t goin’ free, kid,” Buck spoke up, “but I reckon, Travis don’t want to see anyone else hurt. Harper ‘ill go down, it’s just gonna take some time to get ‘im.”
“Besides,” Josiah spoke up, “Travis will have every available agent on the case. Steven’s death won’t go unsolved.”
“I was just hopin’ that we’d be able to work on it.”
“We’re too close,” Nathan responded. He knew their inability to think clearly about the case was because they were friends with Steven…more than friends…family. And right now, the best people to track Harper down were going to be agents who could think clearly and without the sole purpose of killing him.
Chris nodded in agreement. He knew his men better than anyone. He also knew how they’d each tear Harper apart, limb-to-limb, when they found him. So, it was better that they weren’t on the case.
“Who do you think Harrington’s goin’ to stick us with?” Buck asked, slumping back in his chair.
“I’m going to ask for someone with more experience profiling than Steven had…” Chris sighed, “I think that’s what got him killed, and I don’t want a repeat of what happened.”
“Steven was the best,” Buck defended, “he didn’t ‘just’ get himself killed.”
“But he didn’t see it comin’ either,” Chris replied sharply.
“You think he should have?” Vin asked quietly.
Chris sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. He looked at the tired faces of his men knowing the pain they were in. “Yeah,” he answered honestly. “There’s no doubt that Steven was great at what he did…hell…better than anyone I’ve ever worked with, but he willingly walked into that situation.”
“He was supposed to,” Josiah offered.
“He was supposed to know who he was workin’ with.”
“You’re blamin’ Steven for his own death,” Buck interrupted. “It wasn’t his fault.”
“Buck’s right, Chris,” Nathan interjected, “It’s a part of the job…putting our lives at risk.”
Chris reluctantly nodded: “I’ll see you boys next Monday.” He got to his feet and headed for the door, leaving his men in his wake.
“He gonna be all right?” JD asked, watching Chris leave the bar.
“Never lost a man before,” Buck said softly, “and he’s carryin’ a whole lot of guilt about it.”
“Aren’t we all,” Josiah replied.
Chris entered the offices and paused momentarily in the doorway. It was funny, knowing instinctively where each of his men sat by what was scattered on their desktops. Josiah’s desk was covered in books, maps, and notepads. He had taken the far corner of the room and claimed it as his own. Buck and JD had pushed their desks together so they were facing each other. Paintballs, water pistols, and rubber grenades littered Wilmington’s desk. Even his computer was covered with stickers that read: Kill ‘em all, let God sort ‘em out and Mess with the Best…Die like the rest. His prized signed baseball rested encased near the corner next to his phone that was covered with phone numbers and sticky pads. JD’s desk looked slightly more organized…slightly. An exposed motherboard from some unknown computer rested next to his keyboard. Small tools lay haphazardly around his workstation. An aerosol can of compressed air rested next to his phone. A photograph of his mother and himself was set up beside his monitor…it was a picture of the day he’d graduated from the FBI Academy. It wasn’t surprising to see Vin’s desk covered with magazines and SWAT gear catalogs. A half-eaten bag of Oreo cookies sat next to his computer and crumbs continued to collect in the keyboard. It was amazing that it continued to work. Vin’s FBI jacket rested over the back of his chair and an open file rested on his desk…Steven’s file. Chris shook his head as he looked at Nathan’s desk. The medical scientist of the group was the only one who seemed to have some order in his life…or at least it appeared that way. Everything had a place and nothing was untidy. Even his writing utensils were placed according to height in their dispenser.
Then there was Steven’s desk that had yet to be cleaned. Chris took a deep breath and looked at the box he intended to fill with his agent’s…his friend’s…belongings. He sat in the computer chair and looked around the desk. It seemed so…minimal, to what Steven had accomplished in his life. A photograph of Mary and Billy rested next to the phone. A coffee cup that read ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ was filled with pens and pencils. A note that Steven had written the day he died lay next to the phone…bring milk home for dinner. Chris sighed; he’d never had to do this before, and God help him, he never wanted to do it again. He carefully placed each of his friend’s belongings into the plain brown box. He tossed the Playboys that Steven had hidden in the bottom drawer of his desk onto Buck’s, not wanting Mary to see.
“Thought I’d come in an’ help,” Vin said, handing Chris a hot cup of coffee.
“You wanna grab some cleaner out of Nate’s desk and wipe this down…I’m done cleanin’ it out,” Chris said flatly, taking a drink of the coffee.
“It’s goin’ to be hard…seein’ someone else sittin’ there,” Vin whispered, placing the cleaner and paper towels on the desktop.
Chris finished clearing Steven’s computer of all his files, making sure it was ready for their next agent. He suddenly sat back and grinned. “Remember when Steven got that hooker to proposition Buck,” he laughed, “and ‘she’ turned out to be a ‘he’.”
“I thought ol’ Buck was goin’ to have a calf,” Vin laughed, leaning against the desk.
Chris laughed and ran his fingers through his hair. Steven had been notorious when it came to practical jokes, particularly when it came to Buck. It seemed that those two had a silent war brewing, and they wouldn’t stop until one outdid the other. “I’m goin’ to miss his shit,” he muttered.
“Don’t think there’s a one of us who won’t,” Vin replied, looking up when Buck and JD entered the office. “Boys,” he greeted.
“So,” Buck started, tossing his Scooby Doo lunch box on his desk, “what’re the plans for the day?”
Chris stood when he noticed Josiah and Nathan enter the room. “I’m going to meet with Harrington and find out who our new agent is and then I’m off to see Travis about our new assignment,” his words were spoken harshly, as though they left a bitter taste in his mouth. He pulled his jacket from the coat hanger and slipped it on before leaving the offices.
“Hope he keeps his head,” Vin said, spraying the desk top with the cleaning solution.
“He will,” Buck reassured, “but it don’t mean he’ll be happy about it.”
The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened, allowing three men to enter and move to lean against the walls. Chris sighed, paying more attention to the drink stains on the carpet than his fellow agents. His mind wandered over the past few weeks and then to the possibility of where his team would be heading. A new agent on board meant more time spent familiarizing themselves with his or her routine. When Steven was alive, the team worked together like a family. Each knowing what to expect and when to expect it, and understanding when something was out of kilter. Now all of that was gone, and they were going to have to start from scratch.
Chris stepped off the elevator when it stopped on the 9th floor. Special Agent Denis Harrington’s office was right around the corner, and Chris wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible.
“Come in,” came the yell from within and Chris smiled despite himself. “Agent Larabee,” Harrington said, still fishing through the papers on his desk. “Travis told me you’d be up to see me today…I was sorry to hear about Steven,” he admitted, pulling his glasses to the end of his nose.
“Travis said you’d have a new agent for me?” Chris questioned, sitting in the chair in front of the Oak desk.
Denis nodded and grabbed the tan file from the top of his pile. “You made a request for someone with profiling experience?”
“Agent Standish just got back from Germany,” Harrington started, “He spent the last two years tracing, investigating, and reporting financial transactions through Swiss bank accounts from terrorist groups…”
“Thought that was illegal?” Chris asked with a grin.
“Only after it gets to Switzerland—everything’s fair game until then.” Denis grinned.
“So, Standish is a spy?”
“Yeah, but he started out profiling—he’s damn good at it too,” Harrington continued.
“Why’d he turn to the Intelligence Division?”
“Got burned out for a while…” he paused, “Director Morris transferred Standish so they could eventually bring him back to profiling without losing him completely.”
“If he got burned out once, what’s going to stop if from happening again?”
“You ever been inside the head of a serial killer?” Denis asked seriously.
“No,” Chris answered honestly.
“Standish profiled Tom Mason,” he said softly, shaking his head. “It’s amazing Standish stayed with the Bureau after that fiasco.”
“But he’s good?” Chris wanted to make sure the agent they were talking about was going to be able to do his job. He’d only heard stories of Tom Mason, and none of them were good.
Denis laughed: “I guarantee he’ll have you and the rest of your team profiled by the end of your first week together.” He stood and walked across his office to refill his coffee cup. “He’s a damn good agent, Chris. You won’t be disappointed…graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in psychology, and then he went to Oxford and got his Masters in Criminal Pathology…”
“Nope,” Denis replied, sitting back in his seat. “Know he had a girlfriend he’d been living with for a few years but…” he sighed, running his hands through his hair, “she was killed in a hit and run accident six months ago while they were both in Germany.”
Chris winced in understanding, a familiar pain hitting his chest. He looked over Standish’s file and then got to his feet. “You know where I can find him?”
“All his personal information’s in his file,” Harrington said, grabbing more papers from the large pile on his desk. “But I’d be willing to bet Travis has him in his office as we speak.”
“Thanks, Denis,” Chris said, before leaving.
“Agent Larabee,” Maggie, Assistant Director Travis’ secretary said, picking up her phone to notify her boss that Chris had arrived.
Chris smiled and waited for her to motion to him that it was okay to enter the office. He grasped the doorknob and paused, feeling unsure about the case ahead.
Orin Travis looked up when his agent entered his office. “Take a seat, Chris,” he instructed, motioning to the empty chair in front of his desk. “This is Agent Ezra Standish.” He watched, as both men looked each other over, trying to size each other up.
“Chris Larabee,” he introduced himself, reaching out to shake the agent’s hand.
“Pleasure,” Standish responded, retaking his seat.
Orin cleared his throat and handed Chris an exact copy of the file Ezra was glancing through. “I’ve just informed Agent Standish that he’s being transferred to your division,” he said, looking at Chris. “I’m sending you and your men to a small town about five hours northwest of here to investigate the mysterious disappearances of two suburban families.”
“What are the conditions surrounding the disappearances?” Chris asked.
“Police reports are in the file you’re looking at. However…” Orin paused, “there are several situations, similar, to these conditions within the immediate surrounding areas.”
“Serial offender?” Chris questioned, glancing through the file.
“That’s for you, your men, and Agent Standish to decide.” Travis looked at both agents. “You have an appointment with a Sheriff Carpenter tomorrow at three.” He looked toward the door, motioning without words for his men to leave.
Chris and Ezra both stood at the same time and headed out of the room.
“I’ll take you downstairs to meet the rest of the team,” Chris said, pushing the down button next to the elevator doors.
Chris watched as Ezra ran his fingers through his hair. The others were going to have a field day with his manicured nails, expensive suit, and his placid mask. However, Chris suspected there was more going on under that façade than just mundane thoughts. This wasn’t easy…not for anyone. Larabee grasped the file he held, knowing it contained much of what Ezra Standish was about…but it couldn’t and wouldn’t, tell him about the man himself.
“Why’d you decide to come back from Germany?” Chris asked, stepping through the threshold, deciding to broach the unknown with easy questions.
“When I agreed to go,” Ezra started, his southern accent filling the air, “I only opted for a two year stay.”
“What happened to make you decide to run with the Intelligence Division?” Chris only wanted the truth and he expected honesty.
The hairs on the back of Ezra’s neck stiffened and he pulled unconsciously at his jacket sleeve. “I needed a change of scenery.” It was the truth.
Chris nodded, having hoped for a more elaborate explanation. “Did you like working as a spy?”
Ezra grinned, reveling a gold tooth. “Yes…I enjoyed it immensely.”
“How much did Travis tell you about the team?”
“Didn’t,” Ezra said sharply, “However, he did give me an outline.” He pulled the sheet of paper out of the file he held and handed it to Chris.
“Well,” he sighed, “let me explain.” Chris crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wall. “There’re seven of us…you included, and we’re assigned to everything from bank robberies to serial killers. Our offices are located in the basement, and more times than not, we’re not here…” He paused when the elevator doors opened on his floor and he stepped out with Ezra on his tail. “Don’t expect a warm welcome,” Chris warned, before opening the door. “We just lost a member of our team.” He didn’t apologize for being blunt or harsh.
Ezra raised his eyebrows and followed Larabee into the office space. The room was dark except for the illumination provided by the ceiling lights. In many ways, the room reminded him of the ‘bomb shelter’ that he’d profiled many killers in before. A picture of a half-naked woman adorned the wall above a far desk. Definitely against regulation, but Ezra doubted very much if this ‘team’ was regulation.
“Everybody,” Chris called, getting everyone’s attention. “This is Ezra Standish…our new agent.” He looked around the room as his men stood and made their way toward them.
“Vin Tanner,” Vin introduced himself, sticking his hand out for the new agent to shake. “That’s JD Dunne. He’s from the Computer Analysis Response Team. Josiah Sanchez, Terrorism Unit. Buck Wilmington, Training Division. Nathan Jackson, Laboratory Division.”
“And you…Agent Tanner?” Ezra asked, noticing how everyone looked him over, trying to evaluate his ability to do his job as well as their former agent could.
“SWAT,” Vin responded flatly.
“What about you, Standish?” Buck asked, leaning against Nathan’s desk.
“Intelligence,” the former spy revealed.
JD’s eyes bugged out of his head: “Cool,” he gasped, “I bet you have some great stories.”
“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” Ezra responded seriously. He didn’t blink, smile, or look away from the kid. The words he spoke were serious…or at least they seemed as such.
Vin snickered and lowered his head, knowing what the new agent said was a joke.
“Okay, ladies,” Chris said, clearing his throat. “We’re leavin’ tomorrow, so grab your shit and be at the train station by seven in the morning…”
“Where’re we goin’?” Buck asked.
“Berry, Pennsylvania” Chris answered. “Make sure you grab everything you’re goin’ to need. I’m not sure how long we’ll be there.”
“What kind of case is it?” Nathan questioned, wanting to make sure he had everything he thought he might need.
Not bothering to answer Nathan’s inquiry, Chris tossed his file to the medic. “Make copies of that and make sure everyone has one. Josiah,” he looked to Josiah, “you’re heading this one up.” He motioned for his men to start getting ready for the trip and then disappeared into his office.
“So, brother,” Josiah said, grasping Ezra’s hand in a firm shake, “welcome to the Dungeon.”
“That desk is yours,” Buck said coolly, tilting his head in the direction of the barren space.
Ezra watched as his new team moved away from him, getting ready for the case ahead. “How long ago did you lose your fellow agent?” he asked, having seen the signs before.
“Twelve days,” Josiah answered softly.
“My condolences, Mr. Sanchez.”
“Don’t mind this group…we may be slow to adjust, but when we do, there ain’t anything in the world that can stop us.” He gripped Ezra’s shoulder with a firm hand and pushed him toward his desk.
“Actually,” Ezra paused, “I have to retrieve my files and items from my desk upstairs.” He tipped his head and then disappeared from the office.
“Scare him off already?” Buck asked, grabbing a Twinkie out of his lunchbox.
“Back off ‘im, Buck,” Chris said, exiting his office. “He’s here to do a job, just like the rest of us.”
“Why’d he give up the Intelligence Division?” Buck asked, slightly suspicious.
“I don’t know…why’d you leave the Training Division?” Chris snapped, unwilling to back down.
“Sure as hell wasn’t for the women,” Buck griped, slumping into his chair.
Nathan moved around the room and handed everyone a file. “I’m going to contact the officer who ran the crime scene unit and have her fax me her reports…they seem to be missing.” He handed the original file to Chris.
“Get as much as you can. We have an appointment with the town sheriff tomorrow at three.”
“Sure, Chris,” Nathan nodded before moving back to his desk.
Ezra placed a few files, his pens, and a few of his other office supplies into a box. He’d only been back at his desk for a week before being notified of his transfer to Larabee’s unit. In all honestly, Ezra didn’t mind. He was looking forward to trying his hand at something new. His time in Germany had been more of a vacation than anything else. Documenting bank records from terrorists, dining with men of power and financial stability who claimed they were financing the ‘right’ side, and the illegal recordings by phone dealing with potential attacks: it wasn’t his idea of a good time, but it had been the break he had desperately needed.
After his profile of Tom Mason, Ezra had nearly come to the breaking point. His nights had been filled with nightmares that caused him to become violent. Having been raised to look to himself for everything, he found it impossible to take advantage of the Bureau’s psychologists. Instead he’d asked for a transfer and ended up in Germany. His long time girlfriend, Li Pong, had gone with him and as a result things were better, the time away had helped clear his mind. He was ready to do the work he’d been trained for. Things changed for him, however, when Li had been hit by a car and killed…her unborn child perished with her. Ezra decided it was time to return home. He needed another change in his life.
“Shut up, Buck!” JD snapped, “Have you even read the file?”
“Same one you’ve got,” Buck responded snidely.
Ezra entered the offices and shook his head upon hearing the banter.
“You’re both full of shit,” Vin responded, picking up his magazines and files and placing them into a drawer.
Everyone paused when the new agent placed his box on Steven’s old desk. Ezra knew and understood the scrutiny he was under.
“Those records you called for arrived a few minutes ago,” Vin said, breaking up the tension. He stood and grabbed the box that had been delivered and placed it on Ezra’s desk. “Takes Chris three days for anything to arrive from the Research Department,” he smiled, “Who do you know?”
“You might have a hard time diggin’ out all that gum in the bottom drawer,” Vin chuckled, leaning back on the desk. “Steven used to chew till it was rock hard ‘an then he’d stick it in a pile.”
Ezra cocked an eyebrow and opened the subjective drawer. “There seems to be an abundance of gum…”
“We all chewed a whole pack of bubblegum and stuck it down there to surprise him,” JD added with a chuckle.
“Did you accomplish your goal?” Ezra asked, slightly amused and sincerely disgusted.
JD paused and shrugged his shoulders. “Never got the chance to find out,” he answered honestly.
Everyone paused a moment, their grief still evident. “You’re gonna have to understand when Steven died…” Vin paused, “it wasn’t…”
“Expected,” JD cut in.
“It rarely is,” Ezra empathized.
“Be at the train depot at six thirty in the morning,” Chris said, closing the door to his office. “Don’t be late,” he warned, before leaving the office.
Buck sighed and leaned back in his chair. “So much for my date,” he sighed in disappointment.
Nathan tossed a wrinkled up piece of paper at Buck and hit him on the head. “If you could show a little bit of ‘self-discipline,’ maybe you could still see your latest girl,” he snickered, knowing Buck didn’t have any self-control when it came to the fairer sex.
“Hell, you don’t know anythin’, Nathan,” Buck snapped, getting to his feet.
Nathan laughed and collected his things. “I’ll see y’all in the morning,” he said, leaving the office still wearing a smile.
“Need any help gettin’ settled in?” Vin asked, looking to where Ezra was now seated, leafing through his files.
“No, thank you, Mr. Tanner,” he responded softly, watching as everyone else prepared to go home for the night.
“See you in the mornin’ then,” Vin replied, picking up his jacket and slipping out of the offices like a cat.
Josiah watched from his desk, as the men he saw as brothers interacted with their new agent. The tension would be there for a while, until things settled. Steven wasn’t going to be forgotten easily, and the others were there to make sure of that. Josiah continued to watch as Ezra pulled certain files from his box and the one that had been delivered from the Research Department. The boxes were then placed on the floor and papers were removed from the files. He continued to watch the agent move through his motions, not bothering with the condition he now found himself in, but rather the case ahead.
Josiah grabbed his own files and placed them into his briefcase. He knew Chris wanted him to head up the investigation because of his ability to work with people. Josiah knew he wasn’t a profiler…he tried to stay out of the heads of men and women who looked at life through the eyes of predatory animals rather than human beings. No. Josiah had been trained to recognize a terrorist from any and all perspectives. Terrorists weren’t just men dressed in black with bombs strapped to their backs…no, they came in all descriptions. Much like serial killers, he surmised, they were neighbors, friends, lawyers, and construction workers.
“Would you like to grab a bite for dinner?” Josiah asked, snapping his case shut.
“Perhaps another time,” Ezra replied with a smile.
Josiah nodded and headed for the door. “Don’t be late tomorrow,” he warned, “Chris has a tendency to get a little…annoyed.”
“I appreciate the warning.”
Chris looked at his watch as he stepped up onto the passenger train. Agent Standish was late. A warning came over the speaker system informing everyone leaving from D.C. to Pittsburgh, to board immediately. Chris paused in the doorway and looked down the waiting area, only to wryly smile and shake his head when his new agent burst through the entry gates, rushing for the train.
“You’re late!” Chris yelled, as the train started moving. He reached out to Ezra, all the while thanking the Lord above that this wasn’t a subway.
Ezra grasped the outstretched limb and jumped up onto the step before the train started picking up speed. “Much obliged,” he gasped.
“Next time,” Chris responded, “be on time.”
“Story of my life, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra said with a chuckle.
Chris shook his head and slapped his agent on his shoulder before following him into the train car to sit with the others.
After spending an hour trapped in a suburban, everyone was ready for some time alone. Chris went ahead and rented three rooms, all of them connecting, at a minute motel within the small town of Berry. Ezra had asked for extra towels and no cleaning service until their departure…he didn’t want anyone reading through files or discovering evidence. Chris was thankful…a good sign that their new agent knew what he was doing.
Josiah and Nathan had disappeared to get some food for everyone, while JD and Buck had gone to the store to retrieve items they might need. Highlighters, notepads, tape, and thumbtacks were only a few things on Chris’ list. Vin searched the rooms, stealing the chocolate candies that had been placed on the pillows. Ezra grabbed a chair from the corner of the room and placed his files out, wanting to read through them before the meeting with the town’s sheriff. Chris made a few phone calls, making plans to view the crime scenes and speak with officers.
JD and Buck took the end room, and Chris threatened to separate them if they couldn’t stay quiet for their duration. Nathan and Josiah took the far end, while Chris, Vin, and Ezra took the center room. Chris and Vin converted one wall into their base of operations: tacking pictures, information, maps, and the like onto the painted surface. JD set up his computer while everyone’s cell phones were plugged in. Everything needed to be charged.
Berry wasn’t a large town with less than 2000 residents. There was only one high school, indicating that between ninth grade and tenth grade, more kids dropped out, considering there were two junior highs. Six churches resided in the area, none of the same denomination. Two grocery stores, one on each side of town, were large enough to support a big city.
The Sheriff’s Office was a long building that not only held the town’s law enforcement agency, but a bail bondsmen, and an attorney as well. A dark blue sedan was parked out front, a K-9 unit, as it indicated on the door panels. Chris opened the door and stepped in, almost being knocked over by the sterilizing smell of antiseptic.
“Can I help you?” a young officer asked.
“I’m Special Agent Larabee. We’re here to see Sheriff Carpenter.”
“You’re here about the Brooks and Gwan disappearances,” she surmised, looking at each agent carefully. “Dudley’s in the back room, go on back,” she motioned with her finger toward the door to her right.
“Thank you,” Chris said, heading toward the door.
“Dudley?” Buck asked, slightly surprised.
“Not one word, Buck,” Chris sighed. He entered the room that contained a long table in the center and a small rolling table that held a coffee pot and plastic cups.
“Agent Larabee,” a man said, looking up from the cup he’d just poured himself. He stuck his hand out and shook everyone’s willingly. “I’m Sheriff Carpenter,” he said, sitting in a chair. “I’m glad you came over…this case has got this town on edge and I’d like to get it solved as soon as possible.”
Chris and his men seated themselves at the long table. “What can you tell us?”
“The first family to disappear was the Brooks. Eve and Daniel and their son Mark.” He handed photographs of the crime scene to the men.
“Seems to be an awful lot of blood here,” Nathan said, looking at the images.
“A lot of blood but no bodies,” Dudley replied, notably confused.
“Did Crime Scene find anything?” Ezra asked.
“Nothing,” the sheriff replied, “not even a forced entry…but then again, nobody here locks their doors. I’ve got the house taped up and it’s just the same as when it was discovered—except for what crime scene took…same with the Gwan household.”
“How’d you discover their disappearances?” Josiah asked, concentrating on the sheriff.
“Daniel’s a doctor at the medical center here in town and he volunteers some of his time with the high school’s sports teams. Football and baseball are a religion here you have to understand. Anyway, he didn’t show up one day…same day, his wife didn’t appear at work…”
“What does she do?” Buck asked, looking through the gruesome images.
“Bank teller,” Dudley answered. “Anyway…” he sighed, “because my son’s on the football team, I went over to the Brooks’ place to see if everything was all right…I rang the doorbell a few times and figured they weren’t home and I left. I went back a few days later when one of their neighbors called the office complaining about the Brooks’ dog barking. That was when I entered the premises.”
“How many officers entered the house before crime scene arrived?” Chris asked.
“Just myself and my deputy.”
“What was your first impression upon entering the home?” Josiah asked, wanting to get as much information as he could.
The sheriff shrugged and toyed with the straw in his drink. “Hell, this is a small town…we’ve had one rape in the past five years,” his distress was obvious, “I didn’t think anything was wrong until I saw blood on the staircase wall. I notified the Pittsburgh P.D. and they had me contact you. I discovered the Gwan house three days ago…same type of situation.”
“Did the families know each other?” Chris questioned, pushing the photos away from the edge of the table.
“No,” Dudley said, shaking his head. “The Gwans moved here six months ago…the only thing the two families had in common was their link to suburbia…at least that’s what I found.”
“Karen and Mathew Gwan had a son…Jacob?” Ezra questioned, just to clear a few things up. When Dudley nodded, he continued, “It says here that the Brooks’ son and the Gwan boy are each six years old…did they share the same classes…I noticed only one grade school on our way into town?”
“Actually,” the sheriff started, “the Gwan’s were a strict Baptist family and their son went to a private school in the next town.”
“After school activities…little league, library readings, swimming lessons…?”
Dudley shook his head: “I’m not sure about that.”
Ezra made notes on his pad. “How far apart do the families live?”
“Two miles at most…but this is a pretty small town.”
“Do you know if the families shared anything in common…banks, auto repair shops, restaurants, perhaps golfing ranges?” Ezra continued to push, making note of what to look for when they came across bank records or check stubs.
“Like I said before, everything in their house is just like we left it.” He shook his head in disbelief. “I came to this town eight years ago to be a small town sheriff. Handle a few drunks, kids partyin’ up in the hills, and maybe a few domestics…but nothin’ like this.”
“Can you take us out there to look around?” Chris asked, his eyes expressing his concern and desire to solve the case.
The sheriff nodded and stood. “Follow me.”
The house was a typical suburban type home. The exquisitely built two-story home had been painted a pale blue. A large two-car garage was adjoined and rested to the left of the porch and front door. A brick path lined the walkway to the house from the cement driveway and the yard hadn’t been mowed for quite some time. A child’s plastic truck rested next to the front porch and a homemade tire swing hung from the tree out front. Drapes hung in the windows, most slightly open, as though frozen in time.
“I’ll wait here,” the sheriff spoke up, not wanting to look at the empty home again. Once had been enough.
Josiah patted the man’s arm and turned on his flashlight before following the others.
A painting by Thomas Kinkade hung above the sofa in the living room, candles, pictures framed perfectly, and matching lamps rested on oak end tables. Nothing seemed out of place. Blue throw pillows and a handmade quilt rested on the back of the Victorian sofa. Even the carpet seemed to have been vacuumed in a precise manner…hiding evidence of a cleaning.
Ezra walked into the kitchen and noticed immediately how clean it was. Pictures, magnets, and schedules hung from the refrigerator door. He looked past the archway toward the family room and sighed, taking one last look around. He grabbed a photograph off the door of the Brook’s son, Mark, at what looked like a birthday party taking place in the very kitchen. Ezra looked at the other children, four in all, and the clown behind them. It was a long shot, but he’d take it.
Despite the home’s cleanliness a thin layer of dust now resided on everything, and no sign of movement or anyone entering the home after the family’s disappearance was evident. When Ezra entered Mark’s bedroom, he didn’t find any signs of a struggle or blood. The room was clean except for the bed, which hadn’t been made. A toy cell phone rested next to the nightstand, and a nightlight (still on), was next to the window overlooking the back yard. Pictures of monster trucks and fire engines were tacked to the walls. Ezra shook his head and left, passing Chris and Vin on his way out.
The house was eerily quiet, even with the sound of water dripping in the bathroom sink. The Brooks’ bedroom was the only evidence of a crime scene. Blood had pooled and then dried on the bed and splattered against the walls. The crime scene unit had taken most of the belongings that could help them discover the perpetrator. The mirrors had been covered with blankets, and soft cotton ropes were looped over the four corners of the bed frame.
Josiah leaned over and pulled a riding crop out from under the bed with a gloved hand. “Do you think he tortured them?” he asked, shoving the item into a plastic bag.
Ezra looked around the room with a critical eye before slipping on his latex gloves. “My first concern lies with the ability of the ‘crime scene unit’ to overlook the riding crop,” he said, running his fingers over the dresser and lifting the blanket just slightly to glance at the mirror.
“Small town,” he shrugged, “Maybe they thought it was insignificant,” Josiah answered.
Nathan entered the room and immediately started looking over the reports from the lab. “Blood matched both the Brooks’, however, most of it was Eve’s…no sign of vaginal fluid or semen on the sheets. They’re still running tests on hair and fiber particles.”
“Obviously something happened here,” Chris said, entering the room, looking disgusted at the bed.
“Perhaps the perpetrator tied them to the bed…tortured them, cleaned them and then…” JD offered, trying to find an explanation.
Ezra opened the closet door and pushed some clothing aside. “With all due respect, Mr. Dunne, I don’t believe that is what we’re seeing. From what the crime scene tells us…we must assume, without discounting the fact, that Mark was taken from this residence alive. Though the evidence states that the blood on the walls, sheets, and floor belong solely to Eve and Daniel, there is not enough of it here to conclude they died here…If that is indeed what happened.”
“Ezra’s right. Though it looks like a lot, it’s really not,” Nathan answered.
“What about the ropes and the crop?” Buck asked, not liking what he was seeing.
“I believe our Brooks family were practicing S&M,” Ezra replied, dropping a box of ‘equipment’ onto a chair next to the closet. “Perhaps flagellates is a better term,” he said under his breath.
JD looked at Ezra in confusion.
“He means people who get their kicks beatin’ each other,” Buck responded distastefully.
“What about the ropes?” Chris asked.
“Bondage,” Ezra answered. “It’s not unusual.” He shrugged, looking at the scene with an experienced eye. “Most couples who participate are willing and I don’t see anything forced here…”
“What about the blood?” JD questioned.
“It could be that our couple was…in their act…when the perpetrator discovered them. Or,” Ezra paused, “they could be practicing pequerism…” he stopped, thinking a moment, “but I wouldn’t suppose so.”
“This is sick,” JD gasped, leaving the room.
“Why take a whole family?” Josiah questioned, scratching his chin. “And how do we know that their ‘act’ got out of hand and the family left fearing the law.”
“What law?” Buck muttered, crossing his arms over his chest, feeling uncomfortable in the room.
“There are several documented cases of Sexual Sadism Masochism practitioners who have died as a result of their practice…only to confuse police and investigators into thinking that the ‘murder’ was caused by some barbarian when in reality it was self inflicted or done by a partner unintentionally,” Josiah said, looking at the scene in a new light.
“However,” Ezra cut in, “most of the deaths occur with young men and on occasion, a young female…rarely is it a husband and wife, and we’re still lacking bodies.”
“Not anymore,” Sheriff Carpenter said sadly, stepping into the doorway. “Eve Brooks and Karen Gwan were just discovered about three miles from town…both dead.”
Chris sighed and ran his right hand through his hair. “Nathan, get your ass to the site…Ezra, Josiah, go with him. The rest of us will talk to some neighbors and go over to the Gwan house.”
“I think I should go with you,” Ezra said.
“Take a look at the bodies first and then you can do what you need to.” Chris motioned for his men to leave the room.
Ezra took one last look around before pulling his latex gloves from his hands. He knew he’d have to come back and look around. A story was here, granted it had been written in blood and in code, but it was here.
When Nathan, Ezra, and Josiah arrived at the scene, they were surprised to see the bodies fully clothed and lying next to each other. They’d been staged. Nathan immediately instructed the coroner to wrap the victims’ hands in plastic and then he ordered the crime scene to be photographed. He knew what he was doing and their official case of two families who’d disappeared had now been upgraded to a murder investigation. Things would heat up, and mistakes were not an option.
Josiah stood back and watched the process. He knew he was out of his league. Working on terrorism for so many years had taught him how to read and understand people, no matter how warped their beliefs were, but this was different. This killer wasn’t murdering for a cause…he, or she, was doing it for fun, and that he didn’t understand.
“What do you see?” Sanchez asked, looking at Ezra.
“He’s systematic,” Ezra responded, “and he’s playing with us.”
“You think he knows we’re in town…so soon?”
Ezra nodded, branding the scene to memory. “He knows we’re here and now he’s made it a game. He’s killed before…but until I take a look at some other files and the Gwan household, I’ll not be able to find what his signature is.”
“What about his M.O.?”
“He’s refining it,” Ezra answered, “sculpting it toward perfection and he won’t stop…”
“Why would we find the women and not the men or the children?” Josiah asked, knowing Ezra didn’t have an answer.
“I would expect that we’ll discover that at a later time.”
Nathan tossed the autopsy reports onto the table and grabbed a chair before taking a much-needed seat. Like most professionals in his line of work, he knew how to separate himself from the horrors he’d witnessed. He knew how to look at a murder victim and see evidence while at the same time have enough respect to handle the body with care. But it wasn’t easy…it was never easy. “Eve Brooks had been dead for at least seven days from what I discovered today,” he sighed, and ran a hand over his face. “Cooler temperatures prevented the bodies from decomposing at the rates they should have. This, in turn, enabled me to discover that Mrs. Brooks bled to death after being stabbed in the neck with a four-inch serrated edged knife. I used a sulfate paste and x-ray to discover what kind of weapon was used. As far as I can tell, it looks like a steak knife, and a sharp one at that. The wound to her neck would correlate with the arterial spray on the bedroom walls…”
“She was worried about her son…she fought to protect him even after she’d been attacked.” Ezra spoke softly, as though he were watching the event happen while looking at the pictures in his hands. “Do you think she could have been refrigerated…kept cool in that manner?”
“No,” Nathan replied, shaking his head. “That would be too cold, but a cellar or basement would be suffice at the rate of decomposition that I found.”
Chris nodded, swallowing hard after hearing the profiler’s comment. Chris looked up and watched as Ezra continued to flip through the pictures, wincing on occasion…and on some levels, empathizing with the victims. Chris coughed and motioned for Nathan to continue.
“She’d had intercourse, but the results of a rape are inconclusive,” Nathan said.
“What about bruising created by a riding crop?” Josiah asked.
“Nothing that I could find would imply a beating moment’s before her death.”
“What about postmortem lavidity?” Ezra questioned, writing on his notepad as they worked.
“She’d been moved twice. First time she was in a fetal position on her side, and then placed on her back.”
“What about Mrs. Gwan?” Chris tried to move the conversation to the other victim.
“She also bled to death from a knife wound to her neck, again a serrated four inch blade. She, however, has only been dead for three days. I didn’t find any unusual bruising or marking on her skin and there wasn’t any sign of sexual penetration. Both women had lacerations on their backs in the shape of a ‘W’.”
“What about the clothing?” Buck asked, looking at the pictures.
“The dresses were placed on the bodies after their deaths and the designer is one that can be found at any K-mart,” Nathan responded, taking a drink of his coffee. “However,” he paused and then continued, “both dresses were a size ten…Karen Gwan was a size six, and the dress was almost too small on Eve Brooks.”
“She was a size eight,” Ezra answered, knowing the dress should have fit after having looked through her closet.
“He made a mistake?” JD asked, not quite understanding. This wasn’t like working on a computer or analyzing data readouts.
“The perpetrator didn’t account for the body’s ability to increase in size during decomposition,” Ezra surmised out loud. “He won’t make the mistake again.” He paused, looking toward the wall that was covered in pictures and documents.
“So he wants the men and boys?” Vin asked.
Chris shook his head and looked toward the profiler. “What do you think?” he pushed, hoping to get some kind of an explanation. At the moment he really needed one.
“It’s too early to tell,” Ezra answered honestly. “I want to go to the Gwan house and look around, and then I want to map out every murder to hit this county within the last twenty years…including the disappearances of children…boys and girls.”
Vin nodded: “I’ll go down and get a detailed map of the area where the bodies were discovered.” He stood and shook his head. He’d seen death before, and in most of its forms, but this was different. There was something in the air that caused his neck to get tight, and his hair to stand on end. It was as though they were hunting a monster…and this was just the beginning.
“Get two maps, Mr. Tanner,” Ezra said, getting to his feet to tack up the latest pictures.
Vin nodded and headed out.
“Why leave the women like he did?” Buck asked softly. His stomach was in knots and his pulse raced with anger.
“He’s letting us know that they’re inconsequential.”
“That’s why he killed them so quickly,” Josiah surmised, interrupting Ezra’s assessment. “They weren’t what he was after…so what about the men?”
“Guess we’ll know when we find them,” Nathan sighed, shaking his head.
It was a carefully created puzzle that didn’t have an end. Even if the murderer were to be discovered, the causes of his madness would never be answered. To kill so ruthlessly, without remorse, and without a hint to why, was confusing to those who felt and thought with normal human emotions. Ezra stared at the wall before him, seeing not just a select few of the images, but all of them. His eyes took him through the process. One by one the pictures were branded into memory, and little by little, the killer’s thoughts and actions entered his head like the distant sound of a cry for help…eventually he’d locate it.
The motel door opened and Chris stepped in after finishing a cigarette. “You goin’ to sit there all night?” he asked, stripping down to his boxers and crawling into one of the double beds.
“No,” Ezra answered. He put his playing cards away and moved toward the bathroom.
Vin sat up on the roll away bed. “You think he’s takin’ this thing personal?” he asked in a whisper.
“It’s what he does,” Chris sighed, shoving another pillow behind his head. “And he’s good at it…according to Harrington.”
“He just seems so…intense,” Vin replied, lying back on his bed. “How many serial killers has he profiled?”
“Don’t seem like a lot,” Vin sighed, listening to the shower.
“I’d imagine it is…when you have to get in their heads like he does.” Chris’ words were flat and emotionless, but this case was hitting him close to home. He knew he’d have to keep an eye on his new agent…he wasn’t willing to allow his men to get friendly with someone they might not know for very long.
“You don’t trust him?” Vin asked, watching Chris’ expressive features.
“We just lost Steven, Vin…I don’t want to lose another man.”
“Ezra seems like he knows what he’s doin’,” Vin sighed, leaning back on his bed.
“Maybe,” Chris tentatively agreed.
“Why’d Director Travis send us…why not the task force?” Vin asked, rolling onto his side.
“No money for one thing,” Chris answered, shutting the light off next to his bed. “And I don’t think the Bureau is takin’ us seriously…” he smiled, “for the time being.”
Ezra stepped out of the bathroom wearing black sweat pants and he crawled into bed, not saying anything to anyone. He shut his light off and buried himself beneath the pile of blankets. Hunting a serial killer wasn’t a job to be taken lightly…it couldn’t be, but when it involved children…things seemed heavier, darker, and undeniably more evil.
Ezra shot up out of bed, gasping for air. He glanced around the room, looking for something…someone, who wasn’t there. Muscles twitched as sweat poured down his face. The dreams were back. Tom Mason was once again filling his head with images that were too gruesome for horror films. Children had been Mason’s weakness. Children with trusting eyes, understanding souls, and giving hearts.
He sat on the edge of the bed, running his hands through his wet hair. He reached out and grabbed a long sleeved tee shirt and pair of Dockers from his suitcase. It didn’t take him long to dress. He couldn’t stay here, not while his mind was speeding down a highway with no end in sight. Quietly, he slipped on his shoes and grabbed his jacket.
“Where’re you goin’?” Vin asked softly, sitting up on his lumpy bed.
“Out,” Ezra replied, grabbing the keys to the rental car.
“Hang on,” Tanner said, slipping into his jeans, “I’ll go with you.” He shoved his feet into his cowboy boots as Ezra left the motel room.
“Everything all right?” Chris asked, having heard everything.
“Reckon I’ll find out,” Vin replied, grabbing his jacket and heading outside.
The atmosphere in a small town was a lot different than that in the big cities, particularly a farming community. Everything was closed, even the bars. Even in suburbia the houses were still, only a few had lights on, indicating that someone might be up.
The road that the Gwans lived on was standard, as though it had been cut out of a magazine. Even in the dark the glistening of hubcaps and chrome would glisten subtly in the moon’s light. Trees lined the road, cascading branches hovered over roofs and the street. Ezra pulled into the driveway and shut the engine off.
They were here.
Vin cleared his throat and stepped out of the rental car and took a long look at the house. It looked so normal, so peaceful. He watched as Ezra headed toward the front door.
“You comin’, Mr. Tanner?”
Vin nodded: “Sheriff said we could turn on the lights to the house,” he said, following Ezra through the Gwan’s door into their suburban home.
“Leave them off,” Ezra responded harshly. “I want to see what he saw when he entered the home.”
Vin nodded and clenched his jaw, feeling a chill run down his spine.
“Police report stated that there was no sign of a forced entry…” Ezra said into his recorder, “much like the Brooks house.”
“Speakin’ as a former member of a SWAT team, Ezra…ain’t three people…even if one is a child, a lot for one person to take down. I mean, hell, both Buck and I’ve taken every self-defense and combative class known to the FBI and that’d be difficult for either one of us.”
“But you could do it,” Ezra replied, looking him in the eye. “With the right motivation, the human body can defy any and all odds.” He smiled sadly. “Keep in mind, Mr. Tanner, that our perpetrator knew what he was up against long before the event took place.”
“So you don’t think he’s workin’ with someone else?” Vin asked.
“People like this don’t work together…it defeats their purpose of self control, the ability to gratify themselves without the need of others. It also opens them up to scrutiny and the possibility of being identified.”
“What about Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono…the Hillside Stranglers. They worked as a team?”
Ezra nodded: “They were also cousins and they didn’t finish as a team.” He paused and looked around. “I’m not saying it’s not possible—there are several documented cases from all over the world dealing with ‘serial killer teams’—but the likelihood is slim.”
Ezra turned his attention to the living room and spotted some toys in a pile next to the TV. He noted everything he saw. The home hadn’t been up kept like that of the Brooks’, but it was clean. Both homes were two stories with bedrooms upstairs. Neither family looked to have been suffering from financial hardship. What bothered Ezra the most were the similarities of the bedrooms.
Jacob’s room was clean, except for his bed. Blankets and sheets were lying around sporadically, as though he’d just gotten up to use the bathroom. Evidence of a six year old was undeniable, as children’s books were shelved, stuffed toys rested on an old wooden trunk, and a toy cowboy hat and plastic gun lay under his bed. A picture of a rearing horse hung above the head of the bed. A small TV and VCR sat on the dresser with several videos next to it. There wasn’t a drop of blood in the room.
Karen and Mathew’s room told a different story. Blood was splattered on the walls, the floor and the bed. A lamp had been knocked off the nightstand, indicating that a struggle might have taken place. All of the bedroom mirrors were covered with blankets, just like those at the Brooks’ residence.
“Crime scene reported that only Karen’s blood is in the room, no sign of Mathew’s,” Ezra said into his recorder. He stood in the doorway trying to piece together what had happened. “They were asleep when he entered through the door…He stabbed her first to subdue her and then fought with the husband…he may have been coming out of the bathroom at the time,” he paused again and looked at Jacob’s bedroom door past Vin. “Jacob heard what was happening and came to investigate. That’s why there isn’t any sign of a struggle in his room…same with Mark Brooks…”
Vin watched and listened as Ezra went through his steps. Everything he said made sense, and that wasn’t the scary part. What bothered him most was the fact that the profiler was reading the serial killer’s manuscript…as though he’d written it himself.
“When we find the men, check for a sedative, fast acting, and easy to handle. Mathew fought but only for a short amount of time,” Ezra continued through the bedroom and into the bathroom. “Have crime scene check the drainage pipes in the bathtubs for both houses…I believe our killer took a shower after handling the bodies. He didn’t want to leave blood outside of the bedroom.” He paused and stared at the door, remembering the line of blood that was found on the staircase wall in the Brooks’ household. “Someone was there…” he whispered, looking up at Vin.
“What?” Vin asked, not understanding.
“Someone was in the Brooks’ house after they were taken,” he sighed, and looked toward Jacob’s room.
Ezra rolled his eyes. “I don’t know.” He turned and looked hard at the bathroom, seeing no signs of what he’d suggested, but the evidence told him that the killer would have left blood throughout the house if he’d tried to remove the bodies. He pressed the record button on his hand-held recorder and continued softly, “He wrapped the women in plastic, it’s light enough and won’t leak.” He turned and looked at Vin. “They didn’t die in the houses but they bled to death in the back of whatever vehicle they’d been transported in after the crime…” he sighed, thinking about the autopsy reports.
“What?” Vin asked, suddenly feeling nervous. The hairs on his arms stood on end, and every nerve in his body seemed to scream for him to run. There was a chill in the air that he couldn’t withstand, but no matter what he did he couldn’t move. “Don’t mess with my head,” he warned, not liking the look the new agent sported.
A sudden noise and movement to his left caused Vin to jump. “SHIT!” he screamed, pushing himself up against the wall after a cat jumped out of the closet behind him. “You could have warned me!”
Ezra chuckled, trying to see humor in the darkness. “I honestly didn’t see the feline until it jumped, and by then it was too late.”
“Fuck you, Standish!” Vin gasped, trying to put his heart back into place.
“I believe our perpetrator is a white male, between the ages of 25 and 40…” Ezra continued to speak into his recorder.
“Ah, hell, that narrows it down,” Vin replied sarcastically. “You’ve included the seven of us…”
Ezra shook his head and chuckled. “Josiah and Nathan don’t qualify. Mr. Sanchez is too old and Mr. Jackson is of the wrong ethnic group…97% of serial killers are white, the last 3% are Asian and Chicano.”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Vin replied, looking carefully around the home.
“I think he’s a victim who thinks he’s a survivor.”
Vin shook his head, not understanding.
“He blames his father for whatever happened to him…”
“But he killed the mothers?”
“They allowed it to happen,” Ezra surmised, “or at least that’s the way he sees it in his head. I’d be willing to wager that the killer’s mother wore a size ten. He’s not from a wealthy family—hence the clothing found on the bodies.”
“I believe they’re alive…for now.”
“What about the blankets on the mirrors?” Vin asked.
“I’m not sure yet.”
Chris opened his motel room door after hearing the loud knocking. Sheriff Carpenter looked at him and sighed. “Found this at Henry O’Riley’s place here in town.” He handed the pajama top to Chris. “It’s Jacob Gwan’s.”
“He have an explanation for it?” Chris asked, turning slightly to look at his men who were in the process of getting ready for the day.
“Didn’t ask… Thought I’d leave that to you boys.”
“How’d you find it?” Josiah asked, taking a better look at the article that had been contained in a large plastic bag.
“Henry performs as a clown at birthday parties around here and other neighboring towns…his assistant found the top on his laundry pile.”
Chris nodded: “Let’s go.”
The building had been run down over time, but the sidewalk out front and the windows were clean and free of debris. The sign painted on the window was simply a clown saying the words ‘Party Fun’. The colorful imagery and playfulness would capture any child’s imagination. A used bookstore resided to the right, and a flower shop was on the left. They were all mom and popshops, nothing chain related.
Chris and the sheriff opened the door, followed by Josiah and Ezra. He didn’t want to send all of his men, fearing that they’d cause too much of an upset. An antique table held a cash register and a computer and the walls were covered with party supplies.
“Can I help you?” a young man asked, stepping out from behind a blanket that hid another room.
“Henry,” Dudley sighed. “Did you do a party for the Gwan’s and the Brooks’?” he asked softly, not wanting to cause alarm.
Henry smiled and nodded. “Yes, sir,” he answered honestly. “Jacob Gwan just turned six an’ I took ‘im six yellow balloons. Mark Brooks turned six too an’ I took him six blue balloons…his folks said he don’t like yellow.”
“Do you run and operate this place on your own, Henry?” Josiah asked.
“Momma taught me ‘fore she died, an’ yes, I run it by myself. Myrtle comes to help me when I’ve got to go perform.” He looked around at the serene faces. “Y’all want to have a party?” he asked, feeling as though they didn’t, but he asked anyway.
“Where’d you get this shirt?” Chris asked, tossing the plastic bag onto the counter so Henry could have a closer look.
“It come in a box,” he answered with a smile. “I’ll show ya,” he said, moving toward the back room.”
“Wait,” Chris called, moving his hand toward his weapon. He didn’t want any surprises.
Henry came back out from behind the blanket with a box and set it on the counter so everyone could see. “I found ‘em outside when I come in two days ago,” he said, smiling as he picked up a kitten. “One died already, but these others are doin’ good.”
“Was this the only clothing in the box?” Ezra asked.
“Oh, no, sir,” Henry answered. “It was the only one worth keepin’.”
“What did you do with the others?” Chris questioned.
Henry took a step back, keeping hold of the kitten that was clung to his shirt front. “They were covered in dirt so I threw them away,” he said. His brow furrowed as long blonde bangs hit his eyebrows.
Ezra reached into the box and pulled out a black kitten with white spots. “Do you mind?” he asked.
“You have to hold that one real close so’s he don’t get scared,” Henry said, keeping his eyes on Chris.
Ezra pulled the kitten up close to his shirt and scratched the animal behind his shoulders and neck. “Can you show me where you threw the other shirts?” he asked.
Henry nodded: “What about the rest of the kittens?” he asked, not wanting to leave them with the stranger.
“They’ll be fine,” Josiah reassured with a smile. “The sheriff and I’ll protect them while you’re gone.”
Henry nodded and motioned for Ezra to follow him. Both men still held their kittens firmly against their chests as they moved into the back room.
“What happened to him?” Chris asked, making note of Henry’s slow condition.
“From what I understand…” the sheriff started, “his folks used to own a small dairy farm north of here before they divorced. Ol’ Henry was riding with his father on a tractor and he fell off and hit his head. Ain’t been right since.”
“You ever have any problems with him in the past?” Chris questioned, looking carefully around the small shop.
Dudley shook his head and rolled the brim on his hat in his hands. “Henry don’t have the mental capacity of an adult, so once in a while I get called to come and make him turn his music down or somethin’ of that nature.”
“What about children?” Josiah asked, waiting for Ezra to reappear. “Have you ever had any complaints or problems with him in that regard?”
“No,” Dudley replied. “He even leaves out candy for the kids from school to come down and enjoy. Hell…” he sighed, running his hands over his eyes. “Myrtle does all his bookwork and makes sure he’s doin’ all right. Henry ain’t never hurt anyone.”
“This doesn’t mean he has,” Chris said, motioning toward the shirt that had been placed in a plastic bag.
Everyone looked up when the curtain was brushed aside. Ezra and Henry stepped through. Ezra motioned for Josiah to open another bag and he quickly deposited the bloody, dirt ridden, and crumpled pajama bottoms into the evidence container. He still clutched the black and white kitten, but was quickly scolded when he tried to pull the fuzzy animal from his chest.
“You have to keep ‘im,” Henry all but shouted. “He likes you.” The young man smiled, putting his own kitten back into the box with the rest.
Josiah tried to hide the grin he now sported, but was failing miserably. Ezra sent him a glare, but it only seemed to antagonize the situation more.
“Will you be here?” Chris asked, “Should we need to speak with you again?” He looked to Harry and awaited his response.
The young man smiled and nodded energetically. When the phone rang, he picked it up and turned his attention to the customer on the line.
Chris motioned for the others to leave the small store and he walked out, hearing the bell above his head ring when he opened the door. A gust of wind blew his jacket open and he reached into his pocket to retrieve his pack of cigarettes. “Well?” he asked, looking up the road.
“He didn’t do it,” Ezra replied, trying to pull his new kitten’s claws out of his expensive shirt.
Josiah nodded in agreement: “I’ll give this to Nathan, then maybe he can discover any plant life and soil types. Maybe help us narrow down where our killer’s hiding his victims… If this is indeed from our victims.”
Dudley stepped forward, not wanting to disrupt the agents briefing. “I’m goin’ back to the office. If you need anything you can give me a call.”
“Thank you,” Chris said, watching briefly as the sheriff walked toward his patrol car.
Josiah watched as Ezra managed to pull the kitten from his shirt collar and then, holding him in a comforting grip, brought the little beast up and looked him in the eyes. “So, what are you going to call him?” he asked, hiding his amusement.
“Bait,” Ezra replied with a grin, allowing his gold tooth to shimmer in the sunlight.
Josiah’s mouth dropped and he watched as the former spy headed toward the rental car, the kitten still in his grasp. “That boy has a strange sense of humor,” he surmised.
Chris shook his head and slapped Sanchez’s shoulder. “You’re one to talk,” he replied, moving toward the car.