By Beth ©
FBI (Ezra, Seven)
Please email me with comments or suggestions, email@example.com
The small diner rested between a closed antique store and the post office. The strip of similarly built buildings seemed at home covered in snow with their windows glowing from activates within. Obviously the lack of sunlight had many individuals confused about their sleeping hours.
The lack of traffic allowed the snow to stay a bright white, even beneath the dark sky. Unlike Washington or New York, black and grey sludge created from the abundance of traffic was nonexistent, and in many ways it was relieving. The sound of an engine roaring to life filled the air momentarily before it quickly died, and Vin shook his head at the thought of trying to maintain an engine in this kind of weather. He opened the door to the small diner and slipped inside, listening to the bell above the door ring as he looked around.
Small tables, all of different styles and shapes lined the floor. Each decorated with plastic flowers shoved into blue vases. A poor attempt at elegance. The wood floor was well worn and stained with water spots and possible grease stains. A small counter with a cash register sat next to the door with a fishbowl filled with mints. A woman carrying two menus stepped through a door leading to the kitchen. She wore a heavy coat and blue jeans, her apron tied around her waist and partially hidden by her coat. She was young with dark brown hair. Her beaded earrings dangled low and hit her chin when she turned her head. Little makeup and hair accessories added to her charming good looks.
Vin took note of the wedding band on her finger.
“You guys are in early,” she said, handing them their menus as they took a seat near the old wood stove. “I’m Abby, I’ll be getting you your food, so if you need anything just let me know—oh,” she gasped, “we just got an espresso machine, would you like to try something—on the house of course.” She smiled largely, exposing bright white teeth and the energy of one so young.
“That would be great,” Vin replied with a smile. “How about a mocha with whole milk and,” he sighed, “could you make that a little extra sweet?” He kept the order simple, knowing Ezra would give her a run for her money.
She turned toward her other patron and waited with a smile on her face, anticipating his order.
Ezra smiled, and ignored Nathan’s earlier request that he not consume any caffeine for God only knows how long. “How about a skinny vanilla latte?”
She cocked her eyebrow and quickly nodded before disappearing into the same door she’d come out of earlier.
“What are you goin’ to have?” Vin asked, looking through the menu.
Ezra sighed and leaned back in his seat, looking at the artwork on the walls. He found the taxidermy poster quite amusing. The atmosphere in small towns was a culture shock—to say the least. The pictures on the walls seemed inviting, symbolic of simpler times, and hypnotic—as though life would be perfect if painted on muslin canvas through the eyes of an artist. “I’ll have what you have,” he replied, not really thinking about food, but thinking about the man who would want to live in a small town, who’d want to hide from the rest of the world though the wilderness of Alaska.
Vin smiled: “You sure you want to go that route?”
“Don’t scare me, Vin,” Ezra said, leaning forward. “I think our man has a criminal background—small things—maybe trespassing, burglary, perhaps some arson...something that would get him noticed, but not labeled. He’s easily intimidated and likes to hide...probably keeps himself busy with his work—maybe even a pastime. He kills because he feels the need...like a craving he can’t control.” He sighed and looked up with a confused look on his face. He watched as the young waitress set a tall thin glass in front of him.
Vin couldn’t hold back the snicker.
“I’m sorry,” Abby said, wiping her hands on her apron, having removed her coat. “We didn’t have any skinner glasses.”
“This is fine,” Ezra replied with a tight smile, trying not to laugh. He looked at Vin and quickly had to look away.
“You guys decided on what you’d like to eat?” She grabbed her tablet and smiled, waiting for their replies.
“How about two of your number 4s,” Vin said, keeping a close eye on Ezra’s actions.
Abby nodded and quickly turned back toward the kitchen.
“You wanted a skinny latte,” Vin replied.
“Not in the literal sense.”
“So,” Vin started, tentatively testing the hot mocha before him, “you think our perp’s got a record—if he hasn’t tried to change his identity.”
“He wouldn’t have.” He fingered the napkin between his fingers while staring blankly at the silverware. “He’s content—doesn’t think he’ll get caught.”
“So we’ll get JD to do a background search with the sheriff and see if we come up with a few suspects.” He grabbed his napkin in anticipation of the food. “What about that Pat Brick—served some time in Walla Walla?”
“We should check him and anyone else out...I want to go out to the Canby Cabin and look around—see if we can find anything abnormal, look over the list you and Buck were able to acquire—make sure we’re not missing anything.”
“You think he lives in town?” Vin asked, looking up as Abby carried a tray full of food toward them.
“Or nearby,” Ezra replied, moving his hands out of the way as she placed the plate in front of him.
“Can I get you anything else?” Abby asked with a smile.
“No, thank you,” Ezra replied, not giving Vin time enough to answer.
Abby turned and quickly headed for the kitchen, anticipating a few customers before too long. Her hips swayed, and the heavy leather of her boots hit the floor with scuffs and scrapes, as though she walked with a limp.
“Why hasn’t our perp been killing with a more frequent consistency?” Vin asked, picking up his fork and digging into the pile of scrambled eggs.
“There’s nobody saying he hasn’t.”
“But we’ve got nine victims over the past…what—twelve years?”
“Suspected victims. The only ones we know with some level of certainty are the four in the pictures.” Ezra grabbed a piece of toast and applied some jam that came in a small plastic container that made the thick substance look more appetizing that it actually was.
“And we don’t know who they are,” Vin sighed, trying not to think about the images as he ate. “So there could be more we don’t know about?” He frowned, answering his own question with a shake of his head. “Of course there are.”
“It’s complicated and the only way we’ll find out half the story is when we find him...and then what we do eventually find, will only lead to more unanswerable questions. It’s best to follow what you know—what’s attainable.”
“It won’t take JD long to come up with a list of residence with criminal records.”
“And then the game begins.”
JD sat at the computer in the sheriff’s office; his fingers flying over the keys as though they were separate entities. He sat composed and completely unaware of what was going on around him. He never saw the cup of coffee Buck had brought him, or the sandwich the sheriff’s wife had kindly set on the desk next to the keyboard. His eyes were locked on the monitor, moving through files and databases like the computer itself would—like a madman—only JD wasn’t mad—just brilliant.
The printer couldn’t keep up with the demand of files and reports needing to be printed. It ran continuously, at times overheating.
JD had moved twice; once for a bathroom break and the other to grab a soda from the fridge in the officers’ lounge. He didn’t notice who was there or who was missing. He never acknowledged the phones ringing or the fax machine spilling out papers. He left that to the others, and they were there, sorting, filing and organizing each piece of information the kid seemed to find that had been locked away.
He wore blue jeans over long underwear, a short-sleeved Boston Red Socks Jersey with a red turtleneck beneath. He looked like a computer hacker more than an FBI agent...but that was JD, laid back and focused on his job. Still unsure about his boots it was a constant sound of him kicking the underside of his chair or the desk—he never noticed or never acted like he did—at least his feet were warm.
Josiah sat with Buck and Vin as they sorted through the names on the list of residents with criminal backgrounds. They created piles of larceny, arson, burglary, armed robbery, drunk driving (seemingly high in Alaska), trespassing, and anything else that was brought to their attention. It was difficult, placing names with crimes, names of residents who had perished, moved, or were imprisoned. Then there was the task of locating them on the map—within the Yukon Territory.
Ezra wanted to keep their suspects relatively close to the town, anyone located more than 150 miles away from Hanson would only be considered after all their avenues turned up nothing. It was a chance he was willing to take. He knew the murderer was in town—otherwise the pictures wouldn’t have arrived. He also eliminated anyone with a larger charge than larceny, convinced that the man they were after had toyed in criminal behavior but never outwardly completed it: someone toying with aerobics...it was a good idea, but in reality too damn much work for such a little profit.
Nathan and Ezra continued to look over the images, looking for anything that could lead them to the killer. Without a second guess, and because of Ezra’s diligence, Nathan had been able to conclude that all four victims had been shot, but he couldn’t say for sure if they’d died due to the wounds. The gallon jar of preserved eyes was found in every picture. It hadn’t been easy to find, carefully disguised behind cloth and others bottles.
The murderer liked to be watched, and he liked to take souvenirs. The man they were dealing with enjoyed power, and he came to it in the most gruesome of ways. Ezra knew they’d have to be cunning, and they’d have to tax all their understanding of human behavior.
Chris stepped into the room and tossed pile of papers onto the table. “Fourteen suspects, all fitting what you requested. There’s a 125 with criminal backgrounds living outside the 250 mile mark—but I figured I’d just let you look at these and see what you can come up with.”
Ezra nodded and tossed another file toward Chris, allowing the papers to scatter slightly. “I finished the profile. I’ve emailed it to Washington and I’m having Robin Stane look it over...she’ll share it with a few of my colleagues—”
“Doubting yourself, Ezra?” Buck asked, stepping into the room with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“No,” he replied, grabbing the stack of papers Chris had brought in. “I just think the man we’re after isn’t going to come in easy—and I want all of our bases covered.”
“I pulled JD away from the computer,” Vin said, grabbing a chair and sitting in it backwards, resting his arms across the back. “He’s washin’ his face—seems he needed to put his eyes back in his head.”
“That boy is driven,” Buck added, taking a pull from his cup. “You want us to start haulin’ these suspects in or talk to them on their own turf?”
“No, I don’t like the idea of us running around the countryside—we don’t know this land well enough and none of us are used to driving in this much snow—”
“Hell, Chris, the bureau taught us how to handle this,” Buck argued.
“I’m not taking any chances, not with the storms that have been coming through here the past few days.” Much less ending up on a slab in some bastard’s home studio. Chris sighed and looked at his men. “We’ll have some of the sheriff’s deputies take us around—at least through the outlying areas, it might be easier for the residents to talk with a local in the room—”
“Except one of the deputies is a suspect,” JD said, wiping his face with a towel as he entered the room. “David Sumners has a juvenile record for vandalism when he was 16.”
“Thought those files were sealed?” Nathan asked.
“Not for everybody,” JD replied with a smile. “I also found two unfinished reports filed by his wife for battery in one of the bins I was using.”
“So he’s violent?” Buck said with a shake of his head.
“So talk to his wife, see what she has to say,” Chris surmised.
“I want to go out to the Cranby cabin as well,” Ezra replied, circling a few names on the pile of papers.
“Let’s get organized.”
Doug flipped the windshield wiper control on high speed as he drove through the dense woodland area. The snow fell from the sky in monstrous flakes, causing the scenery to disappear in the white camouflage of winter. Tall snowcapped trees hugged the road, swaying gently as the wind swept their branches, dropping hunks of snow onto the ground and onto the surface of the brown police blazer.
“This cabin gets used a lot by hunters during the season,” Doug said, taking a left off the main road. “Used it a couple times myself.”
Ezra continued to look at the list of renters the cabin had over the years, most having re-rented after having a successful season. JD had gone through and connected names with possible profile suspects, but most looked clean. He looked up and noticed the large clearing where a herd of moose was eating through the snow.
“Here it is,” Doug said, slowing to a stop and pulling the Blazer into park. He turned and looked at Ezra. “You want me to go with you—or wait here?”
“Wait here,” Ezra said, slipping out of the truck. He shoved his gloved hands into his coat pockets and headed for the cabin.
It was a nice place, secluded and away from town. Dead branches peaked up through the snow indicating that at one time roses had grown—perhaps someone had lived there on permanent bases. A window was on either side of the narrow door, covered with a makeshift awning. Ezra reached for the doorknob and found it unlocked. He wasn’t surprised, figuring few knew about the cabin and it was too far away for anyone to want to vandalize.
A bearskin rug rested in the center of the room, surrounded by a round table and four chairs, a full bed was shoved in the far corner covered in pillows and folded blankets. A wood stove had been properly installed within the confines of Alaskan rocks. Small brick shelves contained matches, and an old framed photograph. A stack of old newspapers rested to the left of the stove and a pile of wood was in a basket ready to be burned. There wasn’t a kitchen. It was a small, the perfect size for a hunting cabin.
Ezra walked around the room, looking at the small knickknacks that had been left in the garbage, on the shelves, and on the floor. Nothing stood out of the ordinary. He looked outside toward the back and found an old shed, no larger than a one-car garage and wiped the window free of dirt and grime with the palm of his gloved hand. He turned and headed out the door of the cabin.
Doug had slipped out of his truck and was staring at the herd of moose when he saw Standish slip out of the cabin and head toward the back. “You going to look through that garage?”
“That’s my intention,” Ezra replied, keeping his face buried in the collar of his coat.
“That’s private property—owned by Pat Brick,” he said, shoving his hands under his armpits in an effort to keep them warm. “I’ll have to get permission first, and that may take a while—Pat’s a son-of-a-bitch with a grudge on his shoulders the size of Texas.”
“Where’s his house?” Ezra asked, stopping before reaching the side of the cabin.
“Well,” Doug paused, “he owns over three hundred acres up here. His property line is just behind that cabin and runs clear into town—at least to his apartment there on 4th street.”
“Does he come up here a lot?”
“I couldn’t tell you that because I don’t know,” Doug replied.
Ezra nodded and continued his trek toward the garage.
“Agent Standish?” Doug called, slowly jogging through the deep snow.
Ezra looked around the ground, searching for footprints in the fresh snow—not finding any he preceded toward the garage. He wasn’t concerned about trespassing onto someone’s property...not with a monster on the loose. He crossed the property line and walked up to the building, finding the aluminum siding more of a sentiment to an old life—perhaps another time. There weren’t any windows and the sliding doors were locked with an old rusted chain—obviously not having been used in sometime.
“I could call Pat,” Doug said, stepping up beside Ezra as he searched for a way in.
“And tell him what, Sheriff? That we’re on his property about to make an illegal search for anything that might be related to a serial killer in the area?” Ezra turned toward him sharply and pulled a small black flashlight out of his pocket. “The killer’s next victim doesn’t have that kind of time.” He pulled on a piece of aluminum siding and slipped between that and the two by fours holding it in place. His jacket snagged on the nails and tore a piece off his coat.
Sheriff Ford followed, unsure of what else to do.
The engine block of an old Chevy hung from heavy chains that were suspended from a railroad tie. The support seemed larger than the building, but managed in strength to hold the tremendous amount of weight of the engine block. Boxes filled with tools and supplies littered the ground like candy wrappers. Footprints, some small and others large—obvious tennis shoes plagued the dirt that had been stained due to the amount of spilt oil.
Ezra flashed his light into the corners, searching for anything suspicious. “How would you get here—other than taking the road we took?” He turned and looked toward the sheriff.
Doug shrugged: “You’d have to come through the woods—but unless you’re on foot—or maybe a motorbike, the only way here is the way we came.”
“So the land the cabin is on is owned by whom?”
“So this is the Cranby Cabin?” Before Doug could answer, Ezra asked another question? “Does he get along with Brick?”
“I’ve never seen them together, but that doesn’t mean they’re not friendly. Why?”
“So how would Brick get to his garage if he wasn’t allowed to go through Peterson’s land?” Ezra asked, flashing his light into the corner next to the doors. He walked forward and peaked into the box filled with bungee cords, ropes, rags, and duct tape. He squatted and started to sort through the box—looking for something—anything.
“Like I said before, you’d have to come on foot or—”
“And bring an engine with you?”
Doug sighed: “I didn’t think about it.”
Ezra pulled out a plastic bag and filled it with a couple of the rags and a small section of rope. “How can I get this to a crime lab in a hurry?”
“We’d have to fly it out—probably tomorrow or Wednesday at the soonest...the snow should let up by then.” He watched with his breath caught in his throat. “If you find anything on that you can’t use it in court—not with an illegal search.”
“That may depend on who our killer is?” Ezra replied, heading for the way out.
“But if it’s Brick?”
“We don’t even know if there will be any evidence on this.” He held up the plastic bag.
Doug shook his head. “Okay.”
Pat Brick sat at his kitchen table looking in contempt at the two FBI agents sitting across from him. He puffed on his cigarette as though it were his only link to survival. An overflowing ashtray rested next to his elbow and the plastic tablecloth stuck to his arm, sweat acting like glue. “I did my time,” he huffed, picking at his tongue as though he had a hair stuck to it.
“Your records show you did 4 years for armed robbery?” Josiah said, but his sentence sounded like a question.
“Three and a half,” Brick corrected. “I was let off early for good behavior.” He leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms across his chest. Tattoos peaked up and over the collar of his shirt as well as down his arms. The distinction between prison and regular tattoos was frighteningly real. To think that Brick had sat and tolerated someone poking his arm with pen ink and a tack gun was symptomatic to someone like Josiah.
“You were a member of the Aryan Brotherhood?” Josiah glanced at Nathan to see if he would keep his cool.
Brick smiled like a man with nothing left to lose and looked at the black man sitting across from him. “The AB—had to protect ourselves from the BGF,” he smirked, and moved to explain the abbreviation, “Black Gorilla Family. Saw a few of those boys get shanked—can’t say they didn’t deserve it.”
Nathan smiled: “I must intimidate you.”
Brick sat up straight and glared at both agents. “What do you want?”
Josiah took a deep relaxing breath and pulled out a notepad. “Where do you work?”
“I wash dishes at the restaurant in town...I work for Dale Richards—you can call him to verify it.”
“Do you own a rifle?” Josiah asked.
“You know I can’t.” Brick put out his cigarette in the ashtray and quickly lit another. “I haven’t done nothin’ to break the law—fuck, I don’t even speed. I ain’t goin’ back to that hell hole in fuckin’ Walla Walla—the town so nice they named it twice—fuckin’ joke.” He stood up and started pacing like a nervous rat in a science lab. “I haven’t raped nobody, robbed nobody, stole nothin’—hell, I haven’t even touched a gun since I was arrested—and it ain’t like I don’t got no right to. That Brad asshole that’s fuckin’ my wife deserves a bullet in the brain—but I ain’t going to be the one to put it there...”
Josiah listened to him rant, and understood for the first time that Pat Brick was not the murderer they were looking for. He was angry, and rightfully so. Confused, uneducated, and locked in a role he couldn’t get out of, all because of a mistake he’d made when he was 23 years old.
“...hell, I even pay child support!” he snapped, coming to a conclusion. “Whatever you’re here for—I didn’t do it.”
Josiah slipped the tablet back into his breast pocket and stood, shoving the chair back under the table in a polite gesture. Nathan did the same, closing his coat so the cold wouldn’t invade his body when he stepped outside.
Brick stood back and watched, forgetting about the ashes at the end of his cigarette that continued to gray and dwindle. His brow furrowed and his lips had curled into a sad smile, as though a rush of old emotions hit him hard.
“If we have anymore questions, we’ll call on you.” Josiah headed for the door with Nathan following close behind.
“I ain’t a smart man,” Pat said, tossing his cigarette into the kitchen sink. “But I haven’t done anything wrong since being here. I have a simple life, work all the time—never call in sick, and I’ve never taken my vacation times. I worked hard for what I’ve got. I’m tryin’ to save enough money to build a house on the property I bought a while back—got me a garage up near Peterson’s cabin, and I fix old cars when it warms up and gets lighter outside—built a 1942 Ford last year and sold it to a man from Montana. I’m keepin’ my nose clean—don’t want no trouble.”
“We’re not here saying that you did, Mr. Brick—just asking a few standard questions.” Josiah turned back toward the door having seen Brick’s submissive side, and slightly surprised by it.
“Ready?” Nathan asked, having moved in front of Josiah.
Chris knew what it was like to have a finger on greatness and he knew what it was like to watch it fade away. Like the man sitting across from him, he understood life’s limitations, more so than most. It was the loss of family that had caused Chris’ sorrow—the family that had been the finger on his pulse: smiles after a hard day, steady hands of hope and admiration, and the idea of life not yet lived that Chris had so long ago cherished. Everybody had a chance at greatness—for some it was stolen, for others it was never recognized.
Red Keats had recognized his chance at greatness and he’d followed it through until his untimely injury that cost him his career. Trophies, ribbons, and medals hung from a wall across from the sofa in Red Keats’ living room, signs of a man still living in his past.
After 10 years of being ‘politely’ excused from the major leagues, Keats still found it necessary to keep himself in shape and up to date on all the new players—to the point of knowing all their faults—something he seemed to relish in. At six-foot-one, 190 pounds, he wasn’t someone to mess with. However, his soft features, trimmed jaw, and deep set eyes showed a much softer side to Red. Perhaps he wasn’t all bad, or all too consumed with himself.
“How long have you lived here, in Hanson?” Chris asked, smelling the fresh vanilla coffee brewing on the kitchen counter.
“Seven or eight years, lost track after my first sunless winter,” Red answered, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He raised a glass in Chris’ direction.
“No thank you,” Chris replied, looking at the box filled with baseball cards. “Why here, why not stay someplace where you could coach?”
Keats shrugged and retook his seat on the chair across from Chris. “Saw myself as a player, not a coach—besides, I hate kids.” He chuckled and sipped tentatively on his drink. “I don’t mind them from afar, but can’t stand all their whining or drooling.”
Chris nodded and continued, “It’s on record that you were arrested 9 years ago for assault on two men in a bar—in Boston, I believe?”
Red nodded: “The year before I blew my knee out playing for the Red Socks and they let me go—never got the strength back. So, I went down to triple A ball, trying to see if I could pull it off—maybe make it back to the majors. I was in this little bar and these two yahoos were commenting on my running ability—or my lack thereof,” he shrugged, “so, to defend my honor, I swung out and connected with them.”
“One ended up in the hospital with facial contusions and a broken rib, and the other had to have plastic surgery to repair his nose,” Chris said, looking up from the file in front of him.
“I was pissed,” Red replied.
“Do you get pissed a lot?”
“Not as much as I should.”
Chris nodded and folded his fingers together while resting his elbows on his knees. “Do you have any idea why I’m here?”
“Listen, I don’t give a flyin’ fuck why you’re here in my house asking me these dumb-ass questions. I know you’re after some kids that ended up disappearing over…what, ten years ago. In case you haven’t noticed, but a lot of people go missing in this state—one reason why it’s so nice living here, all you bullshit city people can have your air pollution, fresh water problems, and zillion car populations. I’ll take my chances with the cold, thank you very much.” He stood and placed his hands on his hips while looking at his abundance of trophies. “The kids you’re after probably ended up in some bear’s stomach or better yet, they’re sitting in some deep cavern like Popsicles.”
“It doesn’t bother you that you’re a listed suspect in their disappearances?”
“Hell no, because I didn’t do anything.” He retook his seat and grabbed his cup of coffee. “If you really want to find this guy—the one you’re after—talk to Cartel, he’s a sick SOB.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Let’s just say we have some mutual friends—who aren’t so mutual.”
He knew once he arrived that someone had been there—snooping through his things—looking at his stuff. He saw the tracks in the snow made by a large truck—probably a 4x4, and two sets of footprints. One pair had headed straight for the cabin and the other had stood at the edge of the driveway. He followed the prints toward the cabin and carefully entered, smelling the air for the intruder, trying to find a link to the man hunting him.
Nothing had been moved, but things had been handled and carefully replaced. Even the trash had been sorted through, and that caused the hairs on the back of his neck to prickle. He looked up and saw the smudging of mud and dirt on the glass, overlooking the garage out back. The round circular motions had cleansed the glass enough to get an idea of what was behind the cabin. Enough to warn him that things were changing…possibly for the better.
He left the cabin and headed toward the garage, his heart racing, and pulse thumping. Even his fingers felt warmer. He looked at the old rusted chain that had been locked shut—it hadn’t been touched—too bad…it hadn’t been locked. He smiled; knowing the men he was dealing with weren’t all that smart, or at least they didn’t have the energy to bother with the simple things. He followed the footprints to the side of the building and grinned wider, this time he squatted next to the men’s entry site, finding a small red piece of fabric on a sharp piece of metal. He picked it up and smelt it, before slipping it into his jacket pocket. He looked around with the devil in his eyes, smiling, conniving, and with murder on his mind. He pulled the collar of his jacket up to his ears and slowly crept back to his vehicle. He had some things to get done…some things to plan…a murder to complete.
Chris tossed a pile of papers onto the desk in the sheriff’s office and took a deep breath. “We’ve got everyone on that list interviewed and we still don’t have shit.” He wasn’t mad, just frustrated—like the rest of them. “Sheriff Ford was able to get the objects Ezra found sent to the crime lab in Seattle…should be there by tomorrow.”
“Depending on what they find,” Nathan started, “it could take a few days to a couple weeks to get the results back.”
“I’ve put a rush on it,” Chris replied. He looked at his men and saw their disappointment, their frustration, and their uncertainty. There wasn’t anything he could say that would make a difference, and he knew they’d see it as it was…bullshit.
“We’ve got Pat Brick, Cooper Malone—the gun shop owner, Red Keats—the former baseball player, Deputy Sumners—who we’ve all spoken with, and Micky Peterson who owns the soup and sandwich place, Harvy Dempsey—mechanic, and Jack Cartel who’s currently unavailable,” JD said, continuing to look at his list.
“Why?” Ezra asked, slightly concerned.
JD shrugged: “Guess he left town a couple days before we got here on a business trip to San Diego, nobody knows when he’s supposed to get back—I guess that’s not all unusual for him.”
“Have we contacted the San Diego district office and told them?” Josiah asked, sitting with his back to the wall and his feet crossed while resting on a vacant chair. He looked comfortable.
“I did,” JD replied, already on top of it. “They discovered he was supposed to have gotten on a flight to Seattle two days ago, but missed it—they don’t have any other leads—guess they’re working on a big case down there.”
“So we’ve got shit,” Buck said, picking up a magazine and leafing through it.
Vin sighed and banged his head on the wall intentionally. “Hell,” he sighed. “Every person on this list is friendly, outgoing, not your average serial killer.”
Ezra stood and starred out the window, watching as the deputies and secretaries went on about their business. “We’re not looking for the ‘average’ serial killer,” he snapped, keeping his eyes on the room outside.
“I didn’t mean anything by it, Ezra,” Vin replied, looking in question at his teammates and friends.
Ezra reached out and grabbed his coat, noticing for the first time that he’d ripped a hole in it. He poked his finger through the fiber and shook his head, wishing he had the answers he needed. He slipped his arms into the coat and opened the office door and headed outside, needing some fresh air and time to think. He knew the exhaustion eating at his body was causing him to feel ill, but he didn’t have time for it now—he’d have to hold off, at least until he had some time to settle...time to separate himself from all the gore.
Buck watched him go, understanding the need. “What about someone we’ve overlooked?”
The snowstorm had ended, but sunlight still was months away from making a full appearance. The former resident of Hanson Alaska slipped out of his truck and took a deep breath, watching his breath crystallize and then fade. He’d miss the air, the cold refreshing smells, and the chill his lungs felt when he inhaled deeply. He’d even miss the lack of light. He enjoyed the nightlife—in more ways than one. After spending hours in front of his computer at home while running his home based business, he needed some free time—and he got it with a woman friend.
It would be a climate change, as well as culture shock, when he made his final move. Alaska to California would be more than he imagined. His eight-day trip had nearly sent him to the moon and back—seeing more skin than he did on cable TV. Not that he’d mind it, no, not at all. He enjoyed a plump puff of cleavage peaking up through a tight blouse as much as any man—at least any straight man. He’d tried to get married—several times, but for reasons he cared not to explore he’d never taken the plunge.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t good looking, on the contrary. He stood over six feet with broad muscular shoulders and a narrow waist. He spent his mornings working out in his own home gym, just trying to keep a youthful appearance. At forty-three, he could easily pass as someone in their late thirties, and he never bothered to correct a wrong assumption.
He shut the door to his truck after grabbing his luggage and headed toward his house, anticipating a comfortable night’s sleep in his bed. The more he thought about it, the more he couldn’t wait to pack up and leave, maybe then his life would change for the best. Maybe then he could get married and have a family.
“It’s Jack,” he smiled, quickly settling himself after being startled, “until I make my move.” He slapped his good friend on the shoulder, and motioned with his hand as an invitation to go inside.
“No, I just stopped by to see how things went in San Diego?” He pulled on the sleeves of his jacket and looked around, noticing the faint glow of light from the surrounding homes.
“I got the job,” Jack replied. He set his bag on the step and looked around, trying to seek out what had captured his friend’s attention. “You sure you don’t want to go inside?” He blew into his gloved hands, trying to warm his fingers.
“Why not, it’s freezing out here.”
Jack stuck his keys into the door and grabbed his suitcase. “Saw Christina Aguilara on the plane—blew me away—and her ass really is as great as it looks on TV.” He set his luggage in the hall next to the entry dresser. “You should see all those tanned bodies in California, and talk about boob jobs…whoopee, damn near had to have my jaw sutured shut.”
“I bet,” came the lackadaisical reply. With the finesse of a ballet dancer, he pulled out of his coat pocket a small black tranquilizer gun, the hammer already pulled back and ready to fire. He held it in his hand like an old familiar stress ball. “Hey, John?”
“Jack,” he corrected, turning and noticing for the first time his mail on the floor next to the door. He’d have to pick that up and organize it before bed.
“You still hunt?”
“You know I do,” John replied, looking in question at his friend who smiled. “Hell, I’m ready to go with you this weekend if you want.”
“Good.” He raised his hand for Jack to see the weapon and fired.
“What the hell…?” he gasped, falling into the entry table behind him. He pulled the dart from his arm, and watched in curiosity as his vision blurred and the dark took on unfamiliar shapes.
The friend shook his head and quickly replaced his gun in his pocket. He moved as though he were in a comfortable setting, as though this was something he was used to. “You’ve always been a good friend to me, John, always thought of you as someone I could trust—someone I could turn to in times of trouble…and to be blunt, I’m in a little trouble now.” He squatted next to Jack. “I need your help.”
Buck tossed the pillow onto his bed and listened as JD continued to click his computer. “Find anything we can use?”
JD shyly shook his head. “No, I’m playin’ Yahoo games.”
Buck raised his eyebrows and nodded in understanding. It seemed like a good escape. “What game?”
“Noah’s Ark—I’ve made it to Super Beastmaster…I have to get to 9,999,999 in order to make it to the next level.”
“How many points are you short?” He flopped back onto his bed and grabbed a file.
“About seven million.”
Buck shook his head and chuckled, “Good luck.”
JD turned suddenly. “Why would someone want to kill these kids?”
“—I mean, what is it about young, good looking, energetic, driven, smart kids that would drive someone to kill them?”
“I don’t know, JD,” Buck replied, realizing the kid was more upset by this case than anyone of them had first thought. “What’s botherin’ you?”
“I just don’t understand it—what would make these kids so appealing?”
“Why don’t you ask Ezra?”
“Hell, he’ll just think I’m bein’ stupid.” He turned back to his game.
“No,” Buck sighed, getting to his feet, “he won’t.” He slipped his pants up past blue boxers and grabbed JD’s shoulder. “Let’s go talk to him.”
Vin sat backwards in his chair with his arms resting across the back. He watched as Nathan tried once again to make sense of the images that exposed the bodies of four innocent victims. He looked exhausted, and sitting for long hours in a chair inspecting photos that had been taken by the devil himself only accentuated his despair.
Josiah and Chris continued with their list making on a large white-board they’d ‘borrowed’ from the sheriff. One side held the victims, the other side the suspects. The more they analyzed the more suspects they created. Ezra continued to stand near the window, watching, listening, and trying to solve the puzzle with his already overworked mind.
Nobody had slept, and despite the hour of eight in the morning, the lack of sunlight had everyone in a fog of days. It was easy to understand how time could be lost in a place like this. They all felt the hours that had passed in their bones, but their desire to find a killer continued to drive them.
The door to the room burst open and Buck, wearing only jeans pulled a reluctant JD into the room. “He needs to vent,” he said, tossing himself onto Chris’ bed as though a movie were about to start.
“I just don’t understand,” JD admitted, feeling like a grade-schooler in pre-calculus.
“None of us understand,” Chris sighed, tossing a black marker onto to the counter next to the TV. “We’ve been in here all night trying to make sense of this.”
JD picked at his thumb nail and grabbed a seat next to Vin. “I don’t understand why anyone would purposely pick out these kids?”
“He’s an organized offender, JD,” Ezra answered, “he knows what he wants, and just like you would purchase a new game or a stereo system—”
“—But these are people, not games.”
“To you—they’re people, but to him they’re games.”
“But why here? Why in the middle of fucking nowhere?” JD gasped, kicking the nightstand next to Chris’ bed.
“Because he can,” Ezra replied. “The images we’ve been looking over exhibit someone extremely comfortable in their environment. He’s not threatened there—and he knows nobody is going to find him. He wants to prove his superiority by evading us; throwing the crimes—that we don’t have physical evidence of—in our faces, in essence, proving to us that he can’t be caught. He’s so incredibly organized that I believe, he’s done this on a regular basis for many years. We don’t even have a current list from VICAP in regards to missing persons from other countries—what about Canadians? He’s got us in a corner and we don’t have a weapon to fight back with.”
“What if we just start haulin’ people in,” Vin suggested, frustrated with the situation. “Someone’s gotta talk.”
“We could,” Chris said, having wanted to avoid that situation, but willing to perform it.
“To what end?” Josiah challenged. “If we start bringing people into the sheriff’s department, we’ll notify everyone about the case—more than what they already know. And,” he sighed, “we don’t have enough probable cause to warrant any arrests—hell we don’t even have proof of bodies—”
“—We got the pictures!” JD snapped.
“We’ve got nothing,” Josiah replied. “Those pictures could have come from anywhere—someone could just be pulling our chains.” He stood up and reached for the coffee pot. “This whole thing could be a joke.”
“It’s not a joke,” Ezra said, he looked toward the window, keeping his arms crossed in front of his chest. “He’s here and he’s laughing his ass off.”
“We don’t have shit to go on,” Chris sighed, tossing a file onto the tabletop and then placing a hand over his front pant pocket and running the other through his hair. “Except the profile.” He looked at Ezra.
“The investigation has to precede the profile,” Ezra replied, keeping his eyes on the window. Whether or not he was actually looking through it or at it was a puzzle, and he made no effort to move or look away.
“So we’ve got shit,” Buck surmised. “Who fits the profile?” He ignored Ezra’s logic and moved to what they knew they’d need in order to find the killer.
Ezra turned while shaking his head. “I don’t like the idea of pinpointing a crime on someone without direct evidence.”
“Right now, Ezra, the only link to a killer is your idea of who he is…” Chris took a deep breath and continued, “…and I’m more than willing to run with it.”
“What if you’re wrong?”
“Then we’re wrong, but we won’t know until we try,” Chris argued. He grabbed the twelve-page profile that Ezra had written and started looking through it. “The man we’re after is older, late thirties to early fifties—”
“He’s closer to his early forties,” Ezra replied, looking more uncomfortable with the situation than Chris could have estimated. He rubbed the back of his neck, wishing the tension would fade.
“The profile’s wrong?” JD asked.
“No, but my gut instincts pull me toward someone of that age. He has an inferiority complex for people in position—that would include us. He’s not a failure—except in his own eyes. He’s lived a normal life for a long time and he’s had a chance to fine-tune his ability to manipulate, hide from, and con his fellow friends. He’s passive aggressive—as the images indicate—they also prove he has a desire for ritual...the way he’s treating the bodies: handling, cleaning, preparing. This guy’s behavior is a key in finding him. He’s very organized and slow to change…he wouldn’t do well under unexpected conditions. He’s fit, but not overly so. He’s married or been married and knows how to carry on regular relationships through example not through experience—”
“What’s that mean?” Buck asked, sitting up in his chair, paying closer attention.
“He grew up around people who were extremely good in social situations. He’s locked in a box and he’s killing because he knows he can’t get out of it. This guy’s been killing for a long time—we’ve only touched the surface of his ability and his desire to continue what he’s doing. He was never an overachiever, but he knows how to get things done. He takes a lot of pride in his appearance and his ability to act—to fool his friends into thinking he’s something he’s obviously not. The guy we’re looking for is nice—too nice, and he loves that game.” He sounded frustrated.
“What about his vehicle?” Buck grinned.
“Dark—blue, maybe green…and large enough to move bodies around in—perhaps a truck with a shell or a camper shell on the back. He doesn’t kill on the spot—I think he wants them to believe they have a chance to survive and then he kills them…perhaps like a hunter would stock their prey, or someone playing chess knowing several moves in advance that they’d won. He’s skilled…and I can’t stress it enough. The pictures were a way for him to jack-off, prove to us that there’s no way in hell he’ll get caught, and thus far he’s proven it.”
“So why’s he killing?” Nathan asked, confused as well as curious.
“Because it makes him feel powerful…” Ezra sighed and looked toward the floor, “…but I don’t think that’s the end of it…that’s why he’s not killing on a more regular basis. He’s getting his thrills from another source—this is something I’ve never seen before.”
“Could he be keeping them alive?” Nathan questioned again, seeing a bit of the logic. “Torturing them in some way, maybe for a long period of time?”
“I don’t know,” Ezra admitted. “He could be, but I think this’s done on a larger scale—he likes the idea of being known as something other than what he is—that’s where he gets his thrill.”
“So how could his friends and family be in on it?” JD asked, feeling as though they were covering ground for the first time.
“That’s if he’s got family,” Chris added.
“If he doesn’t now, he did—at least for a while. He’s too well socialized not have at least tried to act ‘perfectly normal’—at least in his eyes.”
“So, after Ezra’s profile…who does that leave us with?” Buck asked, looking at the list of suspects on the whiteboard.
“Red Keats is out of the picture,” Josiah said, grabbing the former baseball player’s file. “He’s thirty four, never married, and drives a black GMC 4x4.”
“Don’t count him out just because he doesn’t fit the profile to the exact tee…this isn’t an exact science and it should never take place of the investigation,” Ezra argued.
Chris took the file and tossed it aside. “What about David Sumners?” He picked up the small stack of papers that included the deputy’s past, including the unfilled reports by his wife in regards to battery.
“Too young, at least according to Ezra’s profile,” Buck replied, looking through the sheets of papers that had been littered with pen and pencil marks.
Ezra reached out and grabbed his coat. “I need some air,” he sighed, slipping his arms into the sleeves and heading out the door.
“What about Pat Brick?” Chris asked, knowing Standish was bothered, but he didn’t have time for it now.
“Not him,” Josiah said with a pronounced amount of authority. “He doesn’t even begin to fit…”
The room continued to rage with voices and the action of papers. Names were erased and added to the whiteboard. The profile—right or wrong, would be followed until all leads were left dry. Given Ezra’s past success with perpetrators, Chris had the utmost faith that a suspect would be singled out and would be arrested. At this point in time, that’s what they needed—what they all needed in order to get back to their normal lives. The complexity of the situation added with the lack of sunlight had everyone on edge—more so than normal and Chris wanted to get home…find a case they could sink their teeth into and not be consumed by.
Ezra stepped out of the lodge and looked at the crispness that the snow-cover allowed. The branches on the trees were weighted down, looking brittle against the thickness of snow. The ground glittered in sections as the bright moon shone down, looking more like a curvature of Swiss cheese than he could ever remember. Despite the darkness, it supplied enough light to see by.
He started toward town on foot, not a long distance, but enough to remind him why he should have driven. He needed the air, despite the cold, and the time to think freely and without complications. The air bit at his cheeks, chin, and forehead, causing his normal healthy luster to blotch; paling in sections while leaving others bright red and purple. With glove covered hands he reached down and formed a snowball, grasping a part of his past he’d so long tried to forget.
Having been born in the Deep South, snow had not been something he was familiar with…at least until his 13th birthday when his mother, recently widowed, needed a change in scenery. Maude Standish had packed up her son and their few belongings and headed toward New York, a place known for its nightlife and overwhelming potential. She’d loved it, or at least the men it supplied. She’d married in less than a month and moved further north to Syracuse where her new husband owned and operated a marketable business and ran a large horse farm.
It had been the first time that 13 year-old Ezra had seen or been around snow—and at first he couldn’t get enough. Snowmen, forts, snow angels, and snowball fights became his outdoor obsessions…and it had been the first time since the death of his father that the introverted adolescent became extroverted. His grades improved in school and he’d joined the basketball and the debate teams.
Ezra brought the snowball to his face and took a deep breath, smelling the moisture and the faint scent of mint. He threw it at the stop sign that was practically hidden by snow. He hit it and smiled. His baseball years had been good ones. He stuck his hands back into his pockets and looked around the town, watching the movement of citizens and the normality of it. It was a simple life without the rushing of D.C. He could enjoy a town like this—maybe a nice place to visit without the haunting of crimes. There was a part of him that appreciated the solitude and reverence of the wilderness, while at the same time enjoyed the hubbub of the big cities.
He watched and smiled when a group of young people ran toward a cul-de-sac, one of two the town had. He watched as streetlights lit the ground and amplified a couple of yards full of snowmen. They seemed more symbolic of the town and its people than the citizens themselves. The snowplow had created barriers of snow that reached nearly four feet in height. It had covered a car; only the aqua blue paint from the mirror was visible.
Christmas decorations were just beginning to make their appearance, and likewise, Thanksgiving decorations were coming down. A couple of children hid behind the snowmen that were larger than Ezra had ever seen before. Most wore hats ranging from cowboy styles to baseball. The children dodged from one snowman to another: laughing, screaming, and teasing.
Without realizing it, Ezra was slowly walking toward the scene. The homes would be a sight to see come spring after the snow melted. Though most of the drapes were pulled, movement was evident through shadows. A man, covered head to foot with heavy clothing, ran his snow blower up and down his sidewalk and driveway. A large white 4x4 diesel truck parked inside the garage. He stopped and waved when he saw Ezra walking up the road, but he quickly continued with his work. Smoke slipped from chimneys and disappeared into the darkness. Ezra could hear a radio and a TV blaring, someone was singing—a woman, and the children continued to laugh and play around the snowmen, a few tried to build one of their own. They couldn’t match up to the caliber of those that decorated the large lawn at the end of the road.
A couple of kids rushed across the street in front of Ezra and tackled each other in the snow. “Sorry, mister,” they called, before taking off again and jumping into another yard.
Beyond the homes to the north were trees and mountains covered in snow. Dark splotches marred the sides, offering evidence of caves and cliffs. Ezra could imagine large herds of elk and moose within the refuge and he admired the local residence in the area for their willingness to live together with the wildlife.
“You lost?” a man yelled from his garage door. He stepped out wearing heavy boots, a coat, and scarf. His hands were covered with thick black gloves and a stocking cap covered the top of his head. He smiled, exposing bright white teeth and rose colored rounded cheeks.
“Looking at your snowmen—they’re quite amazing,” Ezra replied, stepping closer to one that was decorated with colored rocks being used like buttons on a coat.
“Started building these things quite a few years ago—just became a hobby of mine.” He smiled more and reached out and scooped up a handful of snow then quickly repaired a small section of a snowman that the children had roughed up. “The kids get a little carried away at times,” he supplied happily, “but it gives them something to do.”
“You must be one of the FBI agents that are here helping Sheriff Ford with some of his cases?”
Ezra furrowed his brow. Ford needed to learn how to keep his mouth shut!
The man laughed and shook his head. “I can tell by your clothes that you’re not a hunter and,” he pointed toward Ezra’s boots, “you’re lacking one of the most fundamental boot rules.”
“There’re boot rules?” Ezra asked.
“Sure as shit. Always buy boots two sizes too large…that way you can layer your socks without killing your feet—and, make sure they’re insulated other than just socks—you fail on both counts,” he replied, reaching out with his right hand to shake Ezra’s, “Craig Overton, I’m the principal at Hanson High—I also teach Math and History.” He chuckled, watching a few of the local kids duck and roll.
“Ezra Standish,” came the friendly reply. He shook Craig’s hand and then shoved his own back into his coat pockets. “Are you the one that does all the snowmen in town?”
Craig laughed and shook his head. “Peterson and I compete for the privilege each year.” He pointed to the yard across the street. “Ron Makin’s been doing it with us for a long time…during the festival we enter three to five snowmen… Ol’ Mic, he usually kicks our asses, but it’s fun trying to compete. You should get down to his place before you head out of town. It’s just a couple miles down the road—can’t miss it, about 30 different snowmen in his yard.” He looked up and noticed the lack of stars shinning in the sky. “You should get back…we’ve got a storm coming up—you know where you’re going?”
Ezra smiled and nodded. “It’s not far.”
“I’ll see you around.”
Ezra nodded and started walking toward the lodge.
Chris grabbed his coat and slipped out of his room. He needed sometime to think and preferably alone. The others, less Ezra, were still inside analyzing the case, going over any and all information they had gathered over the past week. He’d realized, since staying in town, that people came here for the fresh air, friendly people, and the Northern lights—not the hunting. Though, there was plenty of game, the cold usually won out. Hunters that had purchased enough cold weather gear usually stayed inside the lodge and told hunting stories that eventually they’d share with their families as their own…it was an obtuse circle that would never end.
Chris walked down the hall and heard the roars of laughter coming from the lounge. The pool table was being used as well as the dartboard. Ice clanged in glasses as the waitress moved from table to table, refilling orders and egos.
He looked up and spotted Ezra coming in through the front door. Snow had speckled his shoulders and hat. The cold had done a number on his cheeks, and the tip of his nose. He stomped on the mat, dumping the snow off his boots before unbuttoning his jacket.
“You go for a walk in this?” Chris asked, looking out the window toward the town as snow continued to fall.
“Needed the air,” Ezra replied, having removed his hat, gloves, and heavy coat.
Chris nodded and rubbed his face, pausing at his chin. He looked up, allowing his hand to fall to his side. “You want to go with me? I’m heading over to Jack Cartel’s place...see if maybe he’s made it home from California.”
“So you’ve narrowed the suspect list down by using the profile?”
“It’s all we’ve got.” The disappointment and frustration in Chris’ voice was enough to warrant justification for using the profile against FBI regulations...anyone would.
Ezra nodded and rubbed the back of his neck with his left hand, feeling as though he may be catching the flu. He looked up, knowing they had nothing else to go on. There wasn’t a shred of proof other than the pictures that someone had indeed been killed: no body, no physical evidence, and no suspect coming forward. Ezra couldn’t help but feel as though the case was real, as though someone was toying with them—causing them the frustration because they enjoyed watching—like a bad porno.
Ezra slipped back into his jacket. “I’m ready.”
Chris nodded and headed for the door...it was the encouragement that he needed.
Jack Cartel’s home was located just beyond the town limits. His property, a full square mile of hills, trees, and snow, had been acquired by his father, a wealthy businessman who had thought about retiring at sixty-five—he never made it. The land went dormant for nearly ten years before Jack moved north with the plan of fixing it up and selling it. Instead he’d fallen in love with it and decided to stay. Successful in his own right, Jack had created an online brokerage firm and literally worked from his bedroom. He was known to fly to California and New York for business ventures, but he’d never been known to stay long.
He’d been a socialite in college, and had lived with his parents until he’d graduated. It had been a choice he’d wanted to make, believing firmly in saving money where it could be saved—his parents agreed. He’d never married, but had been engaged until his move to Hanson. His girlfriend of 3 years had immediately left him, preferring the sun of Florida opposed to the snow of Alaska. There hadn’t been anyone serious since.
He was known for frequenting Tonya’s home, having purchased the home she was living in and for causing her two unwanted abortions. Pregnancy for a prostitute was not prosperous, and her need for cash outweighed her need for family. Jack had supported her decisions, surprisingly so, raising questions in not just Chris’ eyes, but Sheriff Ford’s as well.
The house rested at the edge of the property, overlooking several homes in a nearby neighborhood. Apparently Cartel liked to be seen.
Chris stepped out of the truck and headed toward the house. Fresh snow had covered any signs of tracks, but there were significant indentations in the driveway, perhaps someone had stopped by—or maybe Cartel was home.
Ezra followed, looking closely at the condition of the house and its distance from town. He noticed the drapes were drawn.
Chris knocked on the door and waited. He peaked through the glass, but didn’t see anything. He knocked again and then reached for the doorbell. “If he’s not here—”
Ezra reached out and turned the doorknob. “It’s open,” he said, swinging the door. He stepped inside the foyer. “Mr. Cartel,” he yelled.
“You’re goin’ to get shot one of these days, Ezra,” Chris said with a long sigh. He followed him inside and looked carefully at the appearance of the home.
The temperature read 60 degrees, just enough to keep the pipes from freezing and the windows from mildewing. The style was old, classic 70s, but it served its purpose. Ezra walked up the short staircase and noticed the antique entry table. The photos atop it were framed in wood and metal. The glass in one was broken, split from the top right to the bottom left.
They both continued through the house, calling and searching for anything that would show them who Jack Cartel actually was. Like most bachelor pads, the home was minimally designed. Few pictures decorated the walls and in sections the paint had chipped, signs of neglect. The refrigerator was filled with wine, a catsup bottle, mustard, and a jar of pickles. Moldy bread rested on the counter next to the empty coffee pot, and cans of soup sat organized by the sink.
“Don’t think he’s been here in a while,” Chris said, exiting the kitchen and heading into the living room where Ezra was searching. It was uncanny, watching him. Without regard to what he was looking through he felt, smelled, and stared at things Chris thought to be minimal. Ezra continued, obviously not caring what anyone would think. He noted the framed posters on the walls. Salvador Dali’s, The Persistence of Memory, hung above the sofa, cheaply framed and exhibited, reflecting bad taste rather than deep thought.
Chris watched, finding it strange, educating, and informative that the man Travis had chosen to be on his team was as tedious and organized as the men he hunted. Perhaps that is what made him so good. Ezra didn’t rush, didn’t look back to see if he was being watched—he did his job, searching for clues that would lead them to the suspect. At times it was eerie, watching and listening as Standish talked his way through a crime scene, or a profile. It was unnerving to feel as though he was being looked through, rather than looked at.
“Then why was the door open?” Ezra asked, never turning from his position next to the bookshelf.
“Small town, everybody knows each other,” Chris replied, heading toward the bedrooms—needing a break.
Ezra moved toward the entry table looked at the three photos. The image with the broken glass was of a young woman. She looked happy sitting beside a golden retriever. Perhaps it was Cartel’s sister. The other two images were of Jack himself, one of his graduations from high school and the other from college.
Chris exited the bedroom and quickly handed Ezra a handful of papers. “Airline ticket stubs,” he said. “According to those, Jack Cartel’s been home for two days. Those were in a suitcase that had been shoved under his bed.”
Ezra looked at the papers and noticed the dates.
“He might be in hiding, especially if he heard the rumors that we were in town,” Chris said, rubbing his face before looking squarely at Ezra.
“What about the photographs?”
Chris shrugged: “Could have hired someone to do it.”
Both men reached for their weapons when they heard footsteps enter the home and rush up the stairs. Sheriff Ford raised his hands in submission and shook his head. Chris and Ezra replaced their guns.
“You boys need to relax,” Doug said, lowering his arms. “I got a fed-ex today. Turns out there were six fully matured hairs that match four of our missing victims on the samples you had me send to Seattle. They’re running a DNA sample for definitive matches, but they won’t have the results for 10 to 14 days.”
“The evidence is inadmissible,” Ezra said.
“But we know where to look,” Chris replied, taking the papers from Ezra’s hand. “How’d you know we were here?” he asked, looking toward Ford.
“This is Hanson, Agent Larabee, you shit someone knows about it.” He turned and headed back down the stairs. “You find out when Jack’s getting home?” He stood by the door and waited for them to exit the home.
“Yeah,” Chris replied, heading toward the truck.
Buck sat on the chair next to the window and moved slowly while opening the paper surrounding his roast beef on white. He had it filled with pickles, onions, lettuce, mayonnaise, mustard, and an overabundance of vinegar. Damn, if it didn’t smell like heaven. He looked toward JD’s turkey on rye, and Nathan’s tuna on wheat. Who in the hell ordered tuna by choice? That was something college kids ate because they had to, not because they wanted to. Josiah worked on a veggie and cheese—extra cheese. He wasn’t a vegetarian, but he wasn’t in the mood to eat meat at the moment. Vin continued to work on his meatball sandwich with extra sauce, as usual; three napkins had been balled up and were covered in red-sauce—as well as the corners of his mouth.
JD took a long pull from his 32oz bottle of soda and looked out the window toward the street. He moved to the side when Ezra and Chris joined the rest of them, both with sandwiches of their own.
“So what’s the plan?” Buck asked, before taking a bite out of roast beef on white. Like a succulent breast, he closed his eyes and cherished every morsel.
JD choked back a laugh. “You need a room, Buck, or are you satisfied fully dressed?”
Buck hummed while he chewed, then licked his fingers and his lips. “It’s a damn good thing you’re sittin’ across from me, kid...otherwise, I’d have my foot shoved so far up your ass you’d be chewin’ rubber.”
“There could be a double meaning in that,” Ezra replied, failing to keep his smile hid.
“No shit,” Vin chuckled, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
“What about the evidence?” Josiah asked, pushing his food tray away from the edge of the table.
“Proof that anyone who’s been on that property’s had access to the victims—at least four of them,” Chris responded.
“We’ve correlated the list of names from the list Peterson gave us of renters and hunters. Narrowing down the time of disappearances to the rental dates we’ve got approximately three names, and only one fits the profile.” Nathan tossed his notepad on the table.
“Jack Cartel,” Chris said, looking toward Ezra. “He could be in hiding?”
Ezra didn’t say anything.
“What?” Josiah asked, knowing there was something more.
“There’s evidence that Cartel is back in town—though, we don’t know where,” Chris answered, losing his appetite.
“You think someone’s hiding him?” Nathan asked, feeling as though they had a definitive lead.
“That’s our best guess this far,” Chris replied, looking at the customers sitting at their tables and enjoying there meals, all were seemingly clueless about the madman within their community. But then again, he sighed, one of them could be him.
The bell above the door chimed and Cooper Malone walked in, wearing a heavy, high collared winter coat and a bright orange hat, obviously more suited for hunting. He waved toward the table filled with FBI agents and then took a seat at the far end of the store. He sat with Harvy Dempsy from the garage and immediately started talking like two old friends over coffee.
Sheriff Ford soon followed, getting a large cup of soup from Micky and then grabbing a spoon from the dispenser. He looked content, despite the severity of the situation.
“You boys doing alright?” Doug asked, opening his coat just slightly. He stood near the edge of the table and waited for an answer.
Chris leaned back in his seat and motioned for Ford to join them. “If someone wanted to hide in this town—where would they go?”
The sheriff grabbed a seat and set his soup and spoon on the table. “Up here,” he sighed, “you’re not going to hide anyplace cold. The weather will kill you before anything else. It would have to be someplace warm. There’re a few cabins up on the range north of here, but if he’s there he won’t be back until late spring after the thaw, and even then he’ll have trouble crossing the passes. There’s the schoolhouse, but with traffic in and out all day it would be difficult to stay hid.” He shrugged and dumped his spoon into his bowl of soup. “I can’t say for sure who’d hide who, but it is feasible. You have an idea of someone whose hiding?” He stood and walked to the bar and retrieved several packages of crackers and retook his seat.
Ezra looked from Ford to Malone and Dempsy, feeling as though something wasn’t right—like a gut feeling that wouldn’t go away.
Chris sighed and nodded. “I think Jack Cartel’s in town—found his luggage at his place.”
“Jack wouldn’t hide,” Doug said firmly, unwilling to waver. “He’s arrogant, cocky, and so full of himself his mirror gets thankful when he leaves. Jack’s too damn flighty.” He shoved his crackers into his soup and pushed them around with his spoon before testing its temperature.
“Don’t eat that,” Ezra said, glancing from Dempsy to Malone to Peterson.
“Excuse me?” Doug asked, looking at the faces of the men sitting around the table.
“Don’t eat the soup.” Ezra stood and tossed his napkin onto the table and quickly exited the shop. He needed to get some fresh air and sort out all the emotions and thoughts that invaded his mind like a swarm of bees. At times the job became too intense: the images...the facts of what was happening.
Nathan reached out and took the Styrofoam bowl and quickly covered it with the plastic lid. “I’ll send this in.” He knew without instruction what had to be done, and he quickly followed Ezra from the building.
“What just happened here?” Doug asked, leaning forward to not draw attention to himself or the others.
“I think Ezra’s getting an idea of what’s going on in your town,” Chris supplied, forgetting about his sandwich and quickly following his men from the building, the others quickly joined…even the sheriff.
Peterson, Malone, and Dempsy watched the quick exit, but quickly went back to their talking.