Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 6 |
Chapter 7 - 10 |
Chapter 11 - 13
Chapter 14 - 16 | Chapter 17 - 19 | Chapter 20 - 22
A long, lingering kiss woke Kelli up. When she opened her eyes she looked in the bright blue ones of her husband. Vin Tanner, her husband.... Sometimes it still was too much to take in. Without saying a word she pulled him down in her arms and started kissing him back.
"Time ta go to work, Texas," Vin finally sighed, letting go of her reluctantly.
"Let's call in sick," Kelli said mischievously, brushing her red hair out of her eyes. "Morning sickness. Can't be cured, can only be endured by stayin' in bed together, for a long time, a very long time!" She pulled him down to kiss him again.
"To sleep?" Vin asked, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "Perhaps I'd better just close my eyes and go back to sleep, see 's I got this mornin' sickness? They say lots of sleep is important for the healin' process."
"Nope, sleep ain't what's gonna cure you!" Her hand started down his beautifully sculpted body, lower and lower... and lower. Vin yelped and jumped out of bed.
"Sorry Kel, but we really gotta go. If I let ya go on with that cure, we'll never get there!"
"Oh well," she sighed, knowing he was right. She jumped out and immediately raced for the bathroom. "Last one there makes breakfast!"
"Damn it Texas, ya don't play fair!"
"And I want decent coffee!"
"That's the only one I make, real coffee, not that dishwater swill!"
"Oh you!" Truth was Kelli didn't mind so much anymore. She was starting to get used to the very strong brew Vin made and even felt a bit groggy if she had to start the morning with a normal cup of coffee.
Soon both were tending the horses and then left for the office. Chris was already gone, Vin told her. Some meeting with the brass. When she asked Vin about it, he just shrugged.
"They wanna hear 'bout our first case. Go figure, the brass always wanna talk, talk, talk! I'm just glad that Chris handles that part of the job." That last statement was said with some force.
"I don't know Tanner," she couldn't help teasing him. "I think you'd look real good, sitting before a committee in a smart suit, that unruly hair of yours in a neat pony tail for a change, smiling up at them." Teasingly she grabbed his long brown curls and pulled them back. Nibbling the part of his neck that came visible by her action, she whispered. "And what a great smile it is too!"
"Kelli! I'll get ya for that!"
They almost ended up in the hay, but as captain of the task force, Vin might still come in wearing jeans, being all covered in hay would be stretching it. So in the end they behaved, barely.
The drive to Denver was done in companionable gossip about the family and speculations about Chris' en Linda's weekend. When asked at the Sunday dinner, Chris had only smiled and had stopped Linda talking about it with a kiss every time. It didn't phase Kelli. "She'll tell me," she grinned at Vin.
"Texas, you're bad! You know he don't want others goin' on 'bout his business!"
"It'll just be girl talk," she declared innocently.
"Yep, you're bad!"
Once they had reached the office they went their separate ways and Kelli found herself doing what the rest did, trying to get through heaps of paper. Their task force was still too fresh to have other cases going already. At this time they were reviewing the files of the cases that had come their way and were starting to put things in motion. There was a huge difference between the new agents and the old Team Seven members, Kelli noted. Where she and the other new members were working themselves through files and trying to find clues on how to proceed, those of the old Larabee gang were hanging on the phone or typing away furiously on their computers. Ezra was just putting his receiver down after his third animated phone call, when Reed suddenly exploded.
"This isn't why I signed on! What the hell is this cra
"Let me see...." Ezra rolled his chair backwards until he was close to Reed's desk and tilted his head. He looked at the pile in front of Reed and smiled his enigmatically smile. "I would gather that you are looking through all the old cases the Denver PD has thrown on our desk. Cases that have to do with.... Ah, I see. It is not strictly from the Denver PD at all, it has to do with traffic in our surrounding areas?"
"Why the hell would I have to look through this?"
"Because it's too old to be in the digital files," JD noted distracted. He was working at the computer set up that was his and Pam's baby. "Pam and me are going to use it to try and set up a program to predict flight routes from every major city."
"Then you and Pam can work through this!"
"You wanna refuse work, Reed? I can give you a leave of absence without pay until you decide to do your job." There was nothing friendly in Vin's voice or in his stance. He was looking at Reed from his office door.
"You need a secretary to do this job, not someone like me! I'm a policeman, damn it, not a god damn clerk!"
"You are under orders," Vin said coolly. "Now get to it or leave." With that he dismissed Reed and went to the corner where Paul and Justin were sitting, sweating over their own assignment. Soon he was helping them.
Kelli didn't like the look Reed was sending Vin's way at all, or the muttered "damn Larabee lackey!" She saw that Ezra had heard it too in the rigid stance he suddenly had. Like her he chose to ignore the remark and went back to his own work.
Both knew it wouldn't end with this.
+ + + + + + +
It was late morning when Chris finally made it back to the office. He looked worn out and his face became like stone when the members of his chosen family called out to him, asking how things had gone at the meeting. All except JD, who was hunched over his new toy with Pam. The two didn't look up or react to anything.
Chris just waved them all off, not commenting and came to Kelli's desk, offering her a small piece of paper. When she looked at it, she saw that it had an e-mail address on it.
"Walter would love to hear from you, Kel. Just email him and take it from there," Chris smiled.
"Oh Chris, thanks! I will, as soon as I get back from lunch!"
"Good. Say hello to Linda for me, will you? Have fun." He walked to his office, completely ignoring the fuming Reed who had been throwing murderous looks his way.
He looked really tired, Kelli noticed. She was going to warn Linda that Chris had had a rough morning and might want some fun company tonight.
"Back from lunch? I didn't know we were gonna go out to eat somthin'?" Vin asked teasingly behind her. "We better get goin' then. I'd like a pizza."
"Oh Vin, you know very well that Tuesday is the day I lunch with Linda! And nope, you and Chris still ain't invited, we decided even before you and me got married that we better keep at least one appointment a week without you guys, so we can keep our friendship intact. Without you two meddling!"
Vin laughed. "You just wanna talk 'bout us, admit it!"
"Yep, compare kissing techniques, and places where you guys are ticklish. And talk 'bout sizes of course!" To her immense delight that made Vin blush furiously. Laughing she took her coat and was gone out of the door, completely ignoring the dark look Reed was sending her. Just before she left she looked once more at her husband. He was being ganged upon by Buck and Ezra, who had immediately seen that their friend had been blushing, an advantage they were not going to lose. She grinned back at his pleading eyes and blew him a kiss. The look in those blue eyes went immediately from pleading to promising dire retribution.
Oh, she was already looking forward to that!
Linda wasn't looking very happy when she finally made it to the Street Mall and the small outdoor bistro they had picked for their lunches. The enormous heap of shopping bags wasn't a very good sign either. It seemed that Linda had been doing some serious shopping and most of the time that spelled trouble.
When Kelli walked over to her best friend, she noticed a man sitting at one of the small round tables. He was eyeing Linda in a way Kelli definitely didn't like. Shooting him a dark look she hastily went to sit with her friend.
"Hey girl, what's up? That guy botherin' you?"
"Guy? What guy?"
"The one over there who was staring at you. Oh, he just left."
"Didn't notice him," Linda dismissed the man. It didn't bother her in the least if someone had been staring, she was used to it. The two ordered lunch and soon Kelli was eating her chicken filled wraps with extra melted cheese and sour cream with relish, while Linda was picking at her tuna fish salad. Between her bites Kelli told her friend about the way Chris and Vin were handling Sam Reed, the ass of the office. It hardly coaxed a reaction out of her friend. Finally she shoved her plate away in exasperation.
"What's wrong with you Linda? You hardly said two words! This way I'd been better off eatin' with some of the guys and girls from the office!"
Linda gazed up from her salad, looking a bit confused. "Eh... what? Oh Kelli, I'm sorry! I was just thinking. When you started to talk about Chris and Vin, I...., my mind wandered." Her eyes returned to observing her plate.
"Just tell me, Linda. What's buggin' ya? Don't forget, I've seen that look before. Something is runnin' circles in your mind and that means you're gonna worry at it until you bleed from it. Now, what's wrong?"
"Not... wrong, exactly." Linda got a haunted look in her eyes. "Kelli, things between me and Chris, they are great, they really are! He makes me feel.... I've never met anyone like him before and no one has ever made me feel this way. We had such a great weekend, the best! But...."
"You're going to think I'm silly. We talked about it before and I could see that you didn't find it a big deal at all."
"Didn't find what a big deal? Linda, don't make me drag every word out of you, ya won't like the result and you know it! Wait, talked 'bout it before.... Is this about that connection those two have again?"
"It's just.... Kelli, doesn't it bother you that they are so close that they practically seem to feel where the other is and what he does? I mean, I thought I was close to Chris, but he seems so much closer to Vin. He knows when Vin is coming over for coffee, but not that I've woken up! He just looks at Tanner and they grin like mad about some joke and I practically have to spell out what I mean sometimes! I mean, where does that leave us, you and me?"
"I don't know 'bout you Linda, I ain't you, but it leaves me right where I wanna be, at the side of the most wonderful man I've ever known, someone who manages to make me feel good 'bout myself and my life for once! And I'm not gonna begrudge that special man the most wonderful friendship in his life. It's their friendship and it doesn't diminish what Vin and I have in any way. Why can't ya just be glad for Chris that he has such a friend? I don't know all of it, Vin won't tell 'cause Chris really doesn't like other people talking 'bout his life, but I do know he's had it rough and somehow it was Vin who pulled him through. And I do know for a fact that Vin feels his life wasn't right until he met Chris, Chris turned his life around. The others of the team, the family, they're part of that as well."
"I... I don't know.... It's just so strange, not what I would have expected when I finally found someone I can really love and really want to spend my life with. I had expected that I would be the one closest to him."
"Linda, I think you are, together with Vin. You two are the closest people to him in his life. Like I know that I'm the closest person to Vin, together with Chris. Don't matter to me that Chris is there as well. People can love more than one person you know."
"I don't know if I can see it that way. And I have ghosts to battle as well here, Kelli."
Kelli sucked in her breath. "You mean Sarah and Adam? Don't tell me you're jealous of them too!"
That brought a spark of anger to Linda's eyes. "Jealous? Who's talking about jealous? I think it's wonderful that a man can love so deep, so totally. It's one of the things I love so much about Chris, that once he has given his heart he won't take it back! Ever! No, the battle is not in his love for them, but in the fact that he feels so guilty about their deaths!"
"He does? But why? What I know is that they were killed in a car bomb. There was nothin' he or anyone else could 've done."
"A car bomb meant for him, Kelli. He feels that they are dead because of him and that he has failed them, failed to protect them."
Kelli shook her head. She thought about Chris and how he was the quietest man she had ever known, Vin included. Was this the reason for his quietness, some inner pain he was carrying? She'd always felt that Vin was quiet as a part of his nature, his soul and that it was somehow different for Chris. Linda had said once that Chris wasn't quiet with her and that they talked a lot.
"All I know is that you got through his defenses Linda, that he has let you into his heart. I only have to see the look in his eyes when he watches you and I know that that is true. So why do you mind his friendship with Vin? Why?"
"I... I don't know Kelli. I just don't know. Maybe because he won't ask me to marry him, only to spend the weekends. He feels he doesn't have more to give."
Kelli smiled. "Not everyone goes at it within a few days, Linda, you know that. Like Vin, knowin' within a few days that he wanted to marry me and sweepin' me off my feet. If the love is there, why does it matter that it takes Chris a bit longer?"
"Yes, yes I guess you're right." Linda smiled and the far away look in her eyes made Kelli realize that she was elsewhere with her thoughts.
"Goin' to share?" she asked teasingly.
Now Linda blushed. "Just something that happened during the weekend."
"Ah, the camping trip! You know, you haven't told me anything 'bout that yet, 'bout what you two 've been doing! Come on, I'll walk ya to your car and I want all the juicy details!"
"Oh you! Alright, I'll give you juicy details! Enough to make your ears burn!"
Laughing together the two friends left the Street Mall.
+ + + + + + +
She had been perfect, really perfect! But he wasn't going to follow her now that the other one, the redhead, had seen him stare. Too dangerous!
Too bad though. That swirling hair... not as long as his latest prey, but cut really nice and dancing around her. That lithe body, so full of grace! Clothes that screamed wealth and sophistication! And green eyes, he had seen it, she had green eyes as well, just like his first kill!
Oh, she would have made a second perfect prey. He just knew she would have. Waiting in the shadows hadn't helped though. She didn't leave alone, she left with the redhead. He hated that redhead!
It didn't matter. He would see her again around here, she looked like the shopping type. He would keep his eyes open for her. Maybe she wouldn't be his second prey, but she could still be his third. She looked wealthy enough to have some residence outside the city.
He licked his lips in anticipation and then he walked off. He might go to the campus, look at the young students there. Or he could stroll down Civic Center Park. Yes, he would start there, at the park. Maybe see the dome of the Colorado State Capitol City inside.
He liked this city, he really did. Perfect hunting grounds....
Damn that Buck, Vin thought annoyed while he made his way to Chris' office. Trust that idiot to catch him blushing and directly jump all over him about it. And damn Ezra for jumping right in with Buck and start teasing him about his nights with his wife.
It wasn't that he minded some rowdy talk, hell, he could go at it as bad or even worse as the next guy. But that was just it, that was with the guys! To hear a teasing remark like that come out of Kelli's mouth when they weren't alone but surrounded by lots of other people, that was different!
He was going to make her pay for that tonight, he decided with a feeling of satisfaction.
Without knocking he barged right into Larabee's office. He didn't need to knock, Chris already knew he was coming. Well hell, with his best friend radiating that much tension, of course he was coming! It was surprising that no one else picked up on it!
"What is it, Chris?" he asked without delay. "What's eatin' you? Is it the meet from this morning? Was it bad?" He sprawled himself in the chair before Larabee's desk, showing his friend that he wasn't leaving without some answers.
Chris sighed. "One of the big shots of the CIA was there, Vin and someone from the Army as well."
Vin felt Chris hesitate and he knew immediately that it meant something to the blond that there had been high brass from the Army in the room.
"Those two weren't really that interested in the fact we cracked the case, they kept asking about discipline. Kept hammering on the fact that a new task force like this, with so many jurisdictions had to be led with enough discipline, or it could become a time bomb, an accident waiting to happen."
"Ouch! Reed? Is that what you're afraid of? That Reed isn't just after one of our jobs, he's also acting as some kind of spy for some of them higher ups?"
Chris sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Politics, Vin, those damn politics. MCAT can be a good thing, but the fight over it has already started."
"Yeah, was to be expected. It's one of the reasons I don't wanna sit where you're sittin', ever. Don't know how you put up with it."
Who says I put up with it?
Vin smirked. You didn't?
Oh yes, I did! Shoot, Travis will be pissed. In fact, I'd already expected his call.
At that moment the phone rang and Vin started to laugh. "That him, you think? Do you want me to take it and tell him you're out for lunch?"
"No, better get it over with." Chris picked up the phone and swiveled his chair away from Tanner.
The sharpshooter grinned. Yes, it was Travis alright.
"Yes Orrin, I know. I can understand they weren't too happy about it, but neither was I. Hey, I didn't call him that. Well, not exactly. Maybe I shouldn't really tell you what I said, I... What? Yeah, alright, I did say righteous pompous ass. That's because he didn't know what he was talking about, nothing wrong with pointing that out in my book! What? Nope, didn't say that either! If you must know, he started to bitch about how I'd better be scared of him and what he could do to my career... Yes Orrin, he said that! Anyway, that's when I told him there's a couple of ladies I'm scared of and he ain't one of them. So I guess I did call him a lady after all. I do have some agents here who would get real mad that he thinks it's an insult to be called a lady...."
Chris held the receiver further from his ear. Vin saw him wince and he couldn't blame his friend. Even he could hear Orrin Travis' voice make some choice remarks. Chris mumbled some yeses and nos after that and the call was over.
Very pissed? Vin thought, balancing his chair comfortably backwards on its two hind legs, propping his feet up on Chris' desk and completely ignoring Chris' glare at his cowboy boots resting where they shouldn't.
I've had worse.
It made Vin smile. He didn't doubt that for one minute. Chris smiled back, both of them enjoying their friendship for a moment.
"So, you gonna tell me what else is botherin' you about this meeting? What's got ya so troubled, Cowboy?"
"It's nothing but hunches right now, Vin. I don't want to go and spread hunches around."
Chris looked stubbornly back and didn't give an inch. Before Vin could think up his next tactic to make Chris speak, a tentative knock sounded on Chris' office door.
It was JD and the young man saw positively white.
"What is it, JD?" Chris asked, instantly worried. "Is something wrong with Casey? Didn't she have a physical this morning?"
"What? Oh, no, that's tomorrow. I eh... I think CASSIE found something Chris."
Chris sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "Great," he grumbled. "CASSIE, that's all I need. Well, spill it kid! What did she find? And don't give me a lot of humbug I can't make heads or tails of. Just plain and simple English, that'll do."
JD didn't even huff about the fact that after all these years and now with him being married and about to become a father, he was still called kid.
"Eh... I showed you yesterday how CASSIE can get into virtually any databank? What eh... what I didn't tell you is, that she's constantly comparing the data she finds with each other, showing us similarities and such, matches between cases or if specific dates keep popping up in regard to something suspicious. And... and... something came up out of that...."
"JD! Bottom line!"
JD licked his lips nervously. "Yeah, yeah alright. Bottom line.... I... I think we have a serial killer in town Chris. One who Pam and me think has been active for a lot of years now, all over the country."
Vin's chair crashed.
+ + + + + + +
Chris rubbed his face with both hands and again looked at the data CASSIE had collected. What a mess, what a fucking mess! The Denver police had pulled a body out of the water of the Platte yesterday, Monday, somewhere in the afternoon and later this morning all the details of the body had been filed in the databanks of the Denver PD. Where CASSIE had found it and immediately correlated it with all the other cases in all the other files all over America.
She had found countless matches and it made Chris feel sick.
"Why isn't this booked in VICAP, the FBI system for related crimes?" he asked angrily.
"It's just one murder of this type at every city, Chris," JD answered softly. "So every PD would think they only had one unrelated murder and those go in crimes unsolved. CASSIE looks at everything she can find. Actually, a few of them did end up in VICAP as well, so they are aware of him. It's just always one murder in a city though and so far they couldn't pin someone down on them."
"This is highly unusual," Josiah said softly, looking at the data. "Look at the pattern over these maps. One year here, next year miles and miles away here. Most serial killers roam a specific territory. This guy just... roams."
"Hell, maybe he takes vacations and that's his idea of fun," Buck said disgusted.
"Maybe." Josiah shook his head. "Only if that was the case, I would expect more killings at his chosen vacation spot."
"Ewh, that's gross!" JD looked away. The kid was proud of what CASSIE had managed to do, but it was clear that the idea of a serial killer on the loose in the well known streets of his own home town gave him the chills.
"So... what do we know?" Vin spoke softly from the spot by the window where he was standing, watching the streets below. He turned around and walked towards the white board. "Time to put it all down. JD?"
"Kind a victims, weapons he uses, that stuff."
"OH! I can do that! We can, can't we, Pam?"
"He uses a knife on his victims," Pam said softly. "And he cuts them, a lot. Forensic evidence indicates a big knife, like a big bowie knife. All his victims are female, slim, not too big, with long blond hair. Most of them have green eyes, but some have other eye colors. Seems like he prefers green, but sometimes it doesn't work that way. It's always beautiful young women with long blond hair. Although it's not always their natural hair color."
"So... slim, blond, green eyes," Vin was saying while he wrote it down on the white board.
"Like Linda...," Chris breathed. He felt even sicker when he suddenly had a vision of Linda being cut into, for days.... Two to three days that madman cut his victims, all of the forensic reports said the same. He looked up at the white board, where Vin was busy writing it all down. Then he ended with the last thing all the victims had in common as well, sexual assault.
"I want him!" Chris rasped. "I really want him. If we have to go nationwide, we will. We have the jurisdiction with MCAT to do that! I'll clear it with Travis. Alright, these charts you printed out, they are accurate? He's been in these cities and towns at the dates printed on them, right?"
JD and Pam nodded.
Chris stared morosely at the prints. "Set up a large map and show it the old fashioned way, with pins. I want to have a large, and I mean large, overall view. Helps seeing what's going on, how he maybe travels. Get different colors of pins for different years if that's doable."
While Pam was busy writing his wishes down, Chris was staring at the printed out maps. So many places, all with a young woman butchered to death. Young women like Linda.... He thought back on what Josiah had said, that it was an unusual pattern. Maybe they could read something from it. In that case they wanted it to be as thorough as they could.
"JD, have CASSIE get every other assault on women who fit this victim profile. Keep it to blond and green eyed for now, they seem to be his main target. Maybe there are victims out there who escaped and they can give us some information on this guy. And even if that's not the case, I want as thorough a picture as possible. Since he only kills once in a place, we need every bit of info we can get to find this guy's trail. When we have all we can get, Vin will take it from there. He's the best tracker we have."
"Tracker?" Pam asked confused. "Isn't that in the woods or something?"
"Naw, it's also piecing together what you can find 'bout a person, so you find out where you can get him. I done it for years as a bounty hunter. 'Course the big difference is that then I knew who I was huntin'. I wanna have Ezra on it too Chris, he's pretty good with this kind of stuff. While JD and Pam get more info, I think him and me should hit the streets, discreetly like."
"Good, fill him in. I'll talk with Travis first, then when JD and Pam have more information and the map set up, we'll notify the others. Josiah, you stay with them and look at what they find. You're going to be important in this." He looked at the five people in the room with him. "Let's make this unit worth the money people! MOVE!"
+ + + + + + +
After Chris had talked it over with Travis and had gotten the green light to pursue the killer, Buck and Vin had forced him to come with them for a very late lunch. There they had started about his weekend with Linda. It was the only topic that could distract Chris from his worries and from talking about the serial killer that had visited their town. Even if the only comments they got were angry glares and a blush from time to time.
All in all Vin and Buck at least had a great time and came back in high spirits, trying to trip each other through the whole office. By the time they got to the conference room set aside for this case, Chris was already sitting.
The conference room looked very different now. One wall was taken over by a huge chart of America, filled in with pins and even some little flags. In a corner JD and Pam had set up a terminal, so they could access CASSIE from here and the white board now held a lot more information than what Vin had written down on it. JD and Pam were fidgeting nervously at the terminal, while Josiah stood leaned against the big round conference table, arms crossed before him, staring at the white board.
"Howdie!" Buck boomed his greeting, pulling up a chair. "Who came in and killed your smiles?"
Vin took the chair beside Chris. Soon he was leaning on only two chair legs, feet on the table, crossed at the ankles.
"Comfortable, Vin?" Chris sighed.
You're just looking to fall on your ass again, pard.
Hey, I'm warned now!
Both looked at JD and Pam, and at Josiah's back. "Come on, spit it out! Did you guys find anything more?" Buck asked impatiently.
"Yeah, we did." JD looked at Pam and then he told them, "The killer is still here. If he sticks to his MO he'll kill two more women within the next two weeks before he leaves."
Only Chris' hand shooting out kept Vin from falling a second time that day.
+ + + + + + +
While Buck went to get the rest of the unit, Chris was making a phone call in the corner of the room. He didn't look too good and JD felt bad about that.
"Just do it Linda, please!" Chris' voice rose. "No, just stay on the ranch, can you do that for me? Yes, I'll explain everything tonight, I promise. I'll come over to you, alright, if I can. Yes, a new case. Linda, please stay out of Denver, for me!"
Chris' voice went back to a soft murmur and JD looked away from the tense back of his boss and friend. Thank God Casey didn't have blond hair and green eyes! It didn't keep him from being scared though. He wished this meeting was over and he could call her. He needed to talk to her, hear her cheerful voice. He hoped that he could go home tonight, that they weren't obliged to stay here on instant stand by like they had during their first case. He needed to be with her, hold her, feel her against him. He needed to hear her laugh.
One by one the other members of their task force entered the conference room, laughing and excited that they could stop with all the paper work, that they had another case already. Mark Westin's eyes became big and round when he took in the altered room, with its huge map full of pins and flags.
"Wow," he breathed. "Just like a war room!"
"A war room!" Buck grinned immediately. "You said it, partner! 'Cause it's a real war we're fighting here!"
Some ten minutes later all faces were looking grim.
"A serial killer, right here in Denver," Mark said softly.
JD smiled indulgently at the one year younger agent. Westin was the youngest member on the team now, the kid of the new bunch. JD was glad that he wasn't it any longer and he was confident that soon he wouldn't be called kid anymore.
"Yes, Mark," he decided to reassure the younger agent, "but don't worry, we're going to catch him and put a stop to those murders, starting right here in Denver. We'll catch him." He missed the amusement of the other former team seven members and Buck's guffaw.
"How did you find this out?" That was Justin.
"CASSIE found it out," JD told him proudly. Justin knew more than most of the team about CASSIE, since he and JD had been partnered during the case they had worked on last week. That maybe now he knew more about CASSIE than he had ever wanted to know never occurred to the proud JD, who had had a hard time talking about anything else in the weeks that he'd been working on the system. He looked back now at the terminal with a beaming face. Then he remembered the pictures he'd seen of the victims in the files CASSIE had accessed and nothing was funny anymore.
"She came up with a match between the body of a young woman who was found dead in the Platte yesterday and a whole lot of other young women murdered in the same way," Pam took over. "They were tortured with a knife for two to three days and then their throats were cut. They were also sexually abused. We found a lot of cities where a young woman was killed in exactly that way. Most forensic reports state that they think a Bowie knife was used, the one with a sawed edged part."
"We thought that was it, one kill in every city," JD cut in. "But eh... Well, Josiah said it didn't fit and then Chris asked us to match the type of girl that was killed to all cases CASSIE could access, to see if we could maybe find if there were a few who survived an attack and might be able to help us identify this killer. And we... we found something else completely."
JD fell silent. He didn't want to tell what they had found at all. Pam was staring at the table, also not liking what they had found. He looked at Josiah who looked gravely back. The profiler nodded and rose from his chair to stand beside the white board.
"What we found is, that in each city where one of the victims was killed the same way as the victim in Denver, within two weeks two more killings followed. They all fit the profile of very good looking, slim girls with long blond hair and most of the time green eyes. By the way, the victim found in the Platte has a name, Elena Whitaker."
JD saw Kelli start and look at Chris. "Like Linda?" she asked.
"Yes," Josiah confirmed. "We've been looking at the pictures in the case files and Linda fits the victim's profile."
"I've already called her and asked her to stay out of Denver," Chris told her.
"Good!" Kelli still seemed worried though.
"Josiah...." Chris nodded to the profiler. "Tell us why all those cases weren't linked until now."
"Because they all have a very different MO. The other two victims weren't killed the same way. The only thing in common is the type of victim. The trouble is that there are many young blond females in a city and having two killed in very different circumstances doesn't make you think that they are related. You look for similarities, but in these cases you don't find them. The third, well the third would have alarmed the authorities anyway, but that one is always done some miles outside the city, in the country side."
Chris blanched. Everyone knew he was thinking about the ranches that were miles out of the city. Vin shifted and Chris looked his way. The two stared at each other and then Chris seemed to relax some.
That's what Josiah had been waiting for to continue. "Whoever is doing this, he is clever and he makes sure that the third murder falls just in another jurisdiction, but is still close enough so he could use the city he started in as a home base for his hunt."
"Hunt," Reed said with disgust in his voice. "How can you call this a hunt? That's disgusting in my opinion! Besides, if these killings are so different, how can you connect them?"
"Every city that has been hit by the first murder, has had the second and the third follow within two weeks," Josiah said patiently. "The victims all fit the same profile. And the MO's fit."
"You said those MO's were all different!"
"I did, Sam," Josiah said calmly. "But they still fit. I didn't call this a hunt for nothing. To the killer this is a hunt, he is hunting and these women, all these young women are his prey."
"Tell us about the MO's," Chris said softly.
Josiah sighed and suddenly looked much older then his mid fifties. "They all relate to hunting. The first victim is butchered by a big hunting knife. It can be a bowie knife, but fact is, big chunks are cut out of her, the meat cut from her bones as it were. You have to understand, this is the first killing for him in some months, so he is frantic. He butchers his prey and makes sure there is a lot of blood."
Some of the agents had turned white.
"With the second murder, it's different," the profiler continued. "He is calm, tranquil even. The desperate frenzy for the kill is appeased and he goes for this prey with some kind of peacefulness, acquired thanks to the first kill. That's when he uses the second form of getting a carcass ready to eat. You can just slaughter the prey you killed, but you can also prepare it first by letting the blood drain out."
"What?" Paul Roberts asked. He wasn't the only one looking confused.
"In some cultures they let all the blood drain from a carcass before they consider it fit to eat. That is what he does with the second victim. It makes me believe that the blood of his victims is the most important for the killer, more than the sexual assault, although it's still there. He drains the blood from his second victim and we can only guess what he does with it."
Mark and Katrina were now swallowing hard.
"He does hurt this victim as well, but now more through fists. In the end she just dies of all the blood loss. The third victim is the worst," Josiah said softly. "She is the one that must give him the most satisfaction, the one he enjoys the most and the longest, because she is the last and has to last him quite some time. He skins her. Also something a hunter does with his prey. As I said, this third kill would have triggered suspicions, but was always done inside another jurisdiction, some distance away. The dates triggered the correlation for us."
"And the fact you saw the hunting connection," Chris told the older man.
"FUCK!" Buck suddenly stood up and started to pace. "That one has some nerve! Killing those women and then treating them like they are some animal for the slaughter! God, if he has to kill, why does he have to mutilate them like that afterwards? What's the thrill in that?"
"Buck, it ain't like that," Vin said softly.
"What? Then how is it, Vin?"
"Didn't you hear what they said 'bout the first victims? He keeps them alive while he butchers them with a knife. And the second one dies 'cause of all the blood she's lost."
Buck blanched. "No! Don't tell me about the third. She's not... not alive! JD?"
JD looked away. He still couldn't quite grasp it himself, but there it had been in all the files. Alive... skinned alive. The pictures had made him feel really sick.
"Jeeezus! What a mess, what a fucking mess! We need to find that miserable s.o.b. before he grabs another woman!"
The agents all gazed at one another. "But how?" Justin wanted to know. "How do we get him? We don't know anything about him."
"We go looking," Chris said softly. "Looking everywhere. Vin, Ezra, hit the streets and try and see what you can find. Vin, take Roberts. Ezra, you take Anderson. Nathan, CASSIE found three cases that almost matched, only the medical examiner had found a small mark on his victims and that made him decide to examine their blood and tissues. He found faint traces of a narcotic in them. Go and call this guy, talk with him. Then you go to the morgue and talk with forensics, look at the body yourself if you have to. Katrina will go with you."
The two medics looked gravely at each other.
"Michaels, you've been with State Police Investigations for years, I want you to see what you can dig up, which relations you can call upon if we need to." Justin nodded.
"Buck, you and Westin go talk with the PD, tell them what's going on." Chris pushed a hand through his unruly blond hair. "Make sure they understand this mess!"
"And where does that leave me?" Reed asked, peeved.
"That leaves you doing whatever JD and Pam need you to do."
"WHAT?" Reed almost seemed to explode. "With my experience you want me to follow orders from some kid?" The look he shot JD was murderous. Pamela he ignored completely. JD cringed. He didn't like being put in the middle of this feud Chris and Vin seemed to have with Reed.
"Since most of your file was classified, I don't know the hell what you're experienced in. Could be babysitting for all I know. Are you going to do your job?"
Fuming Reed stalked away.
"Can I talk with you for a minute?"
Chris smiled at the young woman and nodded. "Sure, lets go to my office. All of you, you know what to do. Move!"
JD looked after them and then at Josiah. He sighed. "Chris had to go and assign Reed to us," he said with disgust. "Come on Pam, let's just try and make sure we don't need him." He turned back to the terminal and started calling up files. Behind him everyone was leaving for their own assignments, except for Josiah, who would stay with him and Pam. Within seconds he was engrossed in the data CASSIE was sending them.
He almost jumped out of his skin when Vin suddenly started talking right behind him.
"Geeez, Vin! Don't do that!"
"JD, Pam, make very sure that Reed don't see anything sensitive, alright?"
"Vin, what's going on with you and Chris and Reed?"
"Don't know exactly, JD. All I know is that Chris don't want him seeing anything sensitive or classified, so just go with that for now, alright?"
"Right Vin." JD and Pam looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Bosses... they always thought they had to keep things to themselves, it seemed.
At that moment the door opened and Chris and Kelli came back in, both not looking happy at all. "JD, we still have that program to composite photos, don't we?"
"Eh... the digital sketch artist? Yeah, we do. Why?"
"Might be a long shot, but I'm not going to take any chances. Kelli caught a guy watching Linda when they met at lunch. She doesn't remember much of him, but at least it's something."
"He had rather long black hair and his face was hidden a bit behind it. Frankly, that's all I remember, that black hair. Shit! I wish I had paid more attention to him, but Linda was upset, so...."
"She was? 'Bout what?" Chris immediately wanted to know.
JD had to grin when he saw the suffering look in Kelli's eyes.
"How long was the hair?" Vin asked.
"Not too long, Vin. Not like yours, you know, noticeable. Just long enough to have it obscuring his face."
"Just try Kelli, please. Vin, I know I should stay here, but things are up and running and I really would like to go and talk with Linda. Convince her to keep out of Denver at the moment."
"I understand Cowboy. Me, Kelli and JD will watch the fort."
"Me too," Pam said indignantly.
"No, you go home and rest. There has to be one of you two here at all times now, to keep an eye on CASSIE and JD needs some time off tomorrow for Casey's physical."
JD sighed and bowed his head in resignation. He had really wanted to be with Casey after all the horrible things CASSIE had found. It would be hectic enough in the coming days when they would try and save other young women's lives.
"Nah," Chris suddenly said. "It's alright for tonight Vin. If Casey is in any way like Sarah about those physicals, she will want JD with her tonight. Everyone has their assignments and we'll examine all the results first thing tomorrow. Have everyone in here at seven for that. I gotta go and make sure a certain lady will listen to me, see you all tomorrow."
They all waved. Then Vin walked over to Kelli and gave her a soft kiss. "You go home after you and JD finish that sketch, Texas. Me and Roberts will be on the streets for a long time, so I'll crash here afterwards."
"Nope, ain't no use. 'Sides, I know you wanna check your new foals and their mothers. See you tomorrow Texas, and that 's an order." Another fast kiss on the red curls and Vin was gone, bellowing for Roberts.
"Let's get on with it then," Kelli told JD.
"Yeah, but I'd rather we do it at my workspace, Kel. Come on!"
JD hurried ahead. He felt a lot better knowing he could go home after all. He was going to hold Casey all night, he vowed.
+ + + + + + +
From Civic Center Park he'd gone to Sunken Garden Park right alongside Cherry Creek and found a nice spot to lounge at its banks and eat the sandwiches he'd bought at a deli. The weather was just too good to eat somewhere inside and here, at the creek bank, it was ideal.
A blond woman walked past him and immediately he smiled at her. Hesitantly she smiled back and then looked away fast. That was alright, he was used to that. She wasn't worth his time and efforts anyway, her eyes had been blue. He wasn't in such a hurry yet that he needed to settle for less. This was his day of rest. He would start looking again tomorrow, but even then there was no hurry. After this week he would be here another full week as well.
He would go back to the Street Mall tomorrow. Maybe the vision he had seen at lunch time, the one with all those shopping bags and that redheaded friend, would be there as well. He licked his lips remembering her.
Looking at the water in front of him he decided that he liked Cherry Creek a lot better than the Platte River. It would be a much more fitting resting place for his next prey.
"Hey Cowboy, you seem beat!"
Chris grumbled and gazed at Vin with some resentment. The younger man looked as if he'd just come from a long and restful vacation. Then he saw the mug in Vin's hand and the way the Texan relished what was in it.
"Hey! It's Tanner original! The only way to start the day!"
Chris gave him a disgusted look and stomped off to his office. "I'm gonna make it a standing order to have decent coffee ready here in the morning!" He yelled and then he slammed the door.
"What's eating him?" Buck asked. He had just entered the office and the first thing he was confronted with was Chris' door closing with such a bang, that some plaster threatened to come lose. Then he looked at the mug in Vin's hand. "Don't tell me you made the coffee?"
"Ain't nothing wrong with my coffee! Ya'll are just weaklings with no stomach lining whatsoever!"
"Yeah, sure! I'm gonna make some decent brew, get Chris a bit more civilized before the meeting. You can take it to him."
"Coward," Vin grinned.
"Whatever Vin, whatever. Hey kiddo!" The last was said to Mark Westin, who came out of the small kitchen looking as if he was still asleep.
"Hi Buck," the young man answered, brightening when he saw his partner. "It's some case, isn't it?" He took a sip of his coffee, blanched, turned around and hurried back into the kitchen.
Buck smirked at Vin and followed the young man inside. He found Mark pouring out half of his mug's contents in the sink and then adding a huge dollop of milk and lots of sugar.
"What's the matter, kiddo? Too strong for you?"
"This is the most horrible coffee I ever tasted! Who made it?"
"You mean you never tasted the captain's coffee before?"
"The captain made this?" The young man's eyes grew wide. "Oh Buck, do you think he saw how I almost spit it out?"
"Don't know, but I do know he's mighty proud of that swill!" Buck grinned. He enjoyed needling the young man. In his opinion Mark was way too much in awe of both Chris and Vin and needed to get some backbone when it came to the two task force leaders. Damn, but he had grown fond of this young man. He was bright, eager and fun to be with, with a great sense of humor. He especially liked the optimistic look his partner had on life and the wonder he still felt over things.
It was refreshing.
"How ya like my coffee, Mark?" he heard Tanner ask when Mark had stepped into the office again.
"Eh... I eh, I like it just fine, Vin."
"Good! I knew you weren't one of them sissy's that all tell me it's too strong. From now on you and me, we'll drink some true coffee every morning. I'll make sure you got some!"
Buck smirked. Yep, you could trust Tanner to rub it in to the hilt!
"Vin, stop pestering the boy! Why isn't anyone else here yet? We have a meeting in fifteen minutes!"
Chris really was in a foul mood! Buck looked at the coffee maker and tried with his glare alone to get it to work faster. He felt someone enter behind him.
"Decent coffee?" Chris asked.
"Yep, the way coffee was meant to be. Chris, you look like shit. What happened?"
"Had a rough night with Linda. Damn, but she's stubborn! Don't smirk at me like that, I can see reason! But Linda.... She didn't like it when I told her to stay the hell out of Denver."
Buck now had to laugh out loud. "And you would've reacted differently about that... how?"
"Here, real coffee." Buck was still grinning. "So, did you two lovebirds come to an agreement after all?"
Chris sighed. "I eh... I asked her how she would feel hanging upside down for two or three days, being used as a punching bag and being molested, while slowly bleeding to death."
"Chris, you didn't!"
"Yeah Buck, I did! Then I asked her if she remembered the man Kelli saw observing her. That got the point home alright. Damn, I love that woman a lot Buck, more than I thought I would ever be able to do again after... after Sarah. But you sure need to hit her over the head with a brick sometimes to get a point home."
"She's good for you, Stud."
Chris smiled and looked at his longtime friend. "She is, isn't she? Now, if I could only get a handle on her mood swings."
That made Buck laugh out loud again. "Did anyone ever tell you that you're a damn optimist in disguise, pard? Get a handle on the mood swings of women! That's a good one, that's a real good one!"
"On the mood swings of who, Buck?" Kelli asked icily from the doorpost. "Is there something I should talk with Inez about?"
Buck choked on his coffee. "Yeah, well, gotta go, we seem to have a meeting in eh... ten." The rogue made a hasty retreat, smiling amiably at Kelli.
Kelli sauntered inside and took some coffee.
"Yeah? Don't matter, I'm getting' used to it. Did you manage to convince Linda to stay put?"
Chris heaved a deep sigh. "Sort of."
"She give you a hard time 'bout it? Thought so. You were hardly civilized when we were takin' care of the horses."
"Sorry 'bout that." Chris meant it, but Kelli only grinned.
"Hey, I know that lady! I've been roommates with her! So you were forgiven from the start."
The two smiled at each other and Chris was glad that he felt so at ease with this young woman. She was after all a very important part of Vin's life now. He was thankful that she was someone he liked a lot and could also respect.
"But you did manage to convince her to stay away from the streets of Denver, right?"
"Good!" The relief was clear on Kelli's face. "It'll be hard on her though. She needs to shop when she's upset."
"I'm beginning to find that out," Chris said with some resignation. "Kelli, did she tell you what's bothering her? She wouldn't talk about it with me, said there was nothing and you were seeing tigers and bears that weren't there."
"Don't worry about it Chris. It's some stupid notion she got in her head. It'll pass. Nope, I ain't gonna tell ya, she would be embarrassed as hell if you knew and I ain't gonna do that to her! You just make sure she knows that you love her, that's what she really needs right now."
"Shit! She's having second thoughts about us."
"No Chris, she isn't! She loves you to pieces, but she isn't as sure of herself as she wants everyone to believe. She still can't believe you want her, that a man like you would actually go and pick her out. You'll just have to convince her that you really do love her." Her eyes narrowed. "You do, don't you? Really want her and love her?" Her voice sounded definitely threatening.
"I do Kelli," he told her softly.
She nodded and abruptly left. Somehow Chris felt there was more to it all. Women and their secrets.... He'd sort it out in the long run; he always managed to sort it out with Sarah as well. Right now he had a serial killer to catch first.
When he entered the bull pen, Vin just turned off his phone. He didn't look happy. "That was Nate. He and Santos are in the morgue right now. He called yesterday evening that forensics wasn't gonna cooperate that late in the evening so he had to go back this morning, but it seems the medical examiner is still giving them hell. Bastard refuses to acknowledge their jurisdiction."
"Really?" Chris' eyes narrowed.
"I was gonna phone Strickland, head of homicide. Buck said they were more than willin' to cooperate and try and catch this guy."
"No need." Chris had already taken out his own cell phone. "Nate? Give me that bastard!"
While Chris waited his face clouded more and more. Finally he seemed to get someone on the other side.
"Mister, you keep me waiting one more time and I'll have your ass fired so fast you won't know what hit you for a week to come! Who I am? I'm Unit Commander Chris Larabee and you're willingly obstructing an important investigation."
Whatever answer Chris received, he clearly didn't like it. Suddenly he barked into the receiver in such a hard voice it made Mark jump off his chair. "Right, that does it, I'm gonna have you arrested. Give me my man back. NOW!"
A moment of silence, then, "Nate? That you? Arrest the son of a bitch for willingly obstructing the course of justice. Yeah, just put the cuffs on him! No, I'll wait, keep the line open."
The resulting wait had the irritated unit commander tapping one foot and looking at his watch. "Hey," he yelled after a few moments. "Tell Santos she needs to read him his rights! Yeah, I can hear her, she's got a penetrating voice when she wants to. Oh, NOW he wants to talk! Alright, put him back on."
Chris took a deep breath and seemed to listen to the other side. Finally he said icily "I don't give a damn what you think procedures and proper protocol should be or who you think you have to answer to! You're under my jurisdiction now and you're gonna do what my agents tell you to the letter, understood? Oh, and you will hear more about this!"
Another moment of silence, then "Give them hell, Nate." When he had put the phone away and looked up, everyone in the office was silently staring at him.
"Nothin'," Vin smirked. "Didn't we have a meeting?"
"Yeah, but later. Nate and Katrina are delayed." Looking at his agents, Chris shrugged. "Guess you already know that. Alright, everyone look over what you've got and if there is anything to add, do it now. We'll start as soon as Nate and Kat are in."
An hour later they were all in the conference room. When the unit agents entered, they found Josiah already there in the same pose as the day before, resting against the edge of the table, his arms crossed. Only now he was studying the large map instead of the white board. Chris was standing beside him, while JD and Pam were trying to be very silent where they were working at the terminal. When everyone was sitting around the table, Chris took his eyes of the map and looked at his agents. Lastly he looked towards the corner where Pam and JD sat.
"You two ready with compiling all those dates?"
"Good, give it to Josiah. JD, how late is Casey's physical?"
"She's scheduled for 11.00 a.m. Chris. But she says she understands if I have to work."
Chris' eyebrows rose and JD fell silent. "Don't think you'll need to skip it, kid. Pam is here as well."
"Thanks! She really is nervous," JD confessed with a relieved smile. "I know Nettie will be there too, but it's just not the same!"
"It ain't," Buck agreed. "To see that small person inside you're wife's womb, see the little heart beat, it's awesome!"
Josiah nodded. "It is," he said.
"Yeah," Nathan agreed from his side of the table and Justin and Ross nodded vigorously. JD's smile became even wider.
Chris stared at the table, not trusting himself to speak while he remembered the first time he had seen Adam's very small heart beat. It had been overwhelming. He felt Vin's concern envelope him like a safety blanket and was glad when the younger man took over the meeting.
"Right, heads up! The killer's first victim was found in the Platte Monday afternoon, time of death estimated somewhere between midnight and early Monday morning. We found out about it yesterday thanks to CASSIE. It's Wednesday now and that means he's probably ready to go and start searchin' for his next victim. So let's see what we got!"
Soon it was clear that Vin's and Ezra's connections hadn't known anything. Justin Michaels had more to tell. He'd been in conclave with Pam and JD and they had researched all the data on the third murders. They had taken the distances from the cities that these murders took place and the surroundings where these victims were found. Using that and his own knowledge of the area Justin then had extrapolated the most likely places around Denver where the killer might strike.
"That's a good job, Justin," Chris said, looking the data over. "Let's hope we don't need this, but truth is that it will be very hard to keep him from killing again."
"Shouldn't we warn the people in Denver?" Buck asked.
Chris sighed. "It's a dilemma, Buck. I wouldn't want to alert this guy too fast. At the moment we know where he is and if we scare him off, who knows how long it will take to find him again and how many other deaths." He rubbed his face. "Damn! I don't want someone else to fall prey to him as well, Buck, just knowing that he's probably stalking another potential victim turns my stomach. But I don't wanna loose him and have to chase him years to come while he keeps on murdering all through the country either."
"Tough," Buck mumbled, nodding that he understood. Glad probably that the decision wasn't his.
Chris felt Vin's eyes on him and let him know it was alright to go on. He could still wait with this decision.
"Nate? Kat?" Vin asked.
"We do have somethin'," Nathan said gravely. "I phoned the medical examiner from Amarillo like y' asked, Chris and he was very willin' to help. That one is good, really good. He don't take things on face value, says that's a pitfall he wasn't goin' to fall for ever again. So he examined the first body real good and found this puncture mark, like a dart would make. That's what made him wonder and made him examine the body for toxins. He didn't find any in the blood, but he found somethin' in the liver and kidneys. He found Rompun or Xylazine, a sedative that's used to bring down animals with tranquilizer guns and such. He found the same drug in the second victim, but he never got his hands on the third. By the time he found out 'bout her, the body was already released and cremated. He's still pissed 'bout that."
"A tranq gun?" Ross Anderson asked. "Is that how he gets them?"
Nathan nodded. "Looks like it. After ya got through to that dickhead of a medical examiner Chris, we told him to look for a puncture mark and they found one, in the right shoulder. Now they're testing the body for toxins. Robert Metfield, the chief examiner from Amarillo, he's very willin' to step in and help. So I've been so free to have them take tissue examples and send them to him."
"Good," Chris nodded. "That does make me feel better. I don't know how motivated forensics here is to find anything. They were certainly not motivated this morning. Pam, JD, did you come across this drug in the cases you called up?"
Pam and JD looked at each other, then they both turned as one to Sam Reed. "What?" the agent asked.
"You have gone through all the cases with blond victims CASSIE found and divided them into categories," Pam said. "The cases in Amarillo included the use of a sedative, but they also had the MO's of our killer. So, were there any others where sedatives were used on young, blond green eyed women?"
Reed frowned. He didn't like that he had to address Pam, whom he would have preferred to ignore. He rankled him even more to have to listen to a woman than it had to listen to a younger agent, Chris knew. It was in his whole demeanor.
"Can't remember them," he said surly.
"They sure didn't show up in a separate folder," JD said. He and Pam were looking at each other. "Oh well, it's easiest to just ask CASSIE and see what she comes up with!" Both turned eagerly to the terminal behind them and happily started typing away.
The other agents were all looking at the sketch made of the man Kelli had seen and shaking their heads as to how little they could do with the vague image, when JD suddenly whooped in joy and Pam called out "Got it!"
"Got what?" Chris shot out of his chair and hurried to the two younger agents. Vin had had the same idea unfortunately. Both were rubbing their head while they were leaning over the computer experts.
"We found a girl, blond, green eyed, killed by an overdose of Rompun in Dillard, Oregon in May 1996. Definitely tranq gun, the darts were still laying beside her. There were also two girls killed the same way not long after that in Eugene. One died instantly, the other they found alive and at first they thought that she might survive, but she died anyway later in the hospital. Two nights later another girl was found and she did survive, although she was in a bad shape and was in the hospital for two weeks. In December a girl was found heavily sedated, molested and with lots of knife cuts in Carson City, Nevada. Rompun or Xylazine as well."
"About a year later the murders started," Chris said softly. "Isn't that right, Josiah?"
"Yes Chris, it is." Josiah stood up and moved a little flag towards Dillard, Oregon. "At least the ones that have the MO of this killer."
"There were some blond, green eyed girls molested and cut between the December murder in Carson City and the first one like what we now face, weren't there Pam, JD?"
"Yeah, there were. These are the ones, Chris."
"Alright, 1996. A girl in May in Red Bluff, California. Three in Los Angeles after that, June and July. God, he really started to butcher them more and more then."
"That was in all the papers, Chris. We saw the articles through internet. After the third killing in LA there was a frenzy about a serial killer on the loose. But it stopped after that."
"If it was him, Chris."
Chris looked at Josiah. "These murders form a trail right to what we figured was his first territory, Josiah."
"Right to Litchfield Park?"
"Yeah. The next one is in Palm Springs and then it seems to stop until the first murder we deduced had to be him." Chris looked at the list Pam had given him. "Not that there weren't more blond girls killed, but they weren't sedated with this same stuff. They could still find it in the blood of these victims, because they weren't held for days first. They were all actually found real quick. He didn't throw them in a river yet."
While he was talking Chris had walked up to the map and the two men stood staring at it again.
"Seems it didn't start in Litchfield Park after all," Chris murmured.
"No. But that is the place where the killings became a hunt for him."
"The first ones, killed only with the drug, were probably try outs to find the right amount of the stuff to use. Coward wants to make them helpless without having to come too close."
"Then he couldn't control himself in LA. and the authorities, no, the whole media suddenly was on the look out for him."
"So he moved on."
"Settled here, in Litchfield and started to really roam his new territory."
"First only one at a time, but from that moment on he keeps them alive for a while."
"The gun became his hunting weapon and he started to see them as his prey more and more. After two years of this he moved on to Dallas. Didn't leave a trail though, just started working his new territory."
"And something changed. He didn't go out on a killing spree more than two times a year after that, sometimes three."
"I still think that's job related, Chris. A killer needs a living too."
"Other vacation arrangements?"
The beginning of a smirk could be heard from somewhere in the room, but pretty soon it was clear that Josiah and Chris were deadly serious.
"He did seem to have more time though, when he could go hunting," Josiah added. "Two to three weeks every time. And he fulfilled his needs by going from one to three killings a time."
"And now he's here."
The whole room was silent, watching. The two men took their eyes from the map and looked at each other.
"Seems your first stop isn't Litchfield Park after all, Josiah. Better start where he started, in Dillard, Oregon. Get the stuff you need. Kelli, you too! You still may have seen the guy so I want you along. Paul, you go along as additional back up. Move! I'm going to contact Travis for transportation. No line plane, we gotta be fast, time is ticking for some woman out there!"
Before leaving the room Chris briefly put his hand on Vin's shoulder. Vin smiled at him, waving him along.
It's her job, Cowboy. Glad our involvement won't stop you from using her as you should on a case.
When Chris had left the room in a hurry everyone stared at Josiah, who was busy picking up notes.
"What just happened?" Mark asked, totally perplexed.
"Josiah and Chris figured out what the pattern in the murders was," JD told them proudly. "They asked all sorts of data and then they just stared at that map and at the dates. It's because Josiah knew there had to be a pattern, didn't you, Josiah?"
"Yes, the way this man works, very methodically, there just had to be a logical system in how he decided where to go for his killings as well. And then we noticed how the murders of two or three years were grouped around a region, after which they would form a cluster around another region for the next few years. And the murder scenes were never further away from the heart of that region than what you can drive in reasonable comfort in one day."
"Plus then they saw that the last hunt always seemed to be in one of the cities in the middle and they figured that would have been the city where he lived, until he decided to move on."
"And you found out the city where it all started," Buck said, impressed. "Didn't you?"
"Only it started elsewhere after all." Josiah smiled at Nathan and Katrina. "You two found the information that will lead us to the real start of all this." He lo
ked at the map again, at the small flag in Oregon. "That first girl, slim, blond, green eyed, with the darts still beside her.... Something tells me it started there. Only, killing her wasn't enough. He is torturing and killing her over and over again I think."
"Yeah, well, I don't give a fuck why he does it, I just want him." Chris' voice coming from the doorway was ice cold when he made his statement. "Travis is arranging a private jet for you three that will take you to the airport in Roseburg. Pam, JD, find out through that...," he waved his hand at the terminal, "where they can get a rental car, they'll need one. Now leave for the airport, the jet will be ready before you get there! Oh, and it will be at your disposal, so you can move on to Litchfield Park afterwards. JD, belay! Let Pam do that stuff, you gotta run and get to the hospital to be with your wife! Ezra, hit the street again with Ross! Buck, you and Mark too. Move all of you! SHIT!"
He walked out and they all heard the door of his office close with a loud bang.
While everyone was suddenly very busy and saying goodbye to the three departing agents, Vin took a quiet moment in the second, smaller conference room with his wife. They didn't have a long time together before Buck started banging on the door to warn them that Kelli needed to leave.
"Hey, we see each other tomorrow again probably," Kelli whispered, making the last kiss linger for a little while longer.
"Yeah," Vin sighed. "Damn, how did Chris and Linda do it during our previous case, not seeing each other for a whole week! That they didn't just hop into a car and the hell with the rest!"
Kelli laughed. "We might have seen each other, but that was all Vin, we only saw each other on the job or we slept!"
"But at least we did see each other and I could drag you in the kitchen and steel a kiss from time to time. Heck, Kelli, I miss y' already!"
Someone was pounding on the door again. Reluctantly Vin let Kelli go. "You don't seem to mind as much as I do!"
"Nope! But that's because I get to do some real work, while you might try some things, what ya'll really will be doin' here is the waiting game!"
"You got a mean streak, Texas!"
"Oh yes! You ain't seen nothing yet," she whispered in his ear and then she was out of the door.
Well, better go and see Larabee, before he explodes, Vin decided. He really needs some support on the decision he has to make!
+ + + + + + +
Yes, he liked her, he liked her a lot! He'd seen her when he visited the Denver Zoo, he couldn't be in a city and not visit the zoo of course. She had been with a bunch of friends, but when he left, he saw her walking away through the park on her own. On a hunch he had decided to follow her. When she was at her house, fumbling with her keys he casually walked past her and called a cheerful greeting. She hadn't said anything back of course, but it had startled her enough to turn around for a moment.
Oh yes, his hunches were still working. Green! The most vibrant green!
So he had observed her and now he was back in his hotel room, looking at his tranquilizer gun and checking his darts. This afternoon he would be back at the den of his new prey and patiently wait her out. Like a good hunter would.
He was in no hurry, but he wasn't going to waste an opportunity either.
Time... it was time to become better acquainted with his new prey.