I stared at the styrofoam containers, my stomach churning with foreboding. They were virgin white under the fluorescent lights of the conference room, only their contents were not quite so innocent.
Each carton had a handwritten label on top. One read, Marion--bright and charming. Another read Stacey--good body. The last, Eileen--agreeable. The writing was large with strong vertical strokes and half-closed loops. I wondered what a handwriting analyst would make of it. Was there a particular flourish that indicated someone was a cannibal?
Too bad I wasn’t a handwriting analyst. It would have been more pleasant than opening these containers and touching their contents with my bare hands. All because Marion, Stacey, and Eileen picked the wrong boyfriend. A boyfriend who believed if he collected the flesh of women with the qualities he wanted and then fed it to other women, it would magically create the ‘perfect’ girlfriend.
Talk about crazy in love.
A tap on the window behind me broke my train of thought. I looked over my shoulder.to see no less than the entire forensic lab watching me through the conference room window.
Ryan, one of the lab techs, pointed at his watch. A compact Italian-American, Ryan talked like the Godfather and thought he was irresistible to boot. He was also remarkably unperturbed at my refusal to date, flirt, or otherwise acknowledge his romantic magnetism. The guy was five inches shorter than me. Seven when I wore heels. I had serious qualms about dating someone whose head would make a nifty armrest.
Besides, I had a boyfriend…or whatever you call a commitment-phobe who blows hot-and-cold. On the up side, Bruce wasn’t needy when I had to travel for work.
Another tap on the window brought me back to the task at hand. I blinked and focused on Ryan, who gestured wildly at his watch. The message was clear: Get on with it. I wondered how much money he stood to lose.
When news spread about what I was going to do, a betting pool had sprung up. The bets ranged from how long it would take me to do my job, to whether or not I would throw up.
The thought of touching human flesh made my stomach roil, but I steeled myself with deep breaths. I’d seen dead bodies before, although this would be my first time touching one. Well, technically, it wasn’t a body, just chunks of meat someone had chopped up and stored in a freezer. The actual bodies were missing and it had become my responsibility to figure out where they were.
It would have been easier to ask the guy who made these women into gourmet meals, but his dietary habits had left big holes in his brain. He had contracted Kuru, the cannibal’s form of Mad Cow disease, and was slipping into dementia and certain death.
I sighed and pulled one of the containers toward me. It was Marion. I turned my head in an effort to get my nose as far away from the containers as possible. Looking out of the corner of my eye, I held my breath and peeled off the lid. When no gross smell of rotting meat assaulted my nostrils, I worked up the courage to look inside and was pleasantly surprised to see the meat was frozen. In fact, it was kind of anti-climatic. It didn’t smell. It wasn’t squishy, and it had been neatly cubed like steak ready for a stir fry.
I managed to convince myself it was just that up until I actually touched it with my bare pinkie. In a flash, I was with Marion, standing in the kitchen chopping carrots as soft jazz played in the background. Her attention on the task at hand, she never saw him coming and didn’t realize anything was wrong until the second stab wound.
Marion turned, her hands raised, and received the first of what would be many defensive wounds on her forearms. She watched with horror as her boyfriend came at her with a large butcher knife. He struck her over and over, slicing through the fabric of her clothes and her skin as if it was soft butter. Several minutes into his assault, her soul began to slip away.
Like many victims, she wasn’t prepared for the violence of the attack. Marion couldn’t match up reality with what she had believed; that she was in a loving relationship with a good man. She never knew the monster who killed her existed.
As her soul fled her body, it took me with it and I found myself floating above the body which gave me a panoramic view of the crime scene. I watched with detached interest, as the man Marion thought she would marry, neatly hacked through joints, severed the head, and separated the rib cage from the torso with a sharp crack.
He even took a moment to suck some of the raw meat off the bones with loud smacking sounds. The curve of a rib left red smears on his cheeks giving him the appearance of a psychotic clown. I drifted with Marion in blissful apathy as she slowly began to accept her death. With a mental sigh, she realized her body would not hold her anymore.
When she moved toward the light to make her final journey, I pulled away and forced myself back into the body. I wasn’t interested in finding heaven. Where did he hide the body?
The answer came to me and I broke contact. “He buried them all in his elementary school’s playground, under the slide. All three of them are there.” I spoke in a calm measured voice that stripped away the horror, leaving it trapped inside.
“But you didn’t even look at the other two,” someone in the back protested. They probably made their bet on time.
I shrugged. “I didn’t need to, this was the last one he buried. I saw the other two in the ground when he dug the hole.” I didn’t mention he liked to take out their bones and run his tongue over every groove. Some things were best left unsaid. No need for all of us to have nightmares. I was used to them at least.
I stood up and made my way out of the conference room, to one of the lab sinks, silently vowing I would touch no food with my pinkie for at least a month. I let my hands soak in alcohol for a good ten minutes after the first wash and then soaped up again. My job would be so much easier if I didn’t have to touch things in order to read them. This one was off the cootie meter for me, even more so than the gross out level. I couldn’t shake the mental image of the murderer in his cell, his brain slowly melting because he ate what I had touched.
‘Ahh, the glamorous life of an FBI agent,’ I thought to myself as I dried my hands. It wasn’t all chasing the bad guys and participating in gun fights. Some days it was more like an episode of Fear Factor. How much can you take before you snap?
So far, I was holding up pretty well. I had finished my first year with the FBI, and, in addition to handling firearms and learning hand-to-hand combat, I had gone deep inside some of the worst crimes in the country. And solved them, too. The last part was what made it worthwhile.
I reunited kidnap victims with their loved ones and gave closure to families who needed to know no one else would suffer at the hands of the criminal that ruined their lives. There was never a ‘happily ever after’, not even for the victims who survived, but I could give people a ‘better ever after’. That had to count for something.
“Yo Mel, baby. How ya doin’,” Ryan said from behind me.
“Hello Ryan.” I looked down at him. From my perspective, he looked to be a mile away. I felt gargantuan all of a sudden, heavy-limbed and awkward.
He toyed with a gold chain thicker than his finger and winked. “You’re the real deal.”
“Uh, yeah?” I looked around the room to see if anyone would rescue me. It was almost noon and people were busy hustling to beat the lunch crowd.
I was on my own. My partner, Jim, had spent the morning testifying in court, leaving me to fly solo. Without him, I doubted I could expect much help. I was a little too ‘freaky’ for most of my coworkers. Aside from betting and profiting off my skills, they avoided me whenever they could– except for the ones like Ryan, who were even stranger than me. The weirdos always found me irresistible. Yep, that’s me, Mel the freak magnet.
“I was wonderin’ if you would consider doin’ me a favor? You bein’ psychic and all.” He leaned in close to me, his aura glistening like an oil slick. The astringent smell of his aftershave assailed my nostrils.
“A favor?” I took a step back, and exhaled in attempt to blow the fumes away instead of sucking them into my lungs. Ryan asked me out and shared his fantasies of having children with me, he did not, as a general rule, ask me for favors. At least not the non-sexual kind.
“Yeah, my mom bought herself an antique, some frou-frou Victorian shit. She wants to know if it’s genuine.”
“How am I supposed to help with that?” I knew nothing about antiques.
“I thought maybe you could touch it, see if it’s real or not.”
The gleam in his eye as he spoke told me there were other things he would like to me to touch. Finally, familiar territory. In general, I found Ryan harmless and tolerated him with whatever dignity I could muster, but we were in danger of being the last two people in the lab. My tolerance didn’t extend to being alone with Ryan.
“Sure, I guess I could read an antique. Bring it in. I’ll take a look at it when I can.” I increased the distance between us, edging toward the door. “Whoa, look at the time. “ I gestured to my watch hoping he wouldn’t notice it was stuck at nine. My watches never lasted, the batteries didn’t like my 'energy.' I gave a forced smile and snatched up my purse from the desk I’d left it on, holding it in front of me like a shield. “I have to get going. Just give me a call when you’re ready.”
“I'm always ready, baby.” Grinning from ear to ear, he waved goodbye, pinkie ring gleaming.
I suppressed a shudder and hurried out the lab door. Half running, I scurried down the hallway, putting as much distance between us as I could. Not bothering to wait for the elevator, I ducked into a stairwell and made for the relative safety of the gym.
I strained to crank out another ten reps on the squat machine in the windowless basement the FBI had converted into a gym. I had recently increased the weight to 150 pounds and every muscle fiber in my legs screamed for mercy.
Beside me, my partner, Jim Packard, Senior Agent and all around tough guy, grunted as he completed another squat. Court had let out early and he’d met me in the gym to catch a quick workout before our meeting with Cook, our lead agent.
I finished my last rep, shook out my legs and proceeded to stretch. A study done at some university said stretching after weight training increased strength twenty percent faster. I was betting the bad guys didn’t know that.
Jim plopped his lanky frame down on the floor beside me, making no move to stretch. Sweat trickled down his forehead and he used the sleeve of his t-shirt to wipe it off. “You’re getting stronger.”
“Thanks.” I touched my nose to my knee in a hamstring stretch. “Want to do a little one-on-one combat?”
He nodded and slowly stood up. Pushing fifty, Jim’s knees snapped like dry wood.
“Come on, old man,” I said with a smile that both teased and challenged.
Jim pretended to glower at me.“Old? You will pay for that! Experience will beat youth every time.”
I laughed. “Only if your knees work!”
My partner made a lunge for me and I sidestepped him easily. Squaring my shoulders, I adopted my best tough bitch face and said, “Let’s get it on, grandpa.”
I didn’t wait for a response and launched myself straight at him with a feint to the head while my leg swept his feet out from under him. Jim never saw it coming and landed on the floor mat with a thud as the air whooshed out of him.
I knelt down beside Jim, watching him regain his ability to breathe.“Hey, are you letting me win, or am I just getting that good?”
He looked at me, panting and said, “I think you might just be getting that good.”
I couldn’t hide my smile. I hadn’t studied combat fighting let alone been a physical person until recently. Hell, I had even weaseled my way out of basic training at first, and the FBI had let me because I was the only psychic willing to consider their job offer. It meant a lot that someone as experienced as Jim thought I was good.
“Thanks.” I stood and offered him a hand up.
“No, you should thank yourself. You did the hard work. It’s all you, kid.” He took my hand and pulled himself upright. Some guys wouldn’t have taken it, thinking it made them look weak to have a girl help them up. Jim wasn’t like that, which is why we got along so well.
We fell into step, heading for the water cooler. We were filling the little paper triangles they call cups at the cooler, when I heard the familiar taunting voice of Dodd.
“If it isn’t Agent X-files and his pet witch.” He walked toward us, a gym bag slung over his meaty shoulder.
Agent Dodd was a former college football linebacker, something he bragged about constantly, and his physique reflected his former athletic glory. Biceps bulged like large misshapen grapefruits on either side of his massive shoulders. His whole body was one big, overdeveloped muscle.
Dodd had something to prove, that much was easy to tell. What I couldn’t figure out was why chewing on my ass did it for him. He was new. In his first six months with the Agency, and had already targeted me as the weakest and smallest.
The first time he tried to muscle me, I broke his nose. I had moved to break his hold and he turned his head at the wrong time, ramming his nose into my elbow. It had been an accident, but he had never forgiven me, and his anger had taken on an edge once he found out about my ‘special skills’.
I faced him with a carefully neutral face.“Agent Dodd.”
I sighed. So much for social pleasantries. “What is your problem?”
Dodd twisted his face into a smile. “If you don’t know, hot shot psychic that you are, why should I tell you?”
I ignored the taunt, I was used to people not believing in my capabilities. People always assumed a psychic should know all their deepest, darkest secrets. Not that we couldn’t do so, but we did, as a group, have ethics. It was impolite to poke around someone’s mind without invitation.
At the moment, I was less concerned with Dodd and more concerned with Jim’s increasing blood pressure--evident from the red color rising on his cheeks. Things had deteriorated over the past several weeks as Dodd managed to get a dig in whenever possible. Jim was losing patience.
I did the only thing I thought made sense to defuse the situation. Closing my eyes, I said, “Nice car you got, Dodd. Did you know somebody is down there right now keying the paint job?”
“You’re lying.” He clenched his hands into fists.
I ignored his outburst and continued, “It is such a shame after you paid all that extra money for the detail work. You’ve had it what, two days? And already going to have to repaint it.” I tut-tutted and took a sip of water. “If I were you, I would get my ass down there and protect my property.”
Doubt showed in Dodd’s eyes, but his body shifted away from us and toward the door as if he wanted to run and check on his car. Good, I had managed to distract him. I gulped the last of my water, tossed my cup in the garbage, and went while the going was good. If Jim was smart, he would do the same. I slid my ID card into the slot to gain access to the women’s locker room and sighed with relief when the door clicked behind me. Dodd would have to have a sex change operation to follow me.
In the shower, as hot water steamed over my body, Dodd’s words came back to me. “Agent X-Files and the pet witch,”
Was I really developing a reputation as a ‘witch’ after only a year? While it was true most of my co-workers avoided me, I hoped they didn’t think I cast hexes in my off hours. Surely, with time, they would come to see I was a normal person? Maybe even someone they could be friends with?
When the FBI recruited me, they failed to disclose I would be the only psychic on the payroll. If I had known what a social stigma it would become, I might have turned them down. But I needed a job after college, so when the FBI called, I came.
I finished my shower and dressed quickly while keeping an eye on the clock. Our meeting was in fifteen minutes. I moved with urgent efficiency, pulling on the regulation navy blue pants, white blouse, gun, and blazer. When I first became a ‘feeb’ I would sometimes put the blazer on before the gun, but I was finally getting it right. I ran a brush through my sweaty hair--no time to wash it--before wrapping it in my usual bun. Perfumed hair spray kept stray hairs in place and covered any exercise related stink.
Dressed with my hair up, I dabbed on some neutral lipstick and was ready to go. I was a makeup minimalist, having decided long ago there was no point to an elaborate makeup regimen when I was just going to rub or sweat it off.
Being an FBI agent was not conducive to being a prima donna. High maintenance women need not apply. My job took me from the lab, to crime scene, involved heavy physical labor and, more often than I liked, flat out running for my life.
Besides I had good skin, I didn’t need foundation or any other goop. Although, my next door neighbor, Julie, was a Mary Kay groupie, and could probably debate that viewpoint for a solid hour. She made it sound like I was Frankenstein’s Bride unless I glopped some of her stuff on my face. I kind of felt, though, if I looked that bad, why bother? Some beige colored liquid wasn’t going to help me. She didn’t see the flaw in her sales approach because she pestered me endlessly.
One of these days I was going to lose the vacant, I’m-deeply-interested- in- whatever-you-say, look on my face and tell her the truth. Which would not be good since she was just about my only friend.
I checked the clock and saw I had just enough time to meet up with Jim. I gave myself a last once over in the mirror, taking in the auburn hair pulled tightly from my round face. It was a functional look that did nothing to hide my freckles, but did accentuate my blue eyes. Definitely not Bride of Frankenstein.
Truth be told, I thought I looked more like my mother than my father. I couldn’t say for sure as they were dead before I could form any memories. Any pictures had been lost to time, but I did see my parents in my dreams. Well, not really dreams, more like nightmares—they were usually bleeding.
I gave a little shake of my head to break my line of thought. Down that path lay only pain that accomplished nothing. I went to retrieve my shoes from my gym bag. They were new with a three inch stiletto heel, a Versace knock off. Even better, they were remarkably comfortable. A plus, since it was likely I would have to run in them at some point.
I walked out of the locker room to the staccato beat of my heels and took a spot by the water cooler to wait for Jim. I drank some more water and admired the black patent leather sheen of my shoes.
Some people would say I am nuts to wear heels in my line of work, but I have used them as weapons more than once. There’s a serial killer with a scar on his leg from where I drove my heel straight through his thigh. Heels combined with muscles that could squat 150 pounds were a lethal combination.
The doors to the men’s locker room squeaked as they opened. I looked up at the noise to see Jim emerge, freshly showered and a bit red in the cheeks. No doubt still upset about Dodd.
Jim nodded to me.“All set?”
“Yep.” I heaved my gym bag onto my shoulder and picked up my leather briefcase.
Jim led the way out of the gym and down the hall to the elevator. “That was a good move you played on Dodd.”
I shrugged, “It’s easy to manipulate people when you know what they value.” Not to mention the vandal had really good timing.
Jim pushed the call button for the elevator and shook his head. “I’m going to write him up. He can’t treat an agent like that and expect to advance. I’m going to ask for a formal reprimand.”
The elevator dinged. We stepped in and I pushed the button for the fifth floor. “The problem is that will just piss him off even more and he’ll come back with a vengeance.”
Jim sighed. “I know, but the only way to get him out is to use the system.”
I said nothing as I didn’t have anything else to contribute. The system was useless-- based on the same kind of logic that says you can’t be stalked until after you are dead. Systems based on twenty-twenty hindsight never seemed to do much, but the government did not recognize the word proactive.
I fidgeted as the elevator neared our stop. I wondered what Cook had for us now, it had only been two weeks since our last case and there hadn’t been enough time to decompress. Apparently, there was no rest for the wicked, or the psychics that chase them.
The FBI only decorated in one of three colors: White, gray, or beige. When they wanted to be fancy, they threw in an American flag and a picture of the current president. Conference room B, the location of our meeting, was gun-metal gray with a faux wood table and swivel chairs that had lost their ability to rotate a full decade before I was born.
There were nicer conference rooms, or so I heard, but our unit was in a bureaucratic gray area. While the FBI issued my checks and trained me, my employer was officially the Bureau of Metaphysics. We were an experimental group that operated on the fringe of the FBI’s standard operating procedures. Translation: We didn’t get choice accommodations at the Bureau.
Cook sat at the head of the conference table, an expectant look on his face. The way he drummed his pen on the notepad in front of him, said we were late even if we were actually on time. Jim and I dropped our gym bags by the wall to the side of the door, and slipped silently into our chairs.
Our boss was a gruff, rotund man with a gray goatee that made him look like the Colonel from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Pushing sixty, he had been with the agency for thirty years, five more than required to qualify for pension. His wife had left him a couple of years ago and the prevailing theory was he kept coming to work because there was nothing else for him to do.
I ignored Cook’s obvious irritation as I rummaged through my briefcase for a pen and notepad. If he wanted to start earlier, he should have said something. I wasn’t going to feel bad about not being notified of the agenda. Cook was the boss. It was his job to tell us where and when. The accepted method was via phone not telepathy, even if some of your staff was psychic.
Jim shifted uncomfortably in his seat, first to capitulate to the tension. “Hope you weren’t waiting too long. We had an unfortunate run-in with Dodd.”
Cook scowled at Jim in annoyance and took a sip of coffee from his ever-present mug. He was familiar with the mounting tension between Dodd and our unit. Banging the mug on the table he said, “Agent Packard, I’m disappointed you haven’t been able to resolve what amounts to a petty situation. I would rather see you focus on your job.”
“Sir, I agree with you, however, Agent Dodd has become quite hostile. The situation is bigger than just us. I question his ability to operate as an agent.” Jim’s voice was calm and even, but the stiffness in his shoulders betrayed his true feelings.
“All right, if you want to file a complaint, then fine, but not until after we deal with this case,” Cook said, reluctance obvious in the tone of his voice.
The two men stared at each other in hostile silence. Jim’s aura bristled at Cook’s dismissal. It was clear our boss hoped we would forget about Dodd.
Cook cleared his throat and, breaking eye contact with Jim, moved onto business. “We’ve got a nasty serial killer up in Cleveland. I brought the case file for you to review.” He shoved a stack of paperwork toward us.
I pulled the pile closer to me and opened the first file, looking for background on the case. Although, I needn’t have bothered as Cook launched into a quick summary.
“It seems there’s been four women and one man murdered. Two of the victims were Muslim and the Muslim community has raised holy hell with the police. Open that manila envelope, the crime scene photos are in there.” He pointed to the envelope in question, which I opened.
I stared at the first picture trying to concentrate, but my brain refused to cooperate and transformed the image into a blur of color and shadow. Subconsciously, I really didn’t want to understand what I was looking at. I closed my eyes for a second. Cool FBI agents weren’t supposed to have the heebie-jeebies looking at crime scene photos. A deep breath and a mental pep talk consisting of the phrase, “suck it up” over and over again brought the details into sharp focus as I opened my eyes. This time it was easier to see the blood.
The photo was a portrait of a young woman. Not the kind you take at school or for the family Christmas card. No, this was the kind of face shot taken by a forensics team before moving a body to the morgue. Someone had noted a few personal details on the bottom edge of the photo. Her name was Ana Murray. She was twenty-six and a natural redhead. Coincidentally, so was I, on both counts, with one important difference: She was dead and I wasn’t.
I looked through the police notes and found out she had last been spotted at a local grocery store in Cleveland. Somewhere between leaving the store and en-route to her next destination, she had been kidnapped and murdered. It wasn’t your usual homicide. No jealous lover, abusive husband, or even a mugger who lost control. Someone killed her just because they could, using her like a toy in an elaborate fantasy to feed their own psychosis.
The police had not found a single clue at any of the scenes. Not even a scrap of videotape at the grocery store to even hint at a potential suspect. As for the other victims, two had died in the same room as Ana minutes after she had been killed. Two more victims were found three days ago in an abandoned house in the Tremont suburban area.
From the time lines established with the families and witnesses, the victims that died together were kidnapped the same night. It takes a hell of a lot of strength and planning to control multiple victims without making a mistake. I would have said it was impossible. The complete lack of fingerprints, hair, and even a shoe or tire print was a phenomena some might be tempted to call supernatural.
In truth, the killer had used more practical methods. They staked their victims through the stomach with sharpened two-by-six pine boards. It’s hard to fight, let alone stay conscious, when someone has just shoved a big stick through your gut. Once the victims were staked, they were propped up against the wall and bled like cattle at the slaughterhouse.
I heard a low whistle next to me and the shuffling of paper as Jim scanned through the rest of the pictures. He was able to process the crime scene photos with an efficiency and aplomb I could only hope to one day emulate.
“It’s like human shish kabob,” Jim observed putting some of the pictures back into the case file. “What is the deal with the staking?”
Nodding my agreement, I passed Ana’s photo to Jim. He took it and added it to the case file.
“There’s more to it than barbeque jokes, Agent Packard,” Cook said with a frown.”Have you ever heard of Vlad the Impaler?”
“No” I said as Jim shook his head in the negative.
Cook grunted. “Not much reason to know about him, other than he liked to stake people, too. Apparently, at one time he had more than twenty thousand people staked.”
“So our guy is repeating history?” Jim made some notes as he talked.
“There’s more.” Cook held his hand up to stop Jim from saying anything further and continued, “Vlad the Impaler gave rise to the whole Dracula vampire mythology. Since the victims in Cleveland are running on empty, it’s possible that the killer’s delusion centers around vampires or some kind of blood ritual.”
“Dracula, I know, but I’ve never heard about Vlad the Impaler. When did all of this happen?” I frowned. “How do you stake twenty thousand people? Do you know what kind of space that would take? And how does that make you a vampire?”
Cook glared at me, “Agent Larson, do I look like a history professor? Damned if I know. I’m just quoting the highlights of their research. Ask the Cleveland P.D. for the details. Better yet, read the case file.”
“So we have two Muslims, a redhead, a blonde, and one male.” Jim reviewed his notes and ticked the victims off on his fingers.
“That much diversity in victim selection suggests either the killer has no preference, or we’ve missed why he’s chosen the victims,” I said.
“We don’t pay you for theories, we pay you to know, which is why you’re going to Cleveland on the first flight out tomorrow morning.” Cook extracted two folders from his briefcase, a battered leather box that had seen better days, and slid them across the table to Jim and I. “Touch everything you can and figure it out.”
I opened the folder to find an airplane ticket for the next day along with contact information for the Cleveland Police. Cleveland Ohio here I come. Lucky me. Did serial killers have something against Hawaii?
“Your contact will be Detective Leah Moskaluk from the local Police Department. You will work with local law enforcement instead of liaising through the FBI office on site. You know the drill, you don’t exist. You’re on your own.” Cook checked his watch and pushed his chair away from the table. “I want this case solved as soon as possible.”
“Yes sir,” Jim and I said in unison.
“Good. Take a taxi from the airport to the station. Detective Moskaluk will meet with you when you arrive.” He stood and snapped his briefcase shut. “No thanks to you two, I’m going to be late for my tee time.”
And with that he was gone, leaving us alone with the case file and the scent of too-strong coffee hanging in the air.
“He came. He saw. He went to play golf,” I mumbled under my breath. Cook was not one to get involved in the day-to-day details of an investigation.
Jim smiled. “That is the privilege of power.”
I snorted. “Or abuse. You say tomayto, I say tomahto.”
Jim gave me a ‘what are you going to do’ shrug and led the way to the elevator. “I have to put together a report on the trial today. Can you get a headstart on the case file?”
“Will do.” I sighed and stuffed the case file into my briefcase. A long to-do list of all the things I would have to do before tomorrow morning ran through my head until my temples throbbed. Jim already had all the information he needed. Through years of experience, he had developed the ability to absorb critical case details in just a few minutes, whereas I still had to do my homework.
In truth, as the junior partner it was my responsibility to do all the grunt work. It would be up to me to figure out who the hell Vlad the Impaler was and correlate that information against the case data. I would be expected to make a report tomorrow morning during the flight to Ohio.
On the ride down to the ground floor, information about the victims in Cleveland swirled in my mind like a mental jigsaw puzzle, one missing a critical piece. The case contradicted everything we thought we knew about victim selection. Most serial killers are making a statement with their crimes, working out some kind of twisted angst via the act of murder.
If you can interpret that statement, it tells you a lot about who your killer is and makes it easier to identify suspects. Many times they have elaborate psychotic fantasies that limit their victims to one age group, hair color, ethnicity, gender, or other physical trait. In the absence of any physical evidence, no clear victim preference, and, without any idea as to what the psychological makeup of the killer was, it would be difficult to profile the perpetrator.
Enter the psychic, stage right.