The Devil’s Den

By Beth

FBI Files (Seven)

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Chapter 1

The room was quiet except for the sounds of small chains and handcuffs ringing together. Armed officers walked on either side of the murderer. The man, dressed in bright orange coveralls with D.O.C. printed on the back, cuffs hooked to his hands, feet, and waist, walked slowly toward the awaiting van. He grinned all the while, looking up at the sun…feeling its rays for the first time in years as he exited through the doors.

He looked through the small bar covered window and watched the interaction between people. He missed that. He missed the smells of women’s perfume, fresh baked bread and donuts, even the smell of oil on a hot engine. He looked at people like he would objects, things to be bought and sold…like toys. He couldn’t feel their pain, understand their grief, or sympathize with their problems. It wasn’t a matter of his unwillingness to do so…it was simply his inability. 

A plane landed. Its tires bounced twice and smoke escaped from behind them before coming to a steady pace on the asphalt surface. Small luggage filled carts moved in an orderly fashion around the compound. People looked and whispered as the criminal was pulled from the van and moved across the ground toward the cargo plane. 

Mason wasn’t the only psychopath headed to California. Joe Williams, the murderer of three prostitutes, was also being studied by Doctor Earl Braun. The doctor was trying to link psychotic behavior to child abuse…his attempt was trivial…but enduring. However, the grant he received from the US Government insured his research would continue. Braun was getting what he wanted…Mason.

“Move him to the back with the other one,” the officer said, pointing toward the back of the plane. It was a prison in the sky…even the bathroom was open and guarded.

Mason moved to the back of the plane and was secured to his seat. He laughed, as though he knew something everyone else didn’t. One minute his eyes were as warm and inviting as a child’s…the next, they were black and filled with something sinister.

He was the master.


Doctor Braun read through Tom Mason’s file, reading, but not seeing the murderer’s rage. Images of the victims branded their way into the doctor’s mind, but for reasons nobody understood, he was callused to them. What captured his attention were the family problems the killer had faced as a boy.

For a child, a divorce was as painful as the death of a family member…sometimes harder. Few realized that. Doctor Braun knew that pain well and he believed with his whole heart that sociopaths were made, not born. They were a result of society and the evils cast upon them. 

Mason’s mother, Beverly, had been an alcoholic, spending most of her time in the beds of other men. Then she discovered religion and changed her life for the good. But like many alcoholics, drug abusers, or addicts in general…she dove headlong into her religious beliefs. In essence exchanging one addiction for another. His father had been domineering, abusive, and combative. However, his father Donald, had decided to leave the family when his wife decided to get clean. He left his son in the arms of a fanatic…creating a monster. Earl had seen this before…many times before. There wasn’t a standard that could be followed when profiling a sociopath…there were the ‘tells’ the so-called ‘symptoms’, but usually the diagnoses went unnoticed.

Until it was too late.

Not every sociopath killed, not all were serial offenders.

Earl closed the large file and took a deep breath. He looked once again at Mason’s fifth grade school picture, and one that was taken three months ago. What had made this boy into a killer…a murderer of women and children? What had triggered him to kill? Had it been a person that pushed him? Or had it been a time?

Did it matter?


Mason looked at his fingernails…they used to be so well manicured, so up kept. His hands used to know the feel of soft skin, fine hair, and the curvature of a woman’s body. He missed the touch of his patients. The way they looked at him for help, guidance, and support. The way they trusted him with their very lives. Never once did a parent question his treatments, ask him for his credentials, ask him for references. They were so trusting; entering his office, knowing without a doubt that he was going to help.

He liked that feeling, that feeling of complete power…playing…being God. He liked picking the children he would help, the ones that died, or lived. He even enjoyed sending those with less than…appealing features, to other doctors…let them deal with the ‘abnormalities’. 

He closed his eyes, picturing his past…his fantasies. He couldn’t remember their names, but he remembered what his victims looked like…all of them. He remembered what he’d done…every detail. Even the ones nobody found…the ones he’d kept secret. Agent Standish thought he knew him…that boy was wrong, Mason smiled, Ezra Standish didn’t know him at all.

Special Agent Ezra Standish was a fool.

Mason looked at the guards standing near the cage entrance with their guns ready for use. He wasn’t the first prisoner to be transferred in this plane, nor would he be the last. He looked at the slip-on-shoes he wore; their once white appearance was now scarred with black marks from the thick rubber of the plane’s interior. At one time he’d worn black leather Italian made shoes…before his capture, even his suits had designer labels.

One day he’d get that back.

He was sure of it.


Doctor Braun watched from his office window as the two serial killers were transferred from the police van to his department. He had questions, studies, and discoveries to make. He’d do it. Find out what made a sociopath…he’d find out why they killed…why they acted different than others.

To him, Mason, and those like him, were victims…just like those that he’d killed. What had happened to that boy to change him? What had been so tragic?

“They’re ready to greet you, Doctor,” the young assistant said. She looked longingly at her idol. The man who found compassion in everything he did. Young, innocent eyes looked at him and she smiled when he nodded in understanding.

“Tell them I’ll be right down,” he said calmly…happily, answers were just around the corner.


Chapter 2

Tires squealed and smoked as brakes were pressed. Vin’s short-bed GMC truck skidded momentarily before its doors were flung open. Chris and the sharpshooter jumped out drawing their weapons. Buck and JD soon followed in the ladies man’s El Camino. Josiah and Nathan were on their way.

Chris motioned with his hand toward the apartment door. Positions were taken around the stairs, awning, and windows. The team leader tried the door, only to find it locked. On the count of three, JD and Buck used the battering ram to force the door open, splintering wood, breaking the locks, and destroying parts of the doorframe.

The apartment hadn’t changed since Chris had been in it last. Except for the fact that the coffee maker was still in the process of heating the warm substance. He and Vin moved quickly and quietly through the rooms. They could hear the shower running in the bathroom and immediately opened the door. Steam rolled outward, moving toward the ceiling and then disappearing all together.

“Ezra!” Chris called into the room, concerned.

Nobody answered.

“You don’t think…?” Vin asked quietly, unsure if he wanted to finish the question. He looked suspiciously at the opened window in the bedroom.

Chris’ jaw clenched as he shook his head. It’s too soon.

“Ah…Chris?” Buck said, calling from the front door.

Vin and Chris both sighed and turned to leave, only to stop in place after finding his profiler standing outside wearing nothing but a red and white…tablecloth…with fringe…around his hips? His hair stuck to his scalp and continued to drip water down his neck. He didn’t look happy.  “Would you care to explain to me, Mr. Larabee, why I no longer have a door? And—more importantly—why you felt the need to knock it down?”

Chris ran his hand over his face and shook his head. He looked hard at his agent, and noting the silence of his men, he started to explain, “Mason escaped last night after being—”

“Sonofabitch!” Ezra snapped, standing up straighter. The gates of hell had been opened…

“He was being transferred for study to The Center for Psychological Research in Cooper California. It was run by a Doctor Earl Braun…”

“Was?” Ezra questioned.

“He and his assistant were found with their throats cut in the public bathroom at the facility,” Chris answered honestly. He looked at Ezra and noticed he nodded in understanding. “He’s made verbal threats against you and we need to take preventative measures to avoid anything from happening.”

Ezra shook his head: “Mason hasn’t killed for over two years…The first thing he’s going to do is find a suitable victim and play out his fantasy…he may come for me eventually…but not right away.”

“We heard the threats, Ezra!” Chris snapped. This wasn’t a game.

“Mason is no different than any other serial killer. The threats he made were simply his way of announcing his dominance. Even behind bars he thinks he’s the most deadly, horrific, and indestructible man that ever lived…despite the evidence against him.”

JD’s brow furrowed: “What’s that mean?”

“Simply put, Mr. Dunne, as bad as Mason is…there are hundreds—possibly thousands worse.” There was a distinct sadness in the Southerner’s tone, but nobody chose to act on it. “When do we leave?”

“We don’t,” Chris corrected. “I’m under orders to get your ass out of town…and I intend to.”

“Despite your intentions,” Ezra stated, “I’ll not be running away.” He crossed his arms over his chest and realized he was still dressed in only a tablecloth. He looked down, hoping the others wouldn’t ask him to explain why he was wearing an oriental decorated cloth.  He looked up toward the windows of the apartment building behind him and received several waves and smiles from his neighbor ladies. Ezra inwardly groaned before spreading his arms wide and taking a quick bow. He then entered his apartment with three of his compatriots behind him. All of them noticed the weapon tucked within the folds of the cloth wrapped around his waist in the small of his back. 

Buck snickered and then disappeared.

“Director Morris thinks these threats against you are serious…and I believe him.” Chris grabbed a cup of coffee without being invited to do so.

Ezra shook his head and disappeared into his bedroom, all the while speaking loud enough for everyone to hear, “He’ll not come for me in a direct manner, Mr. Larabee. If, and when, he decides to make his appearance…it will be under a carefully constructed guise. He has to prove to me first that he’s better than anyone else, particularly me because I profiled him—which led to his capture.” He stepped out, buttoning his shirt.

Vin looked hard at both men, knowing instinctively that they’d arrived at a stalemate. “So what do we do?” he asked, looking for answers.

“Find him…before he gets his message across.” 

Buck entered the apartment wearing a grin that spread a mile wide. Even his eyes seemed animated as he pulled from his pocket a handful of small strips of paper. “Phone numbers,” he teased. “You’re sittin’ on a gold mine here, Standish.”

The Southerner cocked an eyebrow: “Most of those phone numbers…” he replied, “have husbands attached.”

Buck’s grin increased in size: “So?”

“So help me, Buck,” Chris gasped, leaving the apartment.

“And who should I inquire about my door, Mr. Larabee?” Ezra called out.

Nathan stopped his car and jumped out with Josiah on his heels. Both men stopped when they noticed the amused expressions on their teammates’ faces.

“What happened?” Josiah asked, his voice booming through the air.

“Later,” Chris snapped. “First we’ve got an appointment with Travis.”

“And my door, Mr. Larabee?”

Chris’ lips turned upward as he slipped into the passenger seat of Vin’s truck. He looked over toward the sharpshooter and shrugged, as the driver’s side door was slammed shut.

“You know,” Vin sighed, starting the ignition, “we still don’t know Standish that well. You might live to regret this.”

“I hope to God I do.”


The conference room was small but economical. Nothing decorated the light gray walls except a single white-board. Chairs rested around the long table, enabling visual access to each other. Double doors led into the room.

Assistant Director Travis laid his files out before him after he sat in his chair. He looked in earnest at the men sitting around him…looking for answers. He pushed his glasses up closer to his eyes and opened the first file. “As you know, Tom Mason escaped last night from The Center for Psychological Research at approximately 7:30 pacific time. Video recorders taped him leaving the building in a security guard’s uniform and then leaving by foot through the parking lot... At this time, two are dead—Doctor Braun and his assistant, Vicki Tomes.”

“Where was the building’s security?” Vin asked. “If it were known that the facility was expecting two serial killers—both on death row—why wasn’t security beefed up?”

“It was,” Travis explained. “However, it would appear that the rooms containing the prisoners were off video when they arrived. That situation is still under investigation. Local police have been interviewing staff and colleagues in regards to the possibility of Mason having inside help—”

“He wouldn’t have,” Ezra interrupted. “He works alone. It states in the report that an office assistant, Mary Cooper, witnessed Braun and Tomes enter the exam room…and yet nobody saw them or Mason leave…”

“It’s a big building,” Buck said, looking at the architectural layout.

“Mason saw a chance and he took it…this has nothing to do with someone on the inside helping him out.”

Travis leaned back and watched the team’s interaction. “Director Morris doesn’t want you on the case…none of you. Reluctantly, however, he’s agreed to send you,” he looked hard at Ezra, “because you know what you’re looking for. We need to find this killer.” His voice intensified as he looked at his men. “The families of Mason’s victims believe he was in a secured location—”

“He was!” Chris snapped, getting to his feet.

“It’s important to realize, Agent Larabee, that ‘these’ men need to be studied…the more we know about them, the sooner we can stop them from killing or acting out their violent fantasies.” Travis leaned forward and rested his elbows on the table.

Chris laughed in disbelief.

“Your flight leaves at three this afternoon,” Orin said, getting to his feet. “If you have any trouble…” he looked hard at everyone at the table, “let us know… We need Mason back…dead or alive.” He left the room with a heavy heart, but knowing they’d get the job done.

“He says that now,” JD commented, thinking the serial killer should have been executed.

“Men like Mason are born, Mr. Dunne, not made. And it is important for us to know how their minds work.” Ezra closed the file that rested before him.

“So you think it’s okay to lie to their families?” Nathan asked, slightly surprised by the profiler’s assessment.

“Yes,” Ezra answered. “In this case particularly.”

“Jeez, why don’t you legalize drugs while you’re at it,” Buck commented, getting to his feet.

“If it were up to me, Mr. Wilmington,” Ezra replied, “I would.”

“Wow, wow, wow,” JD jumped in, following the others out of the room. “You, would legalize drugs?”

Ezra nodded while heading toward the elevator.

“Frankly, Brother,” Josiah spoke up, “I’m surprised you have such views.”

Six of the seven stepped inside the small compartment.

“I’ll take the stairs,” Vin offered.

“It is economically devastating keeping drugs illegal. Not only are we spending millions of dollars each year on dealers, abusers, and law enforcement, but each year drug arrests go up. Why not make it beneficial for everyone. We not only could place taxes on these drugs but we could regulate them as well…”

“Yeah,” Buck agreed bitterly. “Not only make it legal for addicts to get their hands on drugs, but open your arms up to them.”

“What’s the difference between an alcoholic and a drug addict, Mr. Wilmington? Other than the fact the latter is illegal?”

“Drugs are dangerous, Ezra…not something to fool around with,” Chris said, standing up straight as the elevator slowed down.

“Nor are those cancer sticks to enjoy smoking,” Ezra replied, slapping Chris’ front pocket on his shirt that contained his cigarettes.

“Score one for the profiler,” JD smirked, following Ezra out of the elevator.

“I agree with him,” Nathan said, surprising everyone.

“You…a doctor, agrees with that?” Buck asked in shock.

“The majority of drug overdoses are a lack of medical response time… If drugs were regulated, in essence free and without fear…death rates from drug abuse—and poor manufacturing—would drop considerably.” Nathan shrugged his shoulders and headed for his desk. “HIV, Aids, heart failure due to infections from dirty needles…”

“I believe, brothers,” Josiah said, watching as Nathan headed for his desk, still talking about the benefits of legalizing drugs, “that we’ve just witnessed a profound sentiment by our esteemed colleague.”

“You have got to lay off the Socrates bullshit, Josiah,” Buck replied, tossing his file onto his desk.

Vin entered the offices and headed for his desk. He looked around at his comrades and grinned. “Have any of you realized that we work four times lower than what dead people sleep?”

“Well hell, Junior,” Buck grinned, “That’s a positive outlook on things. I always thought dead folks were rottin’ away in their caskets.”

“You’re a sick sonofabitch, Buck,” Vin responded with a grin. Mischievous blue eyes watched the tall, lean, muscular ladies man as he leaned against his desk.

“Well, fuck me runnin’!” Buck gasped seeing the box of homemade chocolates and the bright red card. He winked and bobbled his eyebrows at his friends before shoving a piece of chocolate into his mouth. He opened the card, grinning all the while, and then cleared his throat and started reading aloud, “To my dearest, sweetest, and most manly man I’ve ever met.” He smiled wide, allowing the lights from the room to glisten off his white teeth. He grabbed another chocolate and pulled the plate from JD’s grasp as the kid tried to get a piece. He then continued with the card, “I hope to see you again…you and your portable ‘Honey Bucket’…Val.”

“Who’s Val?” JD asked, eyeing the candy.

Vin grabbed a bag of M&Ms out of his desk and seated himself. He caught eyes with Ezra for a brief moment before averting them for a moment, trying to concentrate on their next assignment.

“Don’t remember, Kid,” Buck replied, shoving files into his brief case.

A grin appeared across Ezra’s face and the slight hint of a gold tooth appeared like magic between his lips. He shook his head and continued with his paperwork. Sneaky little shit…he’d remember that one.

“What’d you find so amusing?” Josiah asked.

“I believe,” he sighed looking at Buck, “that Mr. Wilmington is in for an…uncomfortable surprise.”

“What’s a honey bucket?” JD asked, looking at the card Buck had received.

Vin snorted, unable to maintain his composure, and left the room.

“A port-a-potty,” Nathan answered with a smile.

Buck’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked again at his brownies. “Where’s Vin?” he asked softly. His jovial behavior now tainted.

“My suggestion would be to find the bathroom, Mr. Wilmington…before you…exceed your daily allowance.” Ezra continued to gather files and information and place it into his briefcase.

JD laughed and was quickly joined with Josiah and Nathan.

Chris stepped out of his office and looked at his men. “Get your shit together,” he warned. “We’ve got a job to do.”

Vin rushed passed Buck as he entered the bathroom. The sharpshooter snorted and grabbed his jacket and briefcase before rushing toward the stairs. “I’ll see y’all at the airport!” he yelled, running from the room.

“Your ass is grass, Vin, and I’m the lawnmower!” Buck shouted, coming to a stop in the middle of the room. His friends and teammates watched him as his jaw clenched and he rushed for the bathroom.

Chris watched his friend and chuckled before turning a serious look toward his men. “Let’s go,” he ordered, before turning toward his office.


Chapter 3

He’d missed his freedom. The power he had to make his own decisions: what to eat, when to sleep, who to watch, and who to kill. This time he knew the ropes…this time he knew who would hunt him and why.

This time he’d be prepared.

California was too obvious. It had too many people living too close together, and frankly…everyone seemed a bit paranoid. His picture was posted on everything from news broadcasts to convenience store doors. The picture was terribly inaccurate, depicting him as ‘thick’ with black eyes. Whoever took the picture should be shot, or better yet…disemboweled.

Mason laughed, looking at his new self in the mirror. Thick glasses with tape rolled around the center holding them together decorated his nose and eyes. His once dark hair was now dyed reddish-brown. Nobody would recognize him, not when the majority of the population couldn’t even properly identify a penny.

He stepped out of the cheep hotel room, wearing worn out blue jeans and a plaid shirt…clothing he’d stolen from a transient. It felt good…being him. Being who he was and yet…nobody knew he was ‘that’ man, ‘that’ serial killer. He entered the Roadway Diner and seated himself in the back near the door. He looked at those sitting around him. Truckers on their way to some unknown destination sat around the bar, drinking coffee, and finishing their meals.

It was the waitress that captured his attention. The way she moved in her jeans, the way her hair swayed over her shoulders…despite being tied back into a ponytail. He wanted everything about her. In many ways she reminded him of a porcelain doll, only she was missing the fancy clothing and the detailed makeup. She was thin…too thin, like a young boy…still growing into a man.

“What can I get you,” she asked, tapping her pad with her pencil.

“Coffee,” Mason responded.

She looked him over and shook her head. “You look like you could use a meal,” she said softly, making sure nobody could hear. “How much money do you have?” she asked sincerely.

Mason’s brow furrowed and he grinned, ashamed. He pulled out a couple dollar bills from his pocket. “Coffee’s enough…I’ll…”

“I’ll bring you some eggs and toast with your coffee,” she smiled. “It’ll do Mike some good, cookin’ somethin’ extra.” She smiled warmly and headed into the kitchen.

Mason watched her go. They made it so easy for him…so easy indeed.


Nathan looked over the body of Vicki Tomes, separating himself from his duty. She’d been an unwed mother who had given up her child for the sake of the baby. She’d come to work for Dr. Braun in hopes of making something out of her life. Now, she lay on a cold steel table.

“The victim, Miss Tomes, died as a result of blood loss due to her severed right jugular vein. The carotid artery, trachea, and larynx were also severed…exposing the vertebra. Her body temperature upon discovery was 97.5 degrees, indicating she’d been deceased for approximately an hour before being discovered.” He looked at the reports from the initial autopsy.

Ezra watched him from the corner of the room, listening to what Nathan was saying into his recorder…piecing together how the crime took place. “Was she raped?” he asked, knowing she had been.

Nathan looked up and sighed. “Yes, but she put up quiet a fight. Hair samples, fingernail scrapings, and semen were sent down to the lab for further analysis. Her finger and toenails, as well as eyes were tested for prints and nothing was discovered.” He scratched his chin…sometimes he hated his job. “Four lacerations on her back are indicative of Mason…”

“We know who did it, Mr. Jackson,” Ezra interrupted.

“I haven’t worked on many serial killer cases, Ezra,” Nathan sighed, “and I’m not sure what we’re looking for.” He placed the autopsy report on the table and covered Vicki’s body with a light blue sheet.

“Mason’s compulsion for dominance is his signature, the ‘M’ being carved into the back of his victims is telling us who preformed the crime…he has an uncontrollable need to claim what’s his—”

“Then why’d he sodomize Dr. Braun after his death?”

“That was an act directed for us…he’s letting us know we can’t stop him. It no longer matters to him what or who he kills. If an opportunity arises, he’ll take it. He’s in control of everything and he wants us—more than anything—to know it.”

Nathan shook his head. “Will he stop?”

“No,” Ezra answered. “He loves what he does, what he can do. The power he has, the sheer dominance he can gain is too tempting for him.”

“What motivates him?” Nathan asked, out of curiosity.


“Of getting caught?”

“Of knowing what he is.”


Vin and Chris stood outside the building and looked at its sterile appearance. To think that Mason had just walked out of such a fortress was incomprehensible. Josiah stepped up behind the pair with JD behind him.

“It turns out…” Josiah said, clearing his throat, “that the audio/video device was faulty and had only been installed minutes before Mason arrived. Technicians supplied ample evidence on the faulty product and why they had to delay getting it installed.”

“You’d think that they could have found another company,” Vin muttered, looking in the direction Mason had left in just two days before.

“Dr. Braun wanted this one. He was insistent upon it,” JD answered. “The faulty part was an accident, so we can rule out any co-conspirators working with Mason. I even checked the computer files and serial numbers…everything’s a match.”

“So Mason got lucky,” Chris muttered.

“Looks that way,” Josiah sighed, shaking his head in disbelief.

“I want to hear what Ezra and Nathan have to say,” Chris sighed, running his fingers through his hair.

“What about Buck?” Vin asked, crossing his arms across his chest.

“He’s still interviewing Joe Williams,” JD added.

“We’ll get a full report from everyone when we get back to the station.” Chris headed toward the car, wishing and hoping things worked out.


The room was quiet, despite being filled with seven FBI agents, nine police officers, and detectives. Nobody knew what to think, other than the fact they were one the hunt for a madman. They’d all had experience working murder cases, but nothing this…grotesque or insane. Pictures, documents, and notes hung off the walls, chalkboards, and computer terminals. The room that had once been used for trafficking drug dealers was now deemed the Serial Killer Headquarters.

Ezra knew they wouldn’t be here for long. Mason wouldn’t stay in the area…he knew better than that. However, it was important for everyone to understand how this killer thought, worked, and what motivated him. He may not be in the area any longer, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t come back.

Chris passed out pictures and the profile Ezra had written several years ago, documenting who Mason was and how he would act. The images of his latest victims were horrific, and they would eventually get worse.

“How is a profile that’s three years old goin’ to get us anywhere?” one of the detectives snapped, tossing the 13 page report onto his desk.

Ezra stood up and looked at the men in the room. “I hope I am under the correct impression that most of you know what modus operandi means?” His sarcasm was duly noted. He looked around the room, making sure his words were heard and understood. “It’s a learned behavior and only changes over time—not immediately. Mason hasn’t killed in over two years…his first taste of it was Miss Tomes and Dr. Braun. However, they were only samples…he’s going to look and find his next victim within a tight time frame…if he hasn’t already found one—”

“So what are we lookin’ for?” Detective Roy Carson asked, leaning forward in his seat. Years of experience made him realize when something was worthy of his attention.

“Mason’s general appearance is listed on his profile before you,” Ezra said, leaning against the table. He crossed his arms over his chest and continued, “He’ll change his hairstyle…possibly a wig or dye…I see him dying his hair.

“What color?” someone snickered.

“Red, possibly light brown. Blonde is too recognizable for a man of his complexion and shaving his head is too common an identification marker. He may wear glasses, grow a beard or mustache …he may even scar his face…making him harder to identify. I don’t see him going so far as that…but he may.”

“Why don’t you draw us a composite sketch?” the same detective joked again, not taking the situation seriously.

Ezra looked hard at the officer. “He’ll kill whomever he can, and he won’t stop at that. His signature is pain, domination, and mutilation. He does these things because it thrills him…it’s not enough to just kill his victims…he must, and I stress, must, completely dominate who they are as a person. It may be your wife, girlfriend, sister, daughter, son, or brother…it won’t matter to him because they’re all the same. Someone to control, someone to feed his fantasy… He won’t stop while you’re in here bitching about working with the FBI, he’ll strike harder, faster, and he’ll drive you mad trying to decide his next move.” Ezra locked eyes with the officer. “If you’re not up to the job, leave…someone else can and will take your place. This man isn’t someone to fuck with…so while you’re in here sitting on your thumbs, he’s picked out his next victim.”

“So what’s the difference between his MO and his signature? They sound like the same thing,” Carson asked, pulling his pencil from his pocket to take notes…he watched as his men did the same.

“His signature won’t change…it’s a compulsion, a need…it’s a part of who he is as opposed to what he’s learning. MO’s change over time, because the perpetrators get better.”

“How do we catch him?” someone asked from the group.

“If and when he gets mobile…he’ll drive a black, possibly dark blue car or van, something unassuming…an Escort, Volkswagen, or possibly an old Dodge. His demeanor will change. He may use the sympathy routine that was used by Ted Bundy so many years ago. He may appear wounded, injured, or impaired of some kind in order for his victims to approach him. He won’t go to them,” Ezra stressed. “I suggest keeping in close contact with neighboring police departments, share your information. You can eliminate all murder cases where rape is not involved…crimes of this nature are sexually motivated—”

“Male and female?”

“In this instance…yes.” Ezra nodded and motioned toward the black and white photograph exposing a woman’s back and the four lacerations that created an M. “Mason marks all his victims…claiming them as his own. If they lack this mark…it’s not the same man.”

“How do you know that won’t change?” Vin asked, wanting to make sure he understood everything.

“It’s his signature…his compulsion, in essence it’s a part of who he is.” Ezra sighed. “We know who Mason is, this isn’t a matter of thinning out suspects. He knows who we are and I see him leading us on…creating a game of cat and mouse.”         

“So what are we?” Buck asked.

“Right now…we’re the mice.”


Chapter 4

The table was crowded as Chris and the others finished off their meager meals. Nobody ate a lot…except Buck and Vin who seemed to be able to eat no matter what was going on around them. Ezra picked at his food with his fork, trying to decide if his mashed potatoes would slide off his plate and invade JD’s body.

What was Mason doing now? Had he found his next victim? Was he eating…making himself comfortable…being free?

“You know, Standish” Buck sighed, leaning back in his seat. He looked around and made sure nobody could listen in on their conversation. “How in the hell do you know Mason’s going to drive a dark colored car or van?”

Ezra put his fork down and placed his napkin on the table. “He’s compulsive and extremely organized…”

“So’s Nathan,” Buck joked.

“And Mr. Jackson drives a dark green Taurus as opposed to your white El Camino.”

Chris rested his elbows on the table and crossed his arms. “How are we going to find this guy?”

“He’ll contact us,” Ezra whispered. He looked down when his beeper went off and pulled the small object from his belt. “It would appear that Mason is being transferred from D.C. to a Dr. Braun in California.” His jaw clenched and he quickly replaced his beeper, hating the Bureau’s bureaucracy.      

“You’ve got to love paperwork,” JD muttered. “I’m surprised they didn’t contact you sooner.”

“We were in Berry the day before yesterday working on the Trickle case,” Josiah replied, fingering the edge of his napkin. “Why wouldn’t they tell you Mason was being transferred when you spoke with Dr. Owens?”

“He didn’t know,” the profiler replied.

“I don’t mean to step on your toes, Ezra, but…” Buck looked hard at the agent, “if you’ve only done three…well four profiles, how do you know what you’re sayin’ is right?” There was a slight tone of animosity in his voice despite trying to hide it.

“I’ve done 267 profiles, Mr. Wilmington, four of those were directed towards serial killers. I only started working cases of ‘this’ magnitude 3 years before my departure for Germany.”

“How do you know he’ll contact us?” Nathan asked, finishing off his glass of ice tea.

Ezra watched as water droplets slid down his glass: “He wants to dominate this case…in essence, be the director of his movie. He needs to make sure he gets credit for his ‘accomplishments’ so he’ll make sure we know for sure who and what he’s done.”

“With the help of the Bureau’s sketch artists we should be able to come up with a composite depicting the possible changes in Mason’s appearance,” Chris noted.

“He’ll stay low key, coming out only to kill, and never be ‘seen’ by anyone. He’s the kind of person you see but never remember… We’ll catch him, but only on his turf.”

Everyone looked up when Detective Carson stepped closer to the table. He held in his grasp a handful of files. His short gray hair laid flat against his scalp and his small eyes seemed bright as he looked like a man searching for answers. “Gentlemen,” he said softly. “I’m sorry to disturb your supper…” He glanced toward Ezra.

“Something come up?” Chris asked, looking hard at the officer.

Roy shook his head: “Not as yet. However, I would like to get your opinion…” he directed his attention toward the profiler, “…regarding a case I’ve been working on for the past twelve years. It doesn’t warrant FBI involvement…but I was hoping—because you’re here, that…you could take a look.” For a man of his age he seemed nervous as he asked, perhaps a slight intimidation of the men around him. “Anything you could give me would…” he couldn’t finish. This case had haunted him for far too long.

“Take a seat,” Josiah said, needing the distraction. It would be easier to look at what had been done, than thinking about what will be.

“Can I get you boys anything else?” the waitress asked, smiling warmly as she grabbed a couple of empty plates.

“Some privacy,” Chris responded. He didn’t mean to sound harsh, but he did.

The woman nodded and quickly left, motioning toward her coworkers to leave the table in peace.

Roy laid the files on the table before him and sighed. “Samantha Sue Olson was killed January 14th twelve years ago,” he said, not bothering to open the file.

“You knew her?” Ezra asked, watching the detective’s movements and mannerisms.

“I knew her father,” Roy admitted. He handed the file to the profiler. “I promised Dale that I’d find who killed his daughter…three months after Samantha’s death, he was killed by a drunk driver on his way home from a college basketball game…” He shook his head, holding back the pain. “Dale was a coach.”

“I thought it was against regulation for friends or family to work on cases like this?” Vin asked, knowing they weren’t following procedure.

“It is,” Roy agreed. “I just want an opinion…something new or fresh. I have a list of suspects—”

“I’ll give you a profile from the pictures…” Ezra started, “I don’t want to see your suspects. That’s for you and your department to decide.  I would assume that the home in which she grew up in has been sold or abandoned?”

“Yeah, after Dale’s death, Teri moved back east to be close to her sister. I have a statement from Teri. She wrote in detail about her daughter. I also took pictures of Samantha’s bedroom, the house she grew up in, and the neighborhood.”

Ezra looked closely at the photographs, documenting data. It wasn’t unusual for a police department to call and discuss, in detail, an ongoing case. Sometimes pictures were shared, but mostly it was verbal communication. It was only the high profile cases that got enough attention to warrant an FBI profiler visiting the community…unfortunately, that happened a lot. “He’s young…close to the same age as the victim…late teens. He knew her…extremely well…the coat over her face indicates that he wanted to disassociate himself from the crime. If he’s still in the area he feels remorseful about the murder and probably visits her gravesite. I see him as intimidated by the opposite sex…she wasn’t raped,” Ezra said, looking at the autopsy report, “but the fact that her blouse was found open, her bra still in place, implies that her killer wanted to at least touch her. He didn’t develop like most boys…he’s not a late bloomer, he just didn’t develop emotionally…still hasn’t. The opposite sex scares him, but fascinates him at the same time and he doesn’t know how to relate. I doubt he’s had a serious relationship with a woman and if he hasn’t moved he’s still living with his parents…at least his mother…”

Roy visibly sighed and sank back into his seat. 

“Samantha felt comfortable enough with him to allow him to get close to her…” Ezra looked at the pictures of her and her bedroom. “She was nice, sweet, treated people like she wanted to be treated. She thought she’d be nice to the neighbor boy…let him examine her…she knew he was inexperienced and wanted him to be like the others. When he touched her he panicked…feeling something he wasn’t familiar with…and he hit her with a rock…killing her.” He looked up and met Roy’s eyes. “There wasn’t any malevolence in his act… He’s what we term a simple schizophrenic…and if he’s ever faced with a similar situation, he will kill again…if he hasn’t already.”

Chris looked hard at his agent, learning more than he’d anticipated. Ezra wasn’t just a good profiler, he was excellent…and it wasn’t a wonder as to why the Bureau wanted to keep him around. What was it like, looking at the world through a victim’s eyes…the perpetrator’s? What was it like knowing what the heart of darkness meant? Seeing the evil man was capable of?

“I don’t have anything to hold him on,” Roy sighed, shaking his head. “Your profile fits him perfectly…I’d just hoped it wasn’t him…”

“Bring him in for questioning. Don’t threaten him, let him know you understand what happened, and then—when he’s ready…tell him you understand how he feels, and ask him ‘you didn’t mean to hurt her…did you?’…He’ll break under the pressure and guilt. Make sure his mother, or guardian isn’t in the room. Interview him with another younger detective…someone he can identify with…someone who can be as compassionate as you.”

“This is a murderer he’s dealing with, Ezra,” Buck said. “We’re taught as cops not to come down to their level.”

Ezra nodded, he understood that. “But you have to…if you want to get a confession, you have to manipulate him into believing that you understand how he felt.”

“But you don’t…do you?” JD asked with trepidation in his voice. He seemed younger than he really was at that moment.

Ezra averted his eyes and clenched his jaw, unwilling to answer while at the same time unwilling to lie.

Buck shook his head in disbelief and threw his napkin down onto the tabletop. He stood up and left abruptly.

Roy shook Ezra’s hand. “Thanks for takin’ the time…” he motioned to the files in his hand. His gentle demeanor seemed to elevate in the room causing everyone to relax.

“Are you married, Detective?” Ezra asked.

“Thirty-seven years,” he replied, smiling proudly. “We share four kids and three grandchildren.”

“And they worship the ground you walk on.” Ezra smiled. He stood up and walked out of the restaurant, speaking with the detective all the while.

Chris leaned back in his seat and watched the two men leave.

“I’m not workin’ with that man,” Buck snapped, retaking his seat at the table. His voice was harsh and impenetrable. “I’m not workin’ with someone who gets off thinkin’ like serial killers.”

“Thinking like them and acting like them are two different things,” Chris replied.

“It’s a fine fuckin’ line,” Buck responded.

“When we get back to D.C. I’m putting your ass in the behavioral science unit so you know what those guys go through, Buck. Whatever you ‘think’ they do is a far cry from ‘what’ they do.” Chris looked hard at his long time friend.

Buck’s jaw clenched and he shook his head, not believing a word.

“It’s true,” Nathan said softly. “Undercover and SWAT agents have the highest mortality rate of any other FBI personnel, but profilers have the highest rate of neurological and GI disorders, heart conditions, depression…and the list goes on. We’ve all taken classes on victimology and criminal pathology, but these guys live it.” He leaned forward. “Cut him some slack.”

“This comin’ from you,” Buck replied snidely.

“None of us are perfect, Brother,” Josiah spoke up. “Understanding what makes these men tic is the most important tool we have at the moment.”

“Speakin’ from experience, Josiah?” Vin asked, looking out the window and then back at the group.

“Yes, Brother, I am.”         


He licked the heavy envelope and sealed it with a kiss. His sadistic mind working overtime, he knew how to get to people, make them shake in their boots, make them worry about things they never thought they would. It felt good in his hands, the weight of it. This was Standish’s first clue in finding him…as though the clue were truthful.

Mason laughed as he looked at the body he’d left for them…those seven agents. He’d done this for them…letting them know who was boss, who had control. They knew what he was, what he was capable of, so there wasn’t any point in hiding. To everyone else he looked normal. Like a man who’d had a hard time lately, someone who needed a hand.

Mason smiled.

He’d posed his victim, making sure his message was clear. She’d meant nothing to him…except for the fact she’d filled his fantasy. Mason sighed before moving toward his vehicle, the envelope held tightly in his grasp.

He’d send it overnight express.


The police station was busy as the seven FBI agents entered the building. They headed directly for the headquarters, passing detectives and officers alike. Nothing seemed out of place.

The room looked the same, except for the package on the table addressed to Special Agent Ezra Standish. It had yet to be opened. Everyone knew without asking whom it was from.

The profiler stepped up to the table and opened the package, allowing the contents to slip onto the tabletop. Photographs, a note, a 90-minute audiotape, and palm print in blood fell onto the slick surface.

Chris closed the door and made sure the blinds were down on the windows. Only a select few were allowed to view the evidence. Detective Carson entered the room with the eight others who were investigating the case. He handed Ezra a file and stepped away, not wanting to get in the way of the agent’s job.

Nathan took the handprint that had been placed on a yellow piece of legal notepad and slipped it into a clear plastic bag. “I’ll send this to Quantico and have them process the fingerprints,” he said, making notes to send with the package. “It’s a female hand,” he said softly, noting how small it was in comparison to a man’s.

Chris grabbed the handwritten note and cleared his throat:

“How does it feel, knowing what I do, seeing what I’ve done? Is it thrilling for you, witnessing my fantasies through your eyes? Is it scary, knowing what you’re becoming? Is it exciting? Do you see the victims in your dreams? Do you see the one before you? Death is a gift only I can offer. It’s a beautiful process…life leaving through the pores of the skin. Eyes become still…empty. The body becomes, lax, impenetrable. It’s a release…freedom from pain…freedom from hell. But for you it is hell…isn’t it? Welcome to my hell. All of you have killed…some, if not all of you, enjoyed it. Does Vin Tanner enjoy killing from a distance…keeping himself hidden in the shadows…hunting his prey? Does his heart race as his target becomes clear…not a man, not a body, but a thing to shoot…to kill. I know you…I know you like I know myself. When you lay your head on your pillow tonight…think about my prey…becoming your prey. Death is a release that I control”

Vin’s jaw clenched. Why had Mason mentioned him? How did Mason know who he was?

“He’s redirecting your attention to yourself, not the case,” Ezra answered the unasked question. “He’s playing with you, Vin…don’t play back.”

Chris handed the note to Ezra, hoping he’d see something that wasn’t obvious to the rest of them. The photographs were grotesque…and even the seasoned veterans looking at them had to turn their heads away from the detailed scenes. Nobody knew what to say or do. The officers hadn’t expected this.

JD grabbed a cassette player and inserted the tape.

Nobody was expecting what was on it.

She’s begged and pleaded for her life, but she lost anyway. Mason made sure everyone knew that. The room was silent except for the screams coming over the speakers. It felt as though time had stood still. Eyes were cast downward, arms crossed in front of chests; nobody could believe what they were hearing. The girl on that tape could be someone they loved and cared about…

That’s what it felt like.

Buck left the room, slamming the door shut as he exited. JD wiped his eyes free of his tears, hearing that girls cries. Ezra shut the tape off when he knew everyone had heard enough. Nobody looked up at him. Chris left to find Buck, while Nathan and Josiah tried to offer comfort to those that needed it.

“We can assume without conformation that the victim is Sheryl Vicor of Carson City Nevada,” Ezra said, opening the file Roy had given to him earlier. “According to VICAP, the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, she was discovered at 2a.m this morning by a trucker. Her injuries are indicative of Mason.”

“That’s out of our jurisdiction,” Officer Peters said, leaning against the wall. He refused to come closer to the table.

“Yours, not ours,” Vin said quietly.

Ezra nodded.

They were on the move.


Chris entered the bathroom to find Buck with his head hanging over a sink. His fingers gripped the sides of the porcelain, knuckles white. He looked up and met Chris’ eyes before quickly grabbing a paper towel to dry his face and eyes.

“You all right?” Chris asked softly. This was their job…

“Fuck no!” Buck snapped, rubbing his hand over his face. “What in the hell are we doin’ here?” He looked up and met his friend’s eyes.

“We’ll find him.”

“Then what?!” Buck challenged. “We hand him over to shrinks who are going to study him…let him go again so he can kill…again.”


“Will you listen to yourself?” Buck continued to rant. “What in the hell are we doin’ here? That monster butchered that girl, Chris, and now he’s shoving it in our faces!”

“And he’ll continue to do it until we catch him!” Chris barked. “You need to understand what we’re up against—”

“Don’t patronize me! I know what we’re dealin’ with!” He turned and wiped his eyes. “She was begging for her life,” Buck said softly, emphasizing each word. “How…how can he sit there and listen to it like it doesn’t mean anything?” He turned pleading eyes toward Chris, begging for answers.



Chris shook his head: “You need to get your head out of your ass and concentrate on what’s important here. Ezra’s a profiler…he gets inside the heads of these animals and you need to come to terms with that. I know you were close with Steven, Buck, but you need to know the reason Steven quit the Behavioral Science Division and became an undercover agent is because he couldn’t cut it as a profiler.”

“Fuck you, Chris!”

“Listen!” The team leader snapped, standing defensively. “We need to catch this guy…and fast. We can’t do that if everyone on this team starts acting like first graders fighting for ownership of the jungle gym.”

Buck went silent and wiped the tears from his eyes. “I don’t know if I can do this.” How could he do it, butcher a woman because he could? How could he stand making those frail bodies into something they weren’t? Buck’s stomach clenched and his heart continued to race.

“You can, and you will,” Chris reassured. “We’ve seen a lot together, and God willing we’ll see more…I need you on this case.”

Buck nodded, but kept quiet.

“I’m not any better at this than you are,” Chris confided, “If we were out chasing bank robbers or white collar criminals it would be different…but we’re not…” he sighed and looked hard at his friend. “We’re hunting a murderer…and I need to know that I can count on you.”

“You can,” Buck replied softly, hesitantly.

“Good,” Chris responded, “Because I think this guy’s going to push all of us.”