FBI Files (Seven)
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Beverly Mason was seated on a plane headed to a destination only a select few knew about. She’d arrive with a new name, social security number, and an entirely different past. She only agreed to go along with the hoax if she, in essence, really was dead to those who knew her best. The FBI agreed, and Beverly Mason’s funeral was taking place…as planned.
Ezra sat with his back to the others looking through the window as though it were a TV screen depicting the events of Mason’s life. He could hear the others discussing their next steps with several agents from the neighboring field office and local police and the sheriff’s department. Twenty-four hour surveillance had been set up at the cemetery where Mrs. Mason would be buried, as well as the funeral home where the funeral would take place. All angles needed to be covered; nobody wanted to be held responsible for losing the serial killer.
“The funeral is scheduled for tomorrow at two in the afternoon,” Agent Brown said, gathering his papers together, squaring the edges.
“There’ll be four of us,” Chris said, “within the crowd looking for Mason. I want headphones, mics, and imaging working and available to all law enforcement within the area.”
“Marked cars are going to be easily spotted,” one of the patrolmen said. “How are we going to keep Mason from getting suspicious if he is indeed going to show up?”
“Everyone’s going to be dressed accordingly and nothing unusual is going to be apparent. Our goal is to get Mason here, not scare him off,” Chris said, with strong authority in his voice.
“How do we know he’s going to arrive?” the local sheriff asked with sarcasm dripping from his words.
“He’ll be there,” Ezra said softly, getting to his feet.
“No offence, but I highly doubt if your psychic ability is going to bring a man whose relationship with his mother was less than ideal to her burial. Frankly, the best thing we can do is hunt this SOB down the old fashioned way—”
“And what?” Buck said defensively. “Wait until he kills his next victim, the next one, and the one after that?”
“I’m only saying that by sitting here doing nothing while he might be out there killing is bullshit,” Sheriff Bill Tongs continued to argue.
Ezra reached up and scratched his head before crossing his arms across his chest. “Mason will come… It may not be the funeral but he will show up and reconcile in his own way with his mother. There’s too much anger, resentment, and hatred there for him not to.”
“Well hell,” Bill snapped. “If you know so much about him why don’t you give him a call and have him meet to at the Tango Lounge and you can talk about the good ol’ days.”
“Why don’t you take your small town mind frame and shove it up your ass?” Buck asked, squaring off with the sheriff.
“Both of you sit down and shut up,” Chris ordered. “I don’t want any fuck-ups tomorrow…if I see, smell, or hear of anything deliberate that may possibly cause us to lose our chance at Mason, heads will roll.”
“So what are we looking for?” another officer asked. “How are we going to know what to look for?”
“A man,” came a snide remark from the group.
“Mason knows the area, and he knows the people,” Ezra said, taking a step closer to the table where most of the agents and offers had gathered. “He won’t walk in with a yellow sign on his forehead that reads ‘serial killer’. Expect him to blend…almost—invisible.”
“And here we are all out of night vision goggles.” Sheriff Tongs got to his feet and gathered the papers he’d been given. “He ain’t going to show up,” he said, heading out of the office, “and if he does…he’s dumber than the lot of you.”
Several officers and agents followed the sheriff, not out of loyalty but because they had things to do. Vin slapped Ezra on the shoulder out of understanding.
“Do you get that a lot?” JD asked, looking toward the profiler.
Ezra smiled and shook his head. “Not so much anymore,” he admitted, “but you need to understand that this is his town. He feels threatened because the feds are involved and his reputation is being threatened because there is an off chance that a well known killer may escape his grasp…”
“That and the fact that his reelection is on the line,” Buck muttered, surprised that he’d come to Standish’s defense.
Josiah smiled and grasped Nathan’s shoulder. “We also need to remember that this town has just lost a life long citizen…and a lot of people are going to feel that loss…despite who she raised.”
“How are we going to spot this guy?” Nathan asked himself, looking at the possible disguises that the FBI’s sketch artist had created upon Ezra’s request suspecting what Mason may wear and what he may look like.
“Look for anyone who’s looking for us,” Chris said, as though it were obvious.
“Yeah,” Buck agreed, “that’ll work.”
Mason ran his fingers over the newspaper showing nothing but kindness but feeling only rage. Every person alive seemed to have a kind word about the woman who’d destroyed his life. Her sensitivity for others was breathtaking, as she’d shown kindness to children, churchgoers, and anyone who needed a hand. She was famous for her cookies, her soft smile, and kind words. The children at her church had called her Grandma Bev.
How dare them?
How dare those people idolize that woman as though she were worth something?
How dare they minimize what he was about by worshiping the ground his mother walked on? It was him that made her what she was…it was his deeds that caused them to cherish her. Perhaps he should rethink his motivations?
It was her that wouldn’t accept his true self. It was her that spurned him for confiding in her his true desires. It was her that pushed him to the edge and made him hurt her.
Everything was her fault.
Perhaps he should tell the world what she had done.
Obviously they weren’t reading his manuscript well enough.
Mason looked up from the paper that rested on the steering wheel of his van, toward the children playing in the yard of someone’s home. They looked so happy…content. They didn’t have a worry in the world, and their parents were preoccupied with what color to side their home with. It all seemed too menial. Who cared what color someone’s house was? Who cared what they planted in their flower gardens?
He turned and looked at the woman bound in the rear of his van. She sat, half dressed, her makeup running down her cheeks. If she could have, she would have crawled out of her skin to escape his look, or more importantly, the look of what he intended to do to her.
Mason sighed in disappointment…wishing he had the boy…wishing she were his mother.
Not everyone wore black to Beverly Mason’s funeral. There were grays, browns, and even a little bit of white and red peaking out beneath jackets and coats as the rain continued to pour out of the afternoon sky. Father Peters consoled his parishioners and others that needed some words of wisdom in their time of need. Josiah and Chris moved about the crowd, watching and listening to everyone involved.
“You know,” Buck said over the microphones, “I’ve seen more action at tree growers convention.”
“Didn’t know you were interested in agriculture, Buck?” Vin asked, looking through his scope while stationed in a tree half a mile away from the gravesite. He could see other snipers positioned around the area, all watching the scene intently.
“Did you know that the majority of trees planted in the world were planted by squirrels that forgot where they planted their seeds,” Buck said, quickly looking from his computer monitor to JD who could only shake his head. “Dated this ag student who had legs a mile high…”
“Get your minds back on track!” Chris snapped, jumping in. He looked around the area, trying to see if anyone looked…abnormal. He locked eyes with Josiah who was trying to keep a straight face. Sometimes Buck had a way about him that could really lighten a situation…despite how bad.
“License plates check out,” JD said over the headsets. “Officers documented all within a mile radius.”
Chris nodded, more to himself than anyone around him. He looked up and watched as Ezra slowly made his way around the cemetery. He stopped at a grave and deposited flowers at the headstone…someone he didn’t know, but he was far enough out to draw Mason’s attention…if he was there.
Everyone seemed to be in their own little world, mourning the loss of their loved one. Nothing seemed out of kilter, suspicious, or subject to investigation. This was a funeral…through and through.
“I think your man was wrong?” Sheriff Tongs said over his microphone. “I knew we should have been looking someplace else.”
Ezra shook his head and pulled the receiver out of his ear so he couldn’t hear what was going on around him. He didn’t need to know.
“Put a sock in it,” Buck snapped.
Chris’ jaw clenched as he watched people slowly make their way to their vehicles. He looked toward Josiah and Nathan who were talking quietly with each other. On occasion one or the other would nod to a mourner. This wasn’t the result he was hoping for, and Ezra was going to be at the brunt of it.
Father Peters stepped up to Chris and paused a moment before speaking. He knew what he wanted to say, but more so, what he needed to say. “People are capable of change, Agent, and God forgive you if you forget that.” He nodded curtly before heading toward his small car. Though he knew a little of Beverly’s fate, he didn’t know enough.
“Shit,” Chris sighed, shaking his head while he headed back for the truck he’d driven in. Mason wasn’t here…he was sure of it. “Set up the 24 hour surveillance on the gravesite…” he said, heading in the direction that his men were in, “I want this place monitored closely.” He was stern when he said It, and everyone knew he was serious.
“What in the hell went wrong?!” Chris yelled, getting everyone’s attention. Agents and officers alike sat up straighter in their chairs as the special agent in charge continued to yell. “We’ve got two fucking tapes missing,” he looked around the room, “that’s two angles we’re missing. Mason could have walked in and out and we’d never know it!”
“He wasn’t there and you know it!” Sheriff Tongs yelled, standing up for his men. “This whole case has been nothing but a guessing game from the start. It’s no fuckin’ wonder why the feds couldn’t find their asses with both hands. You’re chasing a ghost with an old profile and an Agent who’s seen better days.” He tossed his file to the floor. “All of you might want to consider a different career…perhaps the psychic network,” he snapped, looking at Ezra. “Maybe not, after all…you do need some skill in that department.”
“If you don’t sit down and shut up I will forcefully remove you from this office,” Chris said in a deadly tone. “This may be your town, but this is my case and I want your ass to cooperate with my men… Understood!”
“No,” the sheriff challenged, “It’s not. You’re hunting down a killer that isn’t going to walk into a stupid trap…”
“And what would you suggest?” Chris dared him. “Go out and catch him…like the hundreds of agents and officers already on the case. Or perhaps you would make a few calls, perhaps research a couple of leads from anonymous tips…”
“I would at least be doing something other than sitting on my ass watching a headstone that will only be visited by friends!”
“Do yourself a favor, Tongs, removed yourself from this office before I throw you out.”
Buck and Vin both sighed knowing Chris’ threat was real.
The sheriff stood there a moment before nodding. “I’ll follow up my own leads…maybe solve a crime or two while the rest of you eat the taxpayers’ money.”
“Any of the rest of you feel the same way?” Chris challenged.
When nobody raised their hands or voiced their thoughts he assumed they were on the same page as himself so he continued his complaints.
Josiah sat in the back taking notes all the while watching Ezra’s lack of emotions play out while he watched the rain hit the window. He wasn’t saying anything, as though he’d been drained of everything he could say. He was used to being the outsider looking in. In his job he had to be. He took the high road, the road less traveled and more times than not it was steeper, rockier, and covered with debris. But Ezra’s knowledge of the criminal mind was awesome, if not eerie. If Mason wasn’t at the funeral, Ezra knew why, and he knew where to look next.
“He all right?” JD asked, leaning over to where Josiah and Nathan sat.
“No,” Josiah said softly, “I don’t think he is.”
“He’s exhausted,” Nathan said, stating the obvious. “And he needs to eat something other than coffee and the occasional slice of toast.”
JD nodded in agreement. “I wonder what it’s like?”
“What?” Nathan asked, out of curiosity.
“Looking at life through the eyes of a monster.”
Chills sped down the doctor’s back as he turned his eyes toward the profiler. What was it like, seeing skepticism before all else? Knowing the evil man was capable of? Knowing what the killer thought at the time of his murder? Knowing what the victim thought at their moment of death? It wasn’t a wonder why Ezra was standoffish, snide, and sometimes obstinate. It wasn’t a wonder why he acted as though hunting men like Mason was an everyday occurrence. To him, it was…something that needed to be done, and something that would be done…over and over again.
“It’s been four days,” Officer Yates said, tossing his pizza crust into the box. “This Mason guy ain’t goin’ to show up…he’s probably out screwing my wife,” he snapped bitterly, complaining about his lack of time with his family.
“That’s not something to joke about,” Officer Hanson whispered, keeping his eyes on the gravestone of Beverly Mason. They could hear the subtle breeze move across the microphones that had been attached throughout the area.
“I hate stakeouts…particularly ones that the suits are involved with. Damn assholes think they own everything.”
“They do,” Kyle Hanson replied flatly.
“I heard that this Mason character is really a cop,” Yates snickered, thinking how appropriate it would be if he was. “Maybe he’s even a fed.’’
“I heard he’s a senator or something and they’re trying to catch him before anyone can properly ID him…” Kyle looked at his partner with a sarcastic smile: “Maybe he’s the President of the United States?”
“Hey!” Yates snapped, “Anything is possible.”
“We’ve got action,” Kyle whispered, looking through his spyglasses.
Officer Yates slipped his headphones back on and started recording the soft words being spoken over the grave. While his partner took several images.
“Who in the hell is this?” Kyle whispered, trying to get a better view of the grave the stranger was standing over.
His overcoat hung from his shoulders and swayed gently around his legs as a breeze picked up. The night sky seemed darker over the cemetery. Even the moon’s faint rays wouldn’t permeate this land. He stood silent for a moment, standing before the grave of the little girl he’d killed. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he placed a single white rose at the base of the headstone.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, wiping his eyes. “I never saw you there—you and your bicycle—it was dark out you know…not even the moon was out. I think it was just beginning to rain.”
The man cried, shaking his head. He looked around; almost wishing someone would find him…someone would help him. “When I got home I just parked my car—I was so tired,” he wiped his cheeks, “I hadn’t even realized what I’d done until the next morning and I saw the article in the paper and in the news…”
“Remember that hit and run from a couple of years back?” Kyle asked, grabbing his radio.
Yates shook his head in disbelief. “Who would have guessed?”
Chris stormed into Sheriff Tongs’ office and slammed the door shut causing the blinds to bounce and windows to rattle. He tossed the arrest report for an Amos Simns onto the crowded desk, knocking over pictures, files, and pencil holders.
“Are you trying to get someone else killed?” Chris yelled, causing Bill to jump.
“It’s not my responsibility—”
“Bullshit!” Chris shook his head and grasped his hand under his jaw, trying to maintain his anger. He looked toward the door as Buck peaked in. “What?”
“The suspect that was apprehended last night identified a blue, late model Dodge Van.”
“What does Ezra think?” Chris asked, perhaps it hadn’t been a bad thing.
“Doesn’t know yet,” Buck answered, waiting for a decision.
“Where is he?” Chris pushed, needing answers.
“Nathan and Josiah took him to breakfast.” Buck smiled. “Forced him to breakfast—he still doesn’t know about the arrest.”
“Where’s Vin and JD?”
“JD’s trying to track the van and Vin’s still interviewing Simns.”
“Keep at it,” Chris ordered, turning back to Tongs who was just beginning to regain the color in his face.
“Do you know how many Dodge vans are in this state?” Bill snapped.
“No,” Chris replied, “But I’d be willin’ to bet there are a lot—and luckily, you’re just the person to help track it.”
“I’ve got better things to do than to sit around—”
Chris took a step forward and placed his hands on the edge of the desk Tongs was sitting behind. The sheriff visibly paled. “Do you like being the sheriff of this shit-hole town?” he asked, and not giving the sheriff time to answer, he continued, “Don’t make me throw your ass in jail for obstruction of justice and interfering with a federal investigation…” He let his words seep in for a moment. “Take this as a warning…” he spoke deeply, “if we don’t catch Mason here—in this town, I will have your ass on a wall and you will be known as the fuck up who let Mason go.”
Sheriff Tongs clenched his jaw and nodded his head in agreement. He knew when to throw in his cards. This hand he lost. “I’ll get my men to refocus their attention to where you need it,” he said flatly, if not fearfully.
Chris stood up straight and nodded. “Good… I want six men working with Special Agent Dunne trying to track down all vans owned, operated, and ticketed for any reason within the area. I want whoever orchestrated the arrest from last night demoted…”
“Plenty,” Chris said, grabbing a chair to get comfortable.
Vin stood with Buck outside the interrogation room. Neither one knew what to say to each other. Disappointment was written in their eyes. Amos Simns had gone to Emily Johnson’s grave, like he had several times before, seeking forgiveness for a crime only she could forgive. Whether it was bad luck or just the off chance that he had been in the right place at the wrong time, nobody knew.
Vin ran his fingers through his hair and crossed his arms over his chest. He looked toward the desk JD was working at and noticed how many officers were now aiding the young agent. FBI personnel stood back working on paperwork and discussing their next moves. The door to the sheriff’s office was still closed and everyone knew what was being said behind those doors would remain within. Chris would make sure of it.
“Who’s going to tell Ezra?” Buck asked, looking toward Vin, who only shrugged.
“I’d be willing to bet Chris has plans for it,” Vin sighed, leaning back against the wall. He watched as Simns was removed in cuffs from the small room and transported by two officers to the holding cells.
Buck nodded, watching, as everything in his world seemed to slow down for a moment. He knew things were different now. Ezra wasn’t like Steven…not in the least. But he had characteristics that were just as noble as his best friend’s. Where Steven was sly and fun loving, Ezra was subtle and witty. There were a lot of things Buck had in common Steven…their love of women, practical jokes, and baseball. Though Ezra enjoyed the fairer sex, he wasn’t as ‘open’ about it as some of the others, and though they’d only known the man a short while, they had yet to learn about his sense of humor…but Buck thought like the man himself, his sense of humor would be quick and deceitful…and ideally placed.
“What?” Vin asked, looking toward Buck. There had to be a reason the taller agent had a thoughtful expression on his face.
“Tryin’ to figure out what the hell we’re goin’ to do.”
“Chris’ll work it out,” Vin said confidently. “Hell, I’d be willin’ to bet he’s got that sheriff cryin’ a river while we’re standin’ out here looking like lumps on a log.”
“You think too damn much, Tanner.”
Ezra shut the car door and headed for the Sheriff’s department, the place where the Serial Killer Task Force had been assembled. FBI agents, police, and deputies walked with purpose throughout the area. Papers were filed, reports handed in, and claims taken. Just because a serial killer was on the loose didn’t mean the world stopped, for most, anyway, it continued on.
Josiah and Nathan followed close behind, walking in stride with each other. They spoke quietly about life in general, the case, and the man in front of them. Sometimes it was difficult making their way through the days, but they had to keep their faith that Mason would be caught.
They had to.
“Vin’s neck is healing up nicely,” Nathan said. “But it’s going to leave a scar.”
“Perhaps he’ll take Buck’s advice and use it to benefit himself,” Josiah replied with a chuckle.
“Buck would gnaw off his own hand if he thought he could get sympathy from a woman.” Nathan smiled while shaking his head.
Josiah laughed and grabbed the door before it closed after Ezra had entered the building. “Let’s hope it never comes to that.”
Nathan nodded in agreement and watched as Ezra retrieved a Styrofoam cup and poured himself some coffee. “He had two cups with his breakfast that a bird couldn’t live on and now he’s having another,” he said in disbelief.
“We all have our vices, Brother.”
“That’s not a vice, that’s a problem,” Nathan replied. “Chris drinks a lot of coffee in a day, but he eats—he may not look it—but he does eat.”
“We all exhibit stress in different ways,” Josiah relied, grabbing a cup of coffee himself.
“He’s been hospitalized twice for exhaustion, Josiah. I just think we need to watch him closer.”
“Even though you are a doctor, I don’t think it’s right that you be reading our medical files.”
Nathan grinned and said, “I can and do…if I think it’s pertinent to the investigation.”
Josiah nodded: “So what were the reasons for his collapses?”
Nathan walked a few steps toward the room that had been sanctioned off for investigators regarding Mason. “The first time was after Mason’s capture,” he sighed and shook his head, “the second was after his girlfriend was killed.”
“Yeah, I told him last night.”
Josiah paused a moment with his hand on the doorknob. “Let’s go solve this thing,” he said humbly.
Ezra sat in placid disbelief as he heard about the arrest that had taken place not two feet from Beverly Mason’s headstone. Nothing could be read from his face. The words floated through the air like a feather in search of a destination.
“…There are 193 late model dark blue/black Dodge vans with the letter R and number 5 in their license plates throughout this and surrounding areas. We’re still doing a check on surrounding counties.” JD placed the large pile of papers on the desk next to where Chris stood.
“Good work, JD,” Chris said, looking at the pile. “We could start researching these and follow up any leads…”
“Mason won’t drive a late model van,” Ezra said, rubbing his brow with his hand.
“It’s all we’ve got,” someone from within the room, complained.
“Mason will drive an early model van, something that looks unreliable.” He looked around the room. “Late model vans need computer analysis to find problems—as opposed to earlier models. Mason is luring his victims to him…he’s not chasing them down. Maggie Harper stopped to help a man with engine problems…right there we can eliminate someone with a new model simply because someone who could afford a new vehicle should have money to get towed or have insurance.”
Pens were tossed down in disbelief as Ezra’s words made sense.
“So what do we do?” Tongs asked, sighing in disbelief.
“We wait,” Ezra replied sadly.
“Until he kills again?” Buck asked in shock.
“Until he contacts us,” Ezra answered. He stood up and left the room, looking more tired than he had all morning.
This one had been done out of revenge…out of anger. He’d wanted to take her hair like he had all the others, even that young cop from Colorado, but he didn’t…he had to be strong this time. He posed her body in a seductive manner, reapplied her makeup, and even curled her brown hair. She had been more feminine than the others, but she’d been stronger. In many ways she reminded him of that blonde agent’s dead wife…the one that had been burned so badly in the fire. Mason smiled; maybe that’s why he’d left like this. He hadn’t touched her face, it was as perfect as an angels…even better.
He’d carved his initial between her shoulder blades and placed her nude ivory body on a burned out sofa. He’d even painted her fingernails…making her more feminine than any of the others. The others he’d tried to change their sex in an angry manner…but this one he didn’t. He didn’t know why but this one made him excited, she made him happier than any of the others.
This one was his trophy.
Mason smiled, he’d find a Chinese girl for his next kill…Korean, Japanese…hell, it didn’t matter, as long as she looked like Standish’s dead girlfriend. Maybe he’d find one that was pregnant…just for good measure.
What Special Agent Standish had planned was…deplorable. How dare he try and con him into visiting his mother’s grave.
How dare he?
Ezra leaned back against the headboard of his bed and looked blindly at the wall before him. It had been nine days since Maggie Harper had been taken…and a sign of her had yet to be discovered. But at least the killing had stopped…for a while. Back roads were being searched, in anticipation of a body, by the FBI and law enforcement officers, while JD continued to do a record search of all vans still running that had been built within the time frame of the late 70s to early 80s. Nobody knew where to look next, and like a game with no ending, it was wearing on everyone’s nerves.
The cat was hiding and getting ready to pounce , Ezra thought, trying to understand why Mason had kept himself hidden for so long after the death of Danny Crane. The young officer had been Mason’s ideal victim. He was young, vital, strong, and male, but there was another part of Mason that Ezra was just beginning to understand.
Mason wanted to be acknowledged as the best. He was better than anyone else, faster, smarter, and more horrific than anyone who ever lived before him. But that was his weakness. Because he wanted that for himself, he made a point of trying too hard…where men like Bundy and Dahmer did what they did to fill a craving within themselves they couldn’t stop…wouldn’t stop. It was too much of a thrill…killing, raping, kidnapping, cannibalizing their victims…it was just who they were. But Mason did what he did because of the fame it got him…much like Charles Manson. Manson didn’t set out to kill, but he had to change his MO in order to keep his authority within his ‘family’…he had to kill to for fame.
Ezra rubbed his tired eyes and scooted down onto the bed, rolling over on his side. Mason killed for the attention it got him, and because it filled a need within his empty soul. He needed—craved, attention like most, and when he was a boy he never got it, not even when he was disemboweling cats and dogs in his parent’s garage, peeing on younger children while they walked home from school, or masturbating in his mother’s nightgown. He did it for attention, for shock, and because he learned at an early age that he loved the power that came with it.
Buck opened the hotel room door and quietly entered. Normally he’d be sharing a room with JD but the kid was rooming with Josiah…the only person that could get the kid to bed before three in the morning while talking to his girlfriend back home. Buck shook his head, JD was in for a long haul when he finally settled down enough to get married.
Carefully, and quietly, Buck slipped into the room and turned the light to the bathroom on, just giving himself enough light to move around by. He could see Standish with his back to the wall, curled on his side near the edge of the bed, only a few tussles of chestnut hair peaked out beneath the covers. Buck shook his head, Nathan always worried too much, it looked like Ezra was sleeping just fine to him.
He tossed his jeans onto the chair next to the table, turned off the light and slipped into the bed across from Ezra. Right about now, at another time in his life, he’d be watching late night TV with Steven…probably discussing the talent most porn stars evoked…or lacked. He jumped when he heard the cell phone next to Ezra’s bed ring, and if on cue a hand reached out and turned on the light and then grabbed the phone.
Ezra sat up and rubbed his face before placing the phone next to his ear. “Standish,” he said softly, as though he’d been awake the whole time. “Hello,” he said louder. He hung up when nobody replied.
“Wrong number?” Buck asked, folding his fingers together and slipping them behind his head.
“Cell phone?” Ezra asked, getting to his feet.
Buck shrugged, looking at the profiler.
“Where’s your cell phone?” Ezra asked, more agitated.
“Jacket pocket,” Buck answered, sitting up.
Ezra moved quickly to Buck’s jacket and searched the pockets. As soon as he found the phone he was dialing a number. “Yes,” he said, indicating he was speaking with someone. “This is Special Agent Ezra Standish, badge number 6410EPS. I need a trace on a cell phone, area code 202, number 555-3641…” he paused a moment, waiting for someone. “Ferndale Oklahoma,” he said, before turning the phone off.
As if on cue, Ezra’s phone rang. He waited while holding the phone to his ear. He didn’t say anything.
“Waiting for me, Agent Standish?” came the blissful voice on the other end. “I always figured you for a night owl…perhaps a gambler?” A soft chuckle came over the phone. “I had always hoped you were smarter than most…but alas I find that your poor attempt at luring me to my mother’s grave was the height of your stupidity.”
“Is it my stupidity that caused you to call, or your inability to control your desires?” Ezra asked, watching but not paying attention to Buck as he slipped on his clothes and rushed out the door.
Mason laughed: “You never did understand my feelings—”
“Or lack of,” Ezra interrupted.
“You seem so calm… I always liked you. You have a way about you I think that most people miss… But I thinks it’s your ability to know me—for me.”
Ezra closed his eyes, wanting more than anything to keep Mason on line so the trace could be completed. “Your mother seemed to have had quite an impact with the community here…”
“My mother was a fool,” Mason replied tersely. “Do you have any idea what it was like for me growing up—she never had time for me—even when I did things for her. Everything I did, I did for her. She told me my fascination with anatomy would either get me in trouble or get me rich…”
“It got you both.”
“You are listening.” Mason chuckled and took a bite of something. “Don’t worry, I haven’t stooped to cannibalism…I actually find that repulsive. I’m a vegetarian you know…never did like the taste of meat.” He paused a moment, gathering his thoughts. “After I’m gone there’ll be another…and another after that. I find it amusing that no matter where I go I find bodies of people who’ve been murdered…So, I decided to add to the lists.”
“Maggie Harper?” Ezra asked, already knowing her fate.
“You’ll find her at 2112 west 7th street…” he sighed, “On the corner of Pent and Rush.” Mason laughed again and spoke softly. “You looked good at the funeral, Special Agent Standish…and I’m sure Samantha’s parents would be glad you placed roses at her grave.”
The phone went dead and Ezra stared blankly at the speaker. Mason had been there. He’d been at the funeral. Ezra jumped up and grabbed his clothes and quickly dressed. He rushed out the door just as Chris and Buck were heading in.
“Where’re you going?!” Chris yelled, watching as his agent sped down the hall.
“He was there!” Ezra yelled back, never slowing his pace.
“Shit,” Buck snapped, chasing after the Southerner. “We’ll meet you at the station!”
Four TVs had been set up in the small room and the video recordings of the funeral played on each one. Despite missing two videos, there seemed to be significant coverage of the area. Ezra sat in front of the TVs, holding several remotes. He’d pause one, play another, listen to dialog, and carefully watch for something that could tell him where Mason was hiding. The trace he’d ordered on his cell phone had been unsuccessful, so he was concentrating on clues before him.
Josiah and Nathan read over the transcripts that had been taken from various microphones. JD and Buck worked at matching license plate numbers with automobiles…making sure they all matched. Chris sat behind Ezra, making notes of everything the profiler said. Buck stood back ready to change tapes when needed.
“Agent Brown’s got a forensics team at the murder site,” Vin said, entering the room. “The initial report states that Maggie Harper had been dead for less than six hours when they found her.”
“Nathan,” Chris said, “get down to the ME’s office and take a look at the body…bring us back all the photographs of the crime scene and make sure you get the names of everyone who processed the body.”
Nathan stood up and nodded, taking another look at Ezra who seemed to be glued to the TV screens. “Keep an eye on him,” he warned, stepping out of the room.
Josiah leaned back, trying to stretch out tired muscles. He looked over the room and sighed. “If Mason is becoming so daring what’s to stop him from attending the memorial?”
Ezra turned and looked at the older man. Slowly, a grin appeared on his face. “You’re right,” he said softly. “Right now he believes he’s pulled the wool over our eyes—”
“But he has…” JD shrugged, “…in essence.”
“If he slipped through our fingers at the funeral what’s to stop him from doing it again?” Vin asked, leaning against the wall.
“That’s the hitch,” Buck replied, slipping another video into a VCR.
“Buck and Vin are right. If we can’t recognize him…” Chris let his statement drop.
“So we’ve got 24 hours to find out what he’s going to look like?” Buck sighed, running his fingers through his hair.
Ezra rubbed his eyes and refocused his attention on the video screens. It was possible Mason had been watching from a distance, but the profiler suspected he was there at the sight… That was the challenge, hiding in plain sight…walking right up to one of them and saying “Boo”…without saying it.
“What happened to the two missing videos?” Ezra asked, hoping for an answer.
“Still missing,” Chris responded, watching the TV screens.
Ezra nodded and started to focus his attention on the only agents that had been in the crowd…himself, Josiah, Nathan, and Chris…everyone else had been hidden. “What about the press?”
“Everyone had been cleared an hour before the funeral,” JD answered. Without being asked, he dug around for a moment and grabbed the list of the names of cleared reporters. He handed it to Ezra and waited.
“Call all press agents and find out where their reporters are…make sure all of them were supposed to be at Beverly Mason’s funeral.” Ezra handed the list back to JD and watched as the kid left the room.
“What are you thinkin’?” Buck asked, pulling his chair up next to the profiler’s.
Ezra sighed and paused one of the videos. “I want to know who this is?” He pointed to the screen where Chris was standing behind a man dressed in dark clothing. His hat obstructed his face.
“Reporter?” Josiah questioned.
“I think it’s Mason disguised as a reporter” Ezra answered, he looked up when JD entered the room, his face pale.
“Oklahoma Statesmen stated that Neil Peterson hasn’t been to work for more than a week. They filed a missing person’s report a couple of days ago when Peterson’s father contacted the paper needing to speak with his son…they’re faxing us a picture of him now.”
Ezra nodded, leaning forward in his seat he placed his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face. Every muscle in his body tingled, as though it were starved for energy. He wiped at his nose when he felt something on his upper lip. “Shit,” he swore softy, keeping his finger under his bleeding nose while he quickly moved from the room.
“I’ll go,” Chris said, “The rest of you keep at.”
Ezra heard the bathroom door squeak open and he quickly finished washing his face free of blood. He looked in the mirror, shocked by his appearance. His green eyes were dull and surrounded by dark circles. His hair—disheveled and dirty. His skin—pale and features gaunt. He hadn’t looked this bad since…
Chris grabbed some paper-towels out of the dispenser and walked up to his profiler. Without warning, he grabbed the back of Ezra’s neck and forced his head back. “Stand still,” he ordered, applying pressure to the profiler’s nose to stop the bleeding.
“I assure you…” Ezra struggled for a moment but quit when he realized it was futile.
“Cut the crap, Ezra!” Chris snapped. “I want Nathan to take a look at you when we get back to the hotel,” his voice softened, but his grip remained stern.
“It’s nothing I can’t—”
“Is that what you said when you collapsed in Director Morris’ office two and a half years ago?”
Ezra pulled back, keeping the paper towel tucked under his right nostril. Chris let him go, but refused to let him escape the room. “It was a situation that got out of hand,” he said casually.
“You were in the hospital overnight, and this wasn’t the only time…”
“Are you going through my medical records now?” Ezra asked in shock, he backed into a sink.
“I asked Nathan to check for possible problems,” Chris said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Blame me for being overly sensitive when it comes to the conditions of the men on my team.” He looked up and met Ezra’s eyes. “If you don’t willingly let Nathan look you over…and get some sleep tonight…I’ll have your ass on the next flight to D.C. and I guarantee you won’t be involved with the rest of this case.”
Ezra stood up defensively.
“Don’t fuck with me on this!” Chris’ voice echoed in the confines of the bathroom. “You’re one hell of a profiler, Ezra, but you take things too personal—”
“This coming from you,” Ezra said in disbelief. He pulled the paper towel away from his nose, relieved to find it had stopped bleeding.
“The only way we’re going to find Mason is if we all work together. He’s made it clear to all of us that he knows who we are and what he thinks we’re like.” Chris shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. “I want this SOB as bad as anyone…but I’m not willing to risk my life or that of my men’s.”
Ezra slumped back, letting the exhaustion in his bones weigh on his shoulders. “He’ll kill again before this is over…” he said, “…he’s in control, or so he believes, that’s why he pushing us… He needs to know that we’re under his influence.’
“But we are,” Chris said.
“To an extent—yes, but for the most part he still wants us to find him so he can prove to us that he’s the ‘master of his domain’ so to speak.” Ezra shrugged, and tossed the towel into the garbage.
“Come on,” Chris said, grasping the profiler’s shoulder and pulled him toward the door. “Let’s get out of here.”
JD handed the faxed copy of an image of Reporter Neil Peterson to Chris. “Buck thinks with a little bit of makeup that Mason could make himself look like this.”
Chris handed the image to Ezra whose only response was a simple nod of his head. “Make copies of this and make sure every agent has one—”
“He won’t come back as the same person, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra said softly, leaning against the wall.
“Maybe not,” Chris agreed, “but we know how far he’ll go to change his appearance.” He grabbed Ezra’s arm and pushed him toward the door. “It’s not much but it’s enough,” he encouraged; at least they had an idea of what to look for.
Ezra stepped out of the hotel bathroom dressed in his old Harvard sweatpants and a tee shirt. He watched as Nathan carefully taped up the bandages around Vin’s neck. Chris sat at the table, finishing up some paperwork. JD and Buck had returned to their room, JD—needing to call Casey, and Buck—needing to find a good ‘late night’ movie. Josiah had gone to bed as well. Chris had told everyone to get a good night’s sleep…they were going to need it.
Nathan stood up and slapped Vin on the shoulder. “I’ll take the stitches out in a couple of days,” he said softly.
“Thanks, Doc,” the sharpshooter said, getting to his feet. “See y’all in the morning.” He left the room, knowing Chris and Nathan needed to speak with the profiler alone.
“Get some rest, Vin,” Nathan ordered, sitting on the opposite bed.
The door slowly shut and Chris stood up, grabbing a tee shirt and shorts to sleep in. He watched as Nathan took Ezra’s blood pressure and then hand him a couple of pills.
“Take these,” the doctor ordered, “They’ll help you sleep.” He paused a moment, waiting for Ezra to take the pills. When he did, Nathan continued, “Your blood-pressure is low…too low. Normally, I would expect it to be elevated considering all the stress you’re under…but it seems to be having the opposite effect on you. You need to eat, Ezra, and not just toast, coffee, and Tums.”
Ezra nodded, knowing if he complained Chris would carry through on his threat. He seated himself on the bed he was sleeping in for the night, knowing the reason Buck had been replaced with Chris. Ezra ran his fingers through his hair, thinking about Mason and the things he’d be doing.
“Get some rest, Ezra,” Nathan said softly, and with a smile creasing his face he said, “You need it.” He grabbed his medical bag and headed out the door, nodding to Chris before he left.
“We’ll catch him,” Chris said, heading for the bathroom.
Ezra nodded, crawling under the covers. He didn’t know if he believed Chris or not.
Mason reveled with his thirst. Proud of his accomplishments and even more so his fantasies…fantasies that he could now fulfill. He sat in the bathtub, blowing at the bubbles that surrounded him. He knew in his mind that the FBI agents were scared…perhaps sitting up all night trying to figure out how they missed him at the funeral. He laughed, knowing he’d walked right past Larabee.
They couldn’t catch a cold…much less him.
Mason took a long pull from the bottle of wine he’d purchased. He looked up when the bathroom door opened.
“You ready?” she asked, pushing her long black hair past her slender shoulders.
He looked at her and grinned. “Always,” he replied softly, getting to his feet.
She wasn’t pregnant…but she’d do.
Chris knocked on the hotel room door that JD and Buck were sharing. “Get your asses up!” he yelled.
JD answered with a grin on his face. “I’m not rooming with him again.” His tone was sarcastic and the humor in his eyes caused Chris to nod in agreement.
Chris entered the room to find Buck’s feet on the pillows of his bed and his arms hanging off the sides of it. Chris picked up the heavy phone book that had been resting on the dresser and tossed it on the bed Buck was sleeping on. “Get your ass out of bed, Wilmington!” Chris yelled in the sleeping agent’s ear.
Something inaudible was muttered from Buck’s lips before he sluggishly stood up and headed to the bathroom dressed in nothing but his birthday suit.
“Next time,” JD shoved a thumb in Buck’s direction, “I get my own room.”
Chris laughed while shaking his head. “Let’s go get some breakfast.”
“Wait for me!” Buck yelled, quickly slipping into his jeans.
“If you guys don’t quiet down they’re going to kick us out of the hotel,” Vin said, standing in the doorway while leaning against the frame. He reached up and scratched at his neck, annoyed by the bandage but relieved at the same time.
“How’d Ezra sleep?” Nathan asked, slipping into the room with Josiah right behind him.
“Still sleeping,” Chris responded. He tossed all the files onto the table that rested in the corner of the room. “Buck, go get Ezra up—”
“No,” came the quick response. “He damn near took my head off the last time I woke him.” Buck finished dressing.
“I’ll go,” Josiah offered.
“Let him sleep,” Nathan said, “We can bring him back something to eat.”
Chris nodded in agreement while heading for the door.
He could smell food, but eating while swimming in the ocean didn’t make sense. The turbulent waters got worse around his shoulders. He tried to push back but failed. He could hear voices in the background— perhaps a boat was nearby. When a strong hand grasped his shoulder he jumped, grabbing the wrist and pulling it forward.
Blankets flew upwards as Josiah’s large frame was pull from his position and thrown over the side of the bed. He landed with a thump on his belly and the barrel of a small gun pressed at the base of his skull.
“Told ya,” Buck smirked, crossing his arms over his chest and cocking an eyebrow.
Vin laughed, taking a seat by the table next to JD.
Ezra’s jaw clenched as he slowly released the trigger of his small weapon. “Does anyone else have the wise idea of waking me?” he asked, helping Josiah to his feet.
The big man shook his head in disbelief. “No, Brother, I don’t believe anyone will.”
Ezra nodded briskly before grabbing some clothing from his duffle bag and heading for the bathroom.
“Should have let him sleep,” Vin commented.
Chris shook his head and gathered up all the information regarding the Mason investigation. They had six hours before the memorial service, and everyone wanted to be ready.
JD and Buck sat in the van, waiting for the miracle they prayed would happen. After having spent the past four hours going over every inch of videotape from the funeral, they were ready for some action…or so they thought. They had found nothing that could aid them in their search for Mason, and without the additional video tapes it was impossible to get a proper identification of the man Ezra suspected was their killer.
Ezra was once again walking quietly around the cemetery, looking for anything that could help. He watched carefully as people started to arrive, most, if not all, brought flowers to lie at the headstone. They spoke together, speaking of memories and issues that pertained to Beverly Mason. Nobody mentioned her son…either they didn’t know, or cared not to.
Microphones were working, and headsets clear as everyone, 23 agents and 14 officers—3 of which were from the sheriff’s department, some worked their way through the crowd, while others held their formal positions. Vin was once again stationed up high, getting a better view of the surrounding areas. Nobody was sure of what to look for, other than a man in his mid forties, with the possibility of having reddish brown hair.
He might be disguised as a reporter…might be.
Josiah and Nathan spoke with friends of Beverly Mason, many of who knew her from church and others from her AA group. It was a combination of white and blue-collar men and women. Everyone was different, but they all had the same reason for being here.
They were mourning the loss of a friend.
Chris looked at his men, and the undercover officers moving throughout the cemetery. “Excuse me,” he said, moving past an elderly couple. He looked up, locating his profiler, who stood in the distance with his hands in his pockets…looking like a hawk on the search of a kill.
“So far license plates are checking out,” JD said into the microphone from the back of the van. “There’s only been one van through here within the past two hours.”
“Keep at it, JD,” Chris said, needing something.
“Potential suspect just to the east of the black Mercedes,” Agent Brown’s voice echoed through everyone’s earpiece.
Six sets of eyes looked toward the man wearing a dark blue suit. He smiled and wrapped his arms around a younger woman. Their fingers entwined and together they walked toward the grave.
“Could be his wife,” Buck said, looking through one of the van’s windows.
Agents moved closer, anticipating a positive ID on the suspect.
“It’s not him,” Ezra’s voice penetrated the suddenly dead air.
“It could be an act, Ezra,” Nathan responded, carefully watching the man.
“It’s not him,” the profiler said again. He stepped forward, moving closer toward the crowd. He ran his fingers over his eyes and looked out over the landscape. He stopped suddenly, catching sight of an elderly woman confined to a wheelchair.
Wearing tennis shoes.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” Ezra swore softly.
“What?” came the collected response?
“Elderly woman in the wheelchair,” Ezra said softly, walking toward his target.
“Didn’t hear what you said, Ezra, can you repeat?” JD asked, trying to clear up the lines.
Ezra’s green eyes locked for a moment with Mason’s brown. He smiled, before jumping out of the wheelchair as though he’d just been electrically charged. Ezra took off after him. Nathan took off at run, chasing Mason and Standish.
Chris followed the subject, trying to rush past people without knocking them down. He yelled into his microphone, “Move it!” he snapped at mourners. “JD, BUCK! Get on the road, head south…suspect is moving toward the back entrance of the cemetery!”
Agents and officers jumped into action. Cars were started, lights flashed, and voices echoed throughout the area demanding orders. Tires squealed out of the parking lot and driveway, while visitors to the graveyard stood back in shock and dismay.
Lungs starved for more air while muscles burned. Ezra rushed across the land, though yards, over fences and hedges, while chasing Mason. The murderer had lost his gray wig, oversized glasses, and baggy dress. “He’s heading home!” Ezra yelled, gasping for breath.
Nathan jumped over a hedge and fell, feeling his knee give way. The former running back for Penn State’s Nittany Lions, had once again blown out his knee. He grasped the injured limb, rolling and gasping in pain. Chris was at his side in a flash offering support. He waved down a police car and quickly got the doctor seated in the back seat.
“Drive!” Chris yelled at the officer driving the vehicle. “JD, where’s Ezra?”
“Still heading south… ” there was a long pause, “…he’s heading toward Beverly Mason’s home.”
Chris clenched his jaw, wishing the car would go faster. He looked to Nathan who sat with his hands wrapped around the base of his thigh just above his knee. “You going to be all right?”
Nathan smiled tightly. “Old football injury,” he replied, clenching his jaw. “It’ll be fine,” he tried to reassure. “Let’s just get this done.”
Ezra pulled his weapon from its holster that was attached to his belt. His headset was dead and he couldn’t hear anyone. He pulled the receiver and mic from his pocket and ear and tossed it to the ground outside the barn doors. His heart beat wildly in his chest and every muscle clenched from fear and anticipation. He could hear sirens in the distance, but knew if he waited outside the doors for the rest of the team to arrive he might lose Mason.
Slowly, he entered the barn with his weapon held before him. Light entered in through the narrow slits in the roof and through the barn doors. An old Dodge truck was parked, covered in dust and bird manure in the center of the room. Buckets, lawn equipment, and tools hung from the walls and around the corners. Doves flew out through the windows, escaping into the pale blue sky. Their wings flapped, causing the wind they created to echo.
Time stood still.
The smell of mildew hit Ezra’s senses as he looked into every crevasse he came across. “I know you’re here!” he called out, hoping to hear something other than his own reverberation.
Ezra sighed, wiping the sweat from his brow. Taking a deep breath he stepped away from the wall. His heart suddenly appeared in his throat, and his arms spread outward…falling through the floor. Dust bloomed upward, creating a mushroom like cloud as dust spread wide. He landed heavily on his side, losing his weapon in the debris. He scampered and jumped up quickly, hiding in the shadows. He heard Mason laugh, as though he’d expected Ezra to drop in.
“You were so easy to play,” Mason said softly, stepping onto the pile of rubble that had settled. Dust and light surrounded him as though he were something unreal…something unworldly. He spread his arms wide and lay his head back, embracing what he was about.
“Why?” Ezra asked softly, starting to notice the items on the wall. Mason’s last victim hung from her arms on the far wall…she’d been butchered. Ezra’s stomach turned and he tried to keep himself focused on the task at hand.
“Why not?” he responded coldly. “I’m a man…just like you, Special Agent Ezra Standish. I bleed, breath, and eat…just like you. The only difference between us…?” He smiled coldly. “I play out my fantasies.”
“Why the children?”
“They’re so easy,” Mason said with a smile, “so willing to trust…so willing to be trusted.”
Ezra’s chest tightened.
“What was the last thing she said to you?” Mason asked, tilting his head so he could hear. “What was the last thing Li Pong said to you before she died?”
“Nothing you’ll ever know,” Ezra replied bitterly, looking at the ‘trophies’ Mason had collected over the years. Hair, contained in Ziploc Baggies hung from the walls like pictures cut from magazines.
Mason laughed again knowing what Standish had noticed. “There were more…the ones you never found.” He stepped out of the dim rays toward the workbench behind him, toward the young woman he’d just killed. It was as though she wasn’t in the room…she was just another…thing.
Ezra noticed his gun and quickly went for it. He pointed it at Mason’s back…. wishing he were strong enough to shoot the murderer in the back.
“Powerful…isn’t it?” Mason asked, keeping his back to Ezra. “Knowing you’re the one person who could end my life—end the suffering so many will endure because of me.” He took a deep breath and slowly turned around. “I don’t remember their names—names don’t matter, I guess you could say—only faces.” He pulled a long strand of braided hair out of a small bag. “This one was young…he said he liked his hair long because of his mother who like to braid it—she didn’t have hair you see.” Mason stopped and looked at Ezra. “She had cancer.”
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” Ezra warned, trying to see past the shadows and dust particles.
“It’s all about control…we can’t control what goes on in our lives so we try and control what happens outside it,” Mason said. “Anorexia, bulimia, obsessive compulsions…all of them are about control…no different than wanting to control others.” He sighed and took a long look upward…he could hear agents and officers gathering outside. They’d find their way in quickly. “You see,” he smiled, “you’re not the only one who had psychology classes in college.”
“You’re a far cry from being an obsessive compulsive…or anorexic,” Ezra replied.
“You’re standing there, wanting more than anything to shoot me. You see…that’s the control. All those children hanging from my walls…their faces are buried in your memory and you can’t control that, but you can control your will to shoot me.” Mason reached up and pulled several baggies from the walls and several small envelopes. “He was young…a little younger than I liked them…” he tossed the items toward Ezra. The bag of hair landed at his feet and the envelope opened and pictures scattered across the dirty floor. “I killed him over there,” Mason pointed toward the far wall, “I used a butter knife and surgical restraints…you never did figure that part out did you?”
Ezra squeezed the grip of his weapon, fighting the desire to pull the trigger.
It would be so easy…
Mason took a step forward and spoke softly, “Did she bleed?” He looked hard at the profiler. “Did she scream when she knew she’d lose the child she was carrying…? Did you try and stop the driver as he sped away?” He laughed, hearing voices from above.
“Ezra!” Chris yelled, standing at the edge of the hole that had recently created.
Ezra’s jaw clenched. He didn’t hear anything other than Mason’s words. He couldn’t’ see anything other than the serial killer’s face.
“Be glad she died there, Standish,” Mason said with a wicked smile, watching as agents moved in around the room…all armed. “Be glad I didn’t bring her to my den so she could die like the others… Be glad I didn’t cut that child from her body and send him to you in a black box.”
“He isn’t worth it, Brother,” Josiah said softly, trying to get through to the profiler. Buck had tried and failed. Josiah reached out and gently touched Ezra’s hands…feeling the cold in the pale fingers. “It’s over,” he whispered in Ezra’s ear, “He’s not going to hurt anyone again.”
“Bullshit,” Ezra whispered sharply. “Bullshit…” He lowered his weapon, pointing it toward the ground.
Vin and JD moved in behind Mason and forced him to the floor, pulling his arms out wide while another agent searched him. He was jerked back up to his feet and hands cuffed tightly behind his back.
Josiah gently pried Ezra’s weapon from his fingers. “Are you all right?” he asked softly. Concern lined his aged features.
“Fine,” Ezra replied, quickly pushing away anyone that tried to get close. “Somebody cover her up…I’ll be outside,” he whispered, moving past Josiah and the others.
“Buck!” Chris yelled, “Get Crime Scene down here!” He motioned to Agent Brown, who quickly made his way toward the SAC. “Restrict all personnel entering this area,” he ordered, “Nothing gets touched or removed without documentation.”
“I’ll see to it,” Randy said, moving toward the hidden access door that had only just been discovered.
Chris looked around as officers and agents spoke with one another, documenting information for their reports and taping off the crime scene. It had been only minutes after the arrest when the Crime Scene Unit arrived with their equipment. Chris looked up and spotted Ezra off in the distance, standing in Beverly Mason’s backyard, looking from the house to the ground and then to the barn.
“Agent Walts and Tompkins took Nate to the hospital,” Buck said, stepping up next to his friend.
Chris nodded and looked toward the scene again. “Everyone okay?” he asked, knowing Buck would have checked.
Buck looked toward Ezra. “If not…we will be.”
“Let’s go find out how Nathan’s doing.”
“You all right?” Chris asked softly, stepping up behind Ezra who coughed and spit the bile that was rising in his throat.
There was a short pause and the profiler turned slightly. “Did you know?” he asked. “Did you know he ordered Li’s death?”
Chris’ throat clenched. If he lied—Ezra would know it. “Yeah, I did.” He sighed, crossing his arms over his chest and looking into the distance. “Director Morris had suspicions about it…told me when I saw him regarding the Trickle investigation.”
“Perhaps,” Ezra paused, clearing his throat, “the next time someone informs you about a ‘suspicion’ regarding me…” he looked up and met Chris’ eyes, “…you might be kind enough to let me know of it.” He pulled his tie from his neck. “Before someone else does.” He headed toward the car Buck and Josiah were getting into.
Chris closed his eyes and shook his head.
“He’s right,” Vin said, stepping up behind his boss. “You should have told him.”
“Director Morris ordered me not to.”
“Since when do you follow orders?” Vin raised his brow.
“You know you can be a real ass sometimes,” Chris mocked.
Vin shrugged: “Just doin’ my job.”
“Let’s go,” Chris ordered, shoving Vin toward the vehicle.
The trip back to Washington was held in silence for most of the seven agents. Mason’s last victim had been a young homeless teenager…who happened to be Asian. Ezra knew the meaning behind the killer’s intentions…he hadn’t needed to see it spelled out for him. Mason had laughed all during his ‘temporary incarceration’ in Oklahoma. Nobody could stand being around the murderer…so he’d been left alone, with his own thoughts…unable to brag about his ‘wondrous deeds’.
The reporter, Neil Peterson, had been discovered in a dumpster outside the hotel where he’d last been seen. It took dental records to identify his body…but at least his father could bury him. Mason’s bloody trail was one for this history books, but nobody, not even the local police, were willing to stake claim to knowing Mason…or his madness.
Chris looked at his men, seeing their uncertainties surface in their eyes. Nathan stared out the window of the airplane, watching the clouds change shape. Perhaps he was thinking about the note Mason had written him, or maybe he was thinking about the importance of his job, and maybe…just maybe, he was thankful that he’d helped bring a killer to justice. Josiah sat next to the doctor, reading one of his books. More than likely the big man was trying to bring an understanding to the events of late…it was easier if you knew the whys.
JD played halfheartedly on his Gameboy…not really caring where Pac Man moved or what ate him. He knew deep in his heart that he wasn’t anything like the man they’d captured, but there were…some…things that Mason had said that hit the kid in the gut. Those things wouldn’t leave him… Ever. Buck sat next to the kid, dozing, or looking like he was. Chris knew without asking that Buck was having a hard time with the case, just like the rest of them, he took things to heart…he just had a better way to hiding it. His jovial laugh, free spirited antics, and tough exterior were all a show of sorts. It was a way for him to prove to the world that nothing ever bothered him…but it did, Chris knew it.
It would be easier to walk away from each case with a feeling of success and accomplishment. But each case left them with a haunting that nobody could understand…not until they’d lived it. Ezra and Vin knew that better than most of them. Vin—because he did kill from a distance, and Mason’s note had cut him to the bone. It was never easy taking out a suspect that was a threat to someone…but it had to be done. Vin understood that, but it didn’t make it any easier. Ezra knew that because he saw it through the eyes of every murderer, rapist, and monster he profiled. Touching evil had a way of leaving its mark, no matter how far away it appeared. Chris watched the profiler lazily flip his cards through his fingers…maybe they helped his nerves.
“What’s next?” Vin asked, shoving the travel guide into the sleeve on the back of the chair in front of him.
“Chain of bank robberies up north,” Chris answered flatly.
Vin smiled: “It’ll be good to have something ‘normal’ to work on again.”
Chris chuckled and shook his head, that was a better way of looking at it. “I hope you’re right,” he said softly.
“Hell,” Vin sighed, “When have I been wrong?” He shook his head: “Don’t answer that.”
The Hoover Building never looked so good as Ezra walked across the street. Rain poured out of the sky, but despite that, he walked unhurriedly with a coffee in one hand and the Wall Street Journal tucked under his arm. He was running late but wasn’t in a hurry to arrive at the office. He smiled at the doorman as he entered the large brick building. The past few weeks still sat heavy on his shoulders, just like it did all the others. He looked better, and at least the dark circles under his eyes were gone.
He took a sip of his coffee and immediately pressed the down button on the wall next to the elevator.
“Congratulations on finding Mason,” Agent Pete Conner said, as Ezra stepped in beside him. “Heard he’s living the high life in his old cell with Doctor Owens watching his back.”
Ezra smiled and nodded, humbly accepting the compliment while not wanting to think about the monster that still lived. “How’re you feeling?” He quickly changed the subject.
“Better. The wife has me on this shitty diet eating oatmeal everyday,” he said with a chuckle.
“They could be planting flowers at your headstone, Conner…be thankful.”
“Damn job…that’s what I’ll blame it on.”
“Not diet of beef and pork?” Ezra joked.
“You’re such an ass-hole, Standish… You know what people are starting to call that team you’re with?” He raised his eyebrows in a joking manner. “The Magnificent Seven,” he sighed, shrugging. “Frankly, I think ‘The Fucked Up Seven’ has a better ring to it…don’t you?”
“What do you know, Conner…? You’re still working with the BS division.” Ezra chuckled, stepping off the elevator. “And you’re still closer to hell than the rest of us.”
Pete gave Ezra the bird before the elevator doors closed, heading three floors down.
The office was busy with all sorts of activity. Josiah was on the phone while Vin leaned back in his chair shooting hard candy out of his mouth and then catching it again. On occasion he’d look at his computer and punch a few keys…obviously, typing was not his strong suit. Nathan sat at his desk with his leg propped up on a chair and pillows. Thankfully, the lateral cartilage tear that occurred in his knee was minimal, so he’d spend the next three months in physical therapy…courtesy of the FBI. JD seemed preoccupied with his computer. Buck poked at his keypad, he seemed to be the only person working on their final report that was due shortly.
“Hey, Ezra,” JD yelped, pushing his chair back and sliding momentarily across the floor.
“JD,” the profiler supplied, setting his coffee on the table. He picked up the brown package that had rested on his desk. Seating himself in his uncomfortable chair he pulled the drawstring and allowed the contents to fall onto his desk.
The Cooper Tribune newspaper and a framed photograph wrapped in bubble wrap, slipped out onto the tabletop. In bold headlines read: Samantha Sue Olsen’s Murder Solved. Ezra smiled, reading the short article. He opened the bubble wrap and looked at the picture of Detective Roy Carson, his family, and the Olsen family from just before Samantha’s death. They looked happy at what appeared to be a barbeque. Ezra picked up the note and read:
We’ll never be able to thank you enough for helping us bring Sam’s killer to justice. By the grace of God, we’ll never meet again under the same circumstances.
In good wishes,
Roy , and the Cooper California Police Department.
“You all right, Ezra?” Buck asked, watching as the team’s newest agent settled himself in his desk.
Ezra nodded with a shy smile. “Yeah,” he said softly, resting the picture frame on the corner of his desk. He grabbed the files of unsolved serial-type murder cases that required FBI assistance and started sorting them out…
Chris stepped out of his office and looked around. “I need your reports within the hour,” he said calmly, heading for the coffee pot.
“And then what?” Vin asked, grinning like a fox.
Chris shook his head: “Just get your report done.”
FBI Files Index