AU-FBI files Universe (seven)
JD ripped the top portion of his plastic cup off and then poured a small amount of milk into the bottom. “He’s so cute…what are you going to call him?” he asked, watching as the kitten lapped up the creamy fluid.
“Bait,” Josiah and Chris answered in unison.
“No way,” JD snapped, “You can’t call him that!”
“I have no intention of keeping that animal, Agent Dunne,” Ezra said, leaning back in his chair.
“What are you going to do with him?” Vin asked, finishing off his bag of potato chips.
“Is anyone here looking for a cat?” Ezra asked, running his hand through his hair. He wasn’t amused and he didn’t want to spend his time caring for a pet.
“I think you should name him…Bandit,” JD said, looking at the black and white markings.
When Nathan entered the motel room, everyone looked up in hopes that he was able to find something useful from the clothing they’d managed to acquire.
“I sent the shirt to the lab in Quantico. I don’t have the resources to handle that kind of job. However, one of the lab technicians from the crime scene unit noticed right away that some of the soil on the pajama bottoms. He said it was silt…top soil found in irrigation ditches.”
“So we’re lookin’ for a farmer?” Buck asked.
“No,” Ezra replied. “We don’t know if the clothing discovered is the same that the boys were wearing on the night of their disappearance.”
“Ezra’s right,” Chris said, looking toward JD and Buck. “You two go down to the second hand store and find out if the Gwans and Brooks ever took anything in…if they did there should be some kind of a record.” He looked toward Nathan. “What about the bloodstains?”
“Wasn’t blood. It was transmission fluid out of a New Holland TS 90 tractor, the primary tractor used in this area.”
“You sure?” Chris asked.
“From what I saw, it was pretty easy to mistake the two,” Nathan said, resting his elbow on the table allowing his hand to hang over the edge.
“Plus this is a farming community,” Vin spoke up, “so it’s really not surprising…”
“That kids are wearing their PJ’s on tractors?” Josiah asked, scratching his chin.
“You ever lived on a farm?” Vin asked, raising his eyebrows.
Chris chuckled, knowing what farm life was like. “He’s right. When you got farm animals down, fields that need planting, or problems in general…you don’t take the time to change into your ‘farm clothes’ simply because all your clothes are farm clothes.”
“Speaking from experience, brother?” Josiah asked.
“Grew up on a cattle ranch in Indiana…ran over 1000 head of Herefords…so yeah, I’m speaking from experience.”
“Not to change the subject, gentlemen, but the clothing we are speaking of belonged to two families who lived in the suburbs…not farms,” Ezra spoke up. “So why would Jacob or Mark’s attire be filled with farming…debris?”
“We’ll know more when JD and Buck get back,” Chris replied, leaning back in his chair. “How’s the profile coming?” He looked from Josiah to Ezra.
Josiah smiled and looked toward Ezra. “Brother?”
Ezra rolled his eyes and motioned toward the wall filled with facts, maps, and pictures. “He’s between the ages of…”
“Narrow it down,” Chris ordered, wanting more than just the standard profile. “I want gut feelings and suspicions.”
Standish leaned forward in his chair, uncomfortable with what was asked of him. “By deviating from the standard.”
“What do you know?” Chris asked again. “What are your gut feelings?”
Ezra pulled the sleeves of his shirt and jacket down. “I believe he’s a victim who’s reenacting the crime that was committed against him. He’s 30 to 40 years old…I think he’s closer to 40,” he looked up and met Chris’ eyes. “He’s a white male…probably married and I don’t believe he has any children of his own. He’s quiet, shy, and perhaps standoffish… He’s a momma’s boy who sees her as a neutral party—the parent who didn’t make the big decisions in the family. His father was probably the disciplinarian. Our murderer isn’t angry with his mother…we’d see more violence committed against the women if he was. ” He leaned back and sighed, “I won’t know more until I see more evidence.”
“What about the mirrors?” Josiah asked, trying to compare his own assessment to Standish’s.
“Mirrors are a reflection of events happening,” he explained. “They only show us what we choose to see…on many occasions it’s open to disillusionment created by our eyes. Our killer wants to see the events for himself…act them out…become one with the crime.”
JD and Vin shook their heads, Buck scratched his and Josiah leaned back in his seat and looked at the mirror above the dresser. Nathan looked at Chris and shrugged his shoulders…they had no idea what Standish meant.
“The sheriff dropped these files off,” Chris said, dropping the pile onto the tabletop. He needed a change of pace. “Look for anything suspicious and pertaining to the case.”
Buck wrinkled up the hamburger wrapper and tossed it into the garbage can. “Two!” he yelled, raising his arms in the air.
“I’ve got a file here that reads like an unsolved mystery,” JD said, flipping through the pages.
“What is it?” Chris asked, scratching his scalp.
“Says here that Mr. and Mrs. Douglass, a local family and long time residents of Berry, reported their son missing. Mr. Douglass was a schoolteacher and his wife was the school nurse…anyway, their son was taken on July 16th 1974 and was found 12 days later in a grocery store bathroom…”
“How old was he?” Ezra asked, putting the file he’d been reading down.
“Ten,” JD answered. “The boy never said a word about what happened so charges could’t be filed.”
“What about the medical report?” Ezra continued to question.
“Dehydration, multiple bruises and abrasions, and four lacerations on his back in the shape of a W.” He looked up, not sure if the injuries meant something.
Chris picked up his phone and dialed the sheriff’s office, wanting to know where the Douglass’ could be found.
Ezra reached out and took the file that JD willingly handed him.
“Why a W?” Buck asked, kicking his feet up onto the table. “And why wouldn’t the boy say anything?”
“Fear,” Josiah answered.
“He’d be the right age…for our suspect,” Vin surmised, leaning back in his chair.
“Douglass family is still living in town,” Chris said, slipping his cell phone into his pocket.
“Let’s go,” JD said, getting to his feet.
“Ezra’s going with me. The rest of you stay here and keep working through the rest of these files.” Chris motioned for Ezra to join him. “Josiah,” he turned, “contact the sheriff and ask him to release all police reports of known felons who were born, raised, or grew up here. JD, you go with him and find out how many of these people are living out of the area.” He turned quickly and followed Ezra out of the motel room.
The house looked desolate from a distance. Several junk cars rested in the front yard; two had their wheels removed, the other’s hood was popped open and the engine was missing. Weeds, grass, and wild flowers had grown up around the sporadically strewn parts. The screen covering the porch had several holes ripped into it. Paint chips littered the ground next to the house, and broken beer bottles had been smashed on the walkway.
“I don’t see how anyone could live like this,” Ezra said, looking hesitantly through a dirt-streaked window.
“Hell, Ezra…I thought with the jobs you’ve done over the years, this wouldn’t be any big deal,” Chris replied, knocking on the door.
“Oh, I’ve seen worse, but I still don’t understand a person’s…desire…”
“It ain’t desire, Ezra,” Chris said. “Just the way it is.”
Both men stepped back when the screen door creaked open. “What do you want?” came the gruff voice. The older man tried to stand tall, and he grabbed the doorframe to steady himself. A half-burned cigarette hung from tar-stained lips. His silver hair stood on end and lay flat in spots. Folds of skin hung around his eyes, solid proof of a hard-lived life.
“Mr. Douglass?” Chris said, pulling his badge from his jacket pocket.
“I’m Special Agent Larabee, and this is Special Agent Standish with the FBI…can we ask you a few questions?”
The old man huffed and turned abruptly. “Come on in,” he yelled.
Chris shrugged and opened the screen door, Ezra quickly followed. The house was piled with newspapers and books. Cobwebs hung from the ceiling collecting dust. Framed photographs hung on the wall next to the staircase. The flower print rug that had protected the wood of the stairs had worn through in spots.
“What’s the FBI doin’ in Berry?” Douglass asked, sitting in his recliner that had been covered with an afghan. He suspected it was in regards to the missing families…but he needed verbal proof.
“We wanted to talk to you about your son,” Chris said, seating himself on the old sofa that had obviously been used as a scratching post by cats.
Ezra remained standing.
“My son died…”
“I’m sorry,” Chris apologized. “That information wasn’t in the reports.”
“He was killed in prison three years ago…his mother passed away a year after that.” He leaned back and looked out the window.
“May I ask how he was killed?” Ezra questioned, looking at the photographs and small trinkets that lay around the house.
“Police told me he was stabbed while taking a shower.” He paused and looked at the two men, knowing what they wanted. “My son never talked about what happened to him all those years ago…but whatever did happen…” he sighed and turned away, “it destroyed ‘im.”
“Did your son have any friends, anyone he could talk to?” Ezra asked, watching the man’s movements.
“Franky was a shy boy and he only had a couple of friends. Henry O’Riley was one…’till he fell off that tractor…and then there was Pat Trickle.”
“Does he still live around here?” Chris interrupted.
“Pat?” Hal Douglass asked, wanting to make sure. “He and his folks moved away after…after, Franky’s disappearance.”
“Find whoever took those families from town,” he looked toward Chris and Ezra, “find him…and then kill him.” His words were spoken harshly, as though someone else had said them.
“Thank you, Mr. Douglass, for your time,” Ezra said, leaving the room abruptly.
Chris nodded to the older man and then exited the room, following his agent.
The screen door slammed shut and bounced once before coming to a rest on its frame. Ezra slipped into the passenger seat of the Taurus and waited for Chris to slip in beside him. The door chimed when it was opened and then slammed shut. Chris turned the key over and the engine started, purring softly as he slipped the gearshift into drive.
“So much for our suspect,” Chris muttered, pulling onto the main road.
“Don’t discount what he had to say,” Ezra said softly.
Chris looked over at his agent and sighed, wishing he could understand what was going through his head.
Buck dropped a pile of files in front of Chris. “There have been seven murders of women in surrounding communities that resemble the Gwan and Brooks women,” he said, grabbing a handful of potato chips.
“All of them are unsolved and there aren’t any suspects,” JD added, flopping down on Chris’ bed. “The murders took place during the past three years…all of them had cuts in the shape of a W between their shoulder blades…just like the Douglass boy. The other four were committed 16 years ago near Pittsburgh.”
Josiah shook his head, knowing they were on the road to hunting a serial killer.
“So are we looking for someone who’d done these crimes and moved away, and now he’s back again…?” Vin surmised, looking for answers that weren’t there.
“Could be,” Josiah agreed. “He also could have been in some kind of ‘emotional hibernation’…”
“So he’s a long time resident of the area?” Nathan asked, looking at the photographs on the wall.
Chris looked over at Ezra, noting his silence. “So where do we look now?” he asked, nobody in particular.
Ezra stood and grabbed his jacket.
“Where’re you going?” Chris asked.
“I need some air,” Ezra replied, leaving the room.
“Maybe we’re steppin’ on his toes,” Buck said, leaning back in his chair. “Hell, Steven would have more info than what we’ve got.”
“Steven’s not here, Buck,” Chris snapped, getting to his feet.
“Let’s just get this thing solved and go home,” JD replied, looking over the files.
“We’re tryin’ to, kid,” Vin replied, pulling the curtain back from the window and peering out.
“If we theorize that the killer stopped killing for a while and returned to his…activity,” Nathan started, “what would make him kill again? And why would he move from boys to women?”
“Could be that he was in prison…and maybe he’s just moved onto different prey,” Vin surmised.
“Maybe he was in a hospital…or maybe he moved out of the area,” JD said, putting a quarter into the vibrating machine at the head of the bed.
“JD,” Chris ordered, “Narrow down our list of felons to those who committed violent crimes… Concentrate on assault, rape, attempted murder, and…murder.” He grabbed his jacket and started for the door. “The rest of you try and find out what the M.O. is of the killer from 16 years ago. Vin…” he sighed. “Get down to the sheriff’s office and find out what you can about a former resident by the name of Pat Trickle…Josiah, research the serial killer Tom Mason.” He opened the room door and disappeared outside.
“Who’s Tom Mason?” JD asked, reaching into his pant’s pocket for another quarter.
“Pedophile…and one sick son-of-a-bitch,” Josiah responded.
Chris stood back and watched his new agent pace back and forth behind the cars in the motel parking lot. He shook his head and moved toward the trunk of the Taurus and leaned against the bumper. “You want to talk about it?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Not particularly,” Ezra responded, running a hand through his hair. He watched as Chris pulled his pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. “May I?”
“Didn’t know you smoked,” Chris said, flicking the package. The golden brown end of a cigarette appeared like magic through the top of its wrapper.
“I don’t,” Ezra replied, leaning over to light the end of the stick with Chris’ lighter. He coughed and bent over, placing his hands on his knees.
“No shit,” Chris chuckled, watching Standish try and keep from hacking up a lung.
“This is terrible,” Ezra choked, tossing the cigarette to the ground and smashed the glowing end with the tip of his shoe.
“Never smoked in high school?”
“Smoked a joint when I was 14,” Ezra admitted, standing straight. “My roommate and I snuck into the cafeteria and made nachos afterwards.” He chuckled along with Chris. “Still can’t tolerate the smell of refried beans.”
Chris laughed even harder, tapping the end of his smoke causing the ashes to fall to the pavement. He looked toward the door when he saw Vin step through. He nodded and then slipped into one of the rental cars and drove away.
“What do you think is going on with our killer?” Chris asked, feeling more comfortable with the situation.
“I don’t believe the killer from 16 years ago is the same as today. The style is different as well as the victims.” Ezra looked up the road and watched a few cars speed by. “However…”
“What?” Chris pushed.
“Franky Douglass,” Ezra whispered. “I’m not—”
“Damn it, Ezra,” Chris snapped, moving off the end of the car. “We’ve got two dead…possibly more, and four missing. We need answers…anything you can give us is worth looking into.”
“The ‘W’ we’re seeing on the victims is an ‘M’…that’s the killer’s signature. He’s leaving us a clue as to who he is…and why he’s killing.”
“But the recent victims are cut the same…that would make our killer…45, 50 years old,” Chris said.
“Because it’s not the same man. To be completely truthful, Mr. Larabee…I believe Franky Douglass was an intended victim of Tom Mason…perhaps one of his first. It’s important to realize that Mason didn’t fail to kill his victims…if the Douglass boy escaped…someone else was taken. The man was…obsessive with his victims…they were less than people but more than garbage, reminiscent of a child’s baby blanket or teddy bear. He scarred all his victims with his initial like a child would their toys, claiming his ownership…it also implies that Franky was probably one of his first.”
“What about the women?”
“Samples,” Ezra answered bluntly. “Mason lived in Pittsburgh for 3 years in the mid 70’s and again in the mid 80’s…which makes the timing for the murders feasible…Mason didn’t just kill children…”
“Mason was executed…wasn’t he?”
“No,” Ezra replied, shaking his head. “He’s being held for ‘examination’ in Washington.”
“What about the murders from three years ago?”
“Same man…that would be my guess.”
“So what are you implying…about our killer?” Chris asked, looking hard at his agent.
“Are you familiar with the Stockholm Syndrome?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Chris admitted.
“It’s a condition in which the victim sympathizes with the perpetrator, and I believe that’s what we’re seeing…combine that with the Pseudo-Identity disorder and we’ll find our suspect.”
“There’s more here than someone buying Mason a ‘get out soon’ card.”
Ezra nodded in agreement: “We’re seeing it in an extreme case…the victim is performing the acts that Mason no longer can. In other words…he’s taking on his role.” He sighed and looked to the ground and then up at the starry sky. “The man we’re looking for is quiet…unassuming. Someone you’d meet everyday and forget the moment he disappeared. The fantasy world he lives in is his own and he doesn’t share it with anyone except his victims. He wants…acceptance. He sees himself as all-powerful…someone who can control someone else…take from them what he believes they hold dear.” Ezra watched Chris shake his head. “He’s seeking fame through his hero…that’s why he’s marking the victims.”
“Who’s his hero?”
“Mason…” Ezra answered honestly. “Mason was…is, a very intelligent individual who holds power, intelligence, and persistence above all else. To him, the actual act of his fantasies fed his mind. Seeing himself through his victims eyes was what he yearned for most… The man we’re after now wants acceptance from Mason. He wants to please and impress his idol.”
“You profiled this Mason character?”
“Did he take whole families like this?”
“No…just children…but he started with the killing of prostitutes,” Ezra answered flatly. “Mason killed prostitutes…young ones. Girls that were boyish looking…then, when he had them…he made them into boys…literally.”
Chris turned his face away, feeling sick to his stomach. “Then why kill the mothers?”
“He’s been a victim, Mr. Larabee…and he blames his parents. He’s not killing just for Mason, he’s killing for himself as well.”
Chris nodded and looked hard at his agent. “You think Mason knows who our killer is.”
“Indeed.” Ezra rubbed the back of his head. “And…I’d be willing to bet that they’ve communicated.”
Josiah looked up when the motel room door opened. Chris stepped through and tossed his jacket onto his bed. Buck and JD sat at the computer, the kid’s fingers flew over the keypad as though they were a part of it and Buck took notes on his legal pad. Nathan continued to read over files.
“What’d you find?” Chris asked, heading to the bathroom. The sound of plastic being ripped from a cup filled the air and then water rushing through the faucet head.
Josiah leaned back in his chair and watched as Chris reentered the bedroom part of the motel room and then leaned against the wall. “Did you know Ezra profiled Tom Mason?” he asked, getting everyone’s attention.
“Yeah…I did,” Chris answered, knowing only a little of the man they were speaking of.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, Chris?” Josiah looked at Chris. “Tom Mason is one sick fuck.”
Nathan and the others looked hard at Josiah, knowing he didn’t use foul language very often.
“What’d you find?” Chris asked again, this time with more seriousness in his voice.
Josiah shook his head: “I won’t go into any detail…but if Ezra thinks we’re after a copycat…”
“He doesn’t,” Chris admitted.
“Then who is it?” Josiah asked, knowing there was more to the situation.
“Ezra thinks our killer is a victim that escaped Mason when he lived in Pittsburgh,” Chris answered. “Four of us are headed back down to Washington in the morning…”
“Who?” JD asked, “And why?”
“Josiah, Ezra, Vin and I…the rest of you are going to continue researching and interviewing some of the locals. I want to know who Ezra thinks was in the Brooks’ home after their disappearance…that’s number one.”
“Why are you going back to Washington?” Buck questioned.
“Find out who our killer is from Mason.”
Vin stepped into the motel room, finding it empty except for Chris who was looking intently at the wall of information, all the while petting the small kitten in his lap. The light above the table was on and the subtle sound of JD’s stereo echoed softly throughout the rooms.
“Where’s everyone?” Vin asked, sitting down next to his friend and comrade.
“Think they went to bed and Ezra went for a walk,” Chris answered, running his hand over his face.
“Found the information you wanted on Pat Trickle,” the younger agent replied, grabbing a chair and tossing the file onto the tabletop. “Seems he’s livin’ in Berry.”
Chris raised his eyebrows and started looking through the file, not recognizing the tone in Vin’s voice.
“Sheriff said that Trickle was good friends with Franky Douglass until the Douglass boy disappeared. Six months after Franky was discovered in that bathroom, the Trickle’s up and moved away without a word to anyone as to why.” Vin shook his head and grinned. “You have to love small town gossip.”
“And?” Chris pushed, getting back to business.
“Trickle is 38 years old, he’s married, and moved back here three years ago.”
“Could be a suspect,” Chris commented. “Seems to fit Ezra’s profile pretty good.”
“He moved back here after a car accident that severed his spinal cord left him paralyzed.”
“Shit,” Chris swore, leaning back in his chair.
“What if we start over…look at things in a new light?”
“We’ve got four people counting on us to find ‘em, Vin. We don’t have time to start over.”
Both men looked up when the motel room door opened. Ezra stepped through and looked at the two in surprise. “What?” he asked.
“Trickle’s file,” Chris responded, tossing the information toward his agent.
Ezra nodded and grabbed the file before moving over to the side of his bed. He sat down and turned the light on and started reading.
“I’m goin’ to bed,” Vin sighed, getting to his feet and pulling out the rollaway.
“We need to be at the train station by 8:00 a.m…”
Ezra looked up from the file: “Why are we leaving?”
“Four of us are heading back to Washington to try and get some answers out of Tom Mason…”
“Excuse me?” Ezra asked, getting to his feet.
“I want the name of the killer, Ezra, and if this guy knows it…”
“Do you honestly think he’s going to sit in his cell and give you what you want?”
Chris set the kitten he’d been holding down on his bed and looked hard at his new agent. “I was hoping you could do it.”
“No,” Ezra answered flatly. “Tom Mason is a sociopath, Mr. Larabee, and you’d be better off looking for those survivors on your own…”
“Then where the hell are they?!” Chris snapped, losing his patience. “Just talk to him, Ezra…if you can’t get anything out of him, we didn’t lose anything.”
“Except time,” Ezra bit back.
“We’re going,” Chris replied, throwing the blankets back away from the head of his bed. “However you’ve done things in the past…change it. You’re on my team and I expect things done my way.”
“You won’t take my word for it?”
Chris stopped and looked from Ezra to Vin…trying to decide how to answer the question. “This isn’t about trust…it’s about finding a madman before he kills again.”
“Speaking from experience, Mr. Larabee,” Ezra said sharply, moving toward the bathroom, “you’re fucking with the wrong perpetrator.”
Chris sighed and seated himself on the edge of the bed. He picked up the kitten that had made his way over to him, seeking comfort. “Who is he?” he asked, looking Bait in the eyes. The kitten meowed in response, purring all the while.
“Don’t think the cat knows, Pard,” Vin replied, punching his pillow.
“Hell, we have to do something,” Chris sighed, laying back on his bed.
Vin thought a moment, running all the information they’d collected over the past few days through his mind. He came up with more questions than answers. Some things he could understand…such as the second hand store not recording any data in regards to clothing that had been donated. He could understand how people living in a small town could create a false sense of security when it came to locking their doors. Or, in the Brooks and Gwan’s case…not locking their doors.
“How did Sheriff Carpenter know whose pajamas those were?” Vin asked, staring up at the ceiling. “How did he know that they belonged to Jacob Gwan?” He leaned over and propped himself up on his elbow. “There wasn’t a name on the shirt or the pajama bottoms…and who in the hell is going to buy a pair of second hand PJ’s when they can use some of their own for cleaning up farm machinery?” He suspected there was more to the sheriff then he was admitting.
Chris laced his fingers together behind his head as he processed when Vin had said. He stared up at the ceiling, hoping and praying for a break in the case. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly, his mind running through possible scenarios.
“He’s the right age,” Vin replied, hearing the shower start in the bathroom. “And we can’t discount him because he’s the sheriff. Cops have murdered before…and a few of them are classified as serial killers.”
“Guess we’ll do some research when we get to Washington tomorrow. I’ll have Buck keep an eye on the sheriff…find out what his daily routine is.” Chris scratched his nose and watched as the kitten made its way up onto the bed Ezra would be sleeping in. “I don’t want to count out Henry O’Riley either…he’s a strange cat and I want him watched.”
“Won’t get any argument from me,” Vin said, lying back onto his bed.
Ezra stared blankly out the train car window. He hadn’t said anything since leaving Berry…too many things on his mind. A battle of wills was being played out in the subconscious of his mind. Mason would not give up the name of his victim willingly. He’d make it a game, a test that needed to be passed, and Ezra didn’t have a clue as to what it would be. Oh, he knew Mason, and what he was capable of. The man was brilliant. He had a scientific mind that cherished the opportunities to best an opponent. And Ezra was the opponent that Tom Mason enjoyed battling the most…because Ezra was just as cunning, just as smart, and just as determined.
Josiah watched the profiler, knowing there was some trepidation in his assignment. He observed the playing cards fly through the younger man’s hands without a second thought. It was as though he’d been handling them for years and they were more a part of himself than his own emotions. Ezra’s fingers moved in rhythm, conscious of their every position, and steadier than a surgeon’s.
Chris looked over and nodded when he saw Josiah look at him in question. There was more going on in Ezra’s head than he’d admit to anyone. Just because he was new on the team didn’t mean his concerns weren’t understood. Chris didn’t know who Mason was on a personal level. At the time of the serial killer’s arrest, Chris was working on a series of bank robberies in Southern California. So, other than hearing the occasional rumor about the situation…he was going in blind.
“I’d like be back on the road by tonight…if at all possible,” Chris said, folding his newspaper.
“You going to speak with Travis and get him an update?” Josiah asked.
“Depends on what we hear from Mason,” he replied, looking toward Ezra who remained silent.
“How many children did this guy kill?” Vin asked, fingering the cuff on his pant leg.
“Eleven,” Ezra replied softly, “but it’s estimated that he killed more.”
“What’d he do for a living?” Vin questioned, wanting to know what they were up against.
“Pediatrician.” Ezra returned his gaze out the window, feeling sick to his stomach.
“So we’re not dealing with a dummy,” Vin sighed, looking at the train steward move down the aisle.
The building had been painted white…all of it. Even the outside seemed sterile when compared to the buildings surrounding it. The large sign out front gave no indication that serial killers and mass murderers were being ‘studied’ on the inside: killers that avoided the death penalty because of their insanity…not because of their crimes.
Chris opened the large glass door and let the air-conditioned air hit him in the face like a boxer’s gloved fist. His and his men’s feet hit the marble floor with even, purpose-filled strides. There was only one person in the foyer. The desk attendant looked up, his identification badge hung from his lapel, and his glasses rested on the tip of his nose.
“Do you have an appointment?” the attendant asked, adjusting the headset that seemed permanently attached to his head.
“No,” Chris answered, reaching for his badge.
“You need an appointment before you can see…”
“Listen,” Chris snapped.
Ezra shook his head and stepped forward. “I’m Special Agent Standish and I’m here to see Dr. Owens in regards to Tom Mason.”
The attendant dialed the doctor and spoke momentarily before motioning for the four men to proceed to the doctor’s office.
“Who’s Owens?” Chris asked, following Ezra into the elevator. Chris wasn’t surprised that Ezra had exhibited some of his directness, but he was relieved. This is what Ezra did…what he was trained for.
“He’s the director of the Behavioral Science Division upstairs.”
Doctor Bill Owens stood from his desk and grasped Ezra’s hand in a firm grip. “Didn’t expect to see you,” he said hoarsely. His long silver hair had been pulled back into a tight ponytail. His dark brown eyes were well hidden beneath heavy eyebrows and thick lashes.
“I’m surprised to be here myself,” Ezra responded, not caring to look at Chris or the others.
“Mason’s been rather inactive the past few weeks,” Bill Owens said, leaning back against his desk. “What are you here for?”
“I believe Mason is connected with a case we’re investigating.”
Dr. Owens nodded and motioned for the men to follow him.
“Who contacts him on a regular basis?” Josiah asked, following the doctor into a small room filled with surveillance equipment.
“He has four regulars…his mother Beverly, another woman who calls herself ‘Bambi’, a man by the name of Rick Myers, and another by the name of Teodor Korzeniowski.” He continued down the corridor.
“So you read his mail…all of his incoming ‘packages’?” Chris asked, pausing for a moment until the doctor knocked on a door and slowly entered and motioned for the attendant to leave.
“No, we don’t read everything, but we do x-ray it and confiscate anything suspicious.” He looked at the monitors and then back at the four FBI agents. “He’s not allowed any batteries, silverware, aluminum foil…even gum wrappers, no coarse paper, pencils, pens…or anything that can be made into a weapon. You’ll find his cell to be very clean and simple…all of his furniture is secured in place from outside his cell.”
“That him?” Vin asked, looking at the first monitor that gave them a complete view of Mason.
“Yes…he’s been reading Joseph Conrad for the past couple of days,” Owens said, looking at Ezra, knowing he’d understand the underlying meaning.
“So he’s studying the vulnerability of man,” Josiah sighed, watching Ezra’s façade crack just slightly.
“No,” the doctor commented coldly, “He already knows it.”
Ezra nodded and left the room and then signaled for the guard to allow him to enter the holding area, leaving the rest of his teammates in the small room with the doctor.
“So what kind of an animal is Mason?” Vin asked, watching the surveillance camera.
“Closest thing I can come to answering that question…he’s evil, and he knows it.” Doctor Owens turned on the audio and motioned for the others to stand around the monitor. “Have you ever watched a high stakes poker game?”
“Seen a few,” Chris responded, not sure where the doctor was going with his question.
“This is as close as you’ll ever come to seeing one…a real one.”
Ezra jumped slightly when the heavy door closed behind him. The narrow hall seemed barren, despite holding the serial killer Mason. The walls had been painted white. Even the linoleum floor glared in spots as the florescent lights from above glistened off them. A single chair rested against the wall…it too was white. It was situated close enough to allow Ezra to sit and ‘speak’ with Mason, who was concealed behind a three-inch plexiglass wall. Everything in his room was white…even his tee shirt and slacks.
Ezra seated himself, knowing that Mason knew he was here, despite facing the far wall. He clenched his jaw when he saw the killer’s shoulders move…he was laughing.
“Agent Standish,” Mason said, not bothering to turn around. “Still coming to me for answers that evade you?” His voice was soft, unthreatening, and almost kind.
Ezra remained silent. He knew how to play this game.
“I wasn’t expecting a guest…I would have cleaned up a bit.” He turned, closing his book in the process. “What brings you here?” His face was lined with wrinkles that somehow defied his true age. His brown, almost black hair was cut short. He was still thin, still lean, and still as normal looking as anyone. His eyes told a different story. They were black…unnaturally black…and empty.
Ezra looked at him, feeling sick to his stomach…but he wouldn’t show it. A grin came to his face and he crossed his right leg over his left. Then, without motivation, he entwined his fingers together and rested them in his lap. “I understand you were reprimanded for trying to starve yourself?”
“Have you tried the food here?” Mason raised his eyebrows and grinned.
“No,” came the simple answer.
“The veal is atrocious.” He chuckled, and then moved to stand by the glass, making himself taller than the agent outside his cell.
The profiler remained seated…appearing unaffected by Mason’s sad attempt at humor.
“I heard about your girlfriend.” Mason smiled, crossing his arms over his chest. “Did she scream when the car sped toward her?”
Ezra remained calm, despite not having expected the question.
“What about the child?” Mason’s smile turned truant…taking on a life of its own.
“How many escaped you?” Ezra asked, leaning back in his chair. “I know of four,” he lied.
Mason stopped and looked at the man in the chair. He knew how deceitful Standish could be. “You lie because you want something…I never lost my toys.”
Ezra leaned forward and removed the files he’d taken from Owens desk and stashed behind his back and let them hit the floor with a soft feather-like drop. “Four?” he questioned in astonishment, as though he didn’t quite believe it.
Mason looked at the files, wanting more than anything to take a look at them. “You’re lying…who were they?” he dared.
“I find it remarkable that someone as yourself, who has made it clear to everyone…or tried to…that you’ve killed more than any one person in the world…And yet, there are only eleven names that have been identified as your victims.” Ezra sighed, only eleven. He watched Mason carefully, trying to see how far he could push without being obvious. “My apologies, fifteen victims…I forgot to add the four survivors.”
“You’re good, Standish, but you’re not that good,” Mason replied, backing away from the clear wall. “My toys were…dispensed of properly…” he turned and looked at Ezra, “You should know that, Standish…you’re the one that found a few of them.”
“Was that your intention for Frank Douglass?”
Mason stopped in mid-stride and looked hard at Ezra. “Excuse me?” he asked, a harshness etching its way into his tone.
“Franky Douglass?” Ezra asked again, unwilling to back down.
“I never took that toy…I let him go when I realized he was too old.”
“Just like that…you let him go?” Ezra asked, leaning forward in his seat.
Mason smiled and looked at his opponent knowingly: “Was that a bad thing, Standish?” He turned his head slightly. “Would you have preferred to have found him like you did the others?” He laughed, knowing he’d never get an answer for his questions. “Nobody escapes me,” he said, almost under his breath.
“But they did.”
Mason laughed, tilting his head back and filling his cell with his own voice. “I found them together you know,” he said, turning toward Ezra. “They were so…willing.” He smiled. “Best friends they were…until the end.”
“What about the other two?” Ezra asked, knowing there weren’t any other survivors that he knew of…only the Douglass boy and his unnamed friend.
“Tell me, Agent Standish, what kind of feelings embraced your soul when you found them…or are my ‘toys’ killing for me? Bringing you back here…to me,” he asked with an evil smile, his eyes blackening even more.
Ezra showed no emotion as the words were spoken.
“Tell me?” Mason asked, “What separates me from you?”
Ezra leaned over and grabbed the files from the floor and stood, ignoring the monster in the cell. He looked up toward the camera and headed down the narrow aisle…he didn’t have the name of the killer, but he was sure he knew where to look.
“YOU’LL NEVER BE SAFE!” Mason yelled, pressing his chest against the glass. “WATCH YOUR BACK, STANDISH…I WILL COME FOR YOU!”
The heavy door was opened and the guard held it for Ezra until he passed through. He grasped the empty files in his hand. His stomach turned and his pulse raced…not from fear, but anger.
Doctor Owens looked up away from the monitor. Mason was still ranting in his cell. Owens wasn’t expecting the files in Ezra’s hand to be thrown at him…but he understood why they were.
“How in the HELL did he know?” Ezra stormed, disregarding the looks of surprise from his teammates.
“We’ll research all aspects…”
Ezra shook his head, not giving the doctor a chance to finish: “I want all of his incoming and outgoing mail read and reread. If you so much as SUSPECT a coded message, I want to know about it!” He made his point clear before turning abruptly to leave. He hit the down button on the wall next to the elevator and when the doors didn’t open fast enough, he opted for the stairs, leaving his teammates behind.
“What in the hell was that about?” Chris asked, looking from the closing door to the doctor.
“What’s that?” Vin asked, stepping up closer to the monitor. He could barely make out the newspaper clipping that was being held by Mason and pressed up against the camera.
Josiah stepped closer to the workstation and carefully started reading the clipping that had been written in German. “It’s an article about the death of a woman who’d been killed in a hit and run accident…”
“Ezra’s girlfriend,” Chris said, shaking his head. “That happened six months ago.”
“Shit,” Vin sighed, heading out of the small office.
“Couldn’t have said that better myself,” Josiah agreed, following Vin.
Chris reached into his wallet and grabbed his card and handed it to Doctor Owens. “Let me know if Mason…does anything.”
The doctor nodded and watched the agent leave.
Vin and Josiah found Ezra sitting in the backseat of the rental car with the door open. His head rested back and his eyes were closed, for the most part he seemed content…not at all agitated like he had been.
“You all right, Brother?” Josiah asked, leaning against the car with his arm draped over the roof.
“All things considered,” Ezra muttered, “I’m fine.” He sat up and waited for the others to get into the car.
Chris started the engine and listened momentarily to its soft purr before backing out of his spot. Like the dead of night, there wasn’t a sound made from anyone…nobody knew what to say. Vin watched the trees along the side of the road, trying to understand everything that had been said between Mason and Ezra. He didn’t consider himself to be a study of human nature…no, he preferred understanding people at face value. His job required him to think that way. If he understood what made a person tick…they became harder to kill…and when it came down to a two second decision, in his line of work he couldn’t fail. Vin knew better than anyone how to read a man or woman’s movements…not their words. He turned and watched Chris clench his jaw and relax it and then glance at his rear view mirror…Chris was worried.
Chris cleared his throat and sighed. “Who do you think Mason was talking about when he spoke of his ‘toys’?”
Ezra sighed and kept his eyes on the window beside him. “He uses the term toys to separate himself from the actions he committed. ‘Toys’ are objects that are easily broken and replaced…his victims were not.”
“But he killed eleven boys?” Vin asked, turning slightly in his seat to try and look at the profiler.
“Who do you think is the other survivor…other than Franky Douglass?” Chris went ahead and pushed.
“Pat Trickle,” Ezra answered flatly.
“He ain’t exactly mobile,” Vin replied.
“So who’s our suspect?” Chris asked.
Ezra rolled down the window to allow some fresh air to enter the cab. He rested his head back and tried to take a deep breath. “Trickle…” he reluctantly admitted.
“You all right?” Josiah asked, noticing the profiler’s greenish tone.
“Stop the car,” Ezra said bluntly, sitting up straight and opening the car door before Chris could come to a complete stop.
Cars and trucks sped by causing Ezra’s calf-length black coat to blow around his legs. He moved toward the tree line placing a hand on his hip under his coat. His stomach was in knots and his face felt flushed. He pressed his other hand against a tree and succumbed to a case of dry heaves. Those ‘toys’ Mason spoke so freely of were children…human beings…souls who deserved a home of safety…they deserved lives of happiness. Ezra spat and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked up into the forest. There was so much confusion there, congestion, and yet…it all made sense.
“You all right?”
The voice made Ezra jump and turn to face Chris who stood behind him with a look of concern on his face. “Fine,” he replied, turning back toward the wooded area.
“Yeah,” Chris agreed sarcastically, “you look it.”
Ezra rolled his eyes and slumped back against the tree. “May I ask what your plans are for the rest of the day?” He quickly changed the subject to something he was more comfortable discussing.
Chris nodded in understanding; he knew what his agent was doing. “I want to stop by the office and let Travis know what’s going on and then I want to be on the next train back.” He watched Ezra’s slow and methodical movements. “Are you up to this?” he asked seriously.
Ezra turned determined eyes toward the team leader and stood straight. “You’re not pulling me off this case because of this,” he snapped. “It’s over!” he all but yelled, his accent thickening. He made a motion to go back to the car but Chris’ strong hand stopped him.
Ezra pulled his arm out of the firm grasp and walked toward the car, leaving a questioning Chris in his wake.
Chris entered Assistant Director Travis’ office and noticed Director Morris sitting across the desk from Orin. Neither looked happy.
“Have a seat, Agent Larabee,” Travis ordered, leaning back in his chair.
Chris did as he was asked and curiously looked at his superiors.
“What news do you have regarding the disappearances in Berry?” Orin asked.
Chris sighed and explained in detail the news he and his team had discovered. He knew the amount of information was minimal, compared to what he felt he should have had. He continued to replay the events of the past few days in his head while he spoke…trying to find the piece of the puzzle they were missing.
“What was your reasoning for visiting Tom Mason?” Morris asked. His arms lay folded in his lap and his position was relaxed. However, he was not. There was a strong sense of authority in his voice and his strong jaw, piercing eyes, and broad nose sculpted his African heritage.
“Agent Standish believes that our killer is a victim of Mason’s…”
Arnold Morris nodded in acceptance. “Was Standish willing to speak with Mason?”
“I didn’t give him a choice,” Chris answered, looking questionably at Travis and received a shrug of his shoulders in response.
“Are you familiar with the Mason investigation?”
“No,” Chris acknowledged reluctantly.
“I have been informed, Agent Larabee, that you and your men are quite capable of solving this case without further assistance…However, there will be no more visits to Tom Mason…Is that understood?” Morris finished, expecting an answer.
“If the investigation continues to point in—”
“Chris,” Orin scolded.
“Agent Standish was pulled from the Behavioral Science Division for two reasons. The first reason you know about…he was on the verge of a burnout. However, the second reason was in regards to his safety.” Director Morris made sure he had Chris’ full attention. “Mason, on several occasions, has made threats in regards to Agent Standish…who, has never taken the threats seriously.”
Chris sighed: “Then why are you?”
Arnold leaned back in his seat and thought a moment before answering. He wasn’t sure what he was going to say or how he was going to say it. “Understand, Agent, that everything said in this room…stays in this room.” The warning in his eyes was taken seriously. “We believe…due to some information that came forward from Dr. Owens, that the death of Li Pong wasn’t an accident.”
“And you think Mason’s involved?”
“We’re sure of it now.” Director Morris looked momentarily at his watch before turning his attention back to Chris.
“If he’s threatening Ezra, why didn’t he kill him…rather than his girlfriend?” Chris pushed, starting to understand the severity of the situation.
“It’s his game,” Arnold answered honestly. He reached forward and grasped a thick file out of his briefcase. “Read this,” he ordered. “Leave it with Travis when you’re finished.” He looked toward Chris. “Standish is one hell of an agent. If his gut feeling is telling him something…you and your boys follow it through.”
“We have to get it out of him first,” Chris muttered.
“He’s not sure about himself—it’s complicated, but when he’s on a lead that’s good…” he shook his head, “…he’s like a dog with a bone.”
Chris nodded and opened the file he’d been handed. His stomach tightened and turned as he looked briefly at the photographs.
Mason was a monster.
Director Morris stood and headed for the door, his briefcase held tightly in his hand. “I’ll be back later today for that file.” He turned quickly and left the office.
“Why wasn’t I told about this before I took Standish on?” Chris asked, looking up at his boss.
“You were,” Orin corrected, “But you never bothered to ask about it.” He leaned forward and slipped his glasses on. “Director Morris knows what he’s talking about. It’s my suggestion to you that you follow his instructions. He likes Agent Standish, and if he feels that Standish is capable of finding the killer in Berry, then he will.”
Chris nodded: “I’ve heard rumors about Mason…but nothing this detailed.”
“Most of his information is under lock and key…to protect the families.”
Chris picked up the profile Ezra had written in regards to Mason. It was amazing how much information he had managed to collect without knowing who Mason was. The pictures in the file told, in detail, how brutal the killings had been. Truly a monster, Chris thought to himself. He knew that despite Mason’s brutality, he wasn’t the worst. But it was still difficult looking and reading about his actions. How could anyone be so cold? How could anyone do what he had done?
Chris thought about his own wife and son…and the conspiracy behind their deaths. He knew the pain Ezra was in. Maybe it was good that the leader of the team could empathize with his men. Perhaps it was even better that he knew the path Standish was on.
Chris looked up at Travis and sighed: “How’s the investigation regarding Steven coming along?”
“Progress is slow,” Orin admitted, “But I’m confident it will be successful.” His words were flat and emotionless, but there was a hint of disappointment in his eyes. “Things will be taken care of in time, Agent,” he said confidently, and speaking of more than just Steven and Ezra.
Chris nodded: “Thank you, Sir.”