AU-FBI files Universe (seven)
Nathan stood outside the suburban home and motioned for Buck and JD to stay in the car. They had found the reason behind the blood on the staircase wall within the Brooks’ home. Their neighbor, Gail and Richard Harper’s son, Levi, had snuck out of his home to visit his friend. It was something that had happened a lot, according to the Harper’s. The two boys would watch cartoons together every Saturday morning. Thankfully, Levi, having not found any bodies, just left when he realized nobody was home. Too young to understand what all the blood meant.
“Do you think my son saw what happened?” Richard asked. He looked up the road, trying to find any hint of danger. His dark eyes and well-manicured features magnified his status as a white-collar worker.
“We’ll put 24 hour protection on him, Mr. Harper,” Nathan tried to reassure.
“But will it be enough?” the father pleaded.
“Don’t worry,” Nathan tried to set the father’s mind at ease.
“My wife and I could take Levi to Philly…get him away from here…just until things settled…”
“I can’t tell you what to do…” Nathan started, and then watched as the father rushed back to the house yelling for his wife to start packing.
“You really shouldn’t have scared him off,” Buck said, stepping out of the car. “Chris and the others might want to interview ‘em.”
“The boy doesn’t know anything,” Nathan reassured. “He thought all the blood was paint…he’d just happened to help the Brooks’ repaint their den a few weeks ago. And I think it would be best under the circumstances for the family to leave…at least until we know more about our killer. If they had known anything…they would have come forward.” He shook his head when he heard Richard yelling orders, sounding like an overly concerned parent.
“When are the others supposed to be back?” Buck asked, watching as JD exited the car and jogged toward join them. Nobody wanted to leave the Harper family alone while they were still in Berry.
“Josiah just called me and said they were on their way back.” Nathan sighed and slipped his hands into the pockets of his suit pants. “I’ll be glad when this case is done with.”
“Won’t we all,” Buck replied, watching Gail move in the upstairs bedroom, obviously packing a bag.
“You think Ezra got the name of the suspect out of Mason?” JD asked.
“Doubt it,” Buck muttered, pulling a stick of gum out of the pack he’d kept in his pocket. He offered the others a stick and shrugged when they refused.
“You don’t like him much?” JD observed.
“It ain’t that I don’t like him, kid,” Buck replied, “I just can’t help thinkin’ that we’d be done with this case if Steven were alive and workin’ on it.”
“We miss him too,” Nathan admitted, sympathizing with Buck.
“Didn’t know Steven had profiled serial killers before?” JD asked, feeling like a fish out of water as people drove by watching them.
“Didn’t, but he was good enough that he could have.” Buck cringed and pulled a piece of his gum out of his mouth. He separated the small piece of aluminum wrapper from the pink substance.
JD chuckled: “Hit a filling?”
Buck nodded: “Hurts like hell.” He pressed his hand to his cheek after shoving the gum back into his mouth.
Nathan shook his head and started walking toward the garage when the family exited the home. He stopped Richard Harper and handed him his card. “When you get to your destination, please call me and let me know you made it safe. If you feel at all uncomfortable let us know and we’ll put an officer at your door.”
Richard took the card and nodded. “I think it would be best if nobody knew where we’re going.” He readjusted his grip on his suitcase. “But, just in case.” He smiled and motioned for his son and wife to get settled in the car.
Nathan headed back toward his teammates and waited until the Harper’s car pulled out of the driveway and headed down the road.
“You really think they may have been in danger?” JD asked, walking toward the rental car with the others.
“It’s a small town and news travels fast,” Buck replied, opening the driver’s side door. “It would only be a matter of time before the wrong person found out that the Harper’s were talking to the FBI.”
Chris nodded in understanding as Nathan told him the events from the past day and a half. He was thankful the family had left. They shouldn’t be subject to such horror. All the information the team had was tacked up on the motel room wall and laid out over the tabletop. Photographs of crime scenes, bodies, and local areas that could be suspicious were piled in the center.
“There wasn’t anything unusual on the pajamas that were found.” Nathan tossed the forensic report onto the floor next to his chair and then ran a hand over his face. “Crime scene took the drain pipes from the bathrooms of both houses and they’re scanning them for blood, hair, and urine samples.”
“Did you interview Pat Trickle?” Chris asked, looking at Buck and JD.
“Not much there,” JD answered. “His wife is a homemaker with two daughters from a previous marriage. She said that her husband rarely leaves home except to go to his physical therapy in Philadelphia…”
“Does he go alone?” Ezra asked, standing in front of the wall of facts.
“Sometimes,” JD cleared his throat and continued, “The couple has been married for six years and never had any trouble other than the ‘usual’ stuff. Patricia said that her husband’s a quiet man who doesn’t need much to be happy… Personally, I liked the guy.”
Josiah nodded in understanding before looking at their list of suspects. “Well,” he sighed, “we can assume that the husbands are somehow involved, Sheriff Carpenter, and there’s Henry O’Riley.”
“Even I know that many serial killers have a fascination with law enforcement. They even like to help aid in the cases—” JD started but was quickly interrupted.
“Dudley Carpenter doesn’t have the stomach for it,” Buck said, arguing his point. “The guy couldn’t even enter the home when we first got here.”
“Maybe it was a guise?” Nathan spoke up, trying to view the situation from a different perspective.
“What about Henry O’Riley?” Chris asked, looking for more answers.
“He ain’t exactly the sharpest tool in the woodshop,” Buck muttered.
“Serial killers don’t need to be sharp…just willing to kill,” Josiah spoke, trying to find the correct pieces of the puzzle.
“Well,” Buck sighed, lying back on the bed with the kitten on his stomach. “After following Carpenter around yesterday and this morning, I know he’s seein’ someone on the side. I’m not real sure how long they’ve been together, but from what I could gather, it’s pretty hot and steamy…so I’m thinkin’ it’s a new relationship.”
“Dudley’s wife know?” Chris asked, working with the information he had.
“Can’t be sure, but this ain’t his first extramarital affair,” Buck continued. “Seems he was with one of the girls from the bank for a while before she broke it off after her husband found out.”
“You talk to him about it?” Chris pushed.
“No, figured I’d wait until you got back before we did anything.”
“Josiah, you and Buck get down to the sheriff’s office and talk with him…find out what he knows…and find out if he slept with either of our victims.” Chris stood and looked toward the wall of information and then at Ezra. “Why don’t you and Vin go over to Trickle’s place, see if you get any vibes from him.”
Ezra nodded in agreement and followed Vin out of the room.
“Nate…you, JD, and I’ll go down to O’Riley’s place again and have another talk with the kid…and then we’ll go down to the bar… Someone in this town knows something, and I want to find out what.” Chris grabbed his jacket and keys and left the room in a huff. He was tired of hunting the invisible…he wanted answers.
Dudley sat in his office and looked hard at the two FBI agents sitting across from him. He played with the handle of his coffee cup, trying to decide what he was going to say. They knew about his secret…if they knew…maybe Sheryl knew.
“Eve and Daniel both were into some…different things,” Dudley confessed. “I thought it was exciting when they asked me to…you know,” he sighed, not wanting to go into any detail. “I was with Sandi at the time…which is how I met Eve… They were friends…”
“How long did your affair last with Eve Brooks?” Josiah asked, keeping his voice calm and settling.
“Daniel was in agreement with it?” Buck questioned. While not shocked by the information, he hadn’t expected it either.
Dudley looked up and moved in his chair nervously. “We ah…” he sighed, “experimented…all of us.”
Josiah nodded and avoided eye contact with Buck. “When was the last time you saw any members of the Brooks family?”
“Three or four days before they went missing,” Dudley admitted sadly. “We broke off our relations a few months back…my wife Sheryl started to realize something was up…”
“Who are you with now?” Buck spoke, needing the information.
The sheriff ran his fingers through his hair and shook his head in shame. “I know I ain’t the best husband…but I…”
“Who are you with now…Sheriff Carpenter?” Buck pushed.
“Mattie from the grocery store and Grace from the fast food joint near the end of town.”
“Who haven’t you slept with?” Buck asked in astonishment.
“Buck!” Josiah scolded.
“I really don’t want my wife to find out about this,” Dudley pleaded, looking in earnest at the men sitting across from him.
“Don’t fool yourself, Sheriff,” Josiah said, getting to his feet. “She already knows.”
Buck stood, all the while shaking his head. “If we have anymore questions…”
“Yeah,” Dudley nodded, “I know the routine.”
The farm wasn’t large, not like a lot of the surrounding acreages. It held a simple red barn with the high ceiling for hay, a few outbuildings, and a small house. Chickens ran in the yard squawking and carrying on, while two big black dogs rested comfortably under the bushes beneath the kitchen window. A tire swing moved back and forth beneath the tree it had been tied to, and a sprinkler ran covering the recently weeded garden. The porch leading to the front door had been made to accommodate someone in a wheelchair.
“Can I help you?” A woman asked, stepping out from behind one of the sheds. Her hair had been pulled back into a tight ponytail and her once white tee shirt was stained with all sorts of colors. There were long holes in the knees of her faded blue jeans. Her rounded hips seemed to have been forced into place as they bulged through the denim material.
“I’m Special Agent Standish and this is Agent Tanner with the FBI. Is Pat Trickle available?” Ezra stepped forward, his stance unthreatening.
“My husband’s in the house,” she said bluntly, tossing her gloves onto the barrel next to her. “There were some FBI men here yesterday…you know ‘em?” she asked, stepping forward and toward her home.
“Yes,” Ezra answered, “We’re just here to ask a couple of last minute questions and then we’ll be on our way.”
“You still ain’t found those families from town?” she asked nonchalantly. There wasn’t any malice in her voice…she was just asking a question that so many people would ask…all of them having the same attitude: it happens to other people…not me.
“Unfortunately, no,” Vin answered, stepping up onto the porch. He noticed the dogs made no effort to get up or come to investigate them.
“My name’s Anna, by the way.” She opened the door and stepped inside. “PAT!” she yelled for her husband. “There’s some FBI men here to see ya again!” She motioned for the two men to enter.
The house wasn’t a mess, but it was far from clean. Houseplants yearned for water as they sat dying in front of the large living room window. Books were covered in dust and cobwebs. Blankets, sheets, and clothing rested on the sofa…folding the laundry still had to be done. Pictures of the family hung from the walls and rested on shelves around the rooms. The TV in the living room was on, but muted. Even the news looked mundane. Videos, CD’s, and DVD’s lay haphazardly around the entertainment center…obviously it was well used.
“My husband’s in his office,” Anna said, motioning for the two agents to follow her. She knocked once and then slid the door open. “Company,” she snapped, moving toward the kitchen.
Pat Trickle pushed his wheelchair back away from his desk and then moved out from behind the large wooden obstacle. His short blonde hair stood up in spots and his acne-scarred face was once again falling victim to his adolescent condition.
Introductions were made. Ezra and Vin sat in deck chairs that had been placed in the small office. Trickle remained in his wheelchair, his legs covered with a handmade quilt.
“How long did you know Frank Douglass?” Ezra started, looking for more than just answers.
“We’d been best friends since we met in first grade,” Pat replied, coughing into his hand. “You know he died a couple years ago, don’t ya?” He spoke softly and unthreatening. His shoulders were well muscled and a farmer’s tan darkened his arms and neck.
“Yes, we’ve been informed.”
“My folks moved to Ohio when I was about ten or so. There was some things happenin’ in the area they wanted to get away from so we up and left… I told all this to the agents that were here yesterday.” He looked suspiciously at the two men. “I ain’t done nothin’ illegal.”
“We’re just here to put a time frame around the disappearances from town, Mr. Trickle,” Ezra said, looking around the office.
“What part of the South are you from?” he asked, folding his hands together.
“All over really,” Ezra replied with a soft smile. “You don’t have any children?”
Pat shook his head and sighed. “After my car accident, the doctors told me I’d never be able to have kids. Anna though, she’s got two beautiful daughters from a previous marriage. They’re great kids and they call me dad…so, I can’t complain too much.”
“You have a positive outlook for someone in your condition,” Ezra noted, “Particularly for someone who hasn’t had a lot of time to cope with paralysis.” He waited for a response but didn’t get one.
“Where are your parents now?” Vin asked, noticing the large shotgun behind the desk that had been placed in the corner of the room.
“Died ten years ago,” Pat answered sadly.
“You hunt, Mr. Trickle?” Vin asked about the gun.
Pat moved nervously and eyed the weapon. He leaned over in his wheelchair and took a deep breath. “Some of the boys from town let me go huntin’ with ‘em,” he whispered, “Anna, she don’t like me goin’ with ‘em but…I just love to hunt you know…” He paused a moment and leaned back in his seat, obviously thinking about a better time. “The boys rigged it up so’s I could stay in the bed of the pickup and shoot from there, that way…I don’t have to get out and…” he rolled his head and raised his arms to his sides, indicating to his condition.
Vin nodded in understanding, slightly ashamed that he’d asked.
Ezra stood and made his way to the bookshelf. “You have quite a collection.” He pulled out a copy of John LeCarre’s, The Little Drummer Girl.
“I dropped out of high school when I was a stupid kid but,” he shrugged, “I love to read…I’ll read anything and everything.” He smiled proudly, rolling his chair to where Ezra stood.
Ezra pulled out the book Heart of Darkness. He noted the dog-eared pages, the scuffed cover and swollen corners…even the weakness of the binding.
“That’s one of my favorites.” Pat turned toward Vin whose cell phone was ringing.
“Excuse me,” Vin replied, quickly leaving the room.
“What are you goin’ to do…when you find the killer?” Trickle asked, carefully guiding himself back behind his desk.
“He’ll be arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping,” Ezra answered honestly, still looking over the books.
“I hope you find ‘im,” Pat said softly…almost sadly.
“How long did Mason keep you?” Ezra asked, turning to look at the form who kept himself hidden.
Pat sighed and looked at his fingernails. “Three weeks,” he answered softly. He looked up and met Ezra’s eyes. “You’re the one that caught him?” It was a question that sounded more like a statement.
“Ezra,” Vin said, getting the profiler’s attention. “They found him.”
Pat watched as both men tipped their heads in his direction and then turned and left. He moved toward the window and watched them slip into their car and drive away…all the while wondering whom they had found.
Chris met Vin and Ezra outside the interview room and informed them of what had transpired. Henry O’Riley sat at the long table looking confused and unsure of himself. Josiah sat across from him, asking questions.
“He confessed,” Chris said flatly, not sure if he believed it either.
“To what?” Ezra challenged.
“Taking the boys,” Larabee answered.
“He doesn’t have the mental capacity to…”
“Everyone can kill, Ezra!” Chris snapped, watching Vin for a moment and then returning his gaze back to Standish.
“To kill, yes…but not to stage the crime.” Ezra looked through the two-way mirror and sighed. “The person we’re after is methodical. He kills for pleasure. He likes sitting back and watching…like a puppet master…”
“He signed a confession!”
“Where are the boys and the fathers then?” Ezra continued to challenge.
“Nathan, Buck, and JD are setting up a search perimeter as we speak…we think they’re buried in one of the fields that the O’Riley’s used to work.”
“So we’re done,” Ezra sighed, looking unbelievingly at Chris. When Chris reluctantly nodded, Ezra turned. “He’s still out there…and he’ll kill again!”
Chris sighed and shook his head. He knew Standish could be difficult. “What’d you learn at Trickle’s?” he asked Vin, who remained silent by the glass.
“Seemed nice enough,” Vin answered. “I may not be able to read people like Josiah and Ezra can…but there’s something about that man that ain’t quite right.”
Chris looked up and met Vin’s eyes. “Like what?”
Blue eyes met green and Vin shrugged: “Like, why does a man stuck in a wheelchair need a shotgun in his office?”
“Ain’t against the law to own a gun, Vin…at least not yet.”
“You ever fired a shotgun?” Vin asked, pushing the subject.
“Yeah,” Chris answered, watching as Josiah stood up from the table.
“Don’t matter how strong you are…it’s got one hell of a kick, and for a man stuck in a wheelchair he’d get shot across the room…even with the brakes on.”
Chris nodded. If Vin saw a reason to be concerned then so would he. Henry O’Riley didn’t have enough sense to stage a murder scene. The man could hardly keep a conversation going; much less organize something of that magnitude. But he couldn’t discount the evidence that was laid across the table. A signed confession went a long way in a court of law…gut feelings didn’t.
Ezra slammed the motel room door closed and stopped to look at the wall of facts. The images of the two women disturbed him. Why were they killed first? And where were the boys? And the fathers…? There was also the question of who was next? Someone had gone through a lot of time and energy to execute their devious plan.
The wall held only pieces of a puzzle; small glimpses into the mind of a madman. To kill in such a way took practice, skill, and the desire to act out an impulse…a fantasy. Murderers weren’t the people that were thought of as dangerous. The boogieman didn’t exist, at least in this realm of reality. The boogiemen so often found as killers, were husbands, fathers, brothers…they were doctors, lawyers, friends and family.
Ezra sat on the edge of the bed wondering where he’d gone wrong. Had two years working in another field left him so clueless? His head was pulling him in one direction and his heart in another. Henry O’Riley was a boy in a man’s body. He thought with the mind of a child. And a child, though able to think abstractly, didn’t know how to act abstractly. It was like putting the round peg through the square hole…it couldn’t be done…unless someone knew how to manipulate the situation. Ezra stood and grabbed the file Chris had brought back from Doctor Owens’ office. There wasn’t anything except a few letters and day logs written by Owens.
The letter written by Teodor Korzeniowski grabbed Ezra’s attention. He sighed and carefully read over the simple yet complicated words. Then it hit him. Teodor Josef Konrad Korzeniowski…more commonly known as Joseph Conrad…the author of Heart of Darkness. Ezra grabbed his cell phone and his jacket and opened the door outside. He knew whom the killer was…the hard part was going to be proving it.
Ezra hadn’t expected the door to swing open. He stood stunned for a moment before quickly moving from the direction of the rifle. He heard the blast before falling to his knees…his hand still reaching for his holstered weapon.
Without warning, everything went black.
Through the foggy memories of dreams and reality Ezra slowly became aware of his surroundings. For a moment he thought he was dead, until a screaming pain erupted in his skull. He was wet, cold, and he couldn’t remember a time when he was more uncomfortable. His hands were tied behind his back, but he could move, and for that he was thankful. He could smell the strong scent of iron…his blood, and the mildew of rotting wood, and mold.
Slowly, he rolled onto his side and then up onto his knees. He paused a moment, waiting for the nausea to pass. He could hear a whining in the back of his mind, but he wasn’t sure what was causing it. The faint sound of water dripping caused him to turn to his right. He knew he was in a cave…but he didn’t know where. Carefully he stood onto shaky legs and tried to clear his vision. Nothing but black…that’s all he saw.
“HELLO!” Ezra called. The only thing he heard back was the placid echo of his own voice. He winced painfully as a result, his head still painful from the injury.
Ezra tried to concentrate on the subtle screeches and whines. With tepid steps he moved forward…toward the sounds in the distance.
Chris slammed the passenger side door shut and slipped another cigarette into his mouth and then quickly lit it. Vin shook his head, watching as his boss, his friend, and his teammate struggle with the possibility of charging the wrong man for the crime of murder. It was never easy…despite what the TV shows were like. When people’s lives were at stake it was never easy…how could it be?
“I’d be willing to bet that Ezra knows who we should talk to next,” Vin said, stepping toward the motel room door.
Chris nodded and tapped the end of his cigarette, dumping the ashes and then carefully put the end out. He then repackaged what hadn’t been smoked and followed Vin. “I hope you’re right,” he sighed.
Vin pushed the already open door open, and then immediately went for his holstered weapon. The door should have been locked, and more importantly Ezra should have been there. Chris carefully followed suit. They entered the room, their weapons held before them. They were ready for anything. The room was bare…except for the small amount of blood on the floor and bedspread of Chris’ bed. Ezra’s cell phone lay beneath the air-conditioning unit.
“I’d say Ezra knows who the killer is,” Vin admitted with a sigh. He shook his head and ran his fingers through his long hair.
“Call the others,” Chris ordered. “Let’s find him.” He picked up the manila folder that had been shoved under the door. His name had been written on the front. Three x-rays fell from the opening as Chris opened the lip. “Let’s find Nathan.”
When the soft light came into view, Ezra sighed in thanks. He’d fallen more times than he’d like to admit. His suit was ruined…he was sure of it. When the strong smell of decomposing flesh hit his senses, he had to press his nose and mouth into his shoulder. His stomach turned and his head spun momentarily, but he tried to focus his attention on the light ahead.
A single light bulb hung from wires that were in desperate need of care in the center of the cave ceiling. Moisture collected on the wires and the rock walls. Mildew and mushrooms peaked up through crevasses. Ezra leaned against the wall after finding a jagged edge to work the ropes free from his wrists. He could hear the whining more clearly now and he was sure it was that of a child.
“Hello!” Ezra called again, hoping for some kind of an answer. He fell backwards when the rope gave way and sighed in relief when he could rub his tattered wrists. “Hello…anybody there?”
No answer came forward, but the whining had stopped. Ezra took another step toward the dangling light and tried to get a clearer picture of where he was and the conditions he was in. Pools of water had gathered on the rocky floor, reflecting the light from above. He continued down the cave path careful of his footing and he tried to focus on a way out. He knew he wasn’t alone. He also wasn’t sure why he’d been left like he had…unless the killer had been in a hurry.
The cave took a narrow turn and more lights hung from the ceiling. This time, however, the wires had been covered more carefully and wood lined the narrow path. Ezra stopped when he noticed a heavy wooden structure leaning against the dark wall. The horrid stench of dead flesh continued to permeate his senses, but years of training had taught him to ‘ignore’ the odor. Mind over matter…or so he liked to believe.
“Jacob!” Ezra called, positioning himself against the wooden structure. “Mark!”
The heavy wooden door gave way and Ezra had to cover his mouth and nose with his hands. His eyes watered as he hunched over…trying to keep from succumbing to a bout of dry heaves. The smell was undeniable and it hit him in the face like a speeding truck. The dim light entered the room allowing him to see what he knew he’d find. The bloated bodies of Daniel Brooks and Mathew Gwan lay side by side. Rats had been eating away at their remains. Ezra turned his head and continued down the aisle, still covering his nose and mouth.
He stopped suddenly when he heard a blood-curdling scream. He rushed forward and found two boys wrapped in each other’s arms, hidden within the confines of a wooden crate. Wide, fear-filled eyes stared up at the man with blood on his face. Ezra sighed and immediately broke the crate latch, giving himself a deep cut on the arm in the process. He watched as the boys cried and clung to each other. Their clothing was soiled and tattered. The strong stench of urine filled the small crate they were imprisoned in.
“Let’s get you boys out of here,” he said softly. His voice was comforting to the children, different from what they’d heard for the past few days. He wished he’d brought with him something to eat…crackers in his pockets, something they could munch on. He could hear their stomachs growling.
Ezra slipped his long coat off and wrapped Jacob up in it, and then he slipped his suit jacket off and wrapped up Mark. It didn’t take much for the boys to stop crying and cling to their rescuer…he wasn’t the one who’d taken them…he wasn’t the one who’d done things to them.
With a child in each arm and a head resting against each shoulder, Ezra headed down the aisle of the cave…hoping to find a way out. His concerns lie with the boys and getting them to safety. The killer’s time would come…
Chris sat with Vin in the car overlooking the Trickle home. They watched their suspect move across his land still bound to his wheelchair. Now, however, he moved with more determination. Well-muscled arms strained against his shirtsleeves as he pushed the wheels forward.
“Seems like a long shot, Vin,” Chris said, pressing his binoculars against his eyes.
“Can’t be the Sheriff…he was with Nathan and Josiah…and O’Riley’s still in jail.”
“Who else could it be?” Chris asked out loud…looking for a logical explanation. “I can’t lose another man,” he sighed, leaning back in his seat. He ran his hand over his face and looked hard out the window.
“Ezra seems like a survivor,” Vin reassured. “Can’t see him givin’ in too easy.”
Chris nodded, but didn’t say anything right away. He watched Pat Trickle move back toward his barn. “What in the hell is he doin’?” he asked, not expecting an answer.
“That’s his third time in and out of that barn?”
Chris grabbed his cell and called Buck and then informed him to move quickly and quietly toward the Trickle ranch. Something was going on and Chris wanted to know what.
“He’s comin’,” Jacob said quietly, pressing his face into Ezra’s neck.
“Who’s comin’?” Ezra asked softly, not wanting to frighten the children anymore.
“He said we was suppose to call ‘im Daddy,” Mark wept, wanting to go home.
“Are you gonna take us home?” Jacob asked, catching his breath when Ezra stumbled forward.
How was he supposed to answer that? These two precious souls had lost their parents in a most horrendous manner. They could never go home…not like they’d been before. Instead they’d live with an aunt or uncle…if they were lucky. Ezra knew all about that…all about that.
“I miss Mommy,” Mark cried, clutching onto his rescuer’s wet shirt.
Ezra’s jaw clenched and he focused on the task at hand. “Do you know the story of Robin Hood?” He felt two heads shake. He sighed and started with a romantic version of the tall tale.
The threesome continued down the rocky cave, looking for anything that could help them escape. Several tunnels had been dug out but none of them led anywhere. Small sections of wood littered the pathway as well as rat carcasses. The boys continued to whimper. Their time to be strong had passed; now they had someone to help them. Despite the blackness of the tunnel, the sporadic lights hanging from the ceiling gave the trio enough light to maneuver through the cavern.
Ezra refused to turn around and go back the way he’d come. He wouldn’t take the two boys past their fathers’ fate. He’d carry these children all the way to Texas if he had to. There was another way out…he just had to find it.
His head throbbed and for reasons he wasn’t aware of, his left arm began to ache. He’d stumble on occasion, but quickly correct himself all the while continuing his tall tale of Robin and his merry men. Both boys had decided they enjoyed Little John the best, and Ezra had to laugh…for some reason the storybook character reminded him in many ways of Josiah. Of course, he’d keep that to himself for now.
A poorly made ladder rested nailed to two large railroad ties. Ezra stopped and took a closer look at the item hoping it would lead them to freedom. Jacob screamed and dug his fists into his rescuer’s shoulder when he heard the faint sound of his captor making his way toward them. Mark stared wide-eyed down the dark tunnel. He shook with fear and a scream of terror began to well up inside the back of his throat.
Ezra’s heart began to race. The children were familiar with the sounds of the killer that had taken them…they knew what he was capable of in terms that most wouldn’t understand. He pulled the children from his grasp and motioned for them to remain still and quiet. Without any thought to his own welfare, Ezra pulled himself up onto the unstable ladder. The hole that led outside hadn’t been used in years and the unstable footholds told him so. He dug his fingers through the decaying wood and through the thin layer of earth and mud. He pushed the wood apart; most of it broke or crumbled all together. The sun was descending but when he peered out, he could see lights from a distant farm lighting his way like the North Star. He stepped down the steps and grabbed Jacob and helped him up, making sure the boy was still covered in the heavy coat. Ezra pushed Mark up next…the boys wouldn’t leave each other…not until they were safe.
He was getting closer and Ezra could see the flashlight head bobbling up and down. The hunter was searching for his prey.
“Come to Daddy, boys…” his voice echoed in the small confines of the cave like the hollow sounds of the Devil’s laugh.
Ezra grabbed the top wooden step when it gave way under his weight. He fell backwards hitting the rocky ground with a thud. “RUN!” he ordered to the boys…hoping and praying they did as he pleaded.
As the light grew closer, Ezra pushed himself up and pulled one of the broken ladder steps off of the railroad ties. It took great effort, but the squeaking of nails moving out of wood caused Ezra’s hope for survival to increase. Now he had a weapon. The light from the flashlight came to a standstill and shadows engulfed the man holding it.
“Where are they?” the killer asked softly…knowing he’d get an answer.
Ezra shielded his eyes from the bright light, but kept his hand grasped at the end of the wood he intended to use as a weapon.
“You took him from me,” he said.
“Who?” Ezra asked, looking for answers.
Jacob and Mark clasped onto each other’s hands and rushed for the old farmhouse in the distance. Ezra’s heavy coat and jacket hung off each of their frames with an awkward embrace. Their bare feet hit the ground and on occasion one of the boys would stumble only to be picked up by the other.
They knew they had to get to the house…help would be there. The sun continued to make its descent and the bright red sky was quickly turning dark as the blackness of night took over. The boys stayed close to one another, finding strength in each other. Their hands clasped tightly together as the long coats they wore hung down below their hands.
Tears stained their cheeks past dirt and grime. Hair stood on end and muscles continued to shake. Fear had consumed them for so long that they were used to the feeling. They knew what the boogieman looked like…they knew now that he didn’t hide in the forest or under their beds…they knew that now.
“There really is no need for this!” Anna yelled, following Chris through her house. “My husband is out in the barn working on his truck.”
Chris stopped and looked at the woman. “Where’re your daughters?”
“With a friend tonight,” Anna responded, looking confused and frazzled.
Chris nodded and watched as Josiah entered the home. He stood in the doorway and waited for the signal to step forward. He nodded when Chris motioned with his head for Josiah to join him.
“Where’s your husband, Mrs. Trickle?” Chris asked.
“In the barn,” she answered, shaking her head, not understanding what was happening.
“No, ma’am,” Josiah spoke up, “he’s not.”
“No,” she protested, “you don’t understand…He goes out to the barn to work on his old truck…it’s the only time he likes…” she sighed and then whispered, “…to be alone.” She turned compassionate blue eyes toward the two FBI agents. “What did he do?” A strong feeling of grief filled her soul and invisible hands gripped her heart with the strength of a god. Those families…he couldn’t have…could he?
Chris looked toward Josiah and nodded. It was time for him to take over.
“My girls!” The woman grabbed Josiah’s arm.
“We’ll send the sheriff for them,” Chris reassured, leaving the house to see to his men.
Nathan tapped Buck’s shoulder and motioned toward the black forms moving in the distance.
“What the hell?” Buck said, squinting his eyes while trying to get a better look.
The sudden realization came to Nathan first and in response he sprinted forward. Buck followed close behind, not concerned with the others.
The children huddled together when the two men reached them. Their cries filled the air as they were carefully lifted into strong arms and pulled into warm embraces. Mark wrapped his arms around Buck’s neck and pressed his face to the grizzled cheek. Jacob looked back toward the hole they’d climbed through, all the while holding on tightly to Nathan.
Nathan’s liquid brown eyes met Buck’s hazel and a silent understanding was shared. They rushed toward the house and called for the others to join them. Within seconds, Chris was on his phone ordering more FBI agents out onto the property as well as an excavation team. State police and the local sheriff’s department would soon be on the small ranch as well. Nothing would go unmissed. Nathan immediately started checking the children over and with Anna’s help they got them changed into dry clean clothes. Buck, JD, Vin, and Josiah immediately started searching the area where the children had appeared.
Ezra jumped back when the flashlight was swung at him. He slipped on the slick surface and fell backward, still holding the wooden club in his grasp. He couldn’t hear the children, and he hoped they made it to safety.
“Who’s your father?” Ezra asked, looking for a way to stall the monster that wore the body of a man.
“Don’t talk at me…Agent Standish…of the F...B...I.” The harsh and bitter words cut through the chilly air.
“Is Mason your father…your creator?”
“I wasn’t created.” He moved toward the broken ladder and looked up into the starry night sky. “I am power…forgiveness…salvation…and death.” He turned his attention back to the man who was struggling to get to his feet. “He spoke often of you because He admires you.”
Ezra stood, listening more than watching.
A soft chuckle filled the air: “I thought you’d be taller.”
“Why the boys?”
“They need me.”
Ezra knew what Trickle was saying, and most importantly he understood it. The man’s outward appearance for all to see was that of a man clinging to life despite the wheelchair. Trickle could walk…he could walk as well as any man. But somewhere along his path he’d discovered and desired the attention he received from being encased…imprisoned…and unable to ‘fend’ for himself. He liked the attention, and he liked the power he held. The boys Trickle took didn’t need him…he needed them.
“Why did you kill them?” Ezra asked softly, grasping the wood in his hand.
Trickle laughed as though he understood what made the world tick: “I had no more use for them.” He reached behind his belt and pulled his gun, all the while pointing his flashlight on his next victim. “Death is a blessed event.” He looked up through the hole and toward the twinkling stars. The handle of the gun felt good in his grasp and he closed his eyes momentarily to fully enjoy the power the gun enabled him to have.
Ezra swung the club. The distinct sound of bone crushing and wood splitting filled the air. Blood and saliva splattered the cave wall as the flashlight crashed to the ground. The gun clanged and skidded across the stony surface, coming to rest in some unknown crevice. Trickle’s body fell forward and landed with a heavy thump, the wooden club still attached to his head.
Ezra slumped back and squatted down. The flashlight had come to rest on its side and shone brightly across the wet stone, Trickle’s hand lay limp in its path. Ezra sighed and ran a hand wearily through his crusted hair. He cringed when the pain on his forehead flared, reminding him of his injury. He shivered as the dampness and the chill of not just the air settled into his bones.
It was over…for now.
Dirt crumbled to the ground and voices started to fill the cave. Hands appeared carrying flashlights through the hole the boys had disappeared through earlier.
“Ezra!” Buck’s voice filled the cavern as his head poked through, looking as though he was being reborn.
“Right below you, Mr. Wilmington…and need I remind you that there is no need to yell within this…confined space.”
“Well hell, Ezra,” Buck sighed, grinning for the first time in days, relieved to find him. “Thought maybe you done gone and joined the circus or somethin’.”
Ezra stood and walked to the area below where Buck and the others were preparing to come down.
“You look like shit,” Buck said. He looked to the still body of Trickle. “Shit…looks like you nailed him.” He grinned mischievously, knowing his joke was understood and somewhat appreciated.
“Safe…Nate’s with them now.” Buck tossed down a rope. “Wrap that around you so we can get your sorry ass out of there.”
The Trickle farm was covered in police, the sheriff’s department, and FBI agents. Men walked with purpose, checking and taking samples of evidence. Anna Trickle sat in a police car being informed of her husband’s condition and the horrors he’d committed. She watched as strangers moved in and out of her home…taking things. She couldn’t think…much less act on anything, she just watched, trying to understand how she…a woman of her intelligence could live with a murderer. She slept with him. Cooked for him. Bathed him…. She looked up and toward the house that needed to be burned to the ground and thought about her daughters… Had he hurt them? Had she been so blind as to let something happen?
Ezra sat in the back of the ambulance as an EMT continued to wrap up the long gash on his arm. He sat silently, not bothering to say anything.
Gurneys carrying body bags moved across the dry land. The people pushing them were inconsequential...there were more than three bodies. Chris stood in the center of things, trying to keep everyone orderly. His face expressed worry for his men, relief that the case had come to a close, and the exhaustion they were all facing. Josiah and Nathan continued to stay with the boys, shielding them from all the horrors happening around them. Their lives had changed. Jacob’s grandparents had been notified and they agreed to take him home. He would live with them, and hopefully one day recover from his ordeal. Mark’s aunt was on her way down from New York. She’d agreed to come as soon as the boy was found. Now, she not only had a child to care for, but she had funerals to prepare.
JD and Buck spoke with fellow FBI agents, collecting and answering questions. The case may have been solved, but the aftershocks were far from over.
Vin leaned against the ambulance and watched as the medic finished taping the bandage around Ezra’s arm. He was lucky the damage hadn’t been worse. Other than a long cut and a bump on the head, he made out pretty well…considering the alternative.
“How’d you know?” Vin asked, as Ezra slipped into an FBI jacket.
Ezra sighed and stepped out of the back of the truck. He took a deep breath and looked at the men moving like machinery around him. “I knew when I saw Heart of Darkness.”
Ezra nodded and slowly moved toward one of the cars.
“How?” Vin pushed, not understanding.
“Mason was reading Nostromo…many consider it to be Joseph Conrad’s sequel to his book, Heart of Darkness. Trickle had read the book several times…enough so that he’d worn out the binding. He wasn’t lying when he said it was his favorite.”
Vin sighed and shook his head: “Was that it…was that all it took…seeing a book?”
Ezra shrugged: “What else is there?”
Nathan let the autopsy reports fall to his desk with a soft thump. He was thankful the case was finished and he was relieved to know that Jacob and Mark were with people who could help them through the trying times to come. He looked around the room and found his fellow agents and friends in various states of activity. Vin worked on his report. One hand was on his keyboard and the other was in a bag of Skittles. He shook his head and nodded as he found mistakes and then quickly corrected them. JD looked at his screen with a blank stare. He wasn’t sure what to write. This had been his first case dealing with a serial killer and he hoped he wouldn’t have to do it again. Nathan met Buck’s eyes and for a moment they each understood what was going through their minds. Everyone had changed because of this case. Josiah sat behind his desk typing away, all the while coming to realizations about himself and others. His fingers moved with agility and ease, but his heart was heavy. Chris had disappeared in his office, needing some time alone. Ezra sat at his desk typing away as though he didn’t have a care in the world. However, the tension in his shoulders was evident. The large bandage that had been taped to his forehead had been replaced with a small band-aid that seemed to highlight the deep bruises. Nathan sighed, wishing his job was more rewarding, wishing they could have found the families alive and well.
The sound of printers feeding paper filled the air like the heavy sounds of thunder. Shoes shuffled effortlessly across the tile floor and pens banged together in holders. Throats were cleared, gum chewed, and straws sucked up the last bit of fluid in glasses.
Chris stood in the doorway and watched his men…his friends. Steven was gone and he would be forever missed. But once again that lucky number seven filled the basement office. It was filled with personalities as different as night and day…but somehow, it all made sense…and even more so, it worked.
Ezra stood and grabbed his jacket. Carefully, he placed his report in the outbox and was out the door without a word to anyone.
Chris watched him go, unsure of what to do or say to the man. That had usually been Steven’s job…but he wasn’t here. He locked eyes with Vin and a silent understanding was shared between them.
“Go home,” Chris ordered, looking toward his men, “get some rest. We’ve got a full week ahead of us come Monday.” He turned and grabbed his jacket from his coat stand.
Vin stood and followed Chris out. “See you boys on Sunday at the bull pen for the game.” He winked and disappeared inside the elevator doors.
JD looked up at his friends and yawned. “You all going to show?”
“Hell yes!” Buck snapped good-naturedly. “Miz Inez bought three more TV’s…I’m helpin’ her set them up tomorrow night for the big game.” There was a twinkle in his eyes that had been greatly missed over the past few weeks.
“She ain’t goin’ to sleep with you, Buck,” JD said, shutting his computer down.
“Oh ye of little faith.”
Josiah shook his head and stood to grab his gear. “I’ll see you boys on Sunday,” he said softly, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.
“You all right?” Nathan asked.
“I will be, Brother…I will be.”
Chris entered the bar to find Standish sitting alone at the bar with six empty shot glasses and a half full glass of beer in front of him.
“Look familiar?” Vin asked, hitting his friend below the belt.
Chris nodded: “Yeah,” he admitted reluctantly. He stepped forward and pulled out a stool to join him.
Vin joined them, but remained silent.
“You goin’ to drink till you drop?” Chris asked, watching as his agent stared at his glass of beer…seeing nothing.
“I hope so,” Ezra answered flatly, taking another drink from his glass. He pointed toward the waitress, motioning for her to bring him another shot.
Chris leaned back and motioned for Vin to get some coffees. He didn’t say anything, knowing Ezra didn’t want to talk. He understood the numbness that alcohol could supply…and at times it was welcomed.
“What separates them from us?” Ezra asked softly, watching the amber fluid in his glass move effortlessly…methodically…and freely.
Chris understood what was being asked…but he didn’t know how to answer.
“What separates him from me?” Liquid green eyes looked up and met Chris’ own.
“I don’t know,” came the soft reply.
Ezra nodded and ran a hand over his face. “He killed because he could…no remorse…just the thirst of blood.” He looked at his hand and quickly wrapped elegant fingers around the recently filled shot glass. He brought it to his lips and downed the shot in one gulp. The whiskey hit his empty stomach with a heavy burn.
“Let me take you home.” Chris leaned forward and nodded when Vin placed three cups of hot coffee in front of them.
Ezra’s eyes turned sour as he refused to be moved. “I’m fine,” he snapped, turning his attention back to his beer. His eyes blurred and for some reason his head started to feel heavy.
“Why did he cover the mirrors?” Chris asked, needing to push his agent for more information.
“Because he didn’t like watching what he was becoming.” Ezra sighed and ran his hand over his face. “He knew what he was doing was wrong…but it felt good… Think of it as that extra glass of wine you know you shouldn’t drink with dinner, or the extra donut that the dieter knows they shouldn’t eat, but they do anyway.”
“It’s a little bit different than that,” Vin protested, speaking for the first time.
“Not to him.” Ezra’s eyes met Vin’s. “To them,” he spoke of all serial killers, “killing is just another topping at the ice cream shop.” He sighed. “His mother wore a size ten…she fell down the stairs of their suburban home and impaled herself in the neck by a stair railing…Trickle found her, supposedly after he returned home from school… I think he pushed her.” Ezra rubbed his forehead. “I know he pushed her.”
“You’re not anything like those people, Ezra,” Chris said, taking a sip of his coffee. He watched as Vin poured some sugar and cream into his own cup.
“I caught ‘em,” Ezra’s words started to slur. “I got into their heads so on some level…I’m just like ‘em.” He tapped the bar surface again, indicating that he wanted another shot.
Chris shook his head toward the bar tender, letting the man know that Ezra’d had enough. “I don’t understand the psychology shit that you do…but I’ve seen enough to know that you ain’t anything like the men you hunt. Just because you understand what makes them tick don’t mean you’re like them. Hell…” he sighed, leaning back but keeping his eyes on his agent, “Buck understands women better than any man I’ve ever met…and that sure as hell don’t make him one.”
Vin chuckled and nodded in agreement.
Ezra shook his head to disagree and started to get up from his seat only to find that the world was tipping. Strong arms grabbed him and kept him upright. Before he understood what was happening, he collapsed.
Chris pulled his agent up onto his shoulder and motioned for Vin to get the door.
The apartment was small but functional. Chris deposited Ezra on his bed and quickly removed his shoes and weapon. Chris threw a blanket over his intoxicated agent and paused momentarily in the doorway. The bed didn’t have a frame or headboard. It just rested on the carpeted floor. A nightstand covered with books and a single lamp was the only furniture in the room. Chris shook his head and left, thankful that he’d informed Vin that he could handle the situation himself.
A small TV rested on the kitchen counter with a VCR and several homemade tapes. Unpacked boxes littered the small living room. Obviously Ezra hadn’t taken the time to unpack since getting back from Germany. Dishes sat cleaned and ready for use in the dish rack. A coffee pot rested next to the small microwave. A cordless phone hung on the wall above a small wooden antique stand.
Chris picked up the only framed photograph in the apartment. He sighed; knowing the grief his agent was still feeling. The image was simple but complicated. Ezra sat behind his girlfriend Li Pong under a tree. His arms wrapped gently around her swollen belly and his cheek resting next to hers. She was small…almost frail looking. Her smile lit up the image, matched only by Ezra’s. Perhaps the picture had been taken just days before the accident…or murder.
Chris put the picture down and sighed, remembering how beautiful Sara had looked while she was pregnant with Adam. She glowed. Although she did complain about swollen ankles, not being able to tie her shoes, and of course, feeling fat and unwanted…but she was more beautiful than ever before. And then….in the blink of an eye…they were gone.
Chris smiled when he caught sight of cat dishes on the kitchen floor. Bait wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but Chris guessed the small kitten was here. So much for Ezra being unwilling to take and care for the animal.
He stood straight and headed for the door, giving his agent enough freedom to sleep off his drunk. If he had Ezra pegged right, he knew that he wouldn’t want to wake up and be humiliated because his boss had slept on the living room couch. No. Chris would call in the morning to check on him and invite him to watch the game on Sunday with the rest of them.
The door shut and the sound of the lock clicking echoed for a brief moment. Chris stepped down only to find Vin leaning against the garage door.
“Everything all right?” Vin asked asked, matching Chris’ intense green eyes.
“Yeah…he’s going to wake up with one hell of a hangover though.”
Vin laughed and pointed with his thumb toward the open door. He stepped inside and flipped on the light. “Buck is goin’ to shit a brick when he sees this car.”
The garage lights flickered off the cobalt blue color, glistening in spots. Chrome highlighted the already perfect condition of the vehicle. The seats had been reupholstered in black leather and the ball on the stick shift was decorated with a spade.
“Breaking and entering is still against the law, Vin.”
Vin shook his head and smiled when his blue eyes danced at the sight before him. “This is a fully restored, fully loaded, 1965 Corvette with a big block engine with a blow top.” He ran his hand over the front hood and along the top of the car.
Chris chuckled: “How do you know it’s Ezra’s?”
“Some investigator you are,” Vin scolded. He pointed to the license plate that read AWHELL.
Chris reached up and grabbed a paper towel from the roll and then tossed it to Vin.
“What’s this for?”
“That brick you’re shittin’.”
FBI Files Index