By Beth ©
FBI (Ezra, Seven)
Please email me with comments or suggestions, firstname.lastname@example.org
She hadn’t been difficult to find, and every town had one. A trip to the local tavern had every horny man whispering her name. Tonya, the local prostitute; the woman who could bring any man to tears and lick it off their faces with the tactfulness of a Greek Goddess. Unlike the big city girls, Tonya worked as a call girl—being the only one in town she had the luxury, and the house to prove it. She even paid her taxes.
Ezra pressed his thumb on the doorbell and stood back away from the door. JD stood behind him, blowing into his hands, trying to warm them. The walk from the truck had been short, but long enough to cause goose bumps to form under his clothes.
She pulled the drapes next to the door back and saw Ezra flash his badge and she quickly opened the door. Her long red hair brushed her shoulders and she smiled seductively while placing a hand on her hip, accentuating the slender curve of her hip.
“Suits?” she asked, already knowing the answer. “I knew you boys were in town, just didn’t think I’d get the pleasure of meeting you.” She opened the door wider and motioned for them to enter.
“I’m Special Agent Standish and—”
“Let’s drop the politeness and go straight for the throat.” She moved past them and entered her living room, swaying her hips, and she moved to stand in front of the fireplace. The sheerness of her attire gave way her well trimmed physique—an athlete, in more ways than one. Her long golden hair hung past her shoulders, draping toward her bottom. She had large brown eyes that she highlighted, creating bedroom eyes, complete with smoky shadow and dark lashes. Her lips were full and her mouth was wide, attractive in every sense of the word. “The men who enter my home are here for one reason and one reason only and are called by their first names—not their last—I make it a habit of not remembering who they belong to.”
Ezra nodded in understanding, allowing his eyes to pass over the curves of her hips and fullness of her breasts. He swallowed when he met her eyes...like most men, he was subject to lust.
Tonya smiled knowingly and tilted her head. She reached behind her and grabbed a cigarette, finding the idea of bedding a federal agent a turn on—despite their low income. “Your names? I assume you already know mine.”
“JD,” the kid quickly replied, “and that’s Ezra.”
Ezra closed his eyes and shook his head. He could hear the faint sounds of Ertha Kitt whispering through the speakers that were located in every room. Fine art hung from the walls, expressing wealth rather than expression. Crystal filled with bourbon and aged whiskey rested on the marble surface of the bar.
“You make a good living,” Ezra said, glancing at her.
“I’m good at what I do,” she replied confidently. She took a puff from the cigarette hanging limply between brilliant red lips and quickly exhaled, creating perfect smoke rings, impressing the younger of the two men—not the eldest. “What can I do for you...or do you need to schedule an appointment?” Humor laced her words.
JD pulled uncomfortably at his tie, and then wiped his brow as the heat in the room suddenly increased.
Tonya tossed the remainder of her cigarette into the fire and took a seat on the chaise lounge. “Take your coat off and stay a while,” she said, keeping her eyes on Ezra.
“Most of your clients” Ezra started, “are they from around here?”
“Yes and no,” she replied, smiling. “Not everyone comes up here for the hunting.”
Ezra removed his coat and rested it across his arm before taking a seat on the leather sofa across from her. “Do any of your clients say things that worry you?”
“No more than the usual,” she replied, curving her full mouth into a luscious smile. “You’re going to have to ask more creative questions, Ezra...I’m rather bored with these.”
“Are any of your clients capable of murder?”
Tonya sat up straight and shook her head. Her toying attitude replaced with concern and fear.
“We’re looking for someone quiet and unassuming, but easily intimidated. Someone who could talk about murder, but wouldn’t be seen as committing one? Perhaps one of your clients has expressed anger or fear toward other individuals?”
Tonya shook her head: “Honey, you’re in the middle of fucking nowheresville, the only murderers we’ve got up here kill moose, deer, and bear.” She stood and walked toward the fire. “I know there’re rapists in abundance up here—fuckin’ figures. Who’s dead?” She turned suddenly and looked at Ezra, as though a light had gone on.
“Nobody...at least yet.” It wasn’t a complete lie.
“So you’re here scaring the shit out of me for fun?”
“We’re here investigating the disappearances of several young people—”
“You think they’re dead?” Tonya asked, glancing from JD and back to Ezra.
Tonya shook her head and ran her fingers through her long red hair. Her elbow brushed her breast, causing the v of her blouse to widen. “I can’t give you any names...I’d lose too much business if I did—you know that.”
“They don’t have to know it came from you,” JD said, trying to keep his eyes focused on her face.
“You’re young,” she sighed, “and too damn naive for this kind of work.” She smiled tightly and turned toward Ezra who seemed to be more to her liking.
The color red invaded JD’s cheeks like blood in a trauma patient. His shoulders slumped slightly, but he kept his head up.
Ezra clenched his jaw and got to his feet. “JD,” he said, “can you wait for me outside?”
JD pressed his lips together and took a deep breath, flaring his nostrils while zipping his coat. He clenched his hands into tight fists and briskly headed out the door.
Ezra slipped into his coat and looked at Tonya. She stood with her arms crossed over her chest, causing cleavage to peak up through the v of her blouse. He couldn’t help but take notice. “Has anyone ever made you feel uncomfortable for being an athlete?”
“You noticed,” she said, not bothering to hide her smile.
“Hard not to,” Ezra replied, playing the game.
Tonya sighed and released her arms. “The men I bed don’t usually talk about death—mostly sex, but if you want to know who has a kinky side? That, I can tell you.” She ran her fingers through her hair again and pinched lightly at the skin on her neck with red nails. “David likes guns...all kinds of guns, and he treats them better than myself—or his wife. You can’t miss him,” she smiled, “he’s the sheriff’s deputy. Then there’s Micky—another gun freak. He owns the soup and sandwich shop in town, and he builds snowmen for the kids—he’s got a whole collection of them. Then there’s Pat—he’s quiet, did some time for armed robbery in Walla Walla. He moved up here to get away from it all, but he still runs into trouble with people—mostly those who get in his business.”
“Anybody else?” Ezra asked, looking toward the door.
“Red Keats,” she replied, looking like a woman at a diamond counter with the pick of her choice. “You I could do for nothing,” she said with a smile. “Green eyes and dark hair—do you work out—I bet you do. You run?”
“What’s so special about Red Keats?”
“He looks a bit like you—not as good looking, but he has the same mysterious aura. He used to play baseball until he blew out his knee in the minors. He likes to talk about his major league tryouts while he orgasms—he’s quite good.”
Ezra reached into his pocket and retrieved one of his cards. “If you think of something else, I’d appreciate a call.”
She smiled and took the card. “Special Agent Ezra Standish,” she sighed, “your name I’ll remember.”
Ezra smiled tightly and quickly exited from the home. The cold wind felt good on his face, and he spotted JD across the way, stomping on the ground, trying to keep his legs warm while he blew into his hands. Ezra waved him down and together they headed back toward the 4x4 they’d borrowed from the sheriff’s department.
They needed to get back before Chris sent out the Mob Squad in search of them.
If Vin had a dream store, it was Cooper Malone’s gun shop. Weapons held in glass cases hung from behind the long counter, protected only by wood and a short fat man. Ammunition rested on shelves by size, type, and in alphabetical order. It was heaven. Anything a gun lover could ask for was hung, shelved, packaged, displayed, or caressed by other lovers—out in the open and honored like a virgin’s scream to freedom.
Damn it was beautiful.
Vin took in the scent through narrow nostrils and allowed his lungs the expansion they needed in order to fully enjoy the aroma. Gun oil...it was like smelling a roast that was about to be sliced open.
Buck knew and understood the look—the look of addiction of a self-professed gun addict. The only thing needed to make the experience complete was a counter girl in a leather thong—Buck doubted she existed, but the dream was still attainable.
Cooper Malone had more fat on his bones than a rhino had skin. His spare tire overlapped his dirty jeans, and speckles of food remained imbedded on his tee-shirt, too far down for him to notice—or he didn’t care to. His short thick fingers worked with familiar fashion around the small handgun he was in the process of cleaning. His thick yellowish nails—an obvious smoker—had been trimmed down to the skin. He wore a medic alert bracelet on his left wrist—probably for high blood pressure. Selling guns didn’t come without its share of problems—from anyone.
Malone looked up from his project and pushed his glasses up his nose, fitting them perfectly into the notch of skin that had been formed for such a purpose. He licked his full lips, successfully accentuating the roundness of his cheeks. “What can I get for you?” He seemed nice enough.
Vin looked over the counter, giving Buck his time to shine.
“I’m Special Agent Buck Wilmington and this is Agent Tanner—”
“My license in current—”
“We’re not here about that. We’d like to ask you a few questions—general questions, if you don’t mind?” Buck recovered smoothly, watching as Vin began to drool over the antique long rifles.
“That’s an 1800 Flintlock Pennsylvania with a gold grip—got that from a Russian who needed to trade for a pick-up truck.” Malone smiled like a cat that’d eaten the last canary.
“Guess you got the better end of that deal,” Vin replied.
“No shit,” Malone replied with a chuckle.
“How long have you been sellin’ guns up here?” Buck asked, peaking inside the glass case behind the counter.
“Damn near 24 years,” he sighed, “started workin’ with my dad before he passed away from cancer—I took it over.”
“You pretty successful?” Buck asked, making light conversation.
“I’m not hurtin’ if that’s what you’re askin’?”
Buck smiled and watched as Vin tried on a new shoulder holster. He looked like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Have you ever sold to anyone with questionable motives?” Buck asked, looking at Malone for his reaction.
Cooper chuckled and shook his head. “Everybody I sell to has to wait out the seven days before they can leave this store with a weapon.” He sighed and laid the pistol he’d been cleaning on the countertop. “You here about those missing kids?” he asked, leaning forward. He shook his head when he didn’t get an answer right away. “I’ve been friends with Doug for a long time, and when he’s feelin’ down he comes in here and we bullshit for hours over coffee and candy bars—ain’t no need to be secretive about that case that’s got him all twisted inside and out.”
“You have any thoughts on the subject?” Vin asked, turning from the shelf that contained all the holsters.
Cooper shrugged and rested his left elbow on the counter and placed his right hand on his hip. “We get a lot of strange characters up here. Some just want to be left alone and others—well, let’s just say they like to make their presence known.”
“Any stick out in your mind?” Buck questioned, unable to take his eyes off the slowly appearing tattoo on Cooper’s arm. Every time the man moved his shirtsleeve continued to creep up his arm.
“Red Keats is a dick, but then so are a lot of former athletes—always blaming fat guys like me for makin’ their lives so damn hard.” Cooper chuckled and shook his head. “Not many would guess I was a weight lifter until I tore my bicep muscle in two.” He lifted his right arm and pulled his shirtsleeve up to his shoulder. “Ain’t much left of it,” he said, poking at the floppy skin, “but I make do.”
“Where can we find Red Keats?” Vin asked, hoping it was a lead of sorts.
“The old schoolhouse at the end of town—used as an apartment building now. It’s a real shit-hole, but for three hundred bucks a month—who’s goin’ to argue.”
Vin set the leather shoulder holster on the counter and reached for his wallet. “I’ve never seen leather this supple before...can I ask who your supplier is?”
Cooper stood straight and stretched his back. He then reached out and touched the harness. “That would be Micky Peterson’s work—has one hell of a tanning technique. All the elk and deer he hunts, he makes good use of every part of them.” He pointed toward several canteens and water bottle containers. “All those are made out of stomachs and scrotums—he learned from an old Inuit that lived in the refuge behind the lodge. Those will cost you over a hundred bucks each.” He couldn’t help but smile. “He tried to show me one time how he did it, but I don’t have the patience for it. He’s a real artist though.”
“Sounds like it,” Vin said, hading over his charge card.
Buck reached out and grabbed the shoulder harness and felt it. “Damn,” he sighed, “guess you won’t get anymore of those annoyin’ armpit calluses, huh?”
“That’s the idea,” Vin replied, signing the small slip of paper.
“You want a bag for that?”
“No.” Vin shook his head.
Cooper nodded and slipped the receipt under the cash drawer. “Make sure you don’t put that in plastic—it’s a natural material and will sweat, destroy the whole damn thing. I lost a whole case of leather coats after puttin’ them in plastic bags for storage.” He shook his head, still angry with himself for being so stupid.
Vin zipped up his coat and slipped his gloves back on. “I’ll remember that,” he said coolly, heading for the door. “Thanks for talkin’ with us.”
“Anytime—business is slow,” Cooper yelled toward the retreating backs.
“How much you pay for that?” Buck asked, opening the door to the outside. He sucked in a deep breath when the cold air hit his face and he suddenly wished he purchased one of Cooper’s hunting hats with fleece lining.
“Two fifty,” Vin answered calmly.
“Two hundred and fifty bucks!” Buck gasped, shaking his head at the thought. “Hell, Vin, I’ve got some prime swamp land for sale in Arafuckin’zona.”
“Like Ezra says, comfort has no price, and I’m tired of scratchin’ my shoulders and armpits.”
“They’ve got lotion for extra dry skin.”
Vin reached for the door handle of the Ranger the sheriff’s department had loaned them. “Is your name Buck or Becky?”
“Asshole,” Buck muttered under his breath as he slipped into the driver’s seat.
Josiah entered the small gas station that was located on the edge of town, between the main road and the grocery store. By all accounts it was the best place to be, and even held a pump for aircraft. It lacked the size one would have guessed for having to service most rigs in the area, but it sufficed. The garage was closed up and Josiah could see an old black pickup on the racks so the mechanic could work on the broken axel and twisted suspension block. It must have been some wreck.
The bell above the door rang and the gas attendant looked up from her magazine. She wore a dark blue Dead Head tee-shirt and holey jeans with pink long-underwear poking through. Her pant cuffs had been tucked inside her insulated boots. Her dark brown hair ran ragged beneath the stocking cap that hid the arch of her eyebrows. She smiled a toothy grin when she noticed she had customers and immediately pushed her Hot Rods magazine aside.
“Car trouble, or gas?” she asked, sitting upright on the rickety stool. Black eyeliner had smeared across the bridge of her nose and her Chapstick had been smeared on so thick her lips looked to have been botoxed.
“Neither,” Nathan replied, stomping on the welcome mat, knocking off as much snow as he could to keep from getting the floor wet. He brushed off his shoulders and pulled off his heavy hat. “Is the owner available?”
Mindy, as her nameplate implied, nodded and walked toward the door leading to the garage. “Hey, Pop!” she yelled, pausing long enough to hear a wrench clatter and clang when it hit the ground.
“Damn it, Mindy!” a deep voice barked, “I’m not deaf yet!”
She turned toward Josiah and Nathan and smiled, offering them a shrug. “He’ll be right with you,” she replied. “He didn’t gyp you on a job did he?”
“No,” Josiah replied, feeling as though he’d just taken a huge step back in time. He looked toward the far wall and noticed hundreds of license plates from all over the world now held their place in time. Some were as old as 1910. A heavy iron stove let off heat, keeping the business plenty warm, and Josiah no longer wondered how Mindy could stay warm in a tee-shirt. A small rack of refreshments took up residence in the center of the room, holding everything from cream filled pies to Ding Dongs and Twinkies. A coffee pot rested in the far back corner on an old filing cabinet that was covered with magnets with hundreds of different sayings—most that Josiah wouldn’t repeat.
“I’m Harvy,” the older man said, entering the room while trying to wipe grease off his hands with a dirty towel. His overalls were covered in antifreeze, oil, gasoline, and grease. The right knee had been torn and now exposed dirty long underwear. Harvy’s face seemed older than it should beneath years of hard work and too many hours under Alaska’s summer sun. Dirty white hair stuck out from his head like cactus thorns. His glasses were smeared and he had to hold his head higher in order to see out.
Josiah smiled before reaching for his badge. “My name’s Josiah Sanchez and I’m with the FBI...this is my partner, Nathan Jackson.”
“Mindy, go get these folks some hot coffee and make sure you use the clean cups.” He turned back toward Josiah. “What can I do for you?” He pulled his glasses down and carefully wiped them clean with a soft cloth he’d kept hidden in his shirt pocket. When he replaced his glasses, it was easy to see that a very smart man with clear eyes stood before the agents.
“We understand from Sheriff Ford that you served gas to the young adults who’ve gone missing over the years?”
Harvy sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m the only gas station in the area, so if they came through here, I probably served them some gas. Mindy and my wife Maureen stay home most of the time, but we’ve had an increase in cracked fuel lines, radiators freezing, and gas tanks filled with rank gas—so my daughter’s been helping me with customers—that sort of thing.”
“If we showed you some pictures, would you recognize any of them?” Nathan asked, watching as Mindy carefully made her way toward them, walking as though she were on thin ice while carrying the two cups of coffee she’d filled to the rim.
“Sorry,” Mindy sighed, “dad’s a diabetic so we don’t have sugar or cream around—except that,” she pointed toward the refreshment stand. She leaned forward, “And he eats those when he’s not supposed to.” She rolled back onto the flats of her shoes and grasped her hands behind her.
Josiah smiled, feeling as though Radar O’Riley had suddenly been reincarnated as a young girl. He took the cup and tentatively took a sip while waiting for Harvy to answer.
“I can look, Mindy might recognize a few of them as well—don’t know what I can tell you though,” he sighed and moved behind the counter so he could look at the images under the light.
Josiah pulled out a file and carefully started to layout the photographs.
“Him,” Harvy said, pointing toward the image of Frankie Jones John. “I remember him. He came up here with a group of friends, said they were headed out to the old Cranby Cabin—that’s about an hour from here on the main road—less if you take the back way, but it’s more dangerous.”
“What’s Cranby Cabin?” Nathan asked.
“It’s where all the college kids go—even though they’re not supposed to. They have to go there before hunting season starts, because the hunters don’t use it and they’re not allowed to be on the grounds while people are shooting—you have to have a hunting license to even enter the area during the season,” Mindy answered, standing next to her father while looking at the pictures. “I’ve seen her. She used to be on ESPN during the gymnastics trials—she was really good at the balance beam.”
“Did you ever see her here in town?” Josiah questioned.
“No, I would remember her if I had.”
“Mindy’s big into the sports—she even went to college and took journalism for a while—until she realized you can’t get a job unless you’re on the inside—or have the money to create your own news.”
Josiah smiled and took another look at Mindy, not having guessed she was old enough to attend college—but looks were deceiving.
“Everybody does it,” she said, not bothering to look up. “Even my college professors wouldn’t take me seriously—thinking I was some kid.” She shrugged and pointed toward another picture. “I went to school with him in Anchorage—he was a biology student and a bench player for the football team—he was always getting hurt, but he was really good. He actually came through here a couple of years ago. We had lunch over at Peterson’s place and then he was heading back to school. He’s not dead is he?” She looked up and met Josiah’s eyes. She glanced toward Nathan when she didn’t get a response.
“We don’t know,” Nathan answered as honestly as he could.
“He was a good guy—actually took me out a couple of times.” She sighed and stood straight.
Harvy shook his head and pushed the pictures away—not recognizing anyone else. “Sorry I can’t help you more, but over the years my mind isn’t as clear and I wouldn’t recognize anyone over that length of time—particularly as short a time as I see them.”
“That’s okay, thank you for trying.” Josiah gathered up the images and replaced them in the file.
“Do you have a map out to Cranby cabin?” Nathan asked, replacing his hat on his head anticipating his walk in the cold.
“Sure,” Harvy said, reaching for a town map. He outlined with a black sharpie how to get there and handed the map to Nathan.
“Thank you,” Nathan said, handing it to Josiah who slipped it into the file.
“Make sure you call Micky Peterson before you go out there,” Harvy reached up to scratch his scalp. “He owns the place and rents it out—so he’ll be able to let you know who stayed there and when.”
Josiah smiled and nodded before opening the door to the outside with Nathan following.
Vin and Buck entered the sandwich shop and paused in the doorway to take it all in. It could have been called quaint, if not kitschy. Pictures of hunters hung on the walls in disorder and chaos. Men, and a few women stood posed with their rifles and over their dead prey. Trophies waiting for den walls and foyers, a few would hang over fireplaces; others would cover the floor with the absurdity of the ‘finer life’.
It was the kind of place that intimidated new arrivals, while the locals felt at home. The only places to sit were in the four-person booths or at the long bar across from the deli counter. The food was prepared in the open—even the precooked meats were sliced—as well as cheeses next to the sink—in front of everyone. Anyone could feel comfortable here, if given the chance, while they ate...and there wasn’t any guessing what the cook had dropped on the floor, if they’d spit in the food, or even add ‘special’ ingredients. Customers here knew what they ordered, how it was prepared, and they knew with full confidence that it wasn’t tainted. That was why Micky Peterson was so well-liked and respected.
“Nice place,” Vin said, a little uncomfortably.
Buck smiled: “This place would sell big-time in D.C.”
“Only for dicks like you,” Vin muttered, walking toward the counter. He looked through the glass and smiled. The food looked good, clean, and he winced when his stomach growled.
“Beats the shit out of Subway,” Buck snickered, shoving Vin slightly to his right.
“Can I get you boys something?” a man asked, standing behind the counter with new gloves and an apron hiding his jeans and Clint Black tee-shirt. He smiled, like an owner would—not an employee. He was heavyset, but strong, and his short black hair was speckled with gray. Crows feet marred the corners of his eyes, and laugh lines ran from his nose to the ends of his lips.
“Roast beef on sourdough,” Buck said, looking at the selection. “Extra everything.”
Vin handed him a napkin. “You’re droolin’.” He watched in fascination as Micky Peterson created his sandwich magic. Vin’s stomach roared to life and he secretly thought of the toppings adorning chicken on buttermilk bread with olives, lettuce, tomatoes, and vinegar as trimmings.
Buck quickly paid for his meal and headed toward an empty booth.
“How about you?” Peterson asked, changing into clean gloves.
“Are you Micky Peterson?” Vin asked.
“Proud owner and entrepreneur,” he replied.
Vin told him his order and wiped his mouth in anticipation. “Looks like you get a lot of business?”
“For a small town like this—I’m always busy,” Micky replied, wrapping the foot long in glassine paper. “Started this business with my wife Brenda over 23 years ago.”
“She must be pleased,” Vin replied, pulling his wallet out of his back pocket.
Micky smiled sadly and nodded. “She ah, she died about 14 years ago—breast cancer.”
Micky nodded and took the cash and quickly made change. “Told her what it was and six months later she was gone.”
Vin took his change. “Would you have a few minutes to talk with us?” He flashed his badge. “Agents Tanner and Wilmington.”
Peterson smiled. “Your friend seems hungry.”
Vin turned and shook his head in embarrassment. “Yeah.”
“Give me a few minutes and I’ll come out and speak with you.”
Vin grabbed his sandwich and headed for the booth Buck had seated himself in. “How was it?” he asked, watching as the oddest of the seven licked his fingers to pick up every crumb on his plate.
“That was almost—and I stress, almost, better than sex.” He sighed, leaning back in his seat and took a long pull from his drink. “I’m in love.”
“Peterson is goin’ to come and talk with us.”
“I should give him a hug.”
Buck shook his head. “It wasn’t that good.” He wiggled his eyebrows in play and looked up as Micky Peterson came toward the table.
Peterson slipped into the booth next to Vin. “I understand you need to ask me a few questions?”
“Have you ever seen any of these kids?” Buck asked, laying out the photos of the missing persons.
Peterson shook his head. “I’m terrible with faces,” he admitted. “Don’t get a lot of new ones in the winter months, but summertime gets pretty busy.” He sighed and looked closely. “I can’t be sure, but this young man looks familiar...turkey on rye bread—yeah, that’s what he ordered. He had some soup as well.”
Vin shook his head. “Is he the only one you recognize?”
Peterson nodded: “I do a lot of hunting so I’m not around here all the time. Stacy works part time for me as well as Dudly and Chester—high school students that need some extra cash.”
“I understand you own the Cranby cabin?” Vin asked, taking a whiff of his sandwich. Wishing he could eat rather than question a ‘possible suspect’.
“Yeah, bought that with my wife when we first moved up here. Unfortunately the property line ends right behind the cabin.” Peterson shook his head in disappointment. “I tried to buy that bit of property a couple of years ago, but it’d been sold to…” he paused, and scratched his head in thought, “…Brick, Pat Brick. He lives in the motel that’s been redone into apartments…guess that property line hits his back door. He got a real good deal on it—the property.”
Buck nodded in understanding and turned hungry eyes toward the sandwich sitting idly in front of Tanner. “I understand that you rent your cabin out to hunters?”
“Yep, sure do. Got a few regulars that come up during elk season. Good guys, they all bring their wives. I don’t think they do as much hunting as they’d like me to believe.” He smiled and looked toward Vin. “You’d better eat that sandwich before it goes. I always say, it’s better to eat it fresh than after it’s sit too long, then all the juices slip from the meat and hit the bread.”
Vin nodded in understanding and started to unwrap his sandwich. He paused and looked at Peterson. “Can you get us a list of everyone who’s been up to your cabin the past few years?”
“Sure can,” Micky replied, getting to his feet. “Let me know if you need anything else,” he looked at both of them as he spoke, “and I’ll try and get it for you.” He looked toward the ground and grasped his hands. “You think someone killed that boy—those kids in those pictures?” He looked sadly at Buck who was putting the images away.
“We’re not sure yet,” Buck answered.
“You know, a lot of kids come up here during their school breaks or for their big ‘challenges’, you know the kind—trying to see who can stay out in the cold the longest, who can cover themselves with moose piss and temp the wildlife—it’s all for fun, though I understand some of them get into some real trouble doing it.”
“You ever have kids up to your cabin?” Vin asked, trying to suppress the sounds of his growling stomach.
“Not unless they sneak up there without my knowing. Can’t say yes or no to that question—though, they’re not allowed to go up there during the hunting season—you’ve got to have a license to get past the rangers—”
“But it’s private property?” Buck questioned, slightly confused.
Peterson shook his head: “When I purchased the land, I bought it from an old miner whose family had that land long before the parks were created, so when he sold it, I had to sign a hunting lease in order to keep the land available for hunters to use. The park rangers were worried that the elk, moose, bear, and deer would hold up on my land until the hunting season was over and they don’t want to run into trouble with an over abundance of game. Hell, they even lengthened hunting season last year because they were having such a difficult time with the large quantity of game—quite a sight to see, I tell you.”
“Do you hunt?” Buck asked, silently wishing Vin would eat the damn sandwich.
“All the time—you boys should try it while you’re up here. Ain’t nothing like it in the world. If you’d like to rent the place just let me know. I’ve got a small piece of property outside of town, can’t miss it,” he smiled, “the yard had over 43 snowmen out front. Those are mine on all the street corners.”
“No shit?” Buck chuckled. “How long’d it take you to make ‘em?”
“I’ve had some for over 16 years, and trying to keep them together is a bitch, but I love building them too damn much to stop. I usually work on one for three or four weeks, depending on the new snow pack. I have a cooler where I keep some of my favorites, the others melt during the first heat we get.” He turned and headed toward the deli counter. “You should both come on out and take a look at it…you missed the snowman festival from a couple of weeks ago, but a lot of the regulars come over for hot chocolate on Friday nights—the kids in town love it.”
“We might do that,” Buck acknowledged, with a shake of his head. He watched Peterson disappear behind the glass counter. “Are you goin’ to eat that?”
“Hell, Buck, I thought I’d wait and see if you burst apart in lust first.”
Buck pressed his lips together, hiding them slightly under his mustache. In frustration, he ran his fingers through his dark brown hair and glanced out the window, wishing he were home—or near a swimming pool—Vin needed a good drenching.
JD slammed the hotel room door shut and tossed his jacket onto Chris’ bed. He reached for the mini refrigerator and grabbed a small glass bottle of vodka and unscrewed the top. He held the bottle up in toast and then took a long pull, coughing as the liquid burned its way down his throat and hit his stomach with a heavy thud. He turned pale suddenly and turned to face the window.
“What in the hell’s with you?” Buck asked, tossing JD’s coat on the floor, trying to straighten the papers that had lined Chris’ bed.
Chris closed the book he’d been reading and looked toward the window as JD tried to catch his breath, obviously not having expected the vodka to burn like it had. “What’s the matter, JD?”
“Ezra!” he snapped, looking toward the door as though the profiler would step through at any minute. “Fuckin’ treated me like a kid back there.” He took another swig from the small bottle, successfully finishing it off, while trying to act the part of an adult.
Vin shrugged and kept his nose in the reports Chris had gathered from the sheriff’s office, not wanting to get involved. He knew Ezra was walking a fine line, and JD was bound to be the one to cross it.
“What happened?” Chris asked, making sure his words were clear and understandable—he didn’t like to repeat himself.
“We were interviewing the local ‘call girl’,” he ignored Buck’s look of intrigue and continued, “anyway, she said somethin’ like I was too damn young for this job and then Ezra asked me to leave like I was some wet-behind-the-ears-kid.” He took a more defensive stance and broadened his shoulders as though he could fight any of them and win. “I’m a damn good cop and I deserve to be treated like one!”
“Ezra has a way of gettin’ information out of people, JD, and you have to give him enough room to do his job,” Vin said, not bothering to look up. He’d worked with Standish long enough to know that you don’t get in his way—not when he’s on a roll.
“He should gave backed me up!”
Ezra entered the room, having heard most of the argument as he walked down the hallway. He glanced toward JD who quickly turned away from him to face the window.
“Learn anything?” Chris asked, trying to get his men back on track.
“Tonya Davis,” he replied, leaning with his back up against the wall next to the TV. “She’s been in the area for about seven years and has a relationship with most of the questionable characters in town...I think she knows more than what she’s telling—”
“Maybe you should have stayed longer and interviewed her—maybe that see-through gown she was wearin’ would come off,” JD muttered, keeping his eyes on the window...noticing the mildew that had surfaced along the wood trim.
Ezra ignored him and continued, “She gave me some names and I’d like to interview them all before I finalize my profile—but I think we’re right on the money with this one. Our perpetrator is older, more mature and he’s had the time and availability to make his pursuits perfect—if we’re going to nail this guy we have to get hard evidence against him...otherwise he’ll walk and continue with his activities. I believe these kids are dead and one person is involved—others may know about it, but not enough to truly understand what is going on. This guy gets a thrill out of seeing Sheriff Ford suffer through each missing case...the sheriff is too open with all the members of this community to a fault and because of it, our suspect knows exactly how to avoid him. He knows we’re in town and to be honest,” he sighed and rubbed the fingers of his left hand on his brow between his eyes—still fighting his headache, “...I think there’ll be another disappearance as long as we’re in town—he likes a challenge and we’re it. According to the general public, we’re the big news, and as long as we’re here, attention is being pulled away from the real problem. The man we’re after wants to see us sweat...he wants to shove it in our faces.”
“How do you know?” Chris asked, concern lining his features.
Ezra tossed the manila envelope he’d been carrying onto the bed and watched as Buck opened it. Four 8 by 10 full color images slipped out, depicting the gruesome mutilation of four different individuals. It was impossible to tell who they were. Their faces were missing. All four bodies had been laid out on a steel table top and completely cleaned, like an animal after the slaughter. All their organs had been removed, and the only identifying marks on any of them were the numbers that had been written on each thigh.
“Dear God,” Buck sighed, handing the images over to Vin who quickly handed them to Chris.
JD peaked over Chris’ shoulder and felt his stomach roll. The images combined with the alcohol did nothing to aid his already fraying nerves. He dropped the empty bottle of Vodka and made a mad dash for the bathroom where he slammed the door and proceeded to acknowledge his youth as retching sounds echoed around him and the others.
Chris quickly put the images away and waited until the sounds from the bathroom stopped. He looked up and met Ezra’s eyes and saw the melancholy effect it had on his agent. Not only was Ezra solving this case, but over a hundred cases just like it and some worse. It showed. It showed in his eyes, his shoulders, and his face...
“Where’d you get these?” Chris asked, feeling his own stomach twist and turn.
“Up front—Bev had no idea who dropped them off, I guess they were on the counter when she arrived this morning...I called the sheriff and he’s also received some, as well as…Rafe Martinez, at the local paper.”
“Shit.” Chris stood and started pacing the floor.
JD stepped out of the bathroom while wiping his face with a wet washcloth. He looked up and met Ezra’s eyes and nodded in submission, like a pup would to a new alpha male. His ego wasn’t as important as finding a killer...and he was foolish to have thought it was.
“I’m going to head over to the sheriff’s department and talk to one of his deputies about film processing around here,” Ezra said, standing up straight. He pressed his hand to the wall to balance himself momentarily, and thanked God above that everyone was too busy thinking about the gruesome images to have noticed.
“I’ll go with you,” JD said, grabbing his coat off the floor.
Ezra smiled tightly and handed JD the keys before heading out of the room.
Chris looked toward Buck and Vin. “Get down to the paper and find out who got the images and use your animal magnetism to postpone any articles that will go out in the next edition. Small town writers are usually pretty easy to work with and if we give them exclusive interview rights...we may have some leeway...I doubt they’ll be willing to share any information with any of the bigger papers until the shit hits the fan.”
Vin grabbed his jacket and slapped Buck on the shoulder. “You goin’ to wait for Josiah and Nathan?”
“Yeah, maybe Nathan can give us something from the pictures—if not, I’ll have them sent to Washington for analysis.”
“Might be faster to have the pony express take them...with the weather like it is...?” Vin shook his head, feeling as though they were 50 years behind the rest of the world.
In essence, they were.
Nathan looked at the images without seeing the individuals for who they were. Bodies were just that, bodies. As people they had lived their lives to the fullest and probably died defending themselves—at least he hoped they had. He didn’t like appearing cold or disconnected, but he had to be, in order to complete his job. At least with these individuals, he hadn’t been the one removing their organs or cutting into their skin. He hadn’t made them less than what they were.
“I don’t see any sawing action,” Nathan said, keeping his eyes on the image, looking at the incisions with magnifying glass. “So the cuts were made with an extremely sharp knife...maybe even a scalpel. They’re not as practiced as someone who’d gone through medical training, but defiantly someone who has a history with anatomy.”
“Like a hunter?” Chris asked, sitting across from Nathan.
“No,” he replied, “this goes deeper than that—you’ll have to get the information from Ezra about the psychological aspect, but what I’m seeing from a medical/scientific aspect is an individual who’s had some experience with a knife...someone who knows how to use one—more so than a hunter.” He laid out all the pictures so they rested side by side and along the table’s edge so he could get a clearer understanding of what he was seeing. He pointed toward the chest cavities. “The Y incisions are standard and learned early in any medical facility, but also in forensic pathology labs across the country—those that deal with human remains.”
“You’re not narrowing it down, Nathan,” Chris sighed, leaning back. He ran both hands over his head and them let them drop back onto his lap. He glanced toward Josiah who had seen the images, and had taken a seat further away so he wouldn’t have to continue looking at them. He was a hard man, and he understood more than many the horrors men were capable of—but this, this was different. This was a monster they were after, a monster without a soul or even the spirit of life.
“I’m sorry, Chris, I could tell you more if I were actually handling the bodies...but from these, I can only draw allusive conclusions.”
Chris nodded apologetically. “Do you see anything else?”
Nathan shrugged: “You should have Ezra take a closer look at these, I think he’ll be able to tell you more about his personality than I can...I can only give you scientific answers...and I don’t have a lot.”
“What about lavitidity? External wounds?”
Nathan sighed and took a closer look, and realized he was going to have say what he knew Chris already saw. “All the victims had been tied around the wrists—abrasions and ligature marks indicate that—I can’t say with what they were tied with. Victim number four has indications of frost bite around his toes and the tips of his fingers which implicates he was alive and in the cold when he was killed.”
“This is Alaska, Nathan, they were all probably cold when they died,” Chris snapped, getting to his feet. “Why would our perp remove their organs?” He rubbed his brow with the palm of his left hand and looked toward the window as though the glass held the answers.
“Could be for any reason,” Josiah replied. “Ritual, consumption, curiosity, research—?”
“Research?” Chris snapped, turning toward the big man.
“You need to look outside the box, Chris,” Josiah replied confidently. “You’ll never find a ‘normal’ reason for this kind of behavior.”
“I don’t want normal, I just want the bastard caught.”
“We all do,” Josiah replied, looking toward Nathan who continued to look over the images.
Sheriff Ford sat alone in his office with the lights out. He looked out the window toward the reflections in the snow created under the angry moon’s rays. Feeling like a man without a soul he rested his head on his fist and continued to stare—wishing on so many different levels that he was smarter, better trained, and not the foolish lawman that so many took him for. He scuffed his boot on the floor and listened to the sound the hard leather made against the worn linoleum; a familiar sound with so many meanings. His desk was covered with images, the same images that had sent two of his deputies home sick and another was still in the bathroom with his head over a toilet.
Not having been raised a man with ‘old’ values, he’d understood the importance of women’s rights and how they should be treated in the workplace, but he’d put his foot down when he opened the manila envelope. He’d ordered only his male deputies inside his office and then he’d closed the blinds—not wanting any of the women to see—he’d thought he’d made a good choice, but through several different reactions, he’d learned he hadn’t.
Nobody needed to look at the pictures, not like that. Man or woman, young or old—they were too graphic, brutal, and gruesome. They showed in detail how man could turn from human to monster in the blink of an eye. They proved that nobody was safe, despite how small the town, how few crimes were committed, or how welcomed they all believed they’d been. Someone they knew had done this. Someone they knew was laughing at them now. Someone was planning to kill again.
Doug jerked upright when he heard the faint sound of a knock come from the door and he immediately reached for the images, not wanting them to be seen. He squinted when the lights flickered on and he coughed into his hand, trying to hide his melancholy attitude.
“I was thinking,” he said to himself, but loud enough for JD and Ezra to hear. “Didn’t realize how late it was getting.” He smiled tightly and nervously rubbed the stubble on his chin and quietly made note of his need to shave. He’d go home to his wife...she’d be there...she’d help him.
Ezra took a seat on the old leather chair across from the sheriff. “I heard what happened,” he said quietly, having been through it several times in his career. “It never gets easy.”
Doug nodded and flashed his eyes from his pen dispenser to his son’s little league picture. He’d been avoiding that one. “I had to send a few of my men home...I’m hoping they come back.”
JD stood with his back to the glass that divided Ford’s office with the rest of the world, knowing he was there for backup...knowing he could learn more from Ezra than Ezra could learn from him.
“Do you have any men on your staff that deal with photographs—anyone who knows how to develop film or where to get it developed around here?” Ezra leaned forward, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders and feeling confident for the first time that the man they were after wouldn’t stop—not until he was stopped.
“Charlie,” Doug replied with a shake of his head, “but he’s in the bathroom throwin’ his guts up.”
Ezra reached out and grabbed the images that had been hastily hidden beneath a pile of papers.
“I don’t know who could do that,” Ford said, trying to keep his composure in check—trying to be the sheriff he was supposed to be. “I’m a small town man with a small town mentality. Last year I arrested three 16-year-old kids for attempted rape—that was my biggest case. It’s too damn cold to do shit like that here.” He rubbed his brow as though he were fighting an oncoming migraine.
Ezra watched, knowing full well what it was like to feel that pain and the uncertainty of life. He knew what it was like to carry the deaths of innocent victims on his shoulders.
“If nine kids...nine kids died like that...?” Doug shook his head, feeling his own stomach turn. “I can’t just sit here and let it happen again.” He looked up when his secretary stuck her head in between the door and its frame. “What is it, Deb?”
“Charlie’s goin’ home,” she said, and gave her boss a sympathetic smile before heading back to her desk.
“Go home, sheriff,” Ezra said, getting to his feet. He turned and looked toward JD who quickly zipped his coat up and headed out of the office.
“Do you think we’ll find him?” Doug asked, not moving from his seat.
“Eventually,” Ezra replied, trying to sound confident in an unconfident situation.
“Bet you’re a good poker player,” Doug said, throwing out his best, though unconvincing, smile.
Ezra nodded and turned with pictures in hand to leave.
For him, it wasn’t about death. It was about deceit, power, force, manipulation, and strength. It was about control. He looked at people, those he worked with, those he was ‘friendly’ with, and those he served, as objects—like he would his computer, a sandwich, a sofa, or even his TV remote control. They were there for his convenience—to service him, and his goals...to make him complete in power and godliness.
He was an actor, the best the world had ever seen. He’d convinced his wife on so many levels that he loved her, that he loved their offspring...he even ‘loved’ her family. His ‘friends’ thought him to be friendly, supportive, and objective. He was honest to brutality, and still they came to him for advice, for chitchat, and for help when they needed him. But that’s what he liked—to be needed, like a police officer during a car wreck, a firefighter during a fire, or a doctor during surgery. He was the one they needed.
He liked being all-powerful.
He liked being deceitful.
He liked being the one nobody would guess as a murderer.
Like a skilled surgeon, his hands held steady as it sliced through the muscles, tendons, and veins of the thigh. Athletes were always the best. Less fat. He hated fat. Fat was a sign of laziness, obesity, indulgence...death. He enjoyed taking his targets down that had the strength to outrun him—to fight him—to make him feel as though he could fail—but he wouldn’t...he was too good.
It was the thrill of slicing through red meat that looked healthy, like a vegetarian—they were the best...but they were the hardest to get. So he settled for athletes. He cleaned the femur, scrapping the pink, red, and white tissues from the bone, making sure not to slice the ivory.
It was perfect.
He tossed the meat into a bin behind him when he finished and went to work on cutting the tendons that kept the knee joint together. Listening intently to the sawing of flesh with a serrated knife, he continued his task. He enjoyed the sounds, the thumping of flesh on steel, the sloshing of blood beneath loose skin, the popping of joints being released from tendons and tissues.
It was a rush.
He looked to his right and spotted the inner organs contained inside Ziploc plastic bags...some larger than others. The eyes, the only part of the body he wouldn’t use were kept in a glass gallon jar...soaking in formaldehyde...preserving the last bit of his kill...the part in which the soul entered and exited. He liked the feeling of being watched...he liked the feeling of his victims watching and unable to do a damn thing about his work.
It was heaven.
Ezra sat at the table with a magnifying glass and looked at the images with such an intensity the rest of the team had to exit the room. They couldn’t take it. They couldn’t stand to watch as Ezra circled small sections of each photo with a black Sharpie, documenting everything he saw on a legal notepad that was within reach of his obsession.
He looked at each image as though it was art...something that needed to be investigated, something that held the answers to the questions he was asking. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t what he enjoyed doing, but it had to be done...he needed to find the artist.
Each image was now marked with black circles, small question marks, and numbers—each held their own meaning and each their own question.
JD had emailed copies of the pictures to D.C. and a good friend of his would process each image and locate things that weren’t visible to the human eye. It was standard operating procedure and Ezra was thankful for the kid’s ability with computers...it seemed at times that JD was some kind of a computer savant, excelling in skills only a master could handle.
He’d managed to blow up a few sections of the images that Ezra had questions about, even going as far as improving on the grain of the image so he could get a better idea of what he was looking at. Nathan had been able to discover that all four victims had been shot in the back, but he couldn’t come to a conclusive discovery on how they indeed died—they all hoped the bullet wounds had killed them.
Buck entered the hotel room and leaned against the dividing wall between the bathroom and bedroom. He kept quiet; watching Ezra move through his thought process—through his analytical decisions of who and what kind of man would commit the crimes of utmost brutality.
Ezra never saw or heard him...and he never bothered to look up in case someone was there watching. His focus was finding a killer, finding a monster that took pleasure in brutalizing innocent victims: sons, daughters, wives, sisters, and brothers. Ezra never heard Buck leave, or Vin enter...he never saw the bag of food that had been left on the counter next to the TV, or smelled the fresh coffee being brewed next to the sink.
Buck tapped Vin on the shoulder and stood next to him, anticipating their next move.
“He hasn’t flinched,” Vin said with a shake of his head, “it’s like he’s possessed or somethin’.”
“Wouldn’t doubt it,” Buck replied. He shook his head and reached for a hot cup of coffee, wishing on many levels that he had some cream...maybe even some sugar. He pulled on the heavy work shirt he’d acquired from the local clothing store, thankful he’d found something that wasn’t too un-Buck-Wilmington. He couldn’t help but smile at the thought; even the young cashier sent him a wink as he left the building.
“He’s been at this for six hours—he’s got to have the world’s largest bladder,” Vin said in astonishment.
“Bigger,” Buck replied with a wishful sigh.
Vin curled the right side of his mouth into a half smile and shook his head.
Ezra took a deep breath and tossed his sharpie onto the table, allowing it to roll to a stop when it hit the phone book that was thinner than the sale flyers the newspapers sent out on Fridays. He looked toward his right when he noticed Vin and Buck move toward the table and he nodded in acknowledgement. He rubbed his face and stifled a yawn, feeling the past few months residing on his mind.
“Find anything?” Vin asked, pulling out one of the leather bound chairs and taking a seat.
Buck sat on the edge of the bed closest to the window.
Ezra grabbed the pictures and tossed them in front of Vin.
“What’s this?” Vin asked, looking at a faint outline of something familiar.
Ezra cleared his throat. “Eyes.”
“What?” Buck asked, getting to his feet and standing behind Vin to get a better look at the image. “How in the hell can you tell?”
Ezra handed over his magnifying glass and waited for their responses.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” Buck snapped, grabbing the image from Vin as he held the magnifying glass over the black circle. He moved under the light to get a better look and shook his head. “JD couldn’t even pull that up on the fuckin’ computer.” He took a deep breath and looked hard at Ezra. “You think they’re human?”
Vin sat transfixed on the other images, seeing the small details they’d all missed before and were discovering for the first time. “What do you think he’s doing with them—with the bodies?”
Ezra shook his head: “I don’t know...but I’d be willing to bet they’re close by.”
“What in the hell are we lookin’ at?” Buck asked, lowering the photograph to his thigh, pinching the corner with his thumb and forefinger. Before Ezra could answer, Buck threw another question at him, “Are we lookin’ at a cannibal?”
Ezra sighed: “I don’t know.”
Vin leaned back, suddenly feeling sick to his stomach. He rubbed his hand over his face and then rested his elbow on the arm of the chair, keeping his hand over his mouth. He looked at Ezra and saw the perplexity in his eyes...it wasn’t a wonder as to why. “How long do we have until he strikes again?”
“Not long,” Ezra replied confidently, slowly getting to his feet only to grab the edge of the table and pause to catch his balance. He lowered his head and rubbed his brow.
Buck was at his side in an instant. “Go get Nathan,” he said, looking toward Vin.
“I’m fine—just tired,” Ezra replied, quickly reaching up to wipe a narrow stream of blood from his nose. “Shit,” he sighed, seeing blood on his fingers before losing his balance and clasping onto his knees with Buck holding him from behind.
Vin rushed out of the room.
“You need to learn how to relax, Standish,” Buck scolded, helping Ezra get onto the chair and handing him the box of tissues that had been resting on the nightstand between the two beds.
Ezra leaned his head back and pressed the tissues to his nose and took a deep breath, trying to ignore the taste of blood as it flooded the back of his mouth.
“You know,” Buck said, pushing the files and images away from the edge of the table and then he grabbed a chair and scooted it closer to Ezra to keep a closer eye on him until Nathan arrived, “JD plays video games on his Xbox—shit, I think he spent all of his vacation time trying to play that...” he paused, trying to think of the game, “...I think it was called, Splinter Cell—something like that, anyway, I go over there because we’d planned on goin’ to a Redskins game and sure enough, the kid looked like a heroin addict comin’ off a three day ride. I had to cut the damn cords to get him to quit playin’, and then he slept for 23 straight hours—thought for sure he was dreamin’ about winnin’, but he came around and I’d tossed the game.” He looked up before he could finish his story and moved out of the way as Nathan drew near.
“How’re you feeling, Ezra?” He asked, grabbing the handful of tissues and pulling them away from Ezra’s nose.
“Tired,” he replied, lifting his head only to squeeze his eyes shut as a wave of dizziness passed.
Nathan shook his head and seated himself on the chair Buck had been using and looked up toward Chris who’d been followed by Vin. He then looked back toward Ezra. “I’m going to take your blood pressure and then I want you to get some sleep—you’re wearing yourself out and by the looks of you, you’re about fifteen minutes away from collapsing from exhaustion. I know you have a history of it, Ezra, and you can’t keep doing this.” He grabbed Ezra’s chin and forced his head back to make sure the nosebleed had stopped and then he reached into his medical bag and removed his stethoscope and blood pressure cuff. “You could end up suffering from a nervous breakdown. Heaven forbid your cell counts drop so low you’d be susceptible to just about anything.” He wasn’t mad as he spoke, just agitated and worried. He helped Ezra out of his jacket and pushed the sleeve of the cotton shirt up past his elbow and then grabbed the blue cuff.
Ezra sat like a scolded schoolboy and took the reprimand. He wiped at his nose harshly, making sure the bleeding had stopped and wishing he had the strength of his fellow compatriots. He knew he needed to sleep, but that hadn’t been the problem—the problem was getting to sleep and sleeping in peace. Perhaps it was easier this way, running until he dropped so he would have to sleep—taking himself to the breaking point because he had to—not because he wanted to.
Nathan sighed and shook his head as he removed the cuff. “Your BP is normal,” he sighed and then muttered under his breath, “wish mine was that good. But your pulse is running over a hundred beats per minute—probably due to the amount of caffeine you’re ingesting.” He wrapped the cuff into a roll and replaced it inside his bag. Nathan then rested his elbows on his knees and took a deep breath while looking critically at Ezra. “Can you sleep?” he asked, being honest and understanding.
Ezra nodded and rubbed his face.
Nathan shook his head: “You’re lying. You have an awesome poker face, but you’re so tired you’re contradicting yourself.” He stood up and grabbed his bag. “Get some sleep.” He looked toward Chris and nodded, letting him know they needed to talk.
Vin stood off to the side of the room, looking toward his bed, wishing he could get some rest as well. They all needed it, but Ezra most of all. He looked toward Buck who quickly grabbed his coat and nodded toward him before he slipped out the door, anticipating an order from Chris that they all hit the hay and get some sleep. They had more to go on now, and for the first time since arriving, they knew what kind of a monster they were after.
Nathan sighed outside the door to Chris’ quarters. With medical bag in hand and a concerned look on his face he looked toward Chris and then toward the room Ezra and Vin were sharing. “He needs some sleep, and a lot of it.” There was no mistaking the urgency in his voice.
“Can you give him something—maybe like you did the last time?”
Nathan shook his head and focused his attention toward a speck of gravel that had been imbedded into the carpet, too close to the wall for the vacuum and too small for the room attendants to notice. “I don’t like the idea of giving him something without him knowing about it, Chris.”
“He won’t sleep if you don’t, Nathan. He’s more afraid of what he’ll dream about than the possibility of falling over and freezing to death in the fuckin’ snow.”
“Why?” Nathan pushed. “You can’t just treat the symptoms of the disease...I need to know what’s going on—and I think you know.”
“He’s having nightmares—nightmares about his fiancé that he lost just over a year ago.”
“Have you talked to him about it?”
“Yes, but I can’t make him talk about things he’s not comfortable with—”
“—Then send him home—”
“—Unless you haven’t noticed, Nathan,” Chris barked, “there’s a fuckin’ snowstorm keeping us here!” He tried to keep his voice down, but found himself failing and he looked to his right as Buck passed him heading toward the room he shared with JD.
Nathan nodded in acceptance, realizing that Ezra wouldn’t go home—not until he found the monster making Hanson Alaska a nightmare for so many. “I won’t sneak anything into his drink and I won’t force him to take a shot—but I will—and have, a sleeping pill he can take that will knock him out—at least for 8 hours. He can take it, but only of his own accord.”
“I’ll order him to do it,” Chris replied, keeping his arms across his chest—keeping himself from punching a wall and knocking a hole through it.
“Don’t force him—I won’t be any part of that.”
“Okay.” He reached out with his palm face up toward Nathan, who quickly opened his medical bag and opened a box of sleeping pills and popped one from the small plastic individual wrappers they were contained in. “Take the coffee pot out of his room and no soda or chocolate for the next few days—his pulse is way too high.”
“Will this aggravate it?” Chris asked, looking at the small white object in his hand.
“No, but I want him to eat in the morning—and more than toast.” Nathan turned toward the room he was sharing with Josiah. “And, Chris,” he turned, “that goes for you as well—you’re coming close to following Ezra’s path.”
Ezra sat on the edge of the bed wearing a white tee-shirt and black sweatpants—at least he was comfortable. He stared toward the window with a blank expression on his face, listening to Vin run the shower while singing an old Bob Dylan song that Ezra was sure had been redone by Country Joe and the Fish. He looked up when the bedroom door opened and Chris slipped inside.
Ezra chuckled and scooted back against the headboard of his bed. “I’ve been better.” He raised his knees and rested his elbows on them while running his hands over his head, as though gathering his thoughts. He knew what he was doing, but he’d never understood the why. Perhaps it was genetic—at least that was a logical explanation and an easy one to explain.
“I want you to take this.” He handed Ezra the sleeping pill.
The profiler cocked an eyebrow and shook his head in refusal. “I don’t do well under the influence.”
“It’s a low dose sleeping pill, Ezra, and you’re going to take it or I’m going to send Buck in here to talk about his glory days with the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders—and he’ll go into every detail.”
“That might not be a bad thing,” Ezra replied with a grin.
“This is Buck I’m talking about...it’s the same story over and over and over again.”
Ezra nodded in understanding and turned his head slightly when he heard the shower stop. Vin continued to sing, not at all bothered with the idea that others may hear him. At least he wasn’t off key.
“This is why I got my own room,” Chris sighed, wishing he were home and in his own bed with cases he could fully understand. It was easier looking outside the box of abnormal behavior. Fraud was easier to understand, it was less messy in the sense of lost life, and it dealt with paper trails—rather than people. Sometimes he missed his old life.
Ezra reached out and took the pill that Chris had laid on the nightstand next to a glass of water that had sweated a puddle of water at its base.
Chris stood and looked at the photographs, noting the black circles around certain parts and shook his head when he realized what he was looking at. “Do you think we’ll find him?” he asked, turning toward Standish.
“He found us,” Ezra replied, popping the pill in his mouth and taking long pull from his glass of water. “If he’s willing to toy with us with the anticipation that he’s too good to get caught, it’s only a matter of time before he makes a mistake—and from there it’s up to us to use that mistake to our advantage.”
Vin stepped out of the bathroom chased by a cloud of steam. He smiled and tossed himself onto the top of his bed like a kid.
“Get some sleep,” Chris ordered, tossing the images back onto the tabletop. “I’ll see you in the morning.” He left with room looking somber and out of place, like a man who knew he couldn’t fail when he knew the chances were high that he would.
Vin pulled his knees up and then slipped his legs beneath the pile of blankets, only to roll over onto his belly to turn off the light. He paused, looking at Ezra—wondering what was going through his head, but too afraid to ask. He watched as Standish moved under his blankets and then turned his back toward Vin, as though he didn’t want to be disturbed and Vin quickly turned off the light with a click.
Ezra shot up; gasping for breath after feeling as though his chest was caving in. He looked around the room, nothing but darkness, nothing but another bad dream haunting his sleepless nights. He wiped the sweat from his face and sighed, laying back onto the comfortable mattress and staring up at the ceiling, noticing the shadows as they danced across the wood surface from the light of the moon as it drifted in through the window.
Even night seemed darker here.
His skin prickled and his sweat soaked tee-shirt clung to him, defining his shape—defining his weakness. He looked to his right and found Vin sound asleep, breathing deeply and thankfully not snoring. Slowly, Ezra threw back his covers and moved toward the vanity, stepping behind the separating wall he flicked on the light, and then peaked around the corner to make sure he hadn’t awakened Vin: he hadn’t. Ezra pulled his damp shirt up and over his head and then tossed it onto the floor, leaving it for a minute as he looked at himself critically in the mirror. His hair poked up in sections, good indications that he had slept, at least for a little while. Circles continued to surround his eyes and his skin looked loose, too loose, as though he’d lost 40 pounds and didn’t realize it. He’d lost so much of his pallor that he thought of himself as transparent…he knew he was in for a long ride.
He turned on the water faucet and splashed his face, trying to pull himself out of his nightmarish hell. He caught a glimpse of movement in the mirror. It came from the dark corner by the door and like a child watching their favorite cartoon, he kept his eyes on the spot. His hands braced the edge of the vanity, elbows locked, face and hair dripped wet. He just watched; waiting to see if the movement happened again or if perhaps his mind had called it quits. He was justified with his idea—he’d seen it happen before and he knew he was riding that horse close to the edge of oblivion.
The light above the sink flickered, and Ezra reached out to turn the faucet off when nothing happened, when nothing moved. Shaking his head in defeat he reached to his left to grab a towel and saw the movement out of the corner of his eye—this time with his own eyes, not the reflection of a mirror that lied.
He looked toward the corner, towel in hand and hanging by his side, seeing nothing but black. Then the blackness smiled, a toothy grin...white—human teeth with bright pink gums. Ezra could feel his heart react as blood started forcing its way through narrow veins, causing his fingers to go numb and his legs to tingle. He knew it was a man, but the man was dressed in black from head to foot—there wasn’t anyway to put a face on him.
The figure moved forward and shoved him onto the vanity against the mirror, breaking it and sending shards crashing to the ground. Ezra could feel the sharp glass cutting into his back. With his hands being restrained he tried to get a look at the figure’s eyes, painted black and hidden behind a black mask. Ezra looked down, finding on the mirror shards, blood—just on the mirror shards. He grunted and tried to push the figure back, but failed, finding his strength fading while his heart continued to race...
“DAMN IT, EZRA!” Vin yelled, trying to keep the profiler’s hands above his head and against the headboard. “STOP!”
Ezra pushed Vin violently back, shoving him off the bed and onto the floor. Ezra then jumped up, tangled in blankets and sheets, and then slapped his back up against the wall. He braced his hands above his knees and let his head hang between his shoulders.
Vin stood and brushed his hair back away from his brow and placed his hands on his hips: concerned, scared, and confused. “What’s goin’ on?” he asked, wanting only to help, but feeling as though he couldn’t. He sat back onto his bed and rested his elbows on his knees with his fingers crossed and hanging toward the floor.
“What time is it?” Ezra asked, sliding toward the floor. He extended one leg and left the other bent at the knee where he rested his forearm.
“Five thirty,” Vin answered, glancing toward the clock with bright red numbers. “You sounded like you were chokin’,” he looked up, wanting to meet Ezra’s eyes, but couldn’t as the profiler stared blankly at the duvet that had fallen to the floor by his feet.
“I do this,” Ezra said softly—just above a whisper. He rubbed his face and let his arm drop back onto his knee. He shrugged and looked up.
Vin sat seemingly relaxed on the edge of his bed. His blankets had been tossed from his bed in a hurry and scattered on the floor. His elbows rested on his knees with his hands still folded together and hanging downward toward the floor. His shorts and tee-shirt were wrinkled, as though he’d gotten a few needed hours of sleep. He looked up at Ezra, wanting to help in any way he could.
“When I was in seventh grade I had spent three days working on my science project—didn’t sleep—wanted the damn thing to be as perfect as I could make it—”
“—What’d you make?” Vin asked, knowing he wouldn’t get the answer unless he asked.
“A volcano that shot up chocolate malt,” Ezra replied with a smile. “Thought I should make it a project everyone would want a part of—made $26.” He shook his head and sighed, resting his head against the wall. “My mother was pushing me out into the hall and I remember falling forward—I was out...sleep depravation is what the doctor told my parents—slept for 18 hours after that.”
“I take it you do that a lot—workin’ ‘til you drop?”
“My father was the same way. He’d work for five or six days straight and then he’d drop—sleep for a couple of days and then do it again—probably what killed him.” He ran his hand over his face and rested his elbow on his knee and made a fist with his hand, resting his cheek against it.
“How’d he die?”
“Car accident,” Ezra answered, never moving. “Fell asleep at the wheel.”
“Is that the only reason you don’t sleep like the rest of us?”
Ezra winced, feeling the jab. “I sleep like the rest of you,” he argued, “I just work harder.”
Vin chuckled and tossed his pillow toward Ezra’s head. “You want to go get some breakfast?” he asked, glancing toward the clock—hoping someplace would be open.