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First in a brand new series!
The Behavioral Analysis Unit, an elite team of FBI profilers, are tasked with examining the nation's most twisted criminal minds-anticipating their next moves before they strike again...
Learn more about the Criminal Minds television series.
Situated on the United States Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia, the FBI Academy—known by those who work, teach and train there as the Facility—sprawls over 385 woodland acres that provide the privacy and security required for the FBI's operational functions and training.
At the Facility, the Behavioral Analysis Unit operates as part of the FBI's Training and Development Division, consulting with law enforcement across the nation on crimes requiring the skills of the BAU's top profilers.
Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner—broad-shouldered but slender, with black hair, brown eyes and the kind of chiseled features whose somber concern could be misread as unkind—hunkered over his desk. His suit coat, which almost never came off at work, was hung with precision over the back of his chair.
As masculine as its occupant, the spacious office informed any visitor that this was a serious man not just successful at anything he attempted, but excelling at it. Witness three sets of mahogany shelves lining the wall behind his desk, home to numerous trophies for various skilled activities, including several for marksmanship. Note the wall opposite, arrayed with framed diplomas, citations, and the seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Not to be trifled with, Agent Hotchner.
Sharing the wall with the door was a picture window whose venetian blinds were kept slanted open so that Hotchner could monitor the sunken bullpen of the Behavioral Analysis Unit beyond. The wall opposite the door held three long, narrow columns of bulletproof glass charitably referred to as windows, although (short of an acetylene torch) they had no way to open, their sole function letting in light, which they performed well for the north side of the building with its limited sunshine.
His normally grave mein approaching morose, Hotchner—not quite forty—was in a dark place, the kind that in throwing light upon only reveals further darkness: specifically, he was poring over statistics from thirty-seven school shootings in the United States and Canada over the last ten years.
No such thing, he well knew, as an accurate school shooter profile.
There was, of course, the media-driven image of the trench-coated loners a la Harris and Klebold in Columbine; but Hotchner knew the image was just that, a myth created by the perpetrators themselves and perpetuated by a media responsible only to ratings, not society.
He was hoping to develop a more accurate profile in order to prevent future attacks. The task seemed impossible, but Hotchner had never backed down from a challenge, starting with the third-grade bully a certain kindergartner had stood up to in a school yard. Truth was, backing down, giving up, just wasn't in his DNA.
He had lost battles; all warriors did—but he had never surrendered.
One of the preliminary stats surprised him. Nineteen of the thirty-seven cases, over half, occurred in the spring, including the latest, just a few weeks ago when thirty-two college students and their killer perished at Virginia Tech.
For those who felt a school shooter had to be an ostracized loner, the springtime shootings would just give them more…the word sprang to mind unbidden…ammunition. Spring shootings implied that students who had been bullied and ostracized, if only in their own minds, had taken the abuse for as long as they could, then snapped.
As a seasoned FBI profiler, Hotchner knew some stressor would invariably emerge in any of these cases that could be labeled the proverbial "last straw'; but very few people really just "snapped.'
Most of these actions were painstakingly planned. They took time, effort, focus and perseverance. In those shootings, the killers didn't just "snap'—premeditated murder, particularly on such a scale, did not imply someone out of control, rather in control, and seeking complete control over life and mostly death, turning twisted delusion into tragic reality.
Hotchner was studying further stats when a knock at his door interrupted.
Frankly relieved for a moment away from his grim work, he looked up. "Come in.'
Special Agent Jennifer "JJ' Jareau entered. In her mid-twenties, Jareau looked especially young today, her blonde hair back in a loose ponytail, her blue eyes bright, her skin pale and fresh—she might have been a college student herself.
But she was not—rather she was the BAU's local law enforcement liaison, as professional as her crisp black suit and white blouse. Her sober expression mirrored Hotchner's as she approached his desk, a file folder in her left hand.
Hotchner knew from experience that when this pleasant young woman took on a grave demeanor, nothing good was on its way.
"We just got a call from Detective Rob Learman,' she said, "with the Lawrence, Kansas PD—has a case he's requested our help on.'
"Let's hear it.'
Without sitting, referring not at all to the file folder, she laid out the details in quick, no-nonsense fashion. Her other duties included handling media and she could reduce a complex case to headline-news highlights.
Hotchner drew air in through his nose, let it out the same way. "I'll take the file. Call Detective Learman and say yes. Then gather the whole team—conference in one hour.'
"No problem,' she said. "I'll be prepared to present the facts.'
Hotchner almost smiled. "I know.'
Alone, the profiler read the copy of the Lawrence PD's case file cover to cover. Then he read it again. He did not have the near-photographic memory of his young colleague, Dr. Reid, and often took a second pass with important documents.
But by the time he got to the conference room, Hotchner had the file down cold, his mind already cataloguing details about the UnSub--FBI-speak for the unknown subject behind these crimes.
He'd spent extra time on the crime scene photos and the autopsy protocol, including the preliminary tox screen and stomach contents that showed signs of Rohypnol. Local police reports were frequently lacking in victimology and demographics of the area around the crime scene. Either the locals were writing reports for people who already knew these things or, more often, simply did not understand how important such elements were to solving these types of crimes.
The conference room with its dark maroon walls was dominated by a round mahogany conference table with six high-back chairs. As in Hotchner's office, a picture window with venetian blinds looked out upon the expansive bullpen. A wall-mounted whiteboard just inside the door still contained scribbles from a previous case, but the wall with the flat-screen TV (next to a bulletin board of maps, circulars, photos and so on) had the attention of the seated agents of the BAU team.
Their newest member, Special Agent Emily Prentiss, sat nearest the door. The lanky thirty-something Prentiss carried the kind of sharp-featured attractiveness often wedded to keen intelligence, her reddish-tinged dark brown hair cut as straight as that of an ancient Egyptian princess. Like Jareau, she wore a dark suit.
Still somewhat of an outsider, Prentiss had joined the unit under less than ideal circumstances—unlike the rest of his team, she had not been handpicked by Hotchner; rather she had been foisted upon him when a former, valued member unexpectedly flamed out. Yale-educated and the daughter of an ambassador--and with vague high-level political connections that frankly unsettled Hotchner—Prentiss had spent ten years working in the St. Louis and Chicago field offices before her new assignment.
To her left sat Jareau, next to whom perched Dr. Spencer Reid, conspicuously the youngest member of the team. Only twenty-five and yet already in his fourth year with the FBI, Reid held doctoral degrees in Chemistry, Mathematics, and Engineering. Brown-eyed with longish brown hair that cut his forehead in a thick comma, Reid had pleasant, boyish features hardened by his horn-rimmed glasses, and was prone to birdlike gestures that reflected energy, not nerves.
An only child with an IQ of 187 and capable of reading in the neighborhood of twenty thousand words per minute, the young man had the fashion sense and social skills of a middle-school student. Today's ensemble was a gray plaid short-sleeve dress shirt with a red-and-yellow striped tie, loosened slightly, collar of the shirt unbuttoned; his chinos were a little big on him.
Dead serious about his job—and for that matter everything in his life (including assorted Certified Nerd/Geek interests)—Reid managed to maintain a puppy-dog enthusiasm despite the horrible things he'd witnessed on the job.
Separated from Prentiss by an empty chair sat Supervisory Special Agent Derek Morgan, in a dark blue shirt unbuttoned a ways, and even darker blue slacks. Thirty-three and biracial (mother white, father African-American), the ex-Chicago cop had a law degree from Northwestern University (thanks to a full-ride football scholarship) and had been with the Bureau for seven years, coming over from ATF. His athletic build—consistent with his black belt in martial arts and his occasional role as a teacher of self-defense classes here at Quantico--stopped short of muscle-bound, and in fact he displayed an almost balletic grace.
Wickedly handsome with a killer smile, Morgan made friends wherever went, with never a shortage of interest from the opposite sex; but the sparkling eyes and flashing teeth were a wall few got behind. Morgan's personal life took a backseat to his devotion to his job, the agent as driven in his way as Hotchner, and this was perhaps why the latter trusted the former so implicitly.
Hotchner himself was the last to sit.
Directly across from him was the senior member of their team, Supervisory Special Agent Jason Gideon, looking almost casual as he sat back in a wine-colored long-sleeved shirt and dark blue trousers, right ankle resting on his left knee. His short-sheared black hair, his hawklike nose and firm jaw, and thoughtful compassionate eyes under thick black slashes of eyebrow, added up to something strong but not harsh, an oblong face grooved by smiles and laughter that had not taken place on the job.
An FBI agent since 1978, the fiftyish Gideon—whose quiet, professorly demeanor seemed at odds with a broad-shouldered build—was a living legend in the BAU, one of a handful of pioneering profilers whose work had spawned a whole new way of detection.
By all rights Gideon, not Hotchner, should be heading up the team; and Hotchner was well aware that his leadership, if not his position, had more or less been deferred to him by the older, more experienced agent. A six-month medical leave for post-traumatic stress disorder had kept Gideon out of the field, and off the roster as team leader. When he returned, the senior agent made no effort to take Hotchner's position, and no rivalry existed between the two.
Still, Gideon's status gave him a special leeway and he would issue orders almost as frequently as Hotchner himself. The two had established respect for each other long ago, and Hotchner considered Gideon's wisdom and experience key tools in their crime-solving arsenal.
Here, seated around a table that might have been in a conference room at a bank or an insurance agency, were the top behavioral analysts in America, the profilers whose speciality was to go wherever and whenever local law enforcement found itself up against a criminal mind requiring expert investigation.
Without preamble or niceties, Hotchner said, "JJ got a call from the Lawrence, Kansas PD. They think they're dealing with a serial killer.'
"They think?' Morgan asked, brow furrowed. "Don't they know?'
"Someone's stalking homeless people.'
Reid sat forward and squinted in thought. "The predator's perfect victim--preying on the weakest members of the herd.'
"It may not be as simple as that,' Hotchner said. He turned to the liaison officer. "JJ?'
Jareau took control of the meeting, punching the remote for the wall-mounted monitor, a still image jumping on: a crime scene photo of a man on his stomach on wooden flooring.
Her dark eyes unblinking and wide, Prentiss said, "I thought you said the victims were homeless people.'
This victim clearly wore a business suit. Dark stains, obviously blood, splotched most of his back.
Hotchner gave Prentiss a small, sharp look that said, Let JJ explain.
"This is a homeless man,' Jareau said. "Roger Rondell, arrested in Lawrence once for vagrancy and twice for panhandling—no felonies on his record. Just found this morning, in a condemned abandoned house.'
Eyebrows up, Morgan said, "Pretty nice threads for a homeless dude.'
The crime scene photo gave way to another.
The victim had been turned on his back now, the picture concentrating on his face: clean-shaven, hair clipped and not noticeably dirty. Easier to tell in this photo that the collar of the suit was slightly stained and not by blood; but the clothing still looked suspiciously nice.
"Pretty clean, too,' Morgan added. "Figure he'd only have one suit like that, maybe another, and keeping them clean wouldn't be easy, on the streets.'
"That's what separates this from any homeless killings on record,' Hotchner said, looking from the screen to his agents and back again. "In Lawrence, homeless people are disappearing, then turning up stabbed and slashed…but also spruced up.'
"Spruced up?' Prentiss parroted skeptically.
"Cleaned up. Bathed or showered or whatever. And wearing new clothes. Or possibly secondhand clothes, but fairly nice ones, freshly laundered.'
Fingers fluttering on his cheek, Reid said, "You said, homeless people'—does that mean the killer's victims are of both sexes?'
They all knew that the odds of any sexual component to the crimes went down if the victims weren't exclusively male or female.
"This is an equal-opportunity killer,' Jareau said, working the remote.
Three more close-ups of dead faces popped up on the screen.
With Rondell, the quartet now consisted of two men and two women. Both men and one of the women were white, but the other woman was African-American. Their ages seemed varied, too, judging by their faces.
"Homelessness,' Hotchner said, "is the only common factor.'
Thinking out loud in his halting, considered fashion, a frowning Reid dug a fist under his chin and said, "Most serial killers are white…but even when they're not, almost all choose victims within their own race.'
Morgan's eyes were wide; he flipped a hand, an almost dismissive gesture. "This guy's all over the map! Men, women, young, and not so young, black, white¬.¬.¬.'
"I trust you use guy,' ' Reid said, "as a non-sexually specific designation.'
Morgan gave Reid the "are you kidding me?' look, but all the agents knew what Reid meant: while female serial killers were rare, they were hardly unknown.
Hotchner pointed at the display of victims and said, "We might have an obsessive factor here—an alternating killer.'
"How so?' Morgan asked.
Hotchner moved his head a fraction—a shrug for him. "Every other victim has been a woman—specifically, numbers one and three. Number two was the other man, Rondell our fourth.'
"What about timing,' Prentiss said, studying the screen like hieroglyphics she was trying to make out. "How far apart are the crimes?'
Jareau said, "First was late October, one in November, then none until two weeks ago--finally today, the Rondell murder.'
"Time frame's all over the map, too,' Morgan said, shaking his head.
"Any sign of sexual sadism?' Reid asked.
Despite the unlikelihood of a sexual element, this needed to be asked.
Hotchner shook his head. "The Lawrence crime scene analysts did get DNA off the first victim, but that was it. Otherwise, evidence has been hard to come by. One significant find, however: all four victims tested positive for Rohypnol.'
Reid squinted, as if the flat-screen had gone fuzzy. "Roofies,' he said, almost to himself, as if tasting the word. "Date-rape drug. Yet no sexual component?'
Hotchner nodded. "The perp might drug his victims to subdue them initially, but there's that other strange factor: the cleaning up, the haircuts, shaving them…This killer most likely used the drug to make the victims compliant, pliable.'
"Makes sense,' Prentiss said, nodding.
"I still don't get why he's tidying them up,' Morgan said.
Gideon had been sitting back in his chair, gazing over his tented fingertips. Now he sat up straight and spoke in a soft but commanding voice, and his hands began to rub together, as if working up heat.
"Maybe,' Gideon said, "he thinks he's saving them.'
With a lilt in his voice, as if suggesting they all order wings at TGIF, Reid said, "Baptizing the unwashed before sending them to meet their Maker?'
"Something like that. Something ritualistic, possibly.'
Prentiss sat forward, head cocked as she asked, "Does that mean our murderer thinks homelessness is some kind of sin?'
Gideon shrugged and lifted an open hand. "We dealt with that house cleaner' killer in Kansas City. This might be a similar pathology, yes.'
Eyes tight, Prentiss asked, "Will this UnSub devolve into that same sort of killing machine?'
"I don't know,' Gideon admitted. "We're just thinking out loud, so far.' His eyes went to Jareau. "Have we identified all the victims?'
Jareau said, "Not yet. The most recent victim, found in that abandoned house, is Rondell. The first, a female, was…' She checked her notes. ".¬.¬. Elizabeth Hawkins. Thirty-two with several arrests for prostitution, panhandling, and vagrancy. She was found two days before Halloween.'
"Kansas doesn't seem like a very friendly environment to homeless people,' Morgan said.
Reid responded to the dark joke with facts: "Lawrence, Kansas, is second on an Internet list of cities that are the meanest' to homeless people in the United States. Only Sarasota, Florida, is regarded more unfriendly to the homeless.'
Morgan had a stunned expression, not expecting his wisecrack to be verifiable. "You just carry this stuff around in your head?'
The slender Reid shrugged. "Where else would you suggest?'
"Don't tempt me…'
Gideon cut in: "What about the other two victims?'
Jareau checked her notes again. "The other woman, Paula Creston, African-American, late twenties—arrested once for shoplifting a loaf of bread and some cold cuts from a convenience store.' She looked up at her colleagues. "Creston was found two weeks ago. The other male vic, the one found in November, is a John Doe. The medical examiner puts his age at fifty-two or so, and there was no fingerprint match on AFIS, nor in VICAP.'
"Have we tried the military?' Hotchner asked.
Jareau said, "Garcia's on it, even as we speak.'
This got a brief smile from everyone, except Gideon, who remained focused on the crimes.
The Garcia in question was Audio/Visual Technician Penelope Garcia, their digital intelligence analyst and all-around computer whiz. A computer prodigy in her early thirties, cute, pleasantly plump, stylishly punky, Garcia seldom left her self-proclaimed "Office of Unfettered Omniscience' (but when she did, it was usually behind the wheel of her vintage Cadillac convertible).
"Military is a good start,' Gideon said.
"But you know the DOD,' Jareau said, glumly. "They're in no hurry to cooperate.'
Hotchner said, "I've got a friend over at the Department of Defense—maybe I can grease the wheels for her.'
"You've got friends, Hotch,' Morgan said with a little grin. "Good to hear.'
Hotchner flicked a smile at Morgan, a major concession.
Gideon asked, "How close to Thanksgiving was the November crime?'
"Two weeks before,' Jareau answered.
That precocious kid in the back row who drove everybody crazy in school, Reid popped in again. "What about victimology?'
Jareau said, "You already have it, as far as it goes--only things the victims had in common is that they were homeless, and kept mostly to downtown Lawrence.'
"They disappeared from an area where they should have been relatively safe,' Hotchner said. "The downtown area was their home. Lawrence is fairly typical in this regard—the downtown of a city is the domain of the homeless: public buildings to get out of the weather, restaurants that provide a source of food.'
"They also feel safe in their domain,' Gideon pointed out.
"But the nature of their existence is by definition an unsafe one,' Hotchner countered. "They would be naturally suspicious of anyone who doesn't look like he or she belongs.'
"However,' Gideon said, head tilted slightly, "the downtown provides our UnSub with two vital enablers.'
"What's that?' Jareau asked.
"Availability and vulnerability,' Gideon said, with a one-two of his fingers. His eyes tightened under the dark slashes of brow. "Where were the bodies found?'
"The first, Elizabeth Hawkins,' Jareau said, "was discovered in an abandoned factory. Body found by workers coming in to remove asbestos. Number two, John Doe, was in a Dumpster behind a grocery store, discovered by a bag boy taking out some trash. Paula Creston, victim number three, turned up in a junkyard. The last, Rondell, of course, was found in an abandoned house.'
"There's got to be more,' Prentiss said.
"There will be,' Hotchner said, "when we get there. In the meantime, everybody get packed up.'
They all knew what this meant: the BAU's private Learjet would be waiting for them at Andrews Air Force Base.
Hotchner was saying, "They just found the latest body this morning, so we can probably get to the crime scene before dark if we hustle.' He checked his wristwatch. "We're wheels up in an hour.'
Late afternoon, the warm day cooling into evening, Detective Rob Learman—no one called him Robert except his mother, back when he was ten, and he hated "Bob' and "Bobby'—stood outside the unmarked police car in front of the Lawrence Municipal Airport and blew dragon streams of smoke through his nostrils. Policy no longer allowed him to smoke in the car, but no one had said he couldn't smoke next to the car.
Fortyish, with sandy hair, blue eyes, five o'clock shadow, and an all-day sardonic attitude, Learman was a good cop, and knew it. But he was Old School—follow the evidence, find the bad guy, bust his damn ass. He didn't have a lot of faith in profiling. Psychological horse hockey was his opinion of profiling, topped off with a dollop of New Age nonsense.
Puffing away in the parking lot, Learman recalled a joke a buddy had told him about profilers—specifically, about a trainee attending a profiling course.
"Logic is a very important factor in profiling,' the instructor says.
"Logic?' the trainee asks.
"Yes. Let me ask you some questions. Do you own a weed whacker?'
"Yes,' the trainee says.
"Well, then,' the instructor says, "logic tells me that you then must have a lawn.'
"If you have a lawn, you must have a house.'
The trainee nods.
"If you have a house, odds are you're married.'
The instructor says, "If you have a wife, a house, and a lawn, the odds are you have kids.'
The trainee nods, feeling he truly understands the lesson.
When the trainee returns to his department, one of his cohorts asks him what he has learned.
"Logic,' the trainee says proudly.
"Logic?' the friend asks.
"Yeah. Let me show you. Do you own a weed whacker?'
"No,' the friend says.
"You're a homosexual.'
Learman grinned at the punch line as he inhaled deeply from the cigarette. Truthfully, it wasn't far from how he felt about profiling, but the thing was, his Old School ways had gotten them exactly nowhere, and the bodies were piling up.
With four dead and the end nowhere in sight, he was ready to take help where he could get it. The FBI BAU team had caught a lot of bad guys utilizing their profiling methods, plus had a reputation for pitching in with everything from legwork to taking down perps. Maybe they were all in the same church and just sitting in different pews.
Worth a shot, anyway.
Stubbing out his cigarette, Learman saw three black Chevy Tahoes pull up to the white zone near the front doors of the small airport, and park. Three feds climbed out in their standard-issue dark suits and darker sunglasses—Kansas City field office.
Learman recognized one of them.
Square-jawed, light-blue-eyed Jeff Minet had the build of a tight end and the mind of a rocket scientist. He'd graduated from Auburn in three years, got his master's in criminology, was a cop down south for a few years, then joined the Bureau.
When Learman walked across the lot to meet the agents, Minet met the detective halfway, hand extended. They shook.
"Detective Larr-muhn,' Minet said, mispronouncing Learman's name with his deep Alabama accent. "Pleasure to see you again, son.'
Minet played the good ol' boy card often and well. People figured because the FBI man spoke slow, he thought slow. More than one bad guy had gone to prison with that mistake his last before a cell door clanged shut behind him.
Minet introduced Learman to the other agents, then said, "You gonna meet up with that BAU team, right?'
"Well, two of these Tahoes are for them. You wanna make sure they get 'em?'
"Isn't that your job?' Learman asked.
"Got to head back to KC, son,' Minet said, flipping his set of keys to one of the other two.
Somebody handed Minet a clipboard and Learman signed for the vehicles.
"You or that BAU team need anything now, you have them give us a call, hear?'
The other two agents climbed into the remaining Tahoe, but Learman caught Minet's sleeve. "Hold up, Jeff. You know any of these people?'
Minet nodded, and this time when he spoke, the accent all but disappeared. "Dealt with Jason Gideon once. Might be the smartest man I ever met.'
Coming from somebody as smart as Minet, this was high praise. Maybe Learman had called the right people for help.
Minet continued: "Soft-spoken, this Gideon…but I saw him drop a two-hundred-and-fifty pounder on PCP with a short right hand.'
"Good to know,' Learman said. "Thanks.'
"This guy Hotchner, I ran into him, too. You'll think he's a cold fish, but still waters run deep…and hot. He'll be the second smartest guy in town, after Gideon.'
"What about me?' Learman said with a grin. "Don't I rate?'
"With this bunch around? You won't be in the top ten, buddy.' Then Minet seemed to reboot the Alabama accent, saying, "Y'all be careful, and you know where to find us if needs must.'
And the Kansas City FBI contingent was gone.
Learman figured he had time for one more smoke. Private planes, like the one the BAU team used, landed on the other side of the field from the terminal, but Learman knew they would be ferried over.
He had just ground out his one-more-smoke on the sidewalk when, on cue, the double doors opened and six people walked out, each pulling a small suitcase on wheels, and lugging a shoulder bag. Traveling light, for superheroes.
And the BAU team had, lately at least—after a string of spectacular successes—indeed been painted by many in the cop trade (not to mention the national media) as virtual superheroes. And superheroes didn't need luggage.
Still, seeing them hauling their bags gave them a nicely human dimension, and suddenly Learman felt a little more like he was dealing with real people.
Two men led the sextet as they moved toward the Tahoes. The one on Learman's right was FBI from the top of his perfectly combed dark hair to the soles of his spit-shined Florsheims. He walked with confidence, erect, shoulders back despite the weight of the shoulder bag, and with an air of humorless command.
The other man in the lead looked more like a college professor than a Fed—loafers, no socks, blue jeans, an open-collar red cotton shirt and a tweed sports jacket. What, no leather elbow patches? This guy's face was serious but there was something in his eyes that immediately made Learman feel at ease.
Behind them were two women, one a tall, classy, quietly curvy brunette with clothes that looked more expensive than those of her shapely blonde colleague, who was slightly shorter but seemed, to Learman at least, in a better mood.
Behind them, bringing up the rear, were an athletic black man who could have been a running back for the Chiefs, and a tall, gangly kid who wore his bag over his left shoulder so that it hung under his right arm. The young man wore a sweater, a plaid shirt with a striped tie like a college kid on job shadow day.
Learman met them. "Detective Rob Learman, Lawrence PD.'
The black-haired Fed extended his hand. "Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner.'
They shook, the Fed's grip firm but not bone crushing; a guy this confident had nothing to prove.
"The Tahoes are unlocked,' Learman said. "Three agents from the Kansas City field office left them. I signed off.'
Hotchner said, "Thanks. They didn't hang around?'
"No. But Agent Minet said just call if you need anything.'
"We should be fine. We're here to help, not get in your way.'
"Sure. Thanks.' Right, Learman thought, how could five FBI agents ever get underfoot in a local investigation?
Then he reminded himself: You invited them here. You're the one hip-deep in homeless stiffs…
They loaded their stuff into the two remaining Tahoes. The job took about a minute and Learman got the impression they'd been through this particular activity numerous times.
Then Hotchner introduced Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Spencer Reid, Supervisory Special Agent Emily Prentiss, Supervisory Special Agent Derek Morgan and Supervisory Special Agent Jennifer Jareau, who said, "Call me JJ. I'm not a profiler—I'm the liaison between you, the FBI in general, and the BAU team in particular…and the media.'
Learman grinned. "Does that mean I don't have to handle the press conferences anymore?'
The blonde agent's smile was as immediate as it was stunning. "You're officially off the hook, Detective.'
Learman was wishing he were ten years younger. But he'd settle for five…
The last member of the team stepped forward and introduced himself. "Jason Gideon.'
By not insisting on the "supervisory special agent' title, Gideon had immediately told Learman that he considered himself a person first and not just the embodiment of a job. This ingratiated him to Learman instantly. The two men shook hands with instinctive warmth.
"Let's hope you can help,' Learman said.
"You're skeptical,' Gideon said, no animosity in his voice. "Why don't I ride along with you, to the latest crime scene? We can talk.'
Soon, Learman—leading the way for the Tahoes—guided the Crown Vic out of the Lawrence Municipal Airport and, on the three-mile ride on Highway 24/40 from the boonies to downtown, the conversation between the detective and his guest began with an admission: "The truth is, Agent Gideon, I've never been a profiling fan.'
Gideon's smile was almost shy. "You like evidence.'
"Well, yes. Doesn't every cop?'
"They should. We love evidence. We just spend more time interpreting it than gathering it.'
"Why a team? Why not just one of you?'
Gideon nodded, obviously considering this a reasonable question. "We each bring specific points of view and skills to this work. But with, for example, a serial killer who's in the midst of acting out, we may need to be in several places at once. Also, we're FBI agents in every sense of the word—now that we're away from the airport, we'll be strapping on our sidearms.'
"In other words, you intend to pitch in.'
Gideon was taking in the flat Kansas farmland as if the green field and red soil were as interesting as any case. "As much as you need us to, yes. Do you prefer Robert or Bob or Rob?'
"May I call you Rob?'
"Rob, let me tell you what we know so far.' Gideon's voice was calm, even soothing.
"Okay,' Learman said, eyes on the highway, assuming he would hear a recap of his own reports.
"You think of this UnSub as a monster, right?'
"Absolutely. And I hope you people are all Van Helsings.'
Gideon's smile was a crinkly line. "Well, your monster doesn't look like one. He's going to look fairly average.'
"How do you know that?'
"In the reports, there was no mention of attacks on homeless people.'
"Right,' Learman agreed.
"And the suspects show no signs of violence, other than the fatal attack itself, correct?'
"The victims, though homeless, all congregated downtown. Is there always automobile traffic in that part of Lawrence?'
"Some. Less at night, but the homeless tend to sort of stick together…plus, we patrol the downtown pretty thoroughly, round the clock. The city council and the mayor would throw all these indigents out of town, if they had their way.'
"Well,' Gideon said, "if the UnSub is not overpowering his victims with a direct attack, he…we'll call the killer he' for convenience sake, but we don't rule out a woman…'
Learman took his eyes off the road, momentarily. "A woman?'
Gideon held up a hand. "He has to lure his victims. He's going to be personable, able to talk to people who are by nature skittish, and yet not spook them.'
That made sense to Learman. "Could he be one of them? One of the homeless?'
"Interesting thought,' Gideon granted. "But probably not. The bodies have been found in different parts of the city, right?'
"A homeless person would have trouble moving a body around the city.'
"He could have a car,' Learman said.
Gideon said, "He's got his own vehicle—we don't doubt that for a second--but he has to obtain gas, to get around; and he drugs his victims, and he's got to buy the drugs somewhere, assuming he doesn't steal them. Your UnSub isn't necessarily rich, but he likely needs a steady income for this to have been going on for months.'
Learman frowned. "What if he's just pretending to be homeless? Living among his prey to better play the predator?'
Half a smile dug in Gideon's cheek. "See? You're profiling already.'
Learman grinned. "Yeah, guess I am, aren't I?'
And all that he'd heard made sense to Learman; already he was glad he'd called the FBI—he could see these people would at least give him a new perspective.
"All right,' Learman said. "And if you have any questions—'
Farmland had given way to new housing developments.
"Let's start with this one,' Gideon said. "Why did our UnSub stop for three months, then start up again?'
The condemned house was a run-down two-story clapboard in what had probably once been a nice neighborhood. To Special Agent Derek Morgan, this could have been a crack house in his old neighborhood in Chicago; same was true of several others along a street that brought back less than pleasant memories for a guy who had climbed from near poverty to the FBI.
Morgan was behind the wheel of one Tahoe and Hotch the other. Reid and JJ were riding with Hotch while Prentiss sat up front with Morgan. At the airport, the two Tahoes had fallen in line behind the unmarked car, a Crown Vic, driven by their skeptical host, Learman, and followed him and Gideon to this sorry neighborhood.
As they rolled up, figuring out which run-down hovel was their destination required no great deductive skills. What peeling paint remained on the structure had long since gone from white to wet-newspaper gray; the porch had separated and now leaned toward the yard as if trying to sneak away from its broken-down parent. Crime scene tape was drawn across the porch, another long strand tied to plant poles surrounding the yard, already overgrown with spring weeds. Several official CONDEMNED BY THE CITY OF LAWRENCE signs had beaten the crime scene tape to the scene by months.
A few of the neighbors stood some distance away, in yards and on sidewalks, wondering what all the fuss was about. Morgan figured violence on these streets was nothing new, but a parade of police coming to the scene probably was.
Morgan said, "Emily, when we get out, take some pictures of the onlookers, will you? Our killer might be here to see what we find out.'
"Already locked and loaded,' she said with a smile, holding up the small Sony digital camera she'd taken from her purse.
Several squad cars and a crime scene van were parked along the street. Conspicuous by its absence was any ambulance or coroner's van, which would have already hauled the body away.
No big deal, really, Morgan thought. The crime scene unit had no doubt taken plenty of photos, and the BAU would have the chance to study the body at the morgue. Right now, Morgan and his teammates wanted their own look at the crime scene.
Uniformed officers, keeping the neighbors away, were shuffling around the perimeter, guarding the grisly contents inside, not one looking in the direction of the house itself, their focus (as it should be) on the bystanders. In addition a female officer in plainclothes and a male uniformed officer stood guard on the cracked, hole-ridden sidewalk out front. Work lights were going up—the afternoon was easing into dusk.
Learman parked, Hotchner and Morgan pulling in behind him, and soon all were out of their vehicles. While Prentiss got busy snapping digital photos of the gawkers, the rest of the team followed Learman, Gideon right behind their host.
At the curb, a trailer with a generator chugged away, the cable snaking across the yard to disappear down the side of the house.
The uniformed officer on the front walk drifted to one side as the female detective approached; she wore flat, sensible shoes and brown slacks, with a brown blazer, a tan blouse underneath. Her badge dangled at her neck and a holstered automatic bulged on her hip.
Tall and attractive, she was younger than Morgan might have expected for an officer who'd climbed the ranks to detective. Her dark hair was pulled back in a ponytail and large brown eyes peered out through black, hexagonal-shaped glasses; her nose was long, straight, chin rather pointy, her full lips could invite a lingering look from any healthy, heterosexual male, a pitfall Morgan somehow managed to avoid.
Learman said, "This is Detective Warren, my partner.'
"It's Lucy,' she said with a business-like smile, and was then introduced around to, and began shaking hands with, their BAU guests. They all had to speak a little louder than usual, thanks to the grunting generator.
"We can really use your help,' Warren said, shaking hands with Morgan. Her voice was sweet, grip firm, skin warm and soft. "Thanks for making the trip.'
"It's what we do,' he said, flashing an easy smile that had been known to work wonders.
Learman said, "While I came to fetch you guys, Lucy canvassed the neighborhood.'
She nodded wearily.
"How'd that go?' Morgan asked.
"About like you'd expect.' Her smile stopped short of cynicism, but frustration was in good supply. "Nobody saw shit, nobody heard shit, nobody knows shit.'
Morgan grinned. "All three monkeys.'
Her cocked her head. "How's that?'
"See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.'
She chuckled. "Absolutely. Every single monkey.'
"You still did better than I would've,' Learman said with an eye roll. "Around here, I usually get the door shut in my face. I figured sending a pretty girl, uh, female detective around might get better results.'
Lucy Warren gave her partner a look.
"Hey, Luce,' Learman said, hands up in surrender. "It's progress, them talking to you at all.'
Gideon nodded. "Poor people in these neighborhoods are generally a fairly closed society. They don't trust anyone affiliated with the government.'
"Especially cops,' Learman said.
Nodding, Gideon said, "Especially cops. The fact that they did speak with you, Detective Warren, tells us they're concerned about these killings too.'
"You really think so?' Warren asked. "With the rate of violent crime around here, this has their particular attention?'
"I think so. They know that if the UnSub is dumping bodies in their neighborhood, he could easily start looking for his victims here, too.'
Behind the glasses, her eyes tightened. "So, the fact that these people will even talk to me is—'
"A sign of how scared they're becoming,' Gideon finished. He gave up a good-natured grin. "You never know, Detective Warren—they might even have spoken to Detective Learman here. And he's no prettier than I am.'
Everybody smiled a little; the ice had been broken.
Hotchner, who'd been watching (Morgan knew his supervisor was doing on-the-spot profiles of their new colleagues), finally got into the conversation.
"The public's aware of these crimes,' Hotchner said. "What about the homeless? Has the word been gotten out to them?'
Learman shook his head. "If it has, it's not any doing of the PD. Of course, they may have seen the reports in the newspaper or on TV. There are plenty of papers around to scavenge, and the shelters have televisions.'
"They deserve better,' Hotchner said. His dark eyes switched to Jareau, like laser beams tracking to a new position. "JJ, work with Detective Warren to get the news out to the homeless population. They need to find shelter at night and try to stay in groups during the day. This UnSub might strike at any time.'
Running a hand through curly hair, Learman said, "What's behind this thinking? Aren't you only encouraging panic? Not that I'd mind you scaring these people out of our fair city, to be somebody else's problem.'
Morgan caught the barest flicker in Gideon's eyes that registered intense distaste for the detective's remark.
But stupid words from the local detectives they worked with tended to bounce off Hotch like bullets off Superman's chest.
"The more the homeless know,' Hotchner was saying, "the safer they'll be…but it also decreases the number of potential victims.'
"Supply and demand, you mean,' Learman said, getting it. "We decrease his supply, there'll be fewer opportunities for this wacko¬.¬.¬. and more chances for him to screw up.'
With a quick nod, Hotchner returned his gaze to Jareau. "JJ, you know what to do.'
Jareau said, "And I'll do it.' Turning to Detective Warren, she said, "You and I have a lot on our plate, Detective—sooner we can get started back at your station, the better.'
"Ride along with me, then?' Warren asked.
Jareau smiled and nodded, and the two women left. To Morgan, it was as if the sun had slipped under a cloud and left behind a landscape as dreary as the ramshackle house that Detective Learman was gesturing toward.
"This, of course,' Learman said, "is where we found Roger Rondell, our latest body.'
Morgan thought: Not "last' body, but "latest' body, an indicator of how hopeless the case must seem to Learman.
Gideon's eyes appeared almost shut as he studied the exterior of the structure. "How far are we from the other crime scenes?'
"Factory where we found Elizabeth Hawkins is clear across town,' Learman said, pointing vaguely. "Grocery store where John Doe was found is that way, too, but not as far. Junkyard is about two miles north.'
Picture taking done, Prentiss rejoined them and Learman raised the crime scene tape so they could all enter the yard. The jigsaw-puzzle remains of a cement walk bisected the lawn to the sagging porch.
"Any contenders among our sightseers?' Morgan asked.
Prentiss shook her head. "Not right off hand. Pretty much standard crime scene gawkers. Not one had serial killer' tattooed on their forehead.'
Learman led the way up the sidewalk to the decaying porch and lifted the yellow tape as the others ducked and climbed the three stairs. Even though the front door was open, nobody stepped in until Learman did. This remained the detective's crime scene, and they were guests.
Without power, the house was naturally dark, spots of light visible only where the crime scene team's work lights were on, indoors and out.
Stairs to the second floor were immediately to Morgan's left, a living room yawned out to his right. The crime scene team had set up a work light near a doorway that led to an adjoining dining room, and a bright white glow cast a hard dose of reality around the dirty room, across which an electrical cord snaked its way into the dining room.
Judging by the dirt on the windows, and the smell, the place had been unoccupied for years.
"How long since anyone lived here?' Morgan asked the detective.
"Five years since anyone's been in here who was supposed to be,' Learman said. "After that, crack house for a while, but we shut it down. Since then, the occasional homeless person has squatted, but no one has stayed very long.'
Who could blame them? Morgan thought, nostrils twitching at the stench.
The furniture-free living room had ratty carpeting that reeked of urine and vomit. Windows faced the street and, on the far side, the north, provided only a filth-filtered fog that made seeing out (or in) impossible. Numbered orange evidence markers were spotted on the floor near drops of something dark, presumably blood. Near the door to the dining room, a bigger spot, a small puddle, was marked.
The BAU team was very careful where they stepped.
Members of the crime scene team—refugees from a science-fiction film in their Tyvek jump suits, complete with hoods, safety goggles and paper breathing masks--moved in and out of the house occasionally.
Learman said, "There's no place like home. But Kansas or not, don't expect me to click my damn heels together.'
They just looked at him.
"Wizard of Oz?' Learman prodded, then shrugged. "You guys must not get out much.'
Seasoned law-enforcement pro that he was, Morgan had long since stopped reacting to the gallows humor that so many cops fell into when confronted with a grisly crime scene. Of course, most cops encountered crime scenes this gruesome maybe once or twice in their careers, while the members of the BAU team routinely met such carnage.
"Have you developed an idea of what happened in here?' Gideon asked. "Was the murder committed here, or the body just dumped?'
Learman answered by waving for one of the Tyvek-suited crime scene analysts to come over. When the CSA took off his mask, goggles, and hood, he appeared to be in his mid-fifties with graying hair and bifocals that he'd kept on under the oversized goggles. His eyes were birdlike and dark, his nose long, his lips thin and more white than red.
No taller than Morgan, the CSA was slenderer, but still carried an air of strength. He smiled genially. "Wonderful day in the neighborhood,' he said.
Learman said, "This is Captain Dennis Malone, head of the Crime Scene Analysis unit.'
They all shook hands as further introductions were made, then Gideon repeated his question.
"Oh,' Malone said, "the crime was certainly committed here.'
"Where, specifically?' Gideon asked.
Malone spread his hands. "The whole damn house. I've never seen anything like it. Blood in every room—first paint job this place has had in years.'
Reid was squinting and yet his eyes seemed to pop. "Every room? I thought we were dealing with a single victim.'
Shrugging, Malone said, "We are. In the basement—only one we've found so far, anyway. Could be somebody stuffed in a wall or under a floor, I suppose.'
"I see,' Reid said. His head tilted. "Could there have been earlier crimes? Could this have been used by the UnSub as a sort of murder house?'
"I couldn't rule that out,' Malone said. "Not yet anyway…but the blood we found in this house is all fresh. He started in an upstairs bedroom, chased the vic around up there, then down here, through the dining room, into the kitchen, then down into the basement. That's where he finished him.'
Morgan glanced back at the trail of drops across the room and the puddle near the dining room. "The UnSub chased him through the house?'
"Assuming there was one victim, yes,' Malone said. "We won't know for sure until we get the tests back, to match the blood; but the blood trail, the spatter, tell the tale of a chase, yes.'
Learman was frowning. "Was the killer playing some kind of game with his victim?'
Prentiss, frowning yet not wrinkling her brow (How does she do that? Morgan wondered), asked, "Why didn't Rondell just rush out the front door when he came down the stairs? It's right there.'
"Locked,' Malone said. "Back door, too. The killer set this up like a maze of locked and unlocked doors. The vic followed the path that was set up for him…and never had a chance.'
"A sick game,' Learman said, shaking his head.
His face blank, as if the horror were being blocked out, Gideon said, "Sick, by definition. But in practice, a power game. The UnSub was playing God.'
"Power of life and death,' Morgan said.
Gideon's nod was curt. His hands were rubbing together in that thoughtful way that somehow resembled washing them. "Longer the victim ran, the greater his fear…and the more power the UnSub felt. The UnSub knew he was going to kill the victim eventually, but by choosing the moment, got to feel the rush of watching the victim's hope of survival rise and fall.' "Jesus,' Learman said. "This guy is fucking nuts.' Gideon cocked an eyebrow and said, "But that doesn't mean he's insane.' Learman gave the agent a slack-jawed look. "Huh?' Half a smile formed on Gideon's cheek, digging a deep groove. "This UnSub has done everything within his ability to avoid being caught. Though some psychiatrists will argue that a sane person can't commit crimes of this type, our UnSub knows what he's doing is wrong…in the eyes of society at least. Which is why he covers his tracks.' Gideon shrugged a little. "So, yes, let's grant that he's nuts'…but not necessarily criminally insane.'
Hotchner held out an upraised palm as if directing traffic. "It's getting late. In order to cover more ground, we should split up.'
"What configuration?' Reid asked.
"Morgan, you and Gideon stay here with Captain Malone. Detective Learman will guide Prentiss, Reid, and me to the other crime scenes.'
"Good call,' Gideon said.
Learman shrugged and said, "No reason why not.'
Hotchner's mouth tightened into a line that was his version of a professional smile. "Fine. We'll meet back up at police headquarters.'
"Law Enforcement Center,' Learman corrected him. "Sound of that makes the city fathers feel safer…or it has till lately, anyway.'
"Law Enforcement Center it is,' Hotchner said.
When the others had gone, Malone ushered Morgan and Gideon up the stairs, moving carefully to avoid the orange plastic evidence A-frames. A hallway upstairs led to three bedrooms and a bathroom. The crime scene captain escorted them into the master bedroom, also bereft of furniture but with a full array of grimy windows. Perhaps twenty plastic A-frames dotted the floor.
"The first blow was struck in here,' Malone said.
"You sound sure of that,' Morgan said.
"I am. Blood drops are pretty round. Fell pretty straight. I think this blow took the victim by surprise. Most of the rest of the blood drops around the house splattered at an angle indicating the victim was on the move. The blood drops in this room start coming at an angle after the original spot. Once the vic realized what was going on, he took off.'
Frowning, Morgan asked, "Why didn't the vic run down the stairs immediately?'
The captain led them back to the door and pointed to more A-frames on the floor of the hallway. "Before he got to the stairs, the killer got him again. The second wound slowed him down. There are fingerprints and smears on the wall—I think he was going for the stairs—but after the killer stabbed him the second time, the killer must have shoved or thrown the vic into the second bedroom, then repeated the process with the third one, then the bathroom. The victim was stabbed once in each room, then basically stumbled down the stairs to the main floor.'
The captain in Tyvek led the way back down into the living room.
"The first wounds were fairly shallow,' Malone said, "but the one by the dining room door, that one was deeper… There's more blood.'
They moved into the dining room, another bare room, this one with the expected grimy windows on one wall; now, instead of blood drops, a trail of blood made itself distinct. Another work light was set up in here, the electrical cord winding into the kitchen. The A-frames were in here marking blood spots, too.
"Have you found any evidence that wasn't blood?' Morgan asked.
"Fingerprints upstairs, if they don't all belong to the victim, that is. Some footprints in several rooms that don't match the victim, but some of those could be from squatters or somebody else who broke in.' Malone sighed. "Bottom line though, if the killer isn't Peter Pan, we've got his footprints somewhere.'
Morgan was shaking his head. "Gideon, there's something way off about this…'
Gideon nodded as if in full agreement, but nonetheless asked, "What?'
Morgan's hands seemed to mold something in the air. "The bodies are slashed, stabbed, carved up—and that points to a disorganized UnSub. But everything else points to this guy being highly organized.'
"Still in control of his hunting,' Gideon said, in a voice hushed enough for church. "Yet the killings grow increasingly more frenzied.' Gideon turned to Malone. "Do you concur, Captain?'
"I do. The first couple were bad enough, but nothing like this. This is a goddamn horror show.'
Gideon's eyes went to slits again. "He's starting to unravel. And that means the pace of his killings is going to pick up.'
"Hell,' Morgan said. "You think he'll go wholesale homicidal? Are we looking at Richard Speck here?'
Gideon shook his head. "I don't know…but a spree of killings wouldn't surprise me. He's feeding a monster inside himself…but the more he feeds it, the hungrier it gets.'
They went into the kitchen to find more blood, and a plastic A-frame in the left basin of the two-basin sink. That evidence marker lay next to about an inch of a pinky fingertip.
"Probably a defensive wound,' Malone said. "Killer sliced it clean off.'
"In a frenzy by then,' Gideon said quietly.
Morgan peered out a back door that overlooked a fenced-in backyard. "Door locked?' Morgan asked.
"Locked,' Malone confirmed.
"How did the UnSub and his victim get in?'
"That,' Malone said, "is downstairs.'
They trooped down to the basement. The body had been removed, the outline still on the filthy cement floor in chalk. A massive pool of blood shimmered near the chalk outline.
"Damn,' Morgan breathed. "The UnSub drained him.'
"Slit the femoral artery,' Malone said, matter-of-fact.
Morgan's eyebrows climbed. "That would do it."
"Weak as he was, he probably bled out in a relatively short time.'
Above them, a window had been broken in, probably kicked. The windows in the basement were surprisingly good size.
"The UnSub probably forced the victim through,' Morgan said.
"Or,' Gideon said, "the UnSub could have seen Mr. Rondell break into this house, seeking shelter, and then followed him in.'
Morgan flinched. "Into a locked, enclosed place, where he could play his sick game? But isn't that too big a coincidence? That a killer could follow a homeless person into a house that fits perfectly with his game plan?'
"The house could be a trap,' Gideon said. "He watches the house. Waits for a homeless person to seek shelter.'
Morgan froze. "A mouse and cheese.'
"And a cat,' Gideon said.
"Maybe this will affect your thinking,' Malone said, and pointed to a small white blob on the floor.
Morgan and Gideon both squatted to see the object.
"Cotton ball,' Morgan said. "What's that on it—blood?'
"Wrong color,' Gideon said. "Looks more like makeup.'
Shrugging, Gideon said, "Why not? He's cleaning them up, shaving them, washing them, dressing them, why not a little makeup? It's all part of the delusion.'
"What delusion is that?' Malone asked.
"We don't know yet,' Gideon admitted, getting to his feet, as did Morgan. "But we better find out fast. He's growing more violent, and I'm afraid it might not be long before he loses control, bypasses the care and organization he's thus far exercised, and goes straight to the killing.'
"After a certain point,' Morgan said glumly, "killing becomes the only thing he has. His only reality.'
Malone was frowning in thought. "That will make him easier to catch, though, right?'
Gideon shook his head, but not in disagreement. "Isn't worth the price.'
"More people dying. Maybe quite a few more.' Gideon's smile was ghastly. "We would like to catch him before that happens.'
Morgan drew some breath in and let it out, a fairly risky proposition in this odorous hovel. "Are we ready to get back to the station?'
Gideon's smile was mild. "Don't you mean the Law Enforcement Center?'
"Right,' Morgan said with a small laugh.
"We should head over,' Gideon said. "I want to see what the others have found out.'
"I'm not even sure I know what we've found out,' Morgan admitted.
Gideon dropped into full professor mode. "We know our UnSub's fantasy is even more sophisticated than we thought.'
He pointed at the cotton ball.
"We'll test that right away,' Malone said, nodding. "Let you know what it is for sure.'
Back to Morgan, Gideon said, "We also know that he's devolving. There's no telling how long before there's nothing left of him but the monster, and once that happens…'
Morgan shook his head. "We can't let that happen.'
"We can't,' Gideon agreed.
On their way to the Law Enforcement Center, Hotchner called and asked them to take a detour to the morgue.
All trips to the morgue, Morgan thought, are detours...
In the basement of the Lawrence Memorial Hospital, the city morgue bore the usual antiseptic odor and, typically, the fluorescent lighting bled color from everything, including the already pale green tile walls.
Hotchner, Prentiss, Reid and Detective Learman were waiting for them when Morgan and Gideon came in. They were in an outer room with double doors in front of them and a glass-enclosed office to their right. A sofa and a couple of chairs surrounded a coffee table that, like in any doctor's waiting room, held an array of out-of-date magazines. Lights were on in the office, but because he hadn't gotten to the window, Morgan couldn't see if anyone was within.
"Where's Malone?' Learman asked.
"Still at the house,' Gideon said.
"How in the hell did you find the hospital without him?' Learman asked.
Morgan grinned. "We're detectives.'
Detectives with GPS.
"Why are we here?' Gideon asked.
Dark-suited Hotchner, whose mortician manner was ideal for the morgue, said, "I thought it might do us some good to see the bodies up close.'
Learman said, "I'll get Ken.' He went over and knocked on the door of the glass office, then waved through the window.
A moment later, a slim gray-haired Asian man in green hospital scrubs came into the waiting room, bifocals on a chain around his neck.
Learman said, "This is Dr. Kenji Ohka, medical examiner.'
"A pleasure,' Dr. Ohka said with no trace of either sarcasm or, for that matter, an accent. Born in the United States, Morgan would guess.
After introductions all around, the doctor led them through the double doors, hitting several light switches. Fluorescents slowly flickered to life.
One wall was home to the familiar stainless steel doors of the file-cabinet-like crypt drawers with two stainless steel autopsy tables nearby, each with a sheet-covered customer. To the left of the tables, two gurneys held two more sheet-shrouded bodies.
Moving to the nearest table, Dr. Ohka drew back the sheet to the top of a dead woman's breasts. "This is Elizabeth Hawkins.'
They fanned out around the table.
Morgan looked down at a petite blonde, her hair framing a serene face, the eyes closed. A thin, dark line traversed the width of her throat.
"The COD was the cutting of her throat,' Ohka said, his voice as calm and quiet as if reporting the arrival of the evening newspaper on his porch.
Hotchner prompted, "There were other wounds though…'
Ohka nodded and pulled the sheet down farther. She had been stabbed half a dozen times, although to Morgan, the blows didn't look that severe.
"The killer stabbed her repeatedly,' the medical examiner said, "but not one of the blows, in and of itself, was enough to kill her.'
"Superficial,' Gideon said, as if to himself.
Ohka nodded. "The stab wounds indeed had little depth. As you can see here...' He pointed to three wounds on the left side, mid-torso. "…all three times the perpetrator stabbed her mid-section, he hit ribs and stopped. The same with the two blows up here…' He pointed to two wounds on her chest, one between her breasts, the other just above the left. "…when he hit her sternum and backed off. The right side blow, lacerated her appendix; but with prompt medical attention, she would have easily survived. Even the throat cutting was somewhat…timid. Several starts and stops, but he finally managed to accomplish his goal.'
The medical examiner covered Elizabeth Hawkins with the sheet again and moved to victim number two, their John Doe. They moved to that table and again fanned out around it as Ohka lifted the sheet.
Morgan saw a tired man who looked older than the fifty-two or so his age had been estimated. His hair had grayed and he wore the pouchy face and broken blood vessels of a hardcore drunk.
"The killer used a wider blade, a bigger knife, this time—though some hesitation was still evident. He stabbed softer areas this time, but still managed to not inflict serious injury until he moved around back.'
Ohka rolled the man onto his side. Rigor mortis had passed and the body had been embalmed.
"In the back, he punctured both kidneys, and this blow higher up... ' He pointed to a wide wound halfway up the man's back on the left side. "...was made with greater force, breaking a rib and penetrating the heart, finally causing death.'
With a lilt in his voice wrong for his words, Reid said, "He's getting angrier.'
"And perfecting his craft,' Gideon added.
Morgan shook his head and pointed to the neck wound. "Cutting the throat didn't kill him?'
"No,' the doctor said quietly. "It was the wound in back. The throat cutting was post-mortem. An afterthought.'
"Or perhaps,' Reid offered, "a practice stroke for his next attack.'
Dr. Ohka covered that body and moved to the gurney with the third victim. They followed again and he drew back the sheet to reveal an African-American woman: Paula Creston. Pretty and maybe, Morgan estimated, twenty-eight or so. She, too, had a wound across her throat.
"She fought back more than the others,' Ohka said.
"Good for her,' Prentiss said softly.
Ohka took the corpse's right wrist and lifted it. "She had defensive wounds on both hands and both arms, something the others didn't have. I suppose I should mention here that they have all tested positive for Flunitrazepam, or as you probably know it, Rohypnol.'
"Rondell, too?' Hotchner asked.
"His test isn't back yet. Probably fairly safe, for now, to operate on the assumption that his test will be positive, as well.'
"How much of the drug?' Gideon asked.
Ohka smiled faintly, approving of the question. "That's the interesting part—the dosages are very low. Not enough to knock out a normal person, but certainly enough to make the victims—with the exception of Ms. Creston here—quite pliable.'
"Was that by design?' Hotchner asked.
"Very likely,' Dr. Ohka said. "The dosages were about the same in the previous three victims. I won't know about victim number four for a day or two.'
Returning to the body at hand, the medical examiner said, "Again, several non-fatal stab wounds…but since this victim fought back, that might have been more a matter of circumstance than plan. As they struggled, the perpetrator got more and more agitated, the attack becoming wilder and wilder; but he still couldn't kill her by stabbing her. Frustrated, he slit her throat. That attack was far more savage than the others. He apparently lost control. It doesn't look as bad now as it did, when I had it opened. Actually, he came within inches of decapitating her.'
The medical examiner covered the body and the group moved to the final tray and Ohka drew back the sheet on Roger Rondell.
The man was in his forties and had, truth be told, cleaned up pretty good. Morgan wondered how long the man had actually been on the street. Rondell looked far less haggard than the others.
"I've only done a preliminary exam, so far,' Dr. Ohka said. "But I can tell you, even though there's more violence here than in the others, the frenzy is far more controlled—wounds made by someone who wanted to inflict pain and not immediately kill the victim.'
"He wanted to see the fear,' Gideon said. "He wanted to hurt this victim as a show of power. Wanted his victim to know that the UnSub, and the UnSub alone, would decide whether or not the victim would die…and when.'
"It's apparent in his work,' Dr. Ohka said, nodding. He might have been discussing an art gallery showing. "There must be a dozen wounds that would have been increasingly painful with each new strike. Finally, when he was done toying with the victim, he quickly, smoothly, severed the femoral artery. There was no hesitation this time. He had his opening for a kill, and took it.'
Silence draped the somber, steel-dominated room.
Finally Learman said, "Thanks, Ken.'
Learman and the ME looked toward Gideon, as if the profiler might also want to thank Ohka; but, Morgan knew, the very civilized Gideon often dispensed with social niceties when stopping a monster like this was on their "to do' list.
"We've got to catch this one quick,' Gideon said. "His time frame is accelerating and he's perfecting his craft.'
"That doesn't sound good,' Learman said.
Gideon said, "That's because it isn't.'
As they finally made their way to the Law Enforcement Center, Morgan wondered just how many more innocents would have to die before they took down this bastard. He hoped none, but the truth was, the BAU team was just getting started, and the UnSub? He was way out ahead of them.
Sooner or later they would track him down, of this Morgan was confident.
He only hoped it would be sooner, because later might be too late for any number of homeless people whose existence was already a living hell—a dying hell seemed too much to ask.