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I lie on top of my bed fully clothed, and breathe deeply. I'm hopeful rather than optimistic, hopeful that something I see may help save her.
"Her" is a Montana girl called Tabitha, the only file in my Inbox and the last case I'll be profiling in my current job at the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico. Tabitha disappeared on her way home from school in Helena and it's the second disappearance in the area, with the first happening six months ago. The case details swirl in my mindthe locations; the crime-scene photos; the police reports; and the photos of both girls, happy and smiling for their school portraits.
I take another deep breath and let it out slowly. Like the first girl, Tabitha's eleven years old, an age that many predators like because girls are on the brink of adolescence, showing the first signs of physical development. I shudder at the thought of what he, whoever he is, would be doing to her nowif she's even still alive. They never found the first girl.
I clear my mind of its daily noise, hoping something will come to me. The past four months I've been in training. Just like I exercise my muscles, I've learned to exercise whatever part of my brain it is that lets me tune in to other people's livesand deaths. The images come to me in either dreams, or as waking visions. But they're not just imagesthey're all the emotions of the situation too. Sometimes the vision or dream is played out like a movie and I'm watching the events unfold, but often I'm in the killer's or the victim's shoes. I've come a long way since I realized I had this gift, accepting and learning to control it more. But ultimately, inducing visions is still a bit of a crapshoot. And if I do see something, it may be unrelated, or just a replay of what we know but sometimes it gives us something meaningful.
The discovery of my ability has been a rocky road. I had my first premonition at eight, but was so distressed by it that my subconscious repressed the memory, and my gift. It wasn't until nearly a year ago that my latent abilities resurfaced with the D.C. Slasher case when a serial killer got close. But after the case my sixth sense dived underground again until I was out in the field, watching a body being uncovered. The vic was on his back, his arms tucked underneath him, and a bright red love heart had been drawn on his chest with body paint. But suddenly I wasn't looking at a dead body, I was having sex with the victim and he was very much alive. For a few seconds, I was the killer. Over the next few weeks the visions kept comingthey were back with a vengeance. With the help of Darren, whose aunt had been a professional psychic, I realized that being at the scene, instead of viewing crime-scene photos months or years later like I normally do, gave me a connection to the case. And even though I have some control over my gift now, my "remote" episodes still don't seem to be as strong or detailed as when I'm at a crime scene in the field.
Finally, the dizziness that usually accompanies my visions engulfs me. I see flashes from the Montana case, flashes of things that aren't in any police report or crime-scene photo. At first the images are of Tabitha's life she's blowing out candles at a birthday party, she's playing at school, she's giving her mom and dad a kiss goodnightbut then the visions become more sinister. A car with tinted windows. The passenger window glides down. Tabitha moves closer to the car. Then she's in a dark room. I don't know if the scene's from the past or presentI can never tell. She may be cowering in the room now, or she may already be dead.
I concentrate on the dark room, zeroing in on what I know will be important details. A single window is boarded up, I think from the outside. I can make out the silhouettes of a bed and a toilet, but there's nothing else to help me in the room. No wallpaper or anything else on the walls, no other furniture nothing. So I shift my attention to the house. What's it like? Where is it? I'm rewarded with a flash of the house's exterior. This image only pops into my head for a second. When nothing else follows, I break my concentration on getting a vision and think back to the scene. Using my memory, I re-create the image, getting a fix on things. A small log cabin, surrounded by woods. Out front is a dark gray car. I can't make out the license plate.
I jot it all down in a notebook beside my bed before returning to my relaxation techniques.
Another ten minutes go by, but nothing else comes. I open my eyes and sit on the edge of the bed, still a little dizzy and now also feeling drained. I would have liked to have gotten more, but then again I'd always like more. If I'd been at the place where Tabitha went missing, maybe the vision would have been more vivid, more accurate or more detailed. Then we'd have a better chance of finding Tabitha, of saving her. And that's why I had to ask for the transfer. I need to be in the field again, where I can do the most good with this gift of mine.
I look around my half-packed bedroom. Another week and I'll be in Los Angeles, working out of the Bureau's L.A. Field Office. It took a couple of months for the right position to come up, but the L.A. profiling job was a perfect fit. And the West Coast means warmer weather and living slightly closer to my family in Australia.
Maybe in a few years I won't need to be out in the field anymore, maybe by then I will have learned enough about my abilities to get the same vivid sensations simply by looking at photos. Then I might come back and work for the Behavioral Analysis Unit again. I'd like that.
I arrive at the Quantico offices at 8:00 a.m. and fire up my computer. It whirs to life as I make my way to our small kitchenette and coffee. I end up with the dregs from the bottom of the pot, and set another jug in motion. Back at my desk I find my replacement, Bessie Jackson, sitting in my spot.
Bessie is a five-five African-American dynamo with pure muscle packed tightly around her short frame. She's about my age, midthirties, and has been working in the Bureau as a field agent for nearly ten years. Making this team has probably been her dream for most of that time. The Bureau has profilers stationed at our busier field offices, but most profilers start off in the Behavioral Analysis Unit. If you want to be a profiler, you need to focus on getting a job on this team. Everyone wants into this unit, despite the macabre nature of most of our cases. The Behavioral Analysis Unit tends to get the worst of the worst, almost exclusively violent serial offenders. Occasionally we may get called in to profile a series of armed robberies or a kidnapping, but most of our work is of a much more gruesome nature.
"Sorry." Bessie stands up. "I just had to make a call."
I smile. "That's okay." I'd hoped the Bureau would find a replacement for me quickly, to give me time to hand over my cases properly, but sharing a desk is going beyond the call of duty. At least they managed to get a laptop for Bessie. Otherwise the situation over the past week would have been unbearable.
Bessie returns to the desk behind mine, which was cleared of junk especially for her. After today, the desk situation won't be an issue. Today I wrap up the Montana profile and officially finish all my desk work. Then tomorrow I've been assigned to entertain Loretta Black. Great. Babysitting a famous crime novelist isn't exactly my ideal way to spend my last day at the FBI Academy.
Coffee in hand, I go back to my profile. In this case, the only crime scene we have is where we found Tabitha's school bag, where we assume she was abducted. The street was between her school and her home, a journey she often made by herself.
I move on to the victimology to get an insight into the victim. By getting to know the victim, we can understand the perpetrator. Based on information we have about Tabitha, I don't believe she would have gotten into that car without good reason. She was a smart girl who tended to be shy rather than outgoing. From my vision, I know she approached the car willingly, but the evidence of her school bag at the scene indicates that some force was involvedwhy else would she leave her bag? Tabitha was very close to her family and I can imagine the perpetrator using this to his advantage, perhaps telling her that one of her parents was ill. The family did have a safety-word system in place, but something made Tabitha move closer to the car, even though the man couldn't have known the family's special code word. Maybe Tabitha knew him, maybe not. Once she was close enough, he was able to grab her. As a child, she's a high-risk victim trusting and innocent. But most importantly, how can an eleven-year-old girl physically fight off a grown man? It sickens me to think about guys like this perp. I focus on the profile, trying not to get caught up in how I feel about the crime and about the little girl.
Next I would normally look at forensics, but in the case of Tabitha we don't have anythingno body, no fibers, no blood, no DNAso I move on to the police report. There were no witnesses to Tabitha's abduction, at least none that the police could find, and the police have included a basic sketch of the area and some general neighborhood information. I absorb it all, getting a feel for the location.
The final profiling input is the photos, which in some ways are the single most important factor. Like the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words. Generally, each crime scene will have many photos. A complex murder case could have hundreds. But in this case, with no body, the photos I have only help to paint a picture of the neighborhood, helping me understand how it was possible for the perp not only to fit in, but to take Tabitha unnoticed.
Tabitha is only half the picture, and before I can think about drafting the offender profile, I need to get to know the first victim, Sue-Anne. Again, I go over the victim-ology, the police report, the case photos and the foren-sicsor lack of it. Like Tabitha, Sue-Anne was eleven years old and grabbed on the way home from school. The only differences between the cases are that Sue-Anne had stayed back for an after-school practice, and there's nothing to pinpoint the exact abduction site. She was last seen by a school friend just after 5:00 p.m. out the front of the school. She never made it home, and was abducted somewhere during the two-mile walk, again with no witnesses. As far as the police were able to establish, the girls didn't know each other or have any other connection with one another. They lived ten miles apart and attended different schools. But certainly, looking at their photos, we have a victim type: long blond hair, slim but athletic builds and girls who, unlike their peers, actually seemed to dress their age.
For both girls I'm already assuming the worstkidnap, rape then murder. It's got all the hallmarks of a sexual predator targeting young girls. And statistics tell us that during a stranger-child abduction, most of the victims are killed within an hour or two. Still, there's hope yet, at least for Tabitha. Our guy's differenthe keeps them for longer than that. Why else would he take them to the cabin I saw in my vision? But how long does he keep them for? While I can't answer that question, I know one thing for surehe's going to keep going until we stop him. And if he escalates, which he might, the time between abductions will increasenot a comforting thought for Montana families.
The last thing I need to consider before drafting the actual profile is the interaction between the girls and their abductor. This is always an extremely important factor when assessing a crime and drafting a profile. Both girls were smart enough, and sensible enough, not to get into a stranger's car. So what went wrong? Or did they know their abductor? Two possibilities emerge. One, a killer who's composed and convincing, so much so that he's able to persuade the girls that he's been sent by their families. In this case, part of his stalking process would include gathering enough information about the families that he could carry it off. He'd have to mention both parents by their first names, maybe pretend he worked with one of them, or drop another relative's name or some other pertinent information. The second possibility is that the girls knew the killer, perhaps only in passing. Maybe they met him at a barbecue or through friends. But even so, our perp followed the girls' routines carefully. They weren't victims of opportunity, these were planned abductions, carefully tied in to the times the girls would be walking home from school. And once the girls were in the car, he could drop the ruse, if there was one, or even simply knock them unconscious and push them onto the car floor, out of sight of any nosy motorists. The abductions were fast and well-planned, especially given there were no witnesses.
With all my background work finished, I'm ready to paint a picture of the Montana perp. The standard profiling process can take anything from hours to days, depending on the complexity of the case, the number of victims and offenders, etc. I've allocated one more day to Tabitha and Sue-Annetoday.