Kill Gameby Francine Pascal
The greatest weapon against a serial killer?
A girl with no fear.
Gaia Moore isn't like anyone else in the world.
She's trained in ten different martial arts. She has a sharp mind, and an even sharper tongue. As a teenager she cut class to bust gang members and drug dealers on the streets of New York City. And now Gaia's been recruited to join the/b>… See more details below
The greatest weapon against a serial killer?
A girl with no fear.
Gaia Moore isn't like anyone else in the world.
She's trained in ten different martial arts. She has a sharp mind, and an even sharper tongue. As a teenager she cut class to bust gang members and drug dealers on the streets of New York City. And now Gaia's been recruited to join the world's leading crime-fighting organization.
At FBI training camp in Quantico, Gaia will become a part of an unparalleled team. She'll learn the strict codes and procedures of the FBI. She'll be pushed to her body and mind's utmost limits.
She'll learn how to hunt serial killers.
And she will catch one.
Read an Excerpt
Gaia Moore, FBI.
Special Agent Gaia Moore.
Well, today's the day I say those words out loud for the first time. And try to sound like I mean it. I'm finally carrying a badge and a gun. (A fake gun, that is. I've had a long talk with myself, and I think I'm going to be okay around fake guns. They're filled with paint pellets. Paint pellets don't cause senseless murders. Paint pellets don't cut short innocent lives.)
I think my dad would be proud. Fake gun and all.
I was thinking about him as I crossed the highway and entered Hogan's Alley. The gun straps under my arm, in a leather cross-draw shoulder holster that attaches to my belt and reaches around my back. You can wear the straps under a jacket and nobody will see them; that's the point. The badge is folded in a leather case in my back pocket. I can feel the equipment's weight as I move around. If Dad saw me right now, he would know -- if he were standing right there, with his sad eyes squinting in the sun, he would look at me, and his first thought would be, Shoulder holster -- right-hand cross draw. Government issue -- probably a Walther automatic.
And would he be proud? Would this be what he wanted?
Would he understand why I had to do this by myself, without his involvement? I would like to know the answer to that, actually.
The simple fact is, this is much more confusing than I thought it would be. And it's already much harder. Yesterday I thought, fine -- just run faster, jump higher, punch harder, kick more accurately, and think more quickly. But there's more to it than that -- a lot more. For instance, I have to deal with people directly -- I can't run away from them while pretending to run toward them, the way I've done with so many people in my life.
With my teammates right now, that may not be so easy. I like Kim -- he seems very sweet, and I can already tell his mind is like a laser, focusing in on everyone else's personalities. And Catherine's great. I wish they hadn't seen me make a fool of myself yesterday. I thought Will was the big show-off -- but it turns out that if anyone's been showing off, it's probably me.
Will. I don't know why we're on the same team, but his superior attitude is a distraction I don't need. I've got to concentrate on solving this crime, not proving anything or competing with anyone.
Except maybe that's the point. Am I here to prove something? To myself, to Dad, to Will, to Agent Bishop, to Agent Malloy? Can I win the game? Can I win without proving anything -- can I prove anything without winning?
I don't know.
But one thing's for sure -- it's absolutely clear in my head as the four of us walk in a line across the road and step between the buildings on the perimeter of this fictional town "Hogan's Alley." I'm not going to make any more mistakes. I'm going to walk into this fake-ass town with my badge and gun, and I'm going to catch a killer.
Death By Disembowelment
The bell rang out, as clear and loud as a fire alarm, echoing in the crisp, morning air.
They had walked into a wide, treeless town square. Once they were out of view of the official FBI buildings, the illusion was complete. Hogan's Alley wasn't like some strip of fake buildings at Universal Studios. The trainees could have been in any American small town. Catherine saw a barbershop, a bookstore, a small bank. There were newspaper vending machines on the corners, and a band shell in the center of the small civic park at the end of the town square. Cars were parked up and down the main street.
Gaia, Will, Kim, and Catherine stood there, looking around. There were a few passersby strolling down the sidewalks but not that much pedestrian traffic. At the other end of the square Catherine could see one of the other teams of four -- the competition.
"So what do we do?" Catherine asked.
Will shrugged. "What do special agents do before anything happens?"
"Stand around looking useless?" Gaia said pleasantly. "But then, you already know that, don't you?"
"Well, since you're clearly watchin' every move I make, you tell me," Will answered.
"Is there something we're supposed to see?" Kim asked Will. He was shading his eyes, gazing up and down the street. "Some detail we're supposed to pick up?"
He's asking Will, Catherine noticed. Will's established that he's the observational wizard -- Kim's acknowledging that. Catherine also noticed that Gaia chose that moment to turn away, as if she was wincing. Catherine was confused. Was Kim doing it on purpose? Trying to irritate Gaia?
Or was Kim not thinking about Gaia at all? Was he just focused on winning the game?
"I can't think of anything," Will said. The wind made his T-shirt flap against his shoulder muscles. "I think we just wait."
"Did Bishop give any specifics?" Gaia asked. "Did she say what -- ?"
Catherine's cell phone rang.
"Hello? Um -- Sanders here," Catherine said, answering the phone. The other three watched her expectantly.
"Agent Sanders, this is Sheriff Landy," a rough male voice told her over the phone. It was a bad connection. "The regional FBI headquarters gave me your cell phone number -- I hope that's all right."
"Yes -- go on."
"Agent Sanders, we've had a violent homicide," Sheriff Landy continued. If he was an actor, he was very good; to Catherine's ears, he sounded completely real. "Circumstances of the murder are -- " Hiss! A blast of cell phone static obscured the sheriff's voice for a moment. " -- Take a look."
"I'm sorry, Sheriff; I lost some of that," Catherine said, squinting impatiently and shielding her other ear with her hand. "A homicide -- "
"Just please come to the police station as quickly as you can, Agent Sanders. Frankly, we can't make heads or tails of this -- it's pretty gruesome."
Catherine slapped the phone shut. "Police station," she told the others. They all looked around, and then Kim pointed -- a low building with long white columns along its facade bore an engraved sign that read Police Station. Without missing a beat, they started walking four abreast in that direction.
"Did they give any details?" Gaia asked. Catherine shook her head.
"A single homicide?" Will asked in his Farm Belt accent, which Catherine had to admit she found charming. "And they've moved the body?"
"He didn't say. Damn phone -- I was losing him."
"How did they get the number?" Kim asked as they arrived at the police station entrance. Will held the door for Catherine and Gaia -- Gaia clearly didn't like this, but she acquiesced.
"They gave me the phone. It's a private network for the game," Catherine explained.
"Interesting that they gave it to you," Kim noted.
Catherine nodded. "Something tells me communication problems are part of the game."
"Agent Sanders?" the sheriff's voice echoed at them the moment the four of them had arrived in the cool, air-conditioned police station lobby, before their eyes had even adjusted to the darkness. Catherine had never felt more awake, she realized absently, standing up straighter as the sheriff came toward them out of the shadows. With surprise, Catherine recognized one of the "gunmen" from the previous day. He was using a different voice, and he was dressed differently, but it was the same actor. "Thank you so much for coming."
"Sheriff, these are Special Agents Moore, Lau, and Taylor," Catherine said.
"Don't worry, Sheriff," Will said smoothly, stepping forward and smiling. "My colleagues and I will get to the bottom of this."
"Well, I do appreciate it," the sheriff told Will. "I sure am glad to see some FBI agents, I can tell you that, sir."
Kim glanced at Will, and Catherine had the same thought. Is he playing dominance games? Is he showing off for Gaia? They didn't have time for that. Or is he just giving the sheriff a reassuring "alpha male" presence to deal with?
"What's the current status of the investigation?" Catherine asked.
"Local police completed their crime scene investigation yesterday." Sheriff Landy was taking them toward a door with a pebbled-glass panel that read Sheriff's Office. "The body was brought here last night. We've not gotten our lab results back yet, but there's a great deal of confusing forensic evidence. By yesterday evening the investigation had yielded not one useful clue, and we began to worry that too much time was slipping away and the trail was becoming cold. At ten this morning Deputy Linden formally recommended that we call in the FBI since it was clear that we weren't getting anywhere at all. I don't mind saying, we're stumped, ma'am. And we've got a grief-stricken family to deal with, too. Such a young boy -- what a tragic waste."
They came into the sheriff's office. He gestured them toward a row of four chairs. Of course, Catherine thought. Four-man teams. She was trying not to think about what they were really doing -- to bury herself in this fictional investigation -- but she kept noticing details like that.
"Are these the crime scene photos?" Kim asked, reaching for a thick stack of photographs on the sheriff's desk. "May we see them?"
They began leafing through the photographs, handing them around. Catherine braced herself, taking a deep breath. It's going to be bloody, she warned herself. Get ready.
She wasn't wrong.
The first picture was of a young boy's bedroom, probably on the second floor of a suburban house. Catherine guessed that the inhabitant was a teenager -- in his early teens. Sadly, she was reminded of her college friends, the computer "geeks" with whom she'd spent so much of her time. This is what their rooms would have looked like, she thought. When they were young.
There was a Christina Aguilera poster on the wall next to a Star Trek poster showing Seven of Nine. There was a Gateway personal computer -- peering at the picture, Catherine quickly determined that there was nothing unusual about the machine. There was a bookshelf stuffed with paperbacks. The other shelves were untidy, covered with baseball mitts, comic books, colorful T-shirts.
You're stalling, Catherine told herself. Look in the middle.
She looked in the middle of the picture. Her breathing stopped, and she felt like a cold wave was passing over her.
"Police logged a 911 call at seven-twenty from the James Hill residence," the sheriff told them. He was reaching for
a knob on a reel-to-reel tape deck on his desk. "This is
Beep! "Nine one one; what's the emergency?" A tinny-sounding operator came over the sheriff's speakers.
"My son -- !" a woman's voice screamed. The sound went right through Catherine. She had never in her life heard a scream like that, and if it were up to her, she never would again. The woman was sobbing, choking, and screaming at the same time. "Oh my GOD -- my -- s-son -- Nathan -- "
"He's dead; he's d-dead; oh Jesus -- " A man's voice in the background was interrupting. Glancing over, Catherine saw Kim squinting and leaning forward, concentrating on the voices.
"Ma'am, please give us your address."
"Nathan!!! Nathan!!!" the woman screamed. There was a fumbling noise as the phone was roughly grabbed away.
"Two twenty-six Emerald Lane," a sobbing male voice interrupted. "Oh G-God, no, no -- "
"Jim, he's dead -- oh G -- "
Beep! The sound stopped. The reels of the tape machine kept spinning silently until the sheriff reached to turn them off.
Nathan Hill was stretched out faceup across the carpet on the floor of his bedroom. He was fully dressed in jeans, a dark green flannel shirt, and a blue windbreaker. An enormous dark red stain spread out from his torso. His arms were spread left and right, palms upward, hands clenched as if in pain. His mouth was frozen open as if in a scream, and his head was thrown backward.
The boy's chest was ripped open. His ribs had been cracked apart as if with an automotive jack. The blood was everywhere; it had clearly spouted like a fountain, drenching the bedsheets, the wall, the carpet. A spray of drying, darkening crimson had spattered across Christina Aguilera's navel -- at first glance, Catherine hadn't even noticed.
"Officers Reardon and McCormack arrived on the scene at eight-o-five and quickly determined that Mr. and Mrs. Hill were unable to participate in the investigation due to their extreme emotional distress," Sheriff Landy went on in his dry, accented voice. "They were moved here to the precinct house as soon as was convenient, but there wasn't much questioning we could do; I understand that both parents had to be sedated."
The next photograph was a close-up of the body.
It's not real. It's not real, Catherine told herself furiously. She felt very sure that she was about to vomit. She was swallowing over and over like one did on an airplane, trying to interrupt her gagging reflex. That's not really a dead kid. This whole thing is just a game. It's just a --
And then she firmly stopped herself. That was no way to be thinking. It was technically correct...but in the long run it was a mistake. She had to react as if this were real. They all did. Because that was the only way they'd ever be ready to face photographs like this when it was real.
"The medical examiner hasn't completed his report," the sheriff was telling them. Will was taking notes, Catherine noticed. "But it seems to be exactly what it looks like: death by disembowelment. There are no poisons, no toxins, no other wounds besides the ones you see."
The wounds Catherine could see were plenty -- they would have killed anyone. Poor fourteen-year-old Nathan Hill looked like he'd been attacked with an outboard motor or a lawn mower. It was that bad. His intestines were rolling from his punctured abdomen.
"The parents," Gaia said. "How did they discover the body? Did they wake up and find him?"
Good question, Catherine thought. It had occurred to her, too -- wouldn't the kid have screamed? Wouldn't everyone in a block radius have heard his screams?
"We haven't gotten any useful information from the parents," Sheriff Landy drawled. "We won't anytime soon, either, judging from their mental state."
"Hmmm." Kim spoke so quietly that he drew everyone's attention. He was leaning forward, his glossy black hair falling over his eyes as he stared at another one of the photographs. Glare from the window shone on the picture's surface: Catherine couldn't make it out.
"This is interesting," Kim said. "Look."
He held up the photograph. The others looked at it. It showed the opposite bedroom wall -- the one that hadn't been visible in the preceding pictures. The wall was unadorned, which was probably why the killer had chosen it for what he'd done.
A word was painted in blood on the wall. It was very neatly done: the letters looked to be about two feet tall, all capitals. There were drips of darkening, brownish blood trailing downward on the wall. The word was
Above the word was a cross, also painted in blood.
Catherine, Will, Gaia, and Kim all looked at each other. Catherine couldn't read the others' minds, but she had a pretty good idea what they were thinking because she was thinking it, too. She was completely stumped.
We're supposed to figure out who did this? And CATCH them?
She didn't have the slightest idea what to do first. It was very unsettling. Catherine knew she was an exceptional problem solver, but the problems she excelled at solving involved microchips and Ethernet cables and cable modems and CD-ROMs, not blood and strewn intestines and screaming parents driven nearly insane by grief. The gore was much more unsettling than she'd expected -- and she was hoping they'd get some kind of break before they had to get close to it again.
Gaia spoke suddenly -- and that hope vanished miserably from Catherine's mind as quickly as it had arrived.
"We'd like to see the body," Gaia told the sheriff.
Copyright © 2005 by Francine Pascal
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