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I'm sitting down, tied to a chair, when the deafening sound of a gun going off close range hits me. Searing pain follows.
I wake up to my 6:00 a.m. alarm and automatically reach for my notebook. I don't remember dreaming or waking last night, but sometimes when I dream I have no recollection the next morning, so I always check the dream diary on my bedside table. This morning I see the words Someone shot scrawled across the page. Someone shot…not exactly my most illuminating dream. It doesn't sound like any of my current cases—at the moment I'm profiling a series of rapes in The Valley and the homicide of a young boy who was beaten to death in a video-game arcade. No bullets, no gunshot wounds. So far the dream diary I started a month ago hasn't given me much, but I wanted to start recording as many of my dreams as possible… given some of them come true.
Half an hour later I jump on the gym scales and the digital readout levels off at 136.4. I smile, but while I am happy with my weight from an aesthetic point of view, for me it's about a lot more than getting into a size-eight dress or looking good in lingerie for my man. Besides, it's been a while since anyone's seen me in lingerie—a fact that I'm happy about most of the time. No, it's about health for me. I know firsthand that fitness can be the difference between life and death and I don't want to haul more than a hundred and forty-five pounds in a chase.
The Bureau used to test field agents every year, making sure they fell within a set weight range and that they could pass a physical, including fitness tests…until the 1990s, when a judge found in favor of a discrimination lawsuit. However, I agree with the Bureau's original stance, and so I plan to test myself every year, using the Bureau's physical requirements for its new recruits—the only time agents now need to meet the weight requirements and prove their physical fitness.
I've asked Mercedes Diaz, one of the L.A. field office's IT resources and my workout partner, to help put me through my paces. Diaz is five-six and all lean muscle, accentuated by a natural olive skin tone—no fake tan required. While her job may be tied to a computer, she makes up for her sedentary nine-to-five routine with lots of exercise. Our shared obsession has made us friends—we kept running into each other at the gym and eventually planned our workouts together. I hardly use my apartment's gym anymore, opting for the better facilities at FitnessOne, only a block away from the office. This morning it's busy as usual, but everybody starts a new fitness regime on a Monday, right?
Mercedes hovers over the mat I'm lying on. "This will be a breeze for you, Sophie."
"Hopefully," I say, even though I know I'm incredibly fit at the moment. FBI recruits need twelve points across a series of tests to pass, and members of the Bureau's elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) need twenty. I want to push myself and make twenty.
"Yep." I lie on the mat, hands behind my head and elbows back.
Mercedes brings up her stopwatch, finger poised, and counts me in. I work on my abs a lot, with stomach exercises and pilates, but I still only have a four-pack not a six-or eight-pack. A genetic potbelly makes the lower four bumps pretty much unachievable, unless I starve myself to the verge of anorexia. Besides, I like the rounded look.
When Mercedes calls time after one minute, I've clocked up forty-eight sit-ups, equal to five points. Next I flip over for the push-ups, skipping the three-hundred meter sprint, which is too hard to do on the treadmill. Mercedes and I are meeting at Westwood Park right near my place tomorrow morning for the sprint test. I'm aiming for around fifty-six seconds, but I know that will be tough. Likewise, I'll have to push myself for the push-ups, but at least they're not timed—it's just pump out as many as you can.
I line my hands up directly below my shoulders and stretch my legs out fully. Mercedes checks my posture and pushes my bottom down slightly—no cheating, even though this isn't a real test.
"No more than an inch between your face and the mat, Sophie." Mercedes and I push each other during our workouts and today is no different.
"Give a girl a break, Mercedes."
"You don't need any breaks, Sophie," she says with a smile. "Hit it."
I lower myself all the way down and push up. Even after fifteen I'm slowing down. Fifteen is only one point on the Bureau's scale, and while that is the Bureau's minimum requirement for each activity, it's not enough for me. I keep going, pushing my muscles as each one gets harder and my arms threaten to shake.
"Keep it low," Mercedes says, both warning and encouraging me as I sink into my twentieth push-up. Twenty is two points. I decide to force myself to twenty-two and three points. The last push-up is slow and my shaking arms are on the verge of collapse, but I manage it. I flop onto my stomach, my biceps and triceps cramping.
"Mmm…" It's hardly excellent, but I know my upper body is my weak point.
After a few arm stretches and a couple of minutes I move onto the treadmill for the one-and-a-half-mile run. In this one, the number of points is determined by how long it takes. I normally run fast—nine or ten miles an hour— which means the run should take me around ten minutes. And that'll give me the full ten points for the task.
The rhythm comes easily, and ten minutes and five seconds later I clock up the distance. I slow the treadmill to a steady walking pace.
"Ten, five. You'd outrun most of the guys in the office." Mercedes gives me a little wink.
That's the point—to be able to outrun most men. One man that comes to mind is AmericanPsycho, the president of an online group of serial killers that we took down eight months ago. We got three of the four members, but he managed to escape. Mercedes knows about AmericanPsycho; unfortunately most of the office does, given he sends me a single red rose on the first of every month. But I don't point out that at some stage in my future I might have a sadistic serial killer on my tail—literally.
"You're already up to eighteen points, but if you were at the Academy you'd still need to get a point in the sprint."
I nod. One point means I have to run the three hundred meters in less than 64.9 seconds. Totally doable, given I'm aiming for fifty-six. Looks like I'll make my goal of twenty.
"What you got on today?" Mercedes jumps on the treadmill next to mine and starts walking.
"I'm working on that boy's murder, the one I was telling you about."
Mercedes nods with a little wince. In her job, she's often removed from the case details.
The murder victim's a fourteen-year-old boy who was found in the men's restroom of an arcade in South Central. I think this case bothers Mercedes because she's got a nephew that age, so she's personalized the case. Every case gets to me, one way or another, but I consciously try not to relate to the victim too much. It's hard to be objective when I'm a profiler—after all, part of my job is to get into the minds of the killer and victims—but I still need a buffer. I need to be able to come up for air and, more important, stay up.
The LAPD believes the perpetrator is a youth and that the death may be gang related, but two weeks after the murder they still had lots of suspects without any hard evidence, so they sent the case details to George Rosen, the head of the Criminal Division, and requested a profile of the perp.
"Don't worry, Soph. You'll get to it."
"I better." The case has been on the back burner for the past couple of weeks, with other cases taking precedence. I increase the treadmill's speed, moving back into a fast jog. "It's been four weeks since his murder and every time I bump the boy down the list I can' t help but think about his parents."
"Can you finish it today?" Mercedes asks.
"If I get the whole day, yeah." Problem is, my caseload has been heavy and I've already been putting in thirteen-hour days, plus some time on the weekends. L.A.'s got a high murder rate—one murder every twenty-six hours according to the L.A. Sheriff's Department. And that's only in L.A. County, not the wider area that the Bureau services. It makes assigning the whole day to the boy's case difficult—who knows what will come my way?
A couple of hours later I'm sitting at my desk with the boy's file open when George Rosen pays me a visit. I immediately notice he's carrying a file, but that's not surprising given that most of my profiling work originates from his division—homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, armed robberies and so on.
"We've got a new request from the LAPD. A homicide. We're waiting on identification of the body and the autopsy report, but the injuries are a little strange."
"The throat and hyoid bone have been crushed."
That doesn't sound so strange to me. "Strangulation," I say, even though to crush the hyoid bone rather than simply break it requires substantial force.
"Not exactly. Here's what I received from the LAPD." Rosen slides the file across my desk.
When I flip it open, the photo of the victim hits me. He's lying on top of a couple of stray bricks and wood, partially propped up against a fence that surrounds a building site. The front of his throat almost looks as though it's been ripped off, like an animal grabbed him by the throat, pulled and then let go. The front section of the vic's throat hangs limply, and congealed blood covers the skin, exposed muscle and the bricks on which his head rests.
"And I'm guessing there's no report of a wild dog in the area," I say sarcastically.
Rosen raises an eyebrow. "No."
I guess the sarcasm was lost.
"This is a fresh one—it happened yesterday. Brady's approved your involvement."
I nod. Brady's the big boss, the assistant director in charge of the L.A. office. Brady and I didn't exactly get off on the right foot when I started here in August, but over the past four months I like to think I've won him over. I've also realized that his general manner is a little distant, so he wasn't as annoyed with me in that first week as I thought.
Rosen continues. "He said to work it in with your other cases…sorry. And given the LAPD's called us in so early, I'd like you to make it your priority."
I see a flash of my fourteen-year-old boy, James Santorini.
Iflip through the crime-scene photos. While part of me would like to leave this victim until after my profile of the arcade murder, Rosen was pretty specific. Besides, this crime scene is fresher, which means fresher leads. I can be called in at any stage of an investigation, but the more recent the crime scene, the better for me. Especially given the extra "gift" I bring to my work.
The file contains both day- and nighttime shots, indicating that the sun rose while the crime scene was being processed. The imagery's not lost on me…a new day was dawning, but not for our dead male. A quick check of the police report verifies the timing. The first photos I look at are the ones taken of the victim's full body, without much else in the frame. I can make out bricks, pieces of wood and other building debris underneath him and the mesh of the fence that partially supports him, but nothing else, no indication of the wider locale.
The victim is of Asian descent and wears jeans and a dark gray T-shirt with a black design on the front. I'm not up with the latest styles or labels, but the clothes look expensive and I make a mental note to check with someone a little more fashion-minded than I am. The clothes could even help us during the search for the victim's identity. For example, if he's wearing designer clothes we can cross-reference his photo against missing persons in the higher socioeconomic bracket. This detail may also be important for the victim-ology. The profile of the victim often helps us to understand how or why he or she was chosen by the killer; and ultimately that can lead us to our perp.
Next I look at close-up shots of the man's face and the throat wound. I notice a couple of thin scars on his face, one that runs halfway across his right eyebrow and a larger scar along the underside of his jaw. Childhood accidents or evidence of prior violence? Either's possible. I examine the close-ups of the throat wound carefully. There are no bite marks—ruling out any animal involvement—but also no tool marks that I can see on the skin to indicate what sort of implement caused the wound. Once the body has been washed by the coroner, the wound will be easier to examine.
The next series of photos I study are of the overall crime-scene location. The building site is on the edge of a large, open-air parking lot and a quick cross-reference to the preliminary police report tells me the lot's in Little Tokyo. The body was found roughly centered between Second Street and Third Street, an area of the lot with fewer people and less light. Anyone walking along the streets on the parking lot's edge would be nearly two hundred yards away and probably oblivious to a confrontation; and the building site would have been deserted in the early hours of the morning. Despite being in the middle of downtown L.A., the crime scene was isolated. The spot for the kill was either well planned or dumb luck. Regardless, there's still a chance of a witness. Perhaps someone was walking back to their car and saw our victim prior to the murder. Or maybe they saw the killer, before or after the fact. Then there is the apartment block on Third Street that overlooks the lot, and a few businesses on Los Angeles Street opposite the crime scene. Maybe we'll find a witness there. The amount of blood at the scene certainly indicates our victim was killed where he was found. And even if time of death comes back as the early hours of the morning, that area of town would have been busy.