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He pulled tight around her throat, choking her.
He didn't say anything. He didn't have to.
Francesca Thorne was accustomed to gathering information from criminals in what wasn't said, whether it was through a look, a nervous tic despite attempts to mask such a giveaway, or simply a change in vocal pitch.
It was what an opponent did not say that aided in the patchwork of piecing together a personality. Her role was simply to watch. Observe. Filter the subtleties of the subconscious into her puzzle-solving mind.
Whereas she would normally calculate facial expressions and measure the pupil dilation of her suspect, waiting for a flinch to reveal so much more than well-selected words, the opportunity had not been given with this particular hunt.
Instead, she had to count on the sound of his breath, the weight of his grasp as he held one arm tightly around her neck, choke-holding her into submission with her back facing him, unable to meet his eyes.
He had snuck up on her.
Though she had returned to the scene to analyze its meaning, determine why the killer had chosen this location for his latest victim, Francesca had not been counting on his presence. Not yet.
His attack had caught her by surprise.
The killer had demonstrated an odd pattern of returning to the scene of his crimes only to enact another, but in between he always committed a murder at a different location. That was his MO. Or at least the first five murders had suggested as much with his leapfrog style.
One location, then another, then back again.
By their calculations, he should have been somewhere else preparing to commit the sixth. She had chosen to come here with the hopes she could piecesomething together about his selection process, quickly enough to determine where the next crime would take place.
But his MO had changed.
It was inevitable he would switch it up.
Knowing his back-and-forth actions as she now did, he would have been caught sooner or later, with the FBI knowing to stake out his previous playground. And, really, it was just child's play for him.
"You like taking risks," she said, holding her voice steady, not allowing even a shred of fear to show as the pressure of his grip grooved over her esophagus. "Yet you refuse to show your face. Slightly passive-aggressive, don't you think?"
When in close contact with a serial killer, Francesca Thornelauded forensic psychologist for the FBIpulled no punches in calling it as she saw it. That included tempting fate by asking somewhat dangerous questions, or igniting a suspect's volatile nature. It was a trait for which she was known.
Setting herself up for increased risk was part of the job. The very act of trying to diagnose the criminal mentality meant opening up a whole world of unknown psyche. But it was within that very process that she was able to collect the critical data needed to prove or disprove a profiling theory, much like a forensic scientist would test the boundaries of physical evidence.
In this case, mocking her captor only made sense. Her action would cause a telling reaction on his part.
His breath, moist as he exhaled along her ear where his lips barely slid over the curve of her skin, was calm, masking any trace of anger or excitement.
With his body held snug against hers, she could begin to create an image of his physical presence in her mind. Not the specifics such as eye or hair color, but from his stance she could estimate his height.
From his breadth against her, she could make calculations of his weight.
It was the nonvisual clues he gave, such as his scent, his body temperature, and his reaction to her teasing that would matter most. And with what little headway they had made with this case, these variables would not only help her plan a maneuver away from his grasp, they would also lend a hand in solving the identity of their prey.
She closed her eyes, banning their sense from interrupting her analytical intake. She filtered in a deep breath, letting the combination of scents register within.
Ignoring the aroma of a nearby Laundromat, bypassing the scent of rain in the air, she centered on the slight trace of chicory and breathed it in from the cuff of his sleeve.
The sleeve itself belonged to a blue-collar worker. She could tell by its wear and tear, the threads of cheaply made industrial fabric worn with sweat stains and something darkoil, perhaps?
She inhaled deeply, pinpointing the smell.
It was oil. Like that used on machinery, perhaps in a factory or even an auto mechanic shop.
Knowing what trace evidence could do for fine-tuning such variables, Francesca made a minuscule movement within her captor's grasp, aiming to transfer even a hint of the physical evidence to her body. If she made it out of therewhen she made it outthe lab would be able to study every fiber of her clothing, each thread where this man had left evidence of his identity.
"It won't be that easy," he said, no doubt presuming her maneuvers were an attempt to flee his grasp. "You and I are friends now."
That was it. The first time his voice made contact with her sense of hearing. She listened to each syllable he projected, to what was being said and how, not once overlooking the quiet beat of a pause between each word he selected.
"Is that what you wanted from them? Friendship?" she asked, opening up dialogue with the man her team had been tracking for several weeks.
It started with one body, as it usually does, but it quickly became obvious someone was on the hunt for more action with the discovery of the second victim.
The most disturbing element to the case was that he was a smart criminal, relatively speaking. He knew how to disguise himself, how to leave little trace of evidence, and thereby bring the forensics team to a standstill, waiting for him to mess up.
"I am not who you think I am," he said, his one arm holding tight against her neck. The other arm reached around, wrapping against Francesca's midsection as though this were a perfectly natural position for him. There was no trembling, no jittery movement. He felt completely at ease clenching his ownership around her body.
"Then tell me," she said aloud while inside her mind a thousand thoughts scrambled for a plan on how to make her move.
An agent from the Baton Rouge resident office had accompanied her to the crime scene, though he remained at the car guarding the scene from the outset. His presence would do her no good at such a distance. "Tell me who you are. How you see yourself."
He scoffed at her. "Whatyou some kind of shrink?"
Francesca registered the curve in vocal pitch, his agitation showing fluctuation in the short response. She had hit a nerve, without trying much at all. His own suggestion was fueling his irritation, based on one simple request for him to explain his assumed persona. And now she would use it against him.
"I like to help people, with their thoughts," she began, noticing the heat rise from his body.
The dewy evening air, signaling an early April rain shower was on its way, carried his scent swiftly to her senses, and she was able to detect a rising pulse. "I could be your confidante. Listen to what you have to say. I bet you feel as though no one understands you, but perhaps I could. If you let me."
It didn't mean she would like him or appreciate his actions, but Francesca could use her skills in understanding human behavior to at least empathize with him, see what it was that motivated him to strike out against humanity. It was something for which she strived every day, with every criminal she came across.
Her pursuit had begun as a young child, during events she rarely cared to recall. It was those events, however, that prompted her pursuit of understanding why people do the things they do, and led her to study behavioral science.
At first it was simply a curiosity, one she explored through watching others, even as a child. Then she became enthralled by the lessons learned in psychology classes at the Athena Academy for the Advancement of Women, a prep school that encouraged the study of such scientific interests.
By the time Francesca earned her graduate degree in forensic psychology, profiling personalities had become an obsession. One for which she was quickly recognized within the field, handling seemingly impossible cases for the FBI, even those reaching far beyond her home base in Richmond, Virginia.
"I don't need a shrink." His voice, increasingly harsh, told her she needed to make a move. Fast. His agitation would only escalate and there was only so much fire she wanted to tempt within him. He was, after all, a serial killer.
One who baited young women, dragged them out to isolated buildings, beat them, assaulted them and finally killed them.
Above all else, Francesca needed to remember that one obvious trait within a killer's personalitythey liked to kill.
Although her own preference was for capturing her suspects and wielding information about their psyche, to analyze and put them through a tougher sentence than death, she had to admit to having a simpler fantasy as his tongue traced the outer edge of her earlobe.
Though she wanted to put an end to his existence when he said, "Maybe you have something else I want."
There had to be a better way for her to flee his entrapment and bring him down.
Killing was what she studied, not what she did. There had to be something she could do to not only escape his captivity, but also ensure he was stopped from ever committing another crime again.
And then she spoke.
"Maybe you have something I need," she said, playing on the notion he was a sexual predator and using that to her advantage as she slowly, carefully reached her hand around to settle into the small groove of space between her behind and his crotch.
Earlier, as he attacked her in surprise, the man had quickly removed her handgun from her person and tossed it far from her reach.
But what he didn't know was about to hurt him.
Under the guise of giving him what he wanted, Francesca began to move her hand over the small bulge in his pants, twisting her gesture until her palm faced the small of her back, and while she listened to his breathing accelerate under her touch, she slowly moved one finger, then the next, into the gap between her flesh and her jeans until she felt it.
"I do, don't I?" he asked of her.
"You most certainly do," she cooed to egg him on, as she cautiously slid out the small knife from the sheath buried in the back of her pants. Within a heartbeat, she twisted its edge into him, stabbing the blade into his left hip as she said, "Your DNA."
Caught off guard by her attack, the suspect stumbled back to let the moment register, but he quickly set off on foot.
As she began the chase after him, slowing only to pick up her discarded handgun, she let out a contained breath, one she didn't realize she had been holding.
Not familiar with this abandoned dumping ground of rotten buildings and wasteland, Francesca called for help by shooting one bullet into the ground, knowing this would alert the watchdog FBI agent that something had gone terribly wrong.
They had not expected to encounter their suspect today. This was simply an outing to gather mental evidence, its sole purpose to comb the area and turn thoughts inside out, hoping to accumulate enough information to pinpoint where the next victim might be saved.
Then it occurred to her.
Why would the killer come here, switching up his MO if he knew the feds were on the scene? And if he didn't know he'd be in mixed company, why did he return to this place?
To kill his sixth victim, she thought to herself.
Francesca stopped in her tracks at the realization.
Changing her direction, she ran back to where the criminal had discarded her personal belongings, and combed through the weeds to find her cell phone. As she did, Agent Martin caught up with her location, slightly winded.
"That way," she cried as she frantically dialed the number for the field office. "He's run off through there, but I think we may have a body on site."
Her words filtered through the air as Agent Martin ran off to chase down the unknown suspect. Until now, without a name, a list of potentials or DNA findings, this case had proven frustrating.
Which was exactly why the Baton Rouge team had called in the expertise of Francesca Thorne.
They needed a profile, and that's what she aimed to provide, but now she also had a knife with his blood on it. A personal identification he had failed to ever leave at the scene of a crime, but which could be added to the file in the hopes of matching it with other physical evidence compiled from the series of events and seal the deal of his conviction.
She quickly informed the field office of their estimated whereabouts, and added, "I'm heading into the vacant building on the south-east side of the lot," to ensure they would know where to find her.
It was from this very direction the man had come, stepping up behind her as she walked through the gravel along the outside of the building. He must have heard her from inside.
Had she even remotely suspected his presence, she would have taken every precaution to avoid the rumbling sound of loose gravel, but hindsight was a waste of time right now. There could be a sixth victim within the vicinity, and if so Francesca swore to find her.