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I hold my Smith & Wesson 9mm semiautomatic in front of me, legs shoulder-width apart, and line up the gun's sights, aiming at his chestthe heart to be precise. The middle sight is pointed squarely at the target, and the outer sights are horizontally level. I take a breath, hold it and squeeze the trigger. The gun recoils, but after each backward motion I readjust my aim and fire again. I empty my whole magazineeight shotsand revel in the muffled yet rhythmic click
click as my shells are thrown onto the ground near my feet.
"Nice grouping, Anderson."
I jump slightly, instinctively tightening the already firm grip on my gun. My rational mind wins out over my impulses and I resist the temptation to swing the gun around and point it. I turn to see Andy Rivers, the head of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, standing next to me. I relax my grip. Rivers's dark, wiry hair is offset by patches of gray at his temples, the only sign that timeor perhaps stressis catching up with him. In his midforties, he's been the head of the unit for nearly ten years, and I don't imagine he'll be leaving any time soon. He's too good at his job. I take off my earmuffs and goggles and the muffled world returns to normal.
"Hi, boss." I look back at my target and the bullet holes clustered around the heart. "Thanks."
I'm standing in booth twelve of one of the FBI's firing ranges at Quantico, Virginia. Our unit is part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes NCAVCand we get to share the FBI Academy's three hundred and eighty-five acres with new recruits and several other active units. The impressive complex includes three dormitories, a dining room, a library, an auditorium, a chapel, a gym, a large running track, a defensive-driving track, several firing ranges and the famous Hogan's Alleya simulated town. Over the past year, since I started with the Bureau, I've spent a lot of time here
it's home now.
I push the button in my booth that initiates the pulley system and the target sails toward me. The range consists of fifteen booths, each with a pulley system to move the targets backward and forwardfrom the booth to the twenty-five or fifty-yard mark. When I first came to the States I was constantly converting to metric, but now I'm used to the American way. The targets contain the impression of a person, an outline of someone's upper body in black ink. My paper target arrives and I take a closer look. I've emptied three rounds into the paper and the heart region is just one large hole where bullets have penetrated it again and again.
I was always one for firing practiceand not just in the few weeks before our yearly firearms test like some of the agents. But since one especially intense case I worked, I've been coming here a lot. An awful lot. Sometimes I spend hours in a trancelike state, my gun pulsating as I fire over and over again.
Rivers smiles for an instant before staring at the target. "Anyone we know?" he asks quietly. I know what he's hinting at, but I don't want to talk about it. My compulsory fortnightly sessions with the Bureau psychologist Dr. Amanda Rosen are bad enough. It's been six months; I should be over it.
I shrug. "Just practicing." I'm lying and he knows it, but we both leave it. I bite my lip and reload, distracting myself with the repetitive motion of forcing bullets into the gun's magazine.
Rivers watches my hands. "Practicing," he says with a hint of disbelief.
I release my lower lip from my teeth and consciously alter my body language, acting for my boss. "You know me, I'm a perfectionist." I force a light tone into my voice.
He pushes his gold-framed glasses higher onto his nose, masking his dark brown eyes. "That's why I wanted you in my team."
I nod and smile genuinely, still humbled by the fact that Rivers handpicked me to work as a profiler in his team. The Victorian police sent me out here for the Bureau's six-week International Program and I wound up with a job offer. Funny how things work out.
"Anyway, I better get to it. I've got my firearms test coming up." He gives me a wink and moves into the booth next to me.
"You don't fool me. I know you come down here more than once a year."
"Maybe. But keep it to yourself, Anderson." I laugh, put my earmuffs and goggles back on and attach a fresh target to the clips. Once the target is back at the fifty-yard mark, I raise my gun and let him have it.
Today, Dr. Amanda Rosen wears her pinstripe pant-suitstraight, classy pants and a plain white blouse that pulls slightly across her chest. The white shirt highlights her olive complexion, making it seem even richer, darker. Hanging on her chair is the suit's matching jacket, a short, bolero-style number. She's covering old ground, dotting her i's and crossing her t's. The case I was involved with six months ago got out of hand and she needs to know I've dealt with everything that happened.
Usually our expertise is requested for cases the police have been unable to solve. We do most of our work remotely, examining crime-scene photos and reports, which are sometimes months or even years old. Then we draft our profile of the perpetrator and send it to the cops. Occasionally we work in the field, in the thick of it, and this case was one of those times. It was a big case, pursuing a killer dubbed the DC Slasher, and two profilers were assigned to the task force. But things turned bad when the killer targeted the Bureau
Dr. Rosen's eyes fix on me, trying to read my body language, trying to break through my defenses. If my plan's working, she thinks she's in. Her dark brown hair is cut so it falls around her face in wisps, but today she wears it swept back in a French roll. Small strands have broken free and arc across her face. Her full lips are pursed, waiting for my response, and her dark brown eyes are sympathetic. Her eyes are her most powerful weapon. Sometimes when she looks at me I feel stripped bare as if she can see right through me, through the charade.
"Yes, it's going well," I say.
I haven't told her what disturbed me most about the case, and I never will. I can't tell the Bureau shrink that I had dreams and waking visions that came true. Hell, I can hardly believe it myself, especially given I haven't had any psychic episodes since.
"So you feel you've put the case behind you now, Sophie."
I take a breath, careful not to answer too quickly. Desperation could give me away. "It's hard, of course, but I love my job. I like being part of the fight."
"Yes" she studies her notepad and then looks up "the fight. You've clocked up a lot of time on the range and in the gym recently."
I shrug. "I'm keeping busy." A half truth. "I'm not the kinda gal who likes to sit around and watch TV."
"No. That doesn't match your personality profile. But maybe there are other reasons too?"
She leaves the conversation open, prompting me for the response. I know what she's looking for and decide it might be in my best interests to give it to her.
I nod. "It's true. I am more" I search for the right word "security conscious these days."
"Does it give you a sense of control?"
"Yes." I answer slowly, pretending to think about what I'm saying. "Being physically fit, strong and a proficient marksperson make me feel safer."
"How much gym time are you doing?"
I know the summary's right in front of her. We have to swipe our ID card every time we enter and exit the gym, and that data is automatically compiled. Same for the firing range.
I shrug, pretending I'm not overtly aware or conscious of my movements. After a respectable pause I say, "Probably an hour a day." I keep my mouth shut about the morning runs and the midnight excursions to my apartment's gym. I haven't told her much about my sleeping problems either
and I don't intend to.
"Sounds like a lot."
I shrug again. "Not really. It's about routine. And keeping in shape." I smile, a forced smile. "Besides, gotta keep those calories off." I pat my stomach, even though I'm in the best shape of my life. My daily routine includes kung fu exercises and even body conditioning so I can take punches and block harder. Nobody's going to get to me.
I close my eyes and for an instant I see him standing over me. Memory's a bitch.
American Psycho: These are the last two.
DialM: Susie Dean and Jonathan Cantor.
American Psycho: Yup. We'll get to know them and the other six real well in the next eight weeks.
DialM: Eight people, eight weeks.
American Psycho: Exactly.
DialM: Very equitable. Two each.
NeverCaught: I can't wait.
BlackWidow: But there are three menJonathan, Danny and Malcolmthat makes three for me!
NeverCaught: She's right. What's up with that?
AmericanPsycho: Six girls and two men might have looked suspicious.
DialM: You're very erudite, Psycho.
NeverCaught: ***ing big words.
NeverCaught: What the
AmericanPsycho: My censorship extends to language, Never.
AmericanPsycho: Back to business. Have you checked out the bios?
NeverCaught: Yup. And man am I loving it. We've got Cindy the Vegas showgirl, Malcolm the hunk, Danny the macho *****head, Brigitte the exotic sexpot, Ling the shy one, Clair the singer, Susie the loser actress and Jonathan the geek.
BlackWidow: Jonathan's cute.
DialM: I like them all. All good choices. You really are spoiling us, Psycho.
AmericanPsycho: I told you it was pure genius.
BlackWidow: Yes, well done. This is so self-indulgent.
NeverCaught: Much more fun than stalking.
DialM: Their ignorance is our bliss.
NeverCaught: Yes. Can't wait for the first kill.
It's early, 6:00 p.m., when I swing into the garage underneath my apartment block and park my Buick in my assigned spot. My apartment is in Alexandria, which is perfect because it's halfway between DC and Quantico.
I purposefully load up my left arm with my handbag and the grocery bag from the trunk so my right hand is free. Free to lock the car, press the elevator button, open the door
and get my gun. A girl's got to be prepared, right?
The slight heels on my ankle boots make a clipping noise on the concrete as I walk to the elevator. I press the up button and wait, scanning the garage and looking for anything or anyone out of place. Garages and parking lots are the most likely places for a woman to be raped if the perpetrator is a stranger. I flick my eyes to the display the elevator's on the fifteenth floor and moving down at a snail's pace. When it finally arrives and the doors open I let out a breath that I barely realized I was holding.
The elevator glides effortlessly to the third floor and the doors open with the usual ping. The hallways of my apartment block are painted a blue-gray, with teal-colored tiles on the floorcarpet would be too messy for winter, when everyone's shoes are covered in snow. Coming from Australia, I'd never lived in a city with snow before, and last year was my first white Christmas. Or as they'd say here, my first real winter.
I walk down the hall to my apartment, number 310, flipping through my keys as I go. I use a color-coded system: the top lock is the red key, then the yellow key, then the green key, just like a traffic light. Once I've unlocked all three, I turn the handle and shuffle into my apartment, quickly unloading everything onto the kitchen counter and drawing my gun so I can check the apartment. The sad thing is, I used to do this even before the Slasher case.
After checking my one-bedroom apartment thoroughly, I'm satisfied that I'm alone. I reholster my gun and take in the emptiness around me. I sigh, thinking about the recent departure of a fellow profiler who'd been more than just a friend. They say you should never mix business with pleasure, but I thought we had something special. And we did, until that case ruined it all. Can trust, once broken, ever be rebuilt? He said he hadn't asked for the transfer to the Philadelphia field office, but I wasn't so sure. And his comment that "it might be good to have a break for a while" didn't do anything to allay my suspicion. Maybe I should face factsdespite the amazing beginning, things hadn't really been working.
I push him out of my mind and start on dinner. Within half an hour I'm eating grilled salmon with a couscous salad and sipping a glass of wine from a freshly opened bottle of Sémillon. Normally I prefer red, but with fish, white is better.
I eat in silence, taking a few sips of wine in between mouthfuls. I top up my glass and twirl it from the stem, gazing at the liquid as it swirls. I certainly won't finish the bottle; in fact, I can't. Except when we're on leave, FBI agents must be fit for duty at all times, and this mandate extends to alcohol intake. This is my third and final glass for the evening, but I could easily imagine myself finishing off the bottle. Maybe then I could relax? I've studied psychology; I know I'm in a high-risk group to become too fond of drinking. Thank God for the Bureau's alcohol mandateI'm too much of a Goody Two-shoes to break the FBI's rules.
I recork the bottle, using a wine pump so it won't spoil, and move to the couch. I break the silence by turning on the TV, flicking through the channels to try to find something that will hold my interest and distract me from more sinister thoughts like rape statistics. I fly through the stations, pausing on each one only for a couple of seconds. Nothing captivates me, but maybe that's more reflective of my mood than the programming. I settle on the news and finish my glass of wine before washing the dishes.
Finally I call home.
"Hi, sweetie." I can hear the excitement in her voice. "Great to hear from you. How's life in the good old US of A?"