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"BAINE. MY OFFICE. NOW!"
FBI Special Agent Evelyn Baine spun the chair in her tiny cubicle, but her boss was already slamming the door to his office.
She shrugged back into her suit jacket, buttoned it to cover the weapon at her hip and straightened her spine. Dan Moore's tone didn't bother her; the ASACSpecial Agent in Chargewas always curt with her. In fact, getting called into his office this early was a good thing. It meant she was getting a new case to profile.
Her anticipation grew as she wove around cubicles in the unmarked office building in Aquia, Virginia, where the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) was housed. This was her favorite time, early in the morning before most agents arrived, before the smell of burned coffee and stale air-conditioning permeated everything, when it was just her and her cases.
She entered Dan's office and found him settled at his oversize desk. The head of BAU was, as usual, surrounded by an aura of stress that gave his skin a grayish hue and constantly slanted his eyebrows toward his nose. Today, he also looked frazzled.
"Take a seat." Dan popped three antacids into his mouth and took a swig of coffee. "Ever been to Bakersville?"
"No, but it's north of here, right? Small and rural?" She leaned forward, ready for another chance to take on one of society's worst predators. Ready for another chance to give someone else the closure she'd never had. "What happened there?"
Dan frowned, maybe because he hadn't warmed to her in the past year despite her high success rate. Then again, maybe the antacids had gotten stuck in his throat.
Evelyn didn't need to hear the answer to her question to know there were sleepless nights and more long hours in her future. When police had a problem so terrible they couldn't handle it themselves, they came to BAU. Given the number of profile requests faxed into the office every day, to actually get a profiler assigned meant a police department's problem was both unusual and deadly.
"Earlier this morning, two murdered women were discovered in the woods," Dan said. "There are a few preliminaries in the file I emailed you, though not much. I took a lot of it over the phone, but I think it's better if you go straight to the crime scene and get the specifics firsthand. Bakersville wants you on-site now."
"Now? For only two murders?" The question might have sounded insensitive to her a year ago, but she'd been here long enough to understand that time was a commodity BAU agents didn't have. Normally, the police would have to strike out big before BAU swooped in.
"It's a weird one. The Bakersville police are leading the investigation and they've asked us to consult. Police Chief Caulfield wants a preliminary criminal personality profile immediately."
Dan turned back to his computer, effectively dismissing her. "If you need help, ask Greg to go with you."
Evelyn hid her annoyance. A year ago, Greg Ibsen had initiated her into the world of behavioral analysis. But she wasn't a rookie anymore. She didn't need anyone checking her work simply because she was the youngest agent in the office, the one with the least field experience. She'd earned her spot at BAU. And she worked her ass off every day to prove it.
"Is there anything else?"
"Just get to work. Bakersville's never seen anything like this. They're not equipped to handle this killer."
She nodded and stood. "I'm on it." As she left his office, she couldn't stop herself from glancing at the partition near the coffeepot serving as a bulletin board for anything the agents found of interest. Next to an article on a new brain-mapping technique and a list of the Most Wanted, someone had thumb-tacked a sheet with the heading Predator Still at Large. Underneath was a computer-generated sketch of Dan.
The spot-on sketch had everything from the dome-shaped head that was only bald on top to the thin, pinched lips, but Dan hadn't yet figured out who it was. Evelyn wasn't going to be the one to enlighten him.
As soon as she was ensconced in her cubicle again, she quickly skimmed through the meager file in her email, then grabbed her briefcase. When she turned around, she almost slammed into Greg.
He yanked his mug out of her way, sloshing coffee onto his shoes.
She grimaced. "Sorry, Greg."
He shrugged, setting his coffee down as he slipped out of his suit coat to reveal his standard dress shirt and some cartoon-character tie. "No worries. I'll spill it on myself later, anyway."
Greg Ibsen had been at BAU seven years longer than she had, logging thousands more hours profiling complicated cases. Somehow, he was still the most easygoing guy in the officeeven after he'd gotten stuck training the newbie Dan didn't want.
Dropping into his chair, he said, "One of these days maybe you could sleep in a little. Stop making everyone else look lazy." The smile in his tone told her he was at least partly kidding.
Evelyn fiddled with the thin gold band topped with a small diamondonce her grandma'sthat she never took off. If her grandma realized how much time she spent working, she would've told her the same thing Greg often did: to get a hobby.
But her grandma would have understood why she didn't. She'd been the one to pull Evelyn's life back together when her best friend, Cassie Byers, had been abducted. She was the only one who truly understood Evelyn's drive to find her, even seventeen years later.
Pushing back memories of the woman who'd raised her and now needed extensive care herself, she peered at Greg around their shared cubicle wall. Unlike her blank one, his was filled with pictures of his wife, Marnie, and their adopted children, Lucy and Josh. "Dan just gave me a new case. I'm heading out the door."
"Really? What did you get?"
Greg's eyebrows reached for each other. "Really? And you're going to the site now?"
Serial killers were what the unit was best known for profiling, but between evaluating terrorist threats and interpreting the behavior of arsonists, bomb-makers and child predators, they didn't always get priority.
"Dan said it was weird." And considering the cases they dealt with regularly, that was saying a lot.
"Weird, huh? Tell me about it when you get back."
"Sure. Dan thinks I should ask for your help, anyway."
"What? The little lady can't handle the big, scary serial killer alone?" Greg joked. "Didn't you hear that BAU has a no-womenallowed rule?"
Evelyn wished Dan's attitude didn't bother her. "You know what a rule-breaker I am."
He snorted, because that was just as much of a joke as her being unfit to work as a profiler. "Good luck with the case."
"Thanks," she said. But luck had nothing to do with it.
She'd worked toward this for most of her life and she was a damn good profiler. Whatever the case, however wily the criminal, she'd write a profile that would bring him to justice.
The Bakersville, Virginia, police station squatted on a bare patch of land. The faded brick building with weathered windows seemed out of place amid the hundred-year-old pine trees bracketing it on three sides. It was off the main road through town, beside a mom-and-pop coffee shop and a neighborhood of starter homes.
Evelyn slung her briefcase over her shoulder and trudged up the steps into the station. Inside, it was abuzz with uniformed officers. Two had a cuffed prisoner between them, obviously brought in on a drunk and disorderly charge. Others wore nervous, uncertain expressions, probably because of the murders.
Evelyn walked up to the desk, where a young officer sat. "Evelyn Baine. I'm the criminal investigative analyst. Chief Caulfield is expecting me."
The officer's gaze shifted over her questioningly, and Evelyn tried not to let it get her hackles up. Bakersville was rural, and despite the diversity surrounding it, almost entirely white.
With the mocha-colored skin she'd inherited from her Zimbabwean father and the sea-green eyes she'd gotten from her Irish-English mother, she stood out.
When she added, "I'm with the FBI," the officer's gaze traveled skeptically from her tidy bun, over her well-tailored suit to her sturdy heels, then squinted at the credentials she held up.
Finally, he nodded and she tucked them back in her pocket, tugging down the hem of her blazer on the side where she wore her gun. The expensive clothes sometimes raised eyebrows, but they helped bolster her self-confidence when she arrived at a crime scene and had to establish credibility immediately.
"It's this way," the officer told her, leading her through a bullpen packed with cops.
There were a few civilians, too, most demanding to know about rumors of a killer. One, a heavyset, bearded man, was asking about ViCAP.
Surprised at the mention of the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, the database the Bureau used to match unsolved cases of violent crime, Evelyn glanced back.
The blue-eyed civilian was talking to an officer whose uncertain stance and red face labeled him a rookie. "I don't think we do that," the officer said with a shrug.
Evelyn made a mental note that no one had cross-checked the murders. Most small towns weren't plugged into ViCAP. Once she saw the crime scene, she'd try to determine whether these were the killer's first crimes; if not, she'd access the database herself and see if she could track him before he'd come to Bakersville.
The officer escorting her knocked on a door marked Police Chief Tanner Caulfield, then left her alone.
"Come in," a distinctly Southern voice barked.
The man inside was young for a police chief. When he stood, he looked as if he had more than a foot on her five feet two inches and a past as a high school linebacker without quite enough bulk to make it into college ball.
Evelyn thrust out her hand. "I'm Evelyn Baine, from the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. I'm here to consult on your murder investigation."
His thick eyebrows furrowed. He stared at her dainty hand with its short, unpolished nails, then took it carefully, as though he was afraid he'd break it. As he shook her hand, he was also shaking his head. "Sorry. You don't look like an agent."
"Really?" Evelyn replied, frustrated by the too-common reaction. "What does an agent look like?"
"Bigger. But yours is a desk job, right?"
His assumption annoyed her, but a year of consulting with outside law enforcement had shown her the best way to respond. He wasn't going to respect her unless he thought she could hold her own in the field. "I was a field agent for five years before transferring to BAU. I worked violent crime."
Tanner's eyebrows jerked up, and he studied her a little more closely as he settled in his chair. "You're going to give me a profile of the killer, right? Something that'll tell us how to catch this bastard?"
"That's right. It's my job to study behavioral evidence the UNSUB doesn't know he left at the crime scene." That was what had always fascinated her about her jobturning an unknown subject (UNSUB) into an identified killer from clues he didn't even realize he was leaving behind. "From that, I can tell you how to locate him and how to interrogate him once he's in custody."
"Okay," Tanner said slowly. "What exactly do you mean by behavioral evidence?"
"What I find at the crime scene helps me see how he thinks, what he's looking for in his victims, why he kills."
"Uh-huh." Tanner sounded as if he didn't quite understand profiling, but that didn't matter.
Because she understood Tanner. Her job wasn't just about profiling the perpetrators. It was also about profiling the people who called her onto their turf. Most of them only came to the FBI if they were desperate, and many of them resented it. She'd learned fast that sizing up whoever was in charge made her job easier.
Five minutes in Tanner's office was all she needed to figure out that his position was a major source of pride and that he'd felt underqualified before he'd been tested with a serial killer. As long as she was careful with his ego, he'd be eager to listen to her.
"Let's get started." Energy hummed in Evelyn's veins. Time to nail another predator to the wall. And he'd never see her coming.
"Do you have the profile for me now?"
Without knowing anything other than that there'd been two murders? Did Tanner think she was a psychic? "I'm afraid it doesn't work that way."
"How does it work?"
"You have cops at the scene? Let's start there. I want to join them."
Tanner frowned. "It's ugly, Agent Baine."
Evelyn nodded. As a woman, she got this reaction a lot. "Trust me, I've probably seen worse."
"Okay." He stood. "I'll take you."
Evelyn followed him out to a patrol car and, ten minutes later, they were talking to Jack Harris to tell him they'd be joining the other cops on his property.
"I wanted him to know I was back. We wouldn't want him to think we were trespassing and shoot at us," Tanner told her as they returned to the car.
Evelyn glanced at the elderly man watching them from his doorway. He looked as if he shouldn't be able to walk without assistance, let alone fire a weapon.
"Why are we driving? How far into his property are we going?"
Tanner gunned the engine. "Pretty far."
He pulled out of the driveway and headed back the way they'd come, then unexpectedly swung left onto a dirt trail. The police car slowed as it bounced over the uneven ground, and branches scratched both sides.
Finally, he pulled to a stop behind several other patrol cars and the medical examiner's van. The forest seemed to have swallowed them. Tall oak, hickory and pine trees blocked out most of the sun as Evelyn followed Tanner deeper into the woods.
"Does this area get much traffic?"
"The woods?" Tanner grunted. "None. Harris has a hundred acres back here and he guards it with his shotgun. He's the one who found the bodies, and only because he thought he spotted someone trespassing."
"So where you parked, that was the closest place to bring a vehicle to the crime scene?"
"Then the killer knows the area. And he's not looking for attention."
Evelyn had no idea how deep into the woods they were going, but she couldn't hear the cops yet. "He didn't expect these bodies to be found. So he's not looking for press coverage."
"You might change your mind when you see the bodies," Tanner muttered.
Evelyn held back her rebuttal. It didn't matter what state the bodies were in, the drop site told its own story. And this one was already telling her they had a killer who liked his privacy, who was careful and even-tempered. Someone who'd be hard to track down
"There it is," Tanner finally said, pointing.
Up ahead, crime scene tape had been strung around trees, and cops were working inside it. Two men in black coats with the words Medical Examiner's Office stenciled on the pockets were carrying a gurney.