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Police psychologist Dr. Kate Kilpatrick shivered against the chill that lingered in the damp air and tightened the belt of her chocolate-brown trench coat as she hurried along the sidewalk to the crime scene. She hated being cold. And if this early October morning was any indication, then she was in for a long winter.
Impossibly long if she had to face any more visits to this revitalized area of Kansas City and deal with the job she'd been summoned to.
High heels, the KCPD auxiliary identification hanging around her neck, and the confident authority that she'd honed into a suit of armor over the years got the gathering crowd to part and let her pass with little more than a nod or a touch. She spotted the lanky, red-haired detective, Spencer Montgomery, who headed up the serial rapist task force she'd been assigned to, standing near the yellow crime scene tape that blocked the entrance to an alley between a local flower shop and a gutted warehouse building that was being remade into shops, offices and loft apartments. Summoning her courage on a deep breath, Kate turned off her emotions and braced herself for the death and violence reportedly on the other side of that yellow tape.
"Officer Taylor." She approached the tall, brawny K-9 officer who was guarding the scene with the proportionately big and muscular German shepherd panting beside him.
He touched the brim of his KCPD ball cap. "Ma'am."
She grinned up at him. The two had recently become acquainted with his assignment to the task force, as well. "I told you to call me Kate."
"If you call me Pike."
"Done." The nickname was unusual, but the charm was genuine.
The K-9 officer pointed to the trio of police officers conferring next to the wall at the edge of the alley. "They're over there
"Thanks, Pike." She stepped around him and the dog to join the rest of the team. "Detective Montgomery."
"Doc." Spencer turned from the conversation he'd been having with his shorter, dark-haired partner and a copper-haired female officer she recognized as Nick Fensom and Maggie Wheeler, an investigator and a victim interview specialist also assigned to the KCPD task force. "The CSIs are nearly done processing the scene where the body was found, and we're conducting an initial canvas of the neighborhood." His report was as measured and concise as the tone of his voice. "Our Rose Red Rapist has stayed true to his pattern. The abduction occurred late at night after the victim closed up the shop for her bossshe was dead by two or three in the morning. This is the dump site, not where the assault occurredand thus far we haven't turned up any witnesses." He handed over his notebook and let her study the observations he'd recorded. "You ready for this?"
"Not especially." She nodded a good morning to Nick and Maggie. She tipped her head toward the closed-off street behind her. "Is there any way we can thin this crowd out a little bit? And turn off the flashing lights? There's been enough speculation about the Rose Red Rapist escalating the violence of his attacks. All this commotion is only adding fuel to the fire of public panic."
"I'll take care of it," Maggie volunteered. She turned her mouth to the radio clipped to her jacket and started issuing orders.
"Thanks." Kate caught Maggie's hand and squeezed it before she could walk away, silently asking her former patient how she was handling the pressure of the unsolved investigation and the horrible memories the scene in the alleyway must have triggered.
"I'm good," Maggie reassured her, returning the squeeze with a real smile and reminding Kate of the engagement ring the uniformed officer now wore on her left hand. "It's the first time one of the assault victims has been found dead."
"Did you see the body?" Kate asked.
Maggie nodded, her smile fading. "That woman fought hard for her life. But I'm a fighter, too. Doing something to help put that bastard away helps me handle it all. So I'm good. We'll catch up later, okay?"
More friend than counselor now, Kate agreed. "I owe you a cup of tea. Give me a call."
Kate stuffed her hand back into the warmth of her coat pocket as the other woman walked away, and skimmed Detective Montgomery's notes before handing the book back to him. After discovering Maggie's affinity for understanding the victims of sexual assault, Kate's role on the commissioner's task force had shifted slightly. She wasn't a trained investigator, and she hadn't suffered a terrifying attack the way Maggie had, but she understood people. As a trained psychologist who counseled members of the police force and assisted with suspect interviews and criminal profiling, Kate knew how to read a face, a room, an entire crowd. She had a way with wordsshe knew when to talk, when to listenand she knew what to say. In a city being terrorized by a serial rapist who'd reappeared in May after a ten-year hiatus, and had claimed his latest victim sometime last night, nerves were on edge.
It was her job to put those nerves to rest.
"I'm assuming you've moved the press to a neutral location?" She turned her attention to the two detectives.
Nick Fensom groused at the camera flash that went off on the other side of the street barricade. "Except for a couple of photographers trying to get a shot of the corpse" he raised his voice to chide the photographer "which we've already moved"
"Nick," Spencer cautioned, quieting his partner.
The shorter man held his hands out in a begrudging apology. "The reporters are in front of the Robin's Nest Florist Shop, where the vic worked."
Just catty-corner across the street from where the previous victim had been abducted outside a local bridal shop. Kate nodded to the shop owner standing at the window of Fairy Tale Bridal, suspecting she and the other women who lived and worked in this neighborhood were beginning to rethink their choice of the trendy, upscale location. Two assaults in just six monthsattacks that were brutal, traceless and now deadlymust be making every woman afraid of her own shadow, and every man look like a potential suspect.
Not to mention what news of another rape had to be doing for local business. With a determined intake of breath, Kate looked to her left, spotting the group of television cameras, broadcast vans, microphones and reporters waiting for her to make a statement on behalf of the task force. "I doubt the flower shop owner will be thrilled with this kind of publicity. I'll set up on the sidewalk facing north so the storefront won't be behind me in the picture."
"Good point." The detective reached out to stop a young officer who was assisting with crowd control. A sly glance at his navy blue uniform identified him.
"I need you to help Dr. Kilpatrick move this crowd of reporters down half a block or so."
"Right away, sir." The young man was barely in his twenties. He was new to the job and eager to please the senior officer. "Dr. Kilpatrick."
"Hi, Pete." She knew the rookie cop from a couple of counseling sessions on anger management issues he'd had that had carried over from his off-duty life into his work. "How are you doing today?"
"Haven't gotten myself into trouble yet."
"Good to hear." Kate summoned the necessary smile to send him on his way. She wore a more serious expression when she handed the notebook back to Detective Montgomery. "It's my understanding that the Rose Red Rapist hasn't stayed true to his pattern. The woman he attacked is dead?"
Spencer nodded. "Blow to the head. M.E.'s office has her now. They'll have to tell us if it was intentional or the result of the strugglemaybe the vic saw his face or managed to get away, and he did it to stop her."
Two things that hadn't happened with any of the Rose Red Rapist's previoussurvivingvictims. Changes in a perp's behavioral patterns could mean something as simple and tragic as silencing a witness to his crimes. But it could also indicate a psychotic breaka dangerous development that meant his attacks would become both more frequent and more violent.
Kate had counseled plenty of assault victims before, but she'd never been assigned to work on a case where the victim hadn't survived. "And we're sure it's our guy? And not a sick coincidence?"
The crime lab liaison assigned to the task force, Annie Hermann, approached the opposite side of the crime scene tape, holding up a bagged red rose in her gloved hand. "I don't know anyone else who leaves one of these with his victim. I'll run an analysis, but I'm betting it came from the flower shop where she worked."
"That's gutsy." Detective Fensom lifted the tape for the petite brunette in the navy blue CSI jacket to join them. "Buying a flower from the woman you plan to attack later? She probably looked him right in the face."
"Could be why he killed her," Annie theorized. After a moment's hesitation, she tucked her curly dark hair behind her ear and crossed beneath Detective Fensom's arm to join their circle. "Maybe he was a regular customer and she recognized him by the sound of his voice, even if he did wear a mask to hide his face the way his other victims describe. If she called him by name, that could have been her death sentence."
Kate offered another, more disturbing explanation. "Or maybe rape is no longer satisfying enough for our unsub to display his power over the women he attacks."
Spencer Montgomery tucked his notebook inside the front of his suit jacket. "Yeah, well, let's keep that tidbit of information to ourselves. The city's already on edge. If they believe it's a onetime thing, and not an escalation in the violence of his attacks, we might ease somebody's fears."
Kate nodded her agreement and inhaled another fortifying breath.
"Go work your magic, Kate," Spencer encouraged her. "You calm this chaos down and we'll finish up here."
"Right. We'll debrief later at the precinct?" Detective Montgomery nodded. "This afternoon, if possible."
"Keep me posted."
As the detectives and CSI went back to work, Kate pulled up the sleeve of her coat to make sure her watch was visible. Short and sweet was the key to a successful press conference. She was already formulating a brief statement and would set a time limit for entertaining questions. When she was done, she'd send the press away to make their preliminary reports and tell the residents of Kansas City to remain cautious but not to panicthat KCPD was on the job. Then she could get back to her office at the Fourth Precinct to get some real work done on unmasking a serial rapist turned murderer and get him off the streets.
Kate raised her hands to silence the onslaught of questions that greeted her and took her position on the sidewalk. She pushed aside a microphone that had gotten too close to her face and squinted as the bright lights of numerous cameras suddenly spotlighted her.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention, please." As her eyes adjusted to the unnatural brightness, some of the faces in the crowd began to take shape. She recognized Gabriel Knight, a reporter for the Kansas City Journal and one of KCPD's harshest critics. She knew Rebecca Cartwright, another reporter who happened to be the daughter-in-law of KCPD's commissioner, and who would no doubt put a more positive spin on things than Knight would.
She hesitated for one awkward, painful, debilitating moment when she spotted Vanessa Owen, a woman who reported local news for one of the city's television stations. Vanessa's caramel skin, dark brown hair and smoothly articulate voice had become a fixture on Kansas City televisions. She'd once been a fixture in Kate's life, as well. Vanessa had been a good friend, a sorority sister from college who continued to move in the same social circles as they established careers and marriages after graduation. The story between them that mattered the most had thankfully never been aired, though at times like this, the events that marked the end of their friendship still burned like a raw wound in Kate's chest.
But Kate was here to do her job, just as Vanessa was here to do hers. This wasn't personal. Suck it up, counselor. You're in control here. KCPD made you spokesperson for the task force because they know you can handle it. And with that mental pep talk sending her emotions back into the protective vault inside her, Kate blinked and moved on with the job at hand.
Beyond that first row of reporters, the lights and flashes and eager crowd made identifying others in the sea of faces nearly impossible. "I'm Dr. Kate Kilpat-rick. I'm a police psychologist and public liaison officer with KCPD."
Gabriel Knight didn't wait for any further introduction. "Is it true that the Rose Red Rapist's latest assault victim is dead?"
Biting her tongue to maintain a patient facade, Kate looked straight into the reporter's probing blue eyes. "I will be making a brief statement on behalf of the department and the task force investigating the attack, and then I will have time for a handful of questions."
"Make your statement," Knight challenged.
Kate eased the tension she felt into a serene smile and included the entire gathering, including Vanessa Owen, in her speech. "A twenty-eight-year-old woman was sexually assaulted in this neighborhood last night, sometime between ten p.m. and three o'clock this morning. There was a rose left at the scene, indicating the attack was committed by the man" she paused and held out her hands, placing the blame for their perp's notoriety squarely where it belonged "you have dubbed as the Rose Red Rapist."
"Kate, is the woman dead?" Vanessa stole Gabriel Knight's question before he could ask it.
Although she bristled beneath her coat at the liberty her old friend had taken in addressing her by name, Kate merely nodded. "Yes. We are in the preliminary stages of a murder investigation"
"Who was she?" Vanessa followed up.
"and pending more exact information and notification of the family, I can't give more details at this time."
"Kate," Vanessa prodded. "You have to give us something."
She looked straight into the camera beside Vanessa. "This is what I can tell you. We will find this man. The task force members investigating these crimes are top-notch specialiststhe best in KCPD. I guarantee that we will not rest until this attacker is caught and arrested."
A commotion at the rear of the crowd diverted Vanessa's and Gabriel Knight's attention for a moment, but the cameras were still rolling, so Kate continued with the briefing. "Rest assured that KCPD and the commissioner's task force are doing everything in our power to identify the attacker and ascertain whether or not this crime is related to the attack that occurred in May, or to others that have occurred in previous years."
The shuffling of movement and Hey's and What the's? in the crowd behind them finally garnered Gabriel's and Vanessa's attention, too.