DISCLAIMER: Uh…Nikki and Nora aren't mine they have a cameo in two parts and are briefly mentioned here and there. The rest of the whack jobs in the piece are all my own doing. You can't have them, but I don't mind sharing. I passed kindergarten.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay a few things…There was a throw away comment a bit ago from a reader about doing a spin-off featuring Ann, Jill, John and the rest of the her people in Virginia. I took that throw away comment and ran with it. My sister, in her all her insanity, challenged me to participate in Nanowrimo this year. I thought about it…I write fanfic. I know I have it in me to complete 50K words, my longest story to date is around 89K, but the challenge was was I able to complete in a month. Most of the readership knows that I've got a A Thousand Oceans going and I'm working on a Buffy story, Let the Dominoes Fall what you probably don't is that I'm a glorified number cruncher and work upwards of 60 hours, then there's family stuff and I wanted to finish off my Masters (classes started the end of October). November was effing crazy. On the upside…The challenge is finished. I polished it off on Friday morning. So, while I'm trying to catch up with my other two stories, I offer you this as an interim installment on the A.U. that I've built with Nikki & Nora. It's a spinoff. I hope it worked. Also, yes, I know this is a ghastly long author's note, but…this story hasn't been reviewed by my beta. I wasn't going to torture him with it seeing as how he'd have needed to accomplish the piece by the end of the month. And he's quite capable, it just seemed mean. So all mistakes are really and truly my own. I hope everyone reads and enjoys.
FEEDBACK: To whedonistic.tendencies[at]gmail.com
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Putting the Damage On
By Whedonist


Ch. 3 – And Games

The pounding behind my right eye picks up tempo, causing me to use the tips of my fingers to add some pressure to the top of my closed eyelid. I don't know if it's the heat, the stress, the frustration or my lack of sleep. The argument for the headache could also be that the ridge of my right brow and cheekbone are still feeling the after effects of the two-by-four to the face I took three days ago.

Generally, my line of work revolves around filling out paperwork, sending out analysis on cases or running an investigation, but those are few and far between on an annual basis. There are exceptions to everyone's general work load and sometimes, my life resembles a John Patterson novel.

Sometimes, it can be a little fun, but others like three days ago when John and I ran down our suspect on a construction site in Knoxville, Tennessee, I got to come home to my model wife with a busted face. The one thing I will say is that with a bit of therapy, Jill has learned to handle my job and she handled my face well. She only let a few tears slip.

Finally, I open my eyes and go back to what has become something less than an obsession, but more than a hobby. I feel the sweat trickle down the back of my neck to trail down my spine. It really does nothing to cool me off. If maintenance could get their act together and fix the busted A.C. unit, that would be fucking swell. I came in blue jeans and a black t-shirt. I'm thinking that a bikini top and sarong would be better than standing here in my makeshift case room sweating my ass off.

Sighing, I mumble, "Fuck it," and strip off my t-shirt, to leave me in a white tank top. I use the t-shirt to mop the back of my neck and toss it on the small table to my right. The room I'm in isn't much more than a closet in my office building, but I've converted it to what John likes to call my box. The only furniture is a small table, to my right there is a white board, directly in front of me a tack board and to my left the table that holds a docking station for my laptop.

When we're having trouble on a case and the pieces aren't coming together, I bring the case in here and put it up. The case I've got up here is one that John doesn't want to take up too much time with given the scraps of information that we have to go on. If I were him I'd make the same call, but thankfully, I'm not. He's the one required to put up with my ornery ass.

Three crime scenes stare back at me. Margaret, Maria and Jennifer are all faceless in the crime scene photos, but I always make it a point to tack up a photo of who they were before they became a victim. Margaret smiles with her family, Maria is glowing in an off white wedding dress and Jennifer has her arms wrapped around the waist of her six-year-old son. My jaw clenches and I go back to the white board that's full of notes.

"Ann," I turn my head to see Lucy resting inside the doorway. Her eyebrow is raised and her arms rest casually over her chest.

I only offer her a grunt for recognition and go back to staring at my notes. I can't shake the feeling that I'm missing something. There is some piece of this puzzle that isn't locking into place or I'm missing it entirely.

"You know," she says stepping up behind me to look over my shoulder, "That if I find you in here anymore, I'm going to start to worry."

"Yeah well, when I figure out what I'm missing I'll won't be in here. I'll be chasing this fucker down so don't worry," I snip.

"Ann," she says softly, placing her hand on my shoulder.

Finally, I turn to face her and am taken aback by the concern I see in her eyes. I relent and offer a tight smile. "It's been nearly nine months, our last body was two months ago. Given the time between bodies, I don't think I have much time to break this."

She nods. Lucy Walker is probably one of my most favorite persons. A small woman, she stands at five-foot-four, a hundred-ten pounds soaking wet with shoulder length red hair and grey eyes. She's smart, she's a smartass and she can usually get me to laugh when it's the last thing that I want to do. She also doesn't give me shit any more than I need it. She must know I don't need it right now. Instead of pressing me, she steps back and rests against the table, looking at the whiteboard with me.

"I know you guys searched for similar cases, but what were the search parameters?" she asks before chewing on the nail of her left thumb.

"We were concentrating on missing flesh," I answer her and rest my hands on my hips.

"Pull anything good?" she mumbles around her thumb.

"Nothing that struck me or John."

"So either the cases haven't been logged or we widen our search," Lucy reasons.

I bite my lip and shake my head.

"What do you mean no?" I can hear the rebuke and I'm not entirely sure what to do about it or how to answer.

I try the truth, "It's not like I don't think it'll hurt, but Luce, I think the answers are here. I just can't…"

"You're too close," she cuts me off. I turn to glare. "Just wait a sec before you bite my head off." Her hand is held up in front of her asking for patience. "You've been looking at these same photos for months. You just came back from being knocked around by a psycho with a sweet tooth for ramming pieces of wood where no pieces of wood should go. Since you've been back, the time you've been at work has been spent in here. Also, Jill's not above calling one of us to find out why you've been coming home so late and leaving so early."

I purse my lips.

"So, since you've been spending the last sixty hours out of seventy-two here, I think you need to take a step back." Her arms go across her chest again and she dares me to deny her evidence.

"How do you know where I've been the past three days?" I retort.

"Travis gave me the access logs for reconciliation. You know the Bureau and the D.O.D. hates when we log too much time." She smirks and follows up with, "Besides, I have eyes. I can see. Which right now, is more than I can say for John, because once he signs off on the logs and sees the amount of time you've been here, he's going to go ape shit."

I send her a scowl. She's right, John will go ape shit. He likes to be here the most and it messes with his work ethic if his staff is here more than he is.

Luce rolls her eyes at me and teases, "And it also makes him worry."

"How did you…" I try to ask.

"Please, that bastard hates it when we work more than he does and he hates to worry. He's also really bad at worrying. My mother doesn't nag that much." She pushes off the desk, tossing me my shirt as she rights herself. "Do us all a favor because you look like shit and I don't need Jill down here in our shit, smacking John around."

"Hey, she's only done that once," I defend my wife.

Lucy shakes her head. "She's smacked him once and decked him once. Or are we forgetting you're stint as bait and being dragged off to the mid-Atlantic?"

"Oh, yeah, well, uhm," I try, but nothing really comes out. My wife's a trip and a third.

"So, go home, spend some quality time with her and come back tomorrow when you're head's not firmly planted up your ass and we'll sit down together."

"That you're best offer?" I joke with her and slip the shirt on over my head.

She nods firmly and right before my eyes, has my keys dangling in front of them. "I'll shut this down. Why don't you go," she stops and looks at her watch. Cocking her head to the side, she holds up three fingers and I watch as they lower one by one.

As the last finger folds into her palm, I hear, "Ann, let's go."

My eyes grow large and I poke my head out of the closet. Jill is standing down the hall smiling at me. Rolling my eyes, I turn to a smirking Lucy, snatch my keys away from her and threaten, "Tomorrow, I'm kicking your ass."

"Come on, Ann. It's fucking hot in here," Jill pouts and I jog down the hall. She stops me and pulls me to her. Her left index finger reaches out and gently traces over my battered cheek and under my eyes. "We owe Lucy one." She kisses me gently and takes my hand, leading me out into the muggy June weather of Virginia.

I wake up to the smell of coffee and frying bacon. This is odd. This is odd for several reasons. The first being that it's only seven o'clock in the morning. The second being that Jill is still by my side, well actually I'm by hers. When she came and picked me up yesterday, I was the recipient of a very short ass chewing, which was merciful especially for her, and then she pretty much just took care of me the rest of the night. It was one of the sweetest nights in recent memory.

I'm still curled up in her arms, our legs a mass of limbs and I can't tell where she begins and I end. She's snoring a little, which I find cute. Others may find it obnoxious or annoying; I say it's their loss. With her in my arms there's still the smell of coffee and frying bacon. Something's rotten in the House of Flemming.

As gently as possible, I extract myself from my wife, taking extra care to not jostle her too much. It's early and she hates getting up early. At some point I was stripped of my clothing. I stand in the middle of my bedroom clad only in a tank top and bikini briefs. There are several options to go with. I mean not many ax murders cook their next victims bacon or brew them coffee, but then again, you never know.

Sociopaths and their cousins, psychopaths, aren't known for their predictability which is somewhat funny because I've been able to predict a sociopath's behavior on more than one occasion.

Internal debate over, I find a t-shirt and my jeans from yesterday folded on the recliner by our bedroom window. Well actually it's a bank of windows that are generally covered unless it's raining outside and the curtains get opened to give us an unobstructed view of the rolling hills and woods that surround our home. My gun is where it's supposed to be, stashed in a lock box sitting on top of my dresser. I love this box, no codes, no combination, just a quick scan of my left pinky or Jill's.

Not bothering with socks, I pad down the hallway as quietly as possible. I hear a soft humming in the kitchen and try to discern who in the fuck is in my kitchen at seven in the damn morning, humming to...cocking my head to the side I listen and hear Martha and the Vandella's sing about some boy...Linda Ness, Jill's mom.

Christ in platforms and a wedding dress what the fuck?

Sighing, I depress my annoyance and tuck my gun away, slipping it between the small of my back and waist of my jeans. It's not the safest place for it, but the jeans are tight enough and the safety's on. I run a hand through my disheveled, longer than I like it hair, and then enter the kitchen.

She doesn't hear or see me, so I prop myself up in the arch way and watch her move around the kitchen. There are things about Jill's mom that amaze me. Her and Jill are the same height, they have the same brunette hair, but Linda has silver running through it. The same beautiful and intriguing brown eyes. Jill however lacks a few things that her mother inherited, one is the ability to actually cook and the second is a love for crafts and gardening.

I'm kinda bummed about the cooking thing, but thank God my wife hates crafts and gardening.

Linda finally spins around from the stove and stops dead in her tracks. The frying pan she's holding goes crashing to the floor, the spatula gets tossed over her head and she lets out the wildest shriek I've ever heard.

I laugh. Full on double over, tears streaming from my eyes laugh as soon as Linda finishes shrieking.

"For gosh shakes, Ann, what were you thinking? You just don't sneak up on people like that," she chides me. She sounds more miffed than anything else. My guess is she's also embarrassed. Her hands go to her hips and she stands much like Jill does when I'm getting an earful. I giggle some more, despite the protests from my busted cheek.

When I finally right myself, her jaw drops and she's by my side instantly, "Oh, dear, Jill said you got hurt at work. I didn't think it was anything that bad. Come on. Sit down and let me take a look." And there's the Linda I know. The woman can go from annoyed to motherly in point-oh-three seconds.

"Linda, really, it's fine. Looks way worse than it feels," I try to brush off her concern. I mean it's sweet and all, but there are exactly two people on this planet that I will let fuss over me. One I'm married to and the other's in New Orleans with her life partner. Nora and I are even on the same page about getting fussed over. It usually just pisses us off.

Linda must see it because she backs off pretty quick. "Well, if you need anything Ann…" she lets the rest trail off. It's an unspoken rule actually. Linda and I were always cool. I was always reminded of that when we would sit in the Ness' backyard, smoking and talking while Jill slept. I was the second daughter Linda never got and she was like the mother I wished for instead of the one that never bothered with me.

We bonded on Saturday mornings and she was actually the first person I came out to. She also even offered to have me live with them after I was kicked out of my uncle's house. I think before Lee, she knew Jill and I were more than just friends or supposed to be more than just friends. Linda never batted an eyelash nor gave one derogatory remark. When Jill and I told her about us, she just clucked her tongue, smacked Jill upside the head and asked, "What in the hell took you two so long? I was hoping for grandbabies sooner rather than later."

The remark floored Jill. Her family's reaction was one of her biggest hang ups with us and why it took her so long to allow us to be together. Her family is Southern Baptist. They are the fire and brimstone loving types that like to whap you on the head with their righteousness. Jill never was one to agree with it, she's an out and proud Agnostic, but her family's reaction was of serious concern.

I'm still not sure why she worried. Linda is very cool and Jill's dad, John, shrugged and smiled, intoning how nice it was.

"I know," I tell her softly, "thanks. But I have a couple of questions, one, why are you here and two, why are you here and cooking breakfast?"

She pats the uninjured side of my face and smiles fondly at me. It's actually the way you would a clueless child and says, "Jill called me after you fell asleep. I thought I'd surprise you two and then skedaddle, but you ruined it."

"Oh," I manage before melting just a little. I do love Linda, not as much as I love her daughter, but I feel that it's a very similar love to what a child should feel towards their mom.

"So, since you ruined the surprise, grab a rag and help me clean this up," she orders.

I chuckle but do as asked. As I stand from the stool, I feel my gun start to slip down the small of my back. Unthinking, I remove it and place it on the kitchen island and start cleaning up.

"There better be a good fucking reason I'm awake," Jill grumbles. I peek up from my spot kneeling behind the island cleaning up bacon grease. She's wearing her robe; it's open to expose her body. Underneath the robe, she's only wearing her underwear which is a little skimpier than mine and a camisole.

My wife shuffles in the kitchen, rubbing her eyes from under her glasses. She hasn't seen her mother yet. Jill hates cussing in front of her mom. This is funny, because Jill can keep up with the most seasoned sailor on shore leave in expletives per sentence any day of the week.

"Jillian Leigh Ness," her mother barks, "Your home or not, I will not stand here and listen to that kind of talk."

I watch as her hand drops and her head snaps up. I smirk at the fish mouth and her ridged back.

"G'morning, babe," I sing song from my position.

Her eyes narrow at me briefly, but then quickly go to her mother. "Sorry, mama," she says contritely. "I didn't know you were here." Her face scrunches for a second before she asks, "What are you doing here?"

"Trying to be a nice mother, but that's shot to hell in a hand basket. I swear you two ruin all my fun," she chirps and turns back to the eggs in the skillet.

Jill just shakes her head and shuffles over to me. I smile up at her. She grabs my hand and pulls me up, grabbing on to my hips. I kiss her gently. She doesn't pull back though. Instead, she deepens the kiss before I try to pull away.

A loud cough separates us and Linda says, "I don't mind you two doing that as long as it eventually leads to some grandchildren. And Jill, tie the robe or go put some clothes on. I've seen that naked rear end enough and I don't need the only other cook in the family getting distracted by your sleepwear."

I groan. Jill giggles.

It's going to be one of them days. As Jill complies with her mother's request and scurries off to the bedroom, I finish my clean up and start to help with breakfast. The thoughts of the case in my closet pushed to the back of my mind. I need a morning like this.

And all together now, for the millionth time that day, I sigh. It's starting to get on my nerves. I've had cases before that were frustrating. They were hard and didn't make sense, but there was always a lose thread to be found. That thread would unravel the case or at least point to the right knot so that I could start untangling the mess that was presented to me.

At least that's how it usually works, but with these cases, John's not so amusingly dubbed to "The No Profile" cases, there's nothing. I never had access to the scenes first, so preserving any forensic evidence is a joke. John and I spent time in each area going through the neighborhoods, talking to any potential witnesses and no one has seen a thing or if they do they don't remember. With a fairly open work load, I've gone back to going over the individual murders. Nothing pings; nothing even remotely sticks out at me. John's betting the proverbial farm on my psychological profile of our unsub. So far I've come up with a text book profile that any newbie out of Quantico's Behavioral Training Unit could gather.

By the time I managed to get away from Jill. Linda left around eight this morning and Jill decided to make the most of our carbed up state and force me to go on a five mile run around the neighborhood. Lucy was in by the time I hit my desk. For the past four hours, she and I have been widening our searches. We started with race and age of the victim that netted more hits in our system than I care to vocalize. Once we got those, we began filtering out types of homicides. Anything with a sexual tilt, shootings or beatings and bludgeonings were removed. That helped a little. Our concentration was on stabbings and/or where the cause of death was indeterminate but a knife or sharp instrument was used. The filters brought our total down to around a less than desirable seven-hundred-sixty-three homicides.

We may get through them before I retire. Maybe. I think Travis started a pool with his friends over in Counterintelligence as to when we'll get done. John's supposed to be back in the office today. He was out yesterday and half of today mucking about in Washington. Him in D.C. always makes me nervous.

On the upside to a wonderful morning, I came into a fully functional air-conditioned office and I guess I'm supposed to be counting my blessings instead of bitching about the pile of work that I've just given myself. I take a sip of my luke warm coffee and mark off case four of my half of the seven-sixty-three. I pick my pen up and in a habit that developed somewhere along the way, I begin twirling it between my fingers.

My eyes look past Lucy and stay glued, but unfocused, on a patch of wall behind her. I have to think I'm approaching these cases from the wrong angle. The classic definition of insanity is doing the same thing, the same way, repeatedly and expecting different results. So maybe it's not the case and the little bit we have, but the way I'm looking at it.

The air conditioning kicks on and I drop my pen to lean forward and rest my head on my upturned hand. My right thumb and pointer finger press into my lips as I stare blankly at my computer screen. If I strip away what I know, what do the scenes tell me individually?

The victims, at least in death, the crime scenes were very, very similar. Individually the bodies were placed in a respectful way. All of the victims were found fully clothed with no signs of sexual assault. Add to that, all three were put on display. Each body posed in a comparable fashion. Bamby feels confident enough in her findings to say that they were kept awake during the removal of their face, so I'll say it's a damn good bet that's what happened.

The specifics of the case, I need to stay focused. Sometimes that can be hard when there are too many moving pieces. I shake it off and begin outlining ideas in my note book. The last two known victims were found in their residence. Someplace that was going to get the bodies discovered easily. Yet, the first known, was placed out of the way, in the woods around common hunting territory.

A small shock courses up my spine causing me to sit up straighter. My instinct tells me that that's an important detail.

But why? What would it tell us?

It could tell us a myriad of things like Margret was the first kill, the unsub also placed her body in a position to be found easily. They want their work discovered. It could also tell us that at least with the first victim, our unsub was not comfortable using the home…


It's at this moment, where I'm on the brink and I feel my blood pumping through me that I love my job more than anything. That's the fucking key…or at least an arrow. It's been staring us right in the face for months. So glaringly obvious that a rookie in the smallest town in America would have been able to point it out to us. To me.

I mean given the time lapse and the fact the only crime scene we were able to walk was the last one, all of us have thought way to linearly about these cases. I want to beat my head off the desk. If John were here I'd ask that he hit me out of sheer stupidity. It almost makes me want to give him back the t-shirt he got me for my birthday our first year as partners. It's a black V-neck that has "I'm a freakin' genius" in bold white print.

I push back from my desk and startle Lucy. She looks up from her own desk and cocks an eyebrow at me. Ignoring her looks, I begin to pace the length of our small office. My fingers drum on my hips as I walk back and forth.

It's the murder scene. We've been taking it for granted that the murder scene and the crime scene are one in the same, but all of these, except maybe the first, smack of the bodies being positioned, put on display. Those two, Sheridan and Denbow are not true crime scenes; they're nothing more than displays.

Granted I don't have any evidence to back my assertions, but then I don't have any evidence to indicate that I'm wrong either. The only thing I have to go on is my gut. It's going to have to be good enough. "Lucy, we're stupid," are the first words out of my mouth. "I need you to start calling the three different departments and see if they came up with anything to indicate the murder scene was also the kill site. If they did, we need to know. If it wasn't than I need to know who followed up with that lead."

"Uh, Ann, usually I'm pretty good about keeping up with you, but you wanna help a sister out and tell me what the flying fuck you're rambling about?" Lucy rocks back in her seat and waits.

I shake my head and go over to the three main photos that showcase each body on display perfectly. "We're fucking stupid. Look at these; tell me what you think? Tell me what our unsub is saying here?"

She cocks her head to the side and begins to study the pictures like she's never seen them before. Slowly, my words sink in and her eyes grow large. "Well shit," is all she manages before our office door swings open and John comes bustling through.

He's red faced and the vein in his neck is pumping his blood a little too quickly for my liking. Not noticing the appearance of my partner, Lucy bounces in her seat a little and says, "Ann may have a lead for us on our No Profile Cases. It's at least a start." She then looks up from studying the images to take in John. "Uh, okay, who do we have to kill?" My mouth pinches at the question.

Sometimes, when things get really crazy that question isn't a joke. It's a reality that none of us likes, but live with.

"Get your shit," he clips, "We've got a scene in Stafford."

I look him over and ask, "John, what scene? More words are helpful, you know."

"Both of you, get it together and I'll go over more once we get there, but to put it in the most succinct terms, our boy, No Profile, has left us a little present. This time a fuck lot closer to where I rest my head."

That's all it takes for us to be out the door and to Apollo, trusting that my baby will get us there in short order.

Stafford like most of the other communities in the area aren't sleepy little hubs of domesticity. They're a regular town, full of people itching to do things more with the time they have. Being this close to the nation's capital doesn't hurt either. For the truly masochistic, they will commute from here to D.C. or even into Richmond for work. It's a nice little town. Not too far from John's home actually, but then again, he likes to have space and lives in the middle of nowhere.

On the ride over I ask John, "How do we know?"

Taking a turn on the I-95, pretty tight, he steadies himself with a hand on the dashboard and says, "Got an interesting call from a desk jockey with the state police."

I swerve around a semi-truck and BMW that's either deaf and blind or just plain stupid. Part of the retrofitting that John did was install, flashers and sirens in Apollo for times like this or when I get the occasional urge to drive around the country to various crime scenes. It doesn't happen all that often. The sirens on my baby are going and with the music playing in the car, Gun 'n' Roses, my two coworkers are wearing a tiny smirk.

What can I say, sometimes starting your day off with a little Axel Rose screaming about the jungle is fun.

I by-pass another semi and see the signs to Stafford. Usually the drive here will take anywhere from twenty to thirty minutes south of Quantico Station. Today, on a clear late summer afternoon, it takes me around twelve and a half minutes to exit the highway. Following John's directions, we head west and down a two lane county road to a development not far from one of the main shopping areas in town.

Hanging a left in the division and another left onto a side street, I see two police cruisers and an F.B.I. crime scene van parked at one of the houses at the end of the cul-de-sac. I pull in behind a black and white and kill the engine. John and Lucy are out before me as I turn off the sirens and lights. Popping the trunk, I meet them at the back of Apollo and reach for one of the three duffle bags that stay in the trunk.

I hand John and Luce their own set of latex gloves, booties, and hair cap. I take a set for myself along with a digital camera and follow my two friends under the crime scene tape. We sign the log a junior agent is keeping at the front door. As I enter there is a set of things to notice. First is that there are only two other people in the house that I can see besides myself, John and Lucy.

Their voices are audible from the entry way. The house isn't too large, single story, two bedroom single family home. Stepping into the home, there is a modest living room to my left, to my right a dining room that opens up to the kitchen. Directly in front of us is a hallway where I see three doors, all of which are open. The voices are coming from the last door on the left.

I lead the way down the hall after slipping the booties on over my shoes. Before I hit the door, I hear, "Travis, I swear to every deity that I can name off the top of my head, if you touch that envelope, I'm going to cut off your nuts and feed them to my dog."

I hear a small eep from our coworker and Bamby follow up her threat with, "Now get the hell over hear and help me with the body. I want her brought in the body bag with bed linens. All of them."

I quit eavesdropping to step into the bedroom. Two sets of eyes look up from their task of photographing and marking the position of the body. I scan the room first, taking in the position of the corpse and everything that is visible. The body, female, brunette, just like Maria Sheridan, just like the others, this victim is prone, with her hands clasped together resting on her hips. The facial skin is missing, leaving the muscles underneath exposed.

The placement of the body is always the first thing I notice. It is quickly followed by its condition and positioning. After the body and area have been noted, I notice a plain white envelope that rests on the dresser directly across from me. It sits against the far wall of the bedroom and on the front, there is script, I can't read it, but I can tell that it's clear and neat. I nod at Bamby and Travis and figure this must be the envelope she was threatening him over. I ask, "Do I want to know or are we free to investigate that item on the dresser without threat of missing parts?"

Bamby's eyes skirt mine and she mumbles, "It's for you anyhow."


"Uh, Ann," John says behind me, "Let me go look at it." I feel him behind me then I see him as he comes around and walks into the room like he walks into every other place, like he owns it. "Did you photograph this?" he asks, stepping in front of the dresser.

"Yeah," Travis answers. "Placement has been photographed. The responding officer said he didn't touch it. Just dialed the number."

John nods and plucks the envelope off the top. Unable to resist, I walk up behind him and step to his right. He looks down at me and shows me the front of the envelope. In clear, distinct script is my name, Special Agent Ann Flemming, along with a general number to a New York, F.B.I. exchange. The number I recognize as one that was set up a few years ago as part of a task force. The general number was supposed to connect you to the Quantico switch board, the calls would have been screened and not pushed through my direct line unless they either answered a set of questions or by passed with a security code.

The hair rises on the back of my neck. I fucking hate this.

"Ann," John says softly, "Do you…"

I nod and take the offered envelope. I turn it over and find the letter unsealed. Instead the flap is tucked inside to secure it closed. Pulling the flap free, I take a peek inside and only find a folded piece of stationary. I look at John and he shrugs. All right then. Fuck it. I pull the paper free and lay the empty envelope down.

Unfolding the paper, I hold it so that John and I can read it together.

Dear Special Agent Flemming,

Given the obtuse nature of those that pepper your profession, Mrs. Barbara Seevers graciously extended her willingness to help, by allowing me to leave you this gift. I hope you find in her death the answers she sacrificed herself for.

---"All great things must first wear terrifying and monstrous masks in order to inscribe themselves on the hearts of humanity."

May your travels treat you and your loved ones well.

"Is that a threat?" I ask.

It's hard to hear John over the ringing in my ears, but I do as he says, "It's pretty fucking close." He presses an evidence bag into my hand and I slip the letter and the envelope inside, marking the date and time to start the chain of evidence that procedure dictates.

"Okay." It's not really the first time some freak's threatened me. In fact, it's standard procedure whenever I seem to threaten them. "Bamby, what have you got for us?" My voice is surprisingly steady and calm as I hand off the evidence to Lucy who is standing behind me.

"Right now, it's just like Denbow. The body isn't cold. Preliminary time of death is going to put us inside three to maybe five hours," she answers.

I nod.

"John, how do you want to do this?" I ask resting my hands my hips.

"We'll start from the back of the house, probably the basement and work our way up. Grab a kit and we can go." I look him over quickly, the tense set of his jaw and shoulders belie his tone which is calm and even. "Bamby, Lucy and Travis, I want the bedroom gone over with a fine tooth comb. This is the first fresh crime scene we've got on this. I want every nook, cranny and bed-fucking-bug sucked up into a vacuum bag to be analyzed at our labs. Ann, let's go."

I watch John's military training kick in as he pivots on his left foot, doing an about face to stride from the room. I offer a nod to my colleagues and chase after my partner.

I guess it's time to have some fun.


Ch. 4 – Alignment to Cry

Closing my eyes, I link my fingers together, push them over my head and stretch backwards. There's a succession of pops that start in my cracked knuckles down to my wrists, elbows, shoulders and ends somewhere towards the middle of my spinal column. It feels fucking fantastic. It's been a long day and an even longer evening. With the crime scene back in Stafford and the hours that we spent going over the scene, it's late even by hooker standards. All the johns have gone away and all the pimps have collected their money. I figure that if even the pimps and hookers are asleep at this hour, I should be allowed to too.

Looking around the lab where we've duplicated and tacked up case information I can clearly see that that isn't even in the ball park of happening. We came back from the house at about two this morning. So far, Travis and Bamby have gotten through the bottom linens on the bed, Lucy's been processing samples taken from the body and hasn't peeked out from the back three rooms for the last four hours.

We think that she's still alive and uninjured. If she's not, we'll get to the smell eventually. We think. At least that's what John says and right now, considering the hour of the night and the amount of mind numbing procedural bullshit that needs to be gone through, if she's not okay, I'll buy her a cookie.

"So what do you think of the neighbors?" John asks me, not looking up from the paper he has in his hand. I glance up from my computer and shrug.

"It's the same. No one saw anything which to me is fucking stupid. I'm not home lots, but when something seems off, I notice it. When my neighbor hasn't come or gone in a few days, I fucking notice."

This gets my partner's attention and a wide eyed look. I won't comment on his smirk. "Okay, a few things, one who the hell pissed in your muddy coffee, two, it shouldn't shock you, it's been the same in the other cities and three, you, Ann, notice every-damn-thing. You never comment on a lot of it, but you do, so you can't use your experience as a basis for comparison. You're like fucking eagle eyes with a side of spooky intuition that in all honesty, creeps me out sometimes."

I raise my eyebrow at this. "I'm not that bad."

He stops my protest and goes back to the original question, "So interviews?"

I accept the topic change and amend my early statement, "Standard. There were a few houses where no one was home. We should go back this morning at some point and see if we can get someone."

He nods at this and spins around to the whiteboard that's a permanent fixture in the lab. We don't do a lot of work down here, but this is where a lot of the case is being processed and he and I both, by unspoken agreement, want to be down here.

"Are we surprised that there was nothing pulled at the house?" His chair swivels and he spins towards me, thick arms folded across a broad chest. "I'd like to know how the fucker doesn't transfer any evidence. I mean everyone leaves behind trace evidence, it's damn near impossible not to."

"Not entirely," I argue, "We've had a few cases that presented like it was performed in a surgical suite with everyone vacuumed sealed except for the vic."

"True, but they were nearly. Didn't Edming wear a full body suit? And the other one, uh…" he finger snaps a few times before the name comes to him, "Filicovik, the fucker was bald from head to toe."

I snort. Alcender Filicovik was the closest thing to a self-made albino if there ever was one. He never went out during the day; he shaved obsessively twice a day. Everything from the top of his head to the tops of his toes. He also liked to shave and oil his victims up while he violated them in every orifice available.

He was a peach that man.

Victor Edming wasn't as crazy. He just likes to kill people, well he did, the state of Virginia now has him on his third appeal and hopefully he'll be getting a needle sometime soon. I like those types. They're not very bright, but determined. They actually make my days easier. There's no second guessing or guess work, it's all very linear.

"Also, while you guys were working on securing the body, I ran a sample of the letter and a digital image over to a friend at the C.I.A. I want to get an analysis as soon as possible," he explains as I hold up the evidence bag with my letter in it. A small piece of the corner of the letter and the envelope gone.

"McKenna gonna get it back to us today?" I ask.

John shrugs. "Considering I woke her up, she may have it back to me by lunch time."

"You didn't?" I ask incredulously. I swear his one track mind on things is astounding. It doesn't matter who he annoys to get it done, if he wants it done, then everything else pretty much gets shoved aside until that thing, whatever that thing maybe, is complete. It's a fault and an advantage for him. I'm pretty sure that if not for that one determined streak he has, he would be dead. My partner's way too stubborn to die.

"It's her job right? Well, she now has work to do. What good is her job, if she doesn't have work," he tries to reason.

"Dude, we got back here and you disappeared at three this morning. I'd rip your face off if you woke me up for a hand writing analysis which will yield dick in the way of useful information. I also think that the paper's going to come back a dead end. It felt like standard stock."

"Can't hurt to double check," he grins at me and I roll my eyes.

Him and his stupid smile. That thing's probably saved his life once or twice too. It's really not that fair.

"Hey, kiddo," John calls out to his daughter across the room. Bamby looks up and blinks at us, her bright blues, magnified by the glasses she's wearing. Looking more like an owl than a girl, she frowns and pushes the magnifiers onto her forehead.

"Yeah?" she asks blandly.

"You gonna be done with that body or ready to cut her open anytime soon?" John asks.

Bamby shakes her head. "I really want everything cataloged. Better than me missing something. Slow and steady, dad, slow and steady." She grins her own version of his smile back him.

I watch him weaken under the look.

"All right, kid, just let me know," he replies.

She nods and slips the glasses back down to rest on her nose. "Don't I always," she chides lightly and turns back to her task over the body.

"You do know that she's got you wrapped around her finger," I whisper over to the proud father.

He shrugs and says, "She and that thing she calls a sister had me wrapped around their finger when I saw them the first time at a month old. I'm used to it by now."

"Alright, so we've got a few hours yet before normal people are still awake and functioning. You want to start sifting through the vacuum bags? I think that we picked up only the two," I think out loud. The interviews with the neighbors were completed a few minutes ago as I uploaded the transcripts to our database.

Yawning, he nods. "Maybe we can find something useful there. We're not getting anywhere with anything else right now."

Moving to stand I stop as I hear, "Just so you know, you both look like hell."

I swivel on my stool and smile as Jill comes walking towards us, the swinging doors to the lab moving behind her. She's got that annoyed swagger she has adapted from me. I glance at my watch, it's a little past six in the morning and she's carrying a tray of Starbucks in one hand a bag from the same coffee pushers in the other.

Honestly my wife's a site for sore eyes. In her jeans and rumpled t-shirt, no make-up and glasses, I really just want to kiss the hell out of her right now. When she's like this, she's the best. There's a large portion of the populace that's seen her coiffed and polished, in high gloss ads or in magazines for interviews. They all think she's perfect that way, but she's not. She's an airbrushed, semi-plastic looking clothes rack in those photos. They don't know that she actually has hips, that she's got a small chest, which is good for me, I'm not that much of a breast girl, and that she has an ass, I am an ass girl. I'm not a fan of her in make-up and I like it when she wears her hair in a ponytail.

Right now, at six-plus minutes in the morning when I haven't seen a bed since the previous morning, she's gorgeous and now she's looking at me funny. "What?" I ask, unconsciously swiping the corner of my mouth. I've been known to drool on occasion.

She just smirks as she blindly hands out the cups of coffee to the magically materialized Lucy and Travis. Bamby comes bounding over, tossing her gloves in the biohazard container. Lucy and Travis both groan as they sip their coffee.

Bamby gushes, "Oh, my, God, you are like my most favorite person right now! I seriously want to have your baby."

Jill giggles and lets her down easy, "No babies for me thank you. Talk to my wife."

My eyes grow large and I shake my head furiously.

"Seriously, Jill, if we weren't married to different people, I would rock your world for this," John slips in.

"Well, we can discuss a divorce and you and I can talk later, but hold on," Jill pauses the flirting and pulls out two of those travel carafes. "Now," she says, turning to me and running a red lacquered manicured nail down my jaw line, "You know what this means. I will be collecting for this from you later."

I swallow and nod. She got up before the sun rose, drove an hour up here, went to the local Starbucks and dropped it off for us. I may as well have Jill's Bitch tattooed somewhere across my forehead.

"Besides," she addresses my co-workers, "I thought you could use it." They all go a little mushy.

I know. My wife is the best. She knows I know this. She exploits my weakness for her to the limits. It works. I can't seem to muster up the gumption to care all that much.

Her brow furrows as she looks past me, cocking her head to the side. "Are you guys taking classes in philosophy?"

We all look at her. She looks down at me, asking, "That quote, Nietzsche, it's from his work, Beyond Good and Evil." She pauses and then furthers the explanation from the blank stares she's getting, "His book, the rest of it's called Prelude to Philosophy of the Future." Her lips purse and she shakes her head. "But, it's misquoted. It is more often than not, but the actual quote is,

"It seems that in order to inscribe themselves upon the heart of humanity with everlasting claims, all great things have first to wander about the earth as enormous and awe- inspiring caricatures: dogmatic philosophy has been a caricature of this kind—for instance, the Vedanta doctrine in Asia, and Platonism in Europe."

The misquote is common though," she finishes with a halfhearted shrug.

I quip, "Smart chicks are sooo hot."

John goes, "When did you get all knowledgeable?"

Jill scoffs at all of us and says, "Just because I look pretty doesn't mean I can't be smart. I gots that college degree just like the rest of you."

"OH! Thank God!" Bamby says, thumping the side of her head. "I knew I heard that somewhere."

"My genius daughter ladies and gentleman." He waves a hand his daughter's way before asking, "Why didn't you get this?"

The brunette just rolls her eyes and scoffs, "I have several specialties and sub-specialty certifications in the field of Forensics and hold two doctorates. I play a guitar so well it has driven grown men to weep. Fuck Nietzsche, he was a prick anyhow."

And that's John daughter all right.

The morning drug on. Painfully in some regards. Jill's help with the quote didn't yield much. I mean in terms of a profile, it will assist when I finally have one together that I like, but until then…

I sigh and toss the pen that's by my right hand.

It's just another puzzle piece that I don't know what to do with.

I rub my eyes and resist the urge to flop my head down on the lab bench I've been working on since this morning. John went to get us some food. More than likely he'll come back with double cheeseburgers from McDonalds, Cokes, fries and apple pies. How we manage to stay in shape is beyond me.

I rub my forehead and go back to the analytics on the labs. Nothing that jumped out. All of it, consistent with sucking up the dust in the carpet on any home in America. I don't even need to look at the rest of the results to know that they aren't going to help us. A little more than annoyed, I shut my laptop closed and spin around to the board.

"Hey," John calls out. He strides through the lab doors with a very large bag in his hands and another bag from 7-Eleven. "Let's grub and then, Bamby!" he stops his thoughts and calls his daughter and the other two, "Luce, Travis. Soups on!"

Three heads poke out of three different doors down the one hallway that we have. I chuckle. How could I not. All three exit their respective rooms at the same time and all of them look just as annoyed as I feel.

Crowding around the lab bench, we all shut up and tuck into our food. The only sounds that can be heard are the quick swallows and slurps of mastication from five people who've done nothing but look at a corpse and process dirt the entire night and morning.

"Ya know," Bamby says around a mouthful of food, "I think we could make a case for calling McDonald's the world's biggest serial killer."

All of us top chewing and look over at John's daughter.

"Think about it. I mean smoking okay, but this…" she hefts her burger, "it's nothing more than assisted suicide and all of us are willing participants. I think there's a case here."

"Sweetheart, shut up and eat your food. You have a body to cut up when you're done," John chides.

Travis shakes his head and laughs. "I think there's something to consider about this father/daughter relationship."

"Meh," Bamby grunts, "I'm done anyhow." She punctuates her declaration by balling up her wrapper and shooting it into the trash bin a few yards away. It hits the rim and falls in. "Score!" she shouts.

"I'm good," I say, mimicking her actions with my own wrapper. "You gonna be ready for the post soon?"

"Yeah, I'm going to go finish the test I'm running and then we're good," she chirps and saunters off.

We all finish the rest of our food in short order. Disposing of the trash and washing our hands, Lucy and Travis go back to the rooms where they were working as Bamby comes out, gear on for the autopsy she's scheduled this afternoon.

She grins at me and her father before slipping on her mask. "We ready kids?" she asks, stepping over to the body and picking up the chart sitting on top of the victims torso. John and I look at each other and raise our arms in a 'what are you going to do gesture'.

Grabbing a gown for each of us, I hand his off and slip mine on over the two day old clothes. We stand off to the right, giving her enough space to work around the body and watch. There are very few things Bamby is meticulous with; most of the time, she's this ball of energy that bounces around doing three different things at once. She's a masterful multi-tasker and she'll make your head spin during a conversation. The girl will change topics so quickly she'll be two subjects past what you were talking about.


This is major.

She's meticulous collecting evidence and while she's performing a post. Never have I seen her so focused as she attends to a body post-mortem. I'd feel comfortable saying she's the best in the business. I'm also thankful that she's on our side and working for our team. I was really surprised when John brought her on board. I didn't think he'd want his daughters around what we do…I know that if I had kids, I wouldn't want them around any of this.

I'd want them as far away as possible.

But there's that saying about apples and trees and the apples falling. It holds true respective to John's children. Spencer and Bamby are very much like their father each showing different facets of my partner's character. Spencer is a tad more reserved, Becca is too though. Spencer and Becca also take a minute or two to warm to or rather they a take minute or two to warm up to you, but once you've been accepted in, as part of their group, they're about as friendly as you can get.

John gently shoulder checks me as Bamby begins talking, "As I was working on Denbow, there were some things, inconsistencies that needed to be looked into." She glances up from the body to make sure that we're listening. Satisfied that she has our attention, she continues, "We all know, or at least should know, that the skin is the largest organ on the body. It's connected to virtually every part of our structure. Denbow, Sheridan and Talbert all had similar wound patterns, at least with what was presented to me, but still there are questions that need to be asked."

She stops talking and lifts the scalpel in her hand to appraise her handy work, the incisions on the corpse good enough for her inspection; she sets the instrument down and reaches for the Stryker saw. It's akin to the sound of a high powered dental drill as she cuts into the cranium of the body. Working the circumference of the head, the top part of the skull is removed to a membrane covered brain.

The saw goes off, gets put down and she grabs the scalpel to cut away the membrane, severe the brain from its stem and place it in a jar of formalin. I swallow as she goes back to the body, peeling back the skin, fat and muscle of our latest victim. She picks up a set of, well, for all intents, they can be called shears and snips the ribs free first to remove them. Then she attacks the pericardial sac and abdominal muscles, removing them to expose the organs underneath.

She looks up at us, while digging into the cavity to remove the intestines. Paying no attention to the removal of them, she gathers them in her arms and dumps them in the sink for a closer look later. "First, from a purely scientific standpoint, I wanted to know how he removed the facial skin that was determined to have come off in strips. I've matched the patterns on the outlaying flesh to be consistent with a surgical grade scalpel." She picks her own scalpel back up and reaches into the body cavity. She removes the heart first. Travis materializes out of nowhere and takes over once she passes him the organ to be measured and analyzed.

I swear Travis is a fucking ninja in his off time.

"Now, what we have to think about, well, what I have-slash-had to think about was transport. I think we're all in agreement that our killer did not perform these acts in the house where the bodies were found. There's nothing to suggest otherwise. But then we have to figure out how the bodies were transported. I mean really? If it were me, this whole operation of removing their faces and then dumping them is way too much." She hands the stomach over to Travis' waiting hands. The scalpel in her hand gets waved about and she rolls her eyes. "So I need to figure out how and moreover how he stopped these women from bleeding out. I know enough from the tox reports that combinations of drugs were used to keep them awake while lucid enough to feel not only what was being done, but probably heightened the senses as well."

"This means," she breathes and hands over both lungs to Travis, "they bled. A lot. So I did some research. There is a couple on the market things that could work. A lot of them are used for Military purposes, like in the field, during combat type things. The choice is going to be something that promotes hemostasis, namely an antihemmoragic."

I watch as she stops talking and finishes up handing the organs over to Travis. They take their time as we watch him dissect the organs and take pieces for analysis. It doesn't take much longer until Bamby is satisfied that things are as done as done can be and she begins to sew up Mrs. Seevers.

As she's stitching, she starts up again, "I took some samples of the muscle tissue on our victim here. There were some bovine thrombin, think coagulant, that came up which helped me determine what exactly was used. The unsub used something called D-Stat Dry. I talked to a rep this morning and if we want to pursue this lead we'll need warrants and something more substantial to go on then the little bit of circumstantial evidence I have. Well maybe, I can request one to do a test on the thrombin, see if I can match it back to a specific batch that went out for shipment," at this point I think she's thinking out loud more than talking to us.

John and I look on amused as she mutters to herself for a few more minutes before turning her attention back to us. "Okay, so I'll follow up the D-Stat lead, what I need you two to figure out is what was done with the women from the time of capture to the time they are flayed."

"Uhm," I start and stop pressing my lips together. "Uh, well, I mean wouldn't they be being flayed?"

Bamby shakes her head. "They weren't though. I needed some time to get the experiment together, but over the past few months when I've had time on the weekends and such, I've been trying to figure out the healing pattern that I observed on the faces of the bodies. It was a very short time frame and they had little time to heal."

"Pumpkin," John says, "spit it out already."

"They weren't flayed straight away. If the timing on all the vics are the same, our unsub keeps them for approximately two and a half days and then flays them. I want to know what he does in those two and a half days."

My hands go to my hips as I chew on my lower lip.

I'd like to know too.

I watch my boss, partner and friend pace the length of our office. We moved back up here a few hours ago to digest the information that the death of Barbara Seevers provided. John's agitated and I can't seem to figure out why. None of the information that we were given is completely earth shattering revelations. To say that we're dealing with a sick fuck would be par for the course. We know the score. We know that when we accept a case.

He just seems to be taking this a bit harder than the other times we deal with something like this. Of course there's the argument that it's never really taken me this long to come up with a full profile on a subject. Someone from the B.A.U. may have some better insight, but I doubt it. It's actually how I was brought in to the F.B.I. I pulled a position for the Behavior Analysis Unit. Their job is actually very similar to what I'm doing right now, but they have a wider breath of case work.

The unit is busted into four primary sections, a counter terrorism group, crimes against adults, then against children and lastly the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, which John used to run; it is how we met and called ViCAP for short. As I started with the B.A.U. I was assigned to ViCAP and began working there shortly before meeting the acting director, John Malone.

John and I built instant report and he had just been given the green light to run his own specialized unit inside the F.B.I., the Special Investigations Unit. He kept the title as open as possible due to the nature of our work. While we take on cases that would and still could go to the B.A.U. we are a fully functional team that can work a case from front to back. The B.A.U.'s not specifically built that way. They're responsible for assistance. It's rare that they take on full cases. Their jobs are support and intelligence.

Ours isn't. We run operations with every other government organization from Military such as the Navy Seals or Army Rangers to the National Security Agency and the C.I.A. For the most part the S.I.U. was developed so that John could have something to do since his retirement from the U.S. Army. My boss put up his Two Gold Star General's Jacket and became an agent with the F.B.I. He's been running around doing his own thing for about eleven years. We've been together since the inception of this unit. I was the first agent he signed on. There have been a few others that have come and gone, but Lucy and Travis both have stuck around the longest.

We run the investigations, we process the scenes, we run the labs and we even have a dedicated assistant U.S. attorney for when we go to trial.

To say John and I are pros at this is an understatement. This shouldn't be pissing him off this much, but his pacing, what I'm observing now, tells me otherwise. He's upset and by the crease in his forehead, I know he's worried.

"John," I say gently, hoping that my voice will pull him from his thoughts.

His head snaps to me.

"Talk, partner, what are you thinking?" I ask, gently.

His lips press together and the crease in his forehead deepens. "I think we're in trouble."

"How so?" I ask, motioning him to take a seat next to me. He shakes his head, so I stand and lean against our combined desks. I fold my arms across my chest and urge him to continue, "Well, I really wish you'd share. So tell me, why are we in trouble?"

"Did I ever tell you about the solo job I pulled in Sung Phu, Vietnam?" he asks me before his lower lip gets curled inward causing his chin to jut out.

See this is one of those things with John. There's a lot that's been pieced together over the years about his past. It's checkered to say the least. Since nineteen-eighty-six through nineteen-ninety-three, he was a two star general for the U.S. Army. He ran and still consults for a small contingency of soldiers inside of Special Forces. From what I can deduce, John has more pull then the Vice President and he's not the only one. There are few people that I've seen over the years that, like John, are given a near cart blanche to government resources. He picks up a phone call, tells them what he wants and it's done.

He also very rarely tells me about his assignments. I know a lot of them were black ops. I'm good with that. He's a good man; moreover he's a good father, husband and friend. Rebecca was also assigned with him. I think it's only slightly amusing that the military has issues with women serving in combat, but from what I know of Rebecca and her past, she was one hell of a black ops soldier. His wife's history is just as colorful as her husbands.

I'm going to take the opportunity and hear another story as I shake my head.

He gives a mirthless laugh and says, "Just so you know, me telling you this story is going to cause me a shit storm of paperwork to up your security clearance." He winks at me. "Pretty soon, you'll have access to my personal file. Then you can start to blackmail me."

"John, I got enough dirt on you now," I say grinning.

"Very true, but anyway back to the moral of the story. Rebecca and I were asked to go to Sung Phu to neutralize a threat to the government of Vietnam. A fringe faction of the Khmer Rouge. What we weren't told was that it was actually a ruse. Becca and I were used as a trade. The fringe got to keep and torture us while the government got intelligence. There was one captain in charge of us. He was…he used to try different torture methods. It wasn't that they were any more painful, just different. These killings just, there's symmetry there and I can't make it speak to me, but I think we're in trouble."

"How'd you get out?" I ask, not wanting to think about what his story implies for not only his past and Becca's but for our case now.

"Killed the fuckers to a man, stole a vehicle and blew the place up. Becca's a fucking genius with exit strategy. She's saved my ass more than once," he says proudly.

I nod. "So, now what?"

He scratches his forehead, right above his left eye where a thin scar runs the length of his temple to a line across to his eyebrow. It's barely noticeable if you're not familiar with his face, but I've studied that scar a few times.

"I think we need to start asking questions," he moves to a clean whiteboard and writes, 'Why Nietzsche?'

I stand and move next to him. The two of us shoulder to shoulder, each with a marker in hand begin writing. I draw a line down the middle of the board. He moves around me and in the right hand column writes 'crazy?' I start writing more questions:

Why mess up the quote?

Where is he doing his work?

How is he keeping them alive?

John nods, but says nothing as we switch positions and he writes:

Why so nomadic?

Why the sequence in vic hair color?

Why the face?

What happens to face after removed?

Simultaneously we step back and look at the left hand side of the board. Too many questions and not enough answers. I tap the end of the marker against my chin. I review the mental list of what we know and what we don't know of our unsub. Primarily it's what the bodies and the scenes tell us.

It's really not a lot, but it's more than what we had two days ago. My vision blurs slightly from the lack of sleep and they burn. I ignore it.

I step up to the right side of the board and press the tip of my marker to the board to draw a line through the word 'crazy'. Our unsub isn't crazy in the classical sense.

Instead, I move lower and begin to piece together the fragments that we have. A picture begins to form in my mind and I start to write:

Subject is male, middle aged, high probability that he's Caucasian…nomadic, narcissistic, sadistic…

And that's when it this me. "Sometimes John, I'm fucking retarded. It's not about the face. Not really. The face is a trophy. A means to an end if you will. Take a look at our victims. All of them are pretty in their own right. Pretty enough to be vain about what they look like. Our guy keeps them alive no more, no less than three days. What the hell do you do with someone for that time frame? The killings aren't sexual in nature. We know this. This isn't about power either. It's clear that he feels powerful, confident. Who wouldn't doing what he's done. This is about misery. These women are means for him to inflict and witness human misery at its peak."

His eyes brighten and he adds, "We've been comin' at this from the wrong side. The end goal for most serials are the killing, the act, the power, the control and manipulations. This guy doesn't want that. He wants to view, inflict and revel in pain and suffering."

I nod and say, "As for where he's doing his work, I've been thinking about this. Duluth was the only body that we know of that's got him not placing the vic at home."

"You want to go have a look see?" he asks me already knowing my answer.

I nod.

I don't think it could hurt in the slightest.

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to open up my big fucking mouth. I mean what the hell was I thinking. I haven't seen a bed since Thursday night. It's eleven p.m. Saturday night and I'm traipsing through the fucking woods looking for a shack in the middle of Minnesota because I have an over inflated hero complex.

Maybe Jill was right and we should have done this in the morning.

But John had already had the jet prepped and we were ready for it. So instead of being smart about it. The two of us decide to grab the jet and high tail it to Minnesota to find the hunting shack Margaret Talbot was found in.

I get it. I'm not too bright. Although in my defense neither is my partner because if he were, he'd have said let's get some sleep first and head out first thing in the a.m.

Did he?


Which is why, after a three hour flight, one car ride and a small drive on an ATV, we're picking our way through woods so dark I can't see my hand two inches in front of my face. Thank God for L.E.D. flashlights.

God. Send.

"What the fuck were we thinking?" John groans from my left.

"I was just thinking the same damn thing," I grumble and stumble over an upturned tree root. "Mother fuc…ya know I hate the fucking woods. I hate camping and I hate nature and I hate…"

"Life?" he chortles next to me, stopping to look at the map in his hand again.

"Blow me, Malone," I snip and check the compass to make sure that we're headed in the right direction.

"Hmm, Annie, if you had the parts, you may just be the one guy I'd get on my knees for," he deadpans.

Oh. Eww. Just fucking eww.

"Enough, okay I get it, I'm hot. I don't need you to go gay to tell me that. It'll throw off our mojo." I point my flashlight up ahead and he nods.

"Tell me about it," he agrees and we both start off in the direction I just pointed.

"I'm thinking once we're done here and we get back to Virginia, we sleep most of the morning and afternoon. Let's let Lucy and Travis dig some and see what else they can come up with. Start fresh Tuesday morning. Monday night though," he says and swings his flashlight wide and to the right of us.

A shack about fifty yards ahead materializes in the beam of the light.

"Thank God!" I say and start our journey with a little more pep and ask, "But Monday night what?"

"Oh, yeah. I'm thinking you, me, Becca and Jill go to D.C. for a night on the town. Some drinks, some food, maybe a bit of dancing." He turns to me and points the flashlight under his chin. Wiggling his eyebrows, he starts to sway his hips. I watch on as his feet begin to move. I think it's a muted version of the Cha-Cha.

He grabs me by the hips and presses us together. "You know how much I love to dance, partner."

I fall into step with him easy enough, moving to the tune he obviously has playing in his head. "I think maybe you've been up for too long."

He shrugs and spins us around so that he's walking backwards, leading us to our destination. "Perhaps, maybe it's just the need to blow off some steam. A little frivolity goes a long way."

I rest my hands on his biceps and shrug my agreement. "I know, those damn cop shows depict all of us as morose, broody fuckers who can't have a good time. I mean do you know any one like that?"

Our mouths screw to the side for an instant and we both say, "Petrovich!"

"That cat," John says as we dance in place at the entrance of the shack, "Needs laid. I am half tempted to get him a hooker if it'd help. I mean come on, I made a career out of black ops and I still manage to find the joy in life. What the fuck's his excuse? Nicked his stupid pointy head shaving it bald?"

I shake my head and gently push away from him. "I was thinking that, or he's seriously in the closet. Maybe I should hook him up with one of Jill's buddies. She knows some eligible gay men in the area."

"That's not a bad idea. We'll talk about it over dinner tomorrow night," he decides for us.

We both turn to look at the doorless shack and shine a light on the inside.

"Why'd we decide to do this again?" John asks from beside me.

"Uh, we're morons," I supply.

Our mood grows a little more somber at the task facing us.

"Good enough," he accepts. "Ladies first," he says motioning me with the flash light,

I roll my eyes, even though he can't see it and mumble, "Just like a man."

I swing my light in first, arching it up and around the shack's aluminum ceiling. Nothing special, graffiti, cobwebs, no visible critters, there's some trash on the floor.

I step over the raised threshold and pull a pair of latex gloves from the pocket of my messenger bag. I hear John put his on and pull a camping lamp out of his bag. He sets it on the table in the shack and turns it on.

It lights up the tiny space and allows us to pocket our flashlights. Replacing the flashlight in my hand with a spray bottle full of Luminol, I begin with the table, spraying the visible surface down, then move towards the back of the shack and spray the wall to the right of the table, moving up the wall to the roof and down the other wall to the crude, dirt floor.

John does the same from his position at the other end of the table. We finish at the same time. I nod and he flips the camping light switch. The bright L.E.D. bulb that was visible, winks out and on comes its mate, a black light that will help the Luminol fluoresce.

The black light winks on and I grumble, "Well fuck me."

"Ain't that interesting?" John asks.

The spray area of the Luminol caused the chemical reagent to glow like Christmas Fucking Night.

"Well, what do you want to do about this?" I ask, looking at an arc on the wall that may very well be an atrial spray pattern.

"We bag and tag, Ann. Let's get started," he answers.

Sometimes I hate his answers. They usually mean lots more work for me. "Ya know we could call some techs out here in the A.M."

"Nah, we're here and I'd rather leave Duluth as soon as possible. Minnesotans don't like me too much," he answers.

"No one likes you too much. You either want to blow something up or kill someone when you go anywhere," I tease.

He can't argue so instead he pulls his own kit from his back pack. I follow suit and we take the time necessary to collect sample after sample. The hours bleed together as John and I work in a pattern that segments the room into a grid. He sticks to his half and I stick to mine. The pain in my lower back from being stooped over quits being felt somewhere along the way.

John and I end up in this zone when we do things like this. Time becomes an afterthought and we move together so well that I can't tell he's even in the room. I bag and tag bits of the floor, wood, chunks of debris and anything else that I can find.

I'm not sure how much we'll learn from this, but it can't hurt. Finally, I reach the end of my grid and slip the last evidence bag into my sack.

Light leaks into the corners of the room. I groan. "Fuck me," I plead. "Tell me it's not morning."

"It's not morning," John parrots back from his own corner.

"Bullshit. There's light outside," I bark.

"Hey you asked me to tell you it's not morning. You didn't specify that you wanted the statement to be valid," he groans as he rights himself. "Jesus H. Christ. I'm going to be sore tonight."

"So that mean no dancing?" I ask a little put out. I like dancing. I like dancing with Jill.

"Nah, I'll have Becca put some Ben-Gay on it before I crash this afternoon." He shuts off the lamp and gathers his things. "Let's go. With any luck we can have this stuff dumped off to Luce and Travis by nine and in bed by ten. We'll meet for dinner around seven and then cut a rug after."

I can't disagree with the plan at all so I follow him outside, squinting against the rising sun and back to the ATV's that will take us back to the truck that we have and then the truck can take us back to the plane John flew us in.

I so want a goddamn shower. I want a shower and a clean bed and some food at some point. Those thoughts persist through our travel. I help John in the cockpit and he flies us home. I'm not too sure who the jet belongs to.

Craning my neck, I look back and squint. There's some seal on the far end of the cabin. I'm not even sure why I care. So instead, I focus on the sky in front of me and before I know it, I see the ground rushing up to meet us. It's the most beautiful thing in the world.

I'm so damn tired my hair hurts. Taxing in, I see a small cluster of people in front of the hangar that we're moving towards. The people get clearer and I see our team plus Becca and Jill standing there waiting on us.

Part 5

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