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. 5 – Made to Meet Your Maker

John had a bully of an idea. It was a smashing plan that should have panned out, but his plans and mine for that matter seem to go to pot more often than not. Instead of being asleep in my bed, where I really should be, I'm stuck in trial prep because our A.U.S.A decided to pop over right when we got back from Duluth.

I rub at my burning eyes and blink away the bright spots the pressure from the rubbing caused. I could blame myself, it's really all my fault, I forgot about the upcoming court case that I am subpoenaed to give testimony for. We've been in an interview room for the past two hours. He keeps asking the same questions different ways. I keep giving him the same answer the same way.

He opens his mouth to ask a question and I put a hand up. "Paul, I get it. You want the point driven home. My answer to the last question isn't going to change. I've been up since early Friday morning and in case you haven't noticed, it's Monday morning. Can we be done now?"

He closes his mouth shut with an audible clack. I don't mean to be mean and evil, but my exhaustion should be obvious. Paul's used to better cooperation from me. Well, buddy, my ability to answer the same questions for two hours and not lose my cool went out the window somewhere over Ohio. I'm done.

"Special Agent Flemming is there anything else that you want me to cover during your testimony?" A.U.S.A. Unamuano asks as politely as possible.

I shake my head at the man. He's not a bad guy. Decent lawyer. We've worked two other cases together where I've given testimony. He's good at his job and he doesn't mess with the investigators.

"Well then, I think we can wrap it up and you can go back to work," he says, gathering a small stack of papers together. "Or find some place to go to sleep." I watch as he shuts his laptop closed and prepares to leave.

"Thanks Paul. I need to be in court when next week?" I ask trying to stifle the yawn.

"I think you should be good to go on after lunch on Thursday. We'll see what the judge's mood is like." I nod and watch him scurry out of the interview room. "Good day, Ann," he throws over his shoulder.

Sighing, I push my hand through my hair and lean back, resting my eyes for a few minutes. They pop open when I feel myself start to drift off. I need to finish out today and then I can sleep.

Jill wasn't too pleased. I sent her home in much the same fashion that John sent Rebecca home. I think they left together, conspiring with each other to have us taken out.

We don't do this that often, but there's just been a ton of breaks over the past twenty-four to forty-eight hours on the case. It's been crucial and I can't leave just because I'm a little tired. So instead of doing a full on face plant on the conference table, I push myself back and stand.

Our offices are combined with a small outfit of the N.S.A. The building is nothing but a big rectangle. On one end, we have our department, in the center there are interview rooms, a few offices, restrooms and a kitchen and on the other end there is the small N.S.A. group that does God knows what. Below us are labs that we share and a small corner is given to B.A.U. for a server room and to house some level one counter intelligence geeks.

The N.S.A. director, Kevin Roeffy, is also a Special Forces Alumni. The thought that not only are Kevin and John from the Army, they hold a similar rank and they're both here makes me think conspiracy. It's that or the government just doesn't know what to do with retired military that probably know enough to form their own army and stage a coup d'état.

Knowing John and having worked with Kevin before, it wouldn't shock me that it's something that our government should fear. I trust both of them with my life and Jill's, but it doesn't mean that it's smart.

I shuffle out of the interview room and hang a right, heading for one of the bathrooms. The room is empty as I turn the faucet on and splash some cool water on my face. It has little effect, but I manage to wake myself up a little. I need to check with the team and help them catalogue what John and I brought back.

I give myself a once over in the mirror, my blue eyes are a little dull, the dark circles under them don't help much and my cheeks are a little sunken. In short, I look like shit. I gave up on decent looking hair yesterday at some point. It's been in a ponytail since then. My green button down has a coffee stain on it and I'm out of a change of clothes. The pants that I have on have seen better days. In fact, the hi-cotton poly blend slacks may just see the trash. Since crawling around on the floor of that shack last night, I don't know if they're going to be salvageable. Especially when the labs come back with the results.

It's one of the down sides to the job. If the crime scene's in a public place, you never really want to touch anything ever again. I groan and pull some paper towels free, mopping my face and drying my hands. I toss the used towels in the garbage and square my shoulders before stepping out in to the hallway. I go right again approaching our department floor. Music assaults my ears the closer I get. Recognizing the sound of Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box, I bob my head to the music and stop short of interrupting the sight before me.

Bamby and John are rocking out together, both doing some solid air guitar. I would be shocked had I not seen this before. All of us have different coping mechanisms. Lucy will work a case until she can't move anymore, then we'll find her somewhere, usually in a conference room, curled up like a baby on top of a table. It's gotten to the point where we actually keep a pillow and blanket here for her. John's been thinking about putting a couch or two in the department so that we can all catch up on sleep when things get tense. I just don't know where's he's going to put them.

Travis, when the stakes get high, goes for runs. He'll run his ass off, come back a sweaty mess and go straight back to what needs to be done. Bamby, John and I have grown accustomed to using music as our outlet. It helps bleed away some of the stress and if we play the right type of music it will invigorate and remotivate us.

Hence, the rock out session that I just walked in on. John grins as he looks in my direction. He saunters my way and the next thing I know, we're holding hands jumping up and down together. I laugh and sing along until the song ends. We all stop and catch our breath. I can tell that we all feel slightly better and the biggest plus, it doesn't feel like my blood is stagnant in my veins. It courses through a reminder that I'm alive and I'm here doing what I need to do to stop someone who takes that away from people.

"Nothing like a little Grunge to bring us back from the depths of sleep deprivation and psychosis!" John yells.

I raise an eyebrow as we all collapse onto the nearest chairs. "We do need our heads examined. That's my official stance."

He waves his hand around and grunts, "Duly noted. At least it feels like I actually have a blood pressure now."

Bamby shakes her head and says, "Yeah, mom's gonna kill you when you get home."

"I know," he says a bit resigned to being in trouble.

I feel his pain. Jill's gonna give me an earful when I finally get home too.

Bamby turns the music down that was coming from the computer and huffs, "Well that was fun."

"Aye," John says, "Back to the salt mines!"

"Besides a shit load of samples, did you two learn anything else out?" Bamby asks across from me.

"A few things actually," I answer to John's amazement. "I've been thinking that Margaret was the one he perfected his signature on. Our first glimpse at what and who he is is Maria Sheridan. He finalized everything in L.A. She was the first true start of the series. The teams in L.A. did a decent job of gathering everything they could. Our unsub just didn't leave much for us to look at."

"So going back over it won't help?" John interrupts.

"No, I don't think it will. I think we should take a longer look at Barbara. Obviously, he wants some kind of attention. From us or from someone else," I reason.

"The letter, Ann, was addressed to you. He's focused on you," Bamby chimes in.

I wag my finger, "Not necessarily. I could be a means to an end. Out of all of us here, I've gotten the most media attention. I take point at press conferences and interviews. That's part of my role. It may have nothing to do with me." I'm not sure if I believe that, but right now I say it like I mean it.

"So now what?" the doctor wonders out loud.

"We can start breaking down what we brought back and try to find some new thread of the investigation," John answers for me.

"Okay," Bamby says standing. "Then I'm going to go help Lucy and Travis in the labs. I suggest you take the rest of the afternoon and evening, go home and get some sleep. All the rest of us have been to bed."

She doesn't wait for a response, but instead strides out of the office, towards the steps that lead down to the labs.

"I think, my daughter has the right idea, partner." John stands and claps his hands together. "We'll hold off on our dinner plans and regroup when I feel more awake."

I nod my agreement and snag my keys, leaving everything else at my desk. It's time to finally go home.

The first thing I feel is fingers gently combing through my hair while blunt nails scrape gently across my scalp. I know that hand and I know the body that is pressed against mine. What I don't know is the time and how exactly I ended up in here.

I am home, I am safe and Jill is next to me.

That's good enough for me right now. Slowly, I open my eyes and position my head so that the first thing I see is her face. She's propped up on her right arm, looking down at me. Her left doesn't stop playing with my hair and for that I'm thankful.

"Ah, there're those eyes," she whispers to me.

"Hi," I rasp my voice thick and dry from sleep.

"Hey, stranger," she purrs back, "good to see you here."

"Well, here is my favorite place. What timeizit?" I wonder and yawn. My eyes burn and the inside of my lids have been downgraded in sandpaper coarsity. They were at a twenty and have dropped to a fine blend of one-twenty-grade coarseness. I can live with that. In fact, it feels damn pleasant in comparison to what it was when I was at work. "When did I get home?"

Her eyebrows knit together, but she smirks and answers, "It's late, around eleven or so and you got home around four. Apollo is a little crooked, but you didn't hit anything." She doesn't sound peeved, just worried. "You came in, kissed me all sloppy like and then fell face first into bed."

"Hmm," I moan and curl myself around her stomach, causing her to fall back into the bed, onto her back. "I don't have clothes on. You take advantage?"

She snorts and grumbles, "No, you're clothes are being burned the next time we light a fire or perhaps, I should call HAZMAT and they can dispose of them. I just changed the sheets; I wasn't letting you in bed with dirty, stinky clothes."

I blink up at her scrunchy face and feel warmth spread over me. I'm still tired, but I feel a lot better. "Thank you, babe."

"It's what I do," she says off handedly.

"Nah, you're just way too good to me. Worries me on occasion," I say a little too honestly. It's a thing when I'm tired, my filters go away and they're not especially thick where Jill's concerned.

"Uh-huh, after this last stint, I'd be worried too if I were you," she says, her voice taking on a slight edge.

I tighten my hold on her midsection and wrap our legs together. I knew this was coming. Hell, I'm even slightly prepared for it. "How much hot water am I in?"

"Don't Ann, don't try to be coy or cute or try to play this off like I'm not upset and what you've put yourself through doesn't matter," she says this, she says this gently, but the intensity behind the softness is not lost on me. Sometimes dealing with Jill and learning to speak her language is an art. It's subtle, but intense.

"I'm not," I say as honestly and clearly as possible. "We've been through too much therapy and too many fights for me not to understand that you're upset." I would look up at her, but I'm afraid to see the look in her eyes.

When I get on a case like this, which is less often than what it used to be, her eyes always vacillated between hurt, anger and worry. All of them are reasonable. None of them are concern for her.

"This was you're last one," she warns. The message is clear. After an intense set of therapy sessions, we agreed that me, doing this, with the this being not sleeping or taking proper care of myself for more than two days, was only something that I could do once a year. I'd get one free pass to push myself past my breaking point. Only once would Jill tolerate it before she would step in.

I guess I just used up my pass this year.

"Hey, it's June, I think that's pretty good," I try to joke.

She grunts, annoyed at my attempt at humor. "I hate when you do this."

"I know," I reply tiredly. "It's not intentional, Jill. I don't..."

"It never is. Never, Ann. You just push and push and I get it, don't think I don't understand." I feel her hands grip my forearms as she tugs me up to look at her. I shut my eyes as soon as I see her face. I see her long enough to notice the tears leaking down and the wounded look in her eye.

Instead, I plant my hands on either side of her, hanging my head so that her lips just brush against my forehead. My hair drapes down and covers my face.

"I love that you care. I love that you try so hard, but I don't love you enough to watch you drive yourself to an early grave. I won't stand by and watch it," she finishes, placing a tender kiss on my forehead.

I slump against her and bury my nose into the crook of her neck. Her hands ghost up and down my back. "You're not Wonder Woman or Spider Man or Bat Girl. You're Ann. You're mine. You've been mine since you were fifteen," she stops and I feel her shudder. "I wish sometimes that being mine was enough for you to be happy."

I want to tell her I am happy and that it is more than enough. But the tears that leak from my eyes and the hard won truth of long therapy sessions would cause those words to be a lie.

I won't lie to her.

"I want that to be true, too, baby." I feel her nod.

"But then you wouldn't be you," she says without malice. I feel her draw a deep breath and release it. "Do you think maybe we can curb your hero complex the rest of the year? I like sleeping next to my wife."

I nod, but don't pick up my head.

"Good. Then maybe my wife can get the hell off me and join me in the shower. I was clean until I was mauled by a stinky federal agent," the tone of her voice takes on a slight lilt.

"Well," I mumble into her chest as I begin to poke my head up, "If you weren't so sexy, said federal agent, with her stinkiness probably wouldn't have mauled you."

Her nose crinkles as I finally meet her gaze. The wounded look is gone. In its place, I see love and a little mischief. I sober slightly, "You really are too good for me, you know that right?"

She shakes her head at this. "I think sometimes you have it backwards, Mrs. Flemming." Her fingertip comes into my line of sight as she drags her nail from between my eyebrows, down the gentle slope of my nose, over its tip and over my lips to end at my chin. "I think that I'm just trying to make up for the years I was away from you."

"I wish you'd let that go," I say and lean down to gently trap the tip of the assaulting finger between my front teeth. I shake it and she giggles. A full-throated giggle and the pain in my chest lessens marginally.

"I will when I quit feeling like an asshole for it," she states, letting me know that's as far as I'm going to get on that subject.

That's as far as I ever get with her on that subject. Instead of arguing my point, I take the finger in my mouth and lave the tip, running my tongue over the pad and around the tip. This elicits a slight groan. The groan sets off a chain reaction. My body responds on its own, igniting a small fire in the pit of my stomach and a painfully delicious contraction between my legs.

I let go of her finger and lower my head. I inhale and catch a whiff of my B.O. Right, I stink.

I need to shower. Shit.

Sighing, I trample the arousal that was building and flop over to her left. We lay side by side as she asks, "You got a whiff of yourself didn't you?"

I laugh, a full on belly aching, pain inducing laugh.

"I told you, you fucking smelled," she says while running her hand up my outer thigh, over my hip and grabs the waistband of my underwear. I get myself under control as I feel her pull on the elastic band. Looking down, I see it hovering above my hipbone, pinched between her thumb and index finger right before she lets go.

It snaps against my flesh.

I turn my head to her and lift my eyebrows.

"You do know," I say as my right hand creeps towards her exposed thigh, "what that means?"

She shakes her head smiling despite her attempt at a serious face.

"Too bad," I sigh, rolling away from her and off of the bed. "I was so going to offer hot make up sex in the shower. I figured we'd fought. It was only fitting, but…" I trail off and strip the tank top off.

I see her eyes rake down my body. When they come back, there's a slight frown.

"What?" I ask.

"You lost weight," she pouts.

My eyes bulge.

"You're one to talk! I've been threatening you with bondage and milkshakes for years," I grumble, wiggling out of my underwear.

"The tank top and underwear can go with the clothes. We'll burn them soon." She bounces off the bed, shedding her clothes and throwing them in the vicinity of our dirty clothes hamper. She slides up to me and presses our bodies together.

Flesh melds together and her tongue trails up my neck, along my jaw line to allow her lips to cover mine. I groan and open my mouth to her questing tongue. I pull back, breathless after a few minutes. She rests her forehead against mine and I walk us backwards to the bathroom.

I let her go and start up the shower. We both love really hot water so I fix the temperature before I turn around to see her leaning against the sink shyly.

I pull her to me and she kisses my chin. "I love you," she states earnestly.

"I love you to, Jill," I say with as much conviction. I take her left hand and kiss her knuckles and then the wedding band. "I'm sorry."

"I know." She tucks a strand of hair behind my ear and smiles at me. "Come on, let's get you all soapy. Then you can service me."

"As you wish," I say and follow her into the shower.

The moon is just starting to peek through the clouds as I hang a right on an access road that runs parallel to the I-95. It's the wee hours of the morning, the dashboard tells me it's a little after four in the morning. After my shower, we went to bed for a little while. I finally got out of it when I woke Jill up with my tossing and turning.

My wonderful wife just told me to get dressed and go. She knows me entirely too well. So I took her advice. I got ready and left her there amongst rumpled sheets that smelled of us. A smile ghosts over my face and I depress the gas pedal. I've decided to go on a small drive before hitting up my office.

A tried and true form of escape, I drive on back country roads, listening to whatever my iPod selects on shuffle mode. The moon shines through the clouds just a little and the air is cool despite the time of year.

With my window rolled down, I hang an arm out and let the wind blow through my hair. When we were younger and Lee got his license we would take off out of Richmond and find ways to get out and into the city without using the highway. We had a lot of fun on those nights.

Being a teenager, it's all so intense and angsty and really fucking annoying. But having good friends to share the experience with is a gift. I thank any god that will listen because I had Lee and Jill. I don't think I would have survived. My parents weren't ever really around. My grandfather took up the task at raising me when I turned nine years old. It was actually on my birthday that the cops came and arrested my dad. My mother had been out of the picture for a while and it was just him and me for a while, but he couldn't stay clean long enough. There were times when I'd get dropped off at one of his friend's house and left for a month or two. He'd come back around eventually to pick me up with apologies and promises.

Then something would happen, he'd get fired or his girlfriend would dump him, then he'd go on benders. When I turned nine, they came and got him for armed robbery and drug trafficking. Then I went to live with my grandfather, Darren Flemming. He was okay. A bit of an asshole on his good days and on his bad ones I just made it a point to not be home all that much.

We moved right before I started high school and that put me in a different district. That's when I met Jill and Lee. We became friends the first day and neither has really gone away. Sometimes, when I take drives like this, I have to wonder what I would be like if it weren't for them.

Would I be doing what I'm doing? Would I have survived past my twenties?

They both say I give them too much credit, but they don't understand. Jill's family is like the Walton's but totally cooler. Lee's family is slightly less together, but at least they're there for each other. Mine are an inconvenience. I've lost track of my mother, she used to come and go at times after she split and left me and my dad. My aunts and uncles could never manage to secure a job above minimum wage and I have cousins that can't seem to keep a job.

So to get away from it, Lee would drive me around and Jill would come along for the ride. Those were some of my fondest memories of an adolescence I'd just rather forget. So now, when I need to think or when Jill and I are at home and not doing anything, we'll hop in Apollo and take off for a few hours. I've learned all of the ins and outs of the area. I can actually get from here to Quantico twenty minutes faster, but in the winter it's a pain so I usually just stick to the highway.

This morning I head towards John's house. I figure I can swing by and pick him up and we can get started on the finalization of the profile. Submit it to a colleague in B.A.U. and see if there's anything that comes back from the system. I'm guessing that the search won't yield anything. The profile is hard to match and it feels like a new type of mindset for me. I think that's why I'm having such a hard time getting a structured profile together.

Usually, I've found that there are three types of killers, there are the crazy ones, the smart ones and then a hybrid of the two. The hybrid is usually the worst because not only are they able to think outside of the box, but they have no limits. It doesn't matter to them and they know what they're doing.

It's a dangerous combination that's gotten a lot of people killed.

But this killer, I can't seem to figure out. Why keep the women alive so long before killing them? To what end?

I know I said he wants to witness their misery, but even then…it just seems so…


I want to think that there's more to it than that.

And if there's not, I don't know what that could mean.

He's not raping them, he's not injuring them. There are no other wounds on the body.

Then, there's the quote. Did he know that he misquoted? If did know that he misquoted was his intent to draw our attention to the book. I've looked and read over the book. It's an anti-philosophy book in a sense. From the all the research I was able to dig up without having to read the book because one, I don't have that much time and two, I'm really not that sadistic, he was a pompous man. He thought too much, lived too little and liked even less.

I know that I'm supposed to be drawing parallels between Nietzsche and the unsub, but honestly, what the fuck is the killer trying to overcome? His heritage, his ego, his concept of self that he finds baseless? Does he think that the keys to his psyche are embedded within the pages of the book or just the lines of the quote?

I've thought about that a lot. What exactly is he trying to say? Is he wearing the monstrous mask so that humanity will recognize him?

There are a lot of incongruences within the case as a whole. It lacks a certain amount of cat and mouse gaming that sociopaths and serial killers like to build. What is also mildly disturbing is that he doesn't seem to want to be caught. There's always an end to these things. It's more often than not, due to their over inflated sense of imperviousness. Then the killer or killers are shocked when we catch up with them.

With these killings, it feels like it's just getting started and the idea to me and to our team is rather unfathomable. I don't want more people to suffer because we're not smart enough to connect the dots or discover the dots. I'm afraid that's where this is going.

I bring the car to a stop outside of John's home. It took a little less time than I thought to get here, but then again I was pushing sixty on roads that really shouldn't see a car move above forty-five. I shrug and kill the engine. The downstairs lights are ablaze and I know he's awake.

I pull the keys from the ignition and step out of Apollo. The sun's just starting to peek over the hilltops. I trot up to the door and punch in the security code to unlock the front door. Inside, it's cooler and I hear Becca and John bantering in the kitchen.

"I told you your daughter was going to get into trouble," John says.

I pause just outside the doorway and listen in.

"Why is Spencer my daughter when she gets in trouble, but your daughter when she figures out some weird ass experiment and pens a formula?" Becca asks.

"I think it's because John's an attention whore," I joke stepping into the kitchen.

"Ann!" Becca nearly shouts, "Thank God! A reasonable voice."

"I would not be calling my partner reasonable," John retorts pointing a finger at me. "She's the one that insisted we go to Duluth, she's the one that said we should break down that shack."

My mouth drops open.

"You fucking liar," I say, smiling as he hands me a cup of coffee.

He shrugs.

"Sweetie," Becca croons from her perch on a kitchen stool, "I know you're full of shit. Quit throwing your partner under the bus and get ready to leave. And while you're up stairs getting ready, go try to talk some sense into Spencer."

I raise an eyebrow in question and wonder what my adopted niece has gotten herself into.

Sensing the unasked question, John answers, "Spence decided to quit M.I.T. and move down here indefinitely."

My mouth forms a perfect 'o'.

That's not really like the girl I've come to know.

"She say why?" I ask.

Becca answers, "She didn't like the bureaucracy."

I grin.

"I'm not surprised," I say.

Two heads swivel my way and I shrug trying to offer them a different perspective, "She's not into politics and in academia it's all politics. She hates being told what to do and she hates it even more when it's some guy who thinks that she's dumber than him because she has enlarged mammary glands." I set my now empty cup in the sink and turn to them, folding my arms across my chest. "We all know she's had problems in the past wth some of the faculty. Obviously, there's something that happened and that something was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back."

"See," Becca says, "voice of reason and now go get ready for work and while you're at it, take those daughters of yours with you."

John salutes his wife and scurries off. My partner needs some help. I just don't know what kind yet.

I look out of my rearview mirror, checking to make sure that Bamby and Spencer are ready to go in Bamby's truck. The other anomaly with Bamby, the girl drives this huge ass Chevy Silverado 1500. It's got a crew cab and it's outfitted much like my Apollo. I've no idea what she was thinking, but she gushes over her truck much like I gush over my baby so…

I can't really judge.

As she pulls up behind me, I pull away from the curb and head towards work. John's sitting in the passenger seat, happy to not have to drive into work this morning. I take the access rode to his house slowly, the gravel kicking up behind me. I look over and see John slumped over in his seat, his head resting against my tinted window.

"You wanna talk about it?" I venture.

"She just showed up. Her sister picked her up at the airport. What's there to say really?" He rights himself and looks at me. "She's just not talking about it."

"She's not even been in town a day, John. Cut her some slack," I try to reason with him, but his jaw's set.

"It's not that Ann. She is…I can't put my finger on it, but something's up and I'm worried," he admits.

Nodding, I worry my lower lip. "How are you and Becca?" I try for a topic change. They went through this rocky patch last year and sometime around the holiday they worked it out.

"Good, really good actually," he grins. "She wasn't impressed with our weekend stunt, but we're back on track."

"Good," I say letting the car lapse back into silence.

We hit the highway soon enough and I open Apollo up. He purrs as I depress the pedal and zips down the highway. A glance in my rearview and see Bamby keeping pace, making me smile. That girl can dive. It takes no time to pass through the security checkpoints at Quantico to have us all filing into the office. Bamby talking to cover up the fact that Spencer looks like she lost her puppy and toy all on the same day.

I don't know why they insisted she come with us this morning. We'll be discussing case details and this isn't really Spencer's thing. She likes physics and music. Her love of music not as rabid as her sister's, but she's definitely an audiophile. I set my keys in my drawer and look up as the team assembles. Lucy and Travis are sitting on the edge of Lucy's desk greeting Spencer and catching up.

John catches my eyes and nods. I dip my chin and give him the green light.

"Good morning everyone," he booms. "We ready for today?"

Everyone just looks at him and he shrugs. "Can't blame me for trying." He claps his hands together and goes over to our boards with the case detail on them. "I think we should ask if there was anything significant pulled from the samples brought back from Duluth?"

Travis steps up and says, "We're still processing. You brought back a ton of stuff. We'll let you know. Lucy and I have a couple of junior lab techs cataloguing and cross referencing the samples."

"Good enough," John says and looks over at me.

I stand and move to his right. "As you can see, John and I were trying to peg the profile of our unsub. I'm comfortable assuming that we're dealing with a male. Some of the stats you can see here. I need to know if we have any evidence that would contradict what we have listed," I say pointing to the brainstorming session John and I had on the whiteboard to my left. Everyone shakes their heads and I continue, "All right with that in mind, there are questions that we can't answer, such as why they were kept alive for three days and the results of how they were kept alive?"

Bamby perks up, "I'm waiting on the final reports, but it wouldn't shock me that the combo of drugs in Seevers blood will match Denbow's. The wound patterns and the healing of the cuts were consistent with victim three."

I nod. "That's what I thought. To help steer the investigation, finding out why is just as important. I think we can all agree that these killings feel different than what we've encountered in the past."

My hands rise to rest at my hips and I drum my fingers on my waist. "What I'm theorizing is that they were kept alive to torture."

"What?" Lucy asks.

"Yeah, Ann, you were there for two autopsies, uh…did you not see the lack of wounds?" Bamby asks, clearly confused.

"I'm not saying they were physically tortured. We've all been up for a few days at some point. That's a form of torture. Doped up the way they were, he could have done any number of things to them." I reason. "Look, we've all seen the evidence; the missing face is the only indication of physical harm. There are very few reasons why someone would keep a captive around for that long just to skin their face off. I think the skinning is a by-product of his true intent."

"Uh, and that would be?" Travis pipes up.

"To watch them suffer. His end goal isn't a body with a missing face. His end goal is to soak up as much misery as he can. As I've looked at the victims, there are certain consistencies with their personality types that indicate they were marginally superficial. They were all attractive women in their early thirties. Evidence and they're profile indicate as much."

"That's a bit of a leap," Lucy interjects.

"Not really," John says, backing me up. "I agree with Ann. He's after their misery not their face. Now that's not to say that he isn't keeping the faces as trophies. Hell that's nearly a gimme. But I agree that I think the faces are just a bonus for the guy."

"The killer could care less about the skin," I pick up, "There's almost always a sexual bend or semi-sexual bend. These cases lack that on the surface, but then we don't know what he does with his trophies."

"Goes home and masturbates with them?" John offers.

"Oh, eww, thanks Dad," Bamby and Spencer groan at the same time.

"Like I need that mental image," Spencer grumps from her chair on the side of my desk.

"It's a possibility," I say. "It's not pleasant, but it has to be considered. The profile we're dealing with is someone with an above average intelligence, I wouldn't rule out medical training. Our unsub also has a very robust narcissistic personality. The profile suggests that he feels superior to not only his peers, but to others like him, to other sociopaths."

I go to the tack board with crime scene photos posted. "If we look at the position of the bodies, the women are fully clothed, they are resting almost peacefully. There's a certain amount of respect with the bodies after they're killed. I feel that's one of the reasons why they weren't assaulted. The other is the idea that he has of him being better than the average killer. He probably feels he's above the cheap tawdry behavior generally associated with profiles similar to his. It also seems like he's making a point to thumb his nose at the perception."

"So then why the note?" Bamby asks.

"His need for recognition. We've kept these cases from the media. There's been no press. He wants to point us in some direction and he wants recognition for the things he's done," I answer.

I move across the room to sit on the edge of John's desk to face my team. "The letter is a way to get the recognition. He put a number on the envelope that's common knowledge. It was supplied on one of our largest cases in New York."

"But how'd he know you were looking into his killings?" Spencer contributes her two-cents. "Bamby's filled me in on some of the details and if what you say is true, which seems logical, why and how did he know about you and everyone working his killings?"

"That," John answers, "is a question that we don't have an answer to just yet, kiddo. But, it's on my list of things to find out."

"Also, since we're talking about the letter why that quote? Moreover, why the misquote?" Travis shifts his weight to his other foot and folds his arms across his chest as he asks.

"Another excellent question that I don't have an answer for just yet. It's been stewing, but there's not a lot of answers or even a way to get the answers that we need short of finding him and asking."

"Which means," John stops the line of questioning, "We focus on what we can which is all the physical evidence. There are things that we can run down. Leads that need followed up on. I'd like to have your," he points to Bamby, Travis and Lucy, "efforts focused around processing all the samples that we've collected and doing a broad analysis. I know he's left nothing of himself behind, thus far, but we still need to keep digging. When we catch this guy, we're going to need as much physical evidence as possible for our A.U.S.A."

"In the meantime," I pick up. "John and I will be drafting a profile to submit to a friend over in the B.A.U. He can do some research and see if there are any unsolveds that line up with what we're going to put together."

"I'd also like for you and I to go back over to the Seevers residence and do some scouting," John follows up. "We know that they're being held and killed elsewhere. We need to find where that elsewhere is."

"Agreed," I say, "I'd also like to re-interview a few of the neighbors. I still find it weird that no one saw anything or at least remembers seeing anything."

Everyone accepts the doled out responsibilities and the meeting breaks up. John and I watch our team march down the hallway towards the lab access doors. Spencer trailing behind the three others.

I look at John and he gives me a half-hearted smile. "Let's get to work, kid."


Ch. 6 –Understand Dependence

The warm night breeze hits me as soon as Jill opens my door. She offers her hand to help me from Apollo. It's Tuesday night and John wanted to go to dinner, still very much liking the idea of cutting a little lose after such a hellish few days. I honestly couldn't agree more. So we decided on a short drive into D.C. and I let my wife drive. Now she's not a bad diver, but she's driving my baby. I got nervous. She also likes to go all out when we do go out like this. We both get dressed up; she gets to dive into her wardrobe to find the best possible outfits, which usually means I get suckered into wearing something I would usually never wear.

Like tonight, I have on a pair of Jill's Choo's, and a tailored pants suit with a silk blouse that exposes more of my chest than I'm usually comfortable with outside of the bedroom. I'm not a prude; I'm just not much for walking around in revealing clothing so people can ogle my chest. It kinda creeps me out.

Jill pulled out a little black dress that I haven't seen before and some heels that she purchased on our last trip down to New Orleans. We both have a little bit of makeup on, for me that's just some lip gloss, but for Jill that's foundation, powder, eyeliner and something on her lips. Tonight it's a sheer lipstick that makes me kinda want to kiss it off her.

I rarely get this dressed up, but when John and I are in town, there's a little out of the way restaurant that's upscale enough to require a dress code, but down to earth enough so that neither of us feels too out of place. The only problem with this is that it's on the outskirts of Capitol Hill. The neighborhood's subpar at best, but the food's fantastic.

Because of the locale and apparently our clothing, we get to deal with the locals. And they are in rare form this evening as a scuzzy excuse for what was once a white guy starts cat calling from his perch on a stoop right wear Jill parked. Usually, I ignore these things. I think that it's better to ignore and not give them what they want, like a confrontation.

My wife seems to have other ideas as the guy whistles again and propositions me, "Hey, sexy, those titties would look better if my dick was between them!"

That stops Jill in her tracks.

It's been argued that if you were able to combine Jill and me together, we'd be the perfect woman. I find this erroneous on several levels, but the most glaringly obvious falsity is that Jill's perfect the way she is. Of course I'm biased as well, but this is not the point. The point is that Jill's chest isn't very big and that's obvious from the dress she's wearing. I am, however, endowed enough to fill a 'D' cup.

I would also like to go on record that out of the two of us, Jill is way more possessive. So as the last words of the man's suggestion were uttered, I see her heat up. A flush spreads from the top of her head to below her neck. When that happens, I run.

This man doesn't know what he's done.

"Excuse me?" she spins rather impressively on one thin heel.

The man stops his kissy noises, shocked that Jill's taking the time.

"Babe," I try and stop her by placing a hand on her arm. She yanks it away.

"I said excuse me, shit for brains. What did you just fucking say to my wife?" she barks.

The man rises and stumbles our way. Getting a good look at him, I wish I rather didn't. His teeth are nearly rotted out and the track marks are visible even in the low lighting. "I said," he slurs this time, slightly, "That bitch you're with's gotta nice rack." He stops and leers at her, licking his cracked lips. "'Course, I kinda wanna fuck you to now."

That was the wrong thing to say.

He makes a move towards her as I step up, but she stops me.

On some level I know I should be more forceful, but I trust her. I'm thinking I should also flash my badge and have this jerk arrested, but that would ruin the evening. As I'm debating on a course of action, things happen that take my brain a moment to register.

Jill Leigh Flemming on the other hand, does not see a need to be so wishy-washy and she must see it differently because the man is a crumpled heap before I even register what happened. He's lying in the fetal position, blood is oozing from his nose and he's grabbing his crotch.

Jill stands over him and says in a far calmer voice than what is sane, "I suggest the next time you see a beautiful woman you treat her with a modicum of fucking respect you disgusting, idiotic, dog-humping, pathetic excuse for a junkie. I've puked things that look and smell better than you."

Ladies and gentleman, my wife, supermodel and actress, Jillian Ness.

It's then that I feel John come up behind me. "What's up?" he whispers in my ear.

I shake my head and wait. Jill finally turns away from him when she feels he's not going to move. Her smile is bright and wide as she takes my hand and leads me across the street to the restaurant. John and Becca follow. I glance back and see twin looks of confusion. I shrug.

What else am I going to do?

Once inside, being seated is a relative cake walk. As we move through the dining floor I process what just transpired. "Jill, what the hell were you thinking?" I hiss as we are set at a table off to the right and rear of the place. John and Jill flank me leaving Becca sitting across from me.

"What happened?" Becca asks.

"That thing outside decided to insult Ann. I informed him that wasn't very damn smart," she chirps from behind her menu.

"I think she broke his nose and kneed him in the crotch," I explain a little further.

Becca chuckles and John whistles appreciatively. He's been on the receiving end of Jill's rage once or twice. He's even got the scar to prove it.

"Oh, that reminds me, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go wash up," Jill says brightly. We all watch her stand and make her way towards the back of the building.

"She really laid him out?" John asks, setting his menu down.

I nod. "You know how she is. I was going to step in and was physically directed not to. I blink the next thing I know he's a bloody mass on the side walk."

"I forget how much fun she is," Becca laughs.

"Don't encourage her please," I plead.

"Hey, speaking of feisty women, how's Nora and that partner of hers?" John queries from next to me.

"Dunno, last time I talked to her was almost two weeks ago," I respond, but get interrupted by Jill's return.

"They're good," she answers for me. "I talked to Nikki the day before yesterday and Nora yesterday. They send their love and said to say hello. Oh," Jill looks at me and raises her eyebrow, "Nora says you're in the doghouse."


"These are the detectives you worked with on the Amos case?" Rebecca tries to figure out who they are.

John nods. "Good, solid detectives. Nora's a riot though. We didn't get to work with Nikki, but maybe something will come up and we can pull them in."

"'Cause the last time we worked together, didn't cause lots of grief for one of my best friends?" I retort. John knows that after Nora and I finished up that case Nikki freaked out and they had a small break in their relationship. That was years ago, but still. I don't want to put either of them through that again.

"It all worked out," John huffs, "What I'd like is to get them up here. We could use some solid investigators for the department."

"Well, you talk about them constantly; I'd like to meet them. Are they planning a vacation anytime soon?" Becca looks over her menu at Jill and me.

I shrug. Jill answers, "Next time they come up, whenever that is, we'll have you over. And John, you'd have an easier time convincing Ann to sale her car."

"Thank you." Becca beams at my wife while John grunts again. "What about you Jill, any work lined up?"

Jill shakes her head. "Not yet. A couple of offers, but…"

We still haven't settled on a sound solution to Jill's problem. I don't seem to offer much help as she just tells me that me saying 'do whatever you want' is not good advice.

And here I think it's supportive. Go figure.

"I get it. Since leaving the hospital, I'm not too sure what to do either," Becca commiserates. Last year in November, she left her position of Chief of Emergency Medicine to find something else to do with her life. She's forty-three. She holds several commendations from the U.S. government as well as the same rank as her husband. I'm not sure what else she wants to do with her life.

John and I look at each other and shrug. I think he's thinking the same things I am.

"The fallout from the movie wasn't pleasant." Jill and Becca scoot closer together to talk.

John elbows me and smirks.

"I saw that. I just don't get it. I really have no urge to know what anyone in Hollywood does in their spare time." Rebecca sets her menu down and sips her water.

"Exactly. If that's what furthering my career is going be like, I'd rather not do it. I fell into it anyhow. I can just as easily fall out of it."

John leans over and whispers, "Maybe we can convince them to go into business together."

I shoot him a look. "What the hell would they do?"

"Dunno, but it'd be funny." He wiggles his eyebrows and gets the finger from Jill.

"I heard that," she lets him know.

"Babe, we're in a nice public place, you're irreverent behavior is fun, but…" I try to calm her down and she shoots me a pout.

"It was called for," Becca backs her up and I drop it.

"You two could open up a jam making company," John furthers his joke.

This comment earns him a look from Becca. One that I wouldn't like directed at me.

"Or maybe not," he back peddles and I laugh.

The waiter comes by shortly after and takes our orders. Leaning back listening to the three people at my table banter back and forth, settle me a little. It's good to be me.

Eventually all things catch up to you and I've realized that some of those things are better to find you quicker than not. Dealing with one of my best friends so she can chew me out, is a lot better if I just get to it quickly. It's with this in mind that I develop a cogent argument to leave the safe confines of my bed and a sleeping wife to call Nora Delaney.

My phone's pinched between shoulder and ear as I pour my first cup of coffee for the day. I'm three rings in before I hear, "Delaney."

"Hmm, very sexy, snarl again for me, Nor," is my reply.

She scoffs, "Please, Flemming you know I know that's not what you like."

She's right. I sip my coffee and pad into the living room, set my mug down on the coffee table and fall back into the soft leather of my couch. "True, true. What's up, hon?"

"Me? The usual actually. I'm more interested in what's going on with you?" her voice quiets at this and some of the background noise dies down.

"Where are you?" I wonder.

"At this pancake breakfast, fundraising thing with Nikki. Her and some of her acquaintances are raising money for a youth league," Nora says.

I smile at this thinking that from where Nora was for the first two years or so of her and Nikki's relationship, Nora's come along way. It's really good to see. When she first started telling me about her partner, when they first met, something told me that she was a goner. I like to think that I can read people pretty well, but Nora there was a connection there that was instantaneous and sustaining.

We went through the academy together, where we had a brief, but very hot intimate relationship and now, seventeen years later, she's the closest thing to family that I have. Given our history and knowing her so well, she would talk about her new work partner and I knew. Then when we came to visit, I was too surprised to really contemplate the connection I witnessed between her and Nikki.

Nora was different, but in a good way. Nikki brought her to life in ways I hadn't seen. I'm happy to say that they're still happily together nearly nine years later. It also helps that Nikki's a damn riot. I love the socialite turned detective almost as much as I do Nora.

"Nice, but how do you figure into the breakfast?" I'm curious. Nora was never one to be the joiner. Nikki's softened some of those edges too. I make a note to get something extra nice for Nikki on her birthday at the end of the year and await Nora's response.

"I'm cooking. Seems that a few of the group fell ill," she says blandly. "Quit avoiding the question, Ann. I talked to Jill. And. Just so you know, the next time she calls me crying over worrying about you, I'll fly up there and kick that skinny ass from Quantico to NOLA and back again."

I smile. I can't help it. I love that she's so protective of Jill. "It's this case we've had on the books for…" I trail off and remember that she was there when I was first handed the file, "This is the Talbert, Sheridan case. A few more bodies have been added to the pile. We're trying to crack it."

"Oh, Jill didn't say that. You guys find anything yet?" she's curious now and a little less miffed at me.

"A little, not a lot and not nearly enough. There's still a lot to be done," I answer honestly and give her a rundown of all the particulars of the case. Everything from the first body that she reviewed to our latest victim. I tell her about the letter and the quote and everything in between.

As I finish, she digests the information and finally asks, "So you have at the very least seven crime scenes all together. None of the neighbors saw anything?"

"Nope," I confirm, a little frustrated.

"Hmm," she mumbles, probably chewing on her lower lip in the process. "Well, hmm...he's got to be holding them somewhere. Someplace that can be constructed and deconstructed pretty quickly. Someplace that's not going to draw too much attention and he can keep someone for three days." I can practically hear the gears in Nora's brain whirring as she thinks through the process. "No trace evidence to speak of which is a bitch…" my friend trails off and I hear a sharp intake of breath. "I know this is going to sound like a long shot, but…you go to at least three different places, secure room, board and also set up a place to torture and kill a girl. Did you guys ever look into something non-stationary like a mobile home or van or something?"


I resist the urge to drop the phone and give myself a face palm and say instead, "I knew I kept you around for something. I'll see if that will get us anything. I'm not sure where to start, but that's probably the best suggestion I've heard since…"

"I think the best suggestion you heard was last night when I told you to drop to your knees," Jill purrs from behind me.

I squeak. "Jesus, woman!"

Chuckling, Jill climbs over the back of the couch, pecks me on my neck and whispers, "Tell Nora hello and I need to pee be right back."

I give her a peck and Nora giggles on the other end of the line. Jill trots off as my head swivels around as the doorbell rings. My brow furrows and I stand moving to the front door. "Nor, hang on for me." To the door I ask, "Who's there?"

"FedEx, ma'am," the male voice answers. I check the small window pane next to the door and see a man standing there with a small package. Unlocking the door, I smile and say, "Good morning."

"Morning. I have a package for Jillian Flemming. If you could just sign here," he says shoving an electronic clipboard in my face to sign the small sensor pad at the bottom.

I sign the blasted board and he hands over a large paper envelope. I look at the return address and see it's from her agent. Another script probably.


"Thank you," I say turning to go back to the house.

"Have a nice day," he says half-heartedly and scurries away before I have time to recognize the fact that he's gone.

"Sorry, sweetie," I apologize to the woman on the other end of the line.

"It happens," Nora says, "Oh, guess what?"

"What?" I play along, taking the package into the kitchen and set it on the island where I know Jill will see it.

"Bobby's got a girlfriend," she says proudly.

I laugh. Bobby Delaney is Nora's younger brother and Nora's fairly protective of him. It's actually kind of cute. He's a uniform on the force and worships the ground Nora walks on. "What's her name and do we need to do a background check?" I figure I may as well offer if she hasn't already done one.

Nora gives a good chuckle at this. "Her name's Carly Ward, she's twenty-eight works in a bank as a financial analyst. Never married, no children. We're having dinner together tomorrow night. They're coming over and Nikki and I are going to cook."

"Uh-huh, what about the background check?" I ask again.

"I promised Bobby I wouldn't," she admits.

I head back to the couch and to my coffee. I take a sip as soon as the mug's in my hand then sit down. "Yeah, but you didn't say anyone else couldn't. I know you, Nor."

"I know," she smirks, "Dan already did. She's clean on paper."

"HA! I knew I liked that old partner of yours. How's he by the way?"

"Good, still grumping about. We went out with his girl a few nights ago," she tells me. Dan Harney her old partner and now lieutenant is a good guy. A bit thick sometimes on the machismo, but all in I like the guy.

"Nice. Phantoms?"

"Yeah, Casey says hi by the way and wants to know when you and Jill are coming back to town." Phantoms is a club that Nora and I have been going to for forever. It's also where Casey, Nora's ex, bartends and helps manage.

"Soon, I hope. Maybe we can come visit for Jill's birthday at the beginning of August. Make a nice stay of it."

"Sounds like a plan. I'll tell Nikki and see if we can put in for some time. I think that should work. We haven't taken vacation since our visit up there for your birthday." Nora stops and I hear some muffled chatter. "That was Nikki," she comes back, "I need to go or I'm sleeping on the couch. She also sends her love."

"Back at her and that's good," I sigh, "I need to get ready anyhow."

"All right. Take care Ann, we love you and Jill." Nora's a sweetie…for the most part. Her general disposition is spotty but with the people that are in her circle, she's as loyal as they come.

"Love you two to," I manage before we hang up.

Sighing, I hit the 'off' button and slide the phone on the coffee table. Jill comes back then, this time looking a little more together. I open my arms and she crawls into my lap. She purrs as I shift and the robe I'm wearing falls open a little. Her eyes track straight to the exposed top part of my breast and I shake my head.

"My eyes are up here, dear," I snark and squeeze her side.

"Hmm," she mumbles, slipping a hand under my robe to cup my right breast, "but these I can fondle." She kisses up my neck, over the shell of my ear and husks, "You have a bit of time before you're due in?"

I nod.

She manages a throaty, "Good," before nipping my earlobe.

Well that does it. Unthinking, I gather her in my arms and stand. She's really not that heavy. Maybe a hundred-ten pounds, but I still thank the F.B.I for the P.T. requirements as I take us back to bed.

I can be a few minutes late

The office looks very similar to what it did yesterday morning. Everyone is sitting around, but instead of waiting for John and I to kick the meeting off, we're all waiting on Bamby to finish posting the lab results from the samples and tox screenings. Spencer's even here looking better than she did yesterday. It even looks like she's managed a bit of sleep. I'm going to have to set some time aside today to talk to her. See if she'll open up to me.

Ten to one, she's already talked to Bamby, but it's worth a shot. I sigh and lean against John's desk. I'm not expecting a lot. We brought back quite a bit and I'm guessing not all the samples were pure. I'd at least like to hope that we can confirm that's where Talbert was found was where she was killed. That will give us something to work with. I have to assume that the killer was comfortable enough and knew the area well enough that he would work there.

But then you never know and while I would normally hold out hope for the best. I mean when has a little optimism hurt anyone...?

Right, that's not something I do. I like to view myself as a pragmatist. I doubt anyone else would agree though.

"Good morning, people," Bamby chirps and looks up from the computer screen.

I smile. I don't know what else to do with that.

"So I have good news, mediocre news and news that won't help us a damn bit. Which would you prefer first?" she asks coming around to stand towards the center of the room.

"I think we could use a bit of good news first," Lucy says from her seat beside Spencer.

John shrugs, I follow suit. I mean unless she tells me we got a D.N.A. sample from some evidence that we over looked, and better yet, the sample produced a hit off of CODIS than I'm gonna give her a reserved reaction.

"Okee dokee. First things first then. The tox screens came back from Seevers; the results were consistent with what we have found thus far. Extremely high levels of epinephrine, cocaine and such. The cocaine also yielded a bit more than what I could have hoped." With this she pulls up a screen on a fifty inch monitor on the back wall. "How many of you have had exposure to compositional drug analysis?"

"We've all had some. Some more than others. Lucy," John directs his attention to her, "you've had the most."

"I've had a bit, what did you find?" she asks Bamby.

"The cocaine that was present in Seevers was made in the Midwest. We're currently trying to get a more specific location, but that's where my friend from the D.E.A. reported back on."

"Are we trying to determine the location of the other samples?" Travis asks.

"I have been. There have not been enough of the samples for me to really work with, but what I am currently working on is a way to test the samples against the other. I'm mocking up an experiment that may be able to help us break down and analyze its individual components. More on that when I have a better handle on it," Bamby answers.

"The Midwest, eh?" Lucy wonders aloud. "Are you using the ingredients that the coke was cut with or something else?"

"It's a big, general location, but at least it's something. Sam used the overall composite of the drug. She broke down the main ingredients it was cut with and then did a national analysis on the various types," the doctor answers.

"Well what about using a more specific chemical trace, something that can break the overall components down using proportionality, then do a cross comparison there?" Lucy asks. I don' know who she's talking to, but it's piqued Bamby and Spencer's attention.

"Actually, that's why I'm here," Spencer talks for the first time this morning. "Bae and I," I smile at her slip on using her sister's nickname, "were talking last night when the results came in. Before I use up any of the actual samples we have, I'm going to run a couple trials. Figure out what the controls will be. I am also waiting on a return call from a friend of mine that's a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford. William should be able to give us some direction or some assistance with the trials." She folds her arms across her chest and I notice the mark on her forearm. She's in jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt. The arm rode up to expose the abrasion and bruise on her wrist.

I'm definitely going to have that chat sooner than later. I wonder if John's seen it.

"Now," Bamby groans, "We were able to break out the samples that were brought back from Minnesota. Dad, Ann, thanks for all the tedious work. The mediocre news is that given everything that was brought back is enough to give you the definitive answer that Talbot was murdered in that shack. The bad news is that there are way too many biological samples to discern anything else. We were able to break out differing bodily fluids ranging from blood, urine and feces to semen and vaginal secretions. That shack was gross."

"Oh, nice," John and I both groan at the same time, thinking about the hours I crawled around on the floor of that place.

"Yeah, it was disgusting. So, besides identifying the kill site and the site where the body was found as the same place, you two did all of that work for naught. Sorry," Bamby lets us down easy.

I, personally, want to bang my head off the desk. All that work…not a lot to show for it.

"That's all?" John asks from next to me.

His daughter rolls her eyes. "What am I, a magician?"

"No, but I thought that something else would come out of the stuff we brought back," my partner nearly whines.

"Dad, we found five different blood types out of seven different samples, three urine samples, six semen samples and three vaginal secretions. I won't bother with the fecal matter that was pulled nor will I bother with the numbers on the contaminated samples. There was too much. That shack was used for a lot more than killing that girl. Cut us lab rats some slack." Bamby folds her arms across her chest and waits for any commentary her father is going to respond with.

Wisely, John raises his hands in a supplicating fashion and keeps his mouth closed.

"Then let's go back to focusing on what we can. Do we have any more information from our New York division about the phone number?" I ask Travis.

"They're still trying to get the phone logs," he says. "With Bamby's revelation about the drugs, maybe we can cross check and see if any numbers from the Midwest dialed in. Start back tracking from there, but I won't know until the records get here."

Okay. I run my hand through my hair and resist the urge to pout. Crap.

"I can understand everyone's frustration here," Spencer tries to assuage us, "but, the simple facts are that there were too many variables for the evidence collected by Ann and Dad. I'm nearly positive that the back of a delivery truck has not seen that much action. The numbers were deplorable. I mean really how crass do you have to be to engage in intercourse on a dirt floor of a shack in the middle of the woods?"

The flesh on the nape of my neck prickles and I ask, "What did you just say?" Spencer's eyes dart to me.

"Uhm, everyone's frustrated?" she ventures.

"No, the truck, the delivery truck," I say a standing up. The conversation with Nora this morning replaying in my head, 'did you guys ever look into something non-stationary?'

I grin. "Nora's a fucking genius."

"Ann, you want to share with the rest of us?" John snips.

I shake my head. "It just makes so much sense. I was talking to Nora this morning and I gave her the rundown. She asked if we had ever looked into the kill sites being committed in like a mobile home or van, but," I point to Spencer and grin, "Since we have so many smart women running around, a mobile home could work, a van, maybe, but not really."

I put my hands on my hips and think out loud, "A delivery truck, like U.P.S. or FedEx or something like that one of those guys, those trucks are big enough and who in the hell notices a damn delivery truck. It's classic and simple and no one would look twice."

I look around and see a collection of raised eyebrows. How can they not be excited by this?

I try to explain a little more, "Let's think about this for a second, you are a killer. You have cased victims in at least four states, therefore, you're nomadic. It would take a lot of capitol to set up homes in four different states or four different places to keep a victim alive for three days while you cut off her face. What would be the easiest solution to all of your troubles?"

I get nothing but crickets.

So I answer my own question, "A mobile killing room. Something that can be cleaned up and ferried off quickly. I don't know about you, but a delivery truck would make a shit load of sense."

Finally, I see a glimmer of response from Bamby and Spencer. John, Lucy and Travis still look skeptical.

I roll my eyes. You know, sometimes I wish people were little quicker.

There really is so much a person can take. Columns of numbers for a few hours at a time are one of them. Yet, here I sit remembering one of the worst cases of my career going over all of the numbers in the Midwest that dialed into the hotline that was set up four years ago.

Four years and the whole thing still gives me the occasional nightmare. Seven kids, one killer and some of the worst acts that can be committed against a human being, let alone a child. I always remind myself that the Lullaby murders aren't the norm. That women don't usually kill seven children in the span of nine days. They don't carve into them. They don't bludgeon them. They don't leave the last of eight alive. They don't cause a five year old to commit suicide.

The case was a one off that I could go the rest of my life and the next never dealing with again. That case nearly destroyed every single one of us in S.I.U. Most serial killing's span a length of time more than two weeks. The patterns indicate that serial killers can function for decades without detection. All of them develop signatures. Few signatures are ever recognized. At least they weren't. With advancements in technology and interdepartmental cooperation, it's getting easier.

These new cases, the No Profile murders, are the few and far between. Playing predator and prey isn't something I'd last long at. I get bored and tend to shoot.

"Ann," John interrupts my thoughts and the flashbacks of the bodies. "Anything?"

I shake my head.

"Then quit thinking so loud." He gives me this mordant smile. Usually, those smiles cheer me up. I'm not feeling it too much right now. He must see it on my face or maybe my eyes. "You're not feeling anything with the number angle."

"No," I grunt. I toss the list on top of another stack of papers. It flutters lamely for a second and then dies. "Everyone has access to that number. The only reason my name was associated with it was because I had to take point on Lullaby."

"You handled it well," he praises.

"Yeah, well, you blowing your cover seemed excessive," I brush the compliment off. John's retirement is contingent upon a few things. Discretion is the first. The second is an on demand disclosure for high-risk consultations and/or operations.

"But you're so pretty, Flemming. The media loves you more." He leans back in his chair and laces his hands behind his head.

"Nice try. Not working." I mirror his posture and look him over. "Why are you dragging your feet with the van/truck angle?" It took me another fifteen minutes to explain my, or Nora's idea. When he finally got the picture, he grunted in a way that denoted his skepticism.

His bushy left eyebrow rises at the question.

I squeeze the bridge of my nose, easing some of the pressure that's been building. With my eyes closed and head down, I press, "You don't drag your feet on my ideas. Hell, John, you take point and run with it. Why this?" I raise my head and lower my hand, looking him the eyes. "Do you think I'd be sitting here looking through reminders of one of the worst cases of our career?"

He bobs his head. "All right. You want to go down this road. We'll go." He sits up and rests his elbows on his desk. His eyes don't break contact and I don't like the look that's brewing behind them. "First things first, I don't know if it's the best idea. My instincts are telling me that it doesn't fit. In all my time and the cases I've worked, there's nothing that really fits this profile except long-haul truckers. I discredited that notion because people notice eighteen-wheelers when they roll through a neighborhood. Moreover, the killings do not fit the stylistic markers of a nomadic trucker."

He raises his hand, his index finger points at the ceiling, "One, the vics are rooted." His middle finger joins the second, "Two, there's no overt sexual angle to any of these and three," his thumb joins the other two sticking up from his palm, "I've never heard of a trucker or anyone fitting the psychological profile of a trucker with a medical background."

His fist lowers and his index finger jabs into the steel of his desk, "There's all of that Ann and then the letter. Everything in my body is telling me that letter was left specifically for you, to you. We just don't know what the message is supposed to mean. That number was created expressly for Lullaby. It's linked. It's probably obscure but there's a link there. This means the killer started to fixate on you during that time. We pulled the number as soon as the case closed. I made sure of it personally."

"So we abandon the idea altogether?" I ask as my arms fold across my chest.

"For now, yes." His jaw quivers as his teeth grind together.

We stare across our desks at each other. The seconds tick by and neither of us gives any ground.

He breaks first and asks, "I did send Lucy and Travis out to ask around again, doesn't that count?"

I shake my head. He grunts and crosses arms like mine. I let him stew a minute more and then say, "So what?"

"What?" His brow furrows and he frowns.

"What does it matter if this guy is fixated? All the better for us." It's my turn to prove a point and I stand. Moving around to his side, I lean against his desk causing him to scoot back to make room for me. "You're going off your instincts, which don't get me wrong, are killer. But, we also need to look at this rationally. Out of all the possible scenarios available to us to consider, a mobile killing site makes the most sense. Just like truckers. This one is different. This one doesn't fit a known profile, but then again John; we don't have much to go on. We're going off our experience and education. If it's not taught and not experienced, we're dead in the fucking water, partner."

His lips form a thin line and he shakes his head. There's something else there, hidden underneath his surface. I see it every now and again with him, this other side that he doesn't like to give voice to, but it's that that's making this decision for him. It's the wrong one.

"You know just as well as I do that delivery trucks don't get noticed. It's a great cover. The inside is easy to hose out, there's no wood, carpet or other fibrous material that would leave trace evidence. It'll transport a body easy enough and if you leave a delivery truck in an out of the way spot, who the hell notices?" I insist. "If our killer's fixated all the better for us. It gives us an advantage. He wants something from me. Does it matter what as long as we exploit the need and manipulate the situation to our advantage?"

"Not at the cost it could mean," he grits out.

I stop at this, cocking my head to the side. "You're worried," I hiss. I didn't mean for it to sound like an accusation, but he takes it that way.

Rising from his chair, he stands in front of me. I rise to my full height, which is shorter than he is by five inches. "Damn right, I am. I just can't figure out why in the hell you're not. You can carry on with the truck and the evidence Ann; it's why you're here. You're good at looking at the whole and breaking it down into detail that others miss. I don't have the luxury."

"John, I…"

He cuts me off, "I have to consider the exposure that you've been getting with Jill. How that can fuel someone that's done these things. Stoking the fires of an obsession that's been brewing for four years, if I'm right. He draws you in, that means I'm in. That means that the entire department is. And for fuck's sake, Flemming, think about Jill." His finger jabs into my shoulder. "You've been by her side. Supportive. Loving. You've done everything right and you two have shown anyone that's bothered to pay attention how happy you are with her. Think. What does that mean?"

I drop my eyes to the floor, searching past the industrial grade grey carpet. He's right. I let him know, "It means that if this guy fits the built profile, his end goal isn't death it's misery."

"Which puts who and what in the cross hairs if he's fixated?"

I swallow the acid that rises in the back of my throat.

The finger that was poking my shoulder goes to my temple. "I get it, Ann. I do. But this scrap of a lead is better for us to go down than trying to find a delivery truck that may or may not exist. The phone number does. Think about how much you're willing to risk." His hand drops to my shoulder and he offers me a squeeze. I smile thinly and am about ready to go back when Lucy and Travis come trotting in.

Both are wearing ear to ear grins, but they fall looking at John and me.

"Someone die?" Lucy says jokingly.

John shakes his head and offers another self-deprecating grin. "Ann and I were having a disagreement. We're good now though." He turns to move in front of me and asks, "What's got you two so happy?"

"Mr. Milton Gilmore," Travis answers, "Seems the older man went to stay with his daughter at the first sign of a cop car. He just got home today. Mr. Gilmore, he's what you would call…" Travis drums his fingers on his thigh trying to come up with the right description.

Finally, I nudge John over to give me a better view of our team.

"He's a retiree that has nothing to do with his time. He remembers seeing a U.P.S. truck around the neighborhood around the same time that Seevers would have been taken and he distinctly remembers the truck on the day of the discovery," Lucy fills us in.

I look at John and he sighs, a resignation in his eyes that may just cost us. We lock eyes for a brief moment, a conversation said with nothing but a look and a frown. We can't ignore this now. But John's right, how much is this going to cost and who's going to pay?

I hate these moments. Life shouldn't be dictated by a single act. It's too much for one decision to bear the weight. It's too much for those that make that decision with nothing to go on but past experience and instinct.

John casts the die as soon as the words past his lips, "I'll call and see if there's any footage from traffic lights that can help us." His eyes drop to the floor at his words and he sets into motion our only choice. We need to move forward and see how it all plays out.

Part 7

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