The Risk (Page 2)

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a persistent one. Albert Einstein said that. My father always quoted Einstein as a way of explaining life when we struggled to understand it. I remember him quoting me that when our lives fell apart. He was hurting the worst, and trying his best to soothe me.

Einstein isn’t helping me understand how easily I was just read. Or how vulnerable and exposed I feel in this moment.

My phone buzzes in my hand, and I look down, seeing the alert I set.

I have to be cold. I need to be cold. Anything less could fracture the shell in place that I need to execute the plan I’ve worked too hard on for too long.

Shaking off the residual weakness, I blow out a harsh breath and walk to my car. I drive fifteen miles, find the house I’m looking for, and drive on by. I wait until I’m parked in an abandoned barn before I put on my gloves, suit, and heavy men’s boots. I also strap on the backpacks weighted down with rocks… One on my back and one on my front.

Stealthily, I walk toward the house, slip open the door, and silently remove the backpacks, putting them down with careful ease to a chair.

My purse has everything I need in it, so I keep it on me. The heavy shoes come off next, and I silently place them on top of my backpack.

Movement upstairs draws my attention, and I slowly make my way to the staircase, careful to keep my steps light and silent. I’ve examined the floors for a month, finding every spot that creaks or groans.

I know his routine better than my own. Just like I know in five seconds, the water will come on.

Sure enough, the old pipes in the house clank as water shoots through them, and that’s when I make my way up the stairs, ignoring the way they creak, because he can’t hear a thing with that loud shower.

When I reach his room, my eyes dart to the bed. I know he’s single, but I always worry about stumbling across an unplanned woman. I watched the cameras from my phone, and they showed no woman here, but it’s still a thought that always plagues the back of my mind.

I breathe out in relief when I see no signs of an overnight guest. Just Ben and his usual messy home.

The shower cuts off, and I’m already in position, ready and waiting. Life would be simpler if I could use a Taser or sedatives. It really would.

Just as he walks through with a towel around his waist, my knife comes down, slicing hard against the Achilles heel. Screams pierce my ears, and I realize that moment of weakness with Mr. Profiler earlier doesn’t affect how pretty the screams sound.

I’ve worked too long, too hard, and too endlessly for this. I should have known one man couldn’t take away my edge.

Ben falls to the floor, crying out in agony, while clutching his foot. The towel flops off, exposing every naked inch of him to my eyes.

It makes my stomach roil.

But the terror in his eyes? That gets me high.

“What the fuck? Take whatever you want!” he shouts, sobbing as I approach, watching me with those wide, terrified eyes.

I get off on the terror. I want him to cry for much, much longer.

“What I want is for you to know my name,” I say quietly, eerily.

His eyes grow even wider, and he pales when I hold the bloody knife up and run my finger along the backside of it.

“Please don’t,” he begs, trying and failing to stand up.

He’ll hit me if he gets the chance. I’m not stupid enough to get that close just yet.

I pull the wire from my back pocket, and I watch him as he watches me.

“Don’t recognize me, Ben?” I ask mockingly, cocking my head. Ten surgeries ago, he might have recognized me immediately.

“No. No,” he cries. “I don’t know you. You have the wrong person!”

I squat down, noticing the way his gaze shifts. He’s preparing to attack me now that I’m in this position. He finds it a vulnerable mistake on my part.

If he only knew…

“I was a sixteen-year-old little girl the last time you saw me,” I say with a dark smile. “I’m all grown up now. Want to play?”

The last three words are what triggers recognition. I see it in the way his pupils dilate, his nostrils flare, and a sense of understanding washes over his features.

“You,” he whispers. “No. No. You look nothing like her. She died,” he adds in the same hushed tone.

“I survived,” I say back, watching as his fear slowly starts to fade, just as I knew it would.

Right now, he’s remembering just how weak I was as that horrified, terrified, sobbing little girl. He’s remembering how easily he overpowered me. His mind is playing tricks on him that he’s still the one in control, despite the precariously deadly situation.

“You took three turns,” I go on, staying poised and ready, but outwardly displaying a weakness I don’t truly have, allowing his mind to continue to revert back to that night ten years ago.

“That means three pounds of flesh over the next three days,” I go on.

I see it happening before he launches himself at me, screaming in pain as he tries to tackle me to the floor. My knife slams into his shoulder, and another bloodcurdling scream erupts through the air as I spin on my knees, sliding in behind him as his face plants into the floor.

My hand is still holding the knife, and I rip it away in less than a blink, almost simultaneously tossing the wire around his neck, winding it tightly. Then I choke him, reveling in the pained sounds, until he grows limp and unconscious, riding the line of life and death. With the blood loss, he’s too weak to fight back. It’d be so easy to kill him right now.

But death won’t come too soon.

I don’t believe in mercy.

Three pounds of flesh will be extracted while he’s awake.

He’ll beg and plead.

He’ll pray to pass out.

But he will feel it all.

Just like we did.

Chapter 2

As a human being, one has been endowed with just enough intelligence to be able to see clearly how utterly inadequate that intelligence is when confronted with what exists.

—Albert Einstein.


I finish off my croissant while staring at the gory crime scene photos.

Blood is smeared across the walls with a paintbrush, just like the other four cases we’ve managed to link together. It’s one of the few things that remains consistent. The unsub always paints a wall red with the victim’s blood.

“How can you eat while seeing that?” Elise asks while wrinkling her nose and sitting down on the edge of my desk.

Ignoring her question, I ask, “What did they find out about Ben Harris?”

“The M.E. estimated that he was tortured for at least three days. He has parts of him that have been cut off, just like the others. Including the penis,” she sighs.

That has me cringing, just like any man would. One of these images is supposed to be a dismembered penis?

“His fingers were all cut off,” she goes on, pointing at one picture that was snapped of ten severed fingers lying on the ground. “His chest was slowly pulled off piece by piece. The unsub stopped the bleeding each time by using a barbaric method of cauterization. He wanted the victim alive for those three days specifically. His penis seems to be the last thing to have gone. Ligature marks were found again, and chains were hanging from his basement rafters. We think the unsub stayed true to his profile, leaving the victim strung up in their own home. So far, all the men have had isolated homes too far away for any neighbors to overhear or see anything.”

And he’s not devolving either. His strikes are controlled, well planned out, and meticulous in detail, even if we don’t understand the details.

“The unsub should be a female, considering the groin mutilation in all the kills,” Craig says, shuddering as he walks up on our conversation. “Only a woman could handle cutting off a man’s junk.”

“Women serial killers statistically don’t torture. They’re actually far more efficient and harder to track down because of that,” Elise says dismissively.

“Well, he has to be impotent. Most serial killers are,” Alan chimes in, joining us.

There’s a reason he and Craig are not profilers.

“I think he’s more of a sexual sadist,” Elise explains. “Impotence likely plays a part, but just calling them impotent isn’t a profile.”

“So an impotent sexual sadist?” Craig asks, confused.

“Sexual sadists are often impotent, and they seek out their sexual release through the torture. No signs of rape were found, but it’s likely the unsub hasn’t evolved and grown the confidence to rape the men yet.”

“So a gay sexual sadist?” Craig goes on, still lost.

“Yes,” Elise says, nodding.

“All of the male victims were straight, according to witnesses. If they were gay, that theory would make more sense,” I add. “All five men were from the same town, yet no one can think of any man who might want to kill all five. However, I know we’re missing something.”

“Footprints are a size twelve man’s shoe made in the dirt on the way to the house. The footprint is solid from heel to toe. Our field expert says that the unsub weighs between two-ten and two-fifteen,” Elise announces.

“He’d have to be physically fit to be able to overpower these men the way the unsub has. And very built, most likely. The unsub is overpowering them with sheer brute force. Originally he was only killing alphas, which led to the profile being an alpha serial. But Ben, although physically fit and strong, was very submissive in his line of work. It was why he was so successful, because he liked being in the background instead of in charge.”