The Risk (Page 3)

“Sexual sadism is far more likely, since the last kill. There may be a sexually frustrated trigger, which should narrow down our search. We should also adjust the profile. What else do we know about the victims?”

“These guys were tops of their classes in college, but they were all different ages—from twenty-three to twenty-eight. Victimology only links them through the town and through their isolated homes. They haven’t kept in contact, even though they were all friendly when they still lived in town. It’s possible the unsub hates the whole town, but why? Is it part vengeance?”

“Possibly,” I say more to myself than to Elise.

One kill in Boston. One kill in Denver. One kill in Long Island. One kill in Maine. And now one kill in our own backyard in Virginia. This guy is all over the map, shitting all over a normal hunting ground pattern.

It would seem random if we hadn’t made the connection to the same home town. But not the same school. Three of them went to a private school two towns over. So obviously this isn’t an old grudge dated back to school ages, especially given the age gap in the victims that would put them in different grades too.

“No kills have been reported in town,” I groan. “If it was just two, I’d call it a coincidence. But it’s five from that town, yet no deaths within the town limits. What do we know about the town?”

“Small. Very small. Five hundred is the population. In the past three years, nothing of any real interest has made the news, other than a wolf that attacked a man in his cow pasture. Very religious town.”

“Small, religious towns are notorious for making it hard on gay males. Especially small farm towns. You and Leonard head out there and see what you can find out. Ask about a physically fit male over six feet tall, age twenty to thirty-five, who might have been gay or showed interest in men. Given the religious aspect, it’s doubtful he came out. Ask if anyone seemed to struggle or demonstrate a nervous tic frequently after having any sort of contact with an attractive male. All the males killed so far have been physically fit, single, attractive, and very promiscuous with women. It’s possible the unsub had feelings for them at some point in time, and retaliated for them not returning the same affections.”

I purse my lips, wondering what we’re missing. The profile appears solid, and the evidence lines up to support it, but something just feels off. We should have made the connection sooner, but with all the kills so spread out over state lines, we just got wind of this two weeks ago, which was two weeks after the fourth victim.

“Anything else I need to note to the profile before we deliver it to the town’s PD?”

“Yeah,” I say, sitting up as I study the photos. “The unsub managed to enter each home without it looking broken into. Either the victims know the unsub and trust him enough to let him in, or they didn’t lock their doors. Tell them this unsub would have had to be social with them in order to establish that rapport. Also, have we found out what trophy is being taken? The unsub has a personal attachment to these men, and has a sadistic fantasy he’s playing out with each kill, though rape doesn’t seem to be a part of the fantasy just yet. Obviously he’s getting off on the torture alone for now, but given the long gap between kills, he’d need something to hold him over. He’d definitely be taking a trophy.”

One month between each kill. The time frame hasn’t been changed, and it doesn’t look like the unsub is falling apart any time soon, if ever. I was hoping for a rapid devolution that would cause him to start slipping up by now.

“We’ve checked the bodies over. All the flesh is left behind, and the hair is intact. Also, none of the males were missing jewelry or other personal items, but we can’t know for sure, since they all lived alone and had no one to account for their belongings.”

We’re missing something, damn it. And it’s driving me crazy.

“Go home and get some rest. You’ve been here all night,” Elise goes on, placing her hand on my shoulder. “A mind works better after some rest.”

“Dig deeper into the town’s past. Something has happened there that we don’t know about, and—”

“Rest,” she interrupts. “I know how to do my job. You’re useless if you don’t sleep.”

Cursing, I stand up and close the file, packing it up as Elise leaves with Leonard to head up north to Delaney Grove. It’s an odd town name, and I know I’ll have to see it for myself to get any real answers.

Just as I reach the door, Craig catches up to me.

“Did frostbite girl ever give you a call?” he asks, sounding bored. But I know it still pisses him off that she blew him off and chased me down. Even though he viewed the facts out of context and refused to take in the real process of those events.

Again, that’s why he sucks at profiling, but he’s good at public relations—his place on our team.

I open my mouth to tell him no, knowing it will make him feel vindicated and delighted, but my phone rings. My brow furrows when I see the unknown number, and I answer.

“Bennett here,” I answer.

“You use your last name when answering a phone, as though the person on the other line might not know whom they’ve just dialed. It’s a very impersonal greeting, which makes me wonder if you also struggle with detachment issues, Agent Bennett,” a familiar, feminine voice drawls.

My smile immediately forms, and I wink at Craig as he watches me, waiting for me to put him out of his nosy misery.

“So you really waited the standard three days to give me a call back?”

“Technically, I waited a nonconventional four days.”

Right. I haven’t been to sleep since we found the latest victim yesterday morning. I’m running on caffeine and sugar.

“Sorry. I’ve been up all night. It’s not another day until I’ve slept, so I’m still on day three. Will I have to wait four days in between all your calls? Or am I allowed to use this number when I want to?” I ask her, watching as Craig groans and huffs, pouting as he moves out of my way.

“Why have you been up all night?” she asks, diverting the question I asked her.

It’s a typical reaction from someone with detachment issues.

“My job. I miss a lot of sleep, and spend a lot of time on the road. I guess I need to say that now before asking you out on a date I may or may not have to cancel because of said job.”

I decide to toss everything out there right away, knowing she’s already skittish and leery of trusting. The second I read her, she went from cold to haunted in a blink, and those haunted green eyes have been seared into my memory.

With her defenses down, she was lost, almost worried about being hurt just from speaking to me. Call it a hero complex, but I found myself drawn to her right then.

“Good to know. I miss a lot of things too, and I keep weird hours.”

My smile only grows, since she’s opening up.

“What do you do?” I ask her.

She laughs lightly, and it’s a damn good laugh to hear. It doesn’t fit her. And it’s an easy, free laugh, as though she’s not even the same girl I spoke to a few days ago.

“I have an online buy, sell, and trade store. I take a cut from each sell or trade made, and I have to vet some of them if the deal looks too good to be true. For instance, I might have to take a spontaneous trip in the middle of the night if someone in Florida is trying to trade a million dollar yacht for ten thousand dollar car. I can’t approve a trade like that until I physically inspect the merchandise and see the proper paperwork. For sales, I can just hold the money paid until the property gets transferred. Trades, however, have to be done by the customers. I’m just a third party arranger who occasionally inspects.”

Listening to her talk with such ease is a little confusing to the way I had her depicted… I profiled her as detached and defensive, not easy-natured. Maybe I’m off my game because I’m tired and hearing ease when it’s really strain.

“Sounds like fun though,” I say lamely. Again, I blame sleep deprivation.

“Not always. Once I had to go inspect one of those ‘real’ dolls. You know? The sex dolls that are realistically made, unlike the blowup dolls. They’re worth like five grand and the guy was trading it for a small pony… Don’t even get me started with the concern there.”

A laugh escapes me before I can stop it, and I feel her smile.

“Is that the weirdest thing you’ve ever inspected?”

“While examining the vagina of a synthetic woman made complete with suction in all holes wasn’t the highlight of my career, it surprisingly wasn’t the weirdest.”

Again, I laugh, wondering why her switch has flipped from defensive to charming over the course of four days.

“So what was the weirdest?” I ask her.

“Tit for tat. What’s the weirdest case you’ve ever worked?”

I think about that as I get in my car. Most of the cases I work are serious, violent, and sadistic. But when I first started…

“I got recruited while I was in college after taking a test I didn’t realize was for the FBI. They decided I needed to come work for them, and I didn’t see any reason to argue. Anyway, my first case was a small one in Indiana. It was a perv who was collecting panties. At first glance, the guy was a sexual deviant who would eventually escalate to harder crimes than panty thieving. It’s why they called us in, because all these women were terrified of a stalker breaking into their homes and stealing their underwear. But the deeper I delved, the more I realized it was actually a juvenile kid. I still thought he was having sexual fantasies. It wasn’t until later we discovered he wasn’t stealing the panties for him. He was stealing them for his mother, because she always griped about her ‘cheap underwear riding up into the crack of her ass.’ You don’t even want to know how horrified the mother was when we finally found the kid. He hadn’t given her the underwear yet. He was putting them all in a box to give her for Christmas.”