Authors: Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
Adams concluded his phone call and leaned back in his chair. “Sit down, Stevens. I hear you have some news on those unusual homicides.”
Mary returned to her seat, opening the file and balancing it on her knees. “The lab finally confirmed that the same gun was used in the Connelly case in Dallas, the Thomason case in Houston, as well as the San Francisco area cases, Madison and Sherman. The ones in California are the most recent. Maybe our UNSUB didn't like the heat in Texas.” She despised the use of UNSUB. Police departments used only one wordâsuspect.
“Are you saying we may have another serial killer at work?”
“That's my thinking, sir.”
He stared at a spot over her head. “It's brilliant, don't you see? Our UNSUB has found a way to indulge his bloodlust, and at the same time, reduce his chances of apprehension. The victims were suicidal, right?”
“All four of them,” Mary told him. “Two of the men even served time in mental hospitals following attempted suicides. You can see
why the local police didn't believe they were legitimate homicides. If the medical examiner in San Francisco hadn't handled the autopsies on both the Sherman and Madison cases, he would have ruled the deaths suicides.”
“Have we linked the gun to any other deaths, suicides or otherwise?”
“Not yet.” Mary swallowed hard. “I want you to hear something. Around the world, over a million people kill themselves every year and another ten to twenty million attempt suicide and don't succeed. In the United States alone, there were forty-five-thousand suicides last year.”
“Jesus Christ! Finding out which ones were homicides will be impossible. The FSRTC is already backed up to China.”
Adams was referring to the Forensic Science Research and Training Center, which was internationally renowned for the development of new methodologies in forensic science and was the primary means for transferring new concepts, techniques, and procedures to forensic science and law enforcement communities. It was the starship of the Bureau. More than a million examinations were conducted every year.
“We don't have the time or resources for such a monumental task, Stevens,” Adams told her. “Do what you can with the four cases we know about and forget the rest. Los Angeles has asked for our assistance in profiling a serial rapist. I'll have the files sent to you so you can review them in time for the team meeting tomorrow.” He slipped his glasses on and began reading some material on his desk, his way of letting Mary know she was dismissed.
Since the FBI dealt with intentional acts of violence, Mary wasn't surprised Adams wasn't aware of the statistics on suicides. But she was certain a killer was preying on individuals who had given up on life, some of the most vulnerable people in society. “With all due respect, sir, we can't walk away from this. Our UNSUB is maniacal and insatiable. He's discovered a minefield of willing victims and he's going to keep killing until we find a way to stop him.”
Adams looked up, a somewhat annoyed expression on his face. “And how do you propose we stop him, Stevens?”
She adjusted her position in the chair. “The first thing is to shut down the suicide clubs. I think the Bureau should also issue a directive to all medical examiners to be on the lookout for any homicides or suicides that appear even slightly suspicious.”
“You want us to tell them to do their jobs. The law requires an autopsy be performed on any death unless the deceased was under the direct care of a physician.”
Mary leaned forward in her seat. “You just said the FSRTC was backed up with cases. The same is true in the majority of medical examiners' offices. Suicides are low priority. Medical examiners spend a fraction of time on them compared to the rest of the deaths they investigate.”
“I doubt if you'll find a medical examiner who will agree with that statement.”
Mary stood and walked to the edge of his desk. “Let's talk turkey, chief. A person no one cares about arrives at the morgue with their wrists slit, and the coroner ends up rubber-stamping them a suicide. All I'm suggesting is we alert them to what we've discovered in these four cases.”
Adams rubbed a spot near his eyebrow. “The suicide clubs are your best chance of finding the killer, but I'll give thought to issuing a directive of some kind.”
Mary was relieved that she'd talked him out of assigning her another case. She paced in front of his desk. “I found out how most of the suicide clubs operate. It's a fairly simple system. When a person signs up, they're placed at the bottom of a list. They then have to assist the suicide of the person on the top. The decision as to manner and place of death is left to the two individuals involved.”
“What ages are we talking about?”
“The suicide rate has historically been the highest among teenagers. Last year the number of suicides in the United States skyrocketed. In addition, we're seeing far more adults. I assume this is due to the economy. People have lost their jobs, their homes, and
their savings. That's a bitter pill to swallow for even the most well-balanced individuals.” He was nodding his head, a sign that she had his full attention. “There's another possibility to consider, one I think you'll find interesting. We may not have an actual serial killer per se, but someone along the lines of a hired gun.”
“You mean a professional assassin?”
“Possibly,” she said, clearing her throat. “But I'm not sure this person is a professional. He could be a friend, a relative, or a member of a suicide club. In my opinion, this also relates back to the economy. If a person arranges for someone to kill him, his dependants can collect on his life insurance. This could be the reason suicide clubs have grown in popularity. These people want their death to look like a homicide, or some type of accidental shooting, anything but suicide.”
Adams's face fell. “It's a sad world we're living in today.”
“Amen to that one,” she told him, falling silent.
“Did the four individuals you mentioned have life insurance?”
“All of them. Even that is suspicious, don't you see? The majority of homicide victims aren't that well heeled. When they are, we usually have a good idea who killed them and nine times out of ten the motive is greed. As for the average person, these are hard times and life insurance isn't necessary for survival. If you're struggling financially, what bill do you pay first, your life insurance premium or your mortgage?” She stopped pacing and placed her palms on top of his desk. “Should I try to infiltrate some of the clubs in the areas we know the UNSUB has been recently active?”
“Absolutely not.” Adams thought of her like a daughter and had a tendency to be overly protective. “Get some of the field agents to handle it. I need you here running the show.”
Mary stood and walked to the door, then turned back around. “Have you given any more thought to me taking the post in Ventura?”
“You just talked me into issuing a Bureau directive about your case,” he said, scowling. “Now you want to abandon everything and move back to Ventura. You're driving me crazy, Stevens. I don't
want to lose you. You're just getting your feet wet here, but you're good. Give it some time and I'll try to get Brooks transferred into BAU.”
Mary let out a long sigh, her back stiffening. “You said that a year ago when we got married. For Brooks to get a position in BAU, someone has to quit, retire, or die. Everyone on the team seems to be in good health. As for retiring, you're the only one who's anywhere near retirement age. Bulldog McIntyre certainly isn't going to quit. He lives for this job, and so does Genna Weir, Mark Conrad, Pete Cook, and the rest.”
Adams looked exasperated. “Settle down, Mary.”
“Everyone wants to work in BAU. It's one of the most coveted positions in the Bureau.” He was holding his ground. She had to pull out all the stops. “Please, Uncle John, I finally found a man I can love. I can't help it if he's assigned to another city. There are two openings in Ventura right now. You know how rare that is? If Brooks and I don't hurry, they'll be taken.”
“I'll consider it.”
“You're being unfair,” Mary argued. “You want me here so you can look after me. Dad saved your life, so you feel like you owe him. There are agents with twice as much experience who've had transfer requests for BAU on file for years. My father would want me to be happy, to give my mother a chance to see her grandchild. Mom isn't getting any younger, Uncle John. She stopped driving last year, and she's reaching the age where she can't live alone any longer. Brooks and I have a place for her in Ventura.”
Adams looked beaten. “You know I don't like you to call me Uncle John when we're at work. We went over the rules when I hired you.”
She pinned him with her eyes. “If you can't do this for me, do it for my father.”
“Fine,” he said, tossing his hands in the air. “If that's what you really want, I'll put through the damn paperwork.”
Mary rushed over and kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you! You made my day.”
“Oh yeah, well, you ruined mine.”
“Come on, Uncle John,” she said, ruffling his hair. “It's not like we're never going to see each other again. I'll come and visit you and you can come to .Â .Â .” His position within the Bureau was so vital, he hadn't taken a vacation in years. A tear crept down her face and she quickly brushed it away with her finger. Since she'd arrived at Quantico, he'd been like a father and it was hard to let go. She'd already lost one father. “I'll find a way for us to see each other, I promise. We can videoconference. I know you won't be able to come to Ventura, so Brooks and I will come to you. We'll bring the baby to see you for sure.”
“You're pregnant already. Christ, what is this guy, a jackrabbit?”
“I'm not pregnant right now,” Mary told him, “but I might be as soon as I start sleeping in the same bed as my husband.”
Adams brushed her away. His door was open and she knew he was afraid one of the other agents would walk by and see them. “Who's going to handle the case?”
“I will.” Mary moved an appropriate distance away. “I'm sure my new SAC won't mind. There's not much going on in Ventura, so I should have plenty of free time on my hands.”
He arched an eyebrow. “Aren't you being overconfident?”
“Maybe,” Mary said, smiling. She started to tell him that her new SAC would be her husband, but knew she couldn't. Because she'd kept her maiden name, most people at the Bureau wouldn't be aware she and Brooks were married. She intended to keep it that way for as long as possible. If she did get pregnant, she would retire anyway. “I'll let you know if I have a problem.”
Without looking up, Adams grumbled, “Get back to work, Stevens. Until your papers come through, your ass still belongs to me.”
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 13
The commotion in the courtroom finally died down and Lily looked over at Silverstein. “You may continue, counselor.”
“On the night of Brandon's death,” Silverstein stated, lowering his voice so the jurors had to listen more carefully, “the Santa Ana winds had blown in and the temperature was in the mid to high eighties. This wasn't the case inside the trunk of the car, where little Brandon was confined. Inside the trunk, the temperature was a scalding hundred and twenty degrees. Try to imagine the terror of a two-year-old in the pitch black of the trunk, gasping for breath and hopelessly screaming for help until he finally succumbed to hyperthermia. The cruelty inflicted on this child is second only to the evil inside the mind of the woman who gave birth to him.”
Silverstein was now establishing circumstances in aggravation. Lily looked over at him, wanting him to know that she was about to interrupt him. As soon as he got the hint and stopped speaking, she addressed the court. “Ladies and gentlemen, this court will recess for fifteen minutes. We will resume promptly at eleven o'clock.” She tapped her gavel once and quickly exited the courtroom.
Shana was now in her final year at Stanford Law. Lily had been
calling her for weeks and had not heard back. In the past, she would have thought nothing of it. Stanford was a difficult school and her daughter spent almost every waking moment on her studies. Any remaining time was reserved for her boyfriend.
Shana despised Lily's second husband, Bryce, and had seldom visited her mother because of him. But now it was more than Bryce. Lily and her daughter had suffered a horrifying ordeal in Ventura. A man broke into Lily's home and raped both her and her daughter at knifepoint. Shana had been twelve at the time and sixteen years had now passed, but no one genuinely recovered from this kind of trauma. Even Lily had moved to Santa Barbara for a number of years to put the memories from Ventura behind her, renting a home there and working as a prosecutor. When she was offered a judgeship in Ventura, it was impossible to resist, especially since Shana was about to complete her law degree and go out into the world. She had hoped that her daughter would eventually come to the same conclusion she hadâthat it wasn't the city but the crime, and that running away solved nothing. Eventually Shana had to face her demons or she would never defeat them, a fact Lily knew all too well.
John and Lily had been divorced for seven years when he was murdered, an event that appeared to have taken a greater emotional toll on Shana than the rape. It didn't matter to Shana that her father had become an alcoholic and could no longer support himself. She still adored him and demanded to live with him in Los Angeles, where she briefly attended UCLA. Alone and dejected, Lily had married Bryce and then later divorced him when she discovered he'd been cheating since the onset of their marriage. She was now living with Christopher Rendell, a handsome, intelligent, and charming judge. She had also purchased a new house on the beach, which she was certain Shana would love as it was nowhere near where they'd lived when they were attacked.