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Widower's Walk

 

Widower’s Walk

Georgia Nelson

 

Published by Georgia Nelson at Smashwords

 

Copyright 2014 Georgia Nelson

 

Thank you for downloading this ebook. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support.

 

Chapter 1

 

The woman struggled when the man’s fingers began stroking her thigh.  She could see the knife that was held in his other hand, and her eyes never left the blade.  She strained her muscles until they burned, pulling against the leather straps that bound her arms.

The cold steel of the blade traced the lines of her face, not cutting yet.  She froze to keep the knife from biting into her flesh.  The smell of burning skin still hung in the air from hours before, but her wounds had turned numb long ago.

The hand settled onto her stomach, stretching her skin tight between sweaty fingers.  The frigid steel of the blade crept downward.  She began to scream, spraying flecks of foam from her mouth.

“Shhh, my dear.  This won’t hurt a bit.”

***

The fog slowly rolled in from the river, blanketing the sand hills of Fort Eustis in a billowy cloud of cotton.  Carrie Grace jogged along the dirt road that led across the top of the levee.  She could smell the rich mud that had been swept into the water from thunderstorms far upriver.  Carrie was lost in thought, oblivious to the sweat beginning to pour down her forehead into her eyes.  She had a portable compact disk player in her hand; the music from the headphones drowned out the sound of the ships steaming upriver towards the port.

A camouflage Humvee appeared out of the fog, skidding to a stop beside her.  She jumped visibly and came to a halt, slipping her headphones from her ears.  A muscular Captain leaned towards the open passenger-side window and shouted over the roar of the engine, “Captain Grace?”

“Yes,” she replied, out of breath.

“Colonel Zander wants to see you immediately.  I was sent to find you,” said the military police officer.

Carrie cursed under her breath.  It was just getting light, and it normally took an act of Congress to get the Old Man into the office before 8:00.  Somebody’s shit must have really hit the fan, she thought to herself.  Shrugging her shoulders, she pulled open the door of the Humvee and slid onto the green, padded seat.  Just as she started to pull the door closed, the MP manhandled the wide vehicle through a U-turn, back towards the base.

They rode in silence while Carrie stared out the window at the James River, running wide and slow towards the ocean. The river was over a mile across by the time it reached Fort Eustis, in the Tidewater area of eastern Virginia.  Through breaks in the fog she could make out the Dead Fleet, hundreds of ships that had been permanently moored in the middle of the river.  They had been saved in preparation for another war, but had never been reused.  Many had settled to the bottom, which was only a few meters deep.  A lone fishing boat was patiently dragging lines near the Fleet.

Slipping her headphones back over her ears, she thumbed the Play button on her CD player, the target of considerable ribbing from her more tech-friendly coworkers.  The music resumed, but she had to crank up the volume to be heard over the Hummer’s roaring engine. 

They drove past the airfield, where crews were already fueling up a flight of Apaches for a morning training run.  Hoses snaked out of the choppers, disappearing into the fog towards the hanger.  Fort Eustis was a crucial transportation hub for the Army because of its nearby port facilities, but it also housed several attack helicopter training schools.  The sleek, black choppers were constantly buzzing her office, which was near the airfield. 

She glanced towards the MP just as he yanked his eyes from her thighs and back onto the road ahead.  Damn, she thought as she looked down at herself.  She had forgotten that she was still in her PT clothes: black nylon running shorts, and a damp t-shirt with “ARMY” emblazoned across the front.  Her clothes were not appropriate for a meeting with the Colonel.  Maybe the MP would give her a little leeway before delivering her to the Old Man.  “Could we swing by the barracks so I could change?”

The MP shook his head vehemently.  “Nope.  Colonel Zander ordered me to bring you to his office as soon as I found you.”

She sighed and figured that if the Old Man gave an order like that, he would have to deal with the consequences.  He would soon have a very sweaty officer dripping all over his precious knickknacks.

Looking back towards the MP, she thought she might have seen him before, maybe in court.  He was her age, about 28, and bore the two bars of a Captain.  He had a massive upper body, which was the hallmark of many male MPs.  The daily exercises built up the arms and chest, and some MPs lifted weights for additional strength.  His sandy blonde hair was cut in a high-and-tight, short on top, shaven along the sides and back.  Not bad looking, she thought to herself.  Great eyes.  They were the iron gray of a stormy sea.

She jerked her thoughts away from their wandering.  Why had the Colonel called her?  She had won a case on Friday, getting her client an acquittal on an assault charge.  The Old Man might give her a slight compliment in a day or two.  He certainly would never drag himself out of his stately riverside home at this hour to give his usual grunt and nod, accompanied by a low “Good job in court.”  He hated mornings so much that he had rescheduled the office’s physical training sessions away from the Army’s normal early morning time, moving it to the late afternoon.  No, it probably had nothing to do with the Moderno trial.  So then what the hell did he want?

Carrie was still racking her brains when the MP swerved into the parking lot, past the sign reading “Judge Advocate General’s Corps, Fort Eustis.”  Everyone called it the “JAG Office.”  Her office handled all courts-martial and legal aid matters on base, as well as anything else the Commanding General thought he was able to throw at them.

The MP pumped the brakes and brought the Humvee to rest in the parking lot.  She thanked him and hopped out, feeling his eyes on her as she jogged towards the entrance.

The JAG Office was awake with activity, even though the clock over the reception desk only read 6:10.  She hastened down the hall towards the back, passing several coworkers that refused to meet her eyes for some reason.  She reached the last door, which was marked with only a silver eagle, signifying the rank of Colonel.

The door was closed and she could hear muffled shouting.  She raised her eyes at the thought of who had the nerve to shout at a full Colonel.  After a few minutes of trying to make out the conversation, she gave up and sat down in a nearby chair to wait.

The racket from behind the door suddenly quieted and the door was yanked open.  Captain Grace pushed herself onto her feet and to attention as a handsome officer emerged.  He was graying around the temples and wore the two silver stars of a Major General.  A dutiful Second Lieutenant followed him out, falling into position on his left.  Carrie was just sinking down into her seat again when a shout from the Colonel pulled her into the office.

***

“I’m taking you off Trial Defense,” said Colonel Zander as Carrie stood at ease in front of his desk.

She was dumbfounded for a moment.  Finally she managed to squeak out a feeble “Sir?” 

“You heard me correctly.  There is a more pressing matter for you to attend to.”

“I’ve only been on TDS for a few months.  The normal rotation is one year.” 

He nodded, his short, gray curls quivering slightly.  “I know, Captain Grace.  That is SOP, but this isn’t a standard situation.  There are certain…mitigating factors.” He seemed fascinated with the blotter on his desk, never looking at her directly.

“Is it something I did wrong with the Moderno defense?”

“Absolutely not.  You handled that like a true advocate.  Good job in Court, by the way.  Nobody else noticed that the arresting officer screwed up the procedure.”

She nodded in thanks at his compliment.

“Do you remember a young lady you defended several months ago, a Specialist Julie Flanders?”

“Yes, sir.  She was up on AWOL charges, if I recall.  I got her acquitted.”

“Correct.”  He sighed.  “Captain Grace, you probably saw the Commanding General leaving as you came in my office.”  She nodded again. 

Colonel Zander shook his head and said, “He was mighty steamed up about Specialist Flanders.”

“I’m not quite sure I understand, sir.”

The Colonel turned his attention from the blotter to a collection of items on the credenza beside the desk.  There were several dummy mortar rounds, a small brass cannon, and a pile of defused pineapple grenades.  He blew an imaginary speck of dust from the cannon as he thought.  “Then you haven’t heard?”

“Well, sir…it appears that I haven’t.  I went up to Charlottesville for a Memorial Day picnic yesterday and just got back onto base late last night.”

“It seems that your client, so recently acquitted of AWOL, has disappeared again,” Colonel Zander replied.

Carrie was struck dumb for a second time.  “Disappeared?”

“Flanders has been gone for over a month now.  No word from her, and the MPs can’t figure anything out.” 

The Colonel wrung his hands.  “Problem is, the CG heard about this a few days ago.  He hit the roof.  The General thinks that Flanders has gone AWOL again, which really seemed to piss him off.  The General seems to take it personally, like she had gone AWOL just to get back at him.  He’s ordered a manhunt—well…womanhunt for Flanders.  He sent out a shitload of MPs to find her and bring her back for trial.  He’s already convened a General Court Martial to try her as soon as she is back in custody.”

Carrie felt a flush of anger at his words.  I bust my butt for Flanders to get her acquitted, and she turns around and does it again, she said to herself as the Colonel spoke.  A thought occurred to her.  “Why am I being pulled off of TDS if the Flanders matter isn’t closed yet?  I should represent her in this trial as well, shouldn’t I?”

“Normally, yes.  But the CG is so keen on catching her that he wants you to help the MPs.  You spent the most time with her recently, so the General thinks you might have some insight.  What he doesn’t realize, though, is that I’m being forced to pull you off the case because there would be a conflict of interest if you were to defend a criminal you helped to apprehend.”

Carrie grudgingly agreed, but decided to press the point a little further.  “I realize there would a be a conflict, sir, but wouldn’t it be easier to send someone else after her?  I don’t want to sell out a former client.”

The Colonel was an attorney, as were all JAG officers.  “If you can help the MPs without violating attorney-client privilege, then do so.  We have a direct order from the Commanding General himself.”

“Yes, sir.”

“The MP who was sent to find you will be waiting outside.  Get to work on this immediately.”  He snatched open the center drawer of his desk and pulled out a cellular phone.  Carrie caught it when it was tossed at her.  “Call me whenever you get any leads.”

He pulled a file out of his desk, indicating that she was dismissed.  Captain Grace snapped to attention, did an about face, and strode out of the office. 

The muscular MP was leaning on the hood of the Humvee as she came out of the JAG Office.  He straightened up as she approached, and she waved him into the Hummer.  Sliding into the passenger seat, she slammed the door behind her.  The MP had started the engine and was looking at her for guidance. 

“I’m Carrie Grace,” she said with her hand outstretched.

“Daniel Musser,” he replied as he shook her hand 

“Well, Musser, it looks like we’re going to be working together for a while.”

“Seems like it.  Where are we headed?”

She glanced down at her still-damp PT outfit with a wry smile.  “I still need to change clothes, so we’d better head for the HHC barracks.”

***

Carrie hung her PT clothes on the end of her bed to air out and let the wet towel drop from around her body.  She padded over to the wall locker and snapped open the latch.  There was a long, narrow mirror hanging on the inside of the door, and Carrie stared at the woman in the glass.  She had dark, slightly curly hair that fell halfway down her neck, and her face was slightly sunburned from the Memorial Day picnic.  Her hair was usually pulled into a ponytail and crammed under her hat or helmet.  Carrie looked in the mirror, noting the strong, athletic legs that came from running 4 miles every morning.

Reaching inside the wall locker, she grabbed a set of camouflage BDUs off a hanger, and some underclothes off the shelf.  She smiled to herself as she thought about her old classmates from Tulane Law School.  They were all in power suits and high heels, while she did not even have to think about what to wear.  When in court, she wore her green Class A uniform; otherwise she had camouflage.  Really takes the guesswork out of dressing, she thought.  I don’t even have to accessorize

Her thoughts drifted back to Specialist Flanders as she dressed; Carrie tried to put herself into the young soldier’s place as she considered the problem.  Where would she have gone?  Police had already checked her family’s house and found nothing.  Flanders was probably afraid of being sent to prison, so she would have found a place to hide.  Since she was from Georgia, she did not know the area too well.  Carrie shook her head.  She did not have enough pieces to solve the puzzle yet.

After buckling the black web belt, she sat on the bunk.  She fished around underneath and came up with a pair of combat boots.  Her green-socked feet slid into the supple leather of the boots, which she had shined after she took them off on Friday.  Carrie laced them up without having to look at them, finally an expert after four years in the military. 

She glanced in the mirror one last time, proud of the Captain’s bars that were sewn onto her lapel.  The bars were flanked on the left side by the symbol of the JAG Corps, a crossed sword and quill pen, surrounded by a wreath.

Her eyes fell on the painting that hung above her desk.  The face of Elvis Presley stared out from black velvet.  “Morning, King,” she said with a smile. 

Carrie pulled open the tiny refrigerator squatting next to the locker and extracted two cans of Diet Coke.  She bumped the door closed with her knee and headed for the door, grabbing her cap off a hook on the wall.

***

Musser was snoring behind the wheel of the Hummer as she climbed inside.  His head lolled back against the seat, and a tiny rivulet of drool was just beginning to make its way down his chin.  Carrie slammed the door, but the Captain continued to snore loudly.  She resisted the temptation to wake him by pressing the cold drink against his neck, but did reach over and thumb the switch to ignite the engine.  The diesel growl filled the air and Musser jerked awake, eyes blinking blearily.  He noticed Carrie sitting in the seat expectantly and started to apologize.  “Sorry.  I-”

“Don’t worry about it.  I shouldn’t have left you out here for so long.”  She handed him one of the cans of soda.  “Here’s breakfast.”  He murmured his thanks and cracked it open.  Carrie could see that he was not pleased to receive a diet soda, but was not going to complain about a free drink.

After a few tentative sips, he took a long draught and set the can between his legs.  She noticed the black utility belt that Musser wore around his waist.  The belt held an M9 pistol, which was the military version of a Beretta 9mm, as well as handcuffs, a radio, an expandable baton, and extra magazines for the weapon.  All that junk must be heavier than hell, she thought.  Glad I’m not an MP.

“Where to now?”

“Well, why don’t we go to Flanders’ barracks room?  Maybe we can talk to her roommate.  She was the last person on base to see her, and might know where Flanders was headed.  The other MPs have already talked to her, but it can’t hurt to try again.  Besides, I don’t know any other place to start.  I believe that she was in Alpha of the 359th Trans.”  Musser nodded and pulled the Hummer onto the highway.

“Can I ask you a question?” Musser said.

“Shoot.”

“It doesn’t seem too ethical for you to be helping to catch your old client, so why are you here?”

“Against my better judgment.  The CG yelled at the Colonel, and the Colonel yelled at me.  Just like the old saying: Shit rolls downhill.  They seem to think that since I spent a lot of time with Flanders during the trial that I know where she would have gone.  Trouble is, most of the stuff she told me is protected by the attorney-client privilege, which means that I can’t tell anyone or use the information to catch her.”  Carrie could tell by his expression that Musser did not really buy her explanation.  “Besides, she didn’t tell me anything that might help us find her.”

“Whatever you say.”  They rode on towards Alpha Company in silence.

***

Musser threaded the wide Hummer into a parking space outside the low, white building that had been built during World War II.  There were two chimneys rising out of the roof; the one long room had originally been heated by coal stoves.  After Vietnam, all the old barracks had been retrofitted into small rooms, each for two soldiers. 

Carrie hopped out, slamming the door behind her.  She looked around the parking lot, noticing that there were only a few other vehicles.  Most of the soldiers were gone at this time of day, away at their respective duties.  Musser was already by the entrance to the barracks, waiting for her, so she jogged over as he opened the door with his master key.

The inside hall was dim, lit only by the windows at either end of the long hall.  Ranks of doors ran down either side, all closed and locked.  Each had a stenciled note card with the two occupants’ names in black letters.  Carrie pointed to the left and said, “You take that side.  Look for ‘Flanders’.” 

They crept down the hall, stopping in front of each door to squint in the dim light at the tiny note cards.  About a third of the way down, Carrie found it-SPC FLANDERS, J., PFC WERDELL, B.  She knocked on the door, but there was no answer.  She sensed Musser behind her, waiting. 

“Nobody’s home.  I guess we can come back later,” Carrie said.

He shook his head.  “Do you need to see the room?”

“It would certainly help us find her.”

Musser withdrew his key ring and began sorting through it, coming up with one marked “359 TC BN.”  All MPs were given sets of master keys in case of emergency.  He had started towards the door of Flanders’ room when Carrie grabbed his hand.  “But we don’t have a warrant.”

Musser looked at her for a second and grinned.  “Have you ever heard of a HAW?”  She shook her head.  “It stands for Health and Welfare Inspection.  Commanders and law enforcement officials are allowed to make an inspection to verify that there is nothing that might hurt the soldiers, like drugs or explosives.  A warrant isn’t necessary.”

She thought about it for a minute and agreed, mentally kicking herself.  She should have thought of that; soldiers did not really have the same rights as civilians. 

Musser unlocked the door and cracked it open.  She moved to go inside, but he put out his arm to stop her.  “Wait one.”  He drew his M9 and shoved the door hard; it slammed against the wall behind.  He entered the room, sweeping in an arc from left to right to verify that there was no threat inside. 

Holstering his weapon, he nodded towards her.  “Nobody’s home.”

Carrie stepped inside.  “Was that really necessary?” she asked.

“If she had been here, she probably wouldn’t have liked to be disturbed.  She knows she’s up on AWOL charges again, so she might get violent rather than go back to the brig.”  He was snooping around the small room as he talked.

Carrie said nothing and began to concentrate on the room.  It was about fifteen feet by ten, with windows along one wall.  There were two beds, with matching pairs of wall lockers, desks, chairs, and footlockers.  With all the furniture, there was hardly any floor space left.  Thank God I have a single room, she thought to herself.  The room showed evidence of two distinctive personalities; one tidy and neat, the other disorganized.  She recognized a framed picture on one of the desks.  It was a recent picture of Flanders and what appeared to be her family. 

“This is her side of the room,” she told Musser.  “Looks like she’s the neat one.”

Carrie recalled her client.  Julie Flanders was a 24 year old Georgia girl who had enlisted three years before as a Communications Specialist.  She had shoulder-length black hair and looked as if she could be a model.  She was thin as a rail, with a dark tan.  Her record had been clean until the AWOL incident a few months before. 

Flanders had apparently drunk too much liquor while off base.  According to her story, she awoke in her car the next morning to an MP knocking on the window.  It was nearly noon, and she had missed physical training.  The MP made an error on the charge sheet during the arrest, which Carrie had used to get Flanders acquitted.  The incident had been totally out of character for Flanders, who never drank and was dedicated to her work.  Carrie was still mystified about the whole matter.

Musser had opened her wall locker and was rifling through the drawers.  “What are you looking for?” she asked.  He grunted in reply.

Carrie looked above the desk, where a cork bulletin board was hanging.  Several credit card bills had been tacked up, along with about two dozen pictures.  Most looked several years old, depicting family and friends.  There was a row of newer pictures along the bottom.  They showed Flanders and two other women, all in civilian clothes, on what looked to be a camping trip.  They had metal cups in their hands, and there was a tent set up in the background.  The river could be seen on the edge of the picture.  Carrie pulled the picture down and looked at the back, which was blank.  She called Musser over to look at the picture.

She handed it to him.  “Do you recognize the other women?” Carrie asked.

“I think one of them is her roommate, judging from the pictures on the other desk.  The second woman…I don’t know.”

“Where do you think it was taken?”

“I believe this is here on base, over past the swamp.  There’s a campground that some of the soldiers use on the weekends to get out of the barracks.”

Carrie recalled the place; the JAG Office had held picnics there.  “If I remember correctly, there are several abandoned buildings over there, right?”  Musser nodded his head, the wheels spinning in his brain. 

“You thinking what I’m thinking?  She might’ve holed up over there, seein’ as how she was just there recently and would have remembered those buildings.  That way, she’d think that we couldn’t trace her through her credit cards, like if she had gone to a hotel.  It wouldn’t be a bad place to stay until we quit looking for her as hard.”

Carrie grinned.  “Want to head over there?  It can’t hurt to take a look.” 

***

They were back in the Humvee, roaring through the main part of the base, past the PX and the Commissary.  Without taking his eyes off the road, Musser said, “We need to make a quick stop on the way.”

“For what?”

“You should draw a weapon out of the arms room.”  He saw the protest coming.  “I know.  She’s your client, and would never hurt you.  But let me tell you a little story.

“About five years ago, I had just arrived at my first post, Fort Benning.  We got a call over the radio that there was a fight at the NCO club.  By the time we got there, it had spilled onto the sidewalk in front.  Biggest damn mess I’d ever seen.  About eight of us had waded into the fray to try to break it up when I heard one of the other MPs scream in pain.  Turns out, one of the guys in the fight got scared.  He thought he was going to go to jail, and he was an officer.  That’s some bad business, getting arrested if you’re an officer.  Leads to all kinds of nasty charges.

“Anyway, this LT was so afraid that he was going to prison that he attacked one of the MPs with a knife while trying to get away.  They even knew each other from the barracks.  Luckily, the MP survived, but the pansy-ass LT got life at Leavenworth.

“See, some folks get so scared about going to prison that they lose it, go nuts, do anything to stop it.  Just to be safe, you should draw a weapon.”  Musser grinned.  “Besides, there’s nothing more likely to put the fear of God in somebody than the sight of a lawyer with a gun.”

She laughed in reply.  “All right, all right.  I’ll do it.”

They drove through the traffic circle and towards the MP station.  Musser pulled the Hummer into the lot and parked in a space marked “Law Enforcement Only.”  They got out and walked towards the entrance. 

He led Carrie down a hall, stopping at a steel door.  Musser pressed a button on the intercom by the door; Carrie could hear a buzzer ring inside the arms room.

“Who the fuck’s there?” replied the intercom in a rough voice.

“Musser.”  A few seconds passed before the electronic lock clicked open.  He pushed on the heavy door, swinging it back a few feet.  Both of them slipped inside.

The arms room was dark and chilly.  The outer walls were lined with green racks of M-16 A2 rifles, the newer version of the Army’s primary assault weapon.  Rows of shelves stretched down the middle of the room, containing racks of M-60’s, semiautomatic grenade launchers, shotguns, and M9 pistols.  Carrie could smell gun oil and cold steel. 

There was a small desk squished in one corner, behind which sat the ugliest woman that Carrie had ever seen.  A civilian, she was well over 200 pounds.  She had a pockmarked face that was slashed down the middle by a knife of a nose.  Her eyes were beady, and yellow teeth protruded from a hairy upper lip.  She scowled at them both, making the picture even worse.  “What can I do ya’ for?” she asked in a gravely voice with a southern drawl.

“Good morning, Miss Snead,” Musser said, smiling from ear to ear.  “How are you doing today?”

“Rotten.  What do you want, Dan?  You already got yourself a weapon.”

“I need to outfit this young officer.  We’re out to save the world, and I might need her to save my ass as well.” 

Miss Snead chuckled and winked at Musser.  “And a fine ass it is.”  She turned to Carrie.  “Well, ma’am, what’s your pleasure?  I can’t really give you anything but an M-16 or a pistol without lots of paperwork, but which would you prefer?”

“I know this is a long shot, but would you happen to have a SIG 226?”

Snead’s eyebrows rose.  “As a matter of fact, I do have one left from when some SEALs were training here.  I’ll get it for you.”  She rose to her feet and trundled her bulk behind some racks into the back of the room.

Musser’s eyes were wide in admiration.  “Good choice.  If I’d known they had a SIG here I would’ve snagged it a long time ago.  What made you pick it?”

“I used to shoot a 226 on the pistol team back in Charlottesville.  I loved it.”

Carrie grabbed a green web pistol belt off an equipment rack.  She hooked on a holster and a magazine pouch.  Snead was waddling back to her desk with the weapon.  She noted the serial number on a hand receipt before giving the pistol to Carrie.  Reaching into a nearby safe, Snead extracted three magazines and a box of 9mm ball ammunition.  “Know how to use it?”  Carrie just grinned.  She signed the hand receipt and left with Musser.

Back in the Humvee, they headed for the campground, which was a twenty minute drive on a dirt road that had been raised above the swamp.  Carrie loaded the magazines with fifteen rounds each and slipped two into the magazine pouch.  The third went into the weapon.  Carrie racked the slide, pushing a round into the chamber.  She used the decock lever to safely drop the hammer before she thumbed the magazine release.  A last round from the box filled the magazine again, giving her sixteen rounds in the weapon.  Carrie slipped the SIG into her holster, liking the feel of it against her thigh.  She looked down at the box, which still held four rounds. After thinking a second, she slipped them into her pocket and tossed the empty box in the back.

Musser had been watching her the whole time.  “You seem to know your way around a weapon pretty well.  You said you used to compete?”

“Uh-huh.  Back when I was an UVA.  I shot on the college pistol team and even managed to win a medal or two.” 

Musser’s opinion of her rose a notch.

***

They pulled into the campground, which was located nearly on the edge of Fort Eustis.  It was rough, just a cleared area in the pines with a fire ring in the middle.  Beer cans littered the ground.  The river was about twenty yards away, edged by a sandy beach that was being lapped with small waves.  Carrie and Musser stood still for a few minutes, listening.  The pines creaked in the wind, and several crows were fighting in the distance.

Musser pointed towards a thicket of underbrush in the clearing.  Carrie could see the rear of a white VW Cabriolet poking out from behind the heavy growth.  “Flanders drives a white Volkswagen.  Looks like we’ve got her.”  He pulled his radio out of its belt holder.

“Mike Four to base, over.”

Go ahead, Mike Four.”

“Suspect Foxtrot has been located at the old campground off Tank Road.  Going in to apprehend the suspect, over.”

Roger, Mike Four.  Have your twenty as old campground.  Dispatching additional units to assist; ETA 1045 hours.  Over.”

“Roger, out.”  Musser checked his watch and cursed under his breath.  They would have no help for over forty minutes.

He pointed towards the area that they had come to investigate.  “Let’s go.”  A few hundred meters downriver sat an abandoned house and some outbuildings.  “If she’s there, she might have heard the Humvee.  Be careful.”

Carrie nodded as they started towards the house.  As they got closer, she saw that it had once been opulent, but the weather had been working on its destruction.  It had three stories, with a wide front porch and columns. 

There was a platform built on the roof with a railing around it, a widow’s walk.  She recalled the origin of the name.  When a sailor went away to sea, his wife would stand on such a platform to see the ocean and await the return of her husband.  Many times he never returned.

They reached the front porch and mounted the steps.  Carrie could hear the crows fighting again, closer now.  Musser reached the door first, which stood halfway open.  He motioned Carrie over and whispered into her ear.  “I’ll take the first floor and the basement.  You take the second and third floors.  Start on the top and work your way down.”  She nodded and they went inside, both with weapons drawn. 

The foyer was flanked on either side by staircases that joined in the center on the second floor before rising to the top floor.  Dried leaves and rat dung were scattered over the floor and crackled lightly when they walked.  Carrie saw Musser disappear into the hall on the right.  She inched her way up the stairs on one side, her back hugging the wall. 

By the time she reached the third floor her palms were sweating from nervousness.  She came off the stairs and turned into the hall on the right.  There were two doors on either side, all standing open.  She methodically searched each of the rooms, finding nothing. 

On the other side of the staircase, the hall also had four doors.  Only the last one on the right was closed.  Carrie silently searched the three open rooms, finding nothing but dried leaves and trash.  She approached the last door with her back against the wall.  She held the pistol with both hands and stood a few feet in front of the door.  She drew back and delivered a powerful kick with her combat boot just to the right of the doorknob.

The jamb shattered and the door slammed back against the wall, revealing nothing but darkness.  Carrie had tentatively taken a step forward into the room when she was struck in the face by a heavy mass. 

She staggered backward, her eyes clearing, and released the pressure that she had put on the trigger of the SIG.  The crow that had flown into her face was busily flapping down the hall, headed for a broken window at the end. 

Carrie tasted the sourness of adrenaline in her mouth.  She slowed her breathing and willed her heart to quit racing.

She approached the darkened room again, and made out a set of stairs rising in the gloom.  They must go up to the widow’s walk, she thought to herself.  A foul stench hit her nostrils, reminding her of a long-dead animal.  She climbed the stairs slowly, keeping her feet at the edges against the wall so the boards would not creak under her weight.  At the top was a trap door.  Carrie placed her shoulder against the wood and shoved. The trapdoor flew open, and she vaulted onto the widow’s walk, her eyes momentarily blinded by the light.  When they cleared finally, she stood frozen.  Her arms dropped to her sides, and she felt the bile rise in her throat.  Unable to hold back, she ran for the railing and vomited over the side.

Chapter 2

 

The breeze off the river washed over her face, banishing the stench and the sickness enough that Carrie could stand.  She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and spit sour bile over the railing.  Dear God, she thought.  What kind of person could do this to a fellow human being?

She stared out towards the river, not wanting to turn around and face the horror again.  The morning sun had finally burned the fog away, and she could clearly see the other side of the river.  Several container ships were floating down the channel towards Newport News, past the Dead Fleet.  She considered how quiet the world seemed around her, hearing only the pounding of the blood in her ears.

Carrie remembered that she had to find Musser and turned around.  The butchery that was spread across the widow’s walk raped her eyes for a second time.

The waist-high railing on the back side of the platform supported the naked body of a young woman.  She was kneeling with her legs folded under her, and was leaning against the railing.  Her arms were outspread along either side and tied to the wood.  Her lower abdomen had been ripped open, and her intestines spilled out across her thighs.  Her breasts were missing, replaced by bloody holes in the skin.  Carrie felt her gorge rise again when she noticed that the woman had been tied to the railing with her own intestines; they were looped around her arms and wrists.  Flies noisily attacked the woman’s innards, which glistened in the morning dew.  A canvas bag had been tied over her head and was now stained black with dried blood.  Her skin had been burned in long strips; they covered every inch of skin that Carrie could see.  There were a few drops of blood on the floorboards, but they had already soaked into the rotten wood.  A pair of crows circled the carcass, raucously screaming at Carrie for interrupting their feast.

Musser burst from the stairway, Beretta swinging around in an arc.  He saw Carrie, and a second later the charnel scene bored its way into his consciousness.  His stormy blue eyes grew wide and his arms slowly dropped, still clutching the weapon.  “Holy Mary, mother of…”  He trailed off into silence, mouth dry. 

After a few seconds, Musser jerked out of his trance.  He walked over to the railing where Carrie was standing and put his hand on her shoulder.  “Are you all right?”

She nodded, still unable to speak.

Musser holstered his Beretta, trading it for the radio.  “Mike Four to base, over.”

Go ahead, Mike Four.”

“We’ve located a body, probably Suspect Foxtrot, at the house downriver from the old campground.  We’re going to need the medical examiner, a crime scene team, and additional units to cordon off the perimeter.  Over.”

Roger, Mike Four.  Dispatching CST and backup; medical examiner will be notified. Over.”

“Also, tell the gate guards to stop everyone going out.  They need to take down tag numbers and names.  If something looks suspicious, toss the car.  And hold the press and television reporters at the front gate.  Out.”  He slid the radio back into its holder and turned to Carrie.

“Lets get you downstairs.” 

She shook her head.  “I’m fine,” she said, trying to convince herself.

He looked skeptical, but did not press the point.  “Do you think it’s her?”

Carrie nodded slightly.  “Seems like it. Her car is down by the campground, and we know that she’d been here before.  I guess we’ll have to wait for the ME before we can take the bag off and make sure.

“Did you find anything downstairs?”

Nada.  Lots of rat shit and leaves, but nothing else.  I’ll send somebody to look again, dust for prints, check for evidence.” 

Musser turned and gazed out towards the river in silence.  She pulled the cellular phone out of one of the cargo pockets built into her BDU pants.  It was one of the new digital models that the JAG Office had bought, with Caller ID and Voice Mail.  Carrie punched in Colonel Zander’s number and hit SEND.

She put the phone to her ear and listened to the ringing.  There was no static because of the digital technology.  Finally, after eight rings the phone was answered by the stentorian voice of the Old Man.  “Colonel Zander here.”

“Sir, this is Captain Grace.”

“Talk to me.  Have you found Flanders yet?”

“I think so,” she replied after a moment of hesitation.

“What do you mean, you think so?”

“Well, sir…we can’t exactly tell just yet.  You see…she’s dead.”

There was a long silence.  “Dead?” the Colonel croaked in a low voice.

“Murdered, sir.”

Another long pause, followed by a barely audible, “Murdered?”

“It looks that way.  She’s been butchered up pretty badly, sir.  I’m out past the swamp with Captain Musser.  We found the body up on the widow’s walk of an abandoned house by the river.  Musser already called for backup and the crime scene team.  The medical examiner should be hear to verify that it’s Flanders and take charge of the body.”

The Colonel said nothing, clearly considering what he was going to tell the Commanding General.

Carrie broke the silence.  “What are your orders, sir?  Shall I turn this over to the MPs, or should I hang around?”

This time he answered with no hesitation, back in character.  “Stay there.  I want a full report from you this evening concerning this.  Meet the ME when he gets there and give him any assistance he needs.  Don’t let anyone take over command of the scene from you.

“There’s sure to be an investigation of the murder.  Since you did such a fine job with finding Flanders, I want you in on it.”

“Sir, this isn’t exactly my forte.  Couldn’t CID handle this better?”

“Bullshit.  JAG has the power to investigate, just like the rest of those goons.  You’re quite capable, and might crack this case wide open.  I’m gonna get on the horn right away to the CG to make sure you are on this investigation.  That MP you are with was in charge of the AWOL search, so I’ll make sure he stays on the case also.  Report to me this afternoon when you get clear of the crime scene.  Oh…and Grace?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Don’t let anyone give you any shit.”  There was a click followed by a dial-tone on the other side.  Carrie stabbed the END button with her thumb, cursing under her breath.  She turned to Musser, who was still gazing out onto the James.

“Zander wants me to take charge of this investigation.  Seems to think that I can catch the killer.”  Her voice dripped with sarcasm.

Musser turned and looked her in the eye.  “Don’t sell yourself short.  You’ll do fine.” 

He thought about how it would be working with her.  It would not be too bad; she’s not a hard ass who thinks she knows everything.  It might be nice to work with a good looking, intelligent woman for a change, instead of pimple-faced Privates that could not tie their boots without explicit orders. 

Thoughts of the long day they had ahead brought him back to reality.  “We need to figure out a game plan for this.  How about if I coordinate the ground search of the area and the car; you stick with the body and help the ME.”  He had seen the way she had reacted to the body, barely able to stand for several minutes.  She would need to become used to this kind of thing, and watching the ME work would certainly go a long way in that direction. 

Carrie nodded, sensing what Musser was thinking.  While it might be necessary, she prayed that she would never become used to seeing butchery like this.

***

Two MP Privates had already cordoned off the area with bright yellow tape when the Medical Examiner arrived.  Carrie met him downstairs, just as he was coming up the steps.  He was a short, black man, and was going bald.  His bare pate was ringed with snowy white curls of hair, like cotton balls.  He wore a white lab coat over a blue seersucker suit.  The dark shoes he wore were recently shined, and he had a friendly, open smile.  He moved with quick, jerky motions, like a bird. 

His bright eyes came to rest on Carrie.  “You look like you know what’s going on here.  I’m Doctor Anthony Washington, with the ME’s office.”

“I’m Captain Carrie Grace, Doctor.  Thank you for getting here so quickly.”

“Call me Tony, and it was no problem, although I did get a little lost coming through the swamp.”  He grinned at her, flashing his teeth quickly.  “I hear we got ourselves a body, eh?”

Carrie nodded, and motioned for him to follow her up the stairs.  “We suspect that the deceased was Specialist Julie Flanders, a soldier that has been missing since last month.  It seems pretty clear that this was not an accidental death or a suicide.”

“Now Miss Grace, we can’t really rule out anything until the autopsy protocols are finished.”

“Tell me that again when you get a look at the remains.”

***

At the base of the last set of stairs, Carrie showed her ID to the young Private guarding the door.  After checking the doctor’s, he lifted the yellow tape that proclaimed “CRIME SCENE-DO NOT CROSS” for them to slide under.  She looked at the MP.  “A lot of police from other departments are going to be here in a few minutes, and most will want to see the body.  Other than the photographer who’ll be here soon, do not let anyone up these stairs unless accompanied by Musser or myself.  Nobody, not even a general, is to be let up onto the widow’s walk.  Clear?”  He just nodded.

After a dim climb upwards, they emerged through the trap door onto the widow’s walk, facing the river.  “Amazing view,” murmured the doctor, pausing for a moment to admire the panorama.  Carrie put her hand on his shoulder and pointed behind him.  He turned around and let out a slow whistle through his teeth.

“Well, Miss Grace.  I think you’re right about ruling out suicide and accidental death.  Would take some mighty bad medicine to wrap your own intestines around both arms.”  He glanced around the platform, which was empty except for the two of them and the body.  Musser had gone down to help coordinate the search of the area around the house and campground.  “I suppose we should get to work.  Do you have a photographer handy?”

He was answered by a thud of flesh hitting wood, followed by a muffled curse.  A gangly Sergeant emerged from the stairs, cradling an aluminum camera case in his arms like an infant.  The Sergeant had already seen the body once before, so his reaction this time was only to turn green.  He nodded at Carrie and the doctor, moving over to the far railing where he set down his case and began assembling his equipment.  The doctor waited for him, not wanting to disturb the body before initial pictures had been taken with the body in place.  When the Sergeant was almost ready, Dr. Washington addressed him.  “I need a full set of pictures taken, from different angles and heights.  Don’t leave after you finish the set; I’ll need you to shoot some specific areas for me.”  The Sergeant just nodded and began to work, still looking sick.

The doctor extracted two pairs of rubber gloves from his briefcase, handing one pair to Carrie.  She caught a faint whiff of latex and talcum powder as she stretched the gloves over her hands.  She pulled the last one tight with a snap.

Carrie watched Dr. Washington as he poked and prodded the body. He began by measuring the temperature of the air and the body with a chemical thermometer.  All the readings were dictated in a low voice into a microphone clipped to his lapel.  The mic was hooked to a micro-cassette recorder in his jacket pocket, and the notes would be transcribed by a typist back at the ME’s office later that day.  He wrapped plastic bags around the victim’s hands and feet, sealing them around the wrists and ankles with rubber bands.

He turned to Carrie after a few minutes, motioning her closer.  He was pointing with his pen to the bottom of the corpse’s leg, where Carrie could make out a faint, dark horizontal line, almost like a bruise.  “This is called lividity, which is caused when the blood in the body settles to the lowest point.  The trouble is, the lividity here is nowhere near the degree that it should be.  See how the skin is just barely darker, and only on the very bottom of the leg?”

Carrie thought, and let her eyes roam around.  The massive wound could have bled most of the blood out of the body, but then it should have been on the widow’s walk.  But there were only a few drops of blood, rather than the large pool that should have been there.  Where had all the blood gone?  A light clicked on in her head. 

“She wasn’t killed here.  The murderer bled her somewhere else, and brought the body here to put on display.  That’s why there’s so little lividity; there’s no blood in her body to settle down and cause the discoloration,”  Carrie said.

“Excellent.  That’s just what I was thinking.  I’ll be able to tell if this mutilation was postmortem when I do the autopsy.

“Here’s another quiz for you, since you did so well on the first.  Look at these small wounds, here, here, and here.”  His pen traced a triangle in the air between several small puncture wounds.  Each was formed by a small hole, and a tearing of the skin away to one side.  “What do you think caused them?”

She looked at the holes, trying to think of the body before her as just so much meat and not as a dead human being.  The holes looked as if something had pushed itself inside the skin and been pulled to one side, causing a ripping wound.  The flesh that had been there was missing.  Crusted blood trails ran from the wounds downward.  Punctured…then ripped out.  “Fish hooks?” she ventured.

The doctor’s snowy eyebrows rose.  “That’s quite a good guess, actually.  I once saw a man who been fishing with a drunk friend.  The friend accidentally hooked him and yanked it out.  It looked quite similar.

“I don’t think that’s what happened here, though.”  He motioned her to look closer.  “These are rat bites.”

Carrie’s eyes grew wide.  “Rat bites?  Jesus…” 

“See those small scratches on either side of the wounds?  Those are claw marks, where the little critter put his paws up to get leverage.  He stuck his teeth in and ripped a chunk of flesh out, causing the tearing you see here.” 

She remembered the rat droppings that were all over the house, covering the floors.  “This place looks like it’s got a pretty severe rat problem.  They must have come up during the night, smelling the body.”

Doctor Washington shook his head.  “Normally, I would say you were right, but look at the dried blood trails below the bites.  They appear to have bled rather profusely.  On the other hand, the slash that disemboweled the young woman barely bled at all.  I believe that the bites were inflicted before she died.  If she was brought here already dead, then she must have been bitten somewhere else.”

“Where?”

“Miss Grace, if you can solve that question, you will be very close to catching your killer.”  He grinned at her.

Carrie was lost in thought.  Bitten by rats.  Where did rats usually live?  She had seen them in abandoned buildings, slums, usually not outside.  She knew that she needed more information.  But the mere fact that she had been bitten indicated that the woman had been unconscious for a while.  Most people would kick or lash out at any rat that got close enough.  She had another thought.  What if the woman was tied up?  Then she couldn’t keep the rats away.  Carrie scowled; she could tell that she was getting nowhere.

The doctor interrupted her thoughts.  “One last thing before we move the body.”  He reached into his briefcase and withdrew a bulky flashlight encased in a rubber housing.  Carrie could see that the bulb and reflector had been modified.  Sitting back against the railing, the doctor gazed up at the clouds. 

After a few minutes, Carrie’s curiosity got the better of her.  “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m waiting for some clouds to block the sun.”  He waved his hand at the pine trees around the house.  “Those don’t provide enough shade.”

“What do we need shade for?”

“Fluids.”  He held up the large flashlight for her to see.  “This is a black light.  When semen and certain other fluids are exposed to ultraviolet light, they fluoresce.  The fluid captures the ultraviolet light rays that are invisible to the human eye, and reflects them as colors in the visible spectrum.  In layman’s terms, when I shine this light on the body, any semen left by the perp will glow.”

Carrie sat down with her back against the railing and closed her eyes while they waited.  Her stomach growled hungrily.  She had been awake since 5:00, with only the Diet Coke to eat or drink.  Throwing up had made her condition worse, emptying her stomach and straining her abdominal muscles.  Whenever Carrie was busy with an important task, she forgot everything else, including food and water.  Normally, she kept her digital wristwatch set for the alarm to ring at mealtimes, reminding her to grab a bite to eat.  She glanced down at her wrist, but it was bare.  She had forgotten to put it on in her rush to get dressed that morning.  Carrie sighed and resigned herself to a few more hours before she could get clear of the crime scene.  Flanders’ VW still had to be gone through with a fine tooth comb, since it was likely that the murderer had driven it here with the body.  She also had to report to the Old Man after she left.

More men had finally arrived to work the area; they wore the gray uniforms of the Virginia State Police.  She could see them swarming around the VW; technicians dusted the surfaces for prints and vacuumed the interior for fiber and trace evidence.  They had already gone over the widows’s walk, finding no latent prints because of the rough wood surfaces. 

With  the State Police, CID, and the MPs already on the scene, there was sure to be a nasty jurisdictional dogfight over the case.  She looked around the widow’s walk, surprised that there was still only the doctor, the Sergeant with the camera, and her.  Musser had told her he would keep them away, but she had not entirely believed him. 

The sky gradually darkened as the sun was blotted out by a dense cloud.  Looking up, Carrie judged that they should have at least ten minutes of dim light in which to work.  She stood, brushed off her behind, and helped Dr. Washington to his feet.  He grunted a little, and his knees popped like rifles when he stood.  “Damn.  Not as young as you, missy.”  They edged up to the body, both kneeling in front of the woman. 

The doctor switched the light on, but Carrie did not see any change.  He turned it towards his wristwatch, and the hands seemed to be lit with neon.  He glanced over at her.  “Makes sure it’s on.  The glow-in-the-dark hands react to ultraviolet light.”  He moved the light so it aimed at the body, and after a few seconds pointed with his left hand.  Several blotches in the woman’s pubic area and along her thighs glowed, the largest spot the size of an elongated quarter.

“I’ll get samples of that for blood typing and DNA when I get the body back to my lab.”

He continued to play the light over the body and eventually discovered two more stains, both on the floor of the widow’s walk.  “Now that’s interesting.  It looks like the perp may have masturbated while he was up here.”  The doctor motioned for the Sergeant to get pictures of the semen stains while he held the light on them.  Turning to Carrie, he said, “Would you have one of your men pry up those boards, as well as the ones with the blood droplets on them.  Have them sent to my lab.”

Carrie nodded and pulled a radio off her belt.  Musser had given her the radio and a belt holder out of his Humvee.  She gave the order for the board removal to an MP Sergeant on the first floor, and fumbled a bit getting the radio back into the unfamiliar belt holder.  “Can we take the bag off to verify that it’s Flanders?”

Doctor Washington shook his head.  “No.  There’s probably evidence inside that we don’t want to lose.  If we take the bag off now, anything inside could fall out and be lost over the edge.  I’ll do it as soon as the body gets back to my lab.”  Carrie sighed.  She would just have to wait a few more hours to make sure this was Flanders.  There was not really any doubt in her mind, but the Colonel would want to know for sure.

The doctor had repacked the black light into his briefcase, and rubbed his hands briskly, as if under a faucet.  “Some men from my office will be here any minute to get the body.  I must prepare it for removal, which may be difficult.”  He pulled out a body bag made of thick vinyl and unrolled it onto the floor.

They both turned and stared at the problem.  The body had been tied to the railing with its own innards, but would have to be cut loose to move.  Doctor Washington said, “I don’t want to cut the intestines until I get the body onto an autopsy table.  We might lose some material that could be important.”  He did not elaborate, and Carrie chose not to inquire further. 

She thought about the situation for a minute before pulling her radio out again.  She reached the same MP Sergeant she had just talked with, and asked him if he had a hand saw in his truck.  He promised her one within five minutes, and signed off.  God knows why he’s got a damn saw in his truck, she thought.  Doctor Washington looked at her curiously, and she winked at him.

Carrie soon had the saw, and she attacked the railing on either side of the bound corpse’s hands, cutting through the wood a few inches beyond the wrists.  While the doctor and the photographer held the body to keep it from falling, she made a final cut through the board where it crossed the back of the woman.  She set the saw down and helped the other two drag the remains onto the body bag that lay open on the floor.  With the railing cut in the back, the arms of the woman folded in towards her body, and they were able to pull the zipper closed. 

Carrie wiped the sweat off her brow with a sleeve, glad that the body was finally out of sight.  She could sense the smell of death on her hands and clothes, and longed to settle into a hot bubble bath.

Doctor Washington rubbed his hands together again before he bent gingerly to retrieve his bag.  He straightened with a somber expression on his face.  “Miss Grace, we need to talk in private.  Why don’t we take a short walk by the river.”  The tone of his voice left little argument.

“Whatever you like, Doctor.”  Carrie told the MP who had taken photographs to remain with the body until the men arrived to take it to the ME’s office.  She and the doctor worked their way back downstairs and across the porch, through the growing throng of soldiers and police that had begun to congregate around the scene like vultures on a carcass.  They emerged onto the overgrown front lawn and began to walk towards the river.  They found a faint trail leading downriver and walked next to each other.  Once he was sure they were out of earshot of the house, the doctor began to speak. 

“Miss Grace, are you going to be in charge of this investigation?”

She sighed.  “It looks that way.  My boss is gunning for me to head this up.  Both CID and the FBI may try to take it away, but I think the Colonel will win.  See, he collects favors like some people collect stamps or coins.  He practically lives to have people in debt to him.  I get the feeling that he wants to keep his finger in the pie, and he’ll call in favors to keep JAG and myself in charge.”

“You sound as if you don’t want to do this.”

Carrie thought for a moment before speaking.  Was the doctor right?  Deep down, she had several feelings.  She was enraged at the man who had done this.  What right did he have to take the life of another?  She would have wrung his neck if he were brought before her.  But the need for justice compelled her to catch the killer and bring him to trial, not to murder him. 

Carrie also felt sorrow for Flanders.  Julie had been a beautiful young woman who had been put through unspeakable horrors at the hands of a monster.  Carrie closed her eyes at the thought of what Julie had undergone.  She wanted to make sure that nobody else had to bear such suffering. 

But Carrie was also scared of failure.  If she were in charge of the investigation, she would be responsible for the failures of all those under her.  She knew that she would blame herself personally for any more killings that she could have stopped by catching the murderer. 

Finally, she spoke.  “I’m not sure what I want.”

Doctor Washington stopped and turned to face her.  “Miss Grace, you have a confidence problem.  I saw you make some deductions today that would fly over the heads of many experienced medical examiners.  Not only that, you handled yourself like a professional in the face of butchery that reduced grown men to tears.”

She interrupted in protest.  “But Doctor, I threw up as soon as I saw the body.”

He nodded solemnly.  “And yet you drove on.  I would think there was something wrong with you if you didn’t feel sick at seeing that horror.  But you were able to push down those feelings and get the job done.  That was quite impressive.”

Carrie still looked at him skeptically.  He noticed, and said, “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“Not really.”

“See, Miss Grace, that’s what they taught you in law school rearing its head.  Law students are taught to question everything they are told.  But that is exactly why you will be able to solve this case.  Don’t believe what people tell you.  Don’t make hasty assumptions.  Don’t forget anything.  And above all else, pay attention to the details.  I have faith in you.  I think you can do this.”

She smiled.  “You know, Doctor, I think you may be right.  I’m not saying you are, just that you may be.”

He grinned back at her, flashing ivory teeth.  “Good enough.”  They started back towards the crime scene.  After a few steps, Dr. Washington spoke again.  “One more thing.  I want you to come to the autopsy this evening.”

Carrie felt a momentary chill pass through her at the thought.  “Why?”

“Two reasons.  More evidence will almost certainly turn up, and I think the experience would help you.  If this guy kills again, and I think he will, then you will have to deal with more situations like today.”

“All right, all right, I’ll be there,” she said.  A thought occurred to her.  “Can I bring Musser?  He’s got a good head and might think of something that I miss.  We’ll probably be working together on this, so he should be there as well.”

“Excellent idea,” the doctor said, coming to a stop.  He fished around in his lab coat, pulling out a business card and a fountain pen.  He sketched something on the back of the card and handed it to Carrie.  “Here’s directions to my office.  I’ll probably be starting around 5:00.” 

They resumed walking and soon noticed that the men from Dr. Washington’s office had arrived and were loading the body bag into the back of a dark blue station wagon.  Carrie spotted Musser standing on the porch talking to a man in the gray uniform of the Virginia State Police.  She said goodbye to the doctor and jogged over to Musser, taking the porch steps two at a time.

Musser heard her arrive and turned.  “Oh…Captain Grace.  Good timing.  We were just discussing the preliminary findings.”  He motioned towards the other man, who was surprisingly short, but looked like he lifted weights.  He looked younger than she was; Carrie made him to be about 22 or 23 years old.  “This is Officer David Pastor, with the Virginia State Police.  Pastor, this is Captain Carrie Grace, who’s in charge of this madhouse.”  There was a twinkle in Musser’s eye.

Carrie stuck out her hand, which Pastor took after a second.  “Pleasure to meet you, Officer Pastor.”  He was clearly taken aback at having a woman in command, especially one taller than he was.  Women officers were a common occurrence in the Army, but the brass at the Virginia State Police was still almost all male.

“Likewise,” he grumbled.  He turned back to Musser.  “As I was sayin’ before we was interrupted, the car is clean…”  Carrie’s hackles rose at the idea that she had “interrupted” them; she had every right to hear the evidence that had been found.  “…no latent prints and no blood.  We’ll check the vacuum filters for fibers once we get back to the lab, but it’s doubtful that we’ll get anything useful, given the lack of other evidence.”

Carrie spoke.  “You mean there’s no prints, not even Flanders’ prints?  So he wiped the car down before he left.”

The officer ignored her question.  “We checked those small buildings that are around back of the house, but it appears that nobody has been inside in years.  We stirred up a bunch of dust off the floor that had been there for a long time.  There were no footprints in it.”

She felt her face flush with anger.  “You never answered my question, Officer.”

“That’s right.  I didn’t.”  He was still looking at Musser, refusing to meet her eyes.

Carrie said in a low voice, “Musser, would you please excuse us for a second.”  His eyebrows rose, but he stepped off the porch. 

“Do you have a problem with female officers?”  she asked, trying to keep her voice pleasant.

“I think this investigation is too important to jeopardize with an inexperienced commander.”  He finally met her eyes and let the insult take effect, having to look up slightly to do so.

She kept her voice low and even.  “You know, the Army trusts me enough to put the lives of soldiers in my hands.  The Commanding General trusts me enough to put me in charge of this investigation.  The MPs and the Virginia State Police trust me enough to let me lead their men as well.  Yet you…”  She jabbed her index finger towards him.  “…are so experienced that you would presume to flaunt my authority right off the bat.  Why is that, Officer?”

He was dumbfounded, his jaw hanging open.  “I…I…I didn’t mean to-”

Carrie interrupted him.  “You didn’t mean to, huh?  Your kind never does.  I don’t even know why I tried with you.  I’m not going to change a sexist pig.”

She turned and motioned Musser back to them.  While he walked back, she spoke again to the officer, her voice cold.  “Here’s how its gonna be.  You’re going to start from the beginning.  You will answer any questions asked by Musser or myself.  When you are done, you will get the hell out of my sight.  Don’t assume that because you’re not in the Army that I can’t rip you a new asshole.”  She smiled.  “Clear?” 

He just nodded, his face white.

Carrie grinned at Musser when he mounted the steps.  “Hi.  Officer Pastor here was just about to tell us what they found.  Weren’t you?”

***

An hour later, Carrie was finally ready to the scene.  After a brief search for Musser she found him by the side of the river.  He was bending over a patch of sand, speaking to a State Police officer.  Musser saw her approaching and walked out to meet her.  “We’ve got something.  That idiot Pastor and his team missed it on the first run-through, but Shifflet found it on the last check.”  Carrie felt her heart rise a bit.

“That’s great.  What is it?”

Musser led her over to the river.  He pointed at the patch of sand, where a partial footprint could be seen.  It was fairly deep, and she could see that the tread of the shoe had thick diagonal lines of tread.  “That’s a combat boot track.”

Carrie felt her heart sink again.  “But how can you be sure that it’s the killer’s, rather than one of ours?  I walked near here this morning.  So did all the men looking for evidence.  All the soldiers were wearing combat boots, and some of the State Police.”

Musser shook his head.  “This isn’t a standard issue boot.  Look at yours.”  She balanced on one foot and held the other in her hand to see the sole.

“See the tread on this?  There are oval cut-outs around the edge, not diagonal lines.  The soles on all the issue boots are the same as yours.  The only other types that are allowed are jump boots, which have smooth soles, and black jungle boots. 

“Jungle boots have canvas instead of leather along the sides, making them breathe more.  The canvas used to be green, until about ten years ago.  It got changed to black canvas, and the soles were changed at the same time to a different pattern.  This pattern is the one found on a green jungle boot. 

“Soldiers aren’t allowed to wear the green models anymore, but they still get sold at surplus stores and mail order catalogs.  Since none of us are allowed to wear this type of boot, the print was probably made by the killer.”

Carrie was ecstatic.  “Great job, Officer Shifflet!  This will certainly help us catch this guy.  How soon can you get us a cast and a size?”

He stood a bit straighter at hearing the compliment.  “Two hours, ma’am.” 

She nodded, and motioned for Musser to follow her. They walked away from the river and towards their Humvee.  Carrie spoke first.  “They can finish up without us.  We’ve got other things to do.”

“Really?”  He looked a little skeptical at being dragged away from the crime scene.

“We’re going to the autopsy this afternoon, down in Hampton.  Before that, we need to report to Colonel Zander.  Also, I’m hungry.  Don’t worry, we’ve seen the important stuff here.  If anything else turns up, they have orders to notify us.”

Musser nodded.

They reached the Humvee and both climbed inside.  “How does Burger King sound?” said Musser with a grin.

Chapter 3

 

Carrie found a booth by the window that had a spectacular view of the PX parking lot.  She set her tray down and unwrapped a Double Whopper with cheese.  The holster for her SIG was binding around her hips, so she adjusted it slightly.  Musser joined her after a moment.  He threw his BDU cap onto the table, where it slid to a halt against the window.  Carrie saw that sweat had branded a dark line around the brim of the cap.  Sliding into the seat across from her, he stared down at Carrie’s meal of a double burger, large fries, chocolate shake, and soda.  A guffaw escaped his lips.  “Good lord!  How do you eat like that and keep your girlish young figure.” 

She winked at him and said,  “I drink diet soda.”

Still laughing and shaking his head, he unwrapped a grilled chicken sandwich to go with his side salad.  “You know, when I met you this morning, I had some second thoughts about having a female run this investigation.  But you sure proved me wrong today.  I normally don’t give compliments, but you handled yourself pretty damn good.”

“Thank you.  I’m glad you’re working with me.”  She remembered something.  “Have you ever worked with Officer Pastor before?”

Musser scowled.  “A few times.  He’s a little punk with a Napoleon complex.  Don’t let the bastard get you down.”  He broke into a wide grin.  “I don’t know what you said to him, but it sure did the trick.  He opened up like a clam on the coals.  Never seen it before.  What’d you tell him?”

“I threatened to rip him a new asshole.”  Musser’s jaw dropped, but he soon recovered and threw his head back in booming laughter.  She chuckled a bit, not finding Pastor’s sexism funny.

After a few minutes of silence while they ate, Carrie looked around the restaurant and saw that nobody was seated within earshot.  She pulled out a small notebook from her cargo pocket.  It was covered in black canvas with a zipper to keep it closed.  A green and black name tape sewn on the front proclaimed “GRACE.”  She zipped the notebook open and extracted a pen from its holder inside.  Spreading the notebook flat on the table, she tapped the pen on it.  “Let’s write down everything we know about the killer.”

“Well, the semen proves that the killer was male,” said Musser.  Carrie started the “Know” list with that.  Both of them racked their brains to think of anything else that knew for sure.  They came up empty. 

“That’s a little discouraging,” said Musser, looking at their non-list.

“Our next list will be for things that are probably true about the killer.”  She wrote as she talked.  The second list was titled “Probable.” 

“Wears green jungle boots, which may mean he was in the military,” said Musser around a mouthful of chicken sandwich; Carrie wrote those down as two separate items.

Carrie added one of her own.  “Physically strong.  He was able to carry a dead body up four flights of stairs.”

Musser said, “He owns a house or land.  The victim could have been screaming from all of that torture.  Also, he wouldn’t want to be seen taking a body in and out of an apartment complex.”  This went on the list, and Carrie expanded upon it.

“It’s somewhere that has rats.  She was bitten by rats before she was killed, probably while she was being held prisoner.”

“That leads us to an important question.  We need to figure out when she was abducted,” said Musser

Carrie nodded and turned to a new page, starting a list entitled “Unanswered Questions.”  The first notation was “time of abduction.”  She looked up at Musser in time to catch him stealing a handful of her fries. Ignoring the theft, she said, “We need one last list: a ‘Maybe’ list.  It should have things that we aren’t sure about or don’t have evidence to back up.  Things like hunches or feelings go on the last list.”

Musser gave her a blank look.

Carrie gave him an example of what she had in mind.  “Okay,  I think this guy is intelligent and organized.  He was able to abduct a woman without anyone seeing, hold her prisoner for a month without anyone hearing, kill her, and leave her body in public without anyone catching him.  This would have taken a lot of planning and organization.”  She wrote down “intelligent” and “organized.”

Musser took a sip from his drink and set it on the table.  “He’s very cruel.  The deliberate torture, like burning skin off her while she was alive, and the fact that he hacked off her breasts, indicate someone who gets off on another’s pain.  Sadistic.”  Carrie wrote it on the list and spoke again.

“This guy wanted the body to be found.  He didn’t throw it in the river or bury it; he put it on display.  The tying up with…well, the tying up.  He wanted whoever found the body to be disgusted and revolted.  It was part of the plan.  It’s like he wants publicity.”  She wrote as she spoke, and had another thought.

“He was sexually excited by this.  We found sperm samples on the floor of the widow’s walk.  The absence of blood indicates that the victim was killed elsewhere, but the guy had an orgasm while at the house.  That leaves two options: either he had sex with the dead body while on the platform, or he masturbated there.  Regardless, there was a sexual element to the murder.”  She wrote “sexually excited by torture and killing.”

Musser had never heard a woman talk so frankly about such things without being visibly embarrassed and had no idea how to respond.

Carrie pulled the four pages she had written on out of her notebook.  Setting the Questions list to one side, she arranged the other three between them.  “Musser, the way I see it, this should be a simple task.  All we have to do is move things from these two lists…” She pointed at the Maybe and Probable sheets.  “…onto the Know list.”

Musser was not so easily convinced.  “Yeah, it should be simple, but that doesn’t mean it will be.  How do we go about moving things from one list to another?”

“Well, we investigate them.  For example, take the ‘green jungle boots’ entry.  To prove it, we get the casts and size from Shifflet.  We send people to the military surplus stores in the area to see who sells that model of boots.  We check the store records for sales of that size boot, or get lists of credit card sales for the price range of the boots.”

“What about mail order?”

“We could get lucky if it’s mail order.  Those companies almost always use credit cards, which means computerized records.  I’ll subpoena lists of those customers that have bought green jungle boots, as well as the customer lists for nearby zip codes, assuming he lives around here.”

“”Pretty impressive.  You sure you’ve never done this before?”

She just grunted and worked on the rest of her fries.

***

Musser slued the Humvee into a wide turn.  Carrie held onto the dashboard with white knuckles as they came to rest in the parking lot of the JAG Office.  She turned to him, “The Old Man will probably want to see you also.”

“I can hardly wait.  The crotchety old bastard already jerked me out of bed while it was still dark.”  They headed for the front door, cutting across the lawn of crab grass.  The air conditioning inside washed over Carrie, giving her a chill from her sweaty uniform.  She picked up a stack of message slips from her box on the way back to the Colonel’s office, flipping through them as she walked.  All concerned trials that she was no longer working because of the killing; she snorted and stuffed them into a cargo pocket.  They stopped in front of the door marked with an eagle, which was closed.  Carrie listened for a second.  Hearing nothing, she rapped loudly with her knuckles.

“Come!” was the muffled reply.  She twisted open the doorknob, took a deep breath, and stepped inside.  Musser shut the door behind him, and they both came to attention in front of the Colonel’s dark mahogany desk.  “At ease.”  Reacting automatically, they shifted left feet out to the side and moved hands up to clasp behind their backs.  They were free to look at the Colonel and they saw a grim expression on his face.

“Grace, I’m proud of you for finding Flanders, but I must admit sorrow at the circumstances.  It sounds like dreadful business.”  He shook his head.  “Do you have any leads yet?”

“Several, sir.  I’d prefer not to elaborate until the autopsy results are complete.”  He nodded, disappointed at not having any hot gossip for the officers’ poker game that night.  Carrie knew of his tendency to divulge sensitive information, which was one reason she had not told him anything specific.  They would want to hold some information back from the press to sort out the fake confessions and tips that would inevitably follow such a murder.

Colonel Zander swiveled his seat and stared out the window, leaving them to talk to the back of his plush leather chair.  “I just got off the phone with the CG.  I asked him to name you head of the newly formed Joint Task Force.  You would be in command of pertinent members of the base MPs, CID, JAG, and the Virginia State Police.  I’m keeping the FBI out for now.” 

Carrie’s eyes widened a bit as she thought of the inter-service rivalry that would have to be quashed. 

“There’s a problem, though.  You realize that a Captain is a bit of a low rank for such a post.  In fact, the CG expressed those feelings exactly.  I’ve decided that there is only one solution.”

Carrie felt her heart sink as she realized that she was going to be taken out of the investigation before she had even started.  Her eyes were downcast, focused on the rug, so she did not notice the Colonel retrieve a sheet of paper and two items out of his desk drawer.  He walked over to stand in front of them.  He slipped his reading glasses onto his nose, and raised the paper.  “Attention to orders!” he barked.  She and Musser snapped upright.

He read the standard military gibberish that began all orders.  Continuing, he said, “…Captain Grace, C., is hereby promoted to the rank of Major, effective immediately.”  The Colonel dropped the orders to his desk, and fiddled with the two items from his desk drawer.  Carrie could see out of the corner of her eyes that he was removing the backings off a set of gold oak leaves.  He stepped close to her and grasped her right lapel, pinning an oak leaf over her old Captain’s bars.  She caught a whiff of what smelled like whiskey on his breath before he stepped away.

“At ease.”  They shifted their feet and hands, turning heads to look at the Colonel.  He smiled at Carrie.  “Congratulations, Major.  Here’s the leaf for your cap.”  She extended a numb hand to receive the cold metal pin, still dumbfounded from the rapid turn of events.  She had gone from dejection to elation in just a few seconds.

The Colonel had returned to his seat, where he reclined with hands behind his head.  “Where do you go from here?”

She struggled to find her voice.  “To the autopsy, sir.  After that, I plan to meet with the Task Force and hammer out a game plan.” 

He nodded.  “Keep me up to date with regular reports.”

Carrie decided to roll the dice.  “Sir, there is the slight matter of funding for this investigation.  We’re going to request some evidence analysis that’s quite expensive, such as DNA analysis and-“

The Colonel interrupted her with a wave of his hand.  “Don’t worry about it.  There has never been a murder like this at Fort Eustis, and the CG is understandably concerned.  Our miserly General Scrooge has reached deep under his mattress for some cash.  You’ve been given virtual carte blanche.”  Carrie was astounded; with all the budget cuts she was barely able to get legal pads, and here was the Colonel giving her a blank check—literally.  He had unlocked a desk drawer and pulled out a government credit card and checkbook.  They were tossed across the desk for her.

“Get receipts.”

***

They found the branch Medical Examiner’s office with little trouble, following the map Dr. Washington had drawn on the back of his business card.  It was a short drive south of Fort Eustis, in Hampton.  The office was nondescript on the outside, made of brick and concrete.  The interior was designed without consideration for the comfort of patients.  Nearly all visitors were already dead, most of violent or unascertained circumstances. 

Maggie, the young receptionist, was filing her nails as they entered, but had been informed about the visitors in advance.  She set down her emery board and pressed an intercom button.  “Doctor, the Army is here.”

The receptionist passed a clipboard toward Musser, who was the first to arrive at the desk.  She had noticed his powerful arms and handsome eyes as he opened the door for his partner, and she flashed him her best smile.  “I need your name, address, occupation, phone number, and reason for being here.”  Maggie watched him fill in his name and that of his partner, seeing the subtle interplay of muscles under the tanned skin of his forearm.  She realized that she was holding her breath; she scolded herself silently and exhaled. 

“Go straight down the hallway until you reach a pair of swinging double doors.  Go through them into the changing area, where you’ll find the doctor.”  They thanked her and moved down the hall.  Maggie craned her neck to catch a last glimpse of the soldier before he disappeared through the doors.  She snatched up the clipboard and read the latest entry.  A smile blossomed on her face when she saw that the soldier had put down his occupation as “MP.”  Going back to work with her emery board, she began to daydream of being arrested by the muscular MP.

***

Carrie and Musser found the doctor in the changing room, where he was slipping into a pair of scrubs.  He saw them and nodded to a shelf full of assorted sizes of the green cotton clothes.  “Put those on over your uniforms to catch the bits and pieces.  Keeps you from going home looking like a butcher.”  He chuckled at his joke as he finished donning his scrubs.

Carrie grabbed a set that looked as if it might fit, while Musser pawed through the larger sizes.  She took a seat on one of the metal benches and squeezed her boots through the leg openings of the pants.  After some yanking and cursing the scrubs finally agreed to go over the boots and BDU pants.  The shirt was easier; it had a loose bottom that covered her holster and radio.  She thought about taking them off, but decided against it because she would have to leave them unattended in the changing room.  She stood up and discovered Musser already dressed and waiting.  Carrie shook her head and walked over to the doctor, who stood by a wheeled plastic cart.  He handed each of them a set of rubber gloves and a plastic face-shield.

Musser looked at the gloves and asked, “Shouldn’t we wash up first?”

Dr. Washington smiled and clucked his tongue.  “Some do.  I don’t.  The dead won’t catch anything from us, even if we don’t wash our hands.  But you can do what you like.”  Neither Carrie nor Musser bothered, and they were soon ready. 

The doctor led them through a stainless steel, swinging door into a green-tiled room.  Around the walls were lab tables with microscopes, sinks, equipment cupboards, and bottles of chemicals.  Bright halogen lights hung from the ceiling, illuminating a wheeled table that sat in the center of the room over a drain.  The naked body of the young woman was lying bare and gray on the table.  The boards from the cut railing stuck out from the sides of the body and rested on the gurney; the woman’s arms were still tied securely to the wood. 

A stocky, Hispanic man in scrubs and face-shield was unloading film from a camera on one of the lab tables.  He finished his task and approached them.  Dr. Washington introduced him as James Velasquez, his assistant.  Hands were shaken all around, followed by an uncomfortable silence. 

Dr. Washington finally said in a low voice, “Well, I suppose we have to do this.  Shall we?”  He waved his arms towards the table.  The four of them shuffled over and took up position around the body.  Carrie smelled the coppery odor of blood arising from the body, which was being warmed by the hot lights.  She closed her eyes for a few seconds to take her mind off the grisly tableau.  Velasquez reached up to a microphone that hung over the gurney and switched it on.  Dr. Washington began to speak.

“This is the postmortem of a white female, approximately 22-26 years of age.  Her weight registered at 115 pounds, and her height at…”  He looked down to where Velasquez held a tape measure.  “67.25 inches.

“Preliminary examination of the body reveals multiple wounds.  A long, curved incision has been made with an extremely sharp instrument in the abdomen.  The incision is centered on the base of the sternum, and runs laterally approximately 10 inches to either side, curving towards the pelvis.  The viscera have spilled out of the opening, revealing the small intestine, part of the large intestine, and part of the liver.  The small intestine has been stretched upward, where it was used to bind the arms to a wooden board.  There was little hemorrhaging, indicating the wound was postmortem.”

“The breasts have been removed with a sharp instrument.  Severe hemorrhaging suggests that the mutilation was performed while the victim was still alive.”  Carrie was feeling better now, but consciously told her legs to unlock her knees.  If they were locked, the drop in blood circulation combined with the smell in the room might make her faint.

“The skin has been burned in multiple areas.  Most appear to be third degree, and are approximately .25 by 3 inches. They may have been made with a hot metal object, such as a poker.  The burns cover nearly the whole body.  The wounds were cauterized, so there was little hemorrhaging.  Severe swelling of the tissues around the burns indicates that they were inflicted before death occurred.

“Several small, triangular bite marks are present on the outside of the right thigh, probably inflicted by a large rodent such as a rat.  Hemorrhaging suggests that they were sustained while the victim was alive.

“A canvas bag has been placed over the head.  It is tied by a drawstring around the neck of the victim.”  He motioned to Velasquez, who began working on the knot in the string with his gloved fingers.  “The bag is being removed to ascertain the identity of the victim.”

As the crusty fabric was pulled away, a frown bloomed on Carrie’s face.  She leaned over the steel table to get a closer look. 

“It’s not her,” she said, looking up again.

The doctor cocked his head to the side in confusion, and Musser spoke.  “What do you mean, ‘it’s not her’?”

“I mean, it’s not Julie Flanders.  Look at the face.  I spent a week with the girl when I defended her, and I would recognize her.”

“But it has got to be her.  We found her car there, and the body matches her description.”

Dr. Washington grabbed a folder from the lab table.  “We can figure it out for sure.  Here’s her personnel file.  We’ve got a picture, fingerprints, and dental records.”  He motioned for Velazquez to take the corpse’s prints. 

Five minutes later, they peered over Dr. Washington’s shoulder as he compared the fingerprints from the file with those from the corpse’s fingers.  They matched perfectly.

Carrie grabbed the photograph from the file.  “I don’t get it.  This is the Flanders I remember, but the woman on the table is different.  Yet, the prints are the same.”

“Could someone have switched the prints in personnel?” said Musser.

“Doubtful,” replied Carrie.  “The files are kept under lock and key and a security clearance is needed.”

Dr. Washington was inspecting the corpse, probing with his fingers along the neck.  “I think I’ve figured it out,” he said.  The others looked up in surprise.  He motioned them closer.

“See this faint scar along the jaw line?  Here’s another one on the nose, and several scattered around the face.  They’re freshly healed, but have been concealed by an expert surgeon.  This woman just had plastic surgery.”

What?”  Carrie was appalled.  “Plastic surgery!  Why in the hell would she do that?”

“I have no idea, but the more important question is why she was murdered.”

***

When the autopsy was finished they filed out through the swinging door, leaving Velasquez to finish preparing samples for toxicology and pathology.  Tests would be done for alcohol, drugs, and poisons.

Carrie plopped down on a bench and leaned her head back against the wall with her eyes closed.  She said a silent prayer for Flanders’ soul, which led to the chilling memory of the body lashed to the railing of the railing of the widow’s walk.  What kind of animal could do that to a human being?  Carrie felt the anger within her rising, and she made a promise to herself that she would catch this bastard.

A footstep in front of her jerked her head upright.  She blinked her eyes as Dr. Washington said, “Would you care to take a short walk outside with me, Miss Grace?  We need to talk.”  His tone indicated that he did not want any argument.

She nodded.  “Let me get out of these scrubs.  I’ll meet you by the front entrance.”  He agreed and walked out into the hallway.  She shrugged out of the green scrubs with a little difficulty, throwing them into a laundry bin against the wall.  Carrie looked around the room and saw Musser lying prone on a bench.  His legs were splayed out with his feet on the floor; he was snoring lightly.  She called out to him, “Musser.”  He twitched awake and hauled himself upright.  “I’m going for a walk with the doctor outside.  Do you want to wait in the Hummer?”

“Sure,” he replied, clearly planning to go back to sleep out there. 

“Also, would you radio each of the groups that are part of the Joint Task Force.  I guess we had the two of us, CID, and the Virginia State Police.  Ask each of them to get all the evidence they have and send one person to meet us at the JAG Office at 2100 hours.”

“Will do.”

They walked out together.  When they passed the reception desk, Carrie noticed that the young lady seated behind it never took her eyes off Musser.  He smiled at her, which seemed to amplify the grin already on her face, but he followed Carrie out the front door. 

She looked around for the doctor and saw him standing under a tree off to the side of the building.  He motioned Carrie over, while Musser climbed into the Humvee and promptly fell asleep again, worn out from the excitement.

Dr. Washington said nothing, but began walking towards a wooded lot that sat behind the office.  They walked side by side for a few minutes, stopping inside the trees near a small brook that gurgled softly.  The doctor turned to face her.

“Miss Grace, you are a lawyer, are you not?”

“Yes.  In the JAG Corps.”

“Have you ever seen a dead body before today?”

“No,” she lied.  The vivid memory of her husband, lying crumpled and bleeding on the dirt beside her, rose out of the depths of her consciousness.  She forced it back down, turning to face the stream so that the doctor could not see that she was fighting tears.

“Well, I’ve seen entirely too many dead boys and girls.  Let me tell you, that one today was more brutal than all of them.”  He was silent for a long moment, focused on the pine needles and grass beneath his feet.  His hands slowly rubbed themselves together.  Carrie could tell he was trying to banish images of long-dead victims. 

“We’ve got a very serious problem on our hands.  The monster who did this will kill again.”

“You sound so sure of yourself.”  Her lawyer’s blood became fired up whenever someone made such a statement; her instinct was to disbelieve him.  She thought it might be possible that this was a lone incident.

“Oh, I am quite sure of myself.  Now I’m a doctor and medical examiner.  I’ll give you the number of a person who knows more about this before you leave.  But I’ve seen a lot of murders, and I’ve testified in a lot of trials.  I know the signs of an animal such as this one.  This was not a one-shot deal.  He clearly enjoyed himself too much to stop now.”

“What makes you so sure that he’ll kill again?”

“The cruelty.  This wasn’t a robber killing a woman for her pocketbook, nor was it a rape gone bad.  The motive here was pain and suffering.  You may not want to hear this, but I believe that we have a serial killer on our hands.  He has probably killed before, and he will almost certainly do so again.”

Carrie whipped her head around to look at the doctor in the dying light.  “A serial killer?  How do you know?”

“I don’t know, but I suspect that I am correct.  You need to talk to someone I know.  His name is Charles Collins.  He’s based up at UVA and has done quite a bit of research on serial killers.”  Dr. Washington handed her a slip of paper.  “Here’s his number.  I called him this afternoon about the case, and he’s expecting your call.”

He turned and stared off through the trees towards the setting sun, which bathed his face in warm, red light.  Several minutes passed in silence, but the doctor finally spoke in a low voice.  “I’ve been a doctor for nearly four decades, and noticed myself slowly become cold towards all the pain and suffering.  I divorced the dead bodies from humanity and looked at them as slabs of meat, not thinking that they had once been young men and women with hopes, dreams, and fears.  It was the only way that I could do this job and stay sane.

“When I stepped out onto that widow’s walk this morning, the sight of that poor woman made my heart cry out in a way it hasn’t done in years.  I saw what she had endured, all the torture and pain, only to end up as a meal for wild crows.  The idea that one human could do that to another angers me deeply, and I grieve for the soul of that woman.”

He turned back to face her, resolve strengthening his shoulders.  “I want to help you catch that monster, and I will do anything within my power to aid in your investigation.  I’ll warn you, though.  When you catch him, keep him away from me, because I’ll kill the bastard myself.”

Carrie nodded solemnly.  “I feel the same way, torn between wanting to strangle him with my bare hands or sending him to prison to be gang-raped for the rest of his cursed life.  Both would be equally pleasing.  Unfortunately, my job is to bring him to trial, not to practice vigilante justice.

“I am grateful for your help.  Would you mind faxing me a copy of the autopsy protocol when it is finalized, along with a few sets of the pictures?  I’ll probably be based at the JAG Office.  If not, they will know where to find me.  I left my cellular number with your receptionist.”

“I’ll have them on your desk by tomorrow morning, even if I have to work all night,” Dr. Washington said.  He looked her in the eye.  “I’m afraid we’re running on borrowed time, waiting for him to strike again.”

Chapter 4

 

Carrie and Dr. Washington started back towards the office, both lost in thought.  Carrie said goodbye to him and climbed into the Humvee, slamming the door behind her.  Musser was wide awake and scrawling notes on a legal pad.  He had their Probable list sitting on the dashboard and appeared to be elaborating on each point, including ways to prove them.  Finishing a sentence, he set the pad down and turned in his seat to face her.

“The Task Force is meeting like you said at 2100 hours.  I’ve been working on some things from this list that I’ll show you when we get there.”

She smiled and said, “Good job.”  Good Lord, I sound just like the Colonel.  Is this what my promotion has done to me?  Musser started the engine and drove onto the highway; she pulled out her phone and the slip of paper from the doctor.  Checking her watch, she saw that it was almost 1900 hours.  Charles Collins might still be around the office.  Carrie punched in the number, hit SEND, and listened to the ringing.

It was answered after four rings by a deep male voice.  “Collins here.”  Carrie heard a humming and realized that he was on a cellular phone as well.

“This is Cap- I mean Major Carrie Grace with the Fort Eustis JAG.  I’m sorry to bother you so late, but we have a bit of a problem down here.”

“I heard.  Tony Washington called me a few hours ago about the murder you had this morning.”

“Yes.  Well…he said you might be able to help us.”

“Perhaps.  The good doctor told me about the condition of the body and the crime scene.  It sounded familiar, so I ran the MO and signature through our database.  All kinds of bells and whistles went off.

“I’m already on my way to Fort Eustis.  Do you want to meet tonight to discuss this?  I believe we are on a very short time frame with this guy.”

Carrie could not believe her ears.  She had expected to get some help, but this guy was already on the way to her.  “Sounds great.  We can meet at the JAG Office.  What time is good for you?”

“I just turned onto I-64 from I-295.  Give me an hour.  How about we meet at 8:00?”

“See you there,” she said, pressing the END button.

They drove in silence for several minutes.  Carrie’s thoughts returned to her conversation with the doctor.  She remembered the way his questions had brought back the memory of her dead husband.  Richard had been three years older than Carrie.  They had met while at UVA, marrying in the summer before she started at Tulane.  Staring into the deepening gloom out the window, she thought about what had happened. 

Carrie had been a first year law student at Tulane, in New Orleans.  At the time, New Orleans had been in the throes of a severe crime wave.  Richard and Carrie were living uptown, near the Riverbend area and the law school. Both of them were avid runners, and one day in late spring they went running in Audubon Park.

The park had a loop of paved asphalt that circled around a lagoon and golf course.  When they got there, the sun was just setting.  They began their run on the paved loop, but Carrie’s knees soon began to bother her.  “Can we run on the dirt trail over there?  It’s easier on my knees,” she panted to Richard.

“Sure,” he said, in slightly better shape than Carrie.  He had run track at UVA, which gave him an edge in their friendly rivalry.

They cut through the grass towards the trail that led along the outskirts of the park.  The path was used by the riders from the stables, but some runners had adopted it.  Towering live oak trees leaned over the trail, spreading their gnarled arms to block out the light.  Spanish moss hung from the branches in long streamers, nearly touching their heads as they ran.  They talked in rushed breaths about Richard’s new job.

As they rounded a curve in the path, Carrie felt the hair on the back of her neck rise.  She slowed to a stop in the middle of the trail.  Richard was confused and said, “What’s wr-”, before Carrie motioned for silence.  They waited for a few minutes, but Carrie finally dismissed her feelings.  They had just gotten up to speed again when a man stepped in front of them out of the gloom.  He was about 18 years old, black, and had a small semiautomatic pistol pointed at Carrie.  Her heart jumped to her throat, and she came to a stop a few steps in front of him.

“Evening, folks,” he said in a low voice.  “Gimme your wallets, watches, and rings, or you’re both gonna die.”

Carrie raised her hands in front of her chest to placate the young man.  She knew that they had no money with them because none of their clothes had pockets, but muggers in New Orleans usually shot people who had nothing valuable.  “It’s all right, don’t shoot.  We’ll do anything you want,” she said.  Richard was frozen in fear beside her, eyes wide open like a scared deer. 

“I said, gimme your money!”  He took a step towards them.  Carrie got a glimpse of the gun, recognizing it as a SIG SAUER P230, a small .380 semiautomatic.  She owned one herself, but had left it at home during the run.  Carrie’s eyes focused on it, and realized that the mugger had made a mistake.  She knew that when a round is in the chamber of a SIG 230, the ejector lever can be seen protruding from the side of the weapon, bearing a large red dot to signify that it is loaded.  The pistol held by the young man had a magazine in it, but he had forgotten to chamber a round; even if he pulled the trigger, the gun would not fire.  He would have to use both hands to rack the slide before he could shoot them.  Carrie’s thoughts raced.

She reached down to her waist and undid the safety pin that held her car keys.  She held them out to the young man, hand shaking as if from fear.  “Here’s my car keys.  They’re to the red Nissan in the parking lot.”  He came forward to get the keys from her. 

As the young man reached for them, her hand began to shake even more, dropping the keys just before he took them.  He cursed and bent down to retrieve them with his left hand, keeping the gun pointed at her.  The rough ground made the search difficult, and he finally flicked his eyes downward.

Carrie leaped forward, grabbing the man’s wrist with both hands and twisting it to the outside.  The bone snapped and a howl escaped his lips; the gun thudded to the dirt.  Shoving him backward and down, she grabbed the gun while he was still struggling to his feet.  She racked the slide, putting a round into the chamber, and pistol whipped the young man across the side of his face.  He fell onto his back and she knelt astride his chest with the gun planted between his eyes. 

“That’ll do, asshole,” she muttered to the stunned mugger.

“Richard, come here and tie this idiot’s feet together with his belt.”  She heard him shuffle forward, and as he bent forward next to Carrie, the area around them lit up as if by lighting.

Carrie never remembered hearing the shot that killed her husband.  The young man’s friend had stood guard on the trail ahead and raced back when the struggle started.  The pellets from his shotgun slammed into Richard’s back, kicking him through the air.  Carrie rolled away into a prone position, firing the .380 into the gloom.  It sounded impotent and hollow after the roar of the shotgun.  A shadow fled into the fog as she fired the magazine empty.  Carrie scrambled over the unconscious mugger towards her husband’s body, which lay crumpled and bleeding on the ground.  She felt for a pulse along Richard’s bloody neck, but his heart had already stopped.

“Noooo!  Don’t die on me like this!” Carrie screamed at her husband.  “Wake up, damn it!”  She began CPR and was still kneeling over the body when the police and ambulance arrived five minutes later.  The paramedics pulled Carrie to her feet and tried to save Richard, but he was pronounced dead on the scene.

Carrie was taken to the emergency room because of a wound on her right arm.  A pellet of buckshot had grazed a furrow across the outside of her upper arm, but she never felt it until the adrenaline wore off later.  The mugger whose wrist she had broken eventually testified against his partner, who was still serving a 90 year sentence at Angola Prison. 

Carrie thought about him as she looked out the window of the Humvee.  She fingered the scar on her arm through her uniform, and hoped that he would die screaming at the hands of another prisoner.  You bastard.  You stole my husband from me.  Carrie had blamed herself for months before coming to the conclusion that it was much easier and made more sense to hate the killer than herself.

She turned and looked at Musser, realizing that she knew nothing about him as a person.  “So…Dan, tell me about yourself.  Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Nope. I was an only child.  I grew up with two stepbrothers that belonged to my mom’s second husband.  When they divorced, we all just went out separate ways.  There was no blood to keep us together.  How ‘bout you?”

Carrie just shook her head.  Now that she had opened the door, Musser went through it.  “Where did you go to school?”

“Undergrad at UVA, then to Tulane for law school.”

“I went to Georgia, but never got any farther than a B.A.”

Neither said anything for several minutes, but Musser broke the silence.  “Congratulations on your promotion.  You didn’t look like you saw it coming.”

She laughed and said, “You know, until I heard the Old Man say ‘promoted to Major’, I thought I was being taken off the investigation.  He scared me half to death, that bastard.”

“What are you going to do with all the extra money?”

Carrie snorted.  “Use it to pay off my student loans.  I’ve got to pay $1000 a month on my note for another 5 years.  I had to take out $30,000 in loans every year to pay for Tulane.”

Musser’s jaw was hanging open, and he spluttered a bit.  “Holeee shit.  Bend over and grab your ankles, if you’ll pardon my French.  Was it worth it?”

“For most people.  If I hadn’t accepted my JAG commission, I would have gone to work at a firm in D.C. for $60,000 a year.  Of course, I would have only had to work 80 hours a week, as opposed to the 90 I put in here.”  She gave him a wry smile.

“What about you?  There’s no ring on your finger, but do you have a girlfriend?”

He grinned back at her. “Why?  Are you looking for company?”

She shook her head.  “I’ve never dated men in the military…they’re too much like me.  I was just curious.”

Musser cursed silently at the news.  “No girlfriends.  It’s just me and Atlas, my dog.”

He braked the Humvee slowly as they approached the front gate of Fort Eustis.  A wooden sign in front proclaimed that it was the “Army’s Transportation Center.”  Great, Carrie thought.  So why is it nicknamed Fort Useless?  As they rounded the final curve, bright floodlights almost blinded Carrie.  At least a dozen news vans were parked outside the front gate, held there by the MPs.  Never to be daunted, the reporters had set up portable light sets and were interviewing anyone and everyone, down to the lowliest Private.  We’re lucky the body was found on base, or the press would never be kept away, she thought.

The MPs at the gate saluted them as they drove past.  They rounded the traffic circle and drove towards the office.  A quick stop at the Burger King yielded two bags of fast food for dinner.  Musser spoke up when they pulled away from the take-out window.  “We’ve really got to catch this guy soon, or we’ll both be dead of heart attacks from all this fried food.”

“Amen to that,” replied Carrie, already eating onion rings out of the bag on her lap.  She wiped her hand on the seat, leaving greasy fingerprints on the plastic.

“I’d figure that since you run, you wouldn’t eat stuff like that,” he said, pointing at the widening stain on the paper bag.

“Ah, but I run so that I can eat stuff like this.”  She grasped the door handle to keep from sliding sideways as Musser pulled into the parking lot of the JAG Office.  All of the cars were gone except for the few that belonged to the members of the JTF

They both hopped out of the Humvee when it stopped, Carrie having to fish in her pocket for the key to the door, which was kept locked after business hours.  While balancing her drink and food on one hand, she finally came up with her keys and opened the door.

The office was dark in the reception area, but there was a light shining from the law library in the back.  Carrie looked up at the clock and saw that they had fifteen minutes before Dr. Collins arrived.  She led Musser to the break room, where she started a pot of cheap government coffee.  They sat at the folding table that took up most of the space and quickly wolfed down their meal.  Just as Carrie was shoving her trash into the take-out bag, there was a loud knock on the front door.

When she reached the reception area, she saw a man in a dark suit peering through the glass.  The light in the entryway lit his face, and she saw that he was clean-shaven, about 50 years old, and had salt and pepper hair.  A large belly flopped over his belt, but he was dressed in an expensive, blue suit.  He noticed her and waved through the window.  Carrie nodded and twisted the lock knob, opening the door.  He retrieved a briefcase from the ground.  His hand was outstretched as he stepped inside.

“I’m Doctor Collins.  You must be the famous Major Grace.”  Collins had an amazingly deep, commanding voice.  With a voice like that, I’d hate to argue against him in court, Carrie thought to herself.

She shook his hand, and was impressed when he gave her a firm but pleasant handshake.  Most men either barely took her hand, or tried to crush the bones in her fingers.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you.  I’m very grateful to you for having come down like this on such short notice.”

“Not a problem.  I’ll give you all the help I can.” 

They began walking back to the library, retrieving Musser on the way.  Carrie introduced the two men.  “Doctor Collins, this is my liaison with the Military Police, Captain Daniel Musser.  Musser, meet Doctor Charles Collins.”

They shook hands while walking.  “You may as well call me Charlie.  Everyone else does.”

They entered the law library, which was about thirty feet on each side.  Half of the room was filled with motorized shelving to save space.  Only a few aisles were kept open at a time, and the shelves moved on rollers to save space.  Oak tables occupied the other half of the library.  The Colonel had actually used the budget money to buy decent furniture, rather than the standard, shoddy metal tables.  Three of the tables had been pushed together into a large horseshoe, two men and a woman were seated around the outskirts.  Papers were strewn all over the library, as if a tornado had struck.

The enlisted soldier in the room began to rise to attention when Carrie walked in, but she quickly waved her back down to her seats.  “Keep working.  Musser, would you call about the gate lists, and then bring these men up to speed on what we know.”  He nodded, and Carrie led Collins over to a table on the far end of the library.  They sat down across the table from one another

Carrie spoke first.  “Well, Doctor Collins, where would you like me to begin?”

“Tell me about the crime scene and the condition of the victim’s body.  Only the physical part, none of your conclusions or suspicions just yet.”

She described the widow’s walk as she had found it, including what had been discovered at the autopsy once the canvas bag was removed.  He took copious notes as she spoke.  When she was finished, he asked several questions to clarify his understanding of the condition of the body and the autopsy.

He thought for a second and said, “Major Grace, do you know what a ‘profiler’ is?”

“Not really.”

“A profiler analyzes the evidence and the crime scene, then asks one main question: What type of person could have done such a thing?

“During the early 1980’s, psychiatrists interviewed scores of convicted serial killers, probing their minds for the why and how.  Gradually, we learned to associate certain personality traits and characteristics with behavior patterns in murder.  Because behavior reflects personality, profilers can reverse the equation and interpolate the personality from the evidence at the crime scene. 

“For instance, if we see a series of surprise attacks from behind the victims with no face-to-face contact, we deduce that the UNSUB, the unidentified subject, is uncomfortable or shy about talking to the victim for a reason.  He may have bad teeth, or scars, or a speech impediment, or some other defect that would make him choose that method of attack over another.

“I lead a group of forensic psychologists and psychiatrists.  We are based at UVA, and have worked with countless police departments around the country.  We provide similar services to the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit, but we don’t encounter the turf struggles with the locals that the ISU does.

“My purpose here is to advise you on the characteristics of the UNSUB and on what techniques may be effective in apprehending him.  Now, is everything clear so far?”

She nodded, still thinking that he would try to steal the glory after her team had done the majority of the work.

“Good.  Let me tell you about what type of person I think we’re dealing with.”

He looked down at his notes and took a deep breath.  “Major Grace, this is the work of a serial killer.  He has done this before, and will almost certainly kill again.  There have been several similar crimes, which we will discuss later.

“Each killing gives the UNSUB more experience, and he learns as he goes.  His MO will constantly be refined from the lessons of the past experiences.  This murder will satiate his lust for a short time, but the hunger will surely return.  When he gets the urge again, he will take another victim.  He won’t stop unless he is caught or killed.

“This is the work of a white male.  I say this because nearly all serial killers are male, and they normally stick within their own race when choosing victims.  Flanders was white. Ergo, the killer is white.

“He is in his late 30’s to early 40’s.  This was a combination of youthful strength with the self-control and maturity of an older man.  The signature indicates great hostility towards women in general.  For example, the hacking off the breasts is an attempt to androgynize the victim.

“He is very organized and intelligent.  There was planning behind this, and a very evolved MO.  Flanders wasn’t an opportunity victim.  The first AWOL incident is probably connected to this in some way, maybe a botched abduction attempt.  You stated that it was very out of character for her, so she might have been drugged.  If there were sedatives involved this time they will be picked up by the tox screens.

“What do you mean when you say ‘signature’ and ‘M.O’?” she asked.  “I thought they were the same.”

Collins shook his head.  “The MO, the modus operandi, is whatever the UNSUB does to perform the crime.  It may change and evolve over time as he learns and becomes more skilled.  The signature is what the UNSUB must do to fulfill himself, to satiate his appetite.  The signature will not change over time.  Here, the canvas bag over the head was the MO, but the facial changes and torture were the signature.  Got it?”

“Yeah.”

“The UNSUB will probably be driving a dark blue or black van without windows in the back.  He will have military experience, probably in his early 20’s.  He will be highly educated, with experience as a plastic surgeon.  He will have a large collection of pornography, probably oriented towards bondage and S&M.

“His childhood will be marked by an abusive mother or stepmother.  He will probably have exhibited a penchant for starting fires, cruelty to animals, or bed wetting.

“There will have been a traumatic event in his life recently, known as a ‘stressor.’  Perhaps he was fired from a job, or he had a family member die, or he split with a girlfriend.

“He owns or has access to a house, which is probably run-down or in a bad neighborhood.  The burns on the victim were almost certainly performed while she was alive.  The torture would have taken time, and the UNSUB would wanted to be certain of privacy.  Also, burning flesh smells incredibly bad; neighbors might have asked questions if he lived near anyone.

“That’s about it for now.  Do you have any questions?”  Collins held his arms out, palms up.

“Just a couple.  How would you say she was abducted?”  Carrie wanted to confirm a guess she had made.

“This is only a supposition, but I’d say that the UNSUB used a sedative to knock the victim out, such as in a drink at a bar.  That would explain the AWOL charge.  You stated that Flanders woke up in her car around midmorning, which would have been totally out of character.  The perp may have been scared off, but left her in the car to recover.  He clearly wanted this victim, so he returned last weekend and succeeded.” 

That squared with her reading of the situation.  She pulled out the three lists that she had retrieved from Musser.  Laying them out on the table, she picked up the Maybe list.  “I had figured that he was sexually excited by the torture and killing.  Do you disagree?”

Collins shook his head, staring at the lists.  “No, but I only told you things that would help you catch him.  It is very difficult to know from the outside what sexually excites a person, so there are usually better ways of tracking the urges, such as through bondage pornography.”  He craned his neck forward in an attempt to read the lists.  “May I see those, please?” he asked.  She handed them across the table.  He read through them, eyes wide.

“Major Grace, where did you get these?”

“Well, I made them.  With the help of Musser, of course.”

“You wrote these down before you talked to me?”

“Yes, we did them this afternoon.”

“Who had the idea to do these lists?”

“I did.  Look, what’s the big deal?  They’re just lists of what I thought we were dealing with.”

“The big deal is, Major Grace, you have never been formally trained and are not law enforcement or psychology oriented.  This is your first murder investigation, and you have no experience in profiling or behavioral sciences.  Yet, despite all that, you managed to come up with the major points of the criminal profile by yourself.  Astounding.”  He shook his head, still looking at the lists.  “May I photocopy these later?”  She nodded her agreement, unsure what the fuss was about.  Collins handed the lists back to her. 

Carrie glanced over at Musser, who was trying to catch her eye.  He pointed at his watch, indicating that it was time to start the meeting.  She turned back to Dr. Collins.  “I’m afraid that we’ll have to continue this another time, sir.  My men and I are about to have a meeting to plan the investigation.  We’d love to have your help, if you can stay for a while.”

“I told UVA that I’d be here for at least two weeks, probably more.”

“Excellent.”  Carrie led him over to the tables, where she took a seat at the head of the horseshoe.  She glanced at each of the JTF members in turn.  Musser and a female Army First Sergeant were seated at the table to her left.  Doctor Collins and a male Virginia State Police officer were on her right. 

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for meeting so late.  As you all know, there was a gruesome murder on post this morning.  I have just been informed that this is the work of a serial killer.  He has killed before and will almost certainly kill again.  The five of us have been brought together from the relevant law enforcement organizations for the sole purpose of catching the killer. 

Now, in the past there has been a history of hostility between our agencies.  That stops now.  I do not want to here about anyone withholding evidence, information, or resources.  You are to give each other full cooperation and complete access. 

“We aren’t here to merely catch someone or anyone; we’re here to catch the man who killed Julie Flanders.  Don’t even think about finding some patsy to frame for this.  Our mission is to keep another young lady from having to endure what Julie went through at the hands of that monster.  Therefore, we will proceed quickly but deliberately.  I want all your work well documented and legal.  But remember, the primary mission is to prevent another killing.

“Since we’ve never worked together before, why don’t we each say a few words about why we’re here.  I’ll begin.”

Carrie remained seated, but sat up a bit straighter.  “My name is Carrie Grace.  As you can see, I’m a major in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps.  I am an attorney, but other than that, I’m a decent person.”  Several chuckles greeted her stab at lawyers.  “I’ve been picked to head this investigation, and to coordinate your efforts.”  She motioned to her left, at Musser.

Musser took his feet.  “I’m Daniel Musser, with the Military Police.  I’m chief investigator in this matter.”  He looked as if he had more to say, but changed his mind and sat down.

The First Sergeant next to Musser stayed seated.  She was short, had red hair, and talked with a southern accent.  “My name is Leslie Dillard.  I’m with CID, which investigates criminal activity in the Army.  I’ve been assigned as liaison to the Joint Task Force.”  She fell silent, and the state police officer across the table rose.

He was over six feet tall, and had a large gut that threatened to burst through the buttons of his uniform shirt.  He was rapidly losing his hair, but had combed it over the top of his head in a vain attempt to hide the sweaty patch of bare skin.  “My name is Ronald Brogan, and I work with the Virginia State Police.”  He grinned through tobacco stained teeth and returned to his chair.  Carrie groaned inwardly; she was not going to have fun working with Brogan.

Dr. Collins stayed seated, but looked each of the others in the eye as he spoke.  “I’m Doctor David Collins.  I’m a psychology professor at UVA, and I’ve been brought in to consult on this matter.  I will be profiling the killer to help you apprehend him.”  The others looked suspicious as he sat down.

Carrie thought otherwise.  “Dr. Collins, I wonder if you’d be kind enough to tell the group what you just told me about the UNSUB.  It would be quite helpful.”

He smiled, but she could tell that he did not want to be thrown in with the sharks again.

“Ladies and gentlemen, do any of you know what a ‘profiler’ is?”

Chapter 5

 

The rest of the meeting was full of sarcasm and heated arguments, almost all aimed at Dr. Collins.  Brogan and Dillard both acted as if Collins had used witchcraft to make up the UNSUB profile.  Neither gave the technique any credence, even though the logic was valid.  Musser had been primed by Carrie’s three lists, so he was not as hostile as the other two officers.  It was only when Carrie stepped in and stated that the Task Force would be following the profile that they gave up the fight. 

“As I see it, there are three promising lines of inquiry at this point,” said Carrie.  “First, we need to pursue the boot print.  Second, we need to trace back to where Flanders disappeared.  Somebody might have seen something suspicious.  Third, we need to look into the plastic surgery link.”

Carrie gave Leslie Dillard and CID the job of following up on the boot print that was found by the riverbank.  The plaster cast of the impression had been delivered to the JAG Office while they were at the autopsy.  It was sealed into an evidence bag with orange tape.  Carrie hefted it in her hand, wanting to smash it to the table in frustration.  She noticed that a white label had been stuck to the bottom of the bag.  The label read, “Jungle Boot, OD Green Uppers, men’s size 11 1/2 W.”  What a bullshit lead, Carrie thought, tossing the bag to Dillard.  Every damn hunter this side of the Mississippi probably has a pair of these.

Officer Brogan and the state police got the job of following Flanders’ last hours.  “I want a huge chart on that wall over there,” Carrie said, pointing at the rear of the library.  “Write down where she was every hour for the last six weeks.  If she was in the barracks asleep, then put that down also.  I want to know everything.  List all the people who saw her there and what they remember.  The roommate is a good place to start.  Don’t forget to look into the first AWOL incident.  Something scared the guy off, so he may have been seen with her.  I want a composite drawing of the suspect within a week, and I don’t want any excuses.  Clear?”  Brogan just grunted in reply.

“Musser, you get to work on the plastic surgery lead.  There must be some kind of professional organization that keeps records of them.  Watch out, he may not be a doctor anymore, or he may have gotten a degree overseas. 

“You’ll also have to coordinate a more ambiguous job.  Take the profile that we’ve drawn up.  Run the pertinent characteristics through NCIC and Army Personnel.  For example, look for all those white males in the Tidewater area who have been arrested for violent crimes and who have past military experience.  You should get a fairly large list the first time around, but a lot can be eliminated by common sense or by sending an officer out to ask a few questions.”  Musser took notes while she spoke.

Carrie turned to Dr. Collins.  “The autopsy protocols come back tomorrow.  You and I are going to look into anything that Dr. Washington turns up.” 

She looked around the table at the rest of the Task Force.  “All right.  Are there any questions that can’t wait until morning?”  Nobody spoke.  “There will be another meeting tomorrow night at the same time, and every night until we catch this guy.  Dismissed.”  The others stood and stretched. 

Musser approached Carrie after the meeting ended.  “You should go home and get some sleep.  We’ll be fine here.”  She did not want to leave, but knew he was right.  She had been yawning frequently for the past hour.  There was no sense in beating herself into the ground this early in the game. 

He noticed her hesitation.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll give you a call if anything comes up.”

“Okay, okay.  I’ll go,” she laughed, gathering up her papers.

“You can take the Humvee.  I’ll get another.”

Carrie nodded in gratitude.  “Thanks.  I’ll see you in the morning.”  She bid the others goodnight and headed out the door.

***

  Carrie slammed the door to her barracks room and flopped onto the bed.  She stared up at the ceiling, lacking the energy to get undressed.  The star stickers she had stuck to the ceiling glowed green in the faint light from the desk lamp.  She dragged herself upright with a grunt and unlaced her boots.  Carrie dropped the boots to the floor and mechanically stripped off her clothes.  Her pistol belt and holster went on the desk. 

When she was naked, she flipped off the light and slipped between the flannel sheets of her bed.  She fumbled with the clock on a nearby table, making sure that the alarm was turned on.

The bed was pushed against the outside wall; it sat underneath a window that was cracked open to the cool night air.  Carrie rolled onto her back and stared up at the stars through the window.  The breeze wafted across Carrie’s hot face.

Orion could be seen in the sliver of night.  Tears sprang to her eyes as she looked at the group of stars.  It had been Richard’s favorite constellation; he had told her the myth of Orion countless times. 

The lawn around the barracks had been cut that day; she smelled cut grass and dew.  Carrie began to think about the UNSUB.  What kind of person was he?  Did he have a family?  What could have possessed him to kill an innocent stranger?  She drifted off to sleep with the smell of freshly mown grass still in her nostrils.

***

Wayne lowered his binoculars and licked his lips carefully.  The officer bitch had finally cut off the light, ending his show.  Very nice, wasn’t she?  She was young and nubile.  He’d show her a trick or two.  She would make a perfect Angela, after a little nip and tuck work.

His eyes glazed over, and he fantasized himself sliding his hands up her legs, feeling the bronze skin flow underneath his palms.  He saw his hands cross her kneecaps and onto her thighs.  His thumbs were folded in across the inside of her thighs, stroking the supple flesh as his hands rose higher, moving with maddening slowness.  The muscles of her thighs tightened with pleasure at his onslaught. 

He moved his hands to the outside of her hips, but let the tips of his thumbs brush against the tender warmth between her legs.  A low moan escaped her lips, and her breathing quickened.  “Oh…yessss.  Don’t stop,” she hissed through clenched teeth.

A grin split his lips.  Yeah, bitch.  Beg for it.  His hands traced the outside of her stomach, barely touching the skin, almost floating.  She was breathing faster now, her abdomen rising and falling under his grasp.  Reaching her breasts, his hands crept over and cradled one in each hand.  Slowly kneading with his hands, he felt her begin to thrust her hips up at the air.  “That feels so good,” she whispered to him. 

Wayne’s fingers moved inward, finding her hard nipples.  He lightly pinched them between thumb and forefingers.  A fresh moan rewarded his efforts. 

Wayne was becoming bored with the foreplay.  His fingers pinched her nipples forcefully.  The scream that vibrated the air was cut off by the hand that slammed across her face.  Wayne was reaching for the knife in his pocket when headlights along the road yanked him out of his fantasy. 

He dropped onto his stomach.  “Damn,” he cursed. 

You got lucky, Wayne.  That was an MP, come to take you back to prison.  He knew they would never catch him; he was too cunning. 

Wayne was lying prone on the ground, hidden in the pines on the hill behind the barracks.  He pressed his face onto his arms, planting his nose in the soft pine needles to lessen his visibility.  He waited until the sound of the engine had faded into the night before he lifted his head again.  The bitch’s light was still off, so he slowly rose to his feet.

Tonight?  He sniffed the air.  Later.  He would wait and savor the memory of his last kill for a little while longer.  It had only been a day since he had tied the last cunt onto the railing.  He remembered her pleas for mercy, and her stoic silence when she realized that he would kill her anyway.  That had angered his even more.  She finally died, but not after hours of pleasure for him.  His urge for revenge had been satiated for a while.  The urge would not become unbearable for a few more days, so he would plan and fantasize about the next one.

He had seen the officer bitch at the crime scene through his binoculars.  He chuckled at the memory of how she had puked over the edge.  “Can’t take it, huh?  Little cunt.  Shouldn’t have joined the Army if you couldn’t handle it,” he muttered towards the dark window. 

Wayne had followed her easily when she left in the Humvee, until he eventually knew where she lived.  “Yeah, bitch.  You’ll beg for it when I get to you.”  He slipped his binoculars into a pouch slung over his shoulders and faded into the trees.

***

The alarm dragged Carrie out of bed at 5:00.  She had finally become accustomed to waking early, so it was not too rude a surprise.  She switched off the buzzer and sat upright.  Her bare feet touched the bare linoleum floor, toes curling inward at the chill.  “I’ve got to get some rugs,” she said to herself for the hundredth time.  Carrie grabbed a set of running clothes out of the wall locker and began to dress.  As she was slipping her shorts on, she caught a glimpse of her nearly naked body in the mirror.  The image of Flanders’ nude, butchered corpse rose unbidden in her mind.  She could see the bloody voids where the woman’s breasts had been hacked from her chest.  Carrie scrunched her eyes closed and shuddered involuntarily.  Will I ever be the same again?  Did the sight of that poor girl change me forever?

Carrie turned the radio on and was rewarded with a local DJ who was reading the morning news.  “…body of an unidentified young woman was found yesterday, apparently a murder victim.  There are reports of similarities to other unsolved killings in the area, but authorities have refused to comment-”  Carrie switched it off, not in the mood for press reports.

She forced herself to finish dressing in her PT clothes, light blue shorts over black Spandex tights, and a dark green Tulane Law T-shirt.  She grabbed her CD player and keys off the table and headed for the door.  After a quick stop at the latrine down the hall, she bounded down the steps and into the damp morning air.

It was still almost completely dark and Carrie stopped to gaze up at the heavens.  The arch of the Milky Way cut across the sky, visible now that the moon had set.  She stretched quickly and began a slow lope towards the river.  The fog was just beginning to rise off the ground and her feet swirled it into tiny eddies.

After a few minutes of warm-up she quickened her pace.  Her legs stretched out along the road and she began breathing in time to her steps.  Carrie reached the turn by the sewage treatment plant and turned left.  There were no street lights out this far; she saw the road only as a lighter strip of darkness.  She lifted her eyes to the sky and saw a lightening in the East.  The ebony sky blended into blue, with orange along the horizon.  Carrie smelled the rich mud of the swamp on her left as the road began its run along the river. 

The music pounded in her ears as she watched the waves silently die on the rock of the breakwater.  She was still breathing regularly, but the sweat had started to run down her face.  She wiped the wetness away with the back of her hand before flicking the sweat to the ground.

Carrie always kept her mind occupied while she ran.  Sometimes, she would go over oral arguments that she had to make in court.  Other times, she would think about what was planned for the day ahead; anything to take her mind off the run.  She smiled when she remembered what Richard had told her.  He was a runner also, and had once told her that he always thought about sex while he ran.  Just like him, that horny bastard.

She tried to keep her mind off the investigation, but her thoughts kept returning to it.  Collins said that there had been other murders.  Why haven’t I heard about them?  She shook her head; she was usually so wrapped up in her work that she was oblivious to the world outside.  If this is a serial killer, how long do we have before he strikes again?  How do we catch him? 

No answers rose to the top of the mess, and by the time she was almost home she was too tired to think.  She pushed herself so hard when she ran that by the end she could barely remember which room was hers in the barracks.

Carrie had run harder than usual and literally stumbled up the stairs of the barracks after she finished stretching.  The key finally went into the lock on the fifth or sixth try.  She barely heard the door slam behind her.  She sat on the bed, leaning over with her elbows on her knees.  The sweat dripped down her face and onto the floor.  She had always loved the cleansing feeling that came after she had finished a run and was cooling down, with sweat flowing down her face.

After a few minutes, she stopped dripping and a chill washed over her from the wet clothes.  She stood, slipped out of her shoes, and grabbed a towel.  As she walked down the hall towards the bathroom, she noticed that other soldiers were just beginning to stir in the barracks.  Faint strains of a television leaked from behind a closed door. 

Once in the bathroom, she padded across the cold tile to the benches outside the shower room. The floor was still dry.  She was the first one awake, as usual.  She peeled off her damp PT clothes and piled them on the bench before walking into a shower stall.

After she finished, she returned to her room and found an ironed uniform.  She dressed automatically while listening to a classical station on the radio.  Carrie was humming along when her cellular phone on the table chirped.  She finished buckling her belt and answered the call. 

“Major Grace,” she said, expecting bad news.

The voice at the other end was familiar.  “Good morning, this is Tony Washington.  How are you doing today?”

“Good.  Yourself?”

“I just finished the autopsy protocols, and I think you should see them.  I’ve already sent somebody over to the JAG Office with my report and the photos.”  He sounded tired and hoarse.

“That’d be great.  Thanks a million for getting this done so quickly.”  Carrie had heard horror stories from other lawyers about waiting weeks for postmortem results.

“Not a problem.  Give me a call if you get any leads or need help.”

“Thanks.”  She hung up and slid the phone into her cargo pocket.  The doctor’s tone indicated that there was something interesting that he did not want to discuss over the phone.  Carrie hoped that there were more leads in the autopsy results.

After she finished dressing she grabbed her gun belt and keys.  She headed out the door with a Diet Coke from the refrigerator.

***

The parking lot at the JAG Office was just starting to fill up when Carrie braked the Humvee to a stop.  She had to take up half of the space next to hers because the vehicle was so wide.  She pulled the steel cable off the floor and looped it through the steering wheel, locking it tight with a padlock.  Great security system, she thought.

The clock over the reception desk read 6:20 as Carrie walked inside.  The PFC working the desk looked up when the door banged against the wall.  Recognizing Carrie, he pulled a thick manila envelope out of her box and handed it to her.  “This was just delivered, ma’am,” he said.

“Thanks,” she said, already walking towards the back.

The library was deserted and dark when she got inside.  Carrie flipped on the lights and flopped down in a leather chair.  She put her boots up on the table and ripped open the gummed flap of the envelope.  Inside were a stack of glossy pictures and a file folder.  She quickly flipped through the pictures to see if there was anything new before she set them aside. 

The folder contained a letter, the transcribed notes from the autopsy, several forms, a toxicology sheet, and the final report of the Medical Examiner.  The doctor had addressed the letter to her.  It included a summary of his findings.

“The cause of death was a combination of blood loss and shock, most likely induced by the severe burns coupled with the removal of the breasts…The severe lacerations of the lower abdomen were postmortem…The victim had been bitten three times by a small rodent, such as a rat…Scavenger birds had inflicted minor postmortem damage…The removal and mutilation of the intestines were postmortem… 

An extremely sharp, serrated knife was used for the incisions.  The pattern of the serrations match with a folding knife made by Spyderco, model ‘Delica’… 

The surgery altering the facial appearance was performed recently, but had time to heal somewhat.  It was probably done soon after the victim was abducted.  The technique shows great skill and experience in plastic surgery.  Modern equipment was used.

The victim had been sexually abused.  The labia minora were reddened and swollen, and semen was present in the vagina, which indicate intercourse.  The fluid samples indicate a secretor with a blood type of O+.  Those characteristics are quite common in our population.  Samples were taken for DNA analysis using PCR and gel electrophoresis, but the tests will take several days to complete…”

Carrie raised her eyes to the window as she recalled her undergraduate class on forensic biology.  Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, allowed a minuscule sample of tissue or fluid to be analyzed.  The chemical reaction effectively multiplied the DNA of the sample, providing as much as was needed for the tests.  The material would be placed into agar gel, and a current would be passed through the gel.  As the molecules of DNA worked their way towards an electrode, the smaller pieces would travel farther through the thick gel.  Distinctive lines would be created in the gel where the molecules stopped.  The pattern of lines would be compared to other samples in the search for a match.  Carrie lowered her eyes to the file again.

“Preliminary toxicology tests came up positive for the sedative flunitrazepam, or Rohypnol.  Rohypnol, known on the street as ‘Roofies’ and the ‘date rape drug’, is used to render a victim unconscious.  It may cause temporary amnesia, causing loss of memory for the period of time before the drug was administered.  Rohypnol is usually dissolved in a drink, which is then given to an unsuspecting victim…Residue was found in the fatty tissues of the victim, indicating that she had been drugged several times in the past.  It may have used in heavy doses as anesthesia during the plastic surgery.

The victim was severely dehydrated, which compounded the problems of blood loss and shock…Ketones were found in the urine of the victim, indicating that large amounts of body fat had been burned before death.  That would be consistent with a period of forced starvation for several days.  The gastrointestinal tract was empty, confirming that the victim had nothing to eat while she was being held, and that she had been starved long enough for her stomach contents to pass through her system.

Microscopic examination of the lungs turned up traces of asbestos fibers.  The fibers had been inhaled recently, as the tissues had not yet been damaged.  The fibers are consistent with types of asbestos used in pipe insulation.  I believe that the victim had been held captive for several days before her death, which was when she was exposed to the rats and asbestos.

The burns were inflicted with a metal object that had been heated in a charcoal fire.  Traces of charcoal and lighter fluid were found in the burns.  The marks are consistent with a fireplace poker or other pointed bar, and are 1.5cm wide.  The lengths vary from 18cm to 3.25cm.  The swelling of tissues and blistering around the burns indicates that they were inflicted while the victim was still alive.

Marks around the wrists and ankles appear to have been caused by wide straps used to secure the victim to a table or chair.  The straps were probably either leather or canvas, and had buckles.  The victim struggled a great deal while restrained, inflicting damage on her wrists and ankles.

Scrapings from under the victim’s fingernails revealed assorted dirt and debris, along with blood and skin scrapings.  The blood was type O+, which was not the victim’s, but does match the type of the UNSUB.  It appears that the victim was able to scratch the perpetrator with two of her fingers before she was killed, drawing blood.  Therefore, he would now have two parallel scratch marks somewhere on his body.”

Carrie closed the file and held it against her chest.  She leaned her head back and thought about what Dr. Washington had discovered.  Four promising leads had been found: the plastic surgery, the Rohypnol, the asbestos, and the scratch marks on the killer.  Carrie did not know much about either the drug or the asbestos.  Well, that’s easy to fix

There was no Physicians Desk Reference in the law library, so she would have to find out some other way.  After starting to call Dr. Washington, she remembered that he had been working all night and was probably asleep.  She stood and walked over to a bookcase, retrieving the Fort Eustis phone book.  She thumbed through it until she found the post medical facility.  Carrie put a finger on the number and glanced at her watch.  It was still early, almost 7:00, but she knew that a doctor was always there for emergencies.  Carrie pulled out her phone and dialed the number under her finger. 

A man’s voice answered, sounding as if he had just been awakened.  “Captain Hoy speaking.” 

“This is Major Carrie Grace, from over at the JAG Office.  I’m sorry to call so early, but I’ve got sort of an emergency.  Are you an M.D.?”

“Yes, ma’am, I am.  But I can’t really diagnose you over the phone, now can I?”  He sounded perturbed.

“No, I’m not sick.  I have a question that I need answered by a doctor.  I’m in the middle of an investigation, and a lead came up that I was hoping you could help me with.”

“Shoot.”  Dr. Hoy was happier.  He had realized that he would not have to deal with a patient.

“What do you know about Rohypnol?”  She pulled out a pen and got ready to take notes.

“Hmmm.  It’s a very controversial sedative, and has actually been banned in the United States because of its illegal uses.  College kids were using Rohypnol to drug women and rape them.  It’s still made in Mexico and gets smuggled into this country to be sold on the street.  Hold on a sec.  Let me grab a book.”  She heard him set the phone down and shuffle around in the background.

“All right, here we go.”  He flipped pages, looking for the right section.

“Also known as flunitrazepam.  Flunitrazepam is a benzodiazepine that is used in the short-term treatment of insomnia and as a sedative hypnotic and preanesthetic medication. It has physiological effects similar to diazepam (commonly known by its trade name, Valium), although flunitrazepam is approximately 10 times more potent. Flunitrazepam neither is manufactured nor sold legally in the United States. It is produced and sold by prescription in Europe and Latin America. The drug usually is smuggled into the United States through the mail or delivery services,” read the doctor.

“Is that all you need, ma’am?”

“Yeah.  Thanks, doctor.  You were fantastic,” she said with a smile on her face.

“Anytime.”  He sounded pleased.

Carrie set down the phone and studied the file again, finding the asbestos reference.  She remembered a case from law school dealing with an asbestos tort case.  Ceiling…Celo…Celotex.  She stood and dropped the file onto the table.  A glance at Shepard’s found the citation.  She located the case in the reporter and scanned through the facts for some information on asbestos.  She confirmed what she already knew about it. 

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral found in Canada, Africa, eastern Europe and the United States.  Asbestos fibers are long, narrow and bind with materials often used in construction.  Asbestos is also used in fireproofing.  In addition, it was used extensively in residential and commercial buildings between 1920 and 1978.

Asbestos may be found throughout the home in materials such as insulation around pipes, ducts, and furnaces, ceiling tile, fiber insulation, plasters, vinyl flooring, spray-on acoustical insulation, artificial fireplace ashes and embers, and some wallboard patching compounds.  Outside uses of asbestos include exterior roofing shingles, siding, concrete water mains, and shipbuilding.

Carrie pushed the book back onto the shelf and returned to her chair.  She flopped down and scrunched her forehead in thought.  Two facts were known about where Flanders had been held captive: asbestos and rats were both found there.  She thought for several more minutes but got nowhere.  After writing down what she knew in the file, she went on to the next clue.

Rohypnol had been found in the victim.  The UNSUB must have used Rohypnol to abduct her.  Carrie thought about likely scenarios.  Flanders was probably out at a bar or restaurant and the drug had been slipped into her drink. After she was rendered sick or unconscious, she could have been taken to somewhere private and held captive.  It could have been done either by a person she knew or a stranger.  The only way to narrow the field would be to wait for Brogan to get further into his phase of the investigation.

Carrie’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of footsteps in the hall.  She opened her eyes and looked towards the door in time to see Dr. Collins walk into the library.  He had a stack of files under one arm that he slammed down onto the table.  “Here we go.  Past victims of our UNSUB, files courtesy of the Medical Examiner.” 

Carrie was already on her feet and reaching for the top of the stack.  She plucked the top file from the rest and sat back down in her chair.  Gathering up the materials delivered from Dr. Washington, she handed them to Dr. Collins, who had taken a seat across from her.

“Here’s the pictures and postmortem of Flanders.”

His eyes widened.  “She was just found yesterday.  How’d you get these so quickly?”

Carrie winked at him.  “Ancient Chinese secret.”  Collins shrugged his shoulders and began flipping through the pictures.  She opened the folder from the stack he had brought and began to read.

***

Two hours later, Carrie dropped the last file onto the table.  Her stomach roiled from the grisly pictures she had seen.  Only her exposure to the real thing the day before had prepared her for the images Collins had brought.

She had gone through the cases in chronological order, starting with the first murder that had been linked to the UNSUB.  There were four of them, all women between the ages of 20 and 30.  All had brown hair.  All weighed around the same amount, and all were about the same height.  They were all physically attractive and none had boyfriends or husbands. 

The killer was clearly becoming more skilled at his work as time passed.  She could see the evolution of the MO, while the signature stayed nearly identical.

The first victim had been Louise Barrows, a 22 year-old woman from Williamsburg.  She was a student at William & Mary, and had disappeared while at a fraternity party about a year and a half ago.  Her body was found four weeks later, floating in the James River.  She had been burned by several different hot objects, but not in the methodical pattern used with Flanders.  The water had washed away all trace evidence, such as fibers and semen.  The cause of death had been cyanide poisoning.  She had been alive until only a few days before her body was found.

Carrie’s eyes had widened as she read the file.  Louise Barrows had also had plastic surgery just before her death.  Identification had been made by dental records.

Nine months later, a 29 year-old woman named Alice Rowe was abducted from her home in Virginia Beach.  The police ascertained that she had been asleep in her bed when the UNSUB had picked the lock on the basement door.  He had crept upstairs, managing not to leave any fingerprints or fibers, and had knocked out the victim with a blow to the head.  Six weeks later, her naked body was dumped in the James River.  She had been burned by a poker, but in a haphazard pattern.  Her face had been altered as well.  The FBI had not been called in and different jurisdictions handled the investigations, so no connection was made between the two murders.

Six months passed without incident, until a third body was found bumping against a wharf on the James River.  The victim was 30 year-old Candace Sholt.  She had been at the movie theater with several friends and had gotten up during the film to go to the bathroom.  When she never returned, the police were called in immediately to comb the area for clues.  Nothing turned up except her body, a month after the abduction.  Like the others, she had been burned with a hot poker while alive.  Plastic surgery had been done on her face.  No drugs were found in her system.  She had been abducted with a blow to the head.

The last victim was found about three months later, dumped in a drainage canal in Hampton.  She was 20 year-old Theresa Gaines, and was a native of Hampton.  She had been found almost immediately after being dumped in the canal, according to the autopsy, but even the short time in the water had been enough time to wipe out trace evidence.  The UNSUB’s technique was still evolving, and the wounds inflicted on the victim were almost identical to the body Carrie had found.  Theresa had not been disemboweled, but the rest of the MO and signature were there.  Plastic surgery scars were found on the victim’s face.

Carrie noticed a pattern.  She pulled a legal pad across the table towards her and wrote the dates down for the killings.  She felt her hair rise as she stared at the yellow sheet in front of her.  There had been nine months between the first and second murders.  Between the second and third, six months went by.  The gap narrowed to three months with the fourth killing.  Flanders was killed less than a month after the last woman was butchered.  Judging by the time between murders, the UNSUB was speeding up, taking less time off between crimes.  That meant that they had less than a month to catch him, perhaps only a few weeks, or another young woman would be tortured to death. 

Chapter 6

 

Carrie closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger.  Without opening her eyes, she asked Collins a question.  “Did you notice the dates of the murders?”

He nodded grimly, lips set in a thin line.  “Yeah.  We’ve only got a few weeks before he kills again, probably two or three.”

Carrie shook her head in exasperation and looked at the files on the table.  “When did you first realize that there was a serial killer doing this?” 

“After the third victim,” he replied.  “Up until then, the separate police departments that handled the investigations never made the connection.  There was no communication between them.  The MOs were different enough that the database we use to track these things didn’t make the connection.  Finally, a coroner that I know saw about the third killing in the paper.  He sent a copy of the article to me, thinking that we might be interested.  Sure enough, when we started poking around, we turned up the rest of the cases and the connection was made.”

Carrie was watching him now and could see the sorrow behind his eyes.  He was mentally kicking himself for not noticing the cases earlier, in time to save the young women.  She was beginning to feel the pressure that rested on Collins’ shoulders to find the UNSUB and keep him from striking again.

Dr. Collins reached into his briefcase and pulled out an envelope.  He laid five pictures on the table, facing Carrie. “Tell me what you see.”

Carrie studied them for several minutes.  Each was a photograph of a dead woman’s face, but taken from different angles and in different lights.  The woman had been beautiful in life, with a sculpted face and brown hair. 

Carrie shrugged her shoulders.  “It’s a set of pictures of a woman.  So what?”

Musser shook his head.  “Those are the five victims, one picture of each.”

“But they all look the same.  They can’t be different people.”  As she spoke, she picked up the pictures and studied them closely.  Sure enough, Carrie noticed that there were tiny variations, such as in the hair and noses of the women.  “I’ll be damned.  You’re right.”  Her thoughts raced.

After ten minutes she spoke again.  “Here’s the way I see it.  All the victims had plastic surgery about a month before their deaths.  They had all been missing at least a month before they were found, which is just enough time for the surgery to heal.  I think that this guy is doing the operations himself, making the women look alike.

“He abducts ones who fit the bill generally, but cuts them into perfect replicas of the others.  After they’ve healed from the surgery, he tortures and kills them.”  She frowned.  “Why would someone do this?”

Dr. Collins was nodding.  “I agree.  When I realized this morning that the faces on all the bodies looked alike, I started thinking about why the killer does this.  I think I’ve figured it out.”  He gave her a grim smile.  “When you kill a person, it’s usually final, right?”

“Usually.”

“The problem is, if you really hate someone, I mean really despise her to the point of murder, then you can only kill her once.  After that, she’s dead and gone.

“But what if you were still angry after you had murdered her?  And what if you had the skills to make other women look like her?  Might make a good substitute for the original victim, if you could pull it off.”

Carrie was staring out the window.  “You mean our guy is physically changing his victims to match one person, then killing them to reenact the original murder?”

“Yes.  His desire for revenge drives him to operate on other women, then murder them.  He can relive his fantasy in reality every time.  He’s able to kill the same woman over and over.”

She shook her head in disgust.  “Well, I guess we know he’s a plastic surgeon, or was one in the past.”

“That’s true.  This needs too much skill and experience for an untrained person to pull it off.”

“There can’t be that many plastic surgeons around.  He should be easy to find.”

“Easy to find, but hard to catch.”  He arranged his papers on the table.  “He may have already abducted another woman.  There’s really no way to tell until she turns up dead.  So many women are reported missing every year that we can’t really trace them until we find the body.”

“So we are running out of time?”

Dr. Collins nodded.

Changing the subject, Carrie pointed at the autopsy file of Flanders, which lay strewn across the table in front of Collins.  “What do you think?”

He picked up the summary by Dr. Washington.  “We’ve learned several other things about this guy.  What do you think that they are?”

Carrie’s eyebrows went up as she thought.  “I’d say that the other important leads are the Rohypnol, the asbestos, and the scratches,” she said as she flipped through papers to find her notes from the research she had just done.  “I did some preliminary research on them, but nothing really jumps out at me.”  Carrie quickly gave him a summary of what she had discovered.

Collins looked out the window.  His eyes were blank as stared at the trees behind the office.  After a few minutes, he spoke.  “The asbestos and the rat bites probably indicate that she was held in the basement of an older building, most likely deserted and set apart from surrounding structures.”

“Why do you say she was in the basement?”

“Most upper floors have windows or ways out.  Basements usually only have one way in, making it easy for someone to be held captive.  The lack of windows would prevent a prisoner from breaking out or signaling a passerby.”  Carrie grunted and let him continue.

“The sedative indicates that the UNSUB would have to get close to the victim while she is eating or drinking.  If we can find when Flanders disappeared and where she was, then it is very likely that our man was there at the same time.  Somebody may have seen him.”

Carrie nodded and said, “That’s what I thought.  Officer Brogan is on that now, but we might have to wait a few days before we know anything.”

“We’ll see…”  He looked down at the autopsy summary again.  “There’s another good lead here.”

“What?”

“The knife.  Spydercos are very high quality, but are specialty items.  You can’t go into a K-Mart and buy one.  Most of the company’s business is done through mail order.  I believe that they’re used primarily by law enforcement and public safety personnel, and some soldiers.”

Carrie pulled out a photo taken of the boot print found by the river.  “We talked about this yesterday, remember?  Green jungle boots are found mainly through mail order stores also.  Maybe some companies carry both the knives and the boots.”

“Probably.”

She checked her notes.  “I assigned Dillard the boot print.  The knife is pretty closely related, so I’ll make sure she knows about this.”

“We need to subpoena some customer lists for the mail order places.”

“Dillard is handling that also, but God knows how long it’ll take.  The companies may fight us tooth and nail, or they may roll over immediately.  It’s hard to tell.”

Musser sighed and looked down at his hands.  “I didn’t tell you this when we initially went over the profile, because you hadn’t seen these files.  It is significant that all the bodies were dumped in or near the water.  Not only does it wipe out trace evidence from the body, it has a psychological meaning.  Water cleanses and purifies.  The killer may feel some inner need for purification.”

Collins was looking out the window again.  Carrie looked over her notes again until he spoke.  “There may be something we can do to speed things up.”

Carrie was appalled.  “What?  You want him to kill somebody sooner?”

Collins shook his head vigorously and said, “No, no. I mean that we can speed up the investigation.  We may be able to draw him out, but hopefully not make him speed up his timetable.”  She gave him a blank look.  “Most murder investigations are reactive, rather than proactive.  The police wait until they get a lead, then follow it.  We should take a proactive stance.”

“What do you mean?”

“We may be able to use the press to decoy the UNSUB into contacting us or making a mistake.  Serial killers are almost always intensely interested in the investigation and the publicity the killings receive.  They usually save newspaper and magazine articles about their work, and it’s not uncommon for a killer to try to inject himself into the investigation.  For example, he may call the detectives working the case and ask what they know, or may offer his assistance.  It allows him to keep track of how close the police are to catching him, and being right under their noses feeds his ego. 

“By manipulating what is released to the press, we can draw him out, perhaps making him contact us on his own.  Also, by releasing the profile, someone might recognize the UNSUB and contact us with information. 

“Second, we should have a memorial service for Flanders tomorrow.  Her family gets here tonight, so they should be there.  I think that this guy will probably show up.  If he does, we will have a record of who he is.”

Carrie agreed.  “Sounds great.  We can have it in Stony Point Park, out by the river.”  Her hopes rose at the new idea.

“You should call a press conference for this afternoon.  I’ll work on putting together a press release that will be most likely to work.  Given the mob of reporters at the front gate, we should get pretty good exposure.”

Carrie nodded and stood.  “I’ll take care of that now.  How about 1600 hours?  That should be early enough for us to make the evening news.  Let’s meet about 1530 to get ready.  Okay?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll tell Musser to arrange the memorial service.”

“Great.  See you then.”

She walked out of the library and towards the front of the office.  Pushing open the door, she walked out into the sunshine.  It was nearly 9:00, but was already hot and humid.  Carrie weaved through several cars in the full parking lot to get to her Humvee.  She climbed in, unlocked the cable around the steering wheel, and started the engine.  As she was pulling out of the lot she passed Musser, who had somehow found another Humvee.  Waving at him, she accelerated towards the front gate of the base.

The crowd of reporters and television vans filled the grassy area in front of the gate.  The guards were still keeping them off the post, but Carrie knew that no self-respecting reporter would give up and go home so easily.  Instead, they were still trying to interview anyone who wore a uniform, but to no avail.

Carrie steered the Humvee onto the grass in front of a large gaggle of reporters and TV cameras.  Like sharks sensing blood in the water, they closed in around the vehicle.  Microphones were shoved through the open windows, and voices shouted for her attention.

“Is it true that this is the work of a serial killer?”

“Why is the press being kept off Fort Eustis?”

“Do you have any leads?”

“Is this murder linked to the bodies dumped in the James River over the past two years?”

Carrie raised her hand for silence.  The crowd gradually calmed down as she waited.  She said, “I’m Major Carrie Grace, and I’m in charge of the investigation into the incident that occurred several days ago.” 

Immediately, everyone resumed shouting questions at her.  She held up her hand again until they fell silent.  “There will be a press conference right here at 1600 hours today.  That’s four in the afternoon.  At that time, I will issue a press release and answer some questions.”  Knowing reporters, the news of the press conference would soon be known by everyone.

She rolled up the window against the clamoring voices and slowly began to inch the Humvee forward.  The crowd around her thinned out in front to allow her an exit; she pulled the wheel around hard, doing a U-turn.  The guards at the gate waved her through and she drove back to the JAG office.

***

Carrie spent the next several hours with Musser in the library.  They discussed plans for the memorial service, bouncing ideas off each other.  After a short break to eat some sandwiches that were delivered, they returned to work.  Both of them pored through the files of the victims, trying to find some clue that would break the case wide open. 

At 3:20, Carrie stood and stretched.  Doctor Collins would be there soon with the information for the press conference.  She hoped that he was right and that the press release wouldn’t cause the UNSUB to kill again sooner than they had expected.

***

Carrie vaulted up onto the hood of her Humvee and faced the television cameras.  For some reason, she had never been nervous about public speaking.  When she was in front of a crowd she felt exhilarated, truly alive.  Motioning for silence, she raised the press release that had been prepared by Dr. Collins and began to read.

“Good afternoon.  I am Major Carrie Grace, with the Judge Advocate General’s Office.  Yesterday morning, the body of Specialist Julie Flanders was found brutally murdered here on Fort Eustis.  She had been burned with a hot poker over her whole body, and had been mutilated in several other ways.”  The decision had been to hold back several pieces of information, such as the surgery and the display of the body, to weed out the fake confessions that would inevitably surface. 

“This was the work of a man who has struck before, at least four other times in the past two years.  All five murders were marked by cruelty towards the victim.  All the victims were between 20 and 30 years old, with brown hair.

“I am in charge of the Joint Task Force, which is investigating the series of killings.  We are looking for a white male, late 30’s to early 40’s, who is physically strong.  He is intelligent and organized, and has spent some time in the military or law enforcement.  The latest victim fought back and managed to scratch the killer.  He will have two parallel scratch marks somewhere on his body.  If anyone knows someone that meets the description, or if anyone has information about the killing, please contact the JAG Office here on Fort Eustis at 1-800-555-6242.

“Julie was abducted when a sedative was placed in her food or drink.  We would urge women between the ages of 20 and 30 to be careful.  Do not accept drinks from strangers, and make sure that someone goes with you if you go to a bar or restaurant.  Five women have died in this area in the last two years, and we need to end this now.

“A memorial service will be held at 8:00 A.M. tomorrow in the Stony Point Park, which is here on post.  Signs and police officers will direct traffic from the front gate to the site, which is next to the James River and near where the body was found.  Television cameras and recording equipment are strictly prohibited.

“We hope to have a composite sketch available of a suspect within a few days.  I will answer some questions, but may not comment on others.  Now, does anyone have any questions?” 

Carrie was expecting a large response, but the vehemence of the shouting surprised her.  She picked a reporter out of the crowd, pointing at her.  The rest of the mob quieted down as the female reporter asked her question.

“Do you have any leads?” the woman shouted.  Scores of microphones were shoved up towards Carrie.

Carrie nodded.  “We have several that look very promising.  I’m not going to elaborate on them at this time.”  She picked another.

“Any suspects?”

“No comment.”  She did not want to say that they had no suspects at all.  Her finger pointed out a third reporter.

“Who were the other victims?”

“There were four of them, all from the Tidewater area.  I don’t want to release their names at this point.  The families of the victims have undergone a great deal of sorrow and grief, and they don’t need the additional stress of having you all camped outside their houses.”  Carrie knew that enterprising reporters would comb through old newspapers and discover the victims from the similarities, but she wanted to give the families a few more days of peace.

“Is this the work of a serial killer?”

“Very likely.”

“How long until the serial killer strikes again?”

“Within the next month, and probably within two or three weeks.”  Stunned stares gazed back at her; the reporters had finally realized the urgency of the investigation.

Carrie seized the moment to cut off the questioning.  “That will be all for today.  If you have any information, contact the JAG Office at the 800 number.  Thank you.”  The reporters loudly protested, still shouting questions.  Carrie put a hand on the hood of the Humvee to steady herself and dropped to the ground.  The shock of the landing tingled through her ankles and knees, momentarily numbing them.  She pushed her way through the crowd to the driver’s door and yanked it open.  Once inside with the door shut, the noise was cut to a dull roar. 

The Humvee rumbled to life, and Carrie felt déjà vu as she was forced to push her way through the mob with her horn honking.  She thought about the memorial service planned for the next day as she sped back to the office.

***

Carrie immediately recognized the older couple who sat on the bench in front of the JAG Office.  She had never met them before, but their body language gave them away as the parents of Julie Flanders, just arrived from Georgia.  They had undoubtedly come there in hopes of finding answers that she did not have.

The father was dressed in unfaded blue jeans, a flannel shirt, and a stock car racing hat.  His shoulders were slumped and he had his right arm around his wife, who was sobbing on the bench beside him.  She was wearing a blue checked dress and a pair of white tennis shoes.  Her head was bowed.  Her hands were clenched together tightly, with white knuckles.  Carrie could see her body shake as she cried.

As she approached, Carrie saw the man raise his tanned face and look at her with steel gray eyes.  The woman remained oblivious.  Carrie came to a stop a few paces from him and spoke.  “Mr. Flanders, my name is Carrie Grace.  I wish we could have met under better circumstances.”

He nodded his head at her, and responded slowly in a southern accent.  “As do I.  I’m Chester Flanders, and this is Danelle, Julie’s mother.”  Carrie saw his eyes tear over at the mention of his daughter’s name.  “You know, everyone tells me the same thing, but my heart still won’t believe that Julie is dead.”

“I feel the same way about her death.  It was tragic and unnecessary.  Maybe I can do something to ease your pain, though.  I’m in charge of the investigation to catch the man who killed your daughter.”

“I hope he fries.”  Chester looked away for a second before turning back to her.  “I’ve heard about you.  Julie mentioned you when I talked to her on the phone a few days ago, said you were her lawyer.  She seemed to like you.” 

But I let her down.  I didn’t see that Julie was not the type to go AWOL, and I didn’t see that there was something else going on, something sinister.  Carrie nodded.  “There is a memorial service planned in Julie’s honor tomorrow morning.  I hope that you can stay for it.”

“Yeah, we’ll be there.”  He looked away again, silent for a long moment.  “Miss Grace, My heart is heavy with grief, and I will not be able to heal until the bastard who did this is behind bars or dead.  Do what you can to find this monster.”

She sensed that he did not want to talk any longer, so she turned and went through the doors of the JAG Office.  It would be a long night.

***

The day dawned foggy, overcast, and humid.  Carrie and Musser were at the park by the river before the sun rose.  Carrie was in a foul mood; she had been forced to skip her morning run in order to get the site ready while it was still dark.

Collins swore that the UNSUB would want to watch the service, so they had banned TV cameras to force him to come there.  In anticipation of his appearance, Carrie and Musser had stayed up most of the night planning the security setup.  The small park butted up against the James River on the West, and was bounded by wooded swamp on two sides.  The only way in or out was by the road that entered on the north side of the park.  Fifteen soldiers in full camouflage were arranged in an arc around the east and south sides, about 20 yards into the swamp.  They had orders to apprehend anyone trying to enter or leave through the swamp.  The river was extremely shallow, not deep enough to allow a boat close to the shore. 

A decrepit van with smoked glass windows was parked on the shoulder of the road that came in from the North.  “Bowles Lawn Service” was painted across the sides, but inside sat three MPs.  Two were armed with cameras sporting telephoto lenses, and the third focused a video camera that rested on a tripod.  All traffic coming in on the road to the North was photographed and videotaped, and the faces of the visitors would be scrutinized and recorded.  All license numbers would be traced back to the owners.

Carrie stretched her legs out as she leaned back in one of the folding chairs lined along the grass.  Musser was seated two chairs down, and they were waiting for the guests to arrive. 

“Always hurry up and wait.  Right, Major?” 

She just grunted and rearranged her Class A uniform skirt around her legs. 

Everyone was in position.  It was 7:10, but they were still the only ones there.  The gate guards had orders to let everyone in at 7:15, and Carrie and Musser would soon be busy scrutinizing the crowd for white males with parallel scratch marks.  Collins would come with the public, but would also be on the lookout.

Carrie looked around at the park.  A dozen rows of folding chairs had been set up on the grass underneath spreading oak trees.  There was a small podium in front of the chairs and several wreaths of flowers were standing on wire holders by the podium.  The fog off the river was still rolling through the park, but the sun would soon burn it away.  Carrie said a small prayer that it would not obscure the camera and video images from the van.  She closed her eyes and waited.

Musser’s chair clanked against its neighbor as he rose.  Carrie heard the noise and opened her eyes.  Following his gaze, she made out a line of cars coming up the road towards the park.  Signs had been put up that directed the cars into a large field that would double as a parking lot, which was soon filled. 

By 7:55, all the chairs were occupied and several hundred men and women in suits and uniforms shuffled around behind the rows.  Carrie stood away to one side, under a tree with a radio in her hand.  Musser was on the other side of the mob.  Carrie surveyed faces, doubting that Collins was right.  Why would the killer be so stupid as to show up here?  He would have to know that we are ready and waiting.  Oh, well.  Can’t hurt to be prepared.

When Julie’s father stepped up to the podium to speak, Carrie was not listening.  Instead, she began walking through the trees.  Something called her away from the crowd, and she obeyed. 

The fog was breaking, and the sun had finally peeked its way through to the ground.  As she walked, she felt the dew from the grass begin to soak through her pantyhose, chilling her skin. 

She gazed out towards the river, noticing that the fog was lifting enough so that she could see patches of the water.  A few hundred yards out, a bright glint caught her eye.  A wisp of fog drifted in the way, but when it cleared another flash emerged.  Carrie squinted against the distance, making out a small, dark shape that lay low in the water.  After a few seconds, she realized that it was an inflatable raft.  The flash of light came again, and she saw that it was a reflection from binoculars or a telescope.

It’s him, Carrie thought.  He’s out there on the river, watching the memorial service through the breaks in the fog.  Collins was right; the UNSUB could not stay away.

Carrie slowly turned and walked back towards the service, trying to act as if she had seen nothing to alarm her.  She stiffly walked over to where Musser stood and leaned over to whisper into his ear.  He lowered his head to listen. 

“He’s here.”

Musser’s eyes widened.  “Here?” he whispered back.

“Out on the river, in a raft.”

“We should have had some boats out there.”

“Don’t worry about it.  It’s too late now.”

“What are we going to do?”

She nodded towards the river.  “I’m going after him.  Stay here in case I’m wrong and that isn’t our guy.  Get on the horn and have all the men you can find get over to the river to chase this guy.  Call some people on the other side in case he heads that way.” 

“Let’s hope it’s our guy and that he comes this way.  Good luck.”

Carrie headed for her Humvee, trying not to look as if she were in a hurry.  She stood by the door until a patch of fog drifted in between her and the river.  When she was covered from sight, she climbed inside.

Carrie grabbed a set of web gear from the back seat and buckled it over her shoulders and chest.  The belt around the waist held her pistol and its spare magazines, and the straps across her chest had more equipment.  Great fashion statement, she thought with a wry grin.  Skirt and gun.  She quickly wheeled the Humvee out of the parking lot before a break in the fog allowed the UNSUB to see her driving away.

She felt the sweat beading on her brow from the excitement and the humidity.  Glancing over towards the passenger’s side, she saw the M-16 A-2 that she had checked out of the arms room the day before.  The rifle stood up in a holder between the seats.  Six magazines for the rifle weighed down the web gear she wore, each holding thirty rounds. 

Carrie groped around on the back seat until she found her cellular phone.  A quick call to the base operator got her transferred, and she informed the warrant officer on the other end who she was and what she needed.  He told her that he would be ready when she got there.  A second call to the Colonel’s cellular phone reached him at the memorial service. She quickly got to the point.

“Sir, I need to know what force I am authorized to use to apprehend the UNSUB.”

He paused for a second.  “Do not use deadly force unless you are fired upon.  It might not be the killer.”

“What if I can verify that it’s the killer?”  Carrie screeched around a corner, holding the phone against her shoulder with her ear.  She heard the equipment in the back banging against the sides of the Humvee.

“Then use all necessary force to bring him in.  I’ll back you on any decision you make, Major.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Oh…and Grace?  You never heard me say this, but it would not really break my heart if you couldn’t take him alive.”

She did not say anything, instead punching the END button on the phone.  She dropped it into a pouch on her web gear.  Carrie stomped on the gas and felt the heavy vehicle slowly accelerate.  That bastard.  He acts like I can just go out and murder the guy myself.

Three minutes later, the Humvee screeched to a halt in front of a chain link fence by the airfield.  Grabbing her M-16, Carrie hopped out and raced through a gate onto an asphalt square, where a Bell UH-1 Huey was waiting with its rotors already spooling up to full speed.  She vaulted onto a canvas seat that faced the open door on the left side of the helicopter.  She slipped a pair of headphones over her ears and told the pilot to head for the river.  The seat belt around her waist took a bit of fumbling, but finally snapped shut.  “Go,” she shouted into the headset microphone.  The aircraft bounced a bit and lifted off into the sky, banking sharply in a turn towards the river. 

“Head for the river.  We are in pursuit of a suspect being sought for at least five murders.  He is in a raft a few hundred yards offshore from the Stony Point Park.  We need to surprise him, so come down the river fast and low.”  She knew that the fog and the water would muffle and disperse the sound of the chopper.

“Roger, ma’am,” the pilot replied, pushing the craft up to 120 knots.  Carrie watched the ground swivel around them.  They flew through several low-lying clouds, and the damp mist screamed through the door and around Carrie’s face.  Within a few minutes, they making a hard dive onto the river a mile away from the park. 

Carrie gripped the M-16 in her right hand by the pistol grip and reached into her ammo pouch for a magazine.  Slamming it into the rifle, she pulled the charging handle back and released it.  She was rewarded with a metallic ker-chunk as a round went into the chamber.  Her palms were sweaty against the black plastic of the grips, and she thumbed the selector switch to semi-auto.  The rifle could also fire in 3-shot bursts, but Carrie saved that for later.

The pilot had slowed down to 60 knots and was flying close enough to the water for the spray from the rotors to splash Carrie.  They were flying through fog, and she hoped it would be clear around the UNSUB.  “Fifteen seconds to target, clearing ahead,” the copilot called over the radio.

Carrie replied, “When you see the raft, hover about 20 yards above and to the side.”

“Roger, 20 yards.”

“Can you patch my mic through to an external speaker?”

“Affirmative.  Wait one.”  Carrie heard a series of clicks, and the copilot said, “You’re on external now, ma’am.”

The chopper suddenly punched out of the fog bank into the daylight.  Carrie spotted the raft about a hundred yards away from them on the left.  It was a black Zodiac raft, inflatable, but with a hard floor.  A large outboard dipped into the water behind the boat.  The pilot had seen the raft and was banking sharply to bring them closer.  He managed to keep the door Carrie sat in pointed slightly towards the raft, so that she never lost sight of the small, black boat. 

As they approached, she saw that the man who had been lying prone in the bow had stood and rushed back to the outboard motor.  He frantically tried to start it, and she got a good look at him.  He was dressed completely in camouflage.  A tight black hood obscured his face and hair.  Only his eyes were open to the air, and the skin around them had been dyed black with greasepaint.  Carrie’s heart skipped a beat when she saw the boots he wore: black with green canvas tops, the same as the prints found at the murder scene.  It’s him, she thought.  This is our one big chance.

She raised her voice to carry through the external speakers.  “Freeze!  Stand up in the boat and put your hands on top of your head!”  The echo boomed across the water, but the man did not obey.  Instead, he finally succeeded in starting the outboard and hit the throttle.  The raft leaped forward, and Carrie’s voice rang out again.  “Bring the boat to a halt, or you will be sunk and killed.”  She was bluffing; she would not kill him if she could help it.

The pilot had given chase, and the buzz of the rotors got louder as he banked hard to one side.  She saw the man hunch down in front of the motor, steering with his left hand.  His other hand retreated into a pocket, withdrawing a large, semiautomatic pistol.  Carrie felt the adrenaline hit her bloodstream like a speeding truck.

Time ground to a halt as the pistol slowly rotated in an arc towards her.  She pulled the M-16 to her shoulder as her thumb shoved the selector switch to 3-shot burst.  The UNSUB had a lighter weapon and was able to bring it to bear first.  Carrie did not hear the shots, but a round struck the chopper’s side with a loud pang

“Bravo eight niner, taking small arms fire,” said the pilot calmly over the radio, having seen combat in the Gulf.  He began to take evasive action, jerking the Huey back and forth.  Carrie felt her weight shift towards the door, but the belt held her tight to the seat.

The rifle was finally against Carrie shoulder and she squeezed the trigger, trying to hold the muzzle steady against the bouncing of the chopper.  She was aiming at the inflated side of the raft, but the motion made it a difficult shot.  The first burst rang in her ears, echoing across the water when it was amplified by the external speakers.  She saw spray leap into the water beyond the raft, and squeezed the trigger several more times.  Several of the bullets seemed to hit the Zodiac, but she could not be sure.  None of the rounds struck the man, who was still firing at her.  Carrie thought that she hit the inflatable sides, but the small holes the M-16 caused apparently leaked too slowly to sink the boat.

The raft was bounding over the waves at top speed.  As it raced over a crest, it would leave the water completely before slapping back down to the surface of the river.  The tinny roar of the outboard engine made it through to Carrie’s ears.

Carrie shifted her aim towards the engine, hoping to bring him to a stop or cause it to explode.  She was reluctant to shoot the man, even though her life was in danger.  If she killed him, he would never stand trial for his heinous crimes.  The pilot was still using evasive tactics, causing the chopper to swing in the air like a pendulum. 

She felt the bolt of her weapon lock back.  Carrie punched the magazine release as she reached for another clip.  The empty magazine dropped to the floor of the cabin, then slid out the door when the chopper banked to the side.

During the brief pause, she saw that they were headed for a dense fog bank that lay downriver.  The raft would be out of sight in a matter of seconds.  She knew if she let him reach the fog that he would slip away. 

“Cut him off!” she shouted to the pilot. 

Carrie fired at the raft as fast as she could pull the trigger, feeling the barrel heat up beneath the plastic grips.  The chopper had tilted forward to gain speed and they arrived at the edge of the fog slightly before the raft.  The pilot brought the chopper to a hover 20 feet above the water with Carrie’s door facing the oncoming raft.  She took a deep breath and held it, the rifle nestled tightly into her shoulder.  The man was kneeling in the bottom of the boat as it bounced over the waves, trying to steer and reload his pistol at the same time. 

Carrie squeezed the trigger at regular intervals.  Three shots raced away, the rifle came back on target, and three more fired.  Spray rose around the raft from the bullets.  The UNSUB dropped to the floor of the raft as it raced under the chopper and into the dense fog.  Carrie cursed and lowered the rifle.

“Go after him for a little while,” she told the pilot, knowing that it would be futile.  She reloaded anyway, flinging the empty magazine out the door in frustration.  Smoke rose off the hot barrel of her rifle, mingling with the mist outside.

Chapter 7

 

Just as she feared, the cloud that had settled onto the river kept them from finding the raft again.  They could not hear the boat’s motor over the sound of the rotors, and the dense mist closed in around them, blocking their vision.  The Huey was an older model; it lacked thermal and infrared vision equipment.  They crisscrossed over the water for several minutes, but found nothing. 

Carrie radioed back to Musser and told him to station men along the shores nearby, but he said he could only guarantee his side of the river.  It would take too long to get soldiers over to the other side.

After fifteen minutes of searching, the pilot spoke.  “Ma’am, we’re down to 400 pounds of fuel.  We have to return to the airfield.”

She cursed out loud.  “Do what you have to do.  How long to refuel?”

“Probably 20 minutes.  We have to check and make sure that the bullets didn’t damage anything vital.”

“Drop me off at the park on the way back.”

“Roger.”  They banked to the right and headed upriver along the shore.  Within seconds, they were approaching the park.  Crowds of mourners had gathered along the bank to gawk at the spectacle on the river; many of them pointed towards the chopper as it came in for a landing near the parking lot.

The pilot flared to a halt and gently settled to the grass, but left the rotors spinning at nearly full speed.  “Thanks,” she said over the intercom as she unbuckled her seat belt.

“Anytime, ma’am.  Next time, we’ll bring more firepower.” 

She slipped off her headphones and jumped to the ground with her head bowed against the rotor wash.  Carrie jogged towards Musser, who stood in the turret of a Humvee talking into a radio.  She heard the chopper rise behind her, and the wind slowly died.  Her ears still rang from the rotor noise and the gunshots.

Musser inclined his head towards her as she approached.  He saw the glum expression on her face.  “It was a helluva effort anyway. Certainly more fun than hearing these speeches.”

She kicked the side of the Humvee, feeling the shock travel through her flimsy dress shoes.  “Goddamnit!  I had him.  I friggin’ had him, and the bastard opened fire on me.”

He nodded.  “I saw.  There’s nothing more you could have done.”

“Nothing, huh?  How about catching the guy?”

“We might still catch him.  I’ve got MPs combing the shore.”

This shore.  If he’s smart, he’s long gone on the far side of the James.”  She flopped onto the passenger seat of the Humvee.  “Bona fide cluster fuck.”

***

Sure enough, nothing turned up from their search of the shore.  Nobody saw the raft come aground, and the fog took four hours to lift.  Carrie hitched a ride back to the airfield to retrieve her Humvee before driving to the JAG Office to meet with the Colonel.  She anticipated a long session of yelling and screaming based on her failure.

Déjà vu struck her again as she knocked on the eagle painted on the Old Man’s door.  “Come in,” he yelled, and she yanked open the door.  Inside, Colonel Zander was seated behind his desk as always.  She did not know what to say when he broke his routine and quickly rose to his feet, walking around the desk.  Slapping her on the back, he pumped her hand vigorously.

“Top notch, Major.  Absolutely wonderful work,” he said with a grin.

“But, sir…I don’t understand.  I didn’t catch the suspect.”

“Technicalities.  Do you realize what the press is doing with this?”

Carrie grimaced as she thought about what they would say about her actions.  “I can imagine.”

“It will be wonderful for JAG and the Army.”

She was thunderstruck.  “Wonderful?”

“Absolutely.  I can see it now:  ‘Army Locates Killer in 48 Hours.’  This is outstanding, Major.  Don’t you see?”

“I certainly don’t see how it is outstanding.”

Colonel Zander returned to his seat and pointed at an armchair across from him.  Carrie sat down stiffly.  The Colonel sighed and began speaking slowly, as if to a young child.  “The murder was 2 days ago.  You began your investigation Tuesday morning.  Today is Thursday, and you managed to draw the killer out into the open already.  Not only did you find him, you forced him to show his hand and fire on you.  Even though you returned fire, we will come out smelling like a rose.  All you were doing was defending yourself.  It doesn’t matter that you missed him.”

“I guess you’re right, sir.  It just scratches me the wrong way to think that I had him within my fingers and let him slip away.”

“He won’t slip away the next time.  Although this does raise some interesting issues.”

“Like what, sir?”

“Well, we could probably kill him on sight, considering that he’s already proven himself willing to fire on us.  In fact, if any of the local cops find him, they probably will shoot him.”

She grimaced at the thought.  The thought of killing the UNSUB did not bother her, it was that the police might hit innocent bystanders.  Also, it was not exactly kosher to go around shooting murder suspects, even if they had fired on police in the past.  She would have liked to see him stand trial for his crimes.

“Regardless, Grace, I want you to keep after this fucker.  Full speed ahead.  I know that it’s easy to kick yourself for what you did in the past, but get over it!  Learn from your mistakes, and go on with the investigation.  Now…what were your mistakes?”  The Colonel wanted her to give an After Action Review, or AAR.

She looked out the window behind the desk as she thought.  “I should have had a boat out on the river.  I assumed that because the water was so shallow by the park that nobody could get close, but the UNSUB had a Zodiac.  It drew so little water that it was able to get close to the shore, where he could watch the service.  A patrol boat standing by would have enabled us to catch him, which was impossible from the air.”

“That’s true, but I probably would have made the same mistake.  Anyway, a boat is slow enough that he would have heard it and run before it reached him.  What else?”

“It’s almost always foggy out by the park in the mornings.  I knew that, but I didn’t do anything about it.  I could have brought a thermal scope with me.”

“That would have helped, but I doubt there’s a single one on the whole damn base.  What else?”

Jesus, isn’t that enough?  “I should have gotten a flak jacket before I went up.  Several rounds just missed me.”  She paused.  “I can’t think of anything else.”

He smiled.  “See?  Not that much could have been changed.  Sure, luck might have dropped a bullet through the guy’s brain, but this was certainly not a screw up.

“Now that you’ve seen what you did wrong, Major, I’ll tell you what you did right.  You showed extremely quick thinking while on your feet.  When you saw the man out on the water, you reacted immediately.  There was no whining about ‘Oooo, what do I do?’  When you realized that you didn’t have a boat on the water, you found the next best option, which happened to be a Huey.  It was quite creative, and enabled you to get on top of the suspect before he could flee.

“Next, you attempted to take him down without violence first, by using the chopper’s P.A. system.  All the reporters who were at the memorial service turned around to watch the action as soon as they heard the chopper.  The newspapers and TV reports will all say how you tried to apprehend the killer peacefully, and how he shot at you first.

“Once you were fired upon, you responded with all the force you had available.  I saw the whole thing, and you basically fired full auto at the raft until it was in the fog.  There was no pussyfooting around.  You did what you had to do, without hesitation.  Remember: in combat, it can be far worse to be indecisive.  While you are thinking, the enemy is shooting.  You must make a choice immediately, even if it turns out not to be the best one.

“Last, you put the fear of God into the killer.  He may have been thinking how stupid we were to not catch him, but he will have second thoughts now.  Even though he may have gotten away, he is probably still shitting his pants from the amount of steel you threw at him.  It might make him slow down his plans, or stop completely.”

Carrie was stunned that the normally reticent Colonel could give so much praise without having a coronary.  She also doubted that the UNSUB would stop anything, but nodded.  “Thank you sir.” 

“You’re welcome.”  He paused.  “Major, I’m not here to stroke your ego, but for God’s sake quit kicking yourself.  You did fine!  Now forget it, and get on with catching this guy.  Okay?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.  Dismissed.”  She stood and came to attention, turned on her heel, and left the Colonel’s office.

***

Carrie flopped down into a chair in the law library and closed her eyes.  The aftermath of the adrenaline rush was beating her down; her entire body ached and her head pounded.  Her ears still rang from the gunfire. 

What a morning, she thought.  She considered herself lucky that she had not been hit during the firefight. During the search through the fog, she had looked at the bulkhead of the helicopter and saw three bullet holes.  One had passed less than a foot from her head, narrowly missing her.  She had not told the Colonel how close she had been to death.

Carrie opened her eyes and looked around the deserted library.  I wonder where everyone is, she thought.  She realized that she had just flushed a serial killer out of hiding, so the rest of the task force was probably looking for his trail before it got cold.

Carrie pulled her phone out and dialed Musser’s cellular phone.  He answered after a few rings.

“Where are you,” she asked.

“On the way back to the JAG Office from the park.”

“I need you to pick something up on the way back.  Stop by the harbormaster’s office and pick up charts of the area where I chased the UNSUB.”

“Charts, huh?  Got something in mind?”

“Maybe.”  She hung up and tossed the phone onto the table.  Leaning back in her chair, she closed her eyes and tried to picture the killer in her mind.  She remembered him standing up in the raft and staring up at her.  Everything but his eyes had been covered, but she especially remembered the way that his eyes showed no emotion.  Most people would have been scared or panicked in his situation, but his eyes were completely cold and dead.  She shook her head.  Strange. 

The UNSUB had been wearing camouflage clothes that were virtually identical to those issued by the Army, but his boots were older, surplus items.  No help was to be found from his clothes.

The raft he used was almost certain to provide a lead.  Zodiacs were extremely rare and expensive, costing many thousands of dollars for even a small model.  Several branches of the military used them, such as the Navy Seals.  It should be fairly easy to trace the boat, but she suspected that the killer would not have used it unless it could not be traced back to him.

***

Musser soon arrived with the chart of the river near Stony Point Park.  They spread it out on the table, weighing the corners down with files.  Carrie’s elbows cracked as she leaned on them. 

She used a pen to circle the park and the approximate area where she had first encountered the UNSUB.  She drew a line downriver that looked as if it was the way he had gone.  Extending the line, she checked to see if he had been headed anywhere special.  The line ended at a bend in the river, miles from anything.  All right, then he had just been running away, and not towards something.  Where would he have gone?

She snatched up a stack of scratch paper and lay a piece upriver from where he disappeared.  It covered everything above that point.  “We know that he didn’t go anywhere here, since we watched that from the helicopter.”  She took another piece of paper and lay it along the east bank of the river where Musser had stationed men.  “We also know that he didn’t go here because it was guarded.”  A third piece of paper was laid downriver, covering both banks.  “Your men on side of the river said that the raft never emerged from the fog, so he couldn’t have gone towards the ocean.”

The only area left uncovered on the chart was a half-mile long stretch of river and one bank.  Carrie pointed at the table and said, “He must have ditched the raft somewhere within this area.  He would have had to hide it or had vehicle to take it away.”

Musser nodded in agreement.  “I’ll send a squad over there to check out the riverbank.  They might be able to find car tracks or drag marks, or maybe even the raft if we’re lucky.”

“So far, luck has not been on our side,” Carrie replied.

***

Two days after the memorial service, Carrie tossed a folder onto the table in frustration.  The members of the task force looked at her in confusion.  It was just after breakfast, and she had called the meeting to address the lack of progress they were making. 

Carrie sensed that Brogan and Dillard were jerking her around, waiting for her to fail so they could take control.  Neither of them had found what she asked for, but when she sent Musser out to do some searching, he was back in 30 minutes with the information she needed.  Also, neither had turned up anything on Flanders’ abduction, the boots, or the knife. 

The search of the riverbank did not even turn up a footprint.  Musser still had men out combing through the woods and swamp, but Carrie was not holding her breath for them to find anything.

She looked back at Brogan and Dillard, wondering what should be done about them.  I should have a talk with them, she thought to herself.  They’re playing around with women’s lives for personal reasons.  Carrie hated having to yell at subordinates, but something had to be done.  She considered sending Musser and Collins out of the room to save the others from embarrassment, but changed her mind.  It would be more effective if everyone stayed. 

She took a deep breath and said in a loud voice, “What in the hell have you been doing, people?  It’s been two days, and none of you has come up with anything even remotely useful.  A troop of blind monkeys could have tracked down the Zodiac boat by now.  What have you given me?  Brogan?  Dillard?”

Officer Brogan began to stammer, his fat jowls quivering.  She cut him off, yelling now.  “A load of shit!  That’s what you’ve given me.  You don’t even have a list of dealers that we could question.  I asked you for that two days ago, and you claimed you couldn’t find it.”  She pulled a sheet out of the folder in front of her.  “Yet, a mere half hour’s searching turned it up.  What was the problem?”  She stared at Dillard for the answer.

The short First Sergeant finally looked at Carrie.  “Ma’am, I…I…we couldn’t find it.”

Carrie felt her face grow hot.  “We!  Who the hell else is there to blame besides yourself?”  She hated doing this to Brogan and Dillard, but it had to be done.  Neither of them would change without a kick in the ass. 

Brogan and Dillard had their eyes lowered, looking at the table.  Collins knew this did not apply to him, but he stared at her with wide eyes.  Musser was trying to suppress a grin, and finally had to cover his mouth with the palm of his hand.  He had no use for Brogan and Dillard, and would have sent them packing days ago.  Carrie knew that she could not get rid of them because the State Police and CID would go into hysterics at being cut out of the investigation.  Hmmm…they don’t know that.  It might be a nice threat.

Carrie sighed out lowed for effect, folding her hands on the table in front of her.  She stared at the fist they made and spoke again in a low voice.  “Brogan, Dillard, I know what you are doing.  You are screwing around until I am removed from this investigation.  Each of you thinks that your agency will take over when I am gone.  Well, I’ve got news for you: it won’t work.  I’m here to stay.  If someone is going to take the fall for this investigation not going anywhere, I’ll make sure that it’s you two.  Dillard, how do you think CID would react to being cut out of the task force because you screwed up?” 

The redhead’s eyes grew wide as she imagined the wrath of her superiors.  Carrie looked at Officer Brogan and saw that he was thinking the same thing; sweat had broken out on his brow.

“Now, I’m going to give you one more chance.  First Sergeant Dillard, you will find out exactly who has purchased a Zodiac boat in this area, and you will find out within two days.  That is in addition to your other assignment concerning the boots and the Spyderco.  Clear?”  She nodded, her eyes downcast again.

“Officer Brogan, you will check all repair shops that deal with outboard engines or inflatable rafts.  Send someone to each one, and find out if our man has brought in the boat or the engine to have bullet holes repaired.  I fired over a hundred rounds at him, and I seriously doubt that none of them hit the raft.  You have two days as well.  Don’t forget that you and your men are also investigating the abduction of the victim.  Got it?”  He inclined his head slightly, ashamed at being yelled at by a female superior.

“Get out of my sight, both of you.”  They hopped to their feet, gathered their things, and almost sprinted for the door.  She glanced at Brogan as he slinked away and the image of a dog with his tail between his legs came to her mind.

Carrie looked at the other two who were still sitting at the table.  She pointed her index finger at each of them.  “Don’t say a word.  I know that I was a bit harsh on them.”  Several seconds later, she burst into laughter, not able to contain it any longer.  Musser and Collins soon joined her.

“Did you see the look on Dillard’s face?” chuckled Musser. 

“It was classic,” said Collins.  Carrie laughed even harder, remembering the reaction of the poor First Sergeant when she threatened to send Dillard back to CID.

After a few minutes when their laughter had died down, Carrie looked at Musser.  “What are your plans for today?”  She trusted him to set his own schedule; he had good instincts for what clues to pursue.

“I’m going to see some area hospitals.  You probably hit the UNSUB when you were shooting at him, and he might have gone to the emergency room.  An M-16 leaves a pretty bad hole in you when it comes out, and it’s not really something that you can patch up at home.  Because of the rifling in an M-16, the bullet is spinning so fast that it acts like a buzz-saw when it hits flesh.  Even a trained doctor might go to the emergency room for a wound caused by an M-16.”

“Don’t hospitals have to call the police when someone is brought in with a bullet wound?”

“Usually.  But even if they did call the police, we might not have heard.  They would have called the local cops, rather than JAG or the MPs.  We might not have gotten the message.”

“Good idea.  Be careful, though.  We’ve already seen that this guy won’t hesitate before trying to kill us.  If you get any promising leads, call for backup, and take along some decent weapons.  Clear?”

“As a bell.”  Remembering something, he reached into a canvas bag he had brought to the meeting and withdrew a folded newspaper.  Tossing it to Carrie, he said, “Have you seen this morning’s Post?  It finally hit the press.”

“No,” she replied as she unfolded it to the front Collins.  A banner headline covered the top, screaming “ARMY CORNERS THE SURGEON.”  In smaller print below, it said “Serial Killer Trapped, Fires on Soldiers, Escapes Into Fog Under Hail of Bullets.”  The story covered three-quarters of the front page and recounted the incident two days before.  A companion story described the victims; someone had done their homework and had uncovered the names of all five.  Thumbnail pictures of the women stared out accusingly at Carrie from the page.

Shivering, she tossed the paper over to Collins, who began to read.  Carrie looked at Musser and said, “The ‘Surgeon’, huh?  I suppose they couldn’t really call him the ‘UNSUB’ and still sell papers.”

“It does have a catchy ring to it,” he said in return.  “You know, they talk about what you did pretty favorably in there.  You should read it.”

She shook her head.  “Maybe later.  I hate the press.  Just a bunch of bloodthirsty sharks.”

Musser smiled.  “The same has been said about lawyers.”  He ducked his head to dodge the file that Carrie tossed at him.

Pulling his head up, he said, “How ‘bout you?  What are you doing today?”

“There’s no fog today on the river, so I’m going to go down and take a look, maybe see if I notice anything new.”  She turned and looked at Collins.  “Ever been up in a helicopter, doctor?”

***

The Huey banked sharply as it flew down to the river.  Carrie was strapped into the same seat as before, with Collins beside her.  They were in a different chopper this time; the one she had used before was still being repaired.  She had requested the same pilots, hoping they might be helpful.

The day was crisp and clear, and sunlight sparked off small waves that ran across the river.  It was almost noon and the sun was directly overhead, allowing them to see the bottom of the river in most places. 

They were flying the same path as before, coming downriver towards Stony Point Park.  Carrie held a map of the area in one hand; it was folded into a square and slipped into a clear envelope.  Her rifle was slung over her back, making it uncomfortable to lean against the bulkhead.  She wore BDUs this time, rather than the dress uniform that she had been stuck with for the last chopper ride.

Collins was thrilled with the helicopter, never having been up in one before.  He was rubbernecking, trying to see everything at once.  Carrie was able to enjoy the ride as well, not having to worry about being shot. 

Collins pointed out towards the shore with his arm.  “Is that the park?” he said over the intercom.  He shouted slightly, thinking that it was necessary for him to be heard.

“Yep.  Right there is about where the UNSUB was watching the show.”  She pointed her finger down to a spot about two hundred yards from the shore.  A sandbar stuck out from the land, but was about a foot underwater.  The raft had been able to float above it because it needed much less depth than a normal boat.  She spoke to the pilot over the intercom, asking him to go over to the spot and hover.  Within a few seconds, they were stationary about a hundred feet above. 

Carrie leaned over and peered down at the water.  Even though the wind off the rotors whipped the river into waves, Carrie could still see the bottom under the shallow water.  Collins tapped her on the shoulder and pointed downward.  “What’s that?” he asked.

She followed his finger to a small, dark shape.  “I don’t know.  Maybe a rock.”

“It’s a sand bar.  There are no other rocks around.  It’s a pretty big coincidence that the one rock happens to be in the same place where the UNSUB was watching the service.”

Carrie thought for a second before she agreed.  “You’re right.  We’d better check it out.”  She addressed the pilot.  “Set us down by the shore.” 

“Roger.”  They banked slowly and settled downward, flaring before they touched down on the bare grass a few yards from the river.  The pilot cut the engine and the rotors began to slow.

Carrie hit the lever that released her seat belt and hopped out of the chopper.  She turned and spoke to Collins.  “I’m going to wade out there.  Hold onto these for me, will you.”  She undid the buckle on her equipment belt and dropped it onto the floor of the Huey.  She unslung her rifle and set it down as well.  Stripping off her boots, socks, and BDU top, she stood in pants and brown undershirt.  She undid the ties at the bottom cuffs of her pants and rolled them up above her knees.  Giving Collins a mock salute, she walked gingerly towards the river.

The first step into the cool water gave her a slight shock, but she quickly adjusted to the temperature.  It was comfortable, and the shallow depth kept her pants from getting wet.  The bottom of the river was sandy, and she felt the grains push up between her toes with every step.  She slowly waded outward, trying to keep from splashing water on her clothes.

A few minutes later, she reached where she remembered the dark object was located.  She looked around her, but saw nothing but sand in the circle around her.  She turned around and looked back towards the shore.  Collins was looking at her and motioned for her to walk upstream.  She did so, pulling her feet against the slight current.  Looking back, she saw Collins push his hand out, indicating that she should go farther away from shore.  Several yards later, Carrie was scanning the bottom and saw a dark object a few feet away.  Hastening over, she bent down and reached her hand underwater.  She retrieved a pair of binoculars.  Turning them over in her hands, she looked at them.

They were a pair of Leitz binoculars, made in Germany.  She recognized them as being extremely expensive, probably over $800 new.  There was a serial number engraved below the right eyepiece, but it had been almost completely obliterated.  Carrie turned the binoculars over in her hands, catching a reflection off the side of the binoculars.  She was finally able to make out the number that the killer had nearly succeeded in obliterating, repeated it several times in her mind to memorize it.  She looked at them again, realizing that the water and sand would have erased any fingerprints.  Damn, she thought.  No leads there.  Maybe the serial number will hang this guy

Thinking back, she recalled the mental picture of the UNSUB when the helicopter had burst from the fog.  He had been lying in the front of the raft, watching the memorial service through binoculars.  When she had appeared, he had leapt to his feet and run for the outboard engine.  When he stood, he must have dropped the binoculars over the side by accident.  She had just found them.

Carrie began to walk towards shore, but stopped.  Thinking for a long minute with the binoculars held dripping in front of her, she made up her mind.  She turned around and returned to where she had found them, dropping the binoculars into the water again. 

While wading to the bank she scanned the shoreline, mentally making plans.  When Carrie stepped onto dry land, Collins was there to meet her.  “What was it?” he said in an excited voice.

“A pair of binoculars that the killer dropped.”

He just looked at her.  “Then why didn’t you bring them back?” he finally said.

“Bait.”  A long moment passed before comprehension dawned on his face.

“You’re going to use them as bait for the killer.  He knows that he dropped them, and will be afraid that we will find them and trace him from them.  Because he won’t want us to find them, he’ll have to come back and get them.  You’ll have men waiting for him, right?”

“The killer always returns to the scene of the crime, doesn’t he?” she said with a grin as she dried her feet off with a handkerchief.

When she was dressed, she wrote down the serial number from her memory.  She called Musser on the cellular phone.  “I need you to get two men down to Stony Point Park immediately.  Send them with radios and M-16s.”

“Sure.  Why the ‘16s?”

“We found a pair of binoculars that the Surgeon dropped.”  She had initially resisted calling him by the press’ name, but it was much easier to use than ‘UNSUB.’  “They’re in the river where he had parked his raft to watch the service.  We think that the Surgeon will be back to get them, so we should be here to greet him when he arrives.  He probably won’t show during the day, but it can’t hurt to be safe.”

“Sounds great.  I’ll tell my men to hide out of sight and call for backup if the Surgeon arrives.  Should I send more than two?”

“No, any more will probably tip him off.  Two’s enough.”  Carrie broke off the call and climbed back into the chopper, which the pilot had just started.  She sat down next to Collins again, who spoke through the intercom when she donned her headphones.

“What’s the word?”

“Musser is sending a couple of men down here to wait.  They’ll let us know if anything looks suspicious.”

“What now?”

“Now we’re going to finish taking a look at the river from above.”  She gave the order to the pilot to take off, and the Huey lifted off the ground immediately.  They slowly rotated around and began to climb as they flew out over the water.  Carrie looked down at the dark speck in the water as they flew over it, hoping the trap would work.

As they slowly moved down the river, both Carrie and Collins scanned the water for any additional clues.  The pilot came over the intercom after a few minutes.  “It was about here that we lost him in the fog.”

“Roger.  Head for the far shore.”  The water got gradually deeper as they headed over the channel and towards the opposite bank.  While they could still see the bottom, they would not be able to make out if anything was on it.  Carrie cursed, hoping that they were not missing anything.

Nearing the west bank of the James, the river again became shallow.  The pilot crossed over the shore so that they were above land.  That way, Carrie and Collins could see both the shore and the river from their side-facing seats.  Both of them scanned the ground as they cruised over the twisted trees and the swamp.  There were no roads or buildings; the surface was too swampy. 

After they had gone about a quarter of a mile down from where the Surgeon had disappeared, Carrie spotted something submerged offshore.  She directed the pilot over towards it, and her heart begin to pound in her chest.  When they slowed to a hover above it, Collins spoke.

“It’s the raft, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.  I must have hit it several times, but it leaked slowly enough to get here before it sank.  Or else the Surgeon scuttled it himself.”  She looked down at the dark shape in the water.  It was about ten feet long and was clearly the raft she had chased several days before.  It lay in about eight feet of water, and the engine could still be seen protruding from the back of the boat.  Thank God for clear water, she thought.  Otherwise, we would never have found it.

“Should we leave it like the binoculars,” Collins asked.

Carrie thought for a second.  “No, we’ll get it.  It’ll look too suspicious if we leave this down there as well, since it would be pretty hard not to find the raft.  As far as he knows, we could conceivably have missed the binoculars.  The Surgeon wouldn’t be able to get it himself, anyway.  Besides, there are probably serial numbers on the engine that we can trace.  We’ll get a boat once we get back to shore.”

Carrie noted the location of the raft on the chart she held and ordered the pilot to do a quick sweep down the river bank, but they did not find anything else.  Once back at the airfield, she and Collins hopped into her Humvee and headed for the harbor to commandeer a boat.

***

Half an hour later, they were chugging out into the main channel aboard a Mike Boat.  The boat was about thirty feet long, and its primary purpose was to take troops or vehicles to the beach from larger boats offshore.  The bow of the landing boat was flat and hinged, and could be lowered onto the water or the beach to allow troops to disembark.

Carrie had been forced to scream, yell, threaten, and finally plead with the captain to get him to agree to take them out without a written authorization.  She knew that it would take days to get written orders, even during a murder investigation.  The captain had used a tactic common to many bureaucrats: stall for a written order and it may never come, allowing one to avoid the task altogether.

Two soldiers were suiting up into diving gear.  They were NCOs, on base for the advanced diving school.  She had stolen them from their class on the way to the harbor, and they were glad for the change of pace.

She had given the captain the chart with the location of the sunken raft, and he was steaming towards it as fast as the boat would go.  Collins was leaning on the rail beside her, both of them gazing at the far bank in silence.  The steel throbbed under Carrie’s feet.  Seagulls dived and screamed at the boat.

Collins finally spoke.  “We’re close.  I can feel it.  You just missed the UNSUB the other day, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“I only hope that it’s in time to save the next girl’s life.”  Collins nodded in agreement.  “Do you think he will slow down?  He must have been scared from the chase the other day.”

“Not this one.  He’s very confident in his abilities, almost cocky.  He won’t think that we’re capable of catching him.  I’ll bet that he even thinks that we’re stupid and incompetent. 

“To answer your question: no.  I don’t think he will slow down.  The need that he feels will not have been satiated, and as time goes on he will become almost powerless to resist.  He has probably already operated on more women, but is waiting for them to heal before he kills them.  We must find him before he murders again.”

Carrie shook her head in disgust.  “What makes a person become like him?  Is he born that way?”

Collins chuckled.  “You’ve hit on one of the biggest arguments in psychology.  Is a criminal made or born?  We don’t know for sure, but I suspect that they are made.”

She was confused.  “Made?  How does one ‘make’ a murderer?”

“Easy.  Take one male child, add an abusive parent and stir.”  He grinned at his joke, but turned somber.  “In reality, it can be many things.  I’ve interviewed a lot of serial killers, and there are some things they almost all have in common.  A domineering and abusive parent usually warps the mind of a young child.  In this case, I’d say it was the mother, because of the pronounced anger towards women.  The UNSUB may be transferring his rage towards his mother onto innocent victims.

“The early childhood experiences drastically shape the way an adult mind develops.  At the same time, the young man would be learning about sexuality.  Sometimes, he may begin to associate violence with sexual pleasure.  That carries over to his adult life, and can lead to this type of crime.

“There’s something very interesting.  If you investigate a serial killer’s childhood, you will almost always discover three things: bed wetting, fire starting, and cruelty towards animals.  It’s almost like they are trying out their wings, testing their skills on animals before moving on to humans.”

He was interrupted by a blast on the horn.  Carrie looked aft towards the wheelhouse, where the captain signaled her that they were above the raft.  She craned her neck and finally spotted it off the port side.  The boat slowly turned until the bow was facing the raft and the captain dropped two anchors, which would keep them from swinging around in the current.

The bow ramp lowered to the water with a splash, and the divers shuffled forward in their fins.  They had orders to bring the raft and the engine on board the boat if possible, and one carried a rope that led to the winch.  The winch would be used to raise the waterlogged craft to the surface.  Once at the edge of the ramp, which floated on the surface of the river, the divers turned around and dropped into the water.

Carrie watched the two trails of bubbles lead slowly away from the boat, coming to a stop a few yards from the bow of the boat.  She said a silent prayer and waited for them to haul the raft onboard.

Chapter 8

 

The divers rose to the surface and were helped aboard by a crewman.  Even before they removed their masks, they had signaled for the captain to start the winch.  The grinding and whining of the cable echoed across the water as the winch brought in the raft.  Several soldiers from the crew stood on the bow of the ship to help bring the raft aboard.  They pulled the front of the raft’s hard bottom onto the deck, and the winch pulled it the rest of the way onboard.  Carrie and Collins watched from their station on the port rail.

The raft surfaced like some wet, black beast, trailing muddy water from its haunches.  As the soldiers maneuvered it onto the deck, Carrie and Collins headed for the ladder down to the well of the ship.  The captain had already turned the ship around and was heading back to port.

Carrie stared at the raft.  It was a ten foot long Zodiac, with the inflatable sides empty.  The engine still hung off the back, and she walked over the wet deck to kneel over it.  It was a large Evinrude outboard; she saw at least three bullet holes in the housing.  With the palm of her hand, she began wiping the mud and silt off the outside, looking for a serial number.  Finally, she uncovered an aluminum plate that was riveted to the casing of the engine.  Engraved onto the surface were the model and the serial number of the engine. 

She mentally patted herself on the back as she wrote the numbers down on the back of her hand.  Pulling out her phone, she dialed the number of Musser’s cellular phone.

“Musser.”

“It’s Grace.  I found the boat,” she said without preamble.

“You what?  That’s great!  Where are you?”

“The far bank of the James, about 300 yards down from where I lost the Surgeon in the fog.  We found the raft sunk offshore in 8 feet of water.”

He began to apologize when he realized that his men had been there and missed the raft.  She cut him off.  “Don’t worry about it.  It couldn’t be seen from the shore.”

“Serial number?”

“Got it.  You ready?”

When he said so, she read him the model and serial number of the outboard engine.  “I need you to get on the horn to Brogan,” she said.  “Tell him to forget about the mechanics.  Give him that information and tell him to send officers to check it out.  We need a name and an address.”

“I may do a little checking myself, just to make sure it gets done right.”

“Fine.  Where are you now?”

“Oh…that’s right. I may have something.  I talked to the state police and most of the local departments, but none of them had any reports from hospitals that matched what we were looking for.  But…one of the doctors that I talked to gave me the name of a clinic a few miles off post that isn’t entirely legit.  Seems they make their money off illegal aliens, gunshot wounds, and the like.

“So, I come down here, flash my badge, and get stonewalled.  After I banged a few heads together, so to speak, one of the nurses opened up.  Turns out they had a guy in here a few nights ago with a bullet wound to the calf.  Just grazed the flesh, but bled like hell.  He needed a transfusion.  They patched him up, gave him a few stitches, and sent him packing.  He paid cash.

“This place doesn’t keep any records, but the nurse remembers that he was a white male, right age group.  Get this: she said he had some black shit around his eyes, like paint.”

“Bingo.  That’s him!  His eyes were painted black behind the mask.  What else does she know?”

“Not much, except that he’s got sandy brown hair, cut in a high ‘n tight.  She said that he was kind of strange.  Kept lookin’ at her funny.”

“Brown hair, high and tight, huh?  That should help.  Did you try sitting her down with an artist?”

“Zilch.  Poor girl had been on shift for 30-some hours straight when our guy came in.  We’re lucky that she remembered as much as she did.”

“Good work, Dan.  Let me know if you get anything else.  Don’t forget to call Brogan about the engine.”

“Got it.”

***

The Surgeon lay prone in the swamp beyond the park, staring outward onto the river.  It was three in the morning, and he had been lying in the same spot since midnight.  An hour before, a snake had slithered across his leg, but he had not moved.  Lying in the same position for hours was a torture to which he was accustomed.  He passed the time thinking about the women he had killed in the past, and those he would kill in the future.  His fantasies kept his mind busy, but they had an unpleasant side effect.  Thinking about what he had done to the last girl gave him an erection, which was jammed uncomfortably into the crotch of his pants and into the muck of the swamp.  There was nothing to do about it, so he endured the discomfort, savoring the pain.

His muscles went to sleep every few minutes, but he slowly and silently tensed and released them, over and over.  The exercise kept the blood flowing and made him ready to spring to his feet instantly if it was needed.

Those damn binoculars.  If that whore hadn’t tried to play Rambo he never would have dropped them.  Even though he had not bought them new, they were a loose end, which he just could not have out there.

He had swum down the river to a place slightly above the park and come through the swamp on his belly.  The putrid muck was everywhere on him, even in his mouth, leaving a foul taste.  Soon enough, he would be back in the river for the return journey and would be able to wash the filth away.

The Surgeon raised his eyes to the sky without moving his head.  The moon had dipped below the horizon, and only the stars remained to shed light on the park.  He was about to stand up when a sound met his ears.  He cocked his head slightly to listen, and the sound of metal on plastic came again.  It was a familiar noise; he recognized it as a buckle of a sling on an M-16 tapping on the plastic stock.  That could only mean one thing: there were guards surrounding the park.

Another hour’s worth of listening revealed that there were three of them, and he could identify exactly where they were.  All were hiding in the high grass along the edge of the swamp, spread out in a line over twenty or thirty yards.  He could tell that they were relatively unskilled by the amount of noise they made and the positions that they had chosen.

Had they found the binoculars?  He would check the river anyway.  The Surgeon decided that he would use this opportunity to teach the whore a lesson.  The thought of pending violence brought his erection back.  He grinned silently in the starlight and began the slow trip towards the soldiers.

***

Carrie was just slipping on her running clothes when her cellular phone rang.  She glanced over at the clock in surprise.  It was 5:00 A.M.  The only reason they’d call this early is if the trap worked.  We’ve got him.  She grabbed the phone and answered it with a smile.  “Tell me the good news.”

There was silence for a moment on the other end before she heard Musser’s voice speak in a whisper.  “Carrie, you’d better get down here.  I’m at the park.”

Her smile faded quickly.  “What’s wrong?  You didn’t kill the Surgeon, did you?”  She hoped that they had not killed him; she wanted him alive, in front of a judge and jury.

“Just get down here now.  I’ll tell you then.”  He hung up before she could protest.

Damn, she cursed under her breath.  Still in her running clothes, she grabbed her set of web gear with the SIG 226 attached and headed for the door.  As an afterthought, she picked up her M-16.

She drove the Humvee as fast as it would go, screeching and sliding around corners.  Carrie had never heard Musser use that tone of voice before, and she knew that the situation was urgent.  Approaching the turnoff for the park, she braked and slowly rounded the corner.  She killed her headlights and drove by the faint light of the stars and the Milky Way.  A dark shape stood in the road ahead, and she brought the Humvee to a halt.

Drawing her pistol, she cocked the hammer back and pointed it at the side window as the shape approached.  Coming to a stop by her window, she held her breath.  Is it him?  Is that what was so urgent, that the Surgeon was at the park?  Carrie felt the adrenaline speed her heart up as the shape of the man reached for his pocket.  She aimed her SIG at the head of the man, ready to fire if the hand came up with a gun.

Instead, an MP badge was pressed against the window of the Humvee.  Carrie let out her breath in a whoosh and hit the decock lever of the SIG, reholstering it by her side.  She opened the door quietly and stepped out, because she recognized Musser.  He bent down to her ear and spoke in a whisper.

“The Surgeon was here.  He killed two of my men, and may still be around.”

Her eyes widened.  Two men dead?  Because of her order?  She blinked her eyes several times and leaned to his ear.  “Did you call for backup?”

“On its way, ETA five minutes.  Until then we need to lay low.  Get in the Humvee…it’ll give you some protection.  I’ll be back in a second.”

“But-”

“Just trust me.”  He disappeared into the gloom.  Carrie climbed back into the Humvee and carefully shut the door, cursing the fact that they had no locks.  A long moment later, Musser reappeared by the passenger door with another soldier.  He put the other man into the rear, but he climbed in the front.  Carrie looked back and saw the soldier sitting there with a blank look on his face.

She started to say something, but Musser interrupted her.  She looked down and saw that he had his M9 out with the hammer cocked.  What the hell has got him so spooked?  She drew her SIG and cocked it, just to be safe.  Looking out the window, she saw that dawn was just beginning to lighten the park.

Several minutes passed in silence, but the quiet was broken by the thunder of helicopter blades.  She craned her neck around, but could not make anything out in the fog.  The sound grew louder, and Carrie finally made out the shapes of two Blackhawk troop carriers coming off the river.  The choppers settled down into the park and she saw several squads of fully armed soldiers pour out of the doors.  They fanned out into a perimeter, and soon encased the Humvee within the expanding circle.  She saw pairs of soldiers began to sweep through the park and into the swamp, where she lost sight of them.

Ten minutes later, a young Lieutenant appeared out of the gloom and knocked on her window.  He motioned for her and Musser to get out of the vehicle.  Both of them hopped out, but she grabbed her M-16.  The Private that Musser had placed in the back seat still sat there, staring blankly into the distance.

The Lieutenant spoke.  “The perimeter’s secure, ma’am.  We hold the park, as well as twenty yards into the swamp on the east and the south.”  Carrie looked at him, noticing that the branch designation on his lapel identified him as an infantry officer.  “The bodies are over there.”  He pointed into the swamp to the east.

“We need to hold the perimeter until about an hour after sunrise,” Musser said.

“That’s fine.  I’ll be at the CP, which is over there.”  He indicated a large tree to the south.  He strode away, oblivious to the danger that had caused a seasoned soldier to call in a platoon of airborne infantry.  Carrie wondered if the Lieutenant was courageous or just stupid.

Musser led her over to a large boulder that protruded from the earth.  They both sat down with their backs against it, using it as a shield.  Carrie was dying from impatience.  “All right.  Tell me what happened.”

She was answered with silence for a long moment, but Musser finally whispered, “The Surgeon was here, and may still be here.  He killed two of my soldiers.”

“Who’s the soldier that’s in the back of the Hummer?”

“The last of the team.  You told me to send over two men, but I sent over three just to be safe.  They were spread out in a line over there in the grass.”  He pointed towards the swamp on the east.  “They were watching for the UNSUB, ready to catch him if he showed up.  I’d sent them over with M-16s, Berettas, and one of them had an M-60.”

Carrie’s eyes widened.  Musser must have been serious to give them an M-60, a heavy, belt-fed machine gun.

“I got a call early this morning from the dispatcher at the station.  She said that the team out here hadn’t checked in with her for two hours.  I figured that they had fallen asleep, but I got down here as quickly as I could.  When I showed up, I found…”  He trailed off, remembering what he had seen. 

Carrie let him think for a minute before she spoke.  “What did you find?”

“The three of them had been lying in a line in the grass, about 10 yards apart from each other.  The Surgeon had managed to sneak in and slit the throats of the men on either side without the third man hearing anything.  The other one figured that his buddies had fallen asleep.  When he crawled over to wake them up, he realized that he was lying in between two dead bodies.

“I found him sitting next to one of the dead men, staring into the distance.  He hasn’t said a word since I got here—completely catatonic.  I called you to come down here at that point, thinking that the area was safe.  Right before you arrived, I was poking around and noticed that the M-60 is missing. 

“So right now, there’s a man who has already killed at least five women and two soldiers sitting out there with a heavy machine gun.  He could by watching us right now, waiting for a good target.  I called in the troops to secure the area, but you got here first.  Sorry about that.  I should have let you know not to come here.”

“Don’t worry about it.  It looks like the perimeter is secure.  Shall we wait until it gets light?”

“That’s what I was thinking.  With the M-60, the Surgeon could sit 500 yards outside of the perimeter and hit us easily.  We need to wait until we can see before we can be sure he’s gone.”

“Why would he have left one man alive?”

“It’s not because he couldn’t kill him.  He managed to sneak up and kill the other two men in a row without the others hearing anything.  There’s a great deal of skill behind this.  I think the Surgeon has had special forces training.  Rangers, SEALs, Marine Recon, something along those lines.  Nobody else could have done this.” 

He was silent for a moment.  “You know, I’ve heard of this before.  During Vietnam, the NVA special forces would sneak inside our lines while the soldiers were sleeping.  Going into the barracks, the NVA slit the throats of every other soldier while they lay in their bunks.  When morning came, the survivors woke up to find dead men on either side of them.  Psychological warfare.  Maybe the killer was in Vietnam and remembered the tactic.”

Musser thought for several seconds.  “This was a statement.  He wanted to send a message to us that we weren’t smart enough to catch him.  I didn’t tell you, but there were words carved into one of the soldiers.”

“Words?  What did they say?”

“‘Do you think I’m stupid?’”

Carrie put her head in her hands.  Great idea, set a trap.  Your brilliant plan managed to get two young men killed.  Their blood is on your hands.  The hindsight was coming in full force.  She should have sent more soldiers.  She should have sent better trained men.  She should have—cut it out!  This is no time to be blaming yourself for the acts of a madman.  Make sure they didn’t die in vain; the Surgeon may have left clues that lead to him.

She raised her head and looked at Musser.  “Have you called the ME yet?”

“No, I was more concerned with our safety.  Do you want to do the honors?”

Carrie nodded and pulled out her phone and Dr. Washington’s card from a pouch on her belt.  She dialed his home number.  He had clearly been asleep when he answered.

“Hello?”

“This is Carrie Grace, doctor.  I’m sorry to wake you, but we’ve got two more bodies on our hands.”

“Dear God,” the doctor muttered under his breath.  “Two?  He’s never done that before.”

“This wasn’t the usual.  We found a pair of binoculars that he dropped and set a trap for him.  He killed two of the three men that were waiting for him.  The third is catatonic.”

“Where are you?”

“Stony Point Park, where Flanders’ memorial service was held.”  Doctor Washington had been there.

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

No,” Carrie said, trying not to raise her voice.  “The killer may still be here.  There is a platoon of infantry here now, but the Surgeon stole an M-60.  We have to wait until after the sun rises before we know that it’s safe.  Wait until 9:00 before you come.”

“I suppose that I can do that.  See you then.”

She ended the call and put the phone back in her pocket.  Her head rested against the cold rock behind her as she waited for the sun to rise.

***

The infantry platoon leader finally declared the park safe, and Carrie told him that they could leave.  The soldiers climbed back into the Blackhawks, which rose into the morning air.  The wash off the rotors blew wisps of fog in small whirlwinds.  Carrie watched the three choppers disappear into the east, where she lost them in the rising sun.

She walked alongside Musser to the tall grass where the dead soldiers lay.  They were just inside the overgrown area, close enough so they could have seen out into the park.  Carrie walked into the grass to look at them; the cold dew soon chilled her bare legs. 

The first soldier lay on his stomach, as if he were asleep.  She would not have known that he was dead had it not been for the small rivulet of blood that seeped from beneath his head.

“His throat’s been slit,” Musser said, standing beside her.  “The Surgeon must have crept up slowly from behind, put his hand over the man’s mouth, then used his knife before he could struggle.”

He led Carrie over to the other body, which lay about twenty yards to the north.  Carrie stared down at it, saying nothing.  The corpse lay on its back, face staring up at her.  The young man had a surprised expression on his face, but his eyes were lifeless.  His Kevlar helmet had been removed, and words had been carved into his forehead with a knife.  They had not bled because the soldier’s heart had already stopped, and they curved from one temple to the other.  The words were in block letters formed by deep, slashing lines, and said “DO YOU THINK I’M STUPID?”

Musser spoke again.  “He must have slit this one’s throat like the first, then rolled him over quietly.  He would have had to wait several minutes for the man to die before carving the words, since he didn’t want him to struggle and alert the others.”  He pointed to a spot in the grass by the body.  The blades had been pressed down and crushed.  “I found the third soldier sitting there.  He wasn’t moving, and couldn’t talk.  He just sat there staring at the body.”

“I can’t imagine the shock of realizing that your two buddies are dead because you didn’t hear the killer coming,” Carrie said in a low voice.  “I guess we should turn him over to the psych ward at the hospital.  They’ll know what to do with him.  We’ll need to interview him if he ever wakes up.”

Carrie shook her head in disgust.  “It’s my fault.  I should have told you to send better men, and more of them.”

“Bullshit.  He would have killed them too.  This was not your fault.  Neither of us realized how skilled this guy is, or how ruthless he can be.”

“I guess you’re right.  I still feel that I’m responsible for this.”

“Quit kicking yourself.  This is the military, and soldiers get killed sometimes.  I’m not saying that it’s right, but it happens.  All officers have to deal with it at sometime in their career.  You just met it now, rather than in combat.  If you want to be a leader of men, you have to deal with the consequences.  I’m not saying that you should get used to it, just don’t let it keep you from doing your duty.”

She didn’t say anything, lost in thought.  I didn’t join the Army to lead men in combat.  I joined to be an attorney. 

Musser interrupted her thoughts and said, “What shall we do?”

“We need to wait here with the bodies until the ME gets here.  There’s not much use for us to go to the autopsies, since we pretty much know how they died.”  She thought of something, and turned to look out at the river.  “Do you think he took the binoculars?”

“Maybe.  It’ll be easy to find out.  I’ll send someone out to check.”  He signaled a group of MPs that was standing around a Humvee gossiping.  One of them trotted over and was given the order to see if the binoculars were gone.  Carrie pointed to where she had found them, and he set off into the water.

Twenty minutes later, he waded ashore with his hands empty.  Musser looked at Carrie and said, “Pretty good.  The Surgeon managed to kill two men that were lying 10 yards from an armed soldier without him noticing, then made it to the river.  He found a small pair of binoculars that were underwater, in the dark, still without alerting the soldier that was still alive.  We should hire him to teach our special forces.”

Carrie nodded.  “Except that he’s got that annoying little habit of torturing and killing women.”

Doctor Washington arrived promptly at 9:00 and was shown to the bodies.  Carrie watched him work in silence.  When the bodies were finally placed in the ME’s station wagon, Dr. Washington pulled Carrie to the side to talk.

“I wish we’d stop meeting under such grisly circumstances, Miss Grace.”

She smiled without humor.  “I agree.  What’d you find?”

“Fairly standard stuff, actually.  Both throats were slit with a serrated knife, probably the same Spyderco that was used on Flanders.  He carved the words after the victim was dead.  I estimate the times of death to be sometime between four and five in the morning.  Neither victim struggled or suffered.  This was more a crime of necessity or convenience than pleasure.  He wanted to get the job done and to send you a message.”

“Thank you for coming out here, doctor,” Carrie said, dejected that nothing had been found that would lead them to the Surgeon.

“I’ll send you the autopsy results when they are finished, but don’t expect any surprises.”  He shook her hand and walked towards his station wagon.

Carrie looked around the park, finally finding Musser sitting in his Humvee.  She walked over and pulled open the passenger door, sitting down inside.  His arms were folded across his chest, and he was staring out at the swamp.  “Dan, are you okay?” she asked.

He nodded his head slowly and said, “You remember what I just told you, about this being part of the job?”

“Yeah.”

“It was bullshit.  Soldiers may have to die in combat sometimes, but never like this.  I was in the Gulf, and saw a lot of death.  This is different.  These poor boys were on U.S. soil in peacetime.  They didn’t even have a chance to fight back.  That cowardly fuck just crawled in and killed them as an object lesson.”  He paused.  “I don’t even know what I’m saying.  But I do know that this bothers me.”

Carrie reached out and put her hand on his shoulder, squeezing.  She felt the warmth of his skin and the hardness of the muscles.  “We’ll get this guy, Dan.  Don’t worry.”

***

That afternoon, Carrie was sitting in her office, trying to think about the case.  She looked around at the sparse furnishings, cursing her puny salary.  A ficus tree strained for the light of the lone window, metal government furniture had been strategically camouflaged with fabric and cushions, and an oil painting of moss-covered oak trees hung behind the desk. 

As she stared at the ficus tree, a knock on the door startled her.  She looked up in time to see Colonel Zander walk in the door.  Carrie had started to rise to attention when he waved her back.  The Colonel tossed a newspaper on her desk and took a seat with a grunt.

Carrie picked up the paper and read the banner headline: “SURGEON SLICES TWO, TAUNTS ARMY.”  She lowered it and sighed.

“Not really a compliment, sir.”

“I’ll say.  We used to look like God’s gift to law enforcement.  Now we’re more on par with the Three Stooges.”

“I’m doing my best, sir.”

He rose and looked down at her, spinning his hat on one finger.  “Let’s hope it’s good enough.  Remember, shit rolls downhill.  The Army will find a scapegoat.”

***

The meeting of the Task Force that night turned out to be quite productive.  Several leads came together like clockwork.  The four members of the team sat around the table in the law library.  Dr. Collins was also there, eavesdropping. 

Brogan and Dillard had both put real effort into the investigation after being threatened.  Even though he looked like a bona fide redneck, Officer Brogan was a first class investigator.  He had mobilized his men and made amazing progress in just a few days.  Carrie gave him the floor and he began his report.

“As you know, we’ve been tracking the last hours of Julie Flanders.  We managed to pinpoint her disappearance as between 9:30 and 10:00 P.M. on a Friday night.  Her roommate said that Julie had gone down to the laundry room in the barracks to do a load of dirty clothes.”  Brogan glanced down at his notebook.  “She left her room at 9:30, and another soldier reported that he went to the laundry room with some clothes at 10:00.  There was nobody there at that time, but Flanders’ clothes had been started in a washer.  We found them still there when we checked yesterday.  The laundry room has drink and snack machines.”

“What it’s lookin’ like is that the Surgeon met her there and abducted her.  Maybe he offered her a drink or something with the drug in it, then waited until she was unconscious.  The roommate got worried, but when she went outside she saw that Flanders’ car was gone.  She just assumed that the victim had gone off-post.  The perp must have loaded the victim into her car, then driven away.  As you know, the car was found at the abandoned house with the body, but it had been wiped clean.  We’re still waiting on the analysis of fibers from the interior of the car.”

Carrie interrupted Brogan.  “Any latent prints in the laundry room?”

He shook his sweaty head.  “None that don’t belong to the soldiers in the barracks.  Of course, it was several weeks ago that she had been taken from there, so the heavy use of the area probably obscured any prints that the perp left.”  He looked at her to see if she had any more questions before he continued.

“The AWOL incident several months ago occurred at the Pizza Hut right outside the front gate.  Flanders had gone there alone to get dinner, and several members of the staff remember seeing her there in the past.  She was friendly with some of the waitresses, and they knew her fairly well.  Nobody saw anything suspicious, but one of the hostesses does remember seeing something.

“She said that she looked over at Flanders’ table and saw a man standing there talking to Julie.  The man had his back to the witness, but she reports that he had light brown hair, cut into a military-style haircut.  He was older, over forty.”

Musser spoke.  “That matches the report from the nurse that worked on the Surgeon’s bullet wound.  She said that he had sandy brown hair.”

Collins nodded his head.  “The haircut also squares with the profile, which predicts that the man has military or law enforcement experience.”

Brogan continued.  “The hostess went back to her work, and when she looked up again the man was gone.  She never saw him from the front, so couldn’t give us a drawing.  She did recall that he was very muscular, with large arms and shoulders.  The witness thinks that he was wearing a dark T-shirt and jeans, but she’s not sure.

“A few minutes later, the victim paid and went outside.  The next morning, the MPs found Flanders asleep in her car, still groggy.  She did not recall anything from the night before, and she was charged with AWOL.  The MPs figured that she had been drinking.”

“Julie never drank.  The incident was totally out of character,” Carrie said.

“Yes, well, here’s what we think happened.  It looks like that when the perp was talking to her he slipped a drug into her drink, probably Rohypnol.  He may have realized that the hostess had seen him talking to her, or something else may have spooked him.  Regardless, he took off without abducting Flanders that night.  She must have swallowed the drugged drink, but managed to make it to her car before it took effect.  She passed out while in the car, and was unconscious until the next morning.  Rohypnol induces temporary amnesia, so she wouldn’t have remembered the man who drugged her.

“It looks like the perp liked her, though.  He came back a few weeks later, and was successful the second time.”  Brogan checked his notes again, grinning through his stained teeth.  “That’s all I have on the abduction.”

Carrie was actually impressed at the turn-around Brogan had made.  “Excellent work, Officer Brogan.”  She looked around the table at the others.  “Do any of you have any questions or suggestions?”

Musser raised his hand and was acknowledged.  “Did you check the records of the other diners at the Pizza Hut the night the Surgeon drugged Flanders?  Maybe he was eating there and paid by check or credit card.”

Brogan’s eyebrows rose.  “No, I didn’t, but I’ll get on it first thing in the morning.  Good idea.”  He jotted something down in his notebook with a pen held between his pudgy fingers and looked up at her.

“Any other questions about the abduction?  No?  Okay…on to the outboard engine.”  Brogan flipped several pages in his notebook.  “I called the Evinrude distributor for this area.  The lot of engines that this one was part of was sent to the Tidewater area in 1991.  There were four dealers that received portions of that shipment, and I found the one that sold this particular motor. 

“The dealer reported that it went to a…”  Brogan looked down at his notes.  “…Gary Armentrout, then of Williamsburg.  I called him up, and it turns out that the motor was stolen ‘round about 1992.  He said that he had it on his boat on a marina, but that it disappeared one night.  His story checked out.  There was an incident report filed with the locals, and an insurance claim was made.  No leads ever turned up, and the locals abandoned the case. 

“I believe this guy about the outboard being stolen.  He doesn’t fit the profile.  He’s got no military service, and he lives in Florida now.  He was never a plastic surgeon.”

Carrie shrugged her shoulders.  “Looks like a dead end.  Good work anyway.”  She turned to Dillard, who had her head in her notes preparing for her presentation.  “Ready?”

“Just a second, ma’am.”  She was excitedly whispering to a young soldier who had just brought in several papers for her.  After a few moments, she said, “Okay.”  Dillard rose and pushed her hair back behind her ears with one hand.  Taking a deep breath, she began to speak in her soft, southern accent.

“Let’s start with the Zodiac.  As most of you know, Zodiacs are an extremely expensive type of inflatable raft.  They have a rigid bottom, inflatable sides, and a mount on the rear for an outboard engine.  Some of the special forces, such as SEALs, use Zodiacs because they can move in very shallow water and can take a lot of punishment.

“The one that Major Grace found was an eight-man model, and would have been nearly impossible for one man to move around, even deflated.  It weighed over 400 pounds without the engine, which would take it up to around 700 pounds. There are three possibilities: the Surgeon kept the boat in the water, he had help to move it, or he had a trailer with a winch.”

Collins interrupted.  “The profile has the UNSUB driving a van.  Would it be possible to fit the boat in the back of a van if it was deflated?”

Dillard though for several seconds.  “Maybe, depending on the van.  He would still need a winch to get it out of the water, though.  You’re probably right.  This doesn’t seem like the type of person who would take the chance with asking for help with the boat, and a trailer would be too visible.  Leaving it in the water would be risky unless the boat was well hidden.  Zodiacs are so valuable that they are often stolen.

“That brings me to my next point.  This boat had a serial number on it that had been obliterated, indicating that the Surgeon was worried about it being traced back to him.  With the engine, he didn’t bother to get rid of the serial number since it was stolen and we couldn’t use the number to find him.  Because he went to the trouble with the boat, he must have some traceable connection to it.

“I contacted the distributor of Zodiac boats.  There were 163 of that model sold within a four state area since 1990.  If you knock the military purchases out, only 52 are left.  Of those, 49 were bought by heavily funded scientific and oceanographic agencies.  The last three were bought by private individuals.  I personally saw two of the boats.  Both were used by yacht owners down by the beach.  There is one boat left, and it may be the one found by Major Grace.”

Carrie was sitting straight up in her chair now, excited.  “Who bought the last boat?”

“We just traced the sale to a buyer’s name, but it may be an alias.  The sale was six months ago, and the dealer remembers that the customer had brown hair cut in a high and tight.”  She looked down at the papers in her hands, which had been brought in by the soldier just before she started the briefing.  “A Mr. Wayne Moisant.  The boat was delivered to a house in Hampton, and we have the address.”

“Is the place under surveillance?” Carrie asked.

“One of my men just drove by the place, and he reported that there’s a dented, black van with no windows parked in the driveway.  Lights are on like someone is home.”

Collins thumped the table with his hand.  “That’s it.  It fits the profile exactly.”

Dillard looked back down at her notes.  “Something else.  A mail order knife company delivered a Spyderco, model Delica, to the address.  Different name, but same place.”

Musser was flipping through a thick list he had in a clipboard.  “This is a list of all the plastic surgeons ever licensed to practice in America.  Moisant is on here.  He lost his license ten years ago, no reason given.”

Dillard looked up at Carrie.  “Should I send some men over to watch the place?”

Carrie shook her head.  “No.  We’re not dealing with an amateur.  It will tip him off that we’re on to him.”

Musser was looking at her, anticipating what she was thinking.  “Tonight?”

Carrie nodded, looking at him.  “I can have a warrant for a no-knock takedown within two hours.  Can you organize a team in time for us to go in at 0300?”

He thought for a second and said, “Sure.”

“Do it.  You handle the details.  I have to get on the phone with the Colonel to get this warrant signed by a judge.”  She looked around the table at the Task Force.  “We’ll meet here at midnight.  Draw full tactical gear and weapons.  Doctor Collins, you may come with us, but won’t be allowed to go through the door with the entry team.  Everyone clear?”

All heads nodded around the table.  Grins lit the air in anticipation of the raid.

Chapter 9

 

Carrie grabbed Collins and they ran for her Humvee, with a stop by Carrie’s office to grab a stack of blank warrants.  She pulled her phone out as they ran, dialing the Colonel’s number while she fired up the engine.  It was nearly 10:00 P.M., but he answered the phone promptly.

“Hello?”

“This is Grace, sir.  I’m sorry to bother you so late, but we think that we’ve located the Surgeon.  We have an address of a house in Hampton, and a team is getting ready to go in on a no-knock.  We need some warrants signed in a hurry.  Do you know anyone who can do it, sir?”  Carrie was steering with both hands as she screeched around turns on the way out of the office, holding the phone with her head.  Collins was gripping the dashboard with white knuckles.

“Judge Emory is over at my house playing poker.  Bring the papers by and I make sure he signs them,” Colonel Zander replied.

“Be there in ten minutes, sir.”  She killed the connection and stuffed the phone back in her pocket.  Glancing at Collins out of the corner of her eye, she said, “We’re in luck.  We need a warrant to do the raid of the house, and a judge has to sign it.  It’s so late at night that normally we couldn’t get this done until tomorrow.  We know the Surgeon is home as of a few minutes ago, so we want to do this now.”

“The longer we wait, the more likely that he’ll kill another woman,” said Collins.  “What’s the plan?”

“We’re going to do a ‘no-knock’, which means that we’ll go in without any warning that would let him get a weapon or flee.  There won’t be a ‘Sir, please open the door’ on this raid.”  Carrie had floored the Humvee, speeding towards the Colonel’s house, which lay in a ritzy subdivision just off base. 

“Are you going to kill him?”

“Not if we can help it.  A lot of people would like to shoot him on sight, and we might be justified in doing so.  But I want him alive and on trial.  He shouldn’t get the easy way out after what he’s done.”

“He’s already tried to kill you once.  What if it’s either your life or his?”

She thought for several seconds as she drove. Could you kill him if you had to?  Face to face, not some guy below you on a raft.  If he pointed a gun at you, could you look him in the eye and put a bullet in his brain?  “I just don’t know,” she finally replied.

The rest of the ride was spent in silence as they careened around corners on the way to the Colonel’s mansion.  Both of them were lost in thoughts about the upcoming raid of the Surgeon’s house.

Carrie had only been to the Colonel’s house once before, on New Year’s Eve.  She slowed down when she got onto his street, looking up at the houses on the hill above her.  Most were mansions, each planted on several acres of wooded land near the river.  Tall fences and walls surrounded the houses, keeping them inviolate against the fears of the owners. 

Carrie recognized the wrought iron fence of Colonel Zander’s land and slowed down even more.  She pulled into the driveway, noticing that he had opened the gate for her from the house.  She stomped her foot on the gas again, accelerating as they drove up the long, paved driveway.  They hopped out of the Humvee when it came to a halt in front of the house.

Collins stared up at the white columns of the Federal-style brick mansion in awe.  “Zander does rather well for himself, doesn’t he?” he muttered to Carrie, who was already mounting the stairs two at a time.  She knocked on the heavy, oak door with the brass clapper.  It echoed inside the house.

The door was opened by an elderly black woman in a maid’s uniform.  Carrie and Collins were ushered towards a hallway to the left.  Collins rubbernecked at the foyer, which was laid out with parquet floors and a crystal chandelier.  Carrie was writing on the warrants as she walked, filling in the blanks.  The maid paused in front of a set of sliding wooden doors and knocked.  Hearing some inaudible reply, she slid the doors back and indicated that they were to enter.

Carrie leaned over to Dr. Collins and whispered, “Wait here.”  He nodded and Carrie went inside, hearing the door shut behind her.

She entered the library, which was dimly lit by recessed bulbs.  Shelves and oak paneling lined the walls, and a table sat in the center of the room.  Five men were pulled up to it in armchairs, playing cards.  Stacks of chips were strewn around the green felt tabletop, and a pall of smoke hung over the area. 

Carrie stepped forward.  Her boots sank into the deep carpeting, muffling her footsteps.  Her breath caught in her throat as she recognized three of the men sitting at the table as Colonel Zander, Commanding General Carpaggio, and Senator James Steele, the junior senator from Virginia.  The other two men were unfamiliar to her.  Stereotypical smoke-filled room, she thought to herself.

She cleared her throat when she was behind the Colonel.  He turned around.  “Oh…Major Grace.  I’m glad you found us.”  Colonel Zander faced the other men and spoke.  “This is Carrie Grace, the officer that I told you about.  She’s in charge of the Joint Task Force.  Apparently, they need a warrant rather quickly.”  The Colonel’s eyes twinkled in the dim light as he let the others make assumptions from his statement.

“Pleased to meet you all,” said Carrie.

Colonel Zander indicated one of the other men at the table.  “This is Judge Emory, who has so graciously agreed to sign your papers.”  The judge was an older, distinguished looking black gentleman.  The Colonel held out his hands for the pages that Carrie clutched.  She loosed her grip and the Colonel deposited them in front of the Judge.  He quickly scrawled his signature on them without even glancing at the papers.  When he was done, Colonel Zander handed them back to Carrie.

“Ms. Grace, I hope you are successful tonight,” said Judge Emory in a deep voice.  “This man is a plague on society.” 

“Thank you, your honor.”  Carrie said as she was ushered out of the library by the Colonel.  He smiled at her, pulling the doors closed.

Looking around, she saw Collins engrossed in one of the paintings along the wall.  He noticed her, and they made for the front door.  “Everything legal?” he asked.

“Yep.  Now comes the hard part.”

***

It was two in the morning, and the five members of the Task Force leaned over a map that was spread on the hood of a Humvee.  They were in the parking lot of the JAG Office.  With them were a First Lieutenant and three Master Sergeants, who would be leading the platoon of Rangers that was going to raid the house.  If they were going up against a serial killer with special forces training, it made sense to use troops that were just as well, if not better trained.

The Rangers and the members of the Task Force were all dressed in full combat gear.  Carrie was sweating under her thick body armor and the weight of her equipment.  A Kevlar helmet was hooked over a canteen on her web belt, and her M-16 was slung across her back.  Concussion and fragmentation grenades rested in loops on the sides of her ammo pouches.  The Rangers were armed with M-16s, Heckler & Koch MP-5s, and Remington shotguns.  All of the officers had side arms, usually Berettas and SIG SAUERs.  Several were outfitted with silencers.  Carrie had dropped a threaded barrel into her SIG 226; it had a silencer screwed onto the end.  Everyone had night-vision goggles.

Carrie had given Musser control of the tactical portion of the raid, and he was doing a final run-through of the plan.  He pointed out the Surgeon’s house, which was marked with a red dot on the map.  “Here’s the objective.  It’s isolated by at least fifty yards from the neighboring houses, and the area is wooded.  The land backs up against the James River, and a road runs along the front.”

Musser drew a circle around the house with a gloved finger.  “To preserve the element of surprise, we will drive to the area, stopping about a quarter of a mile from the house.  We will walk the rest of the way.  Once we cross phase line Oak…”  He traced a line across the road.  “…I will give the signal over the radio for the teams to split off.  The signal will be ‘Blitz.’ 

“Alpha Team will be first in position as the security element, spread out just inside the tree line across the road.  Two sniper teams are attached to Alpha.  They will have thermal sights on their weapons.

“Bravo Team will be security for the other side of the house, by the river.  There is a gully between the yard and the river.  The Team will move up under cover of the gully and set up in a line facing the house.  The gully will provide cover and concealment.  Bravo Team will handle rear security and keep the suspect from fleeing.

“Once Alpha and Bravo are in position, the team leaders will check in over the radio.  Charlie Team is the assault element and will be waiting out of sight in the trees along the road, near Alpha.  I will be with Charlie Team.  At my signal, which will be ‘Huddle’, Charlie Team will advance and surround the house.  There will be one man at each window, and five men at each door with battering rams.  ‘Superbowl’ will be the signal to hit the doors.  Once you hear the word, flash-bangs go through the windows and doors to clear the way.

“When the teams get inside, you will clear the rooms.  Watch out for each other, because you will meet somewhere in the middle of the house.  Once the suspect is located, he is to be immobilized, using force if necessary.  The code word at that point will be ‘Touchdown.’ 

“One more thing: three choppers will be on standby two minutes away, two Hueys and an Apache gunship.  We don’t want to use them any earlier because of the noise, but they will be on scene if we need them.  Everyone clear?”  Musser looked at the team leaders, seeing them nod their understanding.

Carrie spoke.  “We need to take this suspect alive.  For those of you who don’t know, he has already killed two soldiers and God knows how many civilians.  He should be considered armed and extremely dangerous.  We know that he is armed at least with a pistol and an M-60.  But that does not mean we can practice vigilante justice.  I want this guy on trial, not in a coffin.  Regardless, do not jeopardize your own lives.  If you absolutely must kill him, then do so.”

Musser clapped his hands together once.  “All right men, run through a rehearsal before we leave.  Use the JAG Office as the mock objective, but try not to use grenades on the place,” he said with a laugh. 

The team leaders gathered up their men to walk through the plan.  Musser was heading towards the JAG Office when Carrie pulled him aside, into the shadows under a tree.

“I’m going in with Charlie Team,” she declared.

“Absolutely not.  I can’t allow it,” he said immediately, shaking his head.

“Nonsense.  I’m easily the best shot you have here, and I can take care of myself.  Besides, with all these men, what do you think can go wrong?”

“I don’t know, but if something goes wrong, people will die.”

“I’ve got body armor and a helmet, and I’ve been in shoot-outs before.”  Musser didn’t say anything, but he stared at her intently with his storm-gray eyes.

“Why won’t you let me go in?” she finally asked.

“I don’t want to see you get hurt,” he replied quietly.  “Not now.”

Her heart skipped a beat, and she put a hand on his arm.  “Thank you for caring.  But I can-”  Musser placed a hand tenderly along the side of her face, with his thumb across her lips to silence her.

“Okay,” he said.  “I’ll let you go on one condition.”

She smiled, knowing what the condition would be.  “Name it.”

“You let me cook you dinner tomorrow night.”  His hand still lay along her cheek.  Carrie reached up and took it in her own hands.

“I’d like that.”  She held his hand clutched between her own for a long moment, releasing it as they stepped from the shadows.  They walked side by side to watch the Rangers do their final rehearsal.

***

  The drive to Hampton was done in silence.  Carrie rode with the members of the Task Force in Musser’s Humvee.  None of them spoke; all were lost in thought.  They were the first in the caravan of four vehicles.  Behind them were another Humvee and two deuce-and-a-half trucks.  The deuces were large, canvas-backed trucks that held soldiers on long benches in the rear.

Dillard was navigating for Musser as he drove, reading off a street map of the area.  As they neared the neighborhood, Musser spoke into the throat microphone that clipped around the back of his neck and rested against his throat.  “Two minutes.  Check weapons and cut lights.” 

Musser lowered the night vision goggles that were attached to his helmet and turned off the headlights.  The other drivers soon followed suit and the caravan crept through the suburban neighborhood.  She heard the others jack rounds into the chambers of their weapons, and she did so as well.  Carrie thumbed the rifle onto Safe and stared out into the night.  She could see the river glistening in the starlight through the trees to the left, and the moon had already set. 

She lowered her goggles as well, feeling the weight on her helmet shift to the front.  The world changed into a sea of green and Carrie felt a momentary disorientation.  She soon became used to the narrow field of view and monochrome light of the goggles, which amplified the ambient light from the stars.  They were capable of operating in complete darkness, but an infrared light attachment had to be activated.

Dillard tapped Musser on the shoulder and pointed to the shoulder of the road, indicating that it was time to stop.  He pulled off the street, leading the three other vehicles.  The men poured out quietly, arranging into teams on the street.  The night was dark enough that it would be impossible to see them from the houses; there were no streetlights.

Carrie walked over to Charlie Team with Musser, Dillard and Brogan went with Alpha, and Dr. Collins stayed in the Humvee.  He had been given a pistol and was told to guard the vehicles. 

Once the men were divided into teams, Musser clicked his tongue for attention.  Everyone looked to him, and he held his hand up to his face vertically, thumb resting against his nose.  “Ranger file, three meter separation,” he said into the radio in case anyone missed the hand signal.  At the order, the soldiers arranged themselves into a single-file line, separated by teams.  They started out down the road, moving as silently as forty men in full combat gear could move.

Carrie fell into step three meters behind the Ranger in front of her, holding her M-16 with the sling looped around her hands so it would not rattle.  No women in combat, huh? she thought with a grin.  When she smiled, she felt the tightness of the camouflage paint covering her face. 

After several minutes of walking, the earpiece she wore spoke in Musser’s voice.  “Blitz.”  The teams separated, Bravo splitting off to the left and the gully behind the house.  Alpha and Charlie kept going along the road.  Carrie could see the Surgeon’s house up ahead on the left.  It was a single story brick house with two doors and several windows.  There were no lights on inside, but a van was parked outside.

As they approached the objective, the two teams entered the tree line off the right side of the road.  Alpha Team spread out facing the house and lay prone in the leaves.  The two snipers unfolded the bipods on their rifles and settled in next to their spotters.  Each carried a Barrett .50 semiautomatic rifle, which shot a round powerful enough to punch through the brick walls of the house and kill a man inside.  Thermal sights were mounted on the weapons, allowing them to see the heat given off by a man, even in complete darkness. 

Charlie Team dropped to one knee to await the signal.  Carrie felt a strange calmness.  Her heart was pounding from the exertion, but she was more excited than afraid. 

The Alpha Team leader checked in over the radio with “Alpha Team set.”  It was followed several seconds later with “Bravo Team Set.”  Musser immediately gave “Huddle”, and Charlie Team rose to their feet.

Carrie sprinted forward with the others, splitting off with half the men.  They circled around the right side of the house to get to the back door. 

Soldiers peeled off and stationed themselves under each of the side windows, each pulling a concussion grenade from the side of his ammo pouch.  Carrie was second in line, behind Musser as they ran to the back, and she suddenly called “Halt” over the radio.  The team froze and Musser looked back at her quizzically, night vision goggles protruding from his face like a bug’s eyes. 

She pointed to a dark box that stuck out from under the eaves at the back corner of the house.  Three light bulbs nestled above it, aiming out at the yard.  “Motion sensor that activates the floodlights.” 

Musser’s eyes grew wide behind the goggles as he considered that they had almost blown the element of surprise.  Carrie motioned him behind her, pulling her silenced SIG from its holster and slinging the M-16 on her back.  She rested her left hand against the cool brick of the house, but her thumb protruded out to the side.  Her gun hand settled into the crook of her thumb for support.

The tritium sights on her pistol glowed in the dark, showing up as bright stars in the night vision goggles.  She put all three dots in a line with the small motion sensor box resting on the center dot, holding her breath.  Slowly squeezing the trigger, she was rewarded with a slight phut.  The subsonic 9mm round slammed into the plastic box under the eaves, and she heard the metallic fizzle of a short circuit.

She held up a finger at Musser, indicating that there was probably another sensor around the corner.  He nodded, and she slowly crept forward to the corner.  Leaning around, she saw the second box under the far corner of the eaves.  The shot was only about ten meters, an easy one for her; she quickly set up to fire again.  When she pulled the trigger, she heard the round strike the sensor with a quiet thwack, not enough to awaken anyone inside.  She put another round into the sensor to make sure it was dead.

Sliding back around the corner, she nodded at Musser.  He led the Rangers quickly around the back of the house.  Men crouched under the windows on either side of the door, with the rest of them lined up against the brick wall.  There were three Rangers, then Musser, then Carrie last in the line of five.  The lead two Rangers carried an iron bar with handles that would be used to knock down the door.  There was an identical group of soldiers ready to go in the front door at the same time.

Carrie chose to use her pistol during the raid; she was a better shot with it, and a 9mm bullet was less likely to go through the walls than a powerful 5.56mm rifle round from her M-16.  She did not want to injure any soldiers on the other sides of the walls if she had to start shooting.  Carrie replaced the slightly depleted magazine with a fresh one, giving her sixteen rounds in the SIG.

Superbowl” came over the radio, and Carrie heard glass shatter as the Rangers under the windows broke the panes.  A concussion grenade was tossed through each of the windows into the rooms inside.  Several seconds later, they exploded nearly in unison.  The grenades were designed to send out shock waves to blind and disorient anyone in the rooms, and Carrie felt the air punch her in the face as it rushed from the broken windows.  Her night vision goggles automatically refused to amplify the bright flashes from the explosions.  Thank God I’m not inside with one of those, she thought.

The Rangers in front of her line swung the battering ram immediately after the grenades exploded.  The door burst inward with a crash, shattered beyond repair.  They jumped out of the way as several grenades were tossed inside.  After they went off, the others poured through the door with weapons ready.  The battering ram was traded for weapons, and the last two Rangers followed Carrie through the door.

Carrie heard muffled shouts of “Clear” ring through the house as the Rangers verified that the rooms were empty.  One by one, the soldiers in front of her peeled off into rooms until it was her turn.  She kicked a door open with a booted foot, hearing it slam against the wall behind.  Carrie vaulted into the room, swiveling to make sure nobody was there.  The goggles restricted her peripheral vision, so she was forced to turn her whole head to see that the room was clear.

The sickly green light through the goggles revealed a double bed against the far wall of the room.  Waist-high bookcases flanked the bed, filled with paperbacks.  A dresser was on her right side, but nothing else was in the room other than some small throw-rugs.  There were no windows in the room, so no grenades had been tossed inside.  Carrie ducked her head to check under the bed, but it was empty.  She shouted “Clear,” and stood listening over the radio for “Touchdown.”

He has to be here.  His van is outside, and Dillard’s man saw lights on just a few hours ago.  Another minute passed, but the signal never came.  The calls from the Rangers had stopped, and Musser was walking through the rooms verifying that everything was secure.  The smell of cordite burned Carrie’s nostrils.

Carrie looked around the room again, her eyes coming to rest on the bed.  The sheets were tossed onto the floor, as if someone had risen in a rush.  Strange.  She walked over to the bed, pulling the leather glove off her left hand as she went.  Bending down, she put her hand on the center of the bed and held it there.  The warmth of the mattress soaked into her hand, and her eyes got wide.  The Surgeon had just been in the bed

She immediately spoke into the radio.  “Musser, come to the east bedroom immediately.  Third door down the hall from the back.”  He was there within seconds.

“What is it?”

Carrie pointed at the bed.  “Feel that.”

Musser peeled off a glove and laid a hand on the mattress.  Carrie could not see the expression on his face, but his body stiffened.  He spoke into the radio.  “Alpha and Bravo teams, stay alert.  Suspect was here, but may have fled to the outside.”  Two clicks came over the air, indicating that each of the team leaders had heard the message.

Carrie pointed at the outside wall.  “No windows, so no grenades got in here.  He might not have been stunned by the ones in the other rooms.”

Musser nodded, looking around the room at the sparse furnishings.  There were no other doors besides the one they entered, and no windows or closets.  Carrie checked under the bed again and heard Musser say, “He didn’t get into the hall, since we were through the doors and in there before he would have had time.  So where did he go?”

Carrie stared at the floor, lost in thought.  She heard the rumble of the choppers approaching from the river.  The lights were still off, and they were using night vision goggles to give them an advantage in a firefight.  While staring at the floor, she realized that one of the small throw rugs on the floor was glowing.  What in the hell? 

Striding over, she tried to kick the rug out of the way and discovered that it was nailed to the floor at each of the corners.  A narrow line under one end of the rug was still glowing in her goggles, and she could barely make out the shape of a set of hinges under the rug.  There’s a trapdoor under there, she thought.

She looked up and saw that Musser was watching her curiously.  She pointed at the rug and spoke.  “Trapdoor.  Call your men.”  Carrie thought about the possibilities.  The trapdoor could lead either to a hidden basement or to an escape tunnel.

Musser nodded.  “Six men to east bedroom.”  They were there almost immediately, and he spoke again over the radio to let everyone know what was happening.  “We’ve located a trapdoor in the floor of the east bedroom.  The suspect has fled, and we are pursuing.  Over.

He pointed at a pair of Rangers that was standing near the trapdoor.  “Two flash-bangs down the hole.”  They nodded.  One pulled two concussion grenades from his ammo pouch, holding each in a hand.  He pulled the pins with his teeth, but held the spoons against the grenades so the fuses would not start.  He nodded at his buddy, who was standing over the trapdoor.  The others had moved back against the walls, aiming their weapons at the small rug on the floor.  Musser gave a nod.

The Ranger above the rug grasped it with a fist along one edge and pulled.  The rug was nailed to the trapdoor, which opened a few inches.  The second soldier shoved his grenades through the crack that had opened, and they both leaped back against the wall.  There was a thump as the trapdoor dropped closed.  It was followed by a twin blast that slammed the boards from the trapdoor upward and against the ceiling. 

The Rangers around the walls rushed towards the hole, aiming weapons down inside.  Carrie elbowed her way into the circle so she could see what lay under the floor.

As the tendrils of smoke cleared, Carrie made out a spiral staircase leading down into the gloom.  Lights had lit the tunnel, but the grenades had shattered the bulbs.  “Landon and Maranto, into the hole,” ordered Musser, and the two Rangers went quickly down through the opening.  After a long moment, Carrie heard them report over the radio.

Staircase leads down to large room, which is clear.  Tunnel leads from room towards the river.  Over.

Musser replied immediately, motioning the Rangers toward the hole.  “Wait for us.  Bravo Team, be advised, suspect is headed in your direction.  Watch for him to come out behind you.  Alpha, send your snipers over to Bravo Team’s position to cover the river.  Over.”  Both team leaders acknowledged with taps to their throat mics.

Carrie went down into the hole with her SIG extended before her.  She heard the metal tread on the spiral staircase reverberate under her boots.  After several turns around the stairs, she stepped down onto a concrete floor.  Glancing around, she saw that the room was roughly the size of the house, but there were not many furnishings other than a pool table and some chairs.

The Rangers flanked the crude hole that had been cut into the concrete wall.  It was tall enough to stand erect in, and led away towards the river at an angle.  They were far enough underground to pass beneath the shallow gully in the backyard.  Musser nodded at the two soldiers who had previously led the way. 

They quietly advanced down the tunnel, rolling on the balls of their feet.  Carrie followed behind Musser, with more Rangers behind them.  She realized that her goggles were still finding enough light to amplify, meaning that the tunnel must have an opening up ahead.

The floor of the tunnel was roughly packed clay, and timbers supported the ceiling every few yards.  We must be fifteen feet under ground, level with the river, thought Carrie.  It looks like the Surgeon expected company, if he took the trouble to dig this.

The radio crackled.  “Landon here.  At the end of the tunnel.  We’re under a dock by the river.  Nobody here, but there are footprints leading towards the water.  Over.”  The rest of the Rangers jogged for the end when they heard it was clear.

Carrie stepped out into the night behind Musser, looking around to get her bearings.  The tunnel had come out under a wooden dock about a hundred yards downriver from the house.  She could feel the rotors from the three choppers thumping the air overhead. 

The ground was covered with mud, and she could make out bare footprints leading to the water.  Carrie knelt and looked at one, seeing that it was filled with muddy water.  “They’re fresh,” she told Musser.  “The mud hasn’t settled out of the water yet.”

Apache One, we need you to search downstream for the suspect.  He made it into the water, and will be swimming.  Slick Two, you go upstream.  Slick One, remain here.”  The pilots acknowledged, and two of the choppers banked sharply to search for the Surgeon.

Carrie looked at Musser, who was standing with his hands on his hips.  He stripped the goggles off his face and shook his head.  “We lost him.”

***

The choppers searched for over an hour, but were unable to locate the fleeing Surgeon.  Carrie and Musser had returned to the house through the tunnel.  The lights that had survived the concussion grenades were turned on, and the team began to search the house methodically. 

Carrie walked from room to room as the soldiers trashed the rooms.  They were enjoying themselves, tossing clothes from drawers and sweeping items off shelves.  She heard Musser call her and sprinted to the front of the house.  She found him in the living room, staring at the wall with several Rangers.  Carrie came to a stop beside them and followed their eyes to a rectangular hole in the wall.  It was a duct for the heat pump.  The grate had been pried off, falling to the floor.  A wire led out of the duct and behind a curtain, but she could see that it had been cut raggedly by the blast from a grenade. 

Musser pointed at the hole in silence, and Carrie edged forward to look inside.  “Don’t touch,” he cautioned.  The light was dim in the room, so she pulled a flashlight off her belt and shined it into the duct.  Sitting a few inches inside was a dark green object, about three inches by five inches.  It was plastic, and curved slightly into a semicircle.  Metal legs supported it, and the wire entered a hole at the top.  Her breath caught in her throat, and she leaped away from the hole.

“Damn,” she said.  “Claymore.”

The others nodded, and Musser spoke.  “The frag we dropped through the window cut the wire.  There’s a few more in the other rooms, but luckily the main control wire to the detonator in the bedroom got cut.”

The Claymore was an antipersonnel mine that had been used by the military since Vietnam.  It was quite simple, but incredibly deadly.  A semicircle of plastic explosives was mounted behind hundreds of steel balls inside the mine.  When it was fired, the balls were propelled outwards in an arc, shredding everything in front of it. 

Carrie remembered when she was in boot camp; she had fired a Claymore for training purposes.  She had been lying prone in a foxhole with the mine forty yards in front of her.  She pushed the clacker to detonate the mine, and the ground had come up to punch her in the chest.  The explosion had washed over her, even at that distance.

Carrie stared at the mine, thankful that it had not shredded any of them.  “We got lucky,” she said.  “He could have killed most of us with these.”

“Yeah, but we weren’t lucky when we lost the Surgeon,” said Musser.

She shrugged.  “We’ll get him eventually.  I just hope it’s before he kills any of the women he’s got, or kidnaps any more.”

They spent the rest of the morning searching the house and the van.  The search of the house turned up nothing linking the tenant to the murders.  Carrie was astounded, expecting at least to find a weapon or souvenirs of the victims.  The Claymores were certainly illegal, but they found no evidence pointing to the Surgeon.  Even the hidden basement turned up nothing, just bare walls and innocuous furniture.  The most disturbing thing about the house was the total lack of fingerprints.  It was as if the Surgeon had used gloves the whole time he was inside. 

The van outside was empty as well.  The interior had recently been vacuumed, removing any trace evidence from the victims.  There were no license plates on it, but the vehicle identification number revealed that it had been stolen ten years before, leaving the trail cold.

The house was apparently rented by the same name used to buy the boat: Wayne Moisant.  A phone call to the landlord revealed that he had been paid in cash every month by courier, and had never seen the renter.  The neighbors had seen him, but only from a distance.  None of them had seen enough to help with a picture by a police artist.

Around noon the next day, Carrie was sitting across from Musser and Collins at the kitchen table in the house.  They were around a cheap, Formica table that was scarred and burned by heavy use.  Dirty dishes filled the sink, and piles of garbage sat stinking in the corner.  The killer had not made a fortune as a surgeon. 

Pink, faded curtains blocked the view of the outside.  They fluttered in the wind, because the Rangers had thrown grenades through the windows. 

Carrie looked down with bleary eyes at her hands, which were folded on the table.  “I don’t know what to make of this.  There is absolutely nothing here.  This man clearly wasn’t a saint, since he felt he needed the escape tunnel and the booby traps.  So where is everything?  Did he know we were coming and get rid of the evidence?”

Collins spoke.  “The UNSUB is smarter than we think.  The tendency is to consider criminals to be stupid, but he isn’t.  Clearly he knew that we might come here.  Indeed, he seemed to expect it. 

“He must have somewhere else that he uses.  Somewhere that he operates on the victims, and where he stores his tools and weapons.  The stolen M-60 wasn’t here, for example, nor was the Spyderco.  This place was clean.”

Musser agreed.  “If we had caught him, the only thing we could have charged him with would have been the unlawful possession of the Claymores.  The Zodiac raft connection might link him to attempted murder of Carrie for the shoot-out they had.  Other than that, there would have been nothing to link him to the murders of the women.”

Carrie looked at the other two.  “Maybe it’s better that he got away.  This way, we might be able to catch him with some incriminating evidence.”

“I would have rather gotten him off the street, but you’re right.  It will be better that we arrest him later with more evidence,” said Musser.

Collins flipped open a notebook.  “There are several things that we can tell from the house about the UNSUB’s personality.”

“Like what,” said Carrie.  “He collected landmines?”

Collins ignored her joke.  “Well, for one, we know he’s Obsessive-Compulsive.  I don’t know if you all are familiar with O-C Disorder, but those who are afflicted with it may become obsessed with cleanliness and repetitive behavior.”

“Why do you think he’s got OCD?” asked Musser.

“Did you see the top of the dresser?  There were a bunch of items on it that were regularly used, such as a hairbrush and some deodorant.  The dust had settled around them on the top of the dresser, and you could tell that the UNSUB had put them back in exactly the same place every time.  He couldn’t stand to have anything out of place.”

“Why couldn’t he just be a regular neat freak, rather than Obsessive-Compulsive?” said Musser.

“That is a type of compulsion, but if you notice this room, there is some mess.  There are dirty dishes in the sink, and a few bags of garbage in the corner.  He may be able to tolerate mess, as long as he doesn’t have a compulsion to remove it.  As long as something gradually changes, such as garbage slowly building up, it won’t trigger OCD.  Only sudden alterations will be a problem, such as a book on the wrong table.”

“Will this help us catch him?” asked Carrie hopefully.

“Probably not.  From the looks of the house the OCD isn’t being controlled by drugs or treatment, which means nothing to trace in the future.

“There’s something else, though.  He was expecting company to show up, since he built the booby traps and the escape tunnel.  Yet, our personality profile and other evidence indicates that he sees himself as much smarter than us, and unstoppable.  How do the two mesh together?  I don’t know.”

“That’s not very heartening, Doctor.”  Carrie scowled at him.

“I realize that, and I’m sorry.  Of course, you have to realize that we aren’t dealing with a perfectly sane individual, which means that he’s not the easiest type to predict.

“There’s one more thing.  We need to leave some men here, more than two.  Remember how the UNSUB returned to get the binoculars from the river?  He might do the same thing here.”

Musser pulled out a pen and made some notes.  “How about this?  We’ll put a team of six men in the hidden room under the house.  Combat veterans only, and well armed. They’ll be able to see if he comes up the tunnel, and hear him if he comes in the house.  It’s easily defensible, and more comfortable than lying in the bushes all day.  But just to be safe, I’ll station two teams of four men each outside the house.  One will be in the trees across the road, and I’ll put the other team in the house next door.  Good?”

“Sounds fine to me,” said Carrie.  “Maybe we’ll get lucky this time.”

They sat in silence in the kitchen, basking in the pink light that filtered through the curtained windows.  Carrie was playing with a pen, spinning it on the Formica surface of the table when a thought occurred to her.

“You said there was a hairbrush, Dr. Collins.  Couldn’t we get hair off of it for DNA analysis?” asked Carrie.

He shook his head.  “Unfortunately, he was neat when it came to the brush.  No hair.”  Carrie shrugged and went back to spinning the pen on the table.

An MP knocked on the door and handed Musser two folders.  He spread them out on the table.  “Moisant’s personnel file from the Army and his criminal record,” he said.

Carrie read over his shoulder with wide eyes.  The man they were stalking had been a Green Beret, part of the Special Forces.  He had been discharged for psychological reasons twenty years before.  The file did not contain a picture.

A judgment of a General Court Martial was included.  The Surgeon had been convicted on charges stemming from an incident in Korea.  He had hired a hooker while on leave, but had beaten her within an inch of her life.  The Army’s psychiatrists concluded that he was too unstable to remain in the service.  A notation in the file showed that Moisant had gone on to medical school after he was discharged, becoming a plastic surgeon.

The criminal record showed that he had been charged with two counts of capital murder ten years before.  The victims had been his wife, Angela, and his brother.  They had been having an affair.  The police suspected that Moisant had killed them, but the bodies could not be located.  The charges had been dropped for lack of evidence.  Seven years later he had been convicted of credit card fraud, with no explanation in the file.

Carrie sighed.  “We know who he is, and where he was.  Unfortunately, we don’t know what he looks like or where he’s going.”

Silence again fell over the table.  Collins looked at the pile of dirty dishes in the corner, and Musser studied the personnel file.  Every so often, Carrie caught him glancing at her.

Finally she stood.  “I’ve had enough of this place.  Let’s get out of here.”  The others agreed, and they were soon on the road.  The teams of MPs was left behind to wait for the Surgeon.

Chapter 10

 

Carrie and Musser rode back alone in his Humvee.  Dr. Collins had gone with Dillard, who was going to drop him off at his hotel.  After several minutes of driving, Musser looked over at her.

“You did a good job this morning.  Probably saved a lot of lives.”

She shook her head.  “Right.  I didn’t notice the trapdoor that I was practically standing on until the Surgeon was a mile down the James.”

“No, I’m serious.  You saw the motion sensors and stopped us from stumbling in front of them.  We found a buzzer in the bedroom that was linked to the lights.  If they had cut on, the Surgeon would have woken up and blown the Claymores as he ran out the tunnel.  A lot of Rangers would have been killed, and maybe us too.”

Carrie shrugged.  “It was nothing.  If I hadn’t seen them, somebody would have.”

“But none of us could have pulled off the shots you did to knock the sensors out.”  He smiled.  “Don’t be so humble.  It’s not against the rules to take the credit sometimes.”

She smiled also and said, “All right, I’ll try.  Just so you know, it’s taken years of practice to keep humble, considering how great I am.”  Musser laughed. 

As they were pulling into the JAG Office, Musser looked over at her again, speaking with a grin.  “You remember our deal, right?”

“Indeed I do.  When am I going to be subjected to the torture of your cooking?”

“How ‘bout tonight?”

“Sure.  I’m going to run back to the barracks.  I want to take a short nap and go running, but how does 2000 hours sound?”

“Great. Do you like Hamburger Helper?”

Carrie sat in silence, not sure what to say until she realized that he was joking.  He broke into laughter.  “I’m just kidding.  Dinner’ll be a surprise, but I promise no Hamburger Helper.  I live at 294 Oasis Lane, just off base.”

She squeezed his shoulder, her hand lingering for several seconds.  “I’m looking forward to it.”  Smiling, she climbed out of the door and trudged across the parking lot.  Musser waited until she had started her Humvee, waving as he left.

***

Carrie woke up around five in the afternoon, refreshed after even the short nap.  She jumped into her running clothes and walked outside.  The late afternoon heat hit her like a wall; she almost went back in the barracks.  Steeling herself, she began trotting down the road, squinting against the sun.

As she ran she thought about Musser.  She had gotten to know him quite well over the past week, and would certainly like to spend more time with him.  Physically, she was definitely attracted to Dan.  During the ride back that afternoon, she had to jerk her thoughts away from him several times. 

He seems interested.  Hell, he asked me to dinner, which is usually a good sign.  It was refreshing not to have to go through the standard dinner-and-a-movie thing.  Offering to cook at his own house was a great idea, she thought.

There were two problems that she saw.  The first was with the UCMJ.  The Uniform Code of Military Justice forbade relationships among certain people in the military.  For example, officers could not fraternize with enlisted soldiers that they commanded.  She thought about the problem, and decided that it was not a problem after all.  Dan was a fellow officer, and had been the same rank as her until a week ago.  Also, she was not technically in command of him while he was attached to the Joint Task Force.  In addition, the Colonel would be the main person to object, and he would not care unless it affected her job.

The second problem was whether she was ready to enter a relationship.  She had not been involved with anyone since Richard had been killed, and had slowly grown used to being alone.  Her work had engrossed her, and she had almost given up on the opposite sex.  It was not that men failed to notice her.  Indeed, she found that she was constantly being hit upon.  Rather, she had stopped responding to men when they expressed interest in her.  Instead, she would withdraw, using her job or the military as an excuse.

What the hell, she thought.  Change can be a good thing.  She still kept feelings for Richard buried in her heart, but it had been a long time since his death.  She made up her mind to have fun at dinner and not to fight her feelings. 

The rest of the run passed quickly.  She barely noticed the sweltering heat because she was lost in thought about Dan and dinner.

After a shower, she stood nude and dripping in front of her open wall locker.  Unlike the last time, when she caught sight of herself in the mirror the vision of Flanders’ mutilated corpse did not rise in her memory. 

Carrie thumbed through her scant selection of civilian clothes, trying to choose something to wear.  Finally, she settled on an outfit and pulled the clothes from the hangers.

Ten minutes later, she stood in front of the mirror again, putting on mascara.  She had chosen a green silk blouse that clung to her damp body.  The color of the blouse matched her eyes almost exactly.  It was accompanied by a pair of black slacks and short heels.  She slipped a string of pearls over her neck, feeling their cool smoothness against her skin.  The pearls were real; they had been a gift from her grandmother when she graduated from Tulane.  A pair of earrings, each with a single pearl, matched the necklace.  Her hair was taken out of its pony tail, but had been pulled up and back with a clip.

As Carrie dipped the mascara brush to get more, she smiled and thought about how surprised Musser would be.  He’s only seen me in a uniform and in sweaty PT clothes.  Two to one he won’t be able to speak for at least ten seconds after he opens the door.  Finishing her slight makeup job, she stepped back from the mirror and looked at herself.  She smoothed out her clothes with the palms of her hands and nodded her head.  Ready.

It was 7:40 when Carrie walked outside.  The weather was beginning to cool off, and she could already see the moon over the horizon.  Walking briskly to her car, she looked around at the parking lot.  It was almost empty. 

Carrie owned a silver Mazda Miata convertible.  The Army kept her too busy to drive it much, so it sat in the parking lot of her barracks most of the time.

She unlocked the door and threw her purse on the passenger seat.  Leaning in, she unlatched the top and folded it back.  Sliding into the low roadster, she started the engine.  The throaty purr of the Miata was music to her ears as she accelerated out of the parking lot with the evening breeze in her hair.  Carrie pulled the clip out of her hair and let it stream in the wind behind her, the cool air washing over her face.

A quick detour to a wine shop off post yielded two bottles of wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon and a White Zinfandel.  As she stood in line, she glanced over at the rack of newspapers.  The headline shouted “ARMY RAIDS HOUSE, SURGEON ESCAPES.”  She shook her head in disgust, but was invigorated when the clerk asked her for ID.  Carrie had not been carded in years, and it brought back her good mood. 

The smile was still on her face when she pulled up beside Musser’s house.  She ran a brush through her wind-blown hair before remounting it with the clip.  Carrie grabbed the two bottles of wine and climbed out of the car, leaving the top open. 

Musser’s house drew her admiration as she threaded along the soapstone walkway through the yard.  It was two floors and covered with natural wood siding, stained gray. A deck wrapped around the sides of the house from the back.  There was nothing but woods behind the house, probably a park.  The lawn was neatly trimmed and landscaped with evergreens.  A picture window faced the front of the house, and through the dark living room Carrie could see Musser in the kitchen with his back turned.

She strode up to the door and stopped.  Her heart was beating as if she had just finished running, and her palms were sweaty.  The butterflies in her stomach were flapping their wings frantically.  Honey, you’re more nervous than a teenager before her first date.  Calm down.  In the past several days, she had been shot at, nearly blasted with land mines, and gotten in a high-speed helicopter chase.  Yet, going to dinner at Musser’s house got her adrenaline flowing more strongly than anything.

She took a deep breath and knocked on the door with her knuckles.  No turning back now.  A long moment passed before the door was opened.  Musser stood in the doorway looking at her.  He was dumbfounded, as she had thought, but his eyes never reached below her face.  After a few seconds of gazing into Carrie’s eyes, he stood back from the door, holding it open.

“I’m sorry.  Come inside.”

She walked inside the main hallway, carrying a bottle of wine in each hand.  She smelled bread baking from the kitchen.  “Thank you.”

“May I take these?” he said, motioning towards the wine.  She held them out and he took them.  An electric tingle passed through her hand as a finger brushed against hers.

“I wasn’t sure what you were cooking, so I got two kinds.”

He smiled at her.  “They’ll be great.  Thanks for bringing them.”  Looking at the bottles, he said jokingly, “Real wood corks, even.  High class for me.  I was 24 before I realized wine came in anything besides screw-top bottles.”  She laughed, and he led her towards the kitchen.

As she followed him through the living room, her eyes roamed his body.  He was wearing a blue polo shirt, a white T-shirt, and jeans.  She scolded herself for leering at his biceps; strong arms had always attracted her.  They walked into the light of the kitchen, and Musser pointed at a tall chair that was pulled up to a bar between the kitchen and the living room.

“Have a seat and I’ll get you something to drink.  Wine?”

“Please.”

Carrie sat down facing the kitchen and looked around.  The kitchen was modern and convenient, with an island in the center.  The wooden countertops were covered with bowls, dishes, and vegetables in various stages of being sliced.  A line of windows over the sink revealed the trees in the backyard.  Herbs grew in clay pots along the windowsill.  A door stood open onto the deck hanging off the back of the house.

Musser put the bottle of red in the refrigerator and reached into a drawer for a corkscrew.  He stepped over the to the bar at which she sat and began to open the wine, talking as he worked.  “I’m sorry, but dinner is still underway.  I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.  It will give us a chance to talk.”

He poured her a glass of the rose-colored wine and one for himself.  Sliding the cork back into the bottle, he stowed it away in the refrigerator door.  Returning to the counter across from her, he picked up his glass.  “What shall we drink to?”

Carrie thought quickly for several seconds.  “To our deal.”

He smiled and added, “To you saving my life, and me cooking you Hamburger Helper.”  They clinked the glasses together and drank.  Her eyes never left his as she drank, peering over the rim.

“Speaking of dinner,” he said, “I should get back to fixing it or we’ll die of starvation.”  He walked to the island in the center of the kitchen and resumed mixing something in a pottery bowl with a spoon.

“What are we having?  Seriously.”

Musser raised the bowl to his nose and sniffed.  He turned to the spice rack that hung underneath some cupboards.  “Stuffed shells, Caesar salad, and fresh bread.”  He was adding something from a small bottle as he spoke, mixing with the other hand.

Carrie’s mouth immediately began to water as she thought about the meal.  Stuffed shells were one of her favorite dishes.  How had he known?  “Sounds amazing.  Do you need any help?”  She hoped that he did not; she was not a very good cook.

He pointed the spoon at her.  “Absolutely not…you sit right there.  I won’t have you stealing my secret recipes,” he said with mock seriousness.

She laughed and took another sip of her wine, feeling the coolness slide down her throat.  “You said you had a dog.”

“Ahh, yes.  Atlas.  He’s out sniffing around the woods.  He may come home tonight…he may not.  I tell him to call if he’s going to stay out all night, but he never listens.”

“What kind is he?”

“Great Pyrenees.  Big as a dump-truck, but friendly.  You’ll meet him sooner or later.”  He retrieved a colander from the sink that was full of freshly cooked pasta shells.  With a spoon, he began to stuff them with cheese and lay them into a glass oven pan.  “Where are you from originally?”

“Here in Virginia, but about three hours to the west.  I grew up in the mountains, near Charlottesville.  It was amazingly beautiful.”  She thought back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, remembering the smell of the forest near her house.  “How about you?”

“Georgia, close to Stone Mountain.  Wasn’t quite in the woods, but it was a lot better than the city.  I lived in Atlanta for a year and just about went crazy.  Too many people.”

“I don’t like big cities either,” she said.  “What made you join the Army?”

“I’d always wanted to be in the military, for as long as I could remember.  But I also wanted to be a cop.  I’d just graduated from Georgia and was looking for a job when a recruiter called me.  He pointed out that I could do both as an MP, and I sent my OCS packet in later that month.”

“Did you ever regret it?”

“Not really.  I mean, I had the same thoughts that everyone does during Basic, but they passed.  I like the life, the routine, the structure.”  He looked up at her with his gray eyes across the lettuce he was shredding.  “Now you’re the question, Carrie.  Why would a smart, beautiful attorney like you join the Army?”

Her heart skipped a beat at his praise.  “I wanted to give something back to my country.”  She smiled.  “It’s funny.  My whole family said to me, ‘Why you?’  I thought about it, and I decided that if I didn’t go in, then who would?  The Army needs good people, and I knew that I could make a difference. 

“Plus, I didn’t really like the big firm lifestyle.  You know, 80-hour weeks, pressure to make partner, office politics, et cetera.  Being JAG lets me get the most out of being an attorney.  I feel like I can actually make a difference.”

“That’s pretty admirable.  I wish we had more people like you.” 

Carrie smiled back at him over the rim of her glass.

They talked while Musser cooked, intentionally avoiding anything to do with the Surgeon or the investigation.  She was struck by how intelligent he was, especially for someone in the military.  She got the impression from many soldiers that they were not stupid, but were not smart.  Yet Musser seemed to be quick, humorous, and well educated. 

She loved the way he was able to cook and talk at the same time.  He had at least three dishes going at once, yet was unhurried and calm.  Carrie had always been like a tornado in the kitchen, tossing ingredients together haphazardly and in a panic.  Everything she made tasted the same and was usually burned.  She admired a man who knew his way around the kitchen.

After the stuffed shells were put in the oven to bake, Musser took out two loaves of freshly baked bread.  The smell wafted over Carrie where she sat.  “Now that’s impressive,” she said.  “You bake your own bread.”  He used oven mitts to get the loaves out of the pans.  One went on a cloth in front of Carrie, making her mouth water.  Musser broke off several chunks and handed one to her, steaming.

“Cheese bread.  I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.  I haven’t eaten yet today.”

“Neither have I.”  She bit into the hot bread, tasting the cheese that had been baked into the loaf.  It was moist, not needing butter. 

Carrie chewed, speaking around the mouthful of bread.  “Amazing.”  Musser watched her as she ate, while he slowly bit into his own chunk.  She swallowed and said, “I may have to take you home with me.”

His eyebrows rose.  “Really?  I might like that.”

She felt the blush rising on her neck.  “As a cook,” she added.

“Oh,” he said, a smile still on his face.  He refilled her wine and his own, clinking the bottle against the glasses.  Carrie could already feel the wine; she had eaten nothing since the night before.  It flowed through her, loosening her muscles and warming her blood.

Both of them were leaning on the counter between them, talking in low voices about something she could never remember later.  Carrie impulsively inched forward and touched her lips to his.  They looked at each with eyes unfocused from the closeness, magnetically coming back together after a moment.  The kiss lasted longer this time; she tasted the wine on his lips.  Finally breaking away after a long minute, she realized she was breathing heavily.  He straightened up and looked at her, sipping from his glass. 

The buzzer from the oven cut through the air, and Musser turned away.  As he was gingerly pulling the glass dish out of the oven, Carrie said, “Where’s your bathroom?”

“First door down the hall on the right.”

Carrie slid down off the high chair and walked down the hall.  She swayed slightly from the wine as she walked.  She found the bathroom and went in, shutting the door behind her.  Carrie looked at herself in the mirror, staring into own eyes.  “What are you doing?” she asked the mirror in a low voice.  “An hour ago, you were so nervous that you almost didn’t come in.”  She shook her head.  She had never felt this way about somebody since Richard, attracted physically as well as mentally.  Carrie pressed her palm against her reflection in the mirror.  “Be good, girl.” 

Straightening her hair in the clip on top of her head, she walked back out into the kitchen.  Musser was gone.

“Dan?” she called.

“I’m out here,” he said from the deck.  She pushed open the screen door and stepped out into the deepening gloom.  The sun had set long before, but the moon and the Milky Way made the leaves of the trees glisten in white light.  Carrie could see fireflies sparkling in air above the yard.

Musser was setting a dish down on a small table that had been set up on the deck.  Their dinner had been laid out on the tablecloth, and he had brought their glasses outside.  “Ready to eat?” he asked. 

Carrie walked up to the table, where he pulled her chair out for her.  “Thank you,” she told him in a low voice.  He sat in his chair, facing her at an angle.  Their knees were touching under the table.  Unfolding his napkin, he smiled at her.  The moon gave off enough light that they had no trouble seeing each other.

Musser reached forward for the salad, spooning it onto the plate in front of Carrie.  A crouton plinked onto the china, and her mouth began to water.  With her fork, she speared a piece of lettuce and a crouton.  The smell of the Caesar dressing was strong in her nostrils as she crunched down on the mouthful.

She looked over at him as they ate in silence, intent on the food.  He smiled back at her, his blue eyes squeezing into mirth lines.  “I’m glad you came,” he said.

“I’m glad you asked.”

They ate quickly, both hungry from their fast and from the hectic day.  Carrie wolfed down the stuffed shells while trying to act ladylike.  He noticed and spooned seconds onto her plate without making her ask.  She sopped up marinara sauce from the shells with a piece of bread.

“How did you know that I love stuffed shells?”

“I didn’t, but I’m happy that you do.”

They finished the first bottle of wine and started on the second.  The talked and stared at each other until long after they had finished dinner. 

Carrie made a decision in her mind.  She drained her glass and leaned forward on the table, close to Musser.  “Dinner was wonderful.  Thank you.” 

“You’re very welcome.”

Their faces were only inches apart, and he reached forward.  Taking her face in his hands, they kissed.  They were shy at first, but the kiss deepened as they became more confident.

Carrie broke it off and pulled back slightly.  Looking into each other’s eyes, they sat in silence for a long moment.  She finally spoke.  “Let’s go inside.”

***

They went into the darkened living room, dimly lit by light spilling through from the kitchen.  She pulled him down onto a wide couch beside her, heart racing.  She kicked her heels off and they kissed deeply, tongues exploring mouths.  Carrie put her arms behind his back, caressing the hotness of the muscles that rippled beneath his shirt.  She felt his hands on the sides of her stomach, gripping her tightly. 

After several minutes of kissing, Carrie felt him move from her mouth.  His light kisses trailed down her chin and onto her neck, traveling slowly around the nape of her neck and behind her ear.  Bolts of energy shot away from his lips as they massaged her skin and her breathing quickened.  It caught in her throat with a moan when he moved down to the hollow of her neck.  Carrie’s hands tightened around Musser, letting him know that she liked what he was doing.

The kisses slowly moved downward even farther, into the split where her the top buttons of her blouse were undone.  The lips stayed on her skin, but she felt the hands move up from her sides to unbutton her top.  Carrie reached up behind her head and undid the clip holding her hair, letting it spill across her neck.  She leaned backwards along the couch, closing her eyes.  The kisses traced the progress of the buttons being opened, down to her navel.

The side of the blouse were moved away and she felt the air on her hot skin.  He moved back up her slowly, pausing at the bareness above her bra.  The backs of fingers ran their way along the top of her breast as he returned to her mouth.  Their tongues dueled while one of his hands slid along her skin, cupping a breast, gently squeezing.  Carrie undid the clasp on the front of her white lace bra, feeling herself spring free from the fabric.  Hands moved the bra away, brushing against one of her hard nipples.  She gasped at the explosion of pleasure, arching her back.

Musser moved down again, concentrating on her breasts.  He used his tongue and fingers expertly.  Carrie squirmed on the cool leather of the couch, moaning and stroking his head with her hands, pulling it tighter to her.  One of his hands caressed her thigh through her slacks.  After a few minutes, she felt kisses move downward to her stomach.  His hands cupped her breasts for a moment before sliding to her belt.  The tension of the belt loosened as the buckle was undone; it was followed by the button and the zipper of her slacks.  She felt the zipper slip over every tooth as it was lowered, and she pushed her bottom up from the couch so Musser could remove her slacks.

He paused and stood to remove his shirt.  She sat upright.  Clad only in her panties, the cool air wicked the sweat from her body.  Reaching forward, she undid the buckle of his pants while looking into his stormy eyes.  Her gaze moved down his body, seeing the muscles of his chest silhouetted in the light from the kitchen.  He kicked his shoes off as she unzipped his jeans, feeling the hardness of his excitement beneath the fabric.

When he was stripped to his boxer shorts, she stood and took his hand.  He led her from the living room and down the hall.  They reached his bedroom, which was dark except for the moonlight spilling through the open window above the headboard of the bed.  Musser paused to turn on a CD player, and she heard the strains of classical music waft onto the air.  Carrie sat on the foot of the double bed, feeling it sink under her weight.  Pushing herself backwards along the bed, she reached out and pulled him down beside her.

They embraced tightly, kissing with passion.  Tongues dueled; hands stroked.  Carrie was breathing rapidly and her heart was racing.  She rolled over on her back, pulling him on top of her and between her legs.  His weight was comforting on her, pressing her into the fabric of the bedspread.  She felt the hard bulge in his underwear pressing against her panties, and she slowly ground her hips against his as they kissed.  His arms went underneath hers and behind her neck, while his hands cradled her head upwards and towards his lips.

The need within her was building.  Carrie pushed her hands against Musser’s chest.  He rose and knelt between her legs.  She smiled up at him in the moonlight and raised her hips so he could slip her panties down her legs.  Carrie fingered the elastic band around his boxers, already damp from their sweat.  Pulling with her hand, she slowly lowered the fabric over his hardness.

After he had kicked his boxers off, he retrieved a condom out of the bedside table.  A long moment later, he lowered himself onto her again.  She took his head in her hands and kissed him, biting his lower lip tenderly as she pulled her head back.

The shadows cast by the moonlight rippled like water on the tense muscles of his chest as he reared over her.  She closed her eyes in pleasure.  As they moved against each other, Carrie slid her hands along his back, scratching lightly with her nails.  A gasp escaped her lips, but was silenced by his kiss.

They slowly began to speed up until the slapping of their bodies filled the room.  She felt her inner tide rising quickly and tightened her arms and legs around Musser.  Small moans were escaping her lips; her breath came in ragged gasps.  He sensed her urgency and pushed her onward and upward, until the wave suddenly crashed over her. 

They lay without moving for a long time afterward, clasping each other tightly.  Carrie realized how safe she felt, buried in his arms.  She knew that they would eventually have to get up, but never wanted the moment to end. 

Their sweat cooled in the night breeze that washed through the window above the bed, but she was still warm.  Musser slowly stroked Carrie’s hair with one hand as she looked up at the starry sky through the glass.  She fell asleep soon after, happier than she had felt in many years.

***

Wayne stood in the forest, staring at the house through the cloud of fireflies that burnt the night.  He knew he was invisible; they would never see him.  Even if they did, he could slip away easily.  The river was nearby.  He smelled the earthy odor of the river water as it slowly dried on his clothes.

He had to use the river almost exclusively to move around now, since his van had been taken when they came into his house.  “Fools,” he thought.  His planning had paid off, though; the escape tunnel had served its purpose.  He knew they were there right now, waiting for him to return.  “Stupid fools.”  He had nothing there that would make him return, but if he did…  He felt a stiffening in his pants at the thought of what he could do to the soldiers.

His latest Angela had satisfied him somewhat, but she had left too soon.  He reminded himself to pick one with stamina, staying power.  After their date, he had been forced to drop her off by the water tower for Carrie to find.

He slowly ran the knife up and down his arm, stroking his skin with its cool teeth.  His fantasies drifted towards Carrie.  Now that was one with stamina.  She had led him around for several days, never seeing him in his van.  The license plate number from her car had given him all the information about her he would need.

The Surgeon pictured Carrie’s naked body, speaking to her in a calm voice.  Your time will come soon enough, little possum.  Liked what you saw of my prior girlfriends, did you not?  When I pick you up for dinner with me, you will know what is coming.  You saw my work and admired it.

It will not be long now.

A sound reached him from the house, the low moan of a woman.  He cocked his head like a parrot; a gasp identified the dark window on the back of the house.  The heat began to rise up his neck.  “Just like you, you little tramp,” he thought.  “Hopping into bed with Mr. MP, are you?  Enjoy it while it lasts, possum.  You will be with me tomorrow.”

The Surgeon raised his head to the trees above, seeing lights flicker from the fireflies.  The turquoise flashbulbs seared his senses with their brilliance.  He breathed deeply and inhaled the calming aroma of the night, the grass, and the swaying pines.

Chapter 11

 

The smell of the pines drifted across Carrie as she lay entwined with Musser.  She had drifted out of sleep with a slight feeling of wrongness.  She felt as if she were being watched. 

Dismissing it as the wine, she sighed and looked up at the stars.  She had been staring at the sky for several minutes when the phone rang.  Carrie jumped at the sound.  Musser peeled himself off her and grabbed the cordless phone with an outstretched hand.  She was looking at him in the gloom when his body tensed up against hers. 

Glancing at the red numbers of the clock on the bedside table, she saw that it was nearly four in the morning.  It must be serious, she thought.

“Fifteen minutes,” he said.  “I’ll pick up Major Grace on the way.”  Hanging up the phone, he rolled over and put his hand on the side of her face tenderly.  After a moment of silence, he said in a low voice, “They’ve found another victim.”

She closed her eyes.  “Ohhh…God.  We let him kill another one.”

“She’s been found on top of the water tower on post, laid out just like Flanders.  Some of my men are holding the scene, waiting for us.”

Carrie sat up.  “Well, I guess we’d better get dressed.  I’ve got a spare set of BDUs in my car.”

Ten minutes later, they were speeding towards her barracks in the Miata.  She wanted to pick up her gear before they went to the crime scene.  After sprinting up the stairs to retrieve her gun and equipment belt, they hopped into her Humvee for the short trip to the crime scene.

Carrie floored the accelerator as she drove towards the water tower.  She ran past it every day; it was on a hill overlooking the river.  They both saw the flashing blue lights of an MP roadblock as they rounded a curve in the road.  Carrie cut off the headlights so she did not blind the MP as he stepped up to her window.  “I’m with JAG,” she said.  The soldier nodded towards his partner, who moved the barricade out of the way.

Carrie parked the Humvee on the grass near one of the tower legs.  A set of searchlights was aimed up at the narrow walkway that ran around the base of the tank, but the rest of it was shrouded in darkness.  When she stepped out of the vehicle, Carrie could almost make out a dark red form leaning against the metal above.

An NCO had approached Musser and was speaking to him in a low voice.  He nodded and returned to Carrie.  “The body is up there,” he said, aiming his hand at the walkway.  She looked upward again, but could barely see the corpse even with the searchlights on it.

“I can barely see it.  How’d they find it?”

In reply, Musser walked over to the driver’s side of her Humvee.  Reaching inside, he turned on the headlights.  When the beams washed across the wide water pipe that rose from the ground to the tank above, Carrie gasped.  A six foot tall arrow had been drawn in blood, pointing upward.  “An MP on routine patrol for teenagers parking up here found it.  They paged Brogan, who was on call tonight for the Task Force.  He organized the crime scene.  They’ve already dusted for latents and checked for trace evidence.  We’re only waiting on Dr. Washington.”

Carrie was still looking at the red arrow, not even dry yet.  “He’s taunting us,” she said.  “He wants us to find the bodies.  That’s why they’re put on display like this.  He thinks that even if we find the victims right away, that we won’t be able to catch him.”

Musser nodded in agreement.  “Do you want to see it?”

“I guess so.”  Carrie was terrified of heights, an irrational fear that stemmed from a childhood fall off the roof of a barn. 

When she had fallen, she had known while in midair that she would die.  After she landed she was surprised to discover that she was still alive, luckily having fallen into a hay wagon that was parked by the side of the barn.  Ever since, she had been deathly afraid of high places.  It took extreme effort to overcome the fear, and her heart was pounding as she stepped towards the ladder that looked too flimsy to hold them.  Great, Carrie, she said to herself.  Guns and murderers don’t scare you, but a mere 50-foot tower strikes fear into your heart.

Even though she acted perfectly normal, Musser sensed her fear and stepped beside her.  “Don’t worry,” he said.  “I’ll be right behind you.  There’s a cage around the ladder to keep you from falling outward, and I can catch you if you fall.”  She just nodded, staring upward at the metal rungs rising at a slight angle. 

Grasping the cold iron of the first one, she swung her boot upward and began to climb.  The cage soon surrounded her and she could hear Musser’s tread on the ladder below.  Her hands began to sweat, and she had to pause to wipe them off one at a time on her shirt while holding on with the other.  Resuming her ascent, her fear gradually subsided as she rose into the searchlight beams.  The ground was obscured in darkness below her, so it was if she were standing on the ground.

The ladder ended, and she pulled herself onto the walkway around the tower.  It was about three feet wide, made of iron grillwork, and had railings on both sides.  One railing edged up against the metal plates of the tank itself.  Musser emerged from the ladder behind her.  They were halfway around the tank from the body, and he nodded for her to go forward.

She tried to grip the handrails lightly as she walked, rather than with white knuckles.  The walkway curved around the tank and the body soon came into view.  Carrie was struck with déjà vu as she looked at what was left of the poor woman.  She had been burned, hacked up, and disemboweled.  Tied to the railing behind her as Flanders had been, a bag kept Carrie’s eyes off the same face that had stared up from five other bodies.  The Surgeon had exacted his revenge yet again, using the body of another innocent woman.

“How do you think the Surgeon got her up here?” she asked.

Musser pointed to a place on the outer railing where the paint had been rubbed away.  “That’s a mark from a rope.  He must have hauled her up with it.  Unfortunately, he made sure to wipe down the area to keep us from getting any useable fibers.”

Carrie kneeled over the body, searching for clues.  There was only one rat bite in view on the woman, but the burn marks looked nearly identical to those from the other bodies.  Carrie’s nose wrinkled as she detected a peculiar odor.  She sniffed around the body, trying to separate it from the smell of death that permeated the air.  Finally, she identified it as diesel fuel.  Her brow furrowed in thought.

Carrie straightened up and spoke to Musser.  “See if you smell anything weird.” 

He obeyed, bending over the corpse.  “Diesel?” he asked after a moment.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Strange.  Did you notice it around Flanders?”

“No, but she had been out in the open longer.  The smell could have dissipated by the time we found her.  It looks like this one was dumped here tonight, since the blood on the arrow down there isn’t dry.”

“We’ll know for sure when Washington gets here.”

A voice behind them spoke.  “Ask and ye shall receive.”  They both spun around, hands on their weapons, and were confronted with the dark form of Dr. Washington.  He was grinning humorlessly at their tension.

Musser shook her head.  “Damn, doc.  You just about made me jump off the side.”

“Good to see you, too.  Now, shall I get to work?”  They nodded and scrunched up against the wall of the tank so that he could slip by them. 

Immediately, he looked back at them.  “Did you smell it?”

“Diesel fuel,” said Carrie.

“Exactly.”  He paused.  “You are building up quite a set of clues on this one.  Any idea who it is?”

“Yeah,” replied Musser.  “We raided his house last night, but he escaped.  Now all we have to do is catch him.  There’s one problem: we don’t know what he looks like.  We have his name, his address, everything except a picture.”

“Well, you’ve done extremely quick work.”

“Not quick enough to save this young woman,” said Carrie.  “I’m going down.  Let me know if you find anything new, doc.”  Musser went down the ladder ahead of her, in case she lost her grip.  As she climbed down, she thought how safe she felt around him, even in the midst of danger.

Striding towards her Humvee, she felt the anger rise within her.  She yanked open the door, changed her mind, and slammed it violently. 

Musser was staring at her with a startled expression, eyes wide.  Carrie turned towards the leg of the tower and kicked it as hard as she could.  The steel toe in her boot took most of the blow, but her leg tingled from the shock.  “God damn it,” she shouted at Musser.  “What the fuck are we doing?  We had this bastard in our fingers twice, but we let him get away.  Sure, now we have more evidence, but we bought it with that young woman’s blood!”

Musser tried to speak, but she interrupted him.  “How many more?  How many more will die before we finally get lucky?  And it will take luck, because we’re the damn Keystone Kops!”

“Carrie…”  he held his hand outstretched.  Tears were in her eyes and she was panting.  With a deep breath, she willed herself to calm down.  Walking the few steps towards him, she took his hand.  They were in the darkness behind her Humvee, out of sight from the others.

“I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not okay.  I’m in charge of the investigation, and I have to set an example.”

“Right now, there are more things to worry about than ‘proper leadership tactics.’”

She smiled.  “I guess you’re right.”

“Of course I am.  Now, what’s next?”

Carrie thought for several seconds.  “Brogan and Dillard are here.  Let’s let them do their jobs.  We won’t do any good by hanging around, anyway.  Let’s go back to the JAG Office.”

Twenty minutes later, they were seated in Carrie’s office sipping hideous coffee from Styrofoam cups.  She grimaced as she took a drink, vowing that she would never try to make her own coffee again.  Musser did not seem to notice, but he had loaded his down with sugar and cream to mask the taste.

Carrie looked across the desk at him.  “You know, we’ve found a decent number of clues that are supposedly being investigated.  You heard all the info from the others.  Can you give me an update on the progress we’ve made?”

He nodded, pulling a notebook out of his cargo pocket.  “The best evidence we have is the DNA taken from the semen swabs on the Flanders case.  We sent the samples to the state database and the military database.  The state has about 30,000 DNA runs on file.  Whenever a person is convicted of a felony in Virginia, they are legally required to submit to a sample of DNA being taken.  The military has been taking samples from every single soldier that entered the service since about ’91.”

“The trouble is, the labs don’t actually process any of the samples unless there’s a need.  It’s too expensive.  So, unlike fingerprints, we couldn’t just do a computer search and come up with the perp.”

Carrie broke in.  “But we have a name.”

“Exactly.  We sent both of them the name of Wayne Moisant.  The military database came up negative, since our guy’s too old to have enlisted during the time that the samples have been taken.  But we got lucky with Virginia.  Our buddy Wayne’s got a felony record.” 

He unfolded a sheet of paper from the notebook.  “Three years ago, he was convicted of credit card fraud.  He’d been using a stolen credit card to order some stuff to his house.”

“Military surplus?”

“Bingo.  He got two years, all suspended because he had no prior convictions.  Looked like a good guy, I guess.”  Musser smiled at the irony.  “Anyway, because of the felony the state took his blood.  I told them to run the sample, and it came back with a match to the semen swabs.”

“Yes!  We’ve got him.  No jury is going to ignore evidence like that.  We even found it legitimately, so there’s no exclusionary rule problem that would keep it out of the trial.”  If they obtained evidence illegally or unconstitutionally, the exclusionary rule would not allow it to be introduced in court.  “What else can we use to convict him?”

“Pizza Hut records turned up negative.  He must have paid cash.”  Musser flipped pages.  “Surplus catalogs.  One of the biggest, U.S. Cavalry, has records of selling a pair of green jungle boots to Moisant’s zip code.  The boots were delivered to a vacant house two blocks from the one we just raided.  An alias was used, probably the one off the stolen credit card that the Surgeon used to pay for them.  We already know that the knife is linked to him.”

“Good.  It wouldn’t stand up by itself in court, but it’ll reinforce the other evidence.”

Another page was turned and Musser grinned at her.  “The infamous binoculars.  The serial number on them was traced to the distributor, who reported them being shipped to Moisant in 1993.”

Carrie shook her head.  “We don’t have them any more, so we can’t really use that in court.  I suppose I could testify about the number I wrote down, but a judge isn’t likely to admit it.  Even if we do find them later, the chain of evidence is iffy.”

Musser scowled in agreement.  “The plastic surgery link could get him.  He was an M.D., but lost his license to practice.  He was a cosmetic surgeon, and all of the victims have undergone plastic surgery to make them fit the mold.

“Incidentally, we think that the Surgeon is altering the women to match his dead wife.  He probably caught her screwing around and killed her, but once wasn’t enough.  He’s turned to other women to relive her murder.”

Musser closed the notebook.  “That’s it.”

She smiled.  “We know who he is, and we have evidence to slam dunk a conviction when he’s caught.”  Her smile disappeared.  “But we still don’t know what he looks like.”

“There is that.”

An idea struck her.  “You said he was arrested.  Mug shot?”

“Nope.  Arresting officer didn’t load film in the camera.  Typical.”

They sat in silence for several minutes.  “Are you going to try this case if we catch the Surgeon alive?” said Musser.

“No.  I’ll give it to the Commonwealth.”

“Why not take it to federal or military court?”

“The jurisdiction is questionable, and the feds would never actually carry out the death sentence.  They may give a lot of people the death penalty, but they almost never actually put them to death.  We can send this to trial in Virginia Circuit Court within six months and have the bastard strapped into the chair within two years.”

“The swift sword of justice,” he said with a sarcastic grin.

She smiled back at him.  Looking out the window, she spoke again.  “Dan, thank you for last night.”

“My pleasure.  I hope it wasn’t a one time thing.”

“I doubt it.” 

They looked at each other without blinking.  Carrie sighed and spoke again.  “What now?  He clearly has someplace else to stay, but we don’t have any idea of where it is.  We’re basically out of leads.  So where do we go from here?”

“I don’t know.  We wait, I guess.”

“Not very encouraging.  The longer we wait, the more women he kidnaps, alters, and kills.”  Her eyes wandered to one of the paintings hanging in her office.  It was from New Orleans and was a blurred impression of oak trees along St. Charles Avenue.  She looked back at Musser with a crooked smirk.

“When this is all over, I’m going to take a vacation.  A long one, back to New Orleans.  I’m going to rent a room in the Quarter and drink myself silly every night.  During the day, I’ll ride the street car, sit in the sun, and eat pounds of crawfish.  They’ll have to send the MPs down there to drag me back.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Carrie rose.  “I’m going to run back to my place.  I really need a shower, and I want to go for a quick run.  Do you want to get together for lunch?”

“I’d like that.  I’ll meet you here at noon.”

She stepped towards him and they embraced tightly.  She rested her head against his shoulder for a long moment as they stood in silence.  He stroked her back tenderly with one hand.  Finally, she kissed him and left.

***

It was still dark when she got back to her barracks.  The line of spaces in front of the building were all taken, and she had to drive around to the overflow lot.  The second lot was larger, but was set about a hundred yards from the barracks, in the rear.

Carrie shivered slightly in the chill air when she climbed out of her Humvee.  The street lights were out for some reason in the parking lot, and fog had moved in off the river to block the moon and stars. 

Fingering her holster, Carrie looked around.  She could barely make out the dim shapes of the trees between the parking lot and the barracks, looming out of the fog.  A walkway led through the undergrowth, but the lights were off there too.  Her hand searched for her flashlight, but she had taken the bulky cylinder off her belt and left it at the office. 

She froze and listened.  The pines creaked in the slight wind, and a foghorn sounded on the river.  The memory of lying in Musser’s arms sprang to her mind, but the comforting safety fled into the mist.

Shaking her head, Carrie scolded herself for being so jumpy.  The Surgeon just killed someone.  He wouldn’t strike again so soon.  Anyway, why should he be interested in me?

Taking a deep breath, she started for the barracks.  She was forced to feel her way through the lines of parked cars, and banged her shin painfully against a bumper.  Rubbing it, she cleared the parking lot and stepped onto the wooden walkway through the trees.  The path was bathed in darkness, so she slowed to a crawl.  Sliding a foot in front of her, she felt with it to make sure she stayed on the boards.  Gradually she moved into the thicket of trees, until she had lost sight of both the parking lot and the barracks.  Thank goodness for the walkway, or I’d be totally lost.

The fog muffled sounds in its thick cotton, enveloping Carrie in a silent, gray prison.  The smell of the river was carried on the fog, earthy mud washed from the fields of Virginia.

She considered drawing her weapon but decided against it.  If someone wanted to kill her, they would have just as much trouble finding her as she would have shooting them.  Also, if she dropped her gun in the fog it would be almost impossible to find until morning.  Advancing slowly, her heart began beating faster, but not from exertion.  How much farther can it be? 

A slight wind roiled the mists around her, making the pines creak and moan as they swayed in the breeze.  The fog distorted the sounds, making them sound almost human.

Carrie…”  The faint whisper echoed in her ears, perhaps only her imagination.  She whirled and stared out at the gray darkness.  A moan behind her made her spin around again.  Changing her earlier decision, she drew her SIG and thumbed the hammer back.

She froze for several minutes, listening to the night move around her.  A slight rustling sounded in the bushes between her and the barracks, and she aimed her pistol out into the fog.  The noise stopped, but she stood frozen for a long time afterward.  As she waited, the chill wetness of the fog began to seep into her skin, bringing goosebumps to the back of her neck.

Finally, Carrie decided to continue on to the barracks.  She kept the 9mm aimed into the mist, but raised her voice to the bushes.  “Wayne, if you come at me, I swear I’ll put a bullet in your balls.  Sound good to you?”  She began feeling her way along the walkway again.

Carrie…” said the wind.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

The mist flowed around Carrie as she hastened towards the barracks.  Her heart was pounding in her breast.  She shuffled along through several more steps, and concrete sounded under her feet.  Carrie walked forward and the dark wall of the barracks materialized in front of her. 

Yanking open the back door, Carrie reholstered her SIG.  She flipped the light on in the stairway and took them two at a time.

***

An hour later, it had finally grown light outside.  The rising sun banished her memories of the fear she had felt just a few hours earlier. 

Carrie had taken a shower and a short nap, and wanted to go for a run.  She sorted through a pile of clothes on the floor, trying to find her running clothes.  With a curse she slapped her forehead.  She had hand-washed her sweatpants in the bathroom sink, but had forgotten them.  They still sat there in the tepid water.

Shrugging her shoulders, she decided to wear BDU pants instead.  She had worn them before while running; they were baggy enough to be comfortable.  Pawing through her laundry hamper, she came up with a pair of dirty pants and put them on.  A JAG School T-shirt completed her outfit.  She threw a can of Diet Coke into the freezer; by the time she returned it would be chilled to perfection.  Carrie’s CD player fit nicely into a cargo pocket, and she stepped out the door with a smile on her face. 

It was after six in the morning and the troops in her barracks were falling out for physical training.  She passed bleary men and women on her way down the hall, nodding at those she recognized.  Normally she was done with her run and in the shower by this time, and seldom saw the others in the building because her hours were so different. 

Carrie stepped out into the morning air, hearing shouting from the troops formed up in front of the barracks.  An officer was leading them through push-ups, but many were having trouble, grunting and moaning.  The troops assigned to the HHC barracks were mostly office workers in poor shape.

Carrie set off on her normal route towards the swamp.  The sky was pink with the sunrise, and the dense mist from before had lifted.  Shiny-leafed magnolia trees were blooming along the side of the road.  She inhaled deeply.  The smell of the white magnolia blossoms crinkled her nostrils.

As she ran, Carrie’s thoughts returned to Musser and the night before.  A blush came to her face as she recalled their lovemaking.  It had been nearly two years since she had last been with a man, but sex with her past boyfriends had never been as passionate as with Musser.  Even Richard paled in comparison.

Cramming her fantasies back down, she tried to shift her thoughts to something more productive.  They had lost another victim because the Surgeon had escaped.  The woman’s death was Carrie’s fault; she was in charge of the investigation.  If they had put him in prison the woman would still be alive. 

A platoon of soldiers was running in formation ahead of Carrie.  She recognized them as trainees by the Drill Sergeant loping along the side of the rectangle.  He wore a round hat like Smokey the Bear, pulled low in the front.  As Carrie approached, she listened to the Drill Sergeant calling cadence to keep the troops in step.  She smiled, recalling the changes that had come while she was in the Army.  At first, the calls had been filthy, violent, or sexual rhymes that kept the men motivated.  The newer, more sensitive military had done away with cursing, violence, sex, and anything else vaguely interesting.

She was moving much faster than the platoon and passed them to the outside as if they were standing still.  The Drill Sergeant saw the quill and sword insignia on her shirt and called to his troops.

“Give the JAG Corps a ‘Hoo-ahh.’”

“Hoo-ahh!” returned the platoon, loud enough to be heard over her headphones.  A smile sprang to Carrie’s face as she thought about the courage of the young men and women. They were willing to die for America to defend what made the nation great.

The sound of the troops soon faded into the distance behind her as she made the turn to run along the river.  She could see the water tower on the hill, but it was too far away to make out whether the body had been removed.  The area around the base of the tank was still cordoned off by MPs.

Carrie gazed out at the river, wiping sweat from her brow.  Fishing boats were already drifting near the breakwater, men casting lines into the waves.  An empty container ship was steaming upstream, its propellers churning the brown water into froth.  Carrie could make out the Dead Fleet in the distance, sunken ships tilting in the muck of the river.

The sweat was running down her brow in salty rivulets, stinging her eyes.  The dirt road around her was deserted; she was over a mile out from the main post complex, and no buildings were around.  The swamp stank from nearby, and the river lapped against the sand on the small beach.

When Carrie glanced out at the river again, she saw a boat angling in towards the beach, a man seated in front of the outboard motor.  It was headed for a spot about a quarter of a mile ahead.  By the time she reached it a few minutes later, the man was attempting to pull the boat up on the beach.  It was a long, flat bottomed John-boat, and he was having trouble getting it pulled up far enough to keep the waves away.  She noticed that he had left the motor in the water; it was catching on the bottom, preventing him from pulling the boat ashore.

She had already run past when her conscience began to bother her.  The angel on her shoulder was whispering in her ear.  He’s new to boats and doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Give him a hand. 

Carrie sighed and turned around.  She clambered down the embankment to the sand.  She jogged the few yards back to where the man was struggling, slipping the headphones from her ears.  “Hey!  Need some help?”

The man raised his head and looked at her, startled.  He wore a pair of khaki pants, a fishing vest, and a baseball cap.  A grin split his friendly face, and he nodded, the brim of his hat bobbing.  He was about twenty years older than her.  “I sure do, missy.  Can’t seem to get her onto the beach.”

She pointed to the outboard motor.  “You’ve got to raise that up.  It’s catching on the bottom.”

The man looked at her in confusion.

“The motor.  Tilt it forward.” 

He stared at her blankly.

“Never mind.  I’ll get it.”  Carrie had known her way around boats since childhood.  She raised a running shoe over the gunwale of the John-boat, planting it in the center of the flat bottom.  She stepped all the way in, careful to keep her weight in the center.  The wind was gusting hard, making it harder to balance.  The boat was still mostly in the river and could tip her out easily if she shifted her weight to the outside.  Moving aft, she felt the water in the bottom of the boat soak through her shoes.  Great idea, she thought.  Now you’ll get blisters from your wet shoes on the way home.

Carrie was straining to raise the motor off the bottom when the boat rocked.  She hadn’t moved, and a frown ran across her brow.  She turned and saw that the man had stepped into the boat.

“I’ve got the motor.  You need to pull from the shore,” she said, trying to be heard over the wind.

The man just smiled, shuffling forward along the length of the boat.

Something’s wrong with this, Carrie thought.  As the man advanced, a gust of wind blew his cap from his head.  It plopped into the water at the bottom of the boat.  Carrie stared at the sandy brown hair that had been revealed, and understanding dawned on her face.  She looked down, noticing the green jungle boots on the man’s feet.  Don’t let him see your fear.

Straightening, Carrie said calmly.  “Good morning, Wayne.  It’s nice to finally meet you.”  She flicked her eyes down to the boat, searching for a weapon.  Nothing was there.

“It is a pleasure, Carrie.”  He was still moving, almost within striking range.

“What do you plan to do, Wayne?”  She glanced up at the road, hoping someone would happen along.

“I thought we could get to know each other better.  Perhaps have a little friendly banter among two fellow warriors.  Afterwards, you will have a little operation.”

“I’d prefer not to.”

“Ah, but my dearest little possum…you do not have a choice in the matter.”  The smile was still on his face, but his eyes had turned hollow, as if she were staring at a stuffed doll.

Carrie held his eyes with hers, mentally preparing herself.  Suddenly, she lashed out with one leg against the gunwale, shoving down with all her strength.  The boat tilted violently to the side.  The Surgeon tried to steady himself by raising his arms, but he lost his balance and crashed into the water.

Without waiting, Carrie rushed forward towards the shore.  The boat rocked with her haste, but did not tip.  She vaulted over the square prow and onto the sandy beach.  Scrambling towards the embankment, she heard loud splashing and spluttering behind her as the Surgeon came out of the river. 

Carrie made it to the steep hill below the road and began climbing, pulling herself up using trees and roots protruding from the slope.  Almost to the top, she grabbed onto a sapling with both hands and hauled herself forward.  With a ripping of roots, the small tree sprang out of the earth, pitching her backwards.

The sky somersaulted around her as Carrie flew towards the beach, spinning.  Her back struck the ground first with a thud, air rushing out of her lungs.  The earth slammed into her head, and brightness rushed into her vision as she blacked out.

Chapter 12

 

Carrie awoke in a wet, dark, stinking hell. 

Her eyes fluttered open, revealing a world that would not focus around her.  She realized that she was lying prone, and tried to sit up.  The effort brought stars to her eyes, and she dropped back.  Breathing deeply, she concentrated on one body part on a time, deciding if she was injured.  Except for her throbbing head, nothing else hurt.

She cursed, thinking about her near-escape.  It was not as if the Surgeon had gotten her himself; she had done all the work for him.  She came down to his boat, got in, cornered herself, then conked herself over the noggin.  We have met the enemy, and he is us.

After a few minutes, her vision cleared and she was able to look around her prison.  The only light came from a small, round window set high along one wall.  It cast a tight beam through the musty air onto the floor, like a laser.  The walls were rusted metal, red pieces scaling off to the floor.  The floor was metal as well.  One side of the room was submerged under puddles of water and stinking diesel fuel.  Carrie lay in one such puddle and could feel her skin tingling from the noxious mixture.  The door was oval, set about six inches up from the floor.  Exposed pipes snaked across the ceiling, trailing shredded insulation like old skin.

Carrie managed to rise into a sitting position, leaning up against the rough wall.  She noticed that she still wore her clothes and shoes, and her CD player was still in her cargo pocket.  Her breath came in gasps against the stifling heat that permeated the room.  She wiped the wetness from her face, unsure if it was sweat or water from the puddle into which she had been thrown.

Focusing on the door, she realized that it was a watertight model, designed to be dogged shut against a flood.  I’m on a ship, she realized.  That’s why everything’s iron, and why the window and door are round.

Comprehension dawned as she rapidly scanned through her mental files. She had never realized, but she was the same height, weight, hair color, and age as the rest of the victims.  All the clues: the rats, the diesel fuel, the asbestos insulation, the closeness to the river; everything fit.  The victims had all been held captive on a ship.

This ship.

Carrie blanched.  She was the next victim!

The visions of burned and flayed skin, bare bone, and bloody entrails rose in her mind.  It was only a matter of time before the Surgeon dumped her mutilated corpse somewhere for the police to find.  She would be pecked by crows, gnawed by animals, bloated in the summer heat, prodded by doctors…Tears sprang to her eyes.

Lowering her head into her grubby hands, she began to sob. 

***

The passage of time was easy to gauge.  She had not put her watch on for her run, but the pencil of light from the porthole visibly advanced along the floor.  Carrie stared at it through teary eyes as it crept forward.  Unblinking, she thought about how badly she had screwed up as the bright circle moved.

After several hours, the light reached the wall.  Making the turn, it began to crawl upward.  Carrie had stopped crying; she had realized that it would do her no good.  She also yanked her mind away from thinking about the past.  What I have to think about is how to escape

The need to urinate was becoming unbearable.  After a search, Carrie located a small hole in the floor near the wall.  She used it as a toilet, leaning against the wall.  The hole was only several inches across and led into a dark pipe.  The smell wafting out of the depths told her that others had used it as a toilet as well.

As the hours passed, Carrie racked her brain trying to think of a way to escape.  Pacing her cell, she tried the door.  A wheel had originally been mounted on her side to open it, but it had removed.  The small rod it had turned still remained, and she rubbed her hands raw trying to force it to move.  There was simply not enough leverage, and the door did not budge. 

Probing around the edge of the oval door, she noticed that it opened inward, towards her.  There was a lip where the bulkhead met the door itself.  A narrow gap existed between the door and the iron frame where a rubber seal had long since rotted away.  Carrie inserted her fingers into the gap and pulled, but nothing happened.

Giving up on the door, she moved to the porthole.  The opening was set about eight feet above the floor.  It was about nine inches across, certainly not wide enough to let her escape.  The glass had been broken, but no shards could be found.  She cursed; a weapon would have been nice.  Carrie stepped back and looked up at the narrow circle of blue sky that was revealed.  Puffy, white clouds flowed across the opening. 

She walked back to the bulkhead under the porthole.  Estimating the distance from the floor, Carrie sprang upward with her runner’s legs, grasping the edge of the opening.  Straining, she hauled herself up, helping with her sneakers against the metal side.  When her head reached the hole, she looked out, blinking against the brightness.

She was being held in a ship on the James River, and could see one of the banks about a half mile across the water.  Scanning the bank quickly, she made out a water tower and miles of empty swamp.  Fort Eustis!  The ship she was in was moored in the James River off the Army base.

Dropping back to the floor, she took another look around the room.  The water had all accumulated along one side of the cell, as if the floor were uneven.  Carrie moved across to the other side and confirmed that the floor was on a slight slope.  This ship is part of the Dead Fleet, she thought.  The ship has sunk to the bottom of the river, giving it a list to one side.

Moving along the sides of her cell, Carrie tried banging and scraping on the rusted iron plates.  They were all solid, even though they looked flimsy.  She tried to reach the pipes along the ceiling by jumping, but they were too high.

By the time the circle of light had disappeared with midday, Carrie had come to a conclusion.  The porthole was too narrow for her to escape.  The door was unable to be opened from the inside.  The walls were impregnable.  The ceiling was unreachable.  Only one option remained: the Surgeon would have to open the door.  Once it was open, she would have to disable him to allow her time to escape.

Or kill him.

Carrie shook her head.  She would try not to kill the Surgeon; he needed to stand trial.  She was not a judge or jury.  But he will kill you, said the devil on her shoulder.  Carrie paced as she thought.  Yes, but my job is to uphold justice.  What would benefit society more?  Killing him would ensure that no more innocent people were murdered by him, but it would also be vigilante justice. 

Fuck it.  Carrie reached a conclusion.  She would kill the bastard if she got the chance.  Morality and justice were one thing, but common sense was another.  If she let him live, he might kill her or someone else.  The world would be better off if Wayne Moisant were not breathing the same air as the rest of society.

A weight eased off her chest.  Since it was to be death, her job got a lot easier.  It was easier to kill someone outright than to attempt disabling, but non-lethal, injury.

The next question was: How do you kill him, Carrie?  It was easier said than done; the Surgeon was an ex-Green Beret.  She held her hands in front of her, clenching them and releasing.  He’s much stronger than me, so I can’t take him on hand-to-hand.  She needed either a weapon or a way to stun him if she was to succeed.

Looking around her cell, she cursed under her breath.  It was completely devoid of anything that could possibly be used as a weapon.  A few rusted bolts were scattered around the room, but they were too small to be useful.  She had left her SIG on her desk in the barracks when she went running.  If I ever get out of here, I’m never leaving home again without a gun.  The weight of her CD player pulled the cargo pocket of her BDUs down, and she considered it.  Perhaps she could use the headphone cord to strangle him. 

She pulled out the cord, wrapping it around her hands to test its utility.  The wire was thin copper covered with a coating of rubber.  Any man could easily break through it with one hand.  Sighing, she dropped the wire back into her pocket.

Carrie walked over to the porthole and hauled herself up to look outside.  A flight of Apaches was coming up the James, skimming low and fast over the brown water.  The gunner in the lead chopper turned his head and looked in her direction.  Sensors in his helmet picked up the movement and swiveled the rotary cannon underneath the nose of the Apache to follow his eyes. 

Carrie looked at the choppers longingly, wishing she had something to use to signal them.  She had no lights to flash, and no mirrors to reflect the sun.  Wait.  Carrie dropped back down to the deck and froze.  Ripping open the buttons on her cargo pocket, she pulled out her CD player again.  The top popped open with the touch of a finger, and she extracted the disc from inside.

Holding the CD along the outside, Carrie turned it around.  She could see her reflection in the disc; now she had a signal mirror. 

There was one problem: to use it, she would have to have a hand free.  But it took both her hands to hold her suspended in front of the porthole.  There was no way she could signal anyone.  Improvise, she thought. 

Looking at her CD player again, she pulled the headphone jack from the socket.  She looped the wire through the hole in the CD and tied a quick knot.  Holding the wire in one hand, she looked at the disc dangling from the end.

What to hang it from?  Looking around the porthole, Carrie could not find anything to which the wire could be tied.  Shrugging her shoulders, she gripped the headphones in both hands.  The earpieces were connected by a metal bridge that was designed to pass over the head.  Stretching her hands apart, she bent the headphones straight, into a foot-long length of metal with speakers at both ends.  The speakers were soon broken off, leaving just the metal.  She tied the free end of the wire around the middle of the metal strip.

One more thing to do, she thought.  Grasping the disc between her fingers, she gingerly snapped a third of it off, leaving the hole intact. 

Carrie walked over to the porthole and aimed carefully.  She lobbed the CD through the porthole on her first try.  The wire pulled taught in her hands as the disc fell towards the river on the outside.  Here goes nothing.  She let go of the straightened metal rod with her arms extended over her head.  The CD weighed more than the flimsy metal rod, and the rod was pulled up to the porthole.  Because it was set sideways it would not pass through, and it caught across the hole.  Carrie smiled, imagining the CD outside the hull.  Because of the slope of the ship’s hull, the disc would be hanging free in the air, spinning.  It would catch the sun’s rays, reflecting them like a signal mirror.  Hopefully someone will come out to investigate, Carrie thought.  I should have at least a month before he kills me, but only a few hours before he operates.

Sinking down in a corner of her cell, she stared at the porthole.

***

Musser sat in his Humvee with the window open, his arm resting in the opening.  Fingers drummed on the sun-warmed metal as he thought.  Glancing at his watch again, he wondered why Carrie was so late.  They had planned to meet at noon outside the JAG Office, but she was already two hours past due.

Picking up his cellular phone, he tried Carrie’s number at the barracks, then her portable phone.  Neither answered, both kicking over to her voice mail.  Where could she be?

An idea struck Musser, and a chill ran up the base of his spine.  It was possible that Carrie had been kidnapped by the Surgeon.  She matched all the other victims perfectly: dark hair, slim, mid 20s.  He shook his head at the thought.  You’re jumping to conclusions.  She’s probably just sleeping.

Slapping the steering wheel in impatience, he savagely twisted the ignition switch of the Hummer.  The diesel engine growled to life and Musser gunned the heavy vehicle into motion.

Ten minutes later, he sprinted up the steps of the HHC barracks.  Carrie’s Miata was still in the parking lot, and her Humvee sat in the front spaces.  Speaking briefly to the CQ officer that was in charge of the barracks, Musser found out where Carrie’s room was located.

He opened the door with his passkey and stepped into the darkened room.  The bed was empty, but it had been slept in; the covers were rumpled against the wall.  Musser turned slowly in place, taking in everything, cop’s instincts working overtime.

Carrie’s equipment belt was slung over a corner of the bed.  She had worn it the water tower the night before, so she must have arrived home safely.  Her cellular phone and pistol lay on the desk, near some keys and pocket change.  He checked the keys and discovered that the room key had been removed from the ring.

Musser noticed a puddle of brown liquid in front of the small refrigerator.  Kneeling over it, he dipped his fingers in it and smelled.  Soda.  Wet trails ran down the door from the freezer.  He opened the freezer and looked inside.  A burst can of Diet Coke crouched in the door, spilling brown ice out of a split in the side.

He frowned again.  Carrie was not stupid; she would know that putting an unopened can in the freezer would result in a mess.  She must have intended to get it out before it burst open.

A thought struck Musser and he raced over to the bed.  Peering underneath, he saw several pairs of boots, some sandals, dress shoes, and slippers.

There were no running shoes.

Musser stood again.  He paced the room as he thought, slapping a fist into his hand.  He pictured Carrie’s actions.  She would have put the soda in the freezer to have it cold when she returned from a run.  Her room key had been slid off the ring so she would not have to haul the rest of the keys around.  Something must have happened to her while on the run that kept her from returning.  It must have been that morning, since the soda had time to freeze.

Pulling his radio from its holder, Musser reached the dispatcher.  He told her what he needed and where.  She agreed and he returned the radio to his belt.  Retrieving a plastic bag from the trash can, he grabbed a dirty sweatshirt from the end of the bed without touching the fabric with his hands.

Fifteen minutes later, another Humvee pulled up next to his.  They were parked on the shoulder of the road at the beginning of the stretch that led along the river.  Musser knew Carrie ran along that road, and if she had been abducted it was the most likely place.  It was away from people, and the river was easily accessible.

He grabbed the plastic bag from the floor and hopped out, watching as the other MP opened the rear door of his Hummer.  A German Shepherd bounded to the ground and up to Musser.  Tail wagging and tongue lolling, it panted as the handler clipped a lead onto its collar.

Musser handed the plastic bag to the other MP and said, “She would have come along this road about six hours ago.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem for Mosby.  It doesn’t look like there’s too much traffic along here.”

Opening the bag, the MP lowered it in front of the dog.  Mosby shoved his nose into the bag and got a good whiff of Carrie’s sweatshirt.  His ears perked up and he began pulling on the lead.  Musser took the bag back, following the MP as Mosby dragged him along.

Mosby sniffed around the road in a circle.  After he picked up a scent that he liked, he began trotting down the dirt road.  His nose snuffled along in a short arc as they headed up along the river.  The trail seemed to run in a fairly straight line along one shoulder of the road.

Musser advanced ahead of the dog and bent over a dusty patch on the ground.  He could make out a fresh set of footprints in the dust; the edges of the print were still sharply defined.  The prints were about the size of a woman’s foot and looked like running shoes.  Mosby trotted past, dragging his handler behind.

They gradually made their way along the river road, the K-9 dog still intent on Carrie’s scent.  After ten minutes, Mosby suddenly stopped.  He circled around a spot on the road before leading them over to the bank by the river.  His leash stopped him, but he stood looking down at the narrow beach.

Musser inspected the edge of the embankment.  Scrape marks led to the river where Carrie had scrambled down the slope.  Careful not to disturb them, he slid down the clay hill to the sand.  Following the prints on the beach, he walked upriver several yards.

A large scrape mark led a few feet onto the sand from water.  Musser knelt over it for a long moment before identifying it as a boat with a flat bottom.  Circling around the area, Musser found a second set of footprints.  He looked down at one, the hair rising on the back of his neck.  It was a familiar pattern, the same one that was poured in plaster back at the JAG Office.

Musser looked back down at Carrie’s shoe prints, seeing them change shape.  There was a line of prints leading from the water to the bank.  The toes of the prints were deep, while the heels could barely be seen.  She started sprinting towards the road.  They led up the bank amidst scrape marks, but stopped a few feet from the top.  A hole yawned in the clay where a sapling had been uprooted. 

Looking back down at the sand, Musser made out the imprint of a body on the beach.  Someone had fallen; he could see the marks of a torso and head.  The boot prints approached the mark of the fallen body, and he could see where Carrie had been lifted from the sand.  The prints deepened considerably as the Surgeon had moved her to the boat.

Cursing under his breath, he turned and looked out at the river.  The sun sparkled off the surface, but there were no boats in sight.  Hold on, Carrie.  I’ll find you and kill that bastard, Musser promised.

An hour later, he sat on the hood of his Humvee by the river.  He was looking out at the water with binoculars, trying to spot a flat-bottomed boat.  Musser slowly panned the lenses down the river.  There was nothing but swamp, container ships, and the rusted hulks of the Dead Fleet. 

Lowering the binoculars to his lap, he gazed out with his bare eyes.  A flash of light from down the James pulled his eyes towards it.  He looked at the low mass of ships and saw the bright light come again a few seconds later.  It seemed to be from the group of ships.  Raising the binoculars again, he focused on the area where he had seen the flash.  After a moment, he saw it again and was able to pinpoint its origin. 

The light came from a large transport ship on the upriver edge of the Dead Fleet.  The binoculars revealed the flashes as coming from a porthole close to the bow of the ship.  Musser lowered the binoculars again and racked his brains.

The epiphany slammed into him so hard that he gasped.  That’s her.  The women had all been held captive on a ship, which explained the rats, the asbestos, and the isolation.  The Surgeon was able to move around using the James River.  All of the bodies had been found near or in the river. 

Musser hopped inside, started the engine and slued the Humvee around in a U-turn.  Plans were already forming in his mind as he sped back towards the base.

***

The sun disappeared over the river, casting a pink sunset that Carrie briefly admired through the porthole.  As the cell grew darker, Carrie’s thirst worsened.  It had been burning hot in the metal box that day, and she had sweat gallons of precious water.  The other victims had all been badly dehydrated when they were found, and she suspected that the Surgeon was using thirst and heat to weaken her.  I can’t lost my strengthIf I’m weak, then I can’t fight back.  She could do without food for several days, but water would become critical by the next day if the heat returned. 

Carrie looked around the iron cell.  Water was pooled on the floor along the outer hull of the ship.  She went over, kneeling to inspect the liquid.  Her nose wrinkled in disgust at the smell of the diesel fuel and scum that floated on the water.  Carrie dipped a finger into the puddle and saw that the fuel was floating on top, like an oil slick.  The layer of water below was dirty, but probably safe to drink because the diesel fuel would not mix with it.

She dabbled her fingers in the liquid, realizing that it would be impossible to get to the water without drinking some of the diesel fuel.  If she got any of it in her mouth, it would give her a vicious petrochemical burn all the way down to her stomach.  The coughing would push it into her lungs, perhaps killing her.  No, I don’t think I’ll try sticking my face down in that stuff, she concluded. 

The memory of Carrie’s literature professor at UVA rose in her mind, spouting Coleridge.  “Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink…” 

I know the feeling, she thought.  But look on the bright side: at least I’ve been spared from the rotting albatross on a cord around my neck.

She sunk back against the wall, out of the water.  Resting her head on the rusted metal, she stared up at the patch of night sky that was visible through the porthole.  A single star was visible, twinkling in the velvet darkness.  Carrie smiled.  “Star light, star bright…” she said.  “My wish is that even if I die, that the Surgeon be stopped.  Don’t let any more women die at his hands.”

Carrie’s ears perked up at a noise.  Distant screams could be heard, muffled by layers of iron.  Damn.  He’s already got other women here.  That means he could be killing them anytime.  She prayed that a rescue party would find them in time to save the other women.

As she stared at the sliver of night, Carrie absently ran a hand over the rusted iron floor beside her.  Her fingers met a series of scratches and a frown crept across her face.  Using both hands, she felt the grooves in the metal.  She finally realized that they were letters, crudely engraved into the floor with one of the old bolts that lay nearby.

Tracing the letters with a tip of her index finger, Carrie slowly made out one of the words.  It was a name: Alice.  Moving her fingers onward, she deciphered the next, which was Candace.  The victims!  All of the women had scratched their names into the floor, each one adding to the list. 

Running over the whole series of scratches, she realized with a rapidly beating heart that there were eighteen names.  Her hate for the Surgeon grew.  The Task Force had only known of six of the victims, but there were murders that had not been discovered or linked to Wayne Moisant.  And those were only the women who had been held in her particular cell. 

She renewed her vow that the Surgeon would have to die.  Even if she went to prison, it would be worth it to get that scum off the earth.

Carrie’s hand had already picked up a rusted, iron bolt and was readying above the floor to scratch her name when she stopped.  If she added her name, she would be listed among the dead.  It would be admitting defeat.  Instead, she scraped a message on the floor, in case she did not survive, that would be found by the next captive.  “Do not lose hope.  Be strong, have faith, and fight to live.”

***

The night grew cold.  Carrie began to shiver against the chill metal of the bulkhead behind her.  The iron was sucking away her body heat through her thin T-shirt.  She stood and began to pace the cell to keep warm, clenching her bare arms in front of her to warm them.  Mist drifted in from the open porthole, soaking into her clothes.

With the fog came the rats. 

Carrie heard a scratching from the darkness above.  A squeak identified the scratching as rats.  They were able to squeeze through the holes in the bulkheads that had been cut for the pipes and ducts that ran along the ceiling.  The faint noises gradually moved across to the wall and downward; the rats could grip the rough metal with their claws.

Carrie yelled at them, trying to scare them away.  “Git outa here!” 

She clapped her hands together violently and stamped her feet, trying to make as much noise as possible.  When she stopped to listen, silence greeted her ears.  A smile spread across her face, but it faded when the noises began again.  The rats had simply frozen in place during the racket.  They were used to humans in the cell.

The faint light from the porthole was not enough to see, but Carrie could pinpoint the rats from their noises.  They scampered across the floor towards her, and she clenched her fists.

A slight touch on her ankle alerted her, and she drew back her foot.  As hard as she could, she kicked with her shoe, feeling the toe connect with a furry object.  A sharp squeal echoed through the cell, followed by a thump when the rat struck the wall.  Carrie cursed when she realized she had not killed it.  The rat kept up its tirade at her, but retreated up the wall.  The others had heard the shriek of pain and followed it out of the cell.

Carrie resumed her pacing to warm herself.  She shoved her hands deep within the pockets of her BDU pants and her fingers struck some small objects caught within the folds at the bottom of one pocket.  She dug them out with a frown.

Four cold small cylinders rested in her palm.  She rolled them around with her fingers, feeling their heaviness.  A smile dawned on her face when she realized that they were unfired 9mm rounds. 

Thinking back, she remembered riding with Musser in his Humvee just after she had drawn her SIG SAUER out of the arms room.  She had loaded her magazines and been left with four rounds in the box.  They had been shoved into her pocket.  She had forgotten them and thrown the pants into the laundry hamper.  When she had been preparing for her ill-fated run, she had grabbed the same pair of pants.

Carrie rolled the bullets over each other in her hand. She had no gun, but the bullets might prove to be useful. 

Why hadn’t the Surgeon found them?  He was probably getting careless after so many successful murders.  She had been left with her clothes and the CD player.

An idea struck her, and she methodically searched the other pockets of her pants.  There were six in all, but they only turned up the portable CD player, the bullets, her room key, and a ball point pen.

Carrie felt the Bic pen.  Perhaps it could be used to stab the Surgeon.  What else?

She grinned.  With her fingernails, she disassembled the pen into its separate parts.  Everything but the clear plastic body of the pen went into a pocket.  She raised the tube to her mouth and blew into one end.  Air rushed through and out the other side, making a slight whistling sound.

Carrie walked over to the outer hull of the ship and knelt beside one of the deeper puddles of liquid.  Putting one end of the pen tube in her lips, she submerged the other end to the bottom of the pool.  It reached below the diesel fuel that floated on top of the water.  She sucked up an experimental mouthful, holding it for several seconds.  The water was metallic tasting and stale, but there was no diesel fuel mixed in with it. 

She sucked greedily, pausing only for breaths.  After her thirst had dissipated she rose and panted.  The fumes from the diesel were heavy in her nostrils from having her face so close to the fuel.  Carrie reassembled the pen to make it into a more effective stabbing device.

Moving back against the wall, Carrie slumped down again.  She pulled herself into a fetal position to conserve warmth and closed her eyes.  Sleep washed over her almost immediately.

***

Wayne Moisant stood nude in ship’s galley.  He hummed to himself, music vibrating in his throat.  The gas burner on the camp stove hissed out a blue flame that washed over a copper skittle.  Shaking the pan slightly with a gloved hand, Wayne moved the scrambled eggs around.  Lights glowed on the ceiling; he had installed a generator on the ship.

The hot skillet spat grease onto his arm.  He savored the pain, smiling as he looked at the red splotch caused by the grease.  Two bloody lines also crossed his forearm.  One of his recent Angelas had scratched him with her fingernails.

Wayne glanced up at the two shelves above the countertop.  Rows of large, glass pickle jars sat on the wooden boards.  Each was full of clear alcohol, and inside floated his “trophies,” as he called them.  Some contained severed breasts of young women.  Blood drifted in the alcohol like dark clouds.  Other jars contained parts that had been hacked off with his knife in the heat of passion.  He kept whatever struck his fancy.

The smell of the red onion he had sliced for the eggs was pungent in the still air of the ship.  He breathed deeply, the onion burning his throat and bringing tears to his eyes.  The eggs were ready, still a little runny.  “Just the way Angela used to make them,” he said in a low voice.

He pulled the skillet from the flame and slopped the eggs onto an aluminum pie plate.  The skillet was washed immediately, returned to its home on the shelf.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.  Wayne retrieved the plate of eggs and sat down at the wooded table that protruded from one wall of the galley.

A plastic squeeze bottle of ketchup sat on the table; Wayne flipped the top open.  The red paste farted out onto his scrambled eggs.  He mixed the ketchup in, not for the first time comparing it to blood.  Raising a fork-load of the red eggs, Wayne blew on them.

As he ate his thoughts turned to Carrie.  Her capture had angered him.  She had bluffed him into leaving her untouched at the barracks the night before.  That morning, she would have escaped if not for her spill while climbing up to the road.  He had still been struggling out of the water after she had tipped him out of the boat.  A haze crept across his vision as his anger returned.  His ire turned to Angela, as it always did.  The vision of her in bed with his brother sprang to his eyes.  Bitch.  You’ll pay for what you did. 

He pictured Carrie, lying bound across the surgical table that he had set up in the Captain’s quarters.  He had already turned her into Angela.  The charcoal grill was lit under the window, his wrought iron poker heating across the embers. 

Wayne was stroking the familiar face with the flat of his knife blade.  He turned the knife and began caressing her cheeks with the sharp edge.  She would shiver every time he lowered the serrated edge to her skin.  The pressure on his hand gradually increased, drawing a ragged scream from Carrie’s throat.

Wayne’s fantasy jumped in time.  He was pulling the red poker from the coals.  Carrie had been blindfolded, but she felt the dull heat of the iron when it neared her face.  Her bronze skin glowed in the faint light of the hot poker.  “Angie, you’re so beautiful,” he said to himself.

A pain in Wayne’s hand yanked him back to reality.  He realized that he had been squeezing the fork in his hand hard enough to leave a white imprint of the shape in his palm.  Releasing it, he looked down at his crotch.  Wayne smiled at the hardness aiming up from his loins.

He reached across the table and retrieved his knife.  The blade locked open with a metallic snick.  Wayne slid the blade down his arm, shaving the hair to test the edge.  Raising the bare patch to his cheek, he rubbed it against his face.  The smoothness of the skin brought tingles of pleasure to the base of his back.  Wayne grinned, staring towards the bow of the ship.  He craved the strange, sexual pleasure that came to him while inflicting torture. 

“Soon, my dearest Angie.  Very soon.  You will pay for your crimes again.”

***

Musser surveyed the soldiers resting on the tarmac.  Forty Rangers were sitting on the asphalt.  The night sky above them was obscured by an inky black shadow.  The wing of the C-130 creaked slightly above them as the ground crew fueled it.  The weight of the chute on his back was restricting, but not uncomfortable.

The rescue team could not take boats or choppers to reach the ship; if the Surgeon heard them coming he would almost certainly murder Carrie and try to kill them.  An airborne jump onto the plane would give them the element of surprise.  Planes were a common sound near the base, and they would be jumping from nearly a mile above the ship.  They would silently float down onto the ship from above.

The commander and squad leaders of the platoon knelt over a map of the James River and the Dead Fleet.  Musser had worked with the same soldiers on the raid of the house, so he knew the Lieutenant and his men.  He shone a flashlight with a red filter on the map; red light would allow their eyes to stay adjusted to the darkness. 

Tracing a line with his finger, Musser spoke to the others across the map.  “This is our flight path.  We will take off from the airfield, do a wide circle to gain altitude, then come down the river.  The path will take us over the ship from bow to stern, but at an altitude of 5,000 feet.

“The jump point will be approximately here, but it may be adjusted slightly depending on the weather over the target.  We need to jump as quickly as possible to keep from being spread out all over the water from the speed of the plane.  Even so, the first and last men to jump will have to steer some to end up on the ship with the others.”

Musser produced a yellowed plan of the ship on which Carrie was being held captive.  A late night phone call to the Transportation Museum had produced the old document.  “Our target can be identified by the two stacks in the stern, and the wide open deck.  Once the men land, form a perimeter around these two entrances to the decks below, as well as the superstructure in the stern.

“Major Grace is being held in one of these two cabins in the bow.”  He pointed with a gloved finger.  “The best access route is down through this hatch, down the corridor, and through the watertight door.  We need to have the breaching team ready to blow any doors that may block the way.

“The Major is the primary objective in this mission.  Once she is located and with us, we will proceed on our secondary objective, to capture Wayne Moisant.  We don’t know his whereabouts, but he is to be considered extremely dangerous.  He is an ex-Green Beret, discharged on a Section 8.  Be aware: there may be other women being held captive on the ship.  We aren’t sure, but don’t shoot unless you are sure your target is hostile.

“Evac will be by chopper.  Blackhawks and an Apache are waiting on standby at the airfield.  They will move in on my signal.  The deck is big enough for one at a time to land.”

Musser looked up at the others.  “Any questions?”

The platoon leader shook his head.  “We’re good to go.”

“Load your men, then.” 

***

Carrie rose out of the depths of sleep, rubbing her eyes in the darkness.  She stood and stretched the stiffness from her limbs.  Pulling herself up to the porthole, she looked out over the river.  It was still dark, but she sensed from the smell of the air that it was nearing dawn.

She walked back over to her seat on the floor and pulled out the piece of the CD.  It was about four inches long, straight on one side, curved on the other.  When Carrie held it in her hand, over an inch protruded from her fist. 

Holding it at an angle, she began rubbing the edge of the piece against the rough metal floor.  Changing the angle every so often, she soon had the edge sharpened like a knife.  A length of cloth was ripped off the bottom of her T-shirt and wrapped around the piece to make a handle.  When she was finished, she gripped the piece of the disc in a fist.  The razor point stuck out wickedly.  Another grin split her face as she pictured the knife drawing across the Surgeon’s throat.

She hid the sliver of the CD in her sock, hoping she would have a chance to use it.  Carrie had two makeshift weapons that might work: the CD knife and the pen, but she would have to get close to the Surgeon to use them.

Carrie had just straightened up when the door latch gave out a loud squeal as the wheel on the other side was turned.  She took a deep breath, readying herself to pounce on the Surgeon if the opportunity presented itself.  The iron door grated against its frame as it opened, and it was suddenly shoved hard enough to slam back against the bulkhead.

In the faint glow from the lights out in the corridor, Carrie could make out a figure standing in the oval opening.  Carrie clenched her fists, tensing her muscles to spring across the few yards. 

“That would not be wise, Carrie,” said the shadow in the doorway.

She noticed in the gloom that one hand held a large pistol aimed at her stomach. 

“Why not?”

“I would have to shoot you, which would ruin both of our days.”

“You won’t kill me, even if I did attack you.  Then you’d lose the pleasure of what you kidnapped me for.”  The image of Flanders’ altered face, eyes pleading to be released from the torture, sprang up in her mind.

“Quite correct.  You are more perceptive than most.  But…I never said that I would kill you.  I only said that I would shoot you.  Perhaps in the leg.”  The shadow stretched the pistol out, not bothering to aim.  The gun roared, flame licking out in the dark.  Carrie felt a tug at her knee and slapped her hand down over the area.

Feeling her palm with her fingers, she expected to find blood.  Instead, her hand was dry.  She leaned over again, feeling the double hole that the bullet had torn through the loose fabric of her pants.  Straightening, she looked at the Surgeon again.

“Or perhaps in the arm,” he said.  Another gunshot flashed in the cell like lightning, the Surgeon again firing from the hip.  Carrie’s T-shirt fluttered and she looked down to the hole the bullet had punched.  It had passed through the loose fabric under her left arm.

He’s showing off, she thought.  Thinks he’s a better shot than me.

“You’ve made your point.”

“Excellent.”  He paused, motioning towards wall with the pistol.  “Sit down, please.”

Carrie hesitated for a moment before moving against the bulkhead and sinking to the floor.

“Thank you.”  The shadow in the doorway stepped over the bottom of the oval door frame, entering the room.  The light from the doorway struck him, and Carrie saw that it was the same man that had been in the boat the day before.  The expression on his face at the boat had been open, innocent.  It had changed to the harsh visage of a seasoned soldier; Carrie recognized the look immediately.

“I thought we should have a small conversation before…”  His face remained passive, never changing.  “Before I steal your face, rape, and torture you to death,” he finished.

Carrie tried not to react to his comment, but her body imperceptibly stiffened.  He noticed, and smiled at her reaction.

“So you’re the infamous Wayne Moisant?”

“I am glad to see that I am known to you and yours.  A slight correction, though: my goal has been fame, not infamy.  It has better connotations, you see.”  Wayne slinked over to a few yards in front of Carrie, looking down at her.  “And you are Major Carrie Grace, of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, formerly of New Orleans.”

She nodded.  “I wish I could say that I was pleased to meet you.”

“Oh, but you shall grow quite pleased, my little possum.  Quite pleased indeed.”

The hair on Carrie’s neck stiffened from the tone of voice he used.

“Now, Miss Grace.  Or may I call you Carrie?”

“Why does it fucking matter?  You’re going to kill me anyway.”

He clicked his tongue, shaking his head.  “A little politeness can go a great distance.  And watch your language, please.  I abhor profanity from women.”  The irony struck her: a serial murderer who refused to curse.

The Surgeon squatted down on his heels, the gun still pointed at her.  He was only a yard in front of Carrie.  She noticed with an inner smile that the pistol was being held directly above her outstretched legs.

“Whatever you say.”  As Carrie spoke, she lashed upwards with a foot, striking the gun that was being held above it.  The pistol popped out of Wayne’s hand, rising in the air. 

Rolling to her feet, Carrie sprang after the gun.  It had come to rest near the door and she snatched it off the floor.  She brought the gun up as she spun back around.

Carrie stared in disbelief at the Surgeon, who was just standing there, looking at her with a smile.

“You won’t kill me.”

“Why the hell not, asshole?  You deserve it.”

“You want to bring me to ‘justice.’  This would be murder, and you strive to uphold the law as you see it.”

“That’s the old me,” Carrie said.  “I’ve turned over a new leaf.”  She raised the pistol up, aiming between his eyes.  Her first shot would turn him off as if she had flipped a switch. 

Holding the gun steady, she pulled the trigger.

Chapter 13

 

The hammer dropped, a hollow click echoing in the small cell.  Carrie’s blood chilled, and she racked the slide.  Must have been a misfire, or an empty chamber.  A round flew into the air after it was ejected, spinning through the corner of her eye.  Her confusion increased.  Aiming the pistol at the Surgeon’s head, she squeezed the trigger again.

The hammer clicked.

Wayne was shaking his head, a grim expression on his face.  “I must admit to being surprised, Carrie.  I did not think you mentally capable of killing me.  I see that I have been corrected.”

Carrie worked the slide a second time, but the gun still refused to fire.

“Have you ever heard of a ‘smart gun’?”

She shook her head, still trying to recover from her shock.  Wayne walked as he spoke, picking up the bullets that she had ejected.

“The weapon you hold is an example of the very newest technology.  A smart gun will only fire for its owner.  Someone else can pull the trigger, but the firing pin will not connect with the primer of the round.”  He motioned at the gun with one hand.  “Look at the set of lights above your thumb on the grip.”

Carrie turned the pistol and saw two small indicator lights: green and red.  The red light was blinking.

“Red means that the weapon will not fire.”  Wayne held up his right hand, palm facing her.  His thumb pointed at a silver ring that encircled the third finger.  “The sensors in the grip of the weapon sense whether this ring is being worn by the holder.  If not, nothing.  If so, kablam!”

He lowered his hand, extending it outstretched in front.  “I will take it back, if you please.  It will do you no good.”

Carrie flicked her eyes to the door.  Since it was still open, she sprinted for the oval doorway.  She pulled the door shut behind her and tried to spin the wheel to latch it tight.  The wheel moved slightly, but stopped with a thud.  Looking down, Carrie saw that it had been padlocked in place.

Cursing, she ran down the narrow corridor in which she had emerged.  Ten yards along, she encountered another door.  Skidding to a stop in front of the barrier, she stared in disbelief at the combination lock holding it closed.

She was trapped.

Carrie turned around and faced the Surgeon, who had just emerged from the cell.  He shook his head at her.

“My little possum, you will never escape alive.  Now come back inside her so we can have our talk like civilized human beings.”

Dejected, Carrie trudged back down the corridor towards the cell.  Wayne had his hand outstretched for the weapon. Turning it around in her hand so that she held the barrel, Carrie offered it to him.

While his eyes were still on hers, Carrie whipped the pistol back and slammed it down across his face.  The calm mask on his face faltered for a second; the rage inside surfaced before it was brought back under control.  A crimson welt was already blooming on the gun’s path across the Surgeon’s face.

Carrie grinned, dropping the gun at his feet.  Tossing her ponytail, she turned and strode through the doorway.  I may be trapped, but I’ve still got some fight left in me, she thought.

Leaning against the outer wall of the hull, Carrie crossed her arms over her chest.  She watched as Wayne walked back through the oval doorway.  He had retrieved the gun from the floor.  Coming to a stop in the middle of the room, he said calmly, “I will not dignify your antics with a temper tantrum.  Sit down, please.”

She cast around for a dry spot on the floor and plopped down to a sitting position.  He sat down also, in the center of the room.  It was still dark outside, but light slipped into the room from the corridor.

Carrie’s thoughts raced, trying to come up with a plan.  He’s angry, but trying not to show it.  If I can make him even more angry, he’s liable to make a mistake and leave me an opening to attack.  Of course, he might just kill me

“As I was saying before, you are Major Carrie Grace.  You are part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and used to live in New Orleans.  I am-”

“I know who you are.”

“Do you, now?”  There was an incredulous look on the Surgeon’s face, and his voice dripped with mock sarcasm.

“You are Wayne Moisant.  You were born 42 years ago to a small-time tailor and a whore.”  He stiffened at her comment, but she continued.  “Your mother was abusive and beat you constantly.  She was a domineering bitch.  You were an only child, and had several bad habits.  You used to start fires, would torture and kill small animals, and wet the bed frequently.”

His mouth dropped open, eyebrows lowered in anger.  “How-”

“Don’t interrupt me, Wayne.”  Carrie used a sharp tone, like that a mother would use with an errant child.  He nodded, and she continued.

“You left home at 17 and went into the Army.  While you had a distinguished career in the military, your record was full of ‘incidents.’  For instance, when you were in Korea you were court martialled for beating a prostitute nearly to death.

“You were finally put out of the Army for psychological reasons about 20 years ago, but went on to become a plastic surgeon.  Since then, you have tortured and killed over eighteen women.  You like to keep souvenirs from your victims, such as body parts. 

“All the women you killed were relative strangers.  You may have seen them in the past, but they weren’t friends.  Yet, you operated on them to make them identical, so you could kill the same woman over and over.”

She looked at Wayne.  He was staring at her with wide eyes, the gun forgotten and pointing at the floor.  “You plan each abduction and killing in great detail.  You fantasize about the killings both before and after, masturbating to the memories.  You return to the crime scenes frequently.  The bodies are placed in order to advertise the murder, usually in the open near the James River.  You are reliving the murder of Angela, your wife.”

It’s time.  “I even know why you do it, Wayne.  Do you want to know why?”

His head twitched in a tiny nod.

“Because you’re a fucking loony!” she screamed, hopping to her feet.  “You can’t get it up for normal sex, so you have to murder innocent little girls.  You know why?  Because you fucked your whore of a before you killed her.  Or was it the other way around?  Do you like fucking dead bodies, Wayne-O?  You’re screwed up for life, you friggin’ wacko!”

“Shut up, you cunt!  You know nothing about me.  I am God to you, and I will give you life or I will take it away.”  Wayne was on his feet again, standing nearly in her face.  He was shouting so hard that spittle was flying out of his mouth.  His face had flushed bright red, but was white around the lips.

This is it.  Come on, give me an opening.

He raised his hand to strike.  Carrie visualized grabbing the arm and snapping it before he could react.  The Surgeon froze in place, realizing that he had lost control.  Standing up straighter, he raised the pistol again.

“Quite cunning, Carrie.  You almost had me.” 

Carrie’s shoulders slumped in defeat.  That’s it.  I’ve shown my hand, and he had the cards to beat it

“I would like to correct your misunderstanding.  I do what I do because my wife was a whore.  When I returned from work one day, I found her fucking my brother.  She had seduced the poor young man, and they had to be punished.”  He grinned. 

“Except, one death was not enough for my tramp of a wife.  She is not allowed to rest in peace.  Every time that I kill her again, I sully her memory yet another time.  Hopefully, her adulterous soul will never be at rest.  That is why I kill.”

He looked at Carrie for a moment, enjoying her dejection.  Stepping towards the door, he said over his shoulder, “I am afraid that your time has come, possum.  Unfortunately for me, you have proven too dangerous and unpredictable to use for my normal pleasures.  You will not make a suitable Angela. 

“I am sure you will be glad to hear that I will not be torturing you.  A swift death is in order.  I am feeling charitable today, so you shall have a choice between my three customary methods of killing.  Would you rather be shot, stabbed, or poisoned?

Why did it matter?  “Poisoned, I guess.”

“Excellent.  I need to get some items from upstairs to finish with you, but I shall soon return.”

Carrie stared at her shoes, preparing herself for the worst.  The metallic crash of the door slamming jerked her out of her trance.  Looking up, she saw that she was alone again.  Pacing back and forth across the room, she mentally kicked herself.  She should have attacked him when she had a chance.  His anger had given her an opening through his combat skills, evening the odds.  Even armed with the knife, she knew she had no chance against him if he were ready for her; Green Berets were too highly trained.  She had missed her chance, and the penalty would be death.

“Shit!”  Carrie began to kick the iron bulkhead with all her strength.  Her toes and foot burned with the blows, but she ignored the pain in her rage.  She pulled the CD player out of her cargo pocket and sent it hurtling through the air.  It exploded against the wall, showering her with shards of plastic and metal.  Carrie resumed beating the walls of her cell with fury.

She stopped after several minutes.  Bent over and panting, she rested her hands against her thighs.  As she gulped air, she felt a strange lump in the pocket of her pants.  A frown appeared on her face, and she reached inside.  Her hand returned with the four 9mm rounds.

Carrie rolled them around in her palm, thinking.  Her gaze lifted to the oval door and a smile split her face.  One last chance

Racing over, she inspected the frame.  A small gap existed between the metal bulkhead and the door itself.  Carrie took one of the unfired bullets between her fingers and pushed it experimentally into the space between the upper and lower hinges.  The round pushed into the gap with a little effort, remaining when she removed her thumb from it.  Heart thudding in her chest, Carrie slid the other three bullets between the door and the frame.  She stepped back and stared at the door. 

One last chance.

Carrie pulled out the makeshift knife she had sharpened from the CD.  In the other hand she held the pen.  They were not ideal weapons, but might work.  Retreating into a corner on the other side of the door, she waited.

***

The roar of the propellers drowned out normal conversation.  Musser wiped his sweaty palms on his pants again, leaning against the vibrating wall of the transport.  Airborne jumps had always scared the daylights out of him.  Why jump out of a perfectly good plane? he thought with a scowl.

The jumpmaster stood in the rear of the plane.  A light mounted on the wall clicked on and he cupped his hands around his mouth to shout.  “Five minutes.”  All the soldiers echoed the jumpmaster.  He ordered them to their feet.

As one, the nearly fifty Rangers stood up in two lines on the bucking floor.  “Hook up,” came the order, and everyone attached a metal clip from their chute to the static line, a wire running the length of the plane on both sides.  When they jumped out of the plane, the clip would remain attached to the static line, pulling their chutes out immediately.  None of them would have to worry about a rip cord.

Musser clipped onto the wire.  The Heckler & Koch MP-5 strapped across his chest restricted his arm movement, but it would be in his hands when he struck the deck of the ship.  He and his buddy checked each other’s lines, finding no problems.

When all the Rangers were hooked up, the jumpmaster activated the ramp in the rear of the plane.  A chill wind whipped through the cabin as the opening yawned open.  Musser was third in line and could see the black mouth over the shoulders of the men ahead.  The gusts of air evaporated the nervous sweat that had worked its way through the greasepaint on his face.  The roar of the engines was nearly deafening with the ramp lowered.

The green light came on and the Rangers rushed forward towards the opening.  As Musser stepped into the cold blackness, he mouthed a prayer that they would be in time to save Carrie.

***

Carrie muttered a prayer to herself as she felt the vibration of the door in the corridor being opened.  A thought struck her, and she glanced at the puddles of fuel in the corner.  She calmed down when she realized that it was diesel and would not explode unless pressurized.

The wheel on her cell door creaked as it was spun around.  Carrie stood facing the corner, her face lowered down to protect her eyes.  The knife was slick with sweat in her hand.  Her heart was pounding with the adrenaline that coursed through her system.

The door creaked open.  The gap between the frame and the door narrowed on the side of the hinges, compressing the bullets that had been wedged there.  With a sudden kick, the door was driven open.  The primers compressed on the bullets, discharging from the pressure.  With no gun barrel surrounding them to direct the force, the rounds exploded violently. 

The quadruple explosion deafened Carrie, as if her ears were packed with cotton.  A bright flash lit the cell.  Shrapnel from the door and the bullets buzzed through the air, ricocheting off the iron walls.  One raked across her thigh, feeling as if a hot iron had been drawn across the skin.

As soon as the bullets exploded, Carrie pushed herself off the wall and towards the opening.  She spun and raised the knife high as she rushed at the shadow that leaned in the doorway, stunned from the blast.  The gun rested on the floor, dropped from surprised fingers.

Time seemed to stop.

Carrie heard a scream, realizing it was coming from her.  Without stopping, she crashed into him full force.  They both flew through the doorway and into the bright corridor.

Wayne’s eyes were locked on her own as her hand drove downward with the knife at an angle.  She aimed for his neck.  The razor-sharp plastic sliced a thin, red line across one side of his throat.  Another swift blow traced the opposite side, and Carrie stepped back. 

She had sliced through the carotid artery and jugular vein.  Blood fountained from the severed artery as the Surgeon’s heart pumped.

Carrie panted as she looked at Wayne.  He was still stunned from the explosion that had gone off nearly in his face.  He raised a hand to the side of his neck and held his crimson palm in front of his disbelieving eyes.  The spurts had lessened, but rivers of blood still painted their way down his body.

Dropping to his knees, he gasped with weakening lungs.  “Why…”  His eyes glazed over as he swayed unsteadily.  When he finally crashed to the floor, he was already dead.

The knife and pen dropped from Carrie’s numb fingers.  She knew that she should be feeling grief or guilt at killing a man, but all she felt was relief.  The Surgeon was dead.  He would never kill another young woman.  Just as important, she was alive.

The burning along her thigh surfaced through the adrenaline, and she looked downward.  A piece of shrapnel had torn a line through the skin.  It was painful, but not too dangerous.  She ripped two strips off her shirt and bandaged the wound.

When she straightened up again, the sight of the combination lock on the outer door greeted her.  Carrie bent down over the Surgeon.  Planting a foot on his bloody wrist, she worked the silver ring off his hand.  It slid over her own middle finger, leaving a trail of his blood.

She retrieved the pistol from the doorway and held it in her hand.  The green light glowed, and she aimed at the lock.

The shot thundered through the corridor, deafening her again.  The lock shattered and dropped to the floor.  Carrie strode forward and opened the door, revealing a steep stairway up to the deck.  She climbed the stairs with limp legs and threw the hatch open at the top.

Stepping out onto the deck of the ship, Carrie looked around.  It was nearly dawn and the sky was lightening in the east.  A wind blew the smell of the river to her, drying the moisture from her face.  The silence was comforting, broken only by the hum of a distant plane.

Carrie screamed as a dark shape dropped onto the deck just in front of her.  Raising the pistol, she began squeezing the trigger.

“Hold it, ma’am!” shouted the shape. 

She eased off on the trigger and the man rose to his feet.  She could see in the gloom that it was a Ranger, covered with equipment and weapons.  A parachute trailed from the straps across his chest.  He slapped the quick-release buckle before the wind could drag the chute and him over the side. 

“I’m one of the good guys, ma’am.  We’re here to rescue you.”  He pointed up, and Carrie raised her eyes to the night sky.  Scores of round chutes drifted towards the ship from above, spread out in a line from bow to stern.

Carrie looked back at the Ranger with a smile on her face.  “A little late, aren’t you, soldier?”

***

Carrie rested her head against the metal behind her seat as the chopper flew towards the airfield.  Musser sat beside her on the canvas bench.  He pulled a handkerchief from his cargo pocket and wet it from a canteen.  Wiping the blood from her face, he grinned at her.  “Well…I guess that’s it.  The Surgeon’s dead, you’re alive, and the case is closed.”

She nodded, feeling the wet handkerchief scrape against her skin as her head moved.  Staring across the windy cabin of the chopper, she saw the pair of identical twins that sat on the other bench.  The Rangers had found two more cells in the ship, each with a woman inside.  Both had already undergone plastic surgery, but were in different stages of healing.  They were in shock; neither had said a word since they had been rescued.

“What are you going to do?” Musser said, stroking her cheek with his palm.

“Take a vacation,” she replied.

Epilogue

 

Carrie gazed into the night sky over New Orleans.  She stood on the balcony of a hotel in the Garden District, a Corona sweating in her hand.  Leaning onto the iron railing, she stared out at the lights of the city.  They twinkled like fireflies, and she smiled.  Musser was snoring in the room behind her.  She raised the bottle to her lips, tasting the lime juice that coated the mouth.

It was over.  She had come through it all alive.  Her thoughts drifted back to the list of names scraped into the floor of the cell.  Many women had not been as lucky as her.  She remembered the words she had engraved on the rusted iron.  Do not lose hope.  Be strong, have faith, and fight to live. 

Raising the bottle to the night, she drank a silent toast to life.

 

###

 


Widower's Walk

  • ISBN: 9781311599308
  • Author: Georgia Nelson
  • Published: 2015-09-16 16:20:12
  • Words: 73929
Widower's Walk Widower's Walk