Chapter 19: Video
As soon as the video ended, I was on the phone to Melody. “Melody, get on the plane and come pick us up. Text me when you have an arrival time.”
“We’re already leaving, boss. Holy shit, Robert’s going to freak out over this with Renee being pregnant.”
“I know, he’s my next call. Bye.” I quickly went through my contacts and called Robert, I didn’t want to say anything to Renee yet. “Alpha Hastings, it’s Rose Conspiell. Did you see the tape?”
“Yes, we just watched it. I’ve already ordered additional security around Renee and the Pack House, and I restricted her to inside for now. She’s pretty upset about this.” I could imagine, watching someone kill a young girl in cold blood and blame it on you, that would get me as well. “What do you need, I’ve got a lot going on.”
“I’m sending investigators to talk to her. I need her to sit down and write down everything she’s done, everyone she might have harmed that could have caused her to be blamed. We’ll take that list, find the affected people, then branch out to their spouses, sisters, family, close friends, anything. We’ll see if that gives us any hits with the information we already have.”
“Got it, I’ll have her start.”
“Thank you Alpha. I’ll text you with the names of those agents who are coming.”
“You can send just FBI, I’ll pair my Betas or other Pack members with them. None of them will be unescorted on my land, I don’t care if they are FBI at this point. Someone in law enforcement could be the killer.” I thought about that as I hung up the phone and looked at Craig and Luis. “The plane should be here in a few hours, what do you want to do?”At that moment, Lt. Ken Kaiser walked into the diner. “Good, you’re here. The Sheriff wants to talk to you at the station.”
“Give us a few here.” We all finished eating quickly, ordering extra danishes and tall coffees to go. Craig took care of the bill, leaving a big tip for the waitress who thanked us and wished us luck; she had known the victim, they all did in this small town.
As we walked into the station, the press gauntlet was already in place. We left Linda to talk to them, and continued through the door. All eyes were on us. I understood how they felt; a serial killer had just killed one of their own, solely to get at someone who was states away. “They are in the conference room,” Ken said as he led us into the back of the office.
The room was full of law enforcement and lawyers. In addition to the Sheriff and State Patrol, the County Prosecutor and US Attorney for the state were seated. The video was on loop on the projector, this was the unedited version that showed the bullet hitting her face. It was paused as we opened the door. We walked to the front of the room, our faces as grim as theirs. “Good morning, everyone.” We quickly did introductions as I hadn’t met a few of the people in the room yesterday. “Everyone has seen the video, correct?”
“Yes, we’re already combing through it for clues.”
“Do we know how it was transmitted to Fox News?”
“Working on it. We have troopers at the Fox affiliate in Lincoln, they aren’t much help. The file was on a jump drive, it was left in a park. The reporter got a voice mail from a woman, same voice altering we saw on the video, telling her to retrieve the file. They called it in, but we couldn’t stop them from broadcasting it, the video was too explosive.”
Explosive is the word. “Do you have the original jump drive?”
“Yes, they made a copy of it before they turned it over.”
“I need the file and the voice mail, we’ll get our people started on trying to break the voice masking she used. Now, what are your thoughts on the video?”
“This was a straight-up assassination,” the Sheriff said. “She knew who the target was, and trailed her until she was in a place no one else was around. To do that, and have the camera rolling? This woman is a straight-up psychopath.”
“We won’t get much of anything from the evidence,” Lt. Kaiser said. “The Scrabble piece and the bullet are the only things that left her vehicle.”
“Anything on the bullet,” Craig asked.
“State crime lab has it, we found it in the field. Just like you saw, the vehicle she shot from was higher up than her car, probably an SUV, small truck or minivan. The bullet was a .45 caliber, Winchester Silvertip. It was deformed but there is enough rifling marking left at the base for a match if we can find the pistol.”
Good luck with that, I thought. If it was a 1911 model .45, there were only millions and millions of them out there. If we find the pistol, I won’t be surprised if she has just used it to kill herself. In my experience, killers like this aren’t taken alive.
I got a text message as we were talking about our next steps, mostly me reassuring the locals that we would use every means at our disposal to stop this person. It was from Melody, they would be at the airfield in forty-five minutes. “Sorry, folks, we have to be leaving. With the new information, I need to return to Albuquerque and my team.” We said our goodbyes, and a deputy was assigned to return us to our hotel and then take us to the airport.
I was thrilled to be heading back home, it was becoming harder to be separated from Gunny for any length of time. I talked to Craig about it, wondering how he ever stayed away from Ella as long as they did when they first found out they were mates. “It’s not easy,” he told me. “Even now I’m anxious being away, my wolf doesn’t like it. He does understand that there is a threat to the Pack, and so he puts up with it, just like he did before. Her safety, their safety is more important than anything else.”
“Is this normal? I mean, I’m human.”
“It is, and you’re seeing the same thing in Charlotte already. The mate pull is instinctual, it’s not just something that a Werewolf has.”
“That’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” I said as we took off from the small airfield. Linda, after a strong start to the morning, was already asleep in the chair across from us. “Al, Gunny, Ella, they all have mates, but from what I hear, werepanthers are loners. Ella said the ones in the southern US and Central and South America have small, individual territories and only come together when the female is in heat. So why does Gunny have me for a mate?”
“We don’t know,” he said. “Ella and I were already mates, she knew that as a human that she was mine, and I was hers. Olivia was the same way, she and Mark were already mates. I figured it just carried over. Marge recognized Al as his mate, that may have been enough. You and Gunny are more interesting, because you were both humans originally. Maybe Panthers are such loners they never find their mates? I don’t really know, since until Black Ker changed Ella we’d never had a werepanther around.”
“And Ella changed everyone else.”
“Yes, or someone changed by Ella. We will see when the young ones grow up, I guess. I’m just happy you are mates, he’s a good man and you’re a good addition to the Pack.” He thought about it for a minute. “It’s not just mates, he takes Alpha command. You know how cats are, they don’t listen to anyone, yet all the panthers in our Pack do.”
I laughed. “Dogs have masters, cats have support staff,” I said.
We got a video call from FBI headquarters that interrupted our discussion. It was the Deputy Director. “Agent Conspiell, this case is blowing out of control. The press is all over the Director and the Attorney General. They need this case solved.”
“I know, sir. We just don’t have much to go on right now. My team is working on a suspect list.”
“Right now, thousands. Nadine says they are working to narrow it down, and she’s working on a algorithm to prioritize the most likely. We’ve grabbed a bunch of data already; military and civilian training records, vehicle registrations, social media, Echelon intercepts, it’s hundreds of thousands. With the new information on the real target being Renee Hastings, we’ll add additional names, see if anything starts lining up.”
He paused for a moment, he wasn’t happy and I could see the strain on his face. “Anything you need, you get. I’ve instructed all the Field Offices to support the investigation, anyone you want followed up on, hand it to the nearest office. Keep me posted, Rose.” With that he broke the connection.
A car was waiting at the airfield to take us back to the office, and we stopped at a Los Pollos Hermanos for lunch on the way. The floor was packed with people, in fact a second floor was currently being set up to take the overflow. In addition, people at Headquarters were also being tasked to work directly for us. “Nadine, tell me some good news please,” I said as we walked in.
“I saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico?”
I just froze, staring at her, until everyone including me started cracking up. “Thanks, I needed that. Now really, what’s going on.”
“Bad news first. We ran the list of plates from the Albuquerque perimeter against the list seen on the Kansas Turnpike and other traffic cameras we could find between here and Superior, Nebraska. No matches.”
Shit. “So what does that mean?”
“It could be a couple things,” one of the new FBI men said. “She could have changed vehicles, or she didn’t take the turnpike and took back roads instead. The traffic cameras here in town don’t give 100% coverage either, so she might have known where they were and adjusted her route accordingly. Whoever she is, she’s smart and she plans her escape.”
“Keep working the list from the Albuquerque cameras, though,” I said. “That’s more likely than the turnpike.”
“It’s still a huge number, we’ve got over 25,000 vehicles in the database right now. We have a team going over each camera and trying to narrow it down; first looking for female drivers or passengers, then looking for out of state vehicles. We’re cross checking with driver’s license records to eliminate the drivers over fifty.”
“Because the shooter is of childbearing age,” Craig said. “I got a sniff of her, remember?”
The rest of the afternoon was spent helping the database team with their algorithm; it was a point system, we were hoping that by awarding points to various characteristics we could cause the most likely suspects to bubble up. Right now, the team was working through the list of female snipers and assassins as our priority.
It was past nine at night before Craig knocked on my office as I was handling another politically-motivated phone call from a US Attorney who wanted an update. “Rose, it’s time to go home. You need rest.”
I looked at the clock and sighed, it had been a long day. “All right.” I closed up my laptop and put my phone in my purse. “Everyone else home?”
“Yes, Linda is going to take you back to Gila, I’m going home to Ella.” We took the elevator down, Linda was waiting in her car for me at the door. I got in as Craig walked to his SUV, and I was asleep before we exited the parking ramp.
I woke up when the car stopped outside the Pack House. Yawning, I got my bearings. Doc met me as I got out of the car, I looked at him in panic. “Nothing’s wrong, Rose, Linda linked me you were coming and I needed to talk to you for a minute before he knows you are here,” he said.
“What’s going on?”
He shook his head. “He’s being a typical male, that’s all. His sutures aren’t out yet and his lung is still healing, but he wants to be up and moving around. He won’t follow my instructions, he tried to get into a car and drive to Albuquerque to go to work. Ella had to Alpha order him to bed, then I had to take stronger action.”
Oh God, what now. “I gave him a sedative a few hours ago and restrained him to the bed frame.”
I laughed. “So he’s helpless in bed right now?”
“Charlotte couldn’t calm him down, so yeah. Maybe you can. Just remember, no strenuous activity, he needs to stay calm and heal up.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Is Charlotte around?”
“They’re in the pool.”
I left my bag by the clinic door and walked through the Pack house towards the big pool in back. It took a minute to pick out Charlotte, she was pinned in the corner of the hot tub by Josh. Her long hair was fisted in his hand and he had his other arm around her waist. The bubbles hid their lower bodies, but I could see her knees wrapped around his waist. They were too busy making out to notice I was approaching, and Josh squealed like a girl when I grabbed his ear and pulled him away. Both were nude, and he was obviously excited. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, young man?”
His eyes were dark with lust and his wolf was forward, but he quickly pushed him back. He put his hands up, not wanting to provoke his future mother-in-law after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He looked back at Charlotte, who was sinking down in the pool, completely embarrassed. “Sorry, Mom. I let things get a little out of hand.”
“Damn right you did, Josh. Go take a COLD shower, your mother and I will deal with you later.” He wrapped a towel around his waist, hiding his arousal as he slunk off to the locker room. “Now, young lady, get out and get to your room. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“Yes Mom.” She grabbed her stuff from a lounger nearby and pulled one of Josh’s shirts over her naked body. I pulled out my phone and called Angela Spencer. “Hi Angela, it’s Rose. We need to talk about Josh.”
“Is he all right?”
“He’s fine, he’s just walking a VERY fine line. I just caught him and Charlotte naked in the hot tub, looking like they were filming a soft-core porn episode.”
She groaned. “I was afraid of that. He’s been having a hard time holding his wolf back, even with Alpha command on him.”
“I’m a little shocked, Charlotte didn’t show much interest in guys after her rape, but it’s like he’s a drug. I can’t believe she’s feeling the mating bond so strongly, she’s just as much at fault. I think we need to do something else or he’s going to mate her, Alpha command or not. One shift of her hips, and they would have been mated tonight.” I thought about it for a minute. “I think we need to curb them somehow.”
“I’ll talk to Craig and Ella. I’m thinking those two should not be alone together, and certainly not naked.” We chatted for a few more minutes as I walked into the Pack House before I let her go.
I knocked on Charlotte’s door, she was still in the shower so I waited on the bed in her small guest room. She came out a few minutes later, dressed in cotton pajamas. I patted the bed and she sat next to me. “It’s hard to hold back, isn’t it.”
She nodded, and I pulled her into my side. “This isn’t like some guy from school, Charlotte, this is your mate. Your actions are putting him in a bad situation, both with his wolf and his Pack. Do you know what happens if he breaks Alpha command and mates with you before you are of age?” She shook her head no. “Talk to Linda about it. Her mate broke Alpha command and changed her while they were mating. He was taken before the Alphas and kicked out of his Pack. He still can’t return to see his family, his friends, he was given an hour to be off the territory or he would be killed.”
“Exactly. Imagine that happening to Josh. He’d leave behind his family, his friends, everything. If you went with him, you’d have to leave me because I have to be with Gunny. If you couldn’t get accepted into another Pack, you’d be loners. Wolves have a tough time that way, they aren’t meant to be alone and you would both have struggles the rest of your lives.” She was crying on my shoulder by now. “I talked to Josh’s parents, and they are talking to his Alphas. From now on, you two are not to be alone together. You can still see him, with others around.”
“Isn’t there another way?” Her eyes were filling with tears.
“I’m afraid not, not after what I just saw. It’s more than just that, you need to be very careful at school and in public. If it gets out that you two are together, he could lose his job at the school, then his wolf will have even more problems.”
“So I can’t see him?”
“You are friends with Jane, so bring her along, maybe some others. That way you can be together without being seen TOGETHER, if you know what I mean. No public displays of affection, no talking about him as your boyfriend. If anyone asks, you have a boyfriend back in DC. Keep things cool, and you’ll be fine. At least now he’s protecting you, keeping an eye on you, and that keeps his wolf happy. Well, as much as you NEED protection, right?”
“Damn right, Mom. No one will mess with me now.”
I hugged her to me. “What has happened with young Mr. Jennings?”
“Mitch is still suspended, and he’s gotten a lawyer. Since I signed my complaint, Jane said four more girls have come forward and filed their own reports.” I had told the school Charlotte needed some time to recover from the attack, but Jane had gone to school, at least until every Werewolf in the Pack had been brought home for safety reasons. “My phone has been blowing up, the video has gone viral and a news crew in town asked for an interview, but I declined.”
“I’ve told you, guys like this don’t just start grabbing strangers, they’ve done it many times before and got away with it. Turning down the interview is probably a good thing; we need to stay low key for a while. The killer is still out there, and she is pissed off at Renee for some reason.”
“I saw the news, Mom. How could someone just kill like that?”
“I wish I knew. Now, I need to go check on Gunny. You have a good sleep, and think about what I said.” I gave her a hug. “You’re a lucky young woman, Charlotte. You have a man who loves you and will do anything to make you happy. Plus, with what I saw tonight, he’s got enough to make you REALLY happy.”
“I’m just saying, he’s packing serious heat. Not like Gunny, but enough.” She buried her face in her hands and I just laughed and walked out. She was already on her phone before I closed the door. I walked across to the clinic and peeked into his room. He was snoring softly, on his back with his hands cuffed with thick leather straps to the sides of the bed.
Oh yeah. Revenge is a dish best served cold, I thought.
I went to get some ice cubes and a blindfold.