Matt carefully unpeeled the securing tape and the book dropped into this hands. He edged himself out from under the desk and stood. Before he could examine the book his mobile phone vibrated in his pocket. Matt retrieved his phone and looked at the display before answering.
‘Agent…Tom Carter from Homicide. How are you?’
‘Good. What’s up?’
‘I have some great news and I wanted to be the first to personally tell you…’
Matt waited for the news.
‘Because of your find we have a breakthrough in the case. We ran the fingerprint you found through IAFIS and we got a hit.’
Matt’s brow furrowed. He took a moment to absorb what he just heard.
The FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System was their national repository of criminal histories, fingerprints and photographs for all US criminals. But he planted the fingerprint. Jason wasn’t anywhere near the house…so how could the print match a record in IAFIS?
‘OK…What sort of hit are we talking about?’ Matt asked.
‘A major one…’ Tom said. ‘The fingerprint matched a four-year old murder from Philadelphia…’ Tom paused before continuing. ‘But there’s more…’ he said. ‘That murder was the first one of a series of twenty-six murders over the space of four years.’
Matt listened on in stunned silence.
‘And here’s the slam dunk…’ Tom said. ’Every one of the twenty-six victims was immobilized by duct tape around her wrists, with a strip over their eyes and mouths. They were all raped and strangled. The print you found for our murderer is the same guy from the Philly serial murders.’
The frown lines made Matt’s forehead resembled a washboard. ‘Couldn’t we just have a copycat killer…?’ Matt suggested, even though his comment made little sense considering the fingerprint had been found and identified in IAFIS.
‘No way,’ Tom insisted. ‘The FBI advised me that the details of the duct tape over the eyes and mouth were never released for the Philly murders…Just like in our cases. Nobody knew about this particular signature.’
Matt held a stunned stare into nothing. It didn’t make sense. He planted the print at the murder scene to frame Jason. How could it match the Philly murders?
Matt’s eyes dropped to the album in his hand. The distraction of the phone call caused him to forget he still held it. He dropped the album onto the desk and flipped open the cover. His eyes flared.
‘I’m gunna have to call you back,’ Matt said. He ended the call and dropped the phone onto the desk. His eyes never left the album.
Matt slowly turned each page of the album he found taped under the desk. Every page had a newspaper clipping that related to each of the Philly murders on one side, while on the other page was a color photograph of each victim – naked and bound with duct tape, with tape over the victim’s eyes and mouth. It was the same signature to the Coastal Killings. The Philly murderer must’ve taken his own photos after he killed his victims.
Each page was numbered one through twenty-six. The news articles actually reported the murders were in and around Pittsburgh. Matt flicked through the pages. Every Philadelphia murder was accounted for – all twenty-six.
Matt rubbed a thoughtful hand over his mouth. What the fuck’s going on? He frowned.
After arriving at the last murder – number twenty-six, Matt flicked over the page. His eyes flared again. The page immediately following the 26th Philly murder was a newspaper clipping from the San Diego UT reporting the discovery of the first victim in the Coastal Killings. On the page opposite that was a color photograph of the deceased victim number one from the Coastal Killings – naked and bound by duct tape. This was not a police crime scene photo, so it had to have been taken by the killer. Matt’s brow plunged deep into his face.
The photograph had a large number “1” written in red ink. Matt quickly flicked through the rest of the album pages, each of which also contained newspaper clippings on one side and a color photograph on the other page.
Each of these other photographs was numbered two through ten and related to each of the recent San Diego murders. Every murder had been cataloged in the album.
Matt ran his hand across his closely shaved head. He struggled to accept that Jason was actually the Coastal Killer.
Matt’s eyes dropped to his manila folder on the desk that contained his collection of newspaper articles on the Coastal Killings. All this time he intended to plant this evidence in Jason’s house to try and frame him for all the murders…and Jason had his own first-hand collection, because he was actually committing them. Matt didn’t know if was embarrassed for not realizing Jason was the murderer, or angry that he was. Maybe it was both.
He was so focused on trying to frame Jason, when all these murders started happening, he didn’t take the time to wonder who was actually committing them. He was almost thankful to the murderer for providing him with material to frame Jason.
He curiously turned over the next page following victim number ten. As the page fell open he inhaled and reeled back slightly, horrified at what confronted him.
His heart rate instantly elevated. The pit of his stomach felt like lead as his eyes locked onto a black and white ten by eight head shot photograph of Alicia smiling happily back at him. His stunned eyes dropped to the large number “11” written in red ink in the lower right corner of the photo. Matt’s gaze froze on the number as he realized its significance.
He turned the page back to the previous page. It was a photo of Victim number ten, with a red “10” in the lower right corner. He flicked the page back to Alicia’s photo.
He cupped his forehead. ‘Fuck,’ he said to himself. ‘Fuck,’ he repeated as he pivoted on the spot. ‘She’s next.’
Panic started to take hold. His breathing accelerated but he struggled to draw a clean breath. He felt claustrophobic. He lifted his phone and dialed Alicia. He checked his watch while the phone rang. It was 11.10am.
‘Come on pick up, pick up.’ He was now sick with fear.
The phone answered. ‘Hi Hun, what’s up?’
Matt took a deep breath to compose himself. He didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm her. ‘Nothing Hun… Er, I just thought I’d give you a call. How was your training session?’
‘Oh it was great. It was such a beautiful day to be outside. I’m just in the car now heading home for a shower.’
‘He was fine…’ she replied slowly and a little questioningly.
‘What’s he up to now then?’ he asked.
The phone went silent for a brief period before she responded. ‘I suppose he’s going home…I don’t know. We didn’t discuss it...Why…? What’s wrong…Why the sudden interest in Jason?’
‘I wouldn’t say it’s sudden interest, Hun. He spends a lot of time with my wife so I have always been interested in him...But no reason, really. By the way, on Jason…where did you say he trained before he came to San Diego?’
‘Um… I think it was Philadelphia...Yeah, Philly, that’s right, he said he went to Penn State U, I think it was, and he lived in Pittsburgh. What’s going on Matt? Why all these questions about Jason?’ she asked.
‘Look I’ll explain it all later,’ he said. ‘Gotta go.’
He ended the call. He had to move quickly. Jason would only be minutes away. Matt faced a dilemma. He couldn’t expose Jason for having these newspaper clippings and photographs because his search was illegal. They would be lost as inadmissible evidence in any trial.
He dropped to floor, slid under the desk and replaced the album. After sliding back out he picked up his manila folder, turned off the dull red light and made his way out of the room.
His panic levels sent bursts of Adrenalin coursing through his body. He had never before been confronted with the threatened mortality of a loved one.
Jason would be home any minute and if forced to confront him, Matt would not be able to control himself. He quickly made his way to the front door. His mobile was still in his hand when he received a text message.
He paused before opening the front door to read the message. It was a message from Jason to Alicia. The roving bug in her phone picked up the message and sent it to him. The message read...
“There was something I wanted to talk to you about and I forgot to mention it at training. I will just pop over if that’s OK. Need to discuss. Very important.”
Matt’s eyes flared. 'Shit,' he blurted. He quickly opened the front door. He didn’t even bother to check if there were any nosy neighbors in sight. He stepped outside, slamming the door behind him and ran to the street. He glanced down at the phone in his hand. Alicia had not responded to Jason’s text. Maybe she is in the shower.
His mind kept revisiting the black and white photo of Alicia with the red number eleven written on it. Despite his thoughts and plans to kill his wife because of her affair with Jason, he now knew he could never physically hurt her. Although he felt betrayed, he still loved her; he just didn’t realize it – until now.
His true feelings were suppressed deeply beneath the anger and hurt that consumed him. He fooled himself all along and deep down -- really deep down, he knew it. He just wouldn’t let himself admit it.
His mechanism for coping with the humiliation and hurt from her betrayal had conjured up the irrational thoughts about how he would get even with his wife, but now that it appeared it could happen for real by the actual serial killer, he was petrified with fear.
He knew there was something about Jason that he didn’t like, but his usual reliable ability to get a read on him was influenced by the fact Jason was screwing his wife.
The pit of his stomach churned as sprinted to his car. His face was now etched in fear.