The Fighter

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Chapter 6: Speak Up, America. SPEAK UP!

That night, I finally decided to talk to Joan. I was parked in front of her place, feeling bone-deep exhausted and nervous about how she would react to me being there. I knew it had to be done, even though I was really dreading it. After a deep breath, I climbed out of my car and walked into her apartment building, and then knocked on her door.

The door swung open, and Joan stood there, obviously surprised. “Dee? What are you doing here? It’s not Friday.”

I looked down at my hands. Now or never. “You told me to come over when I was ready to talk. I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow, and I figured this was better than calling.”

Joan cocked an eyebrow before stepping aside to let me in. “I honestly wasn’t expecting you to talk even tomorrow.”

“Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have,” was all I responded with as I ventured into her apartment.

She sat down at her table, tucking one leg underneath her. “Well?” She asked expectantly. “What makes these circumstances ‘not normal’?”

I glanced around her cute little apartment, cozy library-like. It had warm reds and golds as accent colors, and felt like home. I finally sat down in the seat across from her in defeat. “I got a job.”

Her jaw dropped. “No way! Where?”

I didn’t make eye contact. She was probably going to ask a lot go questions that I wasn’t sure I was emotionally prepared to answer, but I knew it was time. “The FBI. Remember that guy at the gym?”

Joan nodded. “Drew, right?”

I frowned. How did she know his name? “How did you know that?”

A tea kettle on the stove began to whistle, and she jumped up a little too excitedly and raced into the adjacent kitchen. “I overheard him tell you at the gym,” she said.

“Oh,” I breathed, still skeptical. “Well, turns out he was recruiting me. I’ve been training for the past two days, and let me tell you it’s been far from easy.”

“What kind of training?”

“Firearms and combat so far. It’s exhausting.”

She nodded again, her dark brown eyes lost in thought. I watched as she pulled two mugs out of the cabinet and pulled the kettle off the heat. Silence followed the whistling; it was awkward, which was highly unusual for us. Silences weren’t usually bizarre between us.

“So… are we going to talk about what happened at the gym?” I wondered quietly in order to break the silence.

Joan rubbed the back of her neck, slowly glancing up at me. “I don’t know. Are you ready to talk about it?”

“Am I ever ready to talk about it?” I asked rhetorically, sarcasm lacing my voice.

“The answer to your rhetorical question,” she started, as if reading my mind, “is no. It’s not like I’m ever really ready to talk about my past. Just sometimes it needs to come out. How are you supposed to grow and move on if you don’t?”

I hesitated, watching as she poured water into the mugs. My heart was pounding, and I fought to suppress the fear rising in my throat. “I was molested and raped for a year. My mother didn’t know. I was too young and didn’t have the heart to tell her when she was on her death bed,” I admitted, my voice barely audible.

Joan froze as she dunked the tea bags into the cups of hot water before slowly carrying them to the table. She didn’t say anything for a moment, and just out of my pure discomfort, I remained completely silent. The truth was out, and I couldn’t say it was a relief. If anything, it felt like tearing open the old wounds I had spent years patching with cheap Band-Aids.

“How old were you?” She finally asked, after nearly three whole minutes of sipping on too-hot chamomile tea.

I was taken aback. I was expecting her to pity me. To apologize profusely, tell me it wasn’t my fault.

“I was freshly six when it started,” I said. “I left home on my seventh birthday.”

She bit her lip. “You’re right,” she stated. “You were too young. Much too young to even understand it. No one should ever have to go through that.”

“No one should ever have to deal with crack-addict parents,” I replied, hoping to take the spotlight off me.

She laughed softly, knowing me all too well as she accepted we were switching topics. “Unfortunately, the world is a cruel, dark place, Dee. You and I just happened to see that part a little more than most people.”

I exhaled sharply. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

There was another brief moment of silence.

“Hey Jo?”

“Yeah?” We finally made eye contact. Dark brown to amber.

“You didn’t apologize. Therapists and other people I told when I was younger always apologized.”

She shrugged. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you should never apologize for something that isn’t your fault, nor should you apologize for something like that happening to you. I mean, what is the other party supposed to say?” She demanded. “That it’s okay? Because it’s not. And it will never be okay. But somehow, in the midst of all the chaos in this damn world, we find a way to be okay. We find our own way of moving on. Somehow, we have to learn to let go of the past and stop hiding behind it.”

I stared down at my cup of tea, knowing damn well she was right. This conversation was clearly long overdue. I smiled shyly up at her, sensing that our friendship would return to normal, if not on a deeper level than before.

A week and a half passed, putting me at the start of my third week. I grew increasingly more comfortable with Josh, Carson, and Drew, and I had been doing exceedingly well in all areas of my training. I still struggled with the physical training most of the time, but was triumphant in the few times I beat each of the guys.

Today we were meeting the rest of the team, and I had to admit that I was a little bit anxious. We all had to dress professionally, since we would be sitting in on one of their briefings. I guess this week we were learning what our jobs would entail.

“Nervous blondie?” Drew asked from beside me while we waited in the conference room for everyone else to show up.

I shrugged, faux nonchalantly, trying to feel comfortable in my white fuzzy t-shirt, high-waisted navy pants, and taupe suede heels. “I don’t usually do well with new people.”

“That’s an understatement,” he muttered.

I elbowed him in the ribs, and then glanced over at him to get a better look. “You look nice in that shirt, by the way. Date tonight?” I complimented. He was wearing a light blue button-up, unbuttoned at the top, and black trousers. His dark curls were neatly pushed back.

He nervously pulled at his collar, and I fought the urge to smile. “Yes, with that girl I told you about a while back. I’m finally taking her out on a nice date.”

I opened my mouth to respond when several people walked through the conference room door. There was a gorgeous dark-haired woman, who dressed in borderline-inappropriate for a workplace, but she was a tall goddess to say the least. She also had the biggest bitch look on her face, and I knew one day her and I would get along.

Richard followed behind them, nodding at all of us. “Welcome to the team. While I’m aware you guys haven’t finished your training, I think it’s important you get a feel for how we brief everyone on cases,” he introduces. “It allows all parties to assess if it’ll be a good fit. You’re all doing exceptionally well on all the topics you’ve covered so far, so this will get you one step closer. Before we start debriefing, I’d like for you all to introduce yourselves.”

There were two tall men who looked eerily similar, only for me to find out they were brothers. I couldn’t remember their names for the life of me. The dark-haired girl was Emma. There was another girl, probably a few years older than Emma, who was soft-spoken. Her name was Heather.

Just as we were finishing introductions, a man threw the door open. He had dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, and his cheeks were flushed. “I quit. I can’t keep doing this job, Richard. You’ll have to find someone to replace me,” he snapped, tossing his credentials on the table before storming out.

We all stared at the door and then back to Richard.

What a bizarre start to the morning.

I glanced at Drew quizzically, who smirked back at me.

Richard sighed. “One of our Technical Analyst’s. Do any of you specialize in computer work? Hacking, gathering information, and the like?”

Carson’s hand shot up. “I’ve been playing with computers since I was a kid. I can certainly be of help.”

One of the brothers looked at him with curiosity. “You did computer hacking?”

Carson’s face dropped. “Well, no. But I know how to. I could learn to work your computer systems.”

Richard nodded. “Great. I’ll take that into consideration with your training then. We may have you assigned primarily to technical work. I’ll have someone train you on that right away,” he said. “Now, onto the case. Josh and Madelyn, you’ll stay here. Drew will walk you through the case as we work. The rest of you will come with me.”

Drew’s lips tightened into a flat line, and I wondered if it was because he wasn’t allowed in the field.

In the last week and a half, he and I hadn’t had much alone time, and I oddly craved it. I liked talking to him one-on-one. I didn’t even have time in the car with him anymore; they deemed me not a flight risk so they lifted my chauffeur.

I took a brief moment to take in his features: his adorable dimples that showed themselves from time to time when he cracked a smile, his strong jaw dusted with stubble, his pillowy pink lips—

Whooooaaa, Nelly. Chill.

I forced my attention onto Richard, hoping that would quash whatever had momentarily come over me.

Emma clicked a button on the remote she was holding, and the large TV screen on the back wall lit up. “Okay, as we know, we’ve had several men of similar description go missing over the last few weeks, all in the greater Boston area. We’ve been keeping tabs on these cases by making sure it was spread in the media, but this morning their bodies were found completely drained of blood,” she informed us, displaying a few crime scene photos, and I refrained from looking away. “Cause of death was from slits in the wrists, throat, and ankles. It also appears that more blood was removed from IV’s in the arms and legs.

“The bodies aren’t on display,” Drew observed, tapping his pen on the notepad sitting in front of him. “They were dumped carelessly.”

“No remorse,” the other brother said. “He must not care for them after they are of no more use to him.”

“All the victims are white males in their earlier thirties. Married with children. They’re the typical blue collar Americans,” Emma responded. “So clearly this points to him being a preferential killer.”

“They could be a surrogate for someone else,” Josh spoke up, and everyone, including me, looked over at him. “What? I’m just saying. Don’t preferential killers usually have a type because they’re surrogates for the real cause of their anger?”

Drew nodded. “Yes, usually. This could be the case guys, and we have no evidence to prove otherwise.”

I was beginning to feel a little bit left out of the conversation, but I had nothing to comment on. I was getting tired of feeling like the straggler of the group.

“Were there any signs of sexual assault?” Carson chimed in.

Emma shook her head. “None. Rape kits came back clean.”

“And you said all of the bodies were found this morning?” Heather wondered.

“First victim was found early this morning, and the other two were reported shortly after. Time of death appears to be different with all of them. One appears to have been dead for two weeks, one five days, and one yesterday morning. Judging by the missing persons reports, he’d holding them for about two days before killing them,” Emma explained. “I believe that’s all for now, we can discuss more on the flight there.”

Richard nodded. “Yes, wheels up in thirty minutes.”

“Wait,” I said before I could stop myself. I was examining the photos more closely now, my interest piqued. “You said there were no signs of sexual assault.”

Emma refrained from rolling her eyes. “Yes, that’s what the reports say.”

I scowled at her. “So that means it’s unlikely that the… um, suspect—,” I stopped, searching for the right word.

“Unsub,” one of the brothers muttered.

“Right. The unsub,” I repeated, shooting him a grateful glance. “That means it’s unlikely that the unsub is getting off on this.”

The other brother and Heather scrutinized me before Emma responded. “Correct, or the kill itself is what’s getting him off.”

“Mmm, I don’t think so,” I disagreed.

“How do you reckon?” Richard wondered.

I stood clumsily and approached the TV screen, trying to ignore the blood creeping up my neck. Was I overstepping here?

“Well, look,” I began, gesturing. “It’s kind of hard to see in these photos, but aside from the dirt on the clothes, they’re in good shape. There is no blood on them, and the wounds are wiped clean.”

Drew smiled at me. I could tell I was making him proud, and my heart fluttered excitedly.

“So the unsub is most likely a woman,” Richard said, nodding. “Good work, Madelyn. Drew, take care of things here. We’ll be in touch.”

We watched as the team left, while the four of us stood in the room.

“Damn, guys, that was impressive,” Drew complimented, shooting us all one of his heart-breaking dimpled grins. “Good eyes.”

Carson shrugged. “So now what?”

“Oh, right. Carson, I’ll take you upstairs to the technical team, where they can start training you. Josh, Madelyn… go down and practice combat. I’ll come find you later.”

I traded glances with Josh, wanting to be annoyed that Drew wasn’t escorting me somewhere, but knew that this was just a friendly workplace relationship.

I sighed internally and followed Josh downstairs.

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