October 15, 1995
Special Agent Robert Leone was growing irritable. This new case that he was currently being briefed on was interesting, to say the least.
However, it was a pain in the ass as well, for one main reason - they were stuck.
Bodies had been piling up for the past two years, and no connections had been made until recently. The only explanation for this was that the UnSub - or Unknown Subject - was smart.
They had crossed jurisdictional lines.
Jurisdictional lines were what neighboring police forces used to tell who the case belonged to. Unfortunately, information was rarely shared between jurisdictions that were neighboring each other. Luckily, state police records would often catch those. The odds of these occurrences being caught became even more rare when state lines were crossed.
Twelve different towns in ten different states had been hit in the last two years, and they were no closer to catching this sicko than they were right after the first body. There was nothing similar in the victimology - maybe something that tied one or two together, but never all twelve. The victims were different genders, ages, had different jobs, social classes, ethnic backgrounds, religious backgrounds, etc.
The only thing that linked the cases together at all was the signature.
An UnSub’s signature was different from their MO - modus operandi. The MO was the tools and planning used to commit the crime - where was the crime committed? How did the UnSub get in? What tools were used during the crime? When did the crime take place - what time of day? What was the UnSub’s alibi? All of these things were key to determining the UnSub’s MO.
Their signature, on the other hand - that was what they were compulsed to do. Something that wasn’t at all necessary to carry out the crime, but still done anyway. Maybe the UnSub posed the victim, or always killed them a certain way. Maybe they took something from the victim - a trophy.
In this particular case, the signature had two parts - a slit throat, and a word.
Tuning out the higher-ups for a minute, SA Leone turned back to the murder boards .
Lucas Miller - age twenty-four; six-foot-one; Caucasian; brown hair and eyes. Last seen on August 9, 1993. Found August 14, 1993, in the basement of an abandoned building. Cause of Death: severed carotid artery. ‘BASTARD’ carved into torso
Amanda Norstrum - age thirty-one; five-foot-eleven; American Indian; dark brown hair and eyes. Last seen September 10, 1993. Found September 19, 1993. Cause of Death: severed carotid artery. ‘LUST’ carved into torso.
Juliet Noble - age forty-five; four-foot-nine; Caucasian; blonde hair and green eyes. Last seen October 21, 1993. Found October 22, 1993. Cause of Death: severed carotid artery. ‘ADULTERESS’ carved into torso.
The cause of death stayed the same every time, and now names, descriptions, and words were the only things that stood out.
Ian Smith - age thirty-nine; five-foot-five; Asian; black hair and brown eyes. ‘CUCKOO’ carved into torso.
Emily Mullen - age twenty-one; five-foot-two; African-American; black hair and brown eyes. ‘KILLER’ carved into torso.
Julia Myers - age thirty-four; five-foot; Caucasian; red hair and brown eyes. ‘LOSER’ carved into torso.
Zachary Schmidt - age fifty-three; five-foot-seven; Caucasian; grey hair and blue eyes. ‘IGNORANCE’ carved into torso.
Adam Mills - age nineteen; six-foot-one; Caucasian; brown hair and eyes. ‘GREED’ carved into torso.
Theresa Rohde - age thirty-one; five-foot-four; African-American; brown hair and eyes. ‘HUNDAN’ carved into torso.
John Palmer - age twenty-seven; five-foot-ten; Caucasian; blonde hair and blue eyes. ‘TRAITOR’ carved into torso.
After John Palmer, the words began to repeat themselves in the same order.
Bastard. Lust. Adulteress. Cuckoo. Killer. Loser. Ignorance. Greed. Hundan. Traitor.
So far, only ‘bastard’ and ‘lust’ had been repeated, but it was clear that more were coming.
As Leone stared at the board, it all slowly began to come together for him.
Hundan. That was the one word that didn’t fit in with the rest - it wasn’t even English. Leone knew what it meant, though - ‘bastard’ in Chinese. Of course, he only knew that because his roommate in college had been Chinese, and had taught him every dirty phrase in the book. But still, at least he knew it.
But even the translation didn’t fit in with the rest of the words. None of the others repeated, they didn’t even have the same meanings.
So maybe it wasn’t the words themselves that mattered….
Then it finally clicked.
“Blacklight.” he said in realisation, then realized just how quiet the room had become.
“I’m sorry?” one of the other agents said, and Leone could barely keep from rolling his eyes at the condescending superiority in the other man’s tone.
“Blacklight.” Leone repeated. “Can’t you see it?”
Everyone in the room just stared at him blankly.
He huffed in irritation, before getting up out of his chair. Looking around for a moment, he located an empty board in the room and walked over to it, picking up a marker on the way.
Leone wrote out all of the words that had been carved into the victims’ chests, talking all the while.
“It took me a bit to figure it out.” He admitted, slowly copying down each word. “But the one word - hundan - kept sticking out. It means ‘bastard’ in Chinese, which got me thinking - why Chinese? All of the other words were English. And why bastard? None of the other words repeat, so why does that one?”
“Because it’s not the words that matter.” Another voice called out, answering his question. Leone grinned in triumph, turning to look at the person who had spoken - Special Agent Ryan Jackson, his best friend both in and out of the Bureau.
“Exactly.” Leone said, circling the first letter of each word, so that the message could be seen:
The whole room just stared at him in silence for a minute, before one of his supervisors spoke up.
“Congratulations, Agent Leone.” he said. “You’ve just gotten yourself reassigned to be the lead on this case.”
It took two months for the paperwork to go through so that they could go back and reexamine the old crime scenes. Leone and Jackson were only going to the very first scene, though - CSI techs would check out the rest.
It took a while for the two to even get started, but once they did, it took even longer for them to find anything. The agents stood back-to-back at the middle of the crime scene - where the body had originally been found - and each took half of the scene to check over. They reasoned that they would just give the place a quick once-over, but quickly realized that the scene would be a lot harder to examine then they had hoped.
Finally, about five hours after they had begun, Jackson called for Leone and showed him what he had found.
Looking down at the writing that had just been revealed underneath the glow of the blacklight, SA Leone said what they were all thinking:
“Well, that makes things easier.” he commented dryly, looking down at what had just been unearthed. According to the crime scene photos, the words were about four yards away from where the body had been discovered, which only partially explained why they hadn’t been found during the original investigation. The blood spatter hadn’t gone any farther than six feet or so away from the body, making it understandable as to why the CSI team hadn’t checked that far out, although they really should have.
So basically, Leone just chalked it up to incompetence.
The initial sweep with blacklights hadn’t turned up anything, unfortunately. They had been about to give up, when one of the CSI techs suggested that they try luminol instead.
So now both he and SA Jackson had been sweeping the area with luminol - starting where the body had been, and then working their way out in quadrants. Jackson was the one who had found it underneath the staircase, but had been too shocked to actually say anything other than to call out for Leone.
Now they both stood over the glowing words that had been written in some sort of bodily fluid - most likely blood.
The message was short, sweet, and to the point - as well as undeniably cryptic. It also contained only one actual word.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Jackson asked, looking at the numbers in confusion. Leone was wearing an identical expression.
“I think it’s….. maybe…. no clue.” Leone admitted, before taking a couple dozen snapshots of the message. “We have the next week or two while we’re waiting to hear back from the other crime scenes to figure it out though.”
Several weeks had passed since they had first found the numbers at the crime scene, and they were no closer to figuring them out.
It was time for drastic measures.
“Hi honey, I’m home!” Robert Leone called as he entered his house - an old Colonial-style place with a robin’s egg blue exterior and white trim.
Two voices chorused to greet him:
His wife’s strong, clear voice saying, “And what sort of time would you call this?”
And his son, shouting, “Dad’s home! Dad’s home!” at the top of his lungs.
Robert Leone laughed as he was attacked by ninety-one pounds of twelve-year-old boy.
“Hey, Danny-boy!” he said happily, picking up his son in a one-armed embrace.
“Guess what, guess what?” Daniel asked his father excitedly.
He pretended to think about it for a moment, even though he already knew the answer.
“You made the varsity team for basketball?” he guessed, and his wife giggled as Daniel’s eyes went wide.
“How’d you know that?”
“Because I know everything, of course!” he said, setting his son back on the floor.
Daniel just gave him a Look. “Mom told you, didn’t she?”
Later that night, once Danny was in bed, Robert Leone was sitting hunched over at their kitchen table, pouring over enlarged versions of the pictures that he had taken at the crime scene.
He suddenly registered the sound of footsteps, nearly silent, but that were enough to keep him from jumping out of his skin as slender arms wrapped around his shoulders, a curtain of deep red, raspberry-and-citrus scented hair fell over his own shoulder, and a gentle kiss was pressed to his head before she walked away. Leone kept his attention on the files, even as he kept one ear out for familiar sounds - cabinet doors opening and closing, the faucet running, and then finally the clink of metal on china.
Finally, a cup of tea was pushed in front of him, and he couldn’t help but smile at the gesture. As a child, Scarlett’s mother would always make her tea if she was having trouble figuring something out, and Scarlett had carried that tradition over to her own family.
Her own cup clinked as it was sat down on the table, and she pulled over a chair.
“What’re you up to, boyo?” Scarlett Leone asked her husband sleepily, and he couldn’t help the fond grin that crept onto his face at her voice - that hint of an accent that always made it clear that his wife had roots in the Deep South was always so much thicker right after she had woken up. Her eyes scanned the photos spread on the table, before looking back at his face.
“I don’t know.” he admitted, letting out a quiet yawn as he stretched in his chair. “I can’t make heads nor tails of these damn numbers.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he was tensing in apprehension of the blow that was about to come. Sure enough, not even two seconds after, he felt Scarlett softly slap him upside the head.
“Watch your language, mister.” she warned, even as she moved her chair just a bit closer to her husband, seeming more alert now that there was something for her to focus on.
“What did RJ have to say about it?” she asked, referring to SA Jackson, known by the nickname outside of the bureau.
“Same old, same old.” he answered, rolling his eyes in fond exasperation. “He alternated back and forth between coming up with actual ideas and throwing around crackpot conspiracy theories.”
Scarlet laughed good-naturedly, teasing, “Who knows, maybe he’s right for a change,” before becoming engrossed in the photos.
Leone couldn’t help but smile as he looked at the image that his wife presented. Her hair had been thrown up into a quick bun while she made tea, but there was still that one piece that refused to stay put, and kept falling in front of her eyes. Her brow was furrowed in concentration, and she was worrying her bottom lip like she always did when she was thinking.
If he was being honest with himself, this was why he had brought the files home with him in the first place. Although he would never actually admit it, the tiny redheaded spitfire sitting next to him was absolutely brilliant when it came to puzzles - and this one was especially up her alley, seeing as she had majored in Mathematics.
“The second line of numbers is obvious…” she muttered as she wound a lock of hair around her finger absentmindedly.
“Seriously?” he asked his wife incredulously, drawing her out of her reverie.
She blushed slightly, realizing that he had been staring at her, before giving him a teasing smirk. “Coordinates, boyo. As to where exactly the coordinates are, that I don’t know.”
“What about the first line?” Robert asked her eagerly, but Scarlett just shrugged.
“No clue.” she said. “It could be anything - a street number, parking spot, P.O. box….” she trailed off.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s just… I feel like I should know what they are.” she finally said. “Like the answer is obvious, but I’m just missing it somehow.”
“That’s what I thought.” Leone agreed, draining the rest of his mug.
Scarlett slowly stretched as she got up from her seat, and Robert took the opportunity to appreciate his wife for the first time since he got back. A neon green sports bra was visible underneath the white t-shirt that completely dwarfed her tiny frame. He was pretty sure that the shirt had belonged to him once upon a time, before she had claimed it as her own.
Not that he was complaining. It looked much better on her.
“Right.” she said, a mischievous gleam shining in her eyes as she saw where her husband’s eyes were glued. Turning to leave the kitchen, she called over her shoulder, “I’m going back to bed.”
“Mind if I join you?” he asked hopefully, watching as she put that little extra swing in her hips as she started down the hall. He held back a curse as he watched, knowing that she was purposely trying to rile him up.
“Oh no you don’t, boyo.” Scarlett’s tone of voice was suddenly razor sharp and as cold as ice, making Robert look up at her guiltily, knowing that he was about to be in trouble. “You’re sleeping on the couch tonight.”
He pouted at her childishly, making her have to fight to keep her stern scowl in place. “What did I do?” he whined.
“You broke the rules, Mister.” she said, leaning back against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest, before turning around and walking back up the stairs.
“Which one?” he called after her, and her response floated down from the top of the stairs.
“Rule Twenty-Five: Don’t bring work home with you!”