Murder By Design

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Chapter 9

March 13, 1996

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

It was an old house, most likely built in the 1940s - possibly earlier. Sat in the middle of an acre and a half of land, it was almost picturesque. Made of red brick with a green shingled roof and a wraparound porch, it looked like the perfect place to raise a family.

Unfortunately, the people who lived there were more into murder and weaponry than bake sales and PTA meetings.

“Okay, on my signal.” SA Leone said tersely. He and SA Jackson were heading up the task force that had been sent to the address - 4216 N Progress - to hopefully find and detain their UnSubs.

Because if they found one more damn riddle, the two agents weren’t going to be responsible for their actions any more.

They had an entire SWAT team available to them for the capture of these two. According to the township housing records, the owners of the house were Mr. and Mrs. Hunter Johnson. After looking the couple up, the agents had to admit that they fit the profile almost exactly. She was an artist, which gave them access to most tools that might be needed to pull off these murders. He was her manager, as well as being an independent contractor, so it wasn’t like he needed to be in an office somewhere.

The only thing that Leone still couldn’t figure out was why Pandora kept on using notes to communicate with them. Mostly because it was an outdated method of communication, but also because of its time-consuming nature. The note left at the crime scenes - CSI techs had confirmed that the same message was left at every scene - wouldn’t go anywhere. But the note that had come flying at them outside the diner in Strawberry Square? Their mysterious advocate would have had to wait for the entire day for them to show up - and then do the same thing each month, until they arrived.

No matter what the reasoning behind the notes was, they still irritated the agents to no end. After all, time was of the essence when catching killers - and these notes weren’t speeding things up at all.

“All right.” Special Agent Jackson said gravely. “We’re going in.”

Storming the house took mere moments as the S.W.A.T. team cleared the way for the agents. Hunter Johnson was taken by surprise while he was exiting the kitchen, half drunk, before being taken out in handcuffs by Jackson. Meanwhile, Leone kept searching the house for Mercy.

He found her upstairs in the master bedroom, crying.

Holstering his weapon, he went to comfort the woman, crouching down in front of her.

“Mercy Johnson?” he asked, and when she nodded, he added, “It’s okay, you’re safe now.”

She sniffed, holding her face in one hand while she used the other to push the white-blonde curtain of hair out of her face.

“Safe?” she echoed, lifting her head to look him in the eye - fractured blue eyes meeting warm brown ones.

That was when Robert Leone knew that he was in trouble.

This whole time, they had thought that it was the husband who was the dangerous one - the one who did the actual killing. They had assumed that Mercy’s job was basically to lure in their victims, as well as to take care of body disposal.

Unfortunately for Leone, they were wrong.

“Silly agent.” she giggled - an eerie, haunting laugh that Leone swore was the laugh of every creepy ghost in every horror movie ever made. “I’m always safe, no matter where I am. It’s you who should be worried.”

She lunged at him then, her nails catching him by surprise as they clawed his face. He instinctively raised an arm to ward her off, but she was already on top of him. He saw glimpses of blood stained nails as the petite woman rained down hit after hit on him. Normally, Leone would have been able to subdue her with ease, but the sudden nature of the attack, followed by the never-ending barrage of blows made it hard for the agent to get any leverage.

Finally, after minutes of searching for something he could use as a weapon - due to the way that he had landed on the floor, his holstered service weapon was stuck underneath his leg, with Mercy Johnson sitting on top of it - his hand connected with something cold and hard. He grabbed it without a second thought, and swung with as much force as he could muster, which wasn’t much considering that the psychopathic woman sitting on his chest now had her hands wrapped around his throat.

Leone checked that Mercy was really unconscious before taking a minute to just sit, massage his throat, and try to get air back into his lungs. Once he had recovered enough so that the room was no longer spinning, he grabbed the handcuffs from his belt and cuffed the woman’s hands behind her back.

Just then, he heard Jackson come stomping up the stairs, yelling, “What’s taking him so long?”

Leone turned to glare at his partner when he froze in the doorway. Jackson took in the scene, and his expression turned sheepish.

“I’m guessing I should be apologizing for something then?” he asked.

Once they had gotten Mercy Johnson loaded in the back of a squad car, the two agents had a brief moment of quiet before Leone’s radio crackled to life. They were trying to figure out what had happened when Mercy had woken up. She returned to consciousness right after they had carried her out the door, and immediately began thrashing about, screaming, “No! My baby! Don’t take my baby!”

Her husband had been sitting in a squad car already, and had heard her screams. He immediately began yelling at her to shut up, that they didn’t have a baby, and that she was having an ‘episode’ again.

“Sir, we have a situation.” Came the voice of one of the SWAT agents over the short-wave. Leone unclipped the small black object from his belt, bringing it up to his mouth.

“What is it?” he asked, wincing slightly at the pain that shot through his throat. That psychotic woman had definitely done a number on him. Even as he waited for the response, worst-case scenarios were running through his brain. After following the crazy trail of clues that led them to these two, and seeing just what kind of damage had been done to their victims, Leone shuddered at the thought of what might be waiting for them in the parts of the house that they had yet to search. “Bomb? Lab-grade Anthrax? A hidden cache of deadly weapons?”

“Um, no, sir.” came the reply. “It’s a child, sir.”

The partners exchanged curious looks, before Jackson took the radio. “Where are you?” he asked the agent.

“Out back, sir.”

As soon as Jackson and Leone got to the back of the house, they saw the problem.

Four or five SWAT agents were gathered in a rough circle around the base of an enormous maple tree. Every few seconds, one of them would move in just a bit closer, before darting back to his original place in the circle.

They had to move even closer to fully see what was happening. In the middle of the circle was a small figure - a girl.

She had waist-length platinum blonde hair, and slightly tanned skin. Dressed in a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a soft pink flouncy skirt, white knee high socks, and black Mary-Janes, the outfit making her look rather doll-like.

One of the agents broke out of the circle upon seeing the two, and the others closed ranks to fill in the empty space that he had left. “We can’t get in close enough to grab her.” he said calmly, although the flexing muscles in his neck and his clenched jaw belied his irritation. “Every time we get too close, she fights us off, but other than that she just ignores us.”

Jackson looked at the man with barely concealed disdain. “Seriously?” he asked, the condescending tone of his voice clear to all. “She’s a freaking kid! So you get too close, what’s the worst she can do, scratch you?”

The agent just raised an eyebrow and pointed at one of the other agents, who had been propped up against a tree. His face was pale, he looked like he was having trouble breathing, and his arm was at a funny angle. “Hicks -” he gestured to the agent, “got too close to her, and then wouldn’t back off. She broke his arm, and probably fractured at least one rib.”

“Ok…” Jackson conceded. “Maybe you did the smart thing.”

Jackson and Leone moved into position with practiced ease, keeping the safeties off on their firearms, ready to fire at any moment.

Two of the SWAT agents moved out of their way, and the partners filled in the vacated spots.

The girl must have seen the movement out of the corner of her eye, because she went on the defensive again. Blonde hair flew around her face as she whirled to stare him down, and Leone froze. The look in her eyes… it was familiar somehow. Forest green eyes stared at him, and they were filled with too much pain and suffering for someone so young.

Suddenly it hit him as to where he had seen that look before. It was common in soldiers returning home after a tour, he knew - particularly in those suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder - but he had seen it firsthand. One person in particular came to mind - Jennifer Sherin. She had been abducted and held captive for months on end, enduring all kinds of abuse. When she had finally been rescued, the look in her eyes had terrified him - they were shattered, like Jennifer herself could never be the way she had once been again. That was what this girl’s eyes were, although not on the level that Jennifer’s were.

The rest of the SWAT agents fell back, leaving the girl in full view of the agents. Her eyes darted back and forth between the two men - SA Ryan Jackson on her left, and SA Robert Leone on her right - before she spoke.

“One of you is Agent Leone.” While it had been phrased as a statement, it was interpreted as a question and answered accordingly.

Ryan was the one to answer. “Yes.”

“Which one?”

“Who wants to know?” This time Leone answered.

The smirk that she gave them then was barely perceptible, but still there nonetheless.

“You can call me Pandora.” she said simply, before holding her hands out to them. “I’m a murderous psychopath, and I have killed seventeen people. Arrest me.”

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