Stargazer

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Chapter 10 : Winter Break and a new killer in town

Lewis sat in his kitchen, enjoying a bagel and coffee and looking out his kitchen window at the early morning frost lightly covering the ground outside. It was a week after Spietz and Ware had their blow up over the leaks to the media. The team had interviewed over 30 different contacts now, from known sex offenders to local prostitutes, male and female, to the helpline mouth breather who rang about fusing blood and iron or some shit. They had been to Marcella’s “lead” of an old friend of one of the adult victims in Lima who was a pimp in Cincinnati. All that had revealed a big fat zero that they could go on.

No one saw anyone being taken, thought anyone was acting strangely, and the phone call to the helpline talking mysteriously about blood and iron was in fact made at a mental health institution by a well known long stay patient who was voluntarily incarcerated there for the last four years. It was as tight an alibi as you could get. Marcella’s pimp in Cincinnati thought he’d been rumbled for some past crime and wasn’t saying anything at all but had a solid alibi in having being in prison during the summer.

The forensics from Stroud Run had really only confirmed what they already knew. The bodies were the three from the summer of ’94, and all had died from severe head trauma. All had been wiped clean forensically in that there were no fibers or foreign DNA linking them. However they had been in the ground so long that any chance of lifting anything of use to the lab was negligible anyway. Curiously one skeleton had its left hand fingers removed or certainly not present at the site. All they could conclude was the killer had removed them because his DNA was present under fingernails, or alternatively they had been taken and eaten by wildlife , although the latter was unlikely given no other body part was missing.

The plant life around the shallow graves was a mixture of plants known to be mildly toxic to animals and humans alike and had been placed there as young seedlings and small clippings as in the case of Tar Hollow. This was in line with Johnson’s hunch about the photos of the scene in Tar Hollow; the killer had definitely disturbed the local fauna to prepare around the graves. Ware theorized it was a clumsy attempt at trying ensure no animals disturbed the burial site.

Their man was capable of abducting kids, beating them brutally to death, dismembering them, bringing them to remote sites and burying them along with some amateur gardening. And he able to do this without being seen or without leaving more than a size 12 boot print and tyre tracks traceable to one of the most common types of boot and tyre sold in America. The tracks wheel base analysis suggested either a Dodge or Ford type van, again hardly narrowing things down.

The alien angle was vague to Lewis at least, but Ware was meeting them this morning about that. He had muttered something about one last chance yesterday evening in relation to it, going out the door. This told Lewis one thing with certainty- the FBI were going to be slipping out the back door of this particular investigation very soon, suspect or no suspect. But they weren’t leaving town.

Because just when Spietz thought things couldn’t get much worse stats wise with a shitty clearance rate, someone else in town was shooting random people in the face in Columbus. Four victims so far, the most recent currently being talked about on his tv right now. And worse still, the media were aware of the connections between the shootings. This differed from their case in a couple of fundamental ways.

So far it was all in Columbus, and it was most definitely active. Their X Files killer however, seemed to be seasonal so far, choosing victims over summer. That was hugely important in two practical aspects and a Lewis knew it.

Firstly the media would lose interest quickly if something or someone was proving a better talking point. And secondly, an active killer could be in theory at least, be hunted to an extent- increased patrols both marked and unmarked in the streets around favored areas by the killer. As well , general heightened public awareness also brought out more possible witnesses. This fourth shooting last night, again on the west side of the city, would overtake their so called X Files killer in terms of media attention and thus Spietz’s attention. They were days away from a big mobilization of uniformed and detectives, just about anyone with a badge and a radio would be out on patrol next week.

This guy doing the shooting started with a guy called Marco Rubrio who survived a week in hospital before succumbing to his wounds, and the killer had shot three more since with two in the last week if you included last nights. He was active and he had a blood thirst that needed quenching on a frequent and regular basis. He also wasn’t as careful as their X Files killer. Whilst he’d assiduously avoided major streets with CCTV, he had been spotted by at least three members of the public. A dark blue or brown truck, variously describes as a Cherokee Jeep, a Dodge truck or a Ford Explorer had been seen either in the vicinity of the shootings or in one case, actually seen from a long distance in mid act.

Unfortunately their witnesses were a homeless man, a college student who was drunk at the time, and a gas station attendant who wore glasses normally for distance vision. It was as if Jesus was working against them. Lewis finished his bagel and grabbed his keys. He wasn’t sure what Ware had been referring to as their last roll of the dice in this case yesterday evening, but he guessed he was about to find out.

.........


The weather in Tampa was a pleasant 77 degrees with significant cloud cover and a warm a light southerly breeze. David looked out from his third floor balcony apartment at the ocean. The annual move from Lima for the winter had been executed with the usual precision and planning. Just the electrical lighting issue in the barn remained and that could wait until spring. Looking out at the seascape, he couldn’t help but praise himself for what he had achieved in life. No one else would.

His mama reminded him until the day she died that he wouldn’t amount to anything. It was only when David came of age that he understood this was just a bitter woman deflecting her own failings on to him. She couldn’t stop his father walking out or three men after him.

But David was always different, not like the rest of his peers. He was happy to forgo sports and girls and drugs, happy not to waste his life like the rest. He didn’t just look different, he was different. He owned his own successful business that he made from the ground up, successful enough that he could afford to work just seven months of the year, successful enough that he could afford this winter apartment in the sun, mortgage free. Mama claimed he was like all the other niggers in her life, a no good worthless piece of shit. She should have married a white man she always said. She should have stayed with her own kind she always said. She said he couldn’t even get being an albino right.

His tight curly hair was just like any other black mans, it was just a reddish blonde instead. His skin was alabastard white she joked. She wasn’t joking any more though. She wasn’t doing anything any more. She couldn’t see what he was doing now, what he had achieved, and what was yet to come.

Someone put those boys in his path for a reason, put them there and not just to become another number on some social workers spread sheet or parole officers list. The human body in life and death is an expression of force and energy; life force simply converts its force and energy to another form in death as was well recognized in the physics of conservation of matter and energy principles. When people saw ghosts, they were just more in tune with that converted energy. It was the boys new energy in death that would radiate, that would connect them to what ever was out there, whoever was out there.

Abiogenesis was the scientific name for the origin of life, the creation of organic material from inorganic compounds by random chemical processes. The earth was a new kid on the block of the universe, thousands of stars just like the sun had existed before and created the exact same or nearly the exact same conditions that our sun had. Life was out there. And of course, this was a mathematical certainty given the scale of the Universe. Some sort of intelligent life form had or continues to exist. The Fermi Paradox had many unanswered questions, arguably that’s all it was. Unanswered questions. Probes had been sent to space as yet unanswered, ultrasound waves had been sent into space as yet unanswered, thousands of man hours spent observing pulsars and Dyson Swarms; some of the greatest minds in science still searching.

David always knew he was different though, made for greatness, not like the rest. And he would show them, he would persist, and the cost incurred to mankind would be seen to be worth it, a mere trifling when compared to first contact. He would approach this search with a completely different paradigm. Of course the papers had made fun of him back home. The X Files Killer they called him, typically unimaginative but unsurprising. Only the uniformed, the intellectually lazy, could take a genius equation like the Drake Equation and only think of little green men in Area 51. They couldn’t see the potential because of course, they themselves were of limited potential, very limited potential. They had already moved on to some gang banger shooting scum. That was ok. David was sure the FBI hadn’t moved on. They’d be getting frustrated, willing to cast out a hook instead of a net. He’d nibble in Cincinnati because the FBI were depressingly predictable, they had no imagination. They would be there, he knew it. Watching.

..........

Ware looked at McEvoy fingering the polaroids of the victims on the conference table. He hadn’t warmed to Detective McEvoy and the detective’s patchy attendance hadn’t helped. Of course he had been warned by Spietz of the extenuating circumstances, indeed the first arraignment of McEvoy’s daughters murderer was likely coming up in a couple of months. But still beyond that, there was something else, something eating away at the man’s core. Every so often he’d contribute something to the conversation about the investigation, always somewhat abstract, yet always something useful. McEvoy was no idiot, had good instincts.

“Whatcha thinkin’ there Detective?” Ware asked. He knew he was over egging the pudding by being so over familiar, it was just that McEvoy tended to put him off balance every time they interacted. McEvoy looked up with a dead pan emotionless expression.

“He’s taking souvenirs ” McEvoy replied matter of factly. “We never recovered this did we?” He pointed at three separate pictures of the Miller kid. Around his neck was the chain with the oversized Volkswagen symbol at the end in each picture.

“A thing like that is what a kid covets, but it’s what he covets too. Or this.”

This time he pointed at the Bobcats baseball cap perched on Deshawns head. It too was in every picture the boy had been in.

“That’s true, he may well be taking souvenirs. But that’s no use to us unless we catch someone in possession of them, is it? Ware replied.

McEvoy half grunted, half sneered back at Ware. “Really? He knows the child covets those things too. He has watched Deshawn never take that hat off, or Miller display that chain like a proud peacock. He has appreciated that value too, has kept it more out of respect than as a souvenir. Whatever he does for a day job has allowed him to watch these kids for a time long enough to notice these things. A teacher or a coach, something that makes him be around these kids without being noticed. And when he met Deshawn first, what do you think he talked about? The fucking Bobcats of course.”

McEvoy threw the polaroid in his hand down on the desk and walked over to the coffee machine. Ware was left standing staring at the pictures spread out over the desk. Lewis and Johnson and Marcella arrived in together a few minutes later and Johnson asked for the room’s attention.

“As you’ve probably guessed, we are reaching the end of the road here from a conventional policing point of view. We have no witnesses to anything, no forensics of worth, and some sort of connection to his psychopathy with the equation and what it means. Our thoughts on that are that this individual is more likely of a very high intellect and more predisposed to being involved in this in a deeper intellectual way than just a passive interest in watching the X Files. I think the kids having their eyes sown open is very important to him, and therefore to us. It’s possible that he believes those kids can either transmit or perhaps receive as part of some sort of bizarre attempt to communicate with the heavens or what he believes is out there. We think or at least we hope that this intellect might come attached to a big ego. He left the notes for a reason, he may feel he’s not getting the attention he deserves”

Johnson paused and sipped on her coffee.

“We think we might be able to bait him, bring him out into the open. We know he’s not likely to kill again in this season. Winter will freeze the ground making his task difficult maybe, or maybe whatever stars that need to align only do so in summer and autumn. We don’t know why, but it’s unlikely he’ll kill again before next summer. We can wait for an abduction or we can try something now to flush him out.”

Johnson paused to sip her coffee before continuing.

“ We’ve reached out to Ohio Turnpike Astronomers Association or OTAA for short, to help us in this. They’ve already handed over their membership details to cross check, but we’d rather do it live so to speak. We don’t think our guy would be careless enough to have either joined or given a real name for membership purposes. But he may feel bold enough to attend a meeting in person. Their annual winter meetup is this coming Wednesday evening in Cincinnati in Hampton Inn and Suites. They’ve agreed to some camera surveillance as well as a few detectives in person mingling as well as surveillance outside the venue. The hotel management have been made aware as well. There will be a reception area to the side in the lobby with CCTV coverage. This is slightly different to their usual set up as the sign-in is normally in their function room but we need good camera coverage and limited ability to enter and leave, and the function room has three separate exits. So the lobby is our best bet. Now we expect about 200 attendees and the meeting is all day Wednesday from 2pm on, with the annual gala dinner planned at 7:30pm and drinks after. We’ll be there for the long haul. Everyone in plain sight stays at the hotel. That’s you Marcella, Tom and myself. Jim and Ed will be outside with four other Cincinnati Murder Squad people. Ed has booked for you and himself downtown.”

She was looking at McEvoy. He seemed nonplussed bordering on disinterested.

Ware jumped in. “Operationally this is FBI, you guys will defer to our command on this one. You can conceal carry and you’ll will be given discrete FBI wire issue earpiece and lapel mics. We’ll wire you up in your rooms before hand. Dress attire is casual so jeans and sports coats seem appropriate for the men, it’s the same for women, swapping out the sports coat for a blouse”.

Marcella laughed out loud at this point. “I haven’t worn jeans since high school and I think we all know why” she added. “I’m a little wide of the hips for jeans”.

“Seasonal low key dress will be fine Marcella” Johnson replied. “Any other questions?”

She offered this to the room.

“So let me get this right” started McEvoy. “You think we are dealing with a high intellect serial killer with nine bodies and some to his name, not a whiff of forensics left for us to sniff at, not a witness to speak of for any of this, and you reckon he’s going to waltz right up and sign his name up for a lifetime in prison?”.

Johnson went on the attack immediately. Lewis sensed this was her idea and she wasn’t about to have it dumped on from a height by some detective who looked like he’d been dragged backwards through a hedge. Her tone was even more antagonistic than McEvoys.

“If you’re asking if serial killers give themselves up, yes, yes they do. Think Ed Kemper, think Mack Ray Edwards. Do I think our guy is ready? I don’t think so. But he might attend. He might not sign in but he might show up. We get even an image of a possibility, we cross check against members, we publish it as a rough photo fit , we get something. Right now we are close to empty. You got a better idea Detective? Cause the room is waiting”She finished.

McEvoy raised his hands in faux surrender. He didn’t have any better an idea. Ware felt the need to have the closing argument. Lewis had noticed this of late. Even though Johnson and Ware were nominally equal partners in this, Ware seemed to want to play the role of her senior in more than age. It is what it is thought Lewis. None of my business.

“Look” Ware added. “We just think it’s worth a shot appealing to his ego. We know he’ll be following media coverage on this, and we also know that coverage is quickly contracting as someone else is taking the limelight”. Lewis knew Ware was referring to the spate of recent random shootings. Ware continued. “We also know he’ll have been paying attention to the association with Kearney. This might even make him jealous”.

Lewis was impressed. Ware couldn’t stop Spietz from helping make that association and then refusing to throw water on a low level fire he’d created. Spietz had made sure all the cameras saw a telescope being removed from Kearney’s house that morning, leaked enough detail around the case to allow the media add two and two to get five. And then when questioned on it, he just gave the usual “ongoing enquiries” blurb. Ware couldn’t do anything about it, but at least he’d found a silver lining to it.

Of course Spietz did probably have a plan of sorts. Spietz was hoping this guy never killed again, or at least until long enough for Spietz to climb the ladder. It would be a clearance of sorts, one not written down, a clearance of nudge nudge, wink wink. We can’t prove Kearney did it but look at the circumstancial evidence, the pedophile ring, the Miller boy, the interest in astronomy, the size 12 boots, the forensics knowledge. No one ever checked the past alibi of a dead guy. Yeah, well played too Spietz. Until the real killer started up again. You don’t mind cleaning the egg off your face when you’ve got that promotion though. Lewis reckoned Spietz saw an opening on the fourth floor in the next few months and he was going for it. After all, what else could he get out of all this. Johnson was right. They were rapidly running out of road here.

.........

Spietz had called a meeting in conjunction with Captain Harris who was the boss of the uniformed officers for 2:30 pm in the main debrief room. All murder squad detectives were required to attend as well as all patrol units and even traffic detail. Lewis knew what was coming.

Spietz stood up on the podium and debriefed everyone on last nights’ shooting. Another male had been shot in the face at close range, the fourth in as many weeks. The gun used a .38 caliber round and ballistics demonstrated it was highly probable the same gun was used in all four recent shootings. Scene examination in each case suggested the victim was enticed to the passenger side of the vehicle, whereupon the killer shot them as they peered in the window. One eye witness had seen this from distance.

The victims were not known to one another and had only being male and between 19-25 in common. Spietz rolled down a massive map of Columbus and identified where the shootings had occurred which was all in the west of the city in residential areas close to more retail orientated streets.

“Our plan rolling forward is to intensify significantly our uniformed and non uniformed police presence over the next week starting tonight in these areas. The period of increased intensity will be from 7pm to 3am with a rolling roster of uniform and detectives. All of you on duty will be provided with a CB radio on frequency Channel 38 for this operation. We’ve mobilized the motor pool to its fullest possible extent but detectives will be using their own private vehicles. Your orders are to observe and stop if suspicious activity is witnessed or if you have reason to believe you have a tail or sighting of our shooter. His vehicle is a SUV type dark or black in color, possibly an Explorer or Cherokee Jeep or similar. Consider any approach and stop as extremely hazardous, I would of course advice calling back up first before any approach. This guy most likely will shoot if stopped. Rosters for you guys and your designated patrol area are here”.

Spietz handed out the paper rosters which were circulated around. Lewis could see himself, Marcella and McEvoy were all on Monday as they were all in Cincinnati on Wednesday. They then were back on again Thursday, Friday and Saturday. What a pile of crap thought Lewis, he could only hope they caught the guy by Thursday. He bumped into McEvoy and Marcella on the way out of the debrief room.

“That’s next weekend bust” Lewis exclaimed. McEvoy was staring at the roster with a keen interest.

“Yeah, better clear my schedule” he replied.

Marcella was a bit more upbeat. ”This guy isn’t going to last too much longer. Sooner or later he’s going to either pick the wrong guy to have a gun fight with and miss or shoot a non lethal round. Or he’s going to get caught red handed in our net. We’ll have him by Thanksgiving.”

Lewis looked at Marcella doubtfully. “Our net? This place has so many leaks that this guy will probably have his own radio tuned in on Channel 38 by tomorrow night. I’ll bet you 50 bucks or a Thanksgiving shift you’re wrong”.

She looked at him smiling. “You’re on”.

——————


Lewis was sitting in his car, window down, smoking a cigarette. It was two am on South Princeton Avenue and he was tired. There had been initially a lot of chatter on the radio early on in the evening. It was amazing just how many people drove dark SUV type vehicles he had discovered this evening.

There had been over 15 stop and searches already just tonight, but none had been their shooter. On the plus side, there had been 3 drug busts. If this patrol did do anything, it would disrupt the drug trade on the West Side of the city for awhile.

Now though, all was quiet. Two homeless men were bedding down for the night in a side street just off the northwest end of the Avenue and the 7-11 five blocks up hadn’t seen a customer in over one hour now. One thing he had noticed which he hadn’t before was the poor street lighting in certain parts of town. He could make out the ethereal glow of the 7-11 projected out into the street, but between that and him 5 or so blocks away was just one street light that worked. Maybe that’s how this guy picks his spots for ambush. Maybe he is part of some utility service for street lighting. He know where to cruise and waits for a victim and then pounces. Better remember to suggest this to Rodriquez who was the primary on this tomorrow.

The weather wasn’t helping tonight either, a cold mist was floating around. He looked at his watch. Now it was 2:20 am. Christ his mind was really wandering.

Just then a vehicle that looked like an Explorer went by him from the rear and parked 600 or so meters up from him in the gloom. Instantaneously Lewis’s heart was pounding. It was too dark to make out a registration or a color. There appeared to be one sole occupant, the driver, who had now opened his driver side door and had one foot on the pavement. He slowly let his window back up, and radioed in his position and sighting.

The occupant was mid sized and carrying something in his hand and was now making his way slowly up to the 7-11. He had to make a snap decision. Wait for support to arrive which could be ten minutes and follow him at a distance to the 7-11, allowing him to enter, assuming that’s where he was headed. Or he could accost him now by swiftly intercepting him between the perps vehicle , parking his own car on the pavement between the male and the Explorer. . No one had responded by radio yet. Fuckers all snoozing on the last hour he thought. Lewis went for it. He accelerated quickly and passed the Explorer and turned a hard left to mount the pavement and stopped. He jumped out of his vehicle, service revolver in hand, safety off.

“FREEZE.DO NOT MOVE SIR” he shouted at the man who had now turned around to see what the commotion was about.

“DROP WHAT YOU ARE CARRYING NOW”. He could barely make him out in the gloom.

“STAND DOWN LEWIS. IT’S ME, JIM MCEVOY . I’M DROPPING THE RADIO”

Lewis put his safety on but kept his revolver aimed at the male. Time seemed to have slowed where every second felt like a minute.

“LEWIS, IT’S ME, JIM MCEVOY. STAND DOWN”.

He slowly lowered his service revolver. The dawning realization of what had just transpired hadn’t reduced the rate at which his heart was still pounding.

McEvoy appeared out of the gloom.

“Jesus wept Tom. I nearly shit my pants” McEvoy said quietly. “All I wanted was a cup of coffee”.

Lewis was bent over gasping from the whole episode. “I’m getting too old for this shit” he replied breathlessly. “The fuck are you doing in this sector?”.

“Nothing open near me, this was the nearest place. This shit is ridiculous anyway. I haven’t seen anyone at all in 2 hours. We’ve either spooked him or it’s a waste of time”.

Bit too soon to tell but anyway he thought. The radio crackled as support was inbound. He radioed back to stand it down. They walked in to the 7-11 together. The lights were almost blinding compared to the dark outside. They were off duty tomorrow night before having to travel to Cincinnati on Wednesday morning. It was going to be a long week.
...........


The razor slowly scratched its way across and under and then over every undulation and plain across his face and chin. Tonight he cleans himself up. Tonight he commands a performance. The faint murmurs of Lou Reed float from the bedroom into the dimly lit bathroom. He slowly leans into his own reflection and places his lips slowly against the mirror. He lightly licks the mirror as the tip of his tongue softly touches it. The leather pants creak and squeak as he pushes his pelvis forward in violent swift thrusts. He puts on his white plain T-shirt that shows his nipples. He drinks from the bottle of bourbon straight and looks at his watch. It’s 1am and time to cruise. The radio crackles from his bedside locker beside his Colt .38. He grabs them both with his keys and slowly walks out the door.


........

McEvoy had requested a ride with Marcella who lived nearby to him for the trip to Cincinnati. Lewis was relieved if he was being honest with himself. McEvoy was becoming just that shade beyond acceptable levels of intensity, to plain good ole fashioned “Might go Postal”. When and if this died down soon at work, he was going to give Spietz an ultimatum. Give him a new partner, or approve a move to Cincinnati for him. And Spietz could make his own mind up on McEvoy’s suitability in Columbus PD. Maybe recommend a cooling off period of 3 months paid leave. A gentle push out the door. Either way Lewis wasn’t planning next years Thanksgiving dinner with him.

The arraignment of McEvoy’s daughter’s killer was likely going to be postponed by another two weeks from its first proposed date in late November according to Marcella; he was now a suspect in another killing in his native Utah. She reckoned he’d fold and confess to both in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table for the Utah crime. Lewis had packed some casual enough clothes as well as loafers and jeans which he was heading out the door in now. The plan was to check in early to the Hampton Inn and Suites for 12:00 as arranged with management and allocate out the earpieces and lapel mics from the FBI for road testing and checking audio blind spots. The drive was a good 2 hours with traffic, particularly in Cincinnati which could be a black spot for traffic entering from the north or east.

He wasn’t sure what could come out of this attempt to snare their killer. First you had to get over the first big assumption that this was actually something the killer had an interest in. You had to hope he might actually have such an ego as to want to surface even if only very briefly.

Second was whether you’d actually see him. Their plan was only to observe, they had no plans to arrest anyone unless the guy came in swinging a mallet.

Yet still as he climbed into his car, he couldn’t shake a slightly nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach that their killer might be there, watching them perhaps, watching them trying to watch him. One of the recurring aspects of this investigation was the control this guy seemed to display in every aspect from abductions to concealment and burial. That he could be there at all was almost exciting, that he might be observing them heightened this feeling. He wasn’t used to all this cloak and dagger stuff, he’d stick out like a sore thumb. He’d have to carry a newspaper and occasionally feign talking about stars and black holes to Marcella or Johnson who were also going to be posted inside the lobby. As he got underway down Route 71 leaving Columbus heading southwest, the clouds were darkening ominously from the west.

——-

They all seem to have nailed the mature nerd look according to Ware as they gathered in Johnson’s room to put on their communication devices. Marcella had gone with a cream cotton pants suit bottoms and garish blouse with sneakers and put her hair down from its usual bun. Johnson has gone with old fashioned jeans with turn ups and sneakers and a sweater with a decorative moon on it and Lewis looked like he sold insurance door to door. The plan was simple enough- Ware, McEvoy and four other detectives would keep an eye on hotel entrances as well a patrol within a one block radius of the hotel. Anyone with an appropriate physique of any race would ultimately get crossed checked off the sign in which was going to be recorded with a good view by CCTV.

The FBI hadn’t been prescriptive to the Ohio Turnpike Astronomy Association as to what that physique was, leaving a check on its membership open ended, but Lewis knew they weren’t looking for dwarfs. Anyone under 5’10 with a slim physique would have struggled to do what this guy was doing physically. The investigation would do a background check on all who turned up, but they’d start with the biggest in the room. Any suspicious activity would be radioed in on the off chance it led somewhere, but that basically meant a brawl breaking out, since these folk weren’t likely to be acting suspiciously. They did not expect trouble of any description. All relevant staff in the hotel dealing with the reception and the security at the hotel were aware of the police presence, as were the only two OTAA members manning the sign in desk. Everyone else was to be blissfully unaware, or at least to be so for the first few hours. Someone was bound to notice their presence; whether that resulted in a change of behavior in anyone was anybody’s guess. By 1pm, the lobby was already beginning to become busy as Lewis, Marcella and Johnson descended out from the elevators.

“You think he’ll bite?” Marcella kept her tone neutral to hopeful. She didn’t want to doubt Johnson, this was her idea clearly and she owned it, and yesterday’s little spat with McEvoy showed Johnson was no pushover.

“I think the notes in the last three was reaching out. I think he really believes he has purpose in all this but he wants so desperately to show he has this agency about him, that he has purpose we should know. Or he wants to be remembered. The infamy now associated with serial killing is perversely celebrated in some popular media. It can really drive them. They need to show and acknowledging they are being hunted is one way. Son of Sam did it. We know whoever is killing women in Wichita is doing it now, we know he wants to make us reach out to him. If he has an ego, this might attract it. I bet my mother on it. He’s in Cinncinati today.”

Johnson sounded more convinced than hopeful.

Marcella felt a little shudder go down her back. Her mother always said that was somebody walking across your grave in the future. Ok then. Game on.

.......


David had arrived early Tuesday morning in Cincinnati on a Delta flight. He had toyed with the idea of using his own van for the two days but the possibility of a random stop around the venue was too great. A rental would do. Any business to be completed simply needed a remote spot. By Tuesday evening he had identified his accomplice, suitably petite and female, desperately in need of money, who had spent most of the afternoon turning tricks two blocks down from the Transit Station out of the glare of the city CCTV system. She seemed to have two shifts, one starting at around midday and one at around 9pm and no minder nearby. Her clientele were more upmarket judging by the cars that stopped. She would clean up well. He had secured a good enough vantage point three blocks down from the main hotel entrance - a pizza joint with a bay window that allowed him see what he needed to see. Johanna Kepler-Kearney would be attending the meeting for sign in and leaving again swiftly with her name badge printed. Then and only then would he arrange final payment.

.......

The sign in desk was to the left of the main reception desk and was busy. Lewis reckoned Ware’s estimates of 200 attendees would fall short of the mark. One middle aged female conference goer had reliably informed him this was their big get together of the year, where “everyone met up and had a good time” before asking him where the bar was. It was only 10 minutes later that he realized she was probably hitting on him. He didn’t know which was worse; being hit on at astronomy convention by a woman who looked 10 years his senior or not even knowing he was being hit on. It was all a little depressing either way.

He had seen at best, one potential killer so far that fit the bill physically. Lewis was actually in the mens room when this giant of a man came in, at least 6’3 with hands the size of spades. His name badge read as Joachim Rice, and it took all the will in the world by Lewis to not strike up a casual conversation. The only deduction Lewis could make from this brief meeting was that if Joachim was their man, then he had an irritable bowel, a very irritable bowel. Ware had checked in by mic on the half hour; nothing seemed to be happening on their end either. By 2:30pm the foyer had mostly emptied as registration finished and attendees migrated to the main large event room for the first speaker. Lewis felt like he was in detention at school, stuck hanging around the hotel when there was nothing he’d like better than to head down to that pizza joint a few blocks away and order a pitcher of beer. The main afternoon session was on a Supernova Cosmology Project and then a presentation on the life and career of John Glenn who recently become the oldest man to ever go into space. He felt a lot of cigarette breaks coming on. For once he was glad of a premises that had a no smoking policy.

Six hours and one terminally boring gala dinner later, Ware came in on the ear piece somewhat excitedly. They had something juicy by the sounds of it. They were requested to all meet in the small security room behind the hotel reception where the CCTV was. When Lewis got there, it was a little bit crowded and he had to squeeze in behind McEvoy, who curiously enough smelt of some fancy aftershave. McEvoy’s personal hygiene was usually anywhere on a scale from “hobo” to “have just travelled 24 hours consecutively”, but of late he was really making an effort with his appearance at least.

“Pause it right there” Ware asked the hotel security guy. The CCTV recording was actually reasonably zoomed and clear. They were looking at a woman in maybe her early to mid 30’s signing in. She was reasonably attractive with a slightly permed looking hairstyle and arguably overdressed for the occasion in a cream pants suit and dark blue blouse, with what looked like three inch heels.

“If she’s our killer, I get to put on the cuffs” Lewis offered from the back of the room to some nervous laughter.

“This woman signed in as Johanna Kepler-Kearney at about 1:25pm. Anyone recall her or if she was with anyone?” Ware asked the room loudly. A general murmur went around but no one could say they had.

“What’s the big deal here” McEvoy asked. “Who is she?”.

Marcella popped up from the seat just beside Ware.

“Think about it Jim. Johanna Kepler-Kearney. Johannes Kepler. Famous 17th century astronomer and scientist. Kearney. This is too much of a co-incidence.”

Ware stepped in. “She’s not a member of the OTAA, never been to a meeting before, not known to any of the standing committee of the OTAA. We’ve done a name search on our databases, nothing. Take a good long look, and get back out and see if there is any chance she is in the building. She’s not checked in on that name. We have her on camera going to the restroom at 1:20 pm and then she disappears. You have 30 minutes to search, and we’ll get reception to call her over their intercom and get the entertainment to do the same at the main event. However remote the chance she is still here is, it’s still worth looking”.


......
David met at 11:50 pm by her usual spot near the bus station. He’d told her to get a cab with the money he’d already given her. The rest of the $500 would be handed over on delivery of her name badge. She was already waiting when he pulled over in the rental. “Perfect timing Rosa. And you look absolutely stunning darling” he offered as he opened the passenger door for her.

“Ain’t nothing in our deal about any added extras” she replied as she slid into the car. “Those are gonna have to be paid up front and in cash and the $500 you owe me”. David engaged the child lock mechanism and gunned the engine gently.

“Now Rosa, you know I gave you $100 to clean up already. You can keep the change and the clothes and I’ll throw you another $400 and a special surprise. That’s the deal honey”. She looked a little wary still. “I don’t like surprises”.

He laughed softly. “Neither do I. You’ll like this one. I’ve got to pick up a score of some fine Mexican brown and you can be my tester.”

Her face lit up revealing a crooked smile of cracked and stained teeth. “I’m in so”. The rental pulled off and out of the alley onto traffic, disappearing into the busy lunchtime traffic.

........
They stood down the operation at midnight. There was no sign of Ms Johanna Kepler-Kearney. Stills of the woman had been looked at by Cincinnati PD and someone in Vice there had recognized her as one of the girls working the streets around Cincinnati’s transport hub near Gilbert Avenue. Officers were already dispatched to try and pick her up. CCTV was limited around the area, the best they had was maybe another pants suited stiletto heel appearing to get into what looked like back of a Ford Mustang sports car.

Lewis had a sneaking feeling they wouldn’t find her. This shit show was well and truly over.

———


Thursday morning dawned in Columbus with news of another shooting overnight, this time again like the most recent one, on the east side of the city. Lewis sat at his kitchen table watching the headlines from the small living room tv. His second cigarette of the day lay practically untouched, the smoke from its tip languidly curling upwards before dissipating as he absorbed the shit storm rapidly developing.

Phrases like “bungling police force” and “clumsy attempts to trap the killer” as well as “Police Chief considering his position” flashed across the bottom of the screen on the rotating text graphics, whilst the main screen showed the tv footage from each of the 6 murder scenes. The problem was of course that Simowitz stepping down would have zero positive effect on the police forces ability to actually catch the guy. But once the media storm whipped up to this extent where they were running edited video footage of the murder scenes to a continuous banner under it berating the force, heads would roll.

In addition the slow transition from hunting their X Files killer to chasing this lunatic was less taking shape and more taking over. Ware had debriefed Spietz on the latest lack of progress and had been given the impression that it was no longer priority either locally or at FBI headquarters in Virginia. Johnson had told him in confidence yesterday that they had been requested to stay on in Ohio to investigate the shootings by Quantico and provide a profile, but could go if they objected to staying on personal grounds. Ware had said he’d give another week here but had pressure to return for family reasons after that. Johnson had nothing in particular to go back to urgently family wise in Virginia, she was a native new yorker with only her mother and a few aunts and cousins left ; her biggest objection was having to live out of a suitcase again indefinitely. She was heading back to Virginia this evening and planned to return for Monday after the weekend.

No one had asked him shit about it, in fact, Lewis realized, no one had asked him shit about anything recently with the exception of Marcella. He had spent the car journey back from Cincinnati gradually having an epiphany about himself and his future. Or perhaps an epiphany was the wrong word. No, in fact, he’d had a full blown mid life crisis whilst driving back. Who ever said men couldn’t double task? He had realized that what had started as a healthy degree of cynicism working in the murder squad and wider Columbus PD, had slid increasingly into an unconscious disinterest in doing his job. It was manifesting physically in an almost constant fatigue, indigestion almost every other night, and mumbling “fuck this shit” every morning as he peeled himself off his bed. Nothing engaged him about the current case particularly despite its obvious horrors, he was reduced to making shit jokes at inappropriate moments. Of course he had known something was not quite right for a few months now; he had thought a change of scenery might help, perhaps a transfer to Cincinnati. He had learned the hard way before that booze was not the answer to his problems. He was 46, single with no idea how to change that, and almost worse than hating his job, he had no strong feelings whatsoever on it. What was it that ex murder cops do anyway. Become a private investigator? Die prematurely? Write a memoir?

He sighed and took a long drag from the end of his mostly unsmoked cigarette and turned off his tv. Who the fuck knew what he’d do tomorrow? Ruminate more on the train wreck that his life was probably. Maybe seek advice from a fellow professional. He was going to ask of all people, Ed Ware of the FBI tonight.

Ware had suggested a get together for all the team tonight at a bar downtown away from their usual haunt. Ed seemed to have his shit together in general. He always appeared level headed, wise beyond his years, reassuringly boring. Just like the investigation, he wasn’t expecting answers of Ware, just a general direction.
Lewis decided to stop off at his desk on the way up to the task force room. He was curious about what the result of this morning’s media storm was on the office. Rodriguez and Wilkins were in Spietz’s office; Rodriguez was the primary on the shootings. Everyone else was gathered in small groups quietly discussing Simowitz’s impending resignation.

Marcella tapped him on the shoulder. “The rumor is that Kearney being a pedophile under his nose is the straw that broke the camels back at city hall”.

He turned around. “So he’s definitely going?” he replied.

“Oh yeah, he is a goner.It wasn’t the 17 odd unsolved murders, but the fact he like everyone else here, couldn’t spot a pedophile under his nose. I wonder what he’ll do now he’s retiring”.

Maybe I should invite Simowitz along tonight for advice as well thought Lewis.

He smiled weakly back at Marcella. “Maybe the lecture circuit?”.

They headed up to the 3rd floor together. Ware was there taking down the pinned map of Ohio state. Johnson was flipping through some files with Wilkins. A bunch of files lay in two separate boxes marked Stargazer, residing forlornly in the corner by the door. It looked like they had been stood down already. The murder game was moving on.

“What’s this?” Marcella asked simply.

“End of the road for our stargazer case I’m afraid. New priority.” Ware replied. “Things in Wichita hotting up. Someone is tying up women and strangling them.”

He didn’t look particularly enthused although Lewis reckoned his disappointment might be more about the one that got away than having to start a new case over. There was no sign of McEvoy. Wares cell phone rang with an insistent tone. So many people had these now. Lewis couldn’t imagine been at the beck and call of main office 24/7 and yet people seemed to be increasingly buying these things. He was going to resist unless Columbus PD bought him one.

“Hmm, ok. Scene secured?. Can we leave the body in position. Right. We should be there in 2 hours max. Ok.”

Ware closed the flip phone. “Cincinnati PD. They’ve found Johanna Kepler-Kearney. You wanna join me Tom?” Ware looked at Lewis.

“Let’s go” he replied.

………..

“Do you mind?” Lewis held a cigarette in the air, looking at Ware.

“Nah, just open your window a little”. They were 50 minutes out from their destination, Ludlow, Cincinnati, an industrial wasteland area on a bend of the Ohio river.

“Can I ask how you got into the Behavioral Science Unit” Lewis asked.

“You mean, why I chose it? Or what qualifications or pathway through the agency?”. Ware glanced at Lewis, slightly puzzled.

“Maybe a bit of both?” Lewis replied.

“Well, I entered the Agency thinking I wanted to be involved in organized crime. But I was home in New Hampshire on leave in ’85 when a local girl disappeared and was found murdered a few days later. I knew the family and it was heart wrenching. It turned out she was the 5th victim of who we coined The Connecticut River Valley Killer. There were 7 in total, all stabbed to death. The Agency were short of manpower at the time and I was drafted in voluntarily to help out with a BSU Agent there. I kinda got hooked from then on. I did a part time criminal psychology degree more out of interest than needing it and, hey presto, I’m here”

Ware smiled broadly back at Lewis.

“How did you catch him?” Lewis asked.

“We didn’t. The killings just stopped. We got as about as far as we have with our guy and then, it just kinda stopped. One victim was stabbed 28 times at a gas station and survived in ’88, but that’s the last we think we’ve seen of him.”

An uncomfortable pause ensued.

“Doesn’t that piss you off, all this hard work and chasing and still nothing. I mean, sure we have unsolved as well, but most of ours is less personal when it’s not solved, like gang related or organized. There’s a clear financial motive, less random. It seems, I dunno, more acceptable”.

Ware looked over again at Lewis before replying, trying to make sure he got brief eye contact even whilst driving.

“We’re not going to catch this guy Tom. You know that right? Or if we do, it will be probably be a lot of luck or him giving himself up. But that won’t bother me. It all depends on your take on life I guess. You say not catching someone with a motive is almost more acceptable. But I’d say the opposite. I’d say that random acts of violence and murder are easier to deal with. Do I get upset if I see a mudslide killing twenty people in Peru. Nope. It’s random. Do I get upset if some guy starts chopping up kids to catch aliens? To me, that’s pretty random. It does of course seem horrible, but is it any less preventable? Not initially. And not unless we are given a lot of help by the killer. Motives for murder make this job easier by a long shot, a lack of one makes it much harder. My job is mostly forming some sort of motive, even an irrational one. And it’s an imperfect science. So if I get it wrong or we don’t catch a guy like this, I don’t beat myself up.”

Lewis sighed deeply as he exhaled from the cigarette.

“Can I ask you a question Tom?” Ware inquired. He didn’t wait for an answer. “Am I wrong or are you struggling with this whole investigation? Is there something you think we could do differently?”. Ware’s tone was not confrontational. It sounded more like Ware genuinely thought he was missing something.

Lewis looked out the window at the scenery rushing by. “God no, some of the pieces you guys put together has been impressive. I dunno.” He paused. “This sounds so corny, but it’s not you. It’s me. This job, my life. I dunno. I’m waking up every morning wondering what the fuck I’m doing. I feel like I’m sleepwalking through my 40’s and should be happier.”

Another awkward silence ensued. Ware was the first to break it.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this but I’m gonna say it anyway. Marcella filled me in on what happened your baby daughter. I’m so sorry about that. I can empathize a little. I lost my 4 year old boy to leukemia 5 years ago. It was a real difficult time for us all. I went back to work too soon. It took me a few months of late nights at the office, working all the weekends I could before I realized I hadn’t dealt with it properly. The Agency were really good about it all. They told me I had to see a shrink or they wouldn’t let me back again. You considered that?”.

He didn’t answer. He was still staring out the window. He was afraid if he did, Ware would notice the tremble in his voice, and that was all the answer either he or Ware needed to Ware’s question.


Their destination was a disused car park and old industrial unit in an area of Cincinnati called Ludlow. Like most urban wasteland areas on the fringe of a city, it was too far out for junkies and hobos to use and it was now only frequented by citizens looking to use it for illegal dumping.

And it appeared, for murder. The Cincinnati PD and forensics had been there since 7:30 am. The body had been found by site surveyors from a firm looking to re-develop the area. As they ducked under the police cordon tape, both Ware and Lewis were acutely aware of the sewage like smell of the nearby banks of the Ohio river. There were piles of trash everywhere along with abandoned washing machines, broken TVs and now, Johanna Kepler-Kearney, or real name, Rosa Hernandez. A 33 year old heroin addict and prostitute, she’d been on the game a decade.

Lewis saw the feet first. Her left foot was bare, her right foot still had a shiny 3 inch heel on. The cream pants suit had a few small specks of brown dried blood and a larger blood stain from a smaller pool of blood that appeared to originate from her right wrist, which was lying by her side. Her right hand was missing. Her left hand was also missing with her arm thrown above her head. Her dyed blonde hair was covered in specks of blood,and splayed out. Her left shoe was placed in her left eye but beyond that, her face was untouched. She appeared to have been strangled from the bruising around her neck. Jesus fucking Christ thought Lewis. This guy was a monster. It wasn’t as if they didn’t already know this, but looking at the woman now in this cold November morning sunshine, this was the brutal realization of that knowledge.

“Can I get some gloves” he asked a forensics tech. He looked at Ware. “Just a hunch”.

He put them on and put his index finger and thumb into her open mouth which had made a puzzled “o” expression. Seconds later he found what he was looking for. He fished out a small piece of paper. It was slightly damp but readable. On it, printed in all capitals was “NO MORE GAMES BOYS AND GIRLS”.

Ware was shaking his head angrily and looking at the ground. “Fuck this motherfucker” he mumbled. “I want every inch of ground of this place searched and that river dredged until we find those hands. Fuck.” He stormed back to the car.

......


David slowed to 30 mph and indicated to leave Route 76 off a small side ramp near Fort Shawnee on the road to Lima. He figured he might as well make sure the driveway in his house has been actually paved as contracted while he was in state but first he had to travel upstate to do this. The off ramp quickly gave way to a small local road and after a mile , another right turn brought him to a dead end facing a small forested opening occasionally used by local picnic goers in summer. There was a small nice little lake too, great to see frog spawn in the right season. He parked and looked in the rear view mirror at his neck. Her small scrape had dried up and was less angry looking than 24 hours before. He got out and stretched, and walked around to the trunk of the rental. He took out the paper wrapped package, walked to the lake and threw the hands into it, rolled up the paper and put it in a nearby trash bin. He smiled to himself. They’d probably find his boot tracks to the river bed and be dredging by Friday morning. They might or might not find the small Japanese saw. He had to give them something.

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