Tease? I think not!
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“No way. I don’t believe in any of that stuff.” Luke shook his head as we studied the crime scene photos splayed across the desk.
“I thought you were all about spirits and nature.” I teased, flipping through the reports by local law enforcement.
Luke flopped into a chair, “That’s different, Rae. That can be explained. I think most of these people are just taking advantage of the naïve.”
Our first case together, and he was already skeptical of everything. Great. “You do know if this is going to work, we have to associate with these people, right?”
“Yeah, not by choice, Rae.” He flicked a picture my way.
There certainly was a clear MO to the crimes. All the victims so far had either been positioned like tarot card images, or dumped somewhere that exemplified the meaning of the cards. I wasn’t saying I believed in fortune telling either. The latest victim was clearly positioned like The Hanged Man.
I read a portion of the report aloud. “‘The Hanged Man typically means sacrifice, or giving up on something important. Traitors in Italy were punished by being hanged in this position.’ That’s downright creepy.”
Luke had gotten up by this point, disappearing out of the conference room and heading to the kitchen. I swore under my breath, irritated that he had wandered out while I was reading him something possibly pertinent to the case. When he reappeared with two mugs of coffee, I was tempted to forgive him. Almost.
“Could you please try to focus? I really would like to remain in this division.”
He placed the cups down, and sat again. “Sorry, needed some fuel. Are we travelling for this one?”
“A little, yeah. The majority of body dumps are happening in D.C.” I breathed in the aroma of the coffee, colored perfectly with the right amount of creamer. He was learning, I supposed.
Chuckling, he spun the file away from me again. “Fitting. Loads of traitors in that part of the country.”
I tucked a strand of my auburn hair behind my ear and narrowed my eyes. His flippant attitude was starting to rub me the wrong way. “Hey, mister, we have a job to do. Uphold the Constitution, protect from all enemies, etc., etc.?
Ruffling his own blondish brown hair, Luke fixed those stormy eyes on me and sighed. “I’ll try to behave. Just let it be known I hate those charlatans.”
“Duly noted.” I swiped it out of his hands and buried my head back into the file. All was silent for a few moment until Luke broke my train of thought…again.
He was rocking back and forth in the chair. “So, when do we leave?”
I gritted my teeth. Was he really this annoying before? “Tomorrow morning. We will meet the Metropolitan Police Department as soon as we get there.”
Unable to really sit there any longer, I got up and wandered back to my desk, dropping the folder on the surface. Luke had settled into the division very well. He already made friends with most of the agents. I was baffled by his sudden change in attitude, but attributed it to finally letting go of Melinda.
I smiled briefly up at the agent dropping off a manila envelope with our travel information. I opened up the package, reading over the information for the man in charge of the investigation to this point. Detective Mark Samuels was a career man, no family, divorced twice, and still relatively young by department standards. It was he who pushed for FBI involvement.
“Finally, someone sensible.”
Luke appeared out of nowhere. “Who, Red?”
I scowled. “Don’t call me, ‘Red.’”
“Lighten up, Rae. Now, who is sensible?” He sat on the edge of my desk, thumbing through the papers.
I snatched them away. “Detective Samuels, the lead on the case, and our sole contact while we’re in D.C.” I put everything away and grabbed my bag. “You should go home and pack. I don’t like to be late, Thompson.”
He started to laugh. The jerk started to laugh! I was fuming as I stomped out of the office in a huff. Damn him. I didn’t like to feel so out of control! Well, I was ready to show him what Rae Hatting was capable of, with or without some cowboy cop! I slammed my fist into the elevator button, causing several agents nearby to jump and glance over. I shrunk into my jacket, slightly ashamed of my out-of-control behavior. Calm, collected, pulled together Rae Hatting. That was who I was before all this. I just had to find her again.
Unlocking the door to my house was the nicest feeling in the world. Placing my bag on the hook by the door, I shrugged out of my coat, and thumbed through the mail. “Grace? Are you home?”
“Yeah! Just finishing some homework.” My sixteen year old daughter came out of the bedroom a few moments later, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder. I smiled, but it shrank from my face as she was followed by her current boyfriend, Seth. I knew I had to trust Grace, but having boys in the house alone still rubbed me the wrong way.
“Evening, Agent Hatting.” We had established early on my profession, and that I would take little grief from him. I should be kinder to him. He was a straight-A student, on the high school football team, and had two loving parents. I may have run a background check on him.
“Hello, Seth.” I tried my best to restore my smile. “Have you two had dinner?”
Grace looped her fingers through Seth’s. “No, we were going to see if it was okay to order pizza?”
“Sure. You know I’m going out of town tomorrow, right?” I went into the kitchen and thumbed through the menus.
Seth kissed Grace on the cheek and moved over to the TV, switching it on.
“Yes, Mom. I know I’m going to Cary’s.”
“Good, are you packed? I’m not sure how long I’ll be away, but I will let you know when I do.” I dialed the number, ordering two large pepperoni pizzas and a bottle of Coke.
Grace came over and wrapped me in a hug. “Yes, Mom.” She whispered up. “Seth asked me to the winter formal!”
I squeezed her back. “That’s great, sweetie. It’s not for a few months, so we can go dress shopping when I get back.”
Grinning like she had just won first prize in a contest, Grace went to the living room, curling up on the couch next to Seth. I sighed. Did all moms go through this? I went off to the bedroom to pack for the trip, trying to ignore the couple of hormonal teenagers in my living room.
I was left leaning on Rae’s desk, scratching my head in wonder. I got up and meandered back to my desk, pulling on my old, worn leather jacket. I missed my motorcycle, hoping I could get it shipped out soon. Frank was taking good care of her, or so he said. Shoving my hands in my pockets, I made my way to the elevator leading to the parking garage. The used blue Nissan was little substitute for my pick-up, but traversed the streets with ease. I got in, and turned on some Blake Shelton, rolling down the window and driving out, waving to the guard.
I wove through evening traffic, finally making it to the one bedroom apartment I rented. It was hard not to miss the quiet forest sounds, and I made a mental note to get a place as far away from the city as soon as I could. Steering into my numbered parking spot, I got out and climbed the stairs, unlocking the chipped door. Needing background noise, I turned on the TV immediately, finding Monday Night Football with a relieved sigh.
Tossing the remote on the leather recliner, I headed to the kitchen, my stomach growling. I had a carton of eggs and some miscellaneous vegetables. I muttered to myself, “Guess it’s omelette night.” No point in going to the store when I would be gone for a while. Pulling out a frying pan and bowl, I began to crack eggs when my phone rang. I put it on speaker.
“Hello?” I hadn’t checked the caller ID.
“Luke? It’s your mother. Since when do I not get a call from you?”
I made a mental count. Shit. It had been nearly two weeks. “Sorry, Ma. Just getting into all the procedure and that. We got our first case though.”
“And how’s that lovely Agent Hatting? She certainly is something.”
I raised my palm to my forehead, groaning as I got sticky egg white in my hair. I grabbed for a dish towel. “She’s a royal pain in the ass.”
“Language! Anyways, I wanted to see how you are. Are you going out of town?” There was a worried sound to her tone.
I grabbed a fork, whipping the eggs. “Yes, don’t worry, Ma. I’ll be fine. I promise I’ll phone to check in. How’s Frank?” I changed the subject.
“He’s fine! I went up to check on him, and bring him some fresh vegetables. I swear, that man lives on fast food!”
Nothing changes. “Yeah, that’s Frank.” I knew the divorce had hit him hard, so he was grateful to have my cabin now.
“Ginny Hatting has been up a couple of times. She’s so sweet.”
Ginny? Oh, right. Rae’s mom. “She has?”
“Mmhmm. Oh, look, I have to go. You take care, sweetheart.” Click.
I grumbled, grabbing a knife and the cutting board, sufficiently irritated now by the cryptic nature of my ma’s phone call. Finalizing the preparation for my food, the phone rang again. This time, I did check for the caller ID. It was Rae.
“What’s up, Hatting?” We were back to surnames now, based on her recent outburst.
“Just wanted to make sure you were going to be ready at 8am.”
She had forgotten to let me know what time we were leaving back at the office. Must have taken some nerve to call me now. I laughed to myself. “Thanks, Hatting. Hey, did you know your mom visits my ma?” Silence. “Rae?”
“Huh? Yeah, umm, I have to go. See you tomorrow.” Click.
I raised my eyebrows, staring at the phone. What was with these women? I shook my head in awe, finally able to get the eggs and vegetables into the pan. I hummed to myself as I cooked, glancing occasionally at the score. I scooped my monster omelette onto a plate, and took a cold beer from the fridge, sitting down in the recliner. The beer slid down beautifully, along with my hastily prepared dinner.
When I finished, I grabbed my laptop, keen to do some of my own research on this serial killer. There were a few newspaper articles about the killings with vague theories from over-eager reporters. Detective Samuels was tight-lipped, offering little or no comment on anything asked of him. Knowing Rae’s proclivity to take all the paperwork home, I had requested a back-up file before we left. I opened the attachments.
‘The Hanged Man’ was the third distinct body dump to date, but the fourth actual victim. There were a couple of suspected related murders, but nothing could be concretely linked to this killer. I scanned the images of the other victims. The first one was easily ‘The Lovers.’ Heck, I recognized it without the report, chuckling at my memories from Live and Let Die. Jane Seymour as Solitaire was a favorite of mine. Boyhood crush.
Snapping back to reality, I studied the victims’ profiles. There were two bodies, each identified as Georgetown University students, reported missing by their roommates. After investigation, Samuels noted that both were cheating on their respective partners. He interviewed several possible suspects, but none proved fruitful. Another dead-end for the dedicated detective.
I pulled up a web browser and typed in ‘The Lovers tarot,’ yielding a plethora of sites claiming to offer free and cheap readings. I waded through the crap to find the meaning of the cards. I was starting to find interpretations based on different schools of thought. I frowned, thinking finding the one specific to our killer would be a chore and a half. I glanced down, reading the computer clock. It was past eleven, and I hadn’t even packed yet. Reaching for my laptop bag, I stuffed the computer in and stalked to the bedroom.
My trusty duffle bag was waiting at the bottom of my closet. It had traveled with me from Dallas, to Mendocino County, to San Francisco, and then to Quantico. I pulled out the necessary items and stuffed them in, taking a trip to the bathroom to half-fill my toiletry bag. By the time I finished, the red numbers on my alarm clock flashed after midnight. I stripped, and fell into the sheets, setting my alarm for just before seven. I wanted to get in a run prior to leaving.
Waking up in a cold sweat was something I had gotten used to. The nightmares were especially vivid. I squinted over at the clock, noting it was just after five in the morning. Unable to settle my mind down, I went and splashed water on my face, staring at my reflection in the mirror. I turned on the shower and stepped into the spray. There was no point in going back to sleep now, as the demons would be waiting for me. Soon, I could replace the haunting visions with new ones, but in the meantime, I would cope with the old ones the best way I knew how.