Home > Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(10)

Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3)(10)
Author: Patricia Briggs

"Patrick Morris," he said. "Cantrip, special agent."

"Formerly of the FBI," said Ms. Fisher with a cool disapproval that said anyone who chose to leave the FBI was a fool.

"Les Heuter," said the younger man, and abruptly became more interesting.

Heuter is a poster child for Cantrip, Charles told Anna. His father is a senator from Texas. If someone from Cantrip is interviewed in the press, three times out of four it is Heuter. Which was one of the reasons, Charles thought, that people tended not to take Cantrip more seriously.

He should have recognized Heuter right away, but he looked different in person, not as stalwart, impressive, or pretty, but more earnest and likable. He smelled eager, like a hunting dog waiting for the scent. Charles wondered if it was the werewolves or the serial killer that caused the young man's adrenaline rush.

He had a good poker face, though. Charles doubted any of the humans in the room would detect how excited Les Heuter was to be here. Charles had never been human, but he decided it must be like walking around with earplugs and nose plugs in all the time.

Goldstein looked around. "People, let's get the ball rolling." He looked at Charles. "The man who set this meeting up tells me that three werewolves weren't likely to be victims by happenstance. According to him, there just aren't that many werewolves out and about. He speculated that three victims has to mean that our killer is targeting werewolves and suggested we lay out all the victims from the beginning for you, Mr. Smith, and see what you think before I start asking questions. In that light, I'll tell you what we know about this one, and would appreciate anything you can give us."

Charles folded his arms and leaned against the wall, his attention on Anna, telegraphing as loudly as body language could that Anna was in charge.

This was Anna's job - if Charles had to deal with them, they'd likely run scared and start shooting werewolves themselves.

"Who did set this up?" asked Heuter abruptly.

Goldstein turned to look at the younger man and said blandly, "I have no idea. The man who called me didn't identify himself beyond that, just suggested I take notes and his advice. As most of it seemed common sense, I did so."

Bran, thought Anna.

Probably, agreed Charles. Or Adam Hauptman.

Anna met Heuter's gaze and shrugged. "I know who set up our end. I have no idea who set up yours."

Goldstein had taken out his laptop and hooked it up to the video system in the room. He cleared his throat. "Agent Fisher, would you secure the door, please? Some of these images are graphic and I would rather not startle some poor maid."

The door was locked and Goldstein took his glasses off and cleaned them as Agent Fisher turned off the lights. When he put the glasses back on, he donned with them the mantle of authority; the faint air of weakness, of age and harmlessness, vanished. For just an instant, Agent Goldstein was a man who hunted other men, then the aura of weakness returned like another man might don a comfortable old shirt.

"We call our UNSUB - " He paused. "That's FBI-speak for 'unknown subject,' which seems a little more professional and less hysterical than 'killer' and more grown-up than 'bad guy.' This UNSUB is known as the Big Game Hunter, because for the first two decades all the kills took place during the traditional hunting season. The first kill we know of was in 1975, though, given the sophistication of the killings, it is likely that he killed earlier than that." He looked at Anna, who must have changed expression, and said, "Yes. We are absolutely certain this killer is a man."

He hit a button and two pictures came up on the big TV screen, side by side. The first was a school photo of a teenage Asian girl - Chinese, Charles thought. She was smiling gamely at the photographer and there was a bright orange headband in her hair. The second photo was very grainy and showed a naked body, head shrouded in shadows and a white sheet or blanket flung over her hips.

"Karen Yun-Hao was fourteen. She was abducted from her bedroom on..."

Charles let the man's voice drift; he'd remember what Agent Goldstein said later if he needed to. For now he concentrated on the faces, looking for clues, for people he had known, for victims who were pack.

The first year their killer took four girls, each a week apart. Asian and young, none over sixteen or under twelve. He kept them and raped and tortured them until he was ready to take the next victim. The FBI thought he killed one victim just before he took the next - though there was some possible overlap. As soon as hunting season was over, he stopped. The first year was Vermont, the second was Maine, where he stayed for a few years, then Michigan, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Organized, thought Brother Wolf, ratcheting up for the chase. A good hunter took only what he needed when he needed it, and their prey was a good hunter. The killer's victims changed gradually through the years, Asian girls and women and then, in Texas, a teenaged boy who was also Asian. The boy was the first victim who was sodomized, but after him they all were, male and female alike. The next year after that his prey was split two and two, women and boys. Then only boys. After that he added a black teenaged girl.

"It's like he's searching for the perfect meal," said Anna softly - and got an appalled glance from Dr. Singh that Charles didn't think she saw; her attention was fixed on the screen. "He started in 'seventy-five. Maybe he was a Vietnam vet?"

"The Asian victims, yes," said the senior FBI agent, looking even more frail than before. "They weren't all Vietnamese, or even mostly. But some people can't see the difference, or don't care. The police already had that theory before the first time the FBI was brought into it in the early eighties. The UNSUB wouldn't be the only one to come out of that mess with a need to kill."

"'These are the times that try men's souls,'" quoted Anna in a soft voice, and Charles knew she was remembering another veteran warrior.

"It took more than five years for the FBI to get involved?" asked Heuter.

Goldstein gave the Cantrip agent a patient look. "Nearer to ten. First, it took a while for the police to figure out they had a serial killer, communication being what it was. Second, the FBI is not in charge of serial-killer cases. We are support staff, not primary." He hit a button and a new photo came up.

"Here's where we came in, the FBI - it was before my time. I first hit this case as a rookie in 2000. In 1984, the Big Game Hunter was back in Maine. This is the first victim that year, Melissa Snow, age eighteen."

Charles recognized her - and she hadn't been eighteen. The next victim was a black boy, a stranger. He didn't know the third victim, another Asian girl. This one was ten.

Brother Wolf decided, looking at the delicate joyful face, that they would find the killer and destroy him. Children should be protected. Charles agreed, and the ghosts of the unjustly executed who haunted him withdrew further.

"Those were the only three victims that we found that year, and after this year the number of bodies we found started to vary. In 1986 and '87, we found three bodies. In 1989, there were two. In 1990, three bodies again, and so on until 2000, when several things changed, but I'll get there in a minute. We don't think that he's changed how he kills. That one week interval between the first victim and the next seems pretty set. So we think he began putting the bodies in less accessible places."

In the next year's group of victims, Charles recognized two of the three. He also noted that the crime scene photos were of better quality - a sign of the FBI bringing in a better photographer, he thought, or just a combination of the advance of technology and the way time degraded color film.

Goldstein commented, "In 1984, two of the victims matched our UNSUB's previous victim choice. From 1985 on out, there are no apparent patterns to the victims. Men and women, young and old. He's still kidnapping, raping, and torturing them for a week before going after the next victim." He took his time, showing them each victim's face. Charles noticed that Goldstein never had to consult his notes for the names, and that when he did go to his notes, it was usually to confirm something he'd just said. "The next year he started in September."

Charles knew three of the victims in 1985 and all of the bodies found in 1986.

Stop him, he told Anna, deciding that the killer's victimology was no coincidence. This is important. Go back to that first year, the one the FBI joined in the hunt.

"Wait," Anna said, glancing down at her notes. "Can you go back to the victims in 1984?"

The fae came out about that time, Charles told Anna. Melissa Snow was fae and as close to eighteen as my father is. She wasn't out then, I don't think, but she was fae.

Maybe it was an accident? Anna thought as Melissa's face, shining and happy in a family-type snapshot, appeared on the monitor next to her gray and lifeless face. The fae aren't exactly everywhere, but it is reasonable that he picked one up by mistake.

She wasn't a half-breed, he told her. If someone picked her up thinking they were getting a teenaged human, they'd never have been able to keep her. She wasn't powerful, but she could defend herself better than a human would have.

Can I tell them that?

Absolutely. Then have them go to the next year. Some fae have no bodies when they die. That could be why there is no fourth victim.

Goldstein watched Anna with sharp eyes. "Was she a werewolf?"

"No," Anna said. "Fae." And then she told the feds what Charles had told her.

"Fae." Singh frowned. "How do you know?"

"I'm one of the monsters, Dr. Singh," Anna said without a pause. "We tend to know each other." It wasn't quite a lie. "The question is, how would the - what did you call him? The Big Game Hunter? How would he know what she was? If he attacked her thinking she was human, she'd have escaped."

"I knew the agent who worked this case," said Goldstein. "Melissa had parents and two siblings who were ten and seven at the time. He talked to them. She was eighteen years old."

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