8 February 2005
Special Agent Thomas Smalls sat down at his desk and powered on his computer. It always took a while to start up, but he didn’t mind all that much. All of his notes were on paper anyway, filed away safely in his filing cabinet and in his desk drawers.
The notes of that morning belonged to a long-running unsolved case within the FBI. A serial killer they had been tracking since 1994. Eleven years of kidnappings, soon to be twelve, and they still hadn’t been able to catch the guy.
Thomas hated that. After all, it was a big part of his job to find serial killers, and he was failing at it. Miserably.
He turned to his computer as the monitor switched from the spinning loading circle to the login screen. He swiveled in his desk chair and typed in his username and password. His pinky struck the enter key, and he turned back to his notes while he waited for the computer to catch up.
Since 1994, five victims had been taken every single year without fail. Every victim had been a white female, each one taken during the month of February. This was year twelve, and it wouldn’t be long before their killer came out of the works and started taking girls again.
If Thomas wanted to be technical about it, they weren’t looking for a by-the-books serial killer. Legally speaking, they were looking for a serial kidnapper, if that were such a thing. Fifty-five women had been kidnapped over the span of twelve years—sixty if he ran through the month untouched—and they hadn’t found a single body in that amount of time.
There were no leads. There were no suspects.
Thomas turned, opening up his saved documents on the computer. After the folder opened, he double-clicked the typed document of his case notes, which were only slightly more detailed than his handwritten notes.
Nearly thirty seconds later, he was staring at page after page of notes on a person that they may never catch. He knew the person was a serial killer; he could feel that in his bones, in his blood. There was no doubt in Thomas’s mind that this person was a cold-blooded killer. You didn’t kidnap fifty-five girls to make a family. You kidnapped fifty-five girls to kill them and make yourself famous because you were bullied in school, because no one paid enough attention to you when you thought you needed it most, and now you wanted them all to quake in fear whenever they heard your name.
Thomas shook his head. He hated this job.
That was a lie. He loved his job. He loved his coworkers and his boss. He even loved his partner, who was often too laid back to focus on the task at hand, or at least too laid back to care about the task at hand without instruction or direct orders.
Thomas scrolled to the page with his profile of the killer. Thomas had, based on the kidnappings, created a possible profile that the killer may fit, may being the operative word in this case.
In his mid-to-late twenties, probably born in the late seventies.
He was most likely unsure of himself, and based on the small area where the abductions occurred, he had a small comfort zone because of that uncertainty of self.
He was organized, and he certainly didn’t like to be off schedule. The kidnappings occurred every February, no exceptions. The man had a pattern, one that wasn’t going to be broken until Thomas and the rest of the FBI caught the bastard.
He was ritualistic. The kidnappings always happened around the same time. The age pattern was the same.
There was no discernible pattern to be found within the victims, though. Besides their age, gender, and race, they had nothing in common with each other, no link to each other. Sure, they all lived in or around D.C., and they were all taken in or around D.C., but it didn’t mean it was a good enough link.
The only true, set pattern was the ages. In 1994, one victim had been fifteen, three of them had been sixteen, and one of them had been seventeen. In 1995, one victim had been sixteen, three had been seventeen, and one had been eighteen. It continued that way every year. This year, the first victim taken would be twenty-six years old.
Thomas hated that there was a large chance that he, once again, would be unable to catch the man this February. It was a fact that taunted him every year when February rolled around. It made him feel like he was failing the people, and in a way, he was. It wasn’t just five women every year.
It was the families and the friends of five women every damn year. They were all someone’s daughter or sister, someone’s wife or mother, someone’s niece or cousin or aunt or best friend.
Not catching this man wasn’t just destroying the lives of five women every year. It was destroying the lives of those five women and everyone that had been close to them.
God, Thomas hated it.
“I’ve got a real stumper for you, Blue Eyes,” Thomas’s partner, Special Agent Chris Cross, said as he dropped into his desk chair.
Thomas raised an eyebrow. “Hit me with your best shot, Applesauce.”
“It’s your first date with a woman—”
“I haven’t been on a first date since high school, and that was with Netty,” Thomas interrupted.
Chris waved a hand. “All hypothetical, Smalls. It’s your first date with a woman. She’s real damn pretty and she likes expensive things. Where do you take her?” he asked.
Thomas swiveled from one side to the other in his chair, hands folded over his chest. “That depends on what mood you’re in tonight. What base are you planning on taking her to, precisely?”
Chris smirked. “I was hoping home.”
“Oh, Christopher, this is why women don’t talk to you, you sleazebag.”
“Like you wouldn’t try to score something here and there if you didn’t have Jen.”
Thomas rolled his eyes. “Your ‘here and there’ is every other night, Chris.”
Chris scoffed. “Just because you’re not allowed to have fun doesn’t mean that I can’t.”
Thomas let out a long sigh, shaking his head. “Trinity. I would take her to Trinity. Beautiful restaurant, expensive, hanging string lights on the ceiling, candle in the middle of each table. As long as you treat her like a lady, you can’t go wrong with Trinity,” he said.
Chris slapped both hands on his thighs. “Thank you! You’re a lifesaver, Smalls.”
Thomas smiled faintly. ‘Lifesaver’ was certainly a bit of an overstatement. Many lives had been lost on his watch. “Sure, Chris.”
Chris kicked both feet up on his desk. “So, Blue Eyes, what do you got on Quintus?” he asked. Quintus had been Thomas’s name for their serial kidnapper. It was the original Latin for ‘fifth’, and Thomas thought it made the most sense when it came to the kidnapping bastard. The name had stuck, and everyone they worked with referred to the man as Quintus, as well.
“Not much more than I had last time.” Thomas leaned forward, tossing his notepad onto Chris’s lap. “I don’t know what else to put down about him.”
Chris flipped through the pages. “I have a good feeling about it this year, Blue Eyes. We’ll catch him,” he said.
“Maybe, but we might not. He’s good at what he does. He plans it,” Thomas said. “He plans ahead to guarantee that he doesn’t get caught.”
“Then we’ll just have to plan even further than him,” Chris said. He tossed the notepad back onto Thomas’s desk. “Besides, stop making it sound like it’s our fault.”
“But isn’t it?” Thomas asked. “It’s our job to stop serial killers, and yet… here we are, doing no stopping at all.”
Chris shook his head. “Tommy, people were kidnapping and killing other people long before we were here, long before we were even born. Besides, not everyone can do their job one hundred percent of the time without flaw. No one can, not even the FBI,” he said. “And it’s definitely our killer’s fault, or… kidnapper’s fault. You get the picture, right?”
Thomas nodded. “I get the picture,” he repeated quietly. He saw the picture, sure, but it didn’t speak to him in any of the right ways. It was their fault. They were allowing a killer to keep doing what he was doing without any hindrances to his behavior or pattern.
Somebody had painted this picture all wrong, and Thomas was pretty sure that it was him that had dipped the wrong brush in the wrong paint.
He was missing something, and it became clear that not every picture painted in the Federal Bureau of Intelligence could be done in black and white. Sometimes, they needed a bit of gray, a bit of red or blue.
Thomas wondered what other color this picture needed in order for it—after twelve years—to finally make sense.