Agent Dover was sitting on the edge of Purdy’s desk when David entered.
Dover was a slender man with sad eyes, strawberry blonde hair and a beautiful suit. The suit caught David’s eye; it was gray, with navy pin-stripes, and it was perfectly tailored. Its collar lay flat and perfectly smooth, and it had points as sharp as knives. Its pin-stripes met with absolute precision and perfectly equal angles at every seam, and although there were no wrinkles, the fabric managed to look smooth and soft. David had met a couple of dotcom millionaires wearing suits like that, but nobody else. This was not a suit, he thought, that an FBI agent would normally be wearing. But sticking out of the suit’s perfectly tailored pocket there was a badge case and a federal badge.
“Good evening, Officer Jackson,” he said, “I’m Agent Dover from the ISU. I understand you’re the lead investigator on this case.” He held out a hand for David to shake.
“Yeah,” said David, taking his hand. “Technically my partner’s the lead, but I’m overseeing the junior officers.” He sighed. “Mostly we’ve been trying to get all the stuff Mitch has been doing into the computer. Frankly I’m surprised to see you out here, because I thought the case would still be too shaky to bring the FBI in. We’ve definitely got something weird going on though, and we’re pretty sure it’s a killer. If there was ever a case we needed help with, this is it.”
“I’ve seen the case file, at least as much of it as you’ve got on your computers so far,” said Agent Dover. “It looks like a real challenge, all right, but for what it’s worth, I think your partner’s right. This is definitely a killer. This kind of thing does not happen by chance.”
David shrugged. “You got any idea what we’re dealing with here? Anything you can tell me about who … ” his eyes narrowed, “… or what, this guy is?”
“Well, that’s my job, isn’t it?” said Dover. “I’m a profiler. I’ve had a look at the case file, and here’s what I can tell you about your killer.”
He took a deep breath, stared directly into David’s eyes, and started to speak. “Our unsub in this case, our unknown subject, is a very unusual killer. He’s been operating for years, and for a very long time he went undetected. He’s been covering up every kill, making them look like suicides, or murders committed by other victims, or accidents – and you’ve still no idea exactly how he accomplished most of it, is that correct?” His eyes were the precise eyes of a scientist, staring at David in a way that would not admit any idiotic claptrap about telepathic freaks.
David’s mouth opened, then closed again. He nodded. “I’d say that’s right,” he said.
Agent Dover paused, as though sorting something out, then went on. “That says to me that remaining undetected has been very important to this guy. He’s wanted, badly, to avoid the focused attention of police officers and large numbers of people that would follow if he were found out. But his need for more and more painful deaths has betrayed him; he’s been escalating the level of his attacks for years, and finally he couldn’t avoid it any more.” Here he stood up and bean to pace.
“And let me assure you, it’s all about pain. Pain, degradation, humiliation, lust, … and power.” Agent Dover shook his head. “This guy’s got power issues a mile thick.” He turned around, glancing almost apologetically at David, then looked down at his own expensive Italian shoes as he said the next part. “Now, most power killers engage in overkill. But not this guy. And that’s a very telling thing.”
David choked. “A seventeen-year-old girl, skinned alive and stuck into a head on collision, isn’t overkill? Decapitations and burnings and maimings and torture and … and this isn’t overkill?” He spread his hands.
“A technical term,” said Agent Dover. “What I mean is, this unsub loses interest in his victims the instant they are dead. With most power killers, you see relatively quick kills followed by extensive mutilation — they fear their living victims and the quick kill reassures them that there’ll be no more resistance. And then they seek to obliterate the human form, working out their own power and image issues by obliterating the human image of their victims. But this guy … nope. Death, it looks like, is the last bad thing that happens to them. And that means that what he wants, he can only get from living people.”
“Jesus,” said David. “What does he want?”
“He wants pain,” said Agent Dover. “He wants them to experience the worst he can imagine. He wants them to experience despair and terror and suffering. His ability to inflict that, to him, is evidence of his own power. And once they can’t experience that anymore, he has no further use for them.” He took off his gold-rimmed glasses, nervously polishing them on the corner of his perfect suit, then put them back on.
David’s jaw had set in a hard line. This sounded just about as close as he’d ever heard to a description of absolute evil, the sort of thing that rabbis debated in theological circles. He nodded and began to take careful, precise notes.
“His entire adult life,” Agent Dover continued, “he’s always been a power freak, a man who gets off on forcing other people to do things they don’t want to do, a man who gets off on forcing other people to experience things they don’t want to experience. He’s probably been a rapist for a lot longer than he’s been a killer, and a sadistic psychopath for years longer than he’s been a rapist. His attacks show a pattern of sharply escalated violence for the last three years, however, starting with the Rodrigues-Fugate-Warren case and culminating in the Houang case last week. But our perp is not new to violence. This, or something much like it, has been going on a long time.”
Agent Dover paused, thinking. “I’m pretty sure he’s been a rapist for a long time. It fits his power-crazy profile. Also, he commits crimes in a very wide area; if he’d just started acting out when the killings started, the first few would have been in a small neighborhood familiar to him, and instead we see the first three scenes separated by four miles. So about three years ago, something happened. Something changed, and whatever changed had something to do with death. I’ve got two leading possibilities here; either he found out that he’s dying, or he found out his parents are dead. Since that time death isn’t a psychological barrier to him anymore and his level of violence has been escalating.”
Jackson’s hand flew furiously over the page, jotting down every word.
“You know, you don’t have to get all this down,” said Agent Dover. “I submitted a written report.”
Jackson looked up “I want to get everything,” he said. “You might mention something that isn’t in that report, and besides I’ll remember it all better if I write it down.”
Dover stood up, turned to his left, and started pacing. “Up until Laura Houang,” he said, “it was all about the pain and the horror and the terror, on an individual level, and about his personal power to inflict it. This guy makes people experience the worst possible thing he can dream up for them, and then he kills them. That’s his power trip.”
David looked up. “What about Laura Houang?” he asked. “How was that any different?”
“With Laura Houang,” Agent Dover said, “he took it beyond the level of individuals. To start with, it was all about you and Flanagan, not about her. He knew you two were onto his little game, Officer Jackson, and nobody had ever figured it out until then. But he was also confident that no matter what anybody knew, nobody could ever catch him. So he tried to kill you, and he decided to be obvious about it – in effect, he was also announcing himself to the city. Laura Houang was not just a power killing, she was a terror killing. Her death was calculated to inspire fear or revulsion in other people, not just to be horrible to Laura Houang personally. That means that our unsub is now playing a different kind of game. Now he’s gotten a taste of what a whole city in terror is like – a whole city, in his power – and he’s got to like it. He’s going to be feeling more powerful than he’s ever felt. And he’s going to do it again. Or do something worse if he can.”
“Something worse… Jesus.” David felt sick to his stomach. “Can you tell me how he’s doing this?”
“No,” said Agent Dover, sharply. “I can’t.”
“Huh,” said David. “Anything else about him at all?”
Dover nodded. “From the victimology, I’m pretty sure he’s a white guy, probably fifty or sixty years old. Younger men kill in a much narrower range of ages and physical types, and ethnic killers tend to kill mainly within their own ethnic groups. You don’t see this range much because you don’t often see serial killers this old. Unlike most power killers, he doesn’t seem to have confidence or ego issues. He’s probably very charismatic, although likely quiet, cold and distant in person. He’s probably an obsessive collector of some kind of antiques, but not the rational kind of collector who cares about anything’s financial value.”
David was scribbling notes again.
“Beyond that it is, technically speaking, guesswork,” Dover continued. “But as guesswork goes, it’s pretty solid. Here are my guesses. I think he had an unhappy, powerless childhood. He tortured small animals, he wet his bed, he was dominated and abused by both his parents, and he developed a pathological attitude toward other people, of both genders, which was in his childhood mainly fear and resentment, but now has matured into alienation, lust, and loathing. The only way he can make himself feel better is by taking power, and taking power, ever since he’s been living on his own, has meant raping people. Mostly women, but he’s not picky. Rape isn’t about sex for him, it’s about power.”
Dover took a small drink from a glass of water on the desk, then continued. “When he left home as a young man, he never went back. No matter how many people he raped, he never worked up the courage to face his parents. He had many vivid fantasies about what he’d do to his parents when he finally went home, but he never did it; he was too terrified of them. And I would lay odds that about three years ago, he found out that he’s never going to be able to carry those fantasies out; either he himself is dying and has finally realized he’ll never have the nerve, or he’s found out that his parents are now dead. So the absentee focus of his rage is gone, and now he’s got death issues to deal with as well as his power issues, and he’s acting out his rage against the whole world. He’s escalated from rape to murder, and right now he’s escalating from power killings to terror killings.”
“He wet his bed?” David shook his head in disbelief. “Where the hell do you get that?”
“Hell, maybe he still does,” replied Agent Dover. “I can’t tell you what it has to do with anything, because I don’t know. But there’s a statistical correlation. It’s something that shows up with high probability in the background of people with a particular kind of psych profile.”
“And you’ve seen people who do this kind of shit – this psych profile – before?” David spread his hands. “Mitch and I have hunted through case files from all of American history and every major city looking for anything like this, and we found zilch.”
“What we’ve seen before, Officer Jackson, is people who wish they could do the kind of things that this guy has evidently discovered a way to do.” Agent Dover sat down again, his perfectly tailored suit pants creasing perfectly over his perfect Italian shoes. “I’m telling you what kind of person would do this if they could; now we have to catch the person who actually can do this and does.”
“Okay…” said David. Finally he forced himself to speak. “My partner has a theory, and I have to admit I’m starting to believe it… He thinks this killer can somehow get into people’s heads, control what they think or what they do.”
Agent Dover looked at him, watery blue eyes staring over the tops of his gold-rimmed glasses. “That’s an interesting theory,” he said soberly. And then, both of them decided at once to drop it.
David shook his head, as though suddenly a loud noise he’d gotten used to had stopped, and shrugged. “So what do you think he’s going to do next?”
“He’s got four obvious targets,” Dover said, holding up his right hand. Lifting fingers one at a time, he counted them off. “Rose DeCourtney. She’s a witness against him, and I’m pretty sure he knows about her. Wolf Scudder. He’s the only surviving eyewitness, and he’s tried to kill Scudder already, three years ago. And you, and your partner. He already tried to kill you, along with Laura Houang. He fears you and he feels the need to demonstrate power over you.”
“Wait… How would he know about Rose DeCourtney?” David said.
“If he hadn’t known about DeCourtney,” Dover replied carefully, “There’s no way to account for the attack on you that was made with Laura Houang.”
David went suddenly cold as the words sunk in. Dover was right, and he, David, had had all the puzzle pieces and hadn’t seen it. The sonofabitch had known.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.