Nine Lives - A Dafydd Owen story - Ep4
This team looked like they meant business. I'd heard about teams like this, of course, but watching them move in and set up made me understand why Cy said they were the best in the business. The big dobie was clearly the boss. He and the curvy skunk got here first, along with the cute gazelle. They had seven laptops set up in the big conference room before the others arrived, with the skunk already sitting behind the biggest "laptop" I'd ever seen. The screen on that thing was so big it barely qualified as "portable." Two other pairs arrived in rapid succession, adding a baby-faced mouse guy, a stocky bear and a slim, well proportioned otter lass to the crowd in the room. The final arrival had Sarah leaning over to me and whispering "oh my.. " into my ear.. I could understand her response, the tall lion with the bodybuilders muscles certainly made an impression as he walked in.
Once everybody working this mess was in the conference room the big dobie stood up. He was about my height, the only member of the crew wearing a suit.
"Introductions. I'm Agent Warren, my team are Agents Callahan, Freeman, Thompson, Corsa, Conrad and Grimm"
In turn the otter, the lion, the gazelle, the bear, the skunk and the mouse stood up briefly as they were introduced. I leaned over to Sarah and whispered "Who'dathunk.. a family of gazelles named Thompson." It earned me a gentle elbow in the ribs and a response of "Be nice, any joke you can make about it she's probably heard at least fifty times." Agent Warren was continuing.
"Agent Arsenau, you I've already met. Can you introduce us to the rest of your team here please?"
"No problem. I'm Agent Cy Arsenau, besides myself the primary players on this team are Lt Anderson from metro homicide, Dafydd Owen and Sarah Marshall." The dobie's brows furrowed and his ears flagged a bit.
"Why the civilians on the team?"
"I know it's a bit unorthodox, Sir, but Mr Owen and Ms Marshall are local investigators with a track record of assisting Lt Andersons's department. I was a little reluctant to involve them as well, but after Lt Anderson persuaded me it has proved to be the right decision. Ms Marshall is a former undercover police officer with extensive street contacts and Mr Owen's contacts and connections from his business as both a lawyer and a PI have also proved valuable, along with his other talents."
"Mr Owen, Ms Marshall.. Considering who is making it, that recommendation is a strong one but I will be making my own evaluation going forward. I mean no offense but... " I held up my paw and stopped him.
"None taken, Agent Warren. I quite understand and I think I can speak for my partner in that regard as well." Sarah just nodded as I said that. "Let's continue bringing everyone up to speed and if you feel you and your team need to discuss our involvement then we are available to you at your convenience without having the discussion disrupt a briefing."
"That's fair. We've all read your files. Freeman, Michael.. Do you have anything to add from visiting the two snatch sites we know about?" The mouse handled the reply so I now had a first name for him.
"Nothing specific. Who locally did the analysis of crowd flow patterns that led you to think the unsub has a target preference?"
"That would be me, although it wasn't exactly what you'd call a rigorous analysis. I just watched the streets and let myself think 'hungry'"
"Oh, predator genetics? I did some work with Dr Halston at NIH on the psychology of that. How extreme?"
"Far enough out that if I try to control it with meds I turn into a zombie. When I gave up that losing battle it turned out to be pretty useful in the military."
"Those would be the other talents that Agent Arsenau mentioned. It was nice work, boss. My analysis reached the same conclusion." The dobie nodded and turned to the remaining two members of his team.
"Fiona, Corsa... Any further info from where the bodies were found?" The otter, Fiona Callahan, shrugged and looked at the bear before she spoke.
"Nothing. There's a lot of otters and muskrats on the river police here and they pretty much did everything possible."
"Anything else to add, anyone?" I stood up. I'd talked to Marko last night. "Mr Owen."
"Call me Dafydd please. I'm only Mr Owen in court. The same firm I use as a security contractor also has the contract for providing security staff to several of the local clubs and the owner is a personal friend. Our third victim was observed working the crowd outside the 'Dream Furs Gentleman's Club' by his employees the night of the last day anyone saw her. They saw her pick up two johns and then return. After that they ran her off. Apparently the owner of the club has terms in his security contract that require the doormen to discourage distractions from the entertainment offered inside the building. May not mean anything but it's a later sighting than we've had of her so far." I sat down.
The skunk from the FBI team piped up next. "Has anyone locally been handling the press?" That was enough to make Cy wince. He and Paul had been dodging flashbulbs like they were bullets for the past 24 hours.
"No, that's a gap on my team. They hadn't become a problem prior to the third body turning up but now... " he trailed off then picked up again "Officially they've been given nothing but 'An investigation is underway and beyond that we cannot comment' but they are persistent and becoming troublesome." He looked uncomfortable and I felt like rescuing him.
"Agent Conrad, I don't have contacts for national media but any local outlets that may give you trouble, I probably play golf with most of their bosses. I may be able to give you some help there." Out of the corner of my eye I saw the dobie's ears lift. Looked like it might be smoother sailing with this crew than first impressions led me to believe.
"I'll probably take you up on that. We need to get this under control if we can." After a moment of silence when nobody else spoke up, the dobie looked around the room.
"Michael, Corsa, start trying to refine the profile. Maggie and Jane, see what you can come up with for press statements. Fiona, Freeman, take another run through the files and feed everything you find to Michael and Corsa. My gut tells me there's enough for a complete profile here and I want to be able to brief it ASAP. Mr Owen, Ms Marshall. I think this would be a good time for that sidebar discussion."
We followed him into a smaller conference room.
I'm not going to go into details of another discussion with a skeptical FBI agent who didn't know the local situation and didn't need to know the extent of Sarah's contacts and mine. Enough to say that his concerns were valid and our responses to them equally valid. We were in, on sufferance, for as long as we were useful and didn't obviously break any rules. The evening came and everybody dispersed to their homes or hotel rooms. The news was full of stories about the "Warehouse Killer" that were so obviously pulled out of the reporter's ass. No mention of an FBI task force in town yet. That would probably break tomorrow. Sarah and I planned an early night.
Yeah. Right. Fat chance.
Just after 10:30 both our phones started sounding off simultaneously. We had both received the same message. Another feline was missing, from the same club as the first, and everybody was wanted downtown at the venue.
"Monica Wilson. Tiger, 28 years old. Went to the restroom and never came back. Her picture's on all your phones. Her husband called it in." Agent Warren was talking to his team as we arrived and Freeman, the lion, was frowning.
"Are you sure about this one, Martin? It's a radical departure from the age ranges we've seen so far. Could we be looking at a copycat?"
"Keep both options open in your minds. Jane, I want credit card records from tonight. Get them from when the last girl was snatched from this club too." Uh Oh. If this FBI hacker was better than mine - as seemed likely - I might have to cover Jason's ass. "Talk to everyone here, find out whoever saw her tonight and when."
Damn. Two things to cover fast. First one was the hacker.
"Dafydd. Don't be too surprised if you find traces that show the system was previously compromised."
"In this place, kittycat, I'd be surprised if I didn't."
Kittycat. What the fuck?
"Let's just say I already know that credit card info is a bust. One of my associates already ran it down from the first two clubs." She grinned at me as I said that.
"Five cards matched by either name or number between the first two snatches. All check out clean."
"You talk to the wait staff and I'll do my thing here. Care to take a bet?"
"What's your favorite wine?"
"Jean Gros Burgundy."
"A case of that against a case of Mascarello Barolo. Winner picks the year." She looked at me like she was Sylvester picking Tweetie feathers out of her teeth.
I started asking around the wait staff for customers they remember paying in cash that night. Slowly the FBI team started filtering folks out and eventually the place was empty apart from the staff, eight FBI agents, one metro homicide detective and pair of tired PI's.
Once again, we didn't have jack shit. I could tell by their body language that the FBI were starting to think about the husband as an opportunistic copycat. It made a certain amount of sense, after all. If there was a serial killer stalking felines and you wanted rid of your feline wife, what better opportunity to make her vanish?
We all headed home after we got tired of beating our heads on another wall. That FBI skunk gave me one hell of a shit-eating grin as she walked out. I wasn't sure that I was going to win that bet.
Two days later I was shopping for wine. With a virtuosity that blew my mind, Jane Conrad had somehow managed to correlate that on all three nights different stolen credit cards had been used at all three clubs, in different names, but linked by the fact that they were all originally stolen in the same security breach. It hadn't appeared on anyone's radar because the club owners routinely expect to get one or two of these a night, which only become apparent when the chargeback occurs two or three days later. To them it's just part of the overhead, a cost of doing business. The problem was, however, that the names on those correlated cards were all female. Either we'd been totally mistaken about our original person of interest being male or we were looking at a duo.
The mouse, the bear and the otter on the FBI team, Agents Grimm, Corsa and Callahan were all high powered psychologists. They spent hours going over and over the victimology, looking for patterns. They had an update for us at the following morning's briefing.
Agent Corsa started it off. The bear stood up and rubbed his muzzle with one enormous paw and then addressed the room.
"We have conflicting information here, which has made it difficult to develop a coherent pattern. The one common thread is that the victims are exclusively feline. There have been two major progressions in the 4 victims taken which were difficult to reconcile. The first was a progression to younger victims, the second towards more prominently striped victims. With the possibility of a second unsub, this may reflect disparate drivers for two individuals." He sat down and Agent Grimm got up.
"The actions of the killer or killers show a coherent sexually motivated pattern. There is a deep-seated revenge psychosis apparent. Particularly the mutilation of the victims digits." That got a response from Cy.
"Could you elaborate on that?" Fiona Callahan, the otter, stood up to handle the reply.
"It's difficult to overstate the psychological impact of declawing for a feline, particularly a female. You may be familiar with the reputation feline females have for being strong, confident women? A kind of unconscious thing that reflects in their body language and how they interact? It's quite real but to have their claws removed strikes at the heart of that."
I stood up. "Agent, may I add to that?" She nodded.
I held out my right paw and extended my claws. "I habitually carry a sidearm, but even without it I'm always armed. Some of you know my background but for those that don't, let's just say that during my military career I found myself in close combat situations at a frequency that you would find unusual given my branch of service and specialty. It takes a lot of training to use a blade effectively. To a feline, use of these is almost instinctive, to the point that once combat-trained it takes discipline to NOT use them."
I drew a breath, relaxed my paw to retract the claws and continued. "Everyone in this room has been trained to not allow yourself to be disarmed in the field. To a feline, being declawed has an impact much like being disarmed against your will would have, except it's permanent. To continue the analogy, it's like a subject was not only able to disarm you but render you incapable of ever holding a weapon again - effectively ending your career." Cy and Paul were both nodding - they got it. As I sat down, Agent Grimm stood up.
"The slow progression of the killers actions suggests - for want of a better word - practice. They are refining their technique, getting better at not so much crushing as destroying the ego of their victim, while at the same time progressing further towards their ideal target or targets."
Sarah looked thoughtful. "Do they have a grand finale planned?"
Agent Corsa looked up as he answered. "Probably not exactly planned, but it seems to be leading there. There's two ways those can go. Do they ride off into the sunset afterwards or go out in a blaze of glory along with their final victims? At the moment it's six-five and pick 'em."
Since the briefing was winding down, it was time for my final item.
"Jane. Never let it be said that a gentleman does not pay off his bets promptly." I reached under my chair and picked up a case of wine which I carried over and set by her workstation. She looked almost embarrassed, but smiled.
As the days mounted, we started getting jumpy, wondering when we were going to get the next call from the river police. Six days after Monica Wilson vanished, they found her.
"...you're going to have to meet us at the landing stage - the site isn't accessible except from the river."
"This is Agent Callahan. Please do not proceed with recovery until we can be on site."
"Our boat is waiting for you at the station."
So we joined the river police boat for the few minutes ride. She was floating under some scrawny trees at the foot of some tall bluffs, surrounded by other floating debris. Plastic bags, pieces of driftwood, cigarette packs, fast food containers. Like some kind of floating dumpster. The river police officer held the boat a few yards offshore, the engine turning only enough to offset the current.
"This one, I can pretty much tell you the dump site and why you didn't find one for the other three too." He suddenly had our full attention. "There's only two ways she could have ended up where she is. There's a persistent eddy in the river here, it traps stuff." He gestured to the debris surrounding the body. "She was either tossed from the bluffs or went into the water roughly where we are. No signs of anything crashing through those branches recently so I'm guessing your victims have all been dumped from a boat."
Even from here I could tell there was something different about this one, and from the frown on his muzzle so could the ME.
to be continued...