Brandon drove to work full and happy. The kiss had been a complete accident. He blamed it on his still half asleep brain. He had expected Katie to pull away; he was surprised when she didn’t. He was even more surprised when she gave a faint smile. His current joy only served to raise his concern for her safety though. These past two days had been the two most terrifying days of his life. The fact that someone out there wished to do his Katie harm made him feel a level of dread he had never known. Regardless of if she left in the end, Brandon was committed to ensuring her safety.
On the way to work he made a quick stop by the lab to check on the forensics. The lead tech, a man named Harry Johnson, informed him that they were still processing the evidence. He asked Brandon to come back later. Brandon honestly doubted they would find anything. From what he had read from ViCAP he knew the likelihood of this killer leaving any sort of clue was virtually nil. He had been operating undiscovered for the past ten years.
Brandon planned on doing more searching today, just to find further confirmation that his killer and the killer of the nine other women were one and the same. Once he confirmed that, he would have a conversation with his Chief, after which they would more than likely bring in the Feds.
He hated working with the Feds. The agents themselves were not the problem. Most were competent and helpful, but he always felt that his investigation was being taken from him. Under usual circumstances this was annoying, but now that loss of control was unthinkable because Katie was at risk.
The next stop he made was the crime scene. It had been cleared for daily use the day before. He knew he wouldn’t find any new evidence there, but he figured he could gain a new perspective with people present. Then maybe—just maybe—he would find a new lead.
Searching this particular area was difficult for him. Any crime scene was hard. Seeing the final resting place of a life cut short was always horrible, but this spot held special significance for him. Many times he had visited Katie on this bench. They had drunk coffee together while they were both in school. After he graduated, he would stop here to surprise her after class while he was on patrol. Every memory he had from this spot was a happy one. That is up until two days ago.
Brandon looked around the area for several minutes, finding nothing new. He suspected the murderer had parked at the edge of the street then quickly dumped the body. He walked towards the street and searched for outdoor surveillance cameras. None of the buildings in the area had them. With that potential lead gone, Brandon got back in his Jeep and headed towards the station.
“Good morning, Brandon.” Grace was at the front desk again this morning. Her voice was lively and cheerful. “Did you have a good night?”
“Yeah. It was fine.” “Good.”
“Do I have any messages?”
“No, but the Chief wants to see you. She’s in her office.” “Okay. Thanks.” Brandon waved at Grace then headed
down the hall to the Chief’s office. The door was open so he walked right in. “Chief Holmes, you wanted to see me.”
“Yes, Brandon. Come in. Close the door behind you,” she said. Brandon did as he was instructed then sat down at the desk.
Police Chief Shirley Holmes was the perfect woman to run the City of Columbia department. As could be noted by her name, both of her parents were huge literature fans. Their favorite character was of course, Sherlock Holmes. The Chief definitely lived up to her namesake. She was an incredibly shrewd and meticulous investigator. Unlike her namesake, she was a jovial and social woman. Her black hair was cut into a sleek bob. She had quick, hazel eyes that always seemed to be scanning the area around her. Her natural confidence made her seem much larger than her actual 5’3. Brandon liked and respected her immensely. “How are things going on the campus murder?” Chief Holmes asked. “Any new evidence?”
“Yes. I have some new information concerning the case. I planned on using this morning to confirm some news that has come to light.”
“And that would be?”
“Well, I believe we are dealing with a serial killer, ma’am.”
Chief Holmes was silent and contemplative for a moment. “This is a very serious claim to make. What makes you think this could be a serial killer?”
“I know ma’am, but I have some very strong facts to back my feelings up.” He began to tell the Chief everything that he knew. He told him about the ME’s findings, the ID card, Katie’s photograph, and finally the ViCAP search. Throughout his report, Chief Holmes listened intently, never once interrupting. “Truthfully, ma’am, even if Katie hadn’t brought this information to me, I still would have suspected a serial killer. The crime scene was way too clean. That along with the ID card points to a highly sophisticated killer—someone with a lot of experience,” he explained.
“I agree,” Chief Holmes stated. “Tell me, have you questioned Ms. Quinn yet?”
“No ma’am, not yet. I planned on doing it this afternoon. She was a little rattled and extremely exhausted when she arrived yesterday. I thought it would be best for her to get a good night’s rest.”
“Okay. Let me know when you bring her in. I’d like to be present for the questioning.”
“Of course. Now, if you’ll excuse me ma’am, I have some calls I would like to make.”
“Of course,” she replied.
“Thank you,” Brandon said then rose from his chair. He was about to open the door when Chief Holmes said his name.
“Brandon, one final question.” “Yes, ma’am.”
“Please answer honestly.” “I always do, ma’am.”
“Good. Now tell me, do you know if you have the objectivity to handle this case professionally and unemotionally? I know what Ms. Quinn means to you. If you feel you can’t be objective then say so now. I will not think less of you.”
Brandon nodded. She had asked him a fair question. It was a question that without doubt he had the answer to. “Yes, ma’am. I do.”
“Good. Then off to work.”
Katie finished her amaretto latte then stood up and made her way over to the coffee stand. Despite her nap, she was still exhausted and was essentially running on caffeine today. She quickly ordered another latte then stood to the side. While they made her drink she carefully watched as the students passed in and out of Memorial Union. She’d spent plenty of time here back in college and it was refreshingly nostalgic to be back.
Katie loved the school that she went to. Yes, Missouri had a wonderful Journalism program, which was what initially peaked her interest, but the school itself was lovely and laid back. That, along with the Journalism school was why she decided to stay here for grad school. She’d thought about coming back and getting her PhD a couple of times. She’d actually been considering it when she got the offer from The Times. She was going to tell Brandon about it, but he was so excited about her job offer that she changed her mind. It was like he wanted her gone.
Katie wiped away the tears that gathered in her eyes and glanced down at the partially filled out application she’d picked up this morning. The application was merely a formality. She’d spoken to the Dean at the J-School and he’d guaranteed her acceptance. He’d even offered her a full scholarship, but she’d declined for the moment. This was a big decision to make, especially since it would require her to move back here. As much as she loved both the school and the city, she wasn’t sure she could function in the place where Brandon lived, especially since she was doubtful he still loved her. Yes, he’d kissed her this morning, but that could’ve been out of habit, not emotion.
She put her thoughts and doubts aside. Right now she had a lot of work to do. She quickly pulled up her browser. She had a couple of emails to send. The first email she sent was to her boss, telling him where she was staying and that, as of now, there were no new developments. She also said the case had the potential to be a big story, especially if her hypothesis was correct. She made sure to include that she would contact him with any further details.
The next email she sent was to Nicole. This one was slightly more detailed, but she still did not divulge anything more than the newspapers here had. She only added that she was a part of the investigation. She closed the email, asking Nicole to give her a call.
After that, Katie pulled out a pen and paper as well as the various news articles about the murdered women. She made notes while she wrote. One thing she noticed was all the murders took place in places where she’d either lived or visited. The first one took place in Grapevine, Texas, where she grew up. The other murders took place in Washington D.C., Vail, Colorado, Utah, Orlando, California, etc.
She jotted down the names of the authors of each article. She wanted to talk to the writers of each article if she could. Katie took the list in chronological order. She struck out on her first two calls: the reporters in Ft. Worth and Washington D.C. had both retired and headed for parts unknown. Katie put stars next to their names. She would search for them later.
The third call she made was to Denver. The reporter, a man named Danny Johnson, answered on the second ring.
“Danny Johnson, The Denver Post.” He sounded hurried to
“Hi, Danny, I’m Katie Quinn. I work for The New York Times.”
“Oh, hey Ms. Quinn. It’s a pleasure to speak to you. I’m a big fan of your stuff.”
“Thanks, I appreciate that.”
“No problem. So, what can I do for you?”
“Well I was wondering if I could pick your brain about a story you wrote in 2010.”
“Geeze, Katie. That was a long time ago. I was just a rookie.”
“I know. But I think the story should stick out. It was a rape/homicide in Vail. The victim’s name was Sarah Graves.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember that case. It was horrendous. They found the poor girl naked, propped against a ski rack at the slopes.”
Katie’s stomach turned. That specific detail had been left out of the story. “Thanks, Danny. Is there anything else you can recall about the case that you didn’t put in the story? This is off the record of course. I’m just interested personally.”
“Well, there was one detail that the police didn’t share with the public at first. By the time they released it the story had gone cold. My editor told me to drop it. You know how it works.” He laughed.
“Yeah, I do.” Katie had encountered a few narrow-minded editors on her way to the big time. She hated dropping a story, but sometimes she didn’t have a choice. “So, what was the detail?”
“Well, the girl was cremated. After the cremation the morticians found a small metal capsule in the ashes. Of course they turned it over to the police.”
“Uh huh,” Katie said. She was anxious to hear this detail.
She had not read anything about a metal capsule in any of the reports she accessed.
“Well, they didn’t release all the information. Apparently inside the capsule was a small sheet of paper. Written on it was the word ‘confess.’”
Katie went sheet white. She made a note to ask others if they had found anything like that on their cases. “Thanks. Just one last thing, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course not.”
“Was there anything else about the case that bothered you? Any assumptions that the police made that you thought were off or wrong?” This was a tough question for her to ask. Most of the policemen she worked with were competent, caring, and thorough, but there were a few out there who slacked off. This was especially true when it came to cases involving prostitutes.
“Truthfully the investigation was a mess from the start. The police were more concerned about clearing the area for tourists than they were about investigating. I’m sure there was plenty of evidence that they missed. The police kept thinking this was an isolated incident from the start. But, in all honesty, now that you mention it, I really think they’re dealing with a serial killer.”
“Okay,” she managed to choke out. “Well thanks so much, Danny. I appreciate it.”
“Can I ask you a question?” “Of course.”
“Was I right?” “Right about what?”
“It being a serial killer?”
“I can’t say for sure, but I think your hunch is correct. I’ll let you know if I find out anything else.”
“No problem,” Katie said then hung up the phone. The call had gone much better than she expected, the information about the capsule and note was new and useful. She would pass that tidbit along to Brandon so he and Rebecca could search for it—that was if they hadn’t already found it. Rebecca was an incredibly thorough investigator. But still, something that small could slip through the cracks.
Katie made two more phone calls then checked the time. It was nearly noon.
Brandon stood next to Rebecca in one of the forensic examination rooms. She’d called him right after he left the Chief’s office, saying that the she had found something unusual.
“So, what exactly am I looking at Rebecca?” he asked. The item that she was holding was small, not much larger than a prescription pill. Instead of being made of something soluble, it was made of metal.
“Well, it appears to be some sort of capsule,” she replied. “There’s a split in the middle; I think it opens.”
“Have you tried opening it yet?”
“No, I wanted to wait for you to get here.” “Okay, let’s do it,” he said.
Rebecca nodded then pulled the small capsule from the evidence canister. She gently pulled the capsule open. Inside was a thin strip of what appeared to be paper. Rebecca carefully pulled the sheet out and unfolded it with a pair of tweezers. The message was short, cryptic, and frightening. It was a single line, three short words that made his heart drop.
Katie Quinn: Confess
Brandon stared at the note, careful not to react. “Where did you find this? Was it in Alaina’s body?”
“No. Apparently one of the techs found it lying near her. He just now mentioned it to me.” Rebecca replied.
“Will you test it for fingerprints?” “Of course.”
“Okay. Let me know if you have anything,” he said. “I will,” she replied.
“Oh, any prints on the photo from yesterday?” He shivered at the thought of that photo; it had haunted him all night.
“The only prints on it were Katie’s.” Rebecca replied. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I figured there wouldn’t be any on there. Let me know if you find anything else.” He said then left the morgue. He checked his watch. It was nearly noon; time to eat lunch.
Quickly he pulled out his phone and called Katie.