"Long day, Chris?" Chris looked up from his computer screen to find Josiah standing in the open doorway of his office. Josiah's jean jacket was flung over one shoulder, hooked by two fingers. He held a cardboard airport coffee cup in the other hand.
It was after 6:00 and only Chris remained in the office.
Chris looked up. "Yeaahh," he replied ruefully as he glanced back at the computer screen and scowled. "I thought computerization was supposed to cut back on paperwork." He shook his head; he had forty-two online requests yet to authorize. "But I have my doubts. How was your flight?"
Josiah made no move to leave the doorway, an indication to Chris that Josiah wanted to talk. Chris clicked the mouse to minimize the screen, sat back in his chair and nodded to the chair across from him. "Sit down."
"Any luck in St. Louis?" asked Chris as Josiah settled into the chair.
"No." Josiah drained the last swallow of what was likely cold coffee from the cup. He then crushed the cup in his hand, with a little more gusto than Chris thought necessary, before tossing it into Chris's wastebasket. "I though maybe if I took another look at the evidence and reviewed the case files first hand, that I might get an idea as to where to look for him." The gentle blue of Josiah's eyes seemed to darken as an uneasiness seemed to settle around the man. "I went back to the crime scene," he said quietly. "I thought maybe I'd missed..." Looking Chris in the eye he spoke, his words came in an urgent rush. "Chris, Weller can't be far away. He vowed to get -"
"I know." Chris's softly spoken words cut Josiah's short. The expression in Josiah's gentle blue eyes was almost desperate.
They both knew.
It had been ninety-two days now. Ninety-two days of freedom for Jonathan Becks Weller, a psychopathic mad man who had kidnapped, tortured and then murdered a number of teenage girls. Josiah had been called in to consult when other profilers had been stymied by the clues. After twenty-nine days, immersed in everything that was Jonathan Becks Weller, Josiah had been successful. Successful but three hours too late to save the last victim.
Jonathan Becks Weller had committed his crimes in the name of God. In his psychosis he was God's instrument, called upon by God to "Purge the Earth of the Abomination called Woman". This case haunted Josiah, as no other had before. Josiah and Jonathan Becks Weller's upbringing had been similar, too similar; strict disciplinarian minister fathers, mothers who died young and wild, spirited sisters brought harshly to heel by their fathers. The similarities in their upbringings, the savage treatment of the victims and the failure to find the last victim in time had caused Josiah to doubt himself as never before. Weller's crimes had shaken him to his very soul.
"St. Louis PD have called both John and Bronwen back in to work the case."
"Bronwen!" Chris couldn't help but blurt out the name.
"Yeah." Josiah's expression was grim.
Bronwen Lind was a gifted profiler, who at twenty-eight years of age, profiled a white-collar rapist so accurately that within four days her taking the case he had been caught. His arrest ended a reign of terror that had lasted more than six months. That case had thrust her into a rather exclusive club of elite profilers.
Unfortunately, Bronwen never learned how to separate herself from the job. Most serial crimes were committed against women. Bronwen identified too closely with the victims. Her feelings of irrational guilt became overwhelming until they began to threaten her emotional wellbeing. Jonathan Becks Weller had been her last case; at thirty-one her career was over and her sanity hung by a thread. The brass in St. Louis had to be feeling the political heat to call Bronwen Lind out of retirement.
"What about you?"
"Jurisdiction rules for now."
"So this visit...?"
"A professional courtesy." The big boney hand that clenched briefly in Josiah's lap belied his frustration. "They're just as desperate to find Weller."
"And the investigation as far as they're concerned?"
"Dead-ended. There's nothing new to go on. They can only wait until he makes his first move."
"What do you think?"
Josiah paused and looked steadily at Chris. "I think he already has... I think Weller was responsible for JD and Vin's kidnappings."
Chris was careful not to make any obvious reaction to his profiler's theory. Chris had been expecting something like this. Since Vin and JD's kidnapping ten days ago Josiah's determination to find Weller had become an obsession.
You're not sure though? Chris spoke slowly and deliberately. The Weller case had taken a huge emotional toll on the Josiah and Chris had to wonder if that wasn't affecting Josiah's judgement. If left Chris feeling cold. Jonathan Becks Weller had to be one hellish monster to shake Josiah like he had.
Josiah shook his head. "No. No, to be quite honest I'm not sure. Maybe it wasn't Weller who engineered the kidnappings but there's a nagging feeling in my gut that I can't ignore. The last time he threw out a number of false leads, I was never sure. I had to sift through the clues one by one and decide, usually by instinct alone, if they were legitimate or not. Even then so many of the clues were so vague, I couldn't be sure if they were valid or something else to throw me off track."
"Josiah, it's a big stretch from kidnapping and murdering teenage girls to kidnapping federal officers."
"I know it is... but the taking JD after Mass, Vin on the way back from Gabriel's Bike Heaven, finding them in a Church, the medallion in JD's pocket, all of them together are one helluva coincidence." Chris could hear the urgency that had crept into Josiah's voice. "And what Weller said after he was arrested..."
Chris watched as Weller's threats ran through Josiah's mind, the memory of them playing across his face. Shortly after Weller's escape Josiah had told the team what Weller had shouted out to him upon his arrest. They all had the right to know of any threats against them, but Chris worried that Josiah was seeing things that weren't there.
"Josiah, we've all been threatened with payback by a perp. It goes with the job."
"Weller isn't your average perp!" The sudden angry impatience in Josiah's voice surprised Chris.
"It's not the same M.O. The Nichols boys aren't even in the same league as Weller."
Josiah gave his head a quick shake "You might be right, Chris. I hope to God you are." "But Weller is capable of anything, including the kidnapping of federal agents and murdering their kidnappers. But he wouldn't do it without a purpose, he's trying to tell us something... and that's not just my opinion, John and Bronwen concur."
Chris frowned, got up from his chair and strode over to the window. He stared out of it absently as he considered Josiah's opinion. He really wasn't convinced that Weller was responsible for the kidnappings. What this situation came down to was trusting Josiah's experience and instincts. And he did.
Chris turned away from the window. "Alright," he said as he sat down again. "It won't hurt to present the possibility at the Current Case Status meeting in the morning."
"Thanks." Chris didn't miss the audible sigh of relief from the big man.
"How were things while I was gone?" Josiah asked.
"The same." Chris's reply was clipped, as the annoyed expression that Chris had been sporting off and on for the last week and half returned. "Buck took JD home at noon every day and didn't come back. I'm supposed to have one agent on half days, not two."
"You could do something about that, you know."
"You're out-of-bounds, Agent." The menacing undertone to his voice, warning Josiah to stay out of his business with Buck.
"No, I'm not. I'm speaking as your second in command. This little feud between you and Buck is having a negative effecting on the team. It needs to be dealt with and as the Team Leader it's your job to deal with it."
Josiah was rewarded with a withering look from the boss.
Josiah replied with his own cool steady gaze. "Chris you know as well as I do, if you and Buck patched things up it would go a long way to fixing the rest of the problems we've got around here right now."
"I'll give it some thought," replied Chris tersely as he pushed the mouse impatiently to bring the screen back up again.
It was as close to an admission of responsibility as Josiah could optimistically expect to get from Chris Larabee. Josiah was satisfied though. Given a couple of days Chris would deal with Buck... hopefully in a positive manner. Those two still had baggage stretching back to Sarah to deal with. One of these days it was all going to come to a head.
Chris had turned his attention back to authorizing online requests, Josiah realized he had just been dismissed, Larabee style.
"I'm gonna check my messages before I go home," said Josiah as he levered himself out of his chair.
Del and Rosie had gone to "Finding Nemo" as part of a birthday celebration for Ernie Stivens. Ernie's mother seemed to think an invitation to Ernie's birthday party might help smooth things over between Ernie and Rosie. Since the "bopping" incident, and despite an eventual grudging apology from Rosie, Ernie had given Rosie a wide berth.
Privately, Josiah thought Ernie was a wise young man who was obviously bright enough to learn from his mistakes. Ernie's mother was another matter. So Del had gone along with a couple of other mothers to chaperone the group. They wouldn't be home for a couple of hours yet and since the only company at home would be the hounds, Josiah thought he might as well retrieve his e-mail and phone messages before going home.
Josiah dropped his jacket over the back of his chair. Still standing, he picked up the telephone receiver and punched a series of numbers into this desk phone. Pressing the button on his computer, it began booting up while he listened to his phone messages. He bent over his desk to jot down a few quick notes and phone numbers as he went through the messages. The computer was still flashing from screen to screen after he hung up so he began sifting through his in-basket.
The neat, white, legal-sized envelope caught his attention. It had no other markings on it than the neatly typed words JOSIAH SANCHEZ, "CONFIDENTIAL".
Josiah frowned. He picked it up and was suddenly struck by an uneasy feeling. He turned the envelope over in his hand. It wasn't sealed. The back flap was simply tucked inside. He pushed gently at the edges of the envelope with both hands, tenting it so that he could peer inside. He saw only the smooth white backing of the documents within.
He carefully pulled out the flap and slid the contents slowly out onto his desk. Given the chance to examine the contents more closely he now recognized the smooth backing of the documents to be photographs, 8 by 10 inches in size. He turned the first one over and was stunned by what he saw. He quickly turned over a second and a third. Dear god!
Only then did he think about evidence. In his haste he yanked at his top drawer so hard the rollers gave way and the entire drawer came out of the desk landing on the floor with a crash, rudely shattering the silence in the office. He quickly pulled on the blue evidence gloves and carefully turned over the remaining four pictures.
Chris appeared in the doorway of his office, "What the hell was that noi..." Josiah's head snapped up to look at him. Chris stopped in mid-sentence his eyes widening in reaction to Josiah's expression. Chris was across the room and standing beside Josiah in an instant. Josiah he dropped his eyes to his desk. Chris followed his gaze.
The photographs were of them.
The photographer had captured Ezra and his mother in a rare intimate moment. Wherever they were it was raining, and Ezra had his arm around Maude to hold her close as they both shared the umbrella he was holding. The photograph centred on Maude while catching Ezra in profile. They were smiling at one another and for once there was the unmistakable look of unconditional love in Maude's eyes as she looked up at her son.
JD was riding his motorcycle with Casey riding double behind him. Dressed in full leathers, communication helmets and visors, they wore broad smiles. One could only imagine what the "kids" were saying to each other over the microphones that curled around their cheeks to sit just in front of their mouths. The picture was a face on "head and shoulders" shot with only trees and sky in the background.
Buck was leaning over the bar at the Saloon grinning down at Inez. There was a mischievous glint in his eyes. A large green plastic button in a shape of a shamrock, with the words "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" printed on it could be seen pinned to his shirt. Her face was half turned away from him toward the photographer as she looked up at him out of the corner of her eye. Her lips were curled in that teasing smile she had when she was parrying Buck's playful propositions.
It was obvious they were lovers as they sat semi-reclined on the porch swing at the ranch watching a sunset. Chris sat cradling Mary in his arms. She was lying against him, her eyes closed, her face turned toward the camera. Chris's head was bowed just enough to caress Mary's hair with his cheek. There was a hint of smile on Mary's lips.
Nathan and Rain were standing on a beach, the surf curling around their bare feet. It was some place warm; Nathan was clad only in shorts while Rain wore a sundress. She was standing with her back to Nathan. He had pulled her in close to himself, errant strands of her hair drifted on the wind as he bent his head to nuzzle her ear. Nathan's big gentle hands were spread protectively across her tummy. Even if they didn't already know, someone could have guess from the nature of the gesture that Rain was pregnant; they had discovered the pregnancy just days before the wedding.
Vin and Mia sat on horseback. The photo had captured a tender moment: Vin was reaching over to brush the backs of his fingers against Mia's cheek. Mia's eyes were teary as she looked back at Vin. Vin, in a rare moment, had let his anguish at the loss of their daughter show in his face. Those two had had more than their share of pain. Like the picture of JD and Casey, the photo was of both of them face on.
Six pictures in all, of intimate moments with women who were important to each of them.
The dark red lettering slashed its way rudely across the pictures. The stark words jumped out at them: "jezebelle," "whore," "slut," "strumpet," "black bitch" and "harlot."
Josiah's stomach lurched in reaction to the brutal threats.
Then came the last picture.
The subject of the seventh picture haunted him still. In the dark early morning hours, when other middle-aged men lay awake regretting the big deal they had long ago missed out on or the estrangement from family through divorce or neglect, Josiah Sanchez lay awake thinking about being three hours too late. Those other things didn't matter. Those other regrets could be fixed. For Josiah being three hours too late because of his lack of ability, his lack of understanding, his lack of quickness in putting the pieces together did matter and couldn't be fixed.
This seventh picture was the signature.
The red lettering across the last picture read "too late." Estelle Kolocek's face stared up at him from the last photograph, her eyes vacant in death. He would never forget her face. The pretty sixteen-year-old honours student had come from humble beginnings and had worked hard for her bright future. Estelle Kolochek had been Jonathan Becks Weller's last victim. They had found Estelle in that dark, filthy basement. Her body was in the process of being carved up by that madman. It was Estelle Kolochek's face that kept Josiah Sanchez awake in the dark early morning hours.