Open Your Eyes
‘Where’s Winter?’ Hendry asked.
It was a good question. Yoko had told him thirty minutes, and according to her watch there was still another minute to go. Knowing Winter, he’d push it to the very last second just to make the point that she couldn’t boss him around. The tight-browed glare of her unit chief was making the cabin of the Gulfstream feel claustrophobic. Scott Hendry was six-two and obese, which wasn’t helping. On the plus side, he was an expert at playing the system, hence the reason they were travelling on the FBI’s private jet rather than taking a scheduled flight from Dulles. He rapped his class ring on the tabletop and Yoko’s eyes followed the sound. Over the years the edge of the ring had turned smooth and shiny.
‘Well?’ he added.
Before Yoko could answer there was a commotion on the steps and a loud voice declared, ‘I have so got to get me one of these!’ A second later Winter bounded into the cabin, grinning from ear to ear. She almost didn’t recognise him. His black suit fit too well to be off-the-rack, the soles of his shoes looked as though they were leather, not rubber, and the red tie was silk rather than polyester. His shirt was silk, too. There was no way a trainee could afford an outfit this sharp. Anyone else, she’d be thinking bribery and corruption. Since it was Winter, all she was thinking was What the hell? His hair was still damp from the shower. She also noticed that he didn’t have an overnight bag. He caught her staring and the grin disappeared.
‘Yes,’ Hendry replied, deadpan. ‘Someone did die. That’s why we’re all here.’
‘Come and take a seat,’ Yoko said. ‘We need to get going.’
Winter sat down next to Yoko. He reached for his seatbelt and Yoko leant over until she was close enough to whisper.
‘You can put it on if you want, but you don’t need to.’
He looked a question at her.
‘It’s one of the perks of flying in a private jet. And anyway, if we crash, do you really think that little strap is going to save your life?’
‘I guess not,’ he whispered back.
The fuselage door was closed and sealed, the steps moved away, and the jet started moving. They taxied to the end of the runway and the pilot hit the throttle. Yoko watched the airfield rush past, then suddenly tilt as the wheels left the ground. The clouds were low and grey, and within seconds they’d been swallowed up, the small jet rocking and rolling through the turbulence. Nobody said a word until they reached cruising altitude. It was Winter who broke the silence. He did a quick rat-a-tat-tat drum roll on the table, hands slapping against walnut.
‘So, what’s going down?’
Yoko caught Hendry’s eye and he nodded back, indicating that the floor was hers. She had noticed the brief flash of annoyance on his face and hoped this wasn’t a taste of things to come. If it was, then it could be a long trip.
‘So far we have three victims,’ she said. ‘Like the first two, the latest was found in a restaurant dumpster in Vegas this morning. No ID yet, but there are enough similarities between them to indicate that we’re dealing with a serial killer.’
‘The same dumpster?’ Winter asked.
‘How did they die?’
‘They were strangled.’
Winter tsked his impatience. ‘Nobody just gets strangled. That’s like the epilogue in a novel. All it does is tie up the loose ends. It doesn’t actually tell you anything. No, I’m interested in what happened prior to the strangulation. That’s where the real story is.’
‘All three were missing limbs. One each. Two arms, one leg.’
Winter smiled. ‘Cool.’
Yoko felt a prickle of annoyance. He still had so much to learn. Not for the first time she wondered if those were lessons he was capable of learning. Hendry was sitting there watching, seemingly content to let her get on with it. She had absolutely no idea what he was actually thinking. ‘This is anything but cool, Jefferson.’
‘You’re kidding, right? It’s way cool. This guy’s a collector, and a collector beats a strangler any day. So why does he collect limbs?’
‘That’s one of the questions we need to answer.’
‘What if he’s a cannibal?’
‘At this stage we can’t rule anything out.’
The kid-at-Christmas smile got wider. ‘That would be so awesome. Do you think he’s a gourmet like Lecter, or a tear-it-raw-off-the-bone Neanderthal? So, what else have we got? Age? Race?’
‘All three victims were white, and in their early twenties.’
‘Tourists or locals?’
‘They all lived in Vegas.’
‘Not this time. Theresa Miller, the first victim, worked as a barmaid. Kelly Adams, the second, was a croupier. We don’t know what the latest victim did, but I’m betting she worked in either a bar, a casino or one of the hotels.’
‘You’re thinking that’s how he selects them, right? He watches them at work.’
Yoko nodded. ‘It would make sense. The killer can sit there nursing a drink or playing a few hands of cards and watch to his heart’s content. Chances are, these won’t be bars or casinos that he frequents on a regular basis. He’s going to want to fly beneath the radar and, since this is Vegas we’re talking about, this doesn’t cause any problems. Unlike a small-town bar, it’s the faces that you see more than once that are going to stand out.’
‘So, it looks like he’s got a type.’
Hendry tapped his ring against the table and they both turned to look at him.
‘And that helps us?’ he asked Winter.
‘Maybe. Maybe not.’
‘Okay, let’s assume this is one of those situations where it’s a maybe.’
‘Serial killers tend to target their own ethnic groups,’ Winter said. ‘The fact he’s gone after a white woman three times out of three means that this guy is probably white. Do we know if the victims have any physical similarities?’
Hendry shook his head. ‘The first victim was blonde haired, blue eyed and five foot two. The second victim was a five-eight brunette with hazel eyes. I don’t know about the third victim yet, but I would say the answer to your question is no.’
‘So the killer doesn’t see his victims as a wife or mother substitute.’
‘That’s the conclusion I’ve come to.’
‘There must be something that resonates with him, though.’
‘Clearly, but what?’
‘And there’s your million-dollar question,’ Winter said. ‘Okay, so how does he abduct them?’
Hendry nodded towards Yoko, indicating that the floor was hers again.
‘The first two victims were last seen at work,’ she said. ‘Neither made it home and, even though neither had a history of drug abuse, both had traces of heroin and ketamine in their bloodstreams.’
‘Did they live alone?’
Yoko shook her head. ‘Theresa lived with her fiancé, and Kelly shared an apartment with another girl.’
Without another word, Winter shut his eyes and disappeared into himself. Yoko had seen him do this before. Maybe he was being overly dramatic, or maybe it helped him to focus. Either way, this was a part of his process, a process that got results. The ability to immerse himself in the nightmare was his gift. It was something she didn’t envy him for. Over the years she’d taught herself to walk in the shoes of the monsters she hunted, but Winter took it to a whole other level. He existed in their hearts and souls. Hendry was studying Winter carefully. The way he was staring, it was like he was observing his very own private science experiment. Winter’s eyes snapped open.
‘He drives a van. Probably white, since he’ll want it to be as anonymous as possible, and white’s the colour of the courier.’
‘And you’ve reached this conclusion how?’ Hendry asked.
‘Because he needs somewhere private to work. Cutting off a limb is a messy business. Depending on the tools used, it could get noisy, too. He won’t want to do that at home. It’s too risky. You’d end up with the victim’s DNA everywhere. Also, there’s the small matter of what to do with the bodies. A white van driving into an alleyway won’t raise eyebrows. Everyone will just think he’s making a delivery.’ Winter smiled. ‘I guess in a weird way that’s exactly what he is doing.’
‘And how does he get the victims into the back of his van.’
‘He follows them somewhere quiet, drugs them, then drags them into the back. If it was me, I’d use a tranquilliser gun. That way I wouldn’t even have to get close.’
‘And that’s not risky?’
‘It is. But breaking into their homes is riskier. You’d have to kill everyone else who’s there. Then there are the neighbours to worry about.’
Hendry fell silent for a second. ‘It could work,’ he conceded. ‘Bundy coerced his victims into a van by pretending to have a broken arm.’
‘Exactly. And the good news here is that if you find the van then you’ve got all the evidence you need to secure a conviction. It doesn’t matter how well this guy cleans up, there’s going to be DNA. Blood is a definite, but there will probably be hair and skin cells left behind as well.’
‘So what other insights do you have to share?’
‘Only that the way to solve this thing is to work out why he’s stealing limbs. I mean, what’s that all about?’
Hendry reached for his coffee mug and took a sip. ‘Good question. What is it all about?’
Winter thought this over for a second then turned to Yoko. ‘So far we’re up to two arms and a leg. The arms were taken from the first two victims, right? One from each?’
‘Do we know if they’re lefts or rights?’
Yoko nodded again. ‘It’s one of each.’
Winter grinned. ‘Maybe he thinks he’s Dr Frankenstein. You know, making himself a woman.’
Hendry choked on his coffee. He put the mug back on the table and searched through his pockets for a handkerchief. Yoko was staring at Winter, wondering if he was joking. It didn’t look like he was, but you could never tell. She stared a second longer, waiting for the grin, but there wasn’t one. There wasn’t even the hint of a smile.
‘Are you being serious?’ Hendry asked once he’d stopped choking.
‘Well, it’s one possibility. We’d need to see what he takes next. If he takes the other leg, or the torso, then it’s got to be a possibility. Maybe once he’s built the body he’ll start collecting heads. He could change them like hats.’
Yoko shook her head. ‘I think you’re off the mark here, Jefferson. That’s the sort of behaviour you would expect to see in an offender from the disorganised end of the spectrum. From what we’ve seen so far, I’m figuring that this killer is organised.’
‘Okay, so if he’s not a Dr Frankenstein, what is he?’
Neither Yoko nor Hendry said anything.
‘Well, since no one has any better ideas, I suggest we keep an open mind. Like you said earlier, Special Agent Tanaka, at this stage we can’t rule anything out.’ He paused and smiled. ‘So, we’re looking for a white guy in his thirties or early forties who drives a white van and is hiding in the most transient city in the world.’ The smile turned into a grin. ‘Needles and haystacks, anyone?’