‘I killed them.’
Special Agent Yoko Tanaka came suddenly awake, the fatigue of the last few days blown to dust. Her first thought was that her ears were playing tricks, but they weren’t. There was no room for misinterpretation.
The kid had very deliberately looked at the camera in the corner of the interview room and confessed. It was the first thing he’d said since his arrest, and that had been the best part of six hours ago. As far as Yoko was concerned, those three words were sweeter than any ‘I love you’.
Given how verbally unco-operative he’d been, it was more than she’d expected at this stage, and more than any of them could have hoped for. Inside she was cheering, but outwardly nothing showed.
She looked at the kid sitting on the opposite side of the table. At that moment it was just the two of them in the cramped interview room. Detective Charlie Dumas was in the chair next to hers, less than a foot away, but he’d ceased to exist. So, too, had the detectives gathered behind the one-way mirror.
The kid was doing his best to make out that he wasn’t paying any attention. Since they’d got here, he’d spent the whole time with his head lowered, staring at his hands on the table top. Serenity personified, like the Buddha only a whole lot skinnier. He’d looked up when he confessed, and then his head had gone straight back down again.
Yoko wasn’t fooled. The kid had positioned himself so he could watch her and Dumas in his peripheral vision. The rest of the room he could see in the one-way mirror. It might appear that he’d left the building, but Yoko would have bet her life savings that he was completely aware of every single thing, no matter how insignificant.
Not that there was much to see. Industrial-grey walls, a strip light that flickered every thirty seconds or so, a wooden table and three red plastic-backed chairs.
And the mirror, of course.
The room was practically identical to every other interview room she’d been in, and there’d been plenty of those during her eighteen years with the FBI. Interview rooms existed outside of space and time. She could have been in any state, in any season, at any time of the day or night.
She wasn’t, though. Yoko was very much tethered to the here and now, and her current ‘here and now’ was Interview Room Number One at the Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office HQ in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. It was the middle of summer, and it was a little after four in the afternoon.
Yoko was here at Dumas’s invitation. When it came to serial criminals, most local law-enforcement agencies were clueless. Everything they knew was informed by what they’d seen on TV or at the local multiplex or read in thrillers, which, although entertaining, could be grossly inaccurate.
This was where the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Units came in. When a serial criminal struck, the locals could put in a request for assistance, and, if the FBI had the personnel to spare, it was happy to help out.
The problem was that ‘if’. The reality of the situation was that there were too many bad guys and not enough profilers. For every investigation the FBI could help out on, there were plenty they had to refuse because they didn’t have the manpower.
Her boss called it the serial-killer lottery, and Yoko thought that pretty much covered it. In this case, Dumas had got lucky and his numbers had come up.
Yoko studied the kid. She’d been studying him since the second she’d properly set eyes on him back in his dorm room. He looked so damn normal. That’s what struck her first, and it was one of the things that got to her the most.
This shouldn’t have been a surprise. Most of them looked normal, as harmless as Sunday School teachers, which some actually were. Blending chameleon-like into the environment was a defining characteristic of a highly organised serial killer.
Even still, Yoko was surprised, which rarely happened these days. During her time with the BAU she’d witnessed every nightmare that had been dreamt up this side of hell, and a few more besides.
She’d seen enough to conclude that either God didn’t exist, or, if He did, He’d given up. She wanted to believe, she needed to believe, but it was just so hard when you spent most of your life down in the dungeons.
The kid was average height, average build, average in so many ways that that alone marked him out. It was like he was trying a little bit too hard to fit in.
His messy black hair touched the collar of his Jimi Hendrix T-shirt, his plain blue jeans were a style that everyone under twenty seemed to be wearing these days, and his Converse sneakers were of a design churned out by the million. The only distinguishing feature was his eyes. They were bright green with a golden yellow band around the iris.
Yoko had seen those eyes before. The venue had been similar: an interview room painted institutional grey with a table bolted to the floor and plastic bucket chairs. The chairs had been black instead of red, and there had been no mirror, but those were the only real differences.
That interview room had been in California’s San Quentin prison, and the eyes had belonged to a man who was widely regarded as one of America’s most notorious serial killers.
Like father, like son.
The Hendrix T-shirt was one of the few things that set this kid aside from his peers. Most kids his age would choose to advertise someone more up-to-date. They’d go for whatever band or singer was the flavour of the month, not some guitarist who’d been dead for decades.
Yoko recognised the image. It was a classic photograph from the Summer of Love. Hendrix’s shadow was cast against the backdrop of a beat-up Marshall amplifier. It was a striking picture that combined chaos and beauty, two qualities that shone through in his music.
A thousand years ago, Yoko had had the same picture on her dorm-room wall. She might despise what this kid had done, but she couldn’t fault his taste in rock music.
On the outside, the kid was everything you’d expect an average nineteen-year-old college student to be. He was neither an extrovert or an introvert. He existed right in the middle of those two extremes, a place where he could hide out in plain sight.
He liked to drink and he liked to party, but not to excess, and certainly not to the point where he lost control. Nobody they’d spoken to could remember seeing him drunk.
The same went for his love life. Everything was as you’d expect. There had been a couple of relationships, but nothing that lasted more than a month, which, again, wasn’t unusual for a college student.
Why hitch yourself to one star when there was a whole galaxy out there to lose yourself in? It might have been a while since she’d attended college but some things never changed.
The kid’s love life was scandal free, which fitted with the profile. Merge like a chameleon. Don’t make waves.
Outwardly he might be your average everyday college student, but that all changed when you went inside his head. Then you were looking at anything but normal. The University of Maryland attracted some of the brightest and best, but this kid was in a league of his own.
He was actually doing two masters degrees. One in criminal psychology, the other in music. And he was acing them both, top of the class by a mile.
Nobody could say for sure how intelligent he was, although judging by the dismissive attitude of some of his professors, the fact he made them look like low-IQ trailer trash definitely rankled.
Yoko became vaguely aware of Dumas. The detective was pushing a Miranda waiver form across the battered desk, a pen on top, looking for a signature. He wasn’t going to get one.
Dumas was a New Yorker born and bred, brash and loud with a short fuse. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut into a neat flat-top, and he’d reached an age where the muscle was starting to soften, and he was happy to let it.
He was Prince George’s County’s chief of detectives, and had twenty years’ experience under his belt. Even so, he was way out of his depth. Everybody in the Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office was out of their depth on this one.
The kid’s rights had been read when he was arrested, and Yoko had witnessed the whole thing. Dumas used his clearest voice, enunciating every syllable like he was the lead actor in a Shakespearean play. He’d done everything by the book. There was no way this case was getting thrown out of court on a Miranda technicality.
After Dumas said his piece, the kid had looked him straight in the eye, then grinned. There was no real emotion behind that grin. It was a blatant attempt to push the detective’s buttons, and it almost worked.
The moment passed, and the kid was hauled out of the room and bundled into a Ford Crown Victoria and driven to the sheriff department’s HQ.
Then, for the next five hours, they’d sat in this interview room without a single word from the kid. Not that Dumas didn’t try. Yoko had to credit the detective with that much. He really had given it his best shot.
And now this. A full confession like a bolt out of the blue. She didn’t want to start counting chickens, but there was a distinct possibility that she might actually get home to her own bed tonight, instead of staying in another lousy motel room.
She stared across the table and said, ‘You’ve had your rights read, and decided for whatever reason that you don’t want a lawyer. The fact you’re obviously not going to sign the waiver is neither here nor there. There were half a dozen cops present when you were arrested, and none of them would hesitate to get up on the witness stand and testify that Detective Dumas did an exemplary job of reading you your rights.’
Yoko paused to allow time for that to sink in, then added, ‘Furthermore, I’d have no problem standing up there and putting my hand on a bible and telling the whole world that not only did you hear your rights being read, you fully understood the implications and intent of what was being read to you.’
The kid grinned at her. It was the first reaction they’d had since Dumas had read him his rights, and it was the first indication he’d given that he even recognised her existence. Three words and two facial expressions in the space of six hours. Yoko was almost impressed. Almost being the operative word.
Up until thirty seconds ago she hadn’t uttered a single word. As for doing anything that indicated what she was thinking or feeling, forget it. When it came to pissing competitions this kid had some talent, but he still had a lot to learn.
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘You can see the mirror and you can see the red light on the camera, so you know this is being recorded. Now, how about you state your name for our viewers at home, and everyone watching on the other side of the one-way glass?’
The grin reduced to a smile. The kid’s eyes were shining, like this was the best game ever.
‘My name is Jefferson Winter.’