Chapter One

1

Anthony Williams stepped out of the black Suburban.  It was a cool morning, but the sun was warm, and the air had that freshness that follows a heavy spring rain when all the usual polluting particulate in the air has been washed away.

“Special Agent Williams, this is Lieutenant Powell of Langley PD.”

Anthony shook the Lieutenant’s hand with a smile.  He didn’t feel like smiling, but cordiality was key to interagency investigations, and this seemed different from the others he had worked on.  Anthony Williams ran a special division of the FBI that specialized in tracking down serial murderers.  Little was known about his team within the Bureau, and that suited him fine since he hated any form of special attention.  For him, it was the work – bringing killers in made people safe, which made him feel good.

“You’ve been briefed, I assume?” Powell said as they walked towards a soccer field.  Anthony could see a pavilion-style tent had been set up on the field’s edge.

“Some basics and I’ve read some media reports out of Baltimore, but fill me in.”

“Turner,” Powell said to a younger female officer who turned and moved towards them.  “This is Detective Julia Turner.”

“Detective Turner,” Anthony said, shaking her hand.  “What have we got?”

“White male, sixty-six years old.  ID in his wallet says his name is Dr. Charles Ballard.  His business card identifies him as a psychiatrist.  He lives in Baltimore.  We’ve notified BPD so that they can notify the next of kin and get us a positive ID.”

“Good, that’s good,” Anthony said.  Often investigations like this involved unidentified victims, but if this Turquoise – he shuddered at the name – was leaving victims with their ID, that would save some time.

They were nearing the tent now.  Three sides of the white tent were rolled down. Half of the fourth was up, allowing movement in and out while restricting the view of reporters who were backed up most of the way to the parking lot entrance.

“Have you processed the lot?” Anthony asked.

Turner nodded.  “We took photographs before the tent went up – that was you guys.  Not sure they will show anything, though.  Forensics did a sweep but didn’t find anything.  No fresh cigarette butts or anything that looked new for that matter.  It rained pretty heavily here last night, so we don’t think he hung out in the parking lot.  Also, a sweeper truck went through on Friday, and it looks like our guy left it clean.  There’s not much going on here this time of year – maybe some local kids using the field for unorganized sports.

Anthony nodded. “Don’t suppose we got any foot-prints.”

She shook her head and lead him inside the tent.  “You can see this is probably where he stood when he was positioning the body, and—”

“He scuffed up the ground before he left.”

“Looks that way, yeah,” she said with a shrug.  “We checked the bleachers for prints, but we think he was wearing gloves,” she said.

Anthony nodded.  He looked at the body of Charles Ballard.  The early signs of rigor mortis were plainly visible.  The man’s eyes had opened, and the muscles of the face had contorted into a grimace, and the fingers had tightened into claws.  Cop shows never showed these morbid details.  The dead usually looked the way they do at funerals.  He sighed, glancing over his shoulder.

“We,” she began, but Anthony held up a hand.

“Sorry,” he said.  “Give me just a minute.”

She nodded, and Anthony turned and began walking towards the parking lot where another suburban, a twin of his own had just pulled up.  From it stepped Assistant Director Ronald Scott, of the Bureau’s Criminal Investigations Division.  He was Anthony’s boss.

“Special Agent Williams,” AD Scott said with a warm smile.  The man was in his late sixties and exuded a constant paternal quality that Anthony was fond of.  He also spoke with the slightest hint of the southern drawl of his youth, which reminded Anthony of his childhood home.  It was Scott who had created Anthony’s special investigations unit, referred to as SOAT or the Serial Offenders Apprehension Taskforce.

“How are you, director?” Anthony asked, extending a hand that the man shook.

“As well as can be expected,” the man said, taking off his sunglasses.  He looked past Anthony towards the tent.  “I see you’re ready to get started.”

“Well, you know what they say.”

Scott nodded, then he turned, gesturing with one hand that Anthony should walk with him.  They crossed over the parking lot, reaching the grass of the soccer field, and the AD led Anthony about halfway onto the pitch before he turned to and faced him.  He glanced back the way they had come to make sure they wouldn’t be overheard.

“Anthony, you just got back from Chicago.  Are you sure you want to jump straight into this?  No one would blame you if you needed a few weeks to decompress.”  He began walking again as he spoke, and Anthony kept the slow pace along with him.

“I think we are good to get started,” Anthony said after a moment.  “Besides, it’s close to home.”

“You don’t even have a home anymore,” Director Scott said.  “I heard you emptied out your apartment and gave up the lease.”

Anthony grinned.  “I spend at least three quarters of the year in hotels wherever I’m sent.  Cheaper to give up the digs and travel light.”

Scott nodded, but he was frowning.  “You know, it’s important in this job to have a place to ground yourself.”

Anthony nodded as a gust of wind hit them, and he squinted as they stopped walking.  “I get that,” he said, “and eventually, in another couple of years, I may settle somewhere.  For now, though, this is my job.  I’m good at it, and I enjoy the work.”

Scott grunted and resumed his slow pace.  “We’ve been invited by Baltimore to take the lead in this thing,” Scott said.  “Commissioner’s name is Harris… good man.  Public servant.  All that.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’re going to give me bad news now,” Anthony said.

Scott’s face showed his famous smirk again.  “It’s a tough situation for Harris.  This Turquoise is killing with impunity, dumping bodies in public places and slipping back into the night.  They’ve exhausted their leads, and now there’s an inter-state body dump.  He doesn’t want his department running the task force anymore, but he wants the task force to operate out of Baltimore PD.”

“That’s rich,” Anthony sighed.  “A kind of ‘have your cake and eat it too’ approach.”

“It works,” Scott said.  “BPD can say that the FBI is in charge, so the heat is off them.  When this thing is solved, the search ran out of Baltimore’s headquarters, so they can take a share of the credit for the success.”

“I’d really prefer to work out of the field office on this,” Anthony said.  He had no issues with local cops, but actions like these from a commissioner spoke of a degree of politics and calculation that he didn’t like.  He had no time for climbers and politicians.  His job was to catch bad guys – to hunt down monsters.

“Look, I know you have your thing against tribalism—”

“I want to go to work, not wear a jersey,” Anthony said.

“Baltimore has offered the full cooperation of their department.  That comes not only from the commissioner but from the mayor.  Whatever space and resources you need are to be provided,” Director Scott said.  “If Harris or anyone else starts dicking you around, move it up the road to the field office.”

“Moving wastes time and—”

“It’s done, Anthony,” Scott said with finality.  “I can get Rosen in on this if you’re going to have an issue.”

Anthony looked away as he gauged his feelings.  A frown creased his brow, then he shrugged.  “No.  Leave Rosen where he is.”

“Good lad,” Scott said with a smile, placing a hand on Anthony’s shoulder.  “You don’t have to play nice; you just have to keep the gloves on.”

Anthony nodded.  “I won’t let you down, sir.”

Assistant Director Scott smiled.

2

Anthony re-entered the tent.  “Detective Turner – are you busy for the next couple of weeks?”

She looked at him quizzically.  “I don’t think so.”

“Great.  You’re with us in Baltimore as part of this task force if that’s alright with you, Lieutenant Powell.”

Powell shrugged.  “Fine by me.  You going to take Ballard back to Baltimore?”

“As long as there are no issues with red tape—”

Powell held his hands up.  “There will be a chain of custody form, but other than that, you’ll get hassle from anyone here in Langley.  Turner can Liaise with us here if you need anything.”

“I do,” Anthony said.  “I need any security cameras from any businesses here on the main road – Georgetown Pike, is it?”

“That’s right.”

“Any business that looks out on that road.”

Lieutenant Powell pursed his lips in thought.  “Not much on the Pike.  A convenience store up a ways, and the high school, but I’m not sure what either will have.”

“We’ll take anything they have that looks towards the street.  Say midnight to whenever your people get there.”

“Are we looking for anything in particular?” Turner asked.

 “Nothing specific, but it will save us asking later when the video has been recorded over or deleted.”  Anthony looked at his watch.  It was just after 9:30am. “Alright,” he said.  “I’m going to get my people in line and head to Baltimore.  Lieutenant Powell, if you can arrange travel for Mr. Ballard’s body back to Baltimore.  You can contact the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office there.”

Powell nodded.

“Agent Russell here can assist you if there are any issues.  He’ll remain here with Detective Turner and help her with anything she needs.”

“We can handle some canvasing and transportation of a body,” Powell said with a hint of defensiveness.

“I have no doubt,” Anthony said with a smile.  “He’ll be here to make sure that if there is anything you need, it’s made available.  He can ride down with Turner later since she’ll be joining us in Baltimore tonight.”

“Excellent,” Powell said as he nodded, satisfied that there had been no insult to his department.

“I’m going have one of my guys contact the Virginia Department of Transportation for access to their traffic camera network.  If you can have your people here pound the pavement and see if anyone local noticed anything odd last night.”

“Can do,” Powell said.

“I’m going to plan to have a staff meeting tonight at the hotel in Baltimore,” Anthony said.  “I don’t know where we’re staying yet – the Bureau will have a preferred site.  Russell, I’ll let you know, and you can inform Detective Turner.”

Anthony took out his sunglasses.  “I feel like this is the moment to say something really cool like Horatio would, but I’ve got nothing,” he said, smiling as he slid them on smoothly.  “Welcome aboard Turner,” he said, then shook hands with everyone and headed back to the waiting Suburban, sliding into the rear passenger seat.

The agent behind the wheel turned his head.  “Where to now, boss?  You need to pack?”

Anthony shook his head.  “No, my bag in the trunk has everything I need.  Let’s just head to Baltimore.  I want to check in with the field office and find out where we’re staying.  Then we can get settled in.  If you’re good with the address, I need to make some phone calls.”

“Got it,” the agent said and started the car.

3

The drive from Langley to Baltimore was quiet, given that it was a Monday morning.  Most of the traffic, Anthony observed, was going in the other direction, and they made good time, completing the drive to the FBI field office in under an hour.  Anthony had called the members of his team, informing them that they were back on.  This part was always a little surreal to him, like being deployed had been, leaving behind regular life to travel somewhere else to complete a mission.

Anthony’s team had been formed three years earlier by Assistant Director Scott following the apprehension of a killer in California.  Anthony had talked at length with Scott about the importance his team played in the speedy resolution of the case.  Scott had been impressed by the account of how the group had worked together.  At that time, although the idea had been popularized on television by shows like Criminal Minds, where a team from the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit or BAU roamed the country in search of serial killers, the FBI had no specially trained serial-killer hunting unit.  The BAU did profiling certainly, and their work played a significant role in stopping numerous killers, but they generally had no active part in investigations.  After several discussions with upper brass, though, The Serial Offenders Apprehension Taskforce or SOAT had been created.  There had been absolutely no fanfare and as little publicity as possible within the Bureau.  Scott wanted the group to fly under the radar and had asked Anthony to head the newly created team, and Anthony had accepted.

Now, heading into battle again – their fifth such official deployment – Anthony would need to contact the other members of the team.  There were seven, counting himself and not including Henry Thomas, who was his driver for the day.  Thomas had only been added to SOAT a couple of days earlier, having shown up at Anthony’s seldom-used office in the J. Edgar Hoover building with paperwork in hand.  The assignment papers had said that he was being designated as a logistical support person.  Anthony had hand-picked everyone else in SOAT himself and was not keen on having people added by others, but after a brief conversation with AD Scott, he had agreed to give the new guy a shot.

Before getting on the phone to the others, he decided to call ahead to the Baltimore Field Office.  After a few minutes on hold, he was put through to Arthur Roberts, the Special Agent in Charge, or SAC.  Roberts was the local king-of-the-castle in the Baltimore office, and the two exchanged pleasantries.  Roberts said he had been awaiting the call and assured Anthony that he would provide any resources that were required.

“Some equipment – tables and chairs kind of thing, and possibly some manpower as we move forward, but I’ve been instructed to lean on Baltimore City PD as much as possible.”

“Fine, fine, that’s very good,” Roberts said, his commanding voice clear over the phone line.  “Will you need technical support?”

“My team has people,” Anthony replied.  “We travel with most of what we need, so I’m hoping to interfere with your regular operations as little as humanly possible.  As I said, I may end up borrowing a few agents from you to assist with interviews and some of the fieldwork if we’re short-handed, but I like to keep a light footprint.”

“So I’ve heard,” Roberts said.

Anthony wasn’t sure what Roberts meant, but let it pass.  Working relationships could be complicated since SOAT did not really fit into the regular structure of the FBI.  Anthony’s team would set up in field offices around the country as they worked to find some of the worst killers.  They would use the resources of the field offices and take up space, but Anthony didn’t answer to the SAC – the Special Agent in Charge – of those offices.  He reported directly to the Assistant Director, and in a world where hierarchy and protocol were core principles, it had happened on more than one occasion that Anthony had butted heads.  He and AD Scott had multiple conversations about the importance of respecting the space of others.  Each time that Anthony grumbled that he couldn’t spell bureaucracy without bureau, Scott had replied the same way.

“We do things the way we do them.  Do you want to do things your own way, or do you want to be an FBI agent?”

It wasn’t that Anthony had a problem with authority or protocol.  Investigations needed to be conducted a certain way.  Failing to follow the rules could mean after finding a criminal, charges could be beaten based on technicalities.  It was in the heat of the hunt, though, that submitting requisitions for additional space in a field office seemed like a waste of time.  When there was an empty room next to the one his team operated from, Anthony had a habit of asking forgiveness rather than permission to use the space.  The FBI’s way was the opposite; always follow protocol.  Always ask permission.

“Oh – we’ve gone ahead and made arrangements for you and your folks,” Roberts said, bringing Anthony out of his thoughts.  “You’ll be staying at the Hyatt Place.  It’s right downtown – you can walk to Baltimore City Police HQ in about fifteen minutes, but the hotel has said they’ve got a shuttle they can run you and your people up and down.”

“That’s great,” Anthony said.  “Much obliged.”

“I’ll have my assistant send you an email with the address and particulars so you can just forward it off to your team.”

Anthony thanked him, and after a few more minutes of small talk, they hung up.  Then he called his people and filled them in on the case.  Most were not impressed at the lack of turnaround – most of their irritation came from the lack of time to prepare – but Anthony was firm that they would meet to discuss the plan that evening at the Hyatt Place’s bar.  They each gave little protest, and Anthony forwarded the information to each about the room reservations.  The afternoon would be theirs to settle in, relax, and explore a bit of downtown Baltimore before the meeting in the evening.

“I guess I don’t need a call,” Agent Thomas said from the front seat.

“Not this time,” Anthony said with a smile as he looked out the window as they passed the I-95/I-895 split headed into Baltimore.

Thomas smiled.  “About fifteen out if there’s anything else you need to do.”

4

Jake Holt was seated at his desk in the Baltimore Police Department’s homicide unit.  It was covered by two stacks of files, each containing the details of one of the victims of the Turquoise killer.  When he had arrived at the station that morning, the buzz had already spread throughout the building.  The killer had not only struck again but that he had crossed state lines, leaving a victim in Virginia.  Since it was unlikely the police in Virginia would want to take on the investigation themselves, it only made sense that they would request the FBI’s assistance.  Jake knew that once that occurred, Baltimore would be drawn into a multi-jurisdictional task force.  In short, Jake would more than likely lose the case to someone from the FBI.  What was worse, he had a sinking suspicion that he might become the official BPD fall-guy.

And so, Jake had spent the morning reviewing the files and trying to organize things so that he could pass them off to whoever took over.  He also wanted to look through things one more time, just to see if they had missed something – to see if there were some dots he could connect.

“Who knows?” He had thought to himself.  “Maybe this morning, things could fall into place, and I’ll solve the whole thing right here – find some clue we missed that points us in the right direction.”

That hadn’t happened.  Instead, Jake sat at his desk, reading calmly as everyone else in the office avoided making eye contact and chose paths that avoided his desk.  He didn’t blame them.  If he did become the fall-guy, his career, which had been on an impressive incline before all of this, was essentially over.  He’d be lucky to remain a Lieutenant – lucky to keep his job as a cop.  The department’s Public Integrity Department would find fault with his conduct; he’d be placed on leave and then quietly dismissed.  If they let him stay, chances were that he’d end up in some new role, tucked away somewhere in a closet, known as the one who hadn’t caught Turquoise.

He felt sick.  It wasn’t fair.  He could leave the department – move someplace else and start over, but at thirty-three, that wasn’t an appealing prospect.  He had skipped lunch, treating himself to a break room coffee instead, and was still nursing it when Detective Calvin Dean pulled up a seat and sat across from him at his desk.

“You’re going to catch the plague if you sit there,” Jake said, his eyes still on the page he was reading.

“Plague?” Dean asked.

“Yeah.  I must have something contagious with the quarantine I’m under,” Jake said dryly.

Dean laughed.  “Don’t worry about it.”  He sat silently, watching Jake until the other man looked up at him.

“What’s up?” Jake said then.

“I was talking to Susan,” he said in a hushed voice.  He turned his chair sideways so that he could sit close to the front of Jake’s desk and lean closer to avoid being heard.

“Susan, that girl from the bar last week?” Jake asked.

“Who? No! Susan Major Ross’ assistant Susan,” he said.

“Oh,” was Jake’s reply.

Dean waited a moment, but when Jake said nothing, he leaned further toward Jake.  “You wanna know what she said?”

Jake put the file down and looked at the man.  “I don’t know.  Am I gonna like it?”

“I dunno.  Maybe some of it.”

“Okay – shoot.”

Dean took a deep breath, then began, his voice still low.  “She said that they’ve already requested that the FBI take over coordination of a new task force to find our guy,” he said.

“Not great news so far,” Jake said.

“I know, but here is the thing.  They’re going to run the investigation out of BPD, and keep our staff on, adding a couple of people from Langley along with some Bureau personnel.”

“That’s great, but Ross isn’t going to let me stay on.”

“No,” Dean said, looking down.  “I heard they’re going to pull you off entirely and put someone more senior onto the case as the ranking member of the Baltimore contingent.”

“Fuck,” Jake said for the hundredth time that day.  “Who’s coming in from the FBI?  Someone from the Baltimore office, I’m sure – anyone we know?”

“No, that’s the thing.  They’re bringing in a guy from DC – some hotshot who heads a special task force.  They just caught that nut from up in Chicago who was strangling women and dumping them in the river.  Shit, what’s the guy’s name?”

Jake frowned.  “Anthony Williams?”  Jake asked.

Dean’s face lit, and he snapped a finger, pointing it at Jake.  “That’s the guy,” he said.  “They’re bringing in this Williams guy who’s going to run things here out of our department.  Guy’s supposed to be some kind of psycho-killer-whisperer…  What?”  Dean asked.

Jake was smiling thoughtfully.  “You’re sure that it’s Anthony Williams?”

“Yeah, one-hundred percent,” Dean said.  “Why you know the guy?”

Jake nodded, and his smile broadened.  “We served together in the corps.  The guy was like my brother at one time.  We don’t talk as much as we should now, but—”

“But this guy could save your career,” Dean said, smiling now himself.  “They’re putting together a roster of personnel to have on this new joint taskforce this afternoon.  Your name isn’t on it.  There’s a big meeting tomorrow of Williams and the BPD brass first thing in the morning.  If you can talk to your boy before that meeting, maybe he can get you on that list at the meeting.”

Jake was thinking now, frowning slightly.

“What is it?” Dean asked.

“I can’t just call him up out of the blue and say, ‘hey, I need a favour,’” Jake said.  “I wish I knew where he was staying.”

“Easy,” Dean said.  “He’ll be downtown at the Hyatt.”

“How do you know that?”  Jake asked.

“I was dating that FBI agent Sarah Brown six months back.  She was on assignment here in Baltimore, and she told me that’s where they stay.”

“The Hyatt?”

“Yeah,” he nodded.  “We can check and see if that’s where they are.  I used to date this other girl who worked there—”

“Surprise, surprise,” Jake said.

“Easy… you want help or not?”

“Yeah, of course,” Jake said.

“Rooms won’t have agents’ names on them – privacy and all that, so you can’t call and ask for someone.  I don’t know for sure if she’ll answer the phone if I call, but it’s worth a try.”

“That would be great, Cal,” Jake said.

Dean had already fished out his phone and was scrolling through his contacts.

“Never thought I’d be grateful that you’re such a man-whore,” Jake said, grinning.

“I prefer the term player… Ah, here she is,” Dean said.  “Grace.  I’m gonna have to take her to dinner for this.  You’re gonna owe me one.”  Jake nodded and smiled as Dean held the phone to his ear.  After a moment of ringing, someone picked up on the other end.  “Grace!” Dean said emphatically.  “It has been a while.  We’ve got to do a better job of keeping in touch, you and me.  Listen, are you still working at Hyatt Place downtown?  Great,” he said, grinning at Jake.  “You’re there now?  That’s fantastic.  Grace, can you do something for me?  Can you check and see if a reservation for some FBI agents has been entered into your system in the last twenty-four hours?”  He paused, listening while she worked.  “They have – eight rooms.  That’s great, Grace.  I’m free anytime, what about you?  Tonight’s great… actually, a friend of mine and I will stop by later, and maybe you and I can go out for dinner afterwards.”

Jake tuned out the rest of their conversation.  Instead, he gathered the files from his desk and slipped them into his briefcase on the floor.  If Anthony was going to be at the Hyatt, he could pay him a visit and go over the case files.  Then Jake could casually let it slip that he was being removed from the case.  It would be smooth.  It would be easy.

“Hey, you know I’m good for it,” Dean was saying.  “Okay, listen, we’ll stop by at around eight and then when you’re done work at nine, we can grab a late dinner, and maybe a glass of wine, and see where the night takes us.”

“It’s Monday, you know?” Jake said as Dean hung up the phone.

“Duty calls,” Dean said with a smirk. “Where are you off to?”

“I’m going home to get something to eat, read through these one more time, and get ready for a meeting to save my career,” he said.

“I should do the same – not the reading bit, though,” Dean said.  “It’s four o’clock now.  I’ll pick you up at your place for around what – Seven-thirty?”

“That works,” Jake said, grabbing his keys and his jacket.  “And thanks for your help,” he said earnestly.

“You can pay me back when we catch this guy, and you get your next promotion.”

Jake smiled as he pushed his chair in and left.

5

Jake had been one of the original investigating detectives of the first body, Carol Ford, a 63-year-old social worker from Baltimore whose body had been found in the infamous Leakin Park.  She had suffered a single gunshot wound to the chest, and her head had been dyed turquoise post-mortem.  She had been followed by Aaron Thompson, a 59-year-old accountant a month later, with the same manner of death and distinctive marking.  Then, for some reason, the killer had shifted his practice, drowning the victims in turquoise dye.

When the third victim, a female in her late fifties, turned up in November, the Baltimore City PD had officially formed the Turquoise Taskforce.  Jake had absolutely detested the name and its use of alliteration and had joked that they should have t-shirts made.  Then Major John Ross, the head of BPD’s homicide unit, had placed him in charge.  What followed was a whirlwind investigation in which more and more Jake had come to realize he had no real operational authority and little control.

Now Jake found himself standing in a hotel lobby as his friend and partner flirted with the clerk at the front desk, hoping she could pull his ass out of the fire.  He still wasn’t exactly sure how he would handle things and didn’t want to show up at Anthony’s door looking for a favour when he hadn’t seen the man in over two years.  They had been best friends – more like brothers, but with time and separation, they had drifted apart.  Now they spoke a few times a year – birthdays and holidays, and one or two key anniversaries when they would reach out over the miles to check-in. 

“You must know which room he’s in – they’d have to check in with a name,” Dean said, smiling at the woman.

“Grace,” Jake reminded himself, glancing at her nametag.  “The woman” was an unacceptable name for the person who held his future in her hands.

“We’re really not supposed to give that information out,” Grace said with a smile.  She was enjoying the attention, and clearly intended to draw this out as long as possible.

“We’re cops, though,” Calvin Dean said with a smile.  “Homicide detectives…”

Jake glanced at the other clerk who stood behind the desk.  He was in his mid-twenties and had dealt with two visitors during their play, and as the third visitor departed, he leaned forward on the counter.

“Excuse me?” he said in a slightly effeminate voice, looking at Jake.

Jake smiled.  “Yes?” He answered.

“Are you looking for those FBI guys who are staying here?”

“That’s right,” Jake said to the clerk whose nametag read “Nathan.”

“We’re not allowed to give out their room numbers, or the numbers of any other guests who are staying at the hotel,” he said, shooting a look at Grace.  “You need a warrant, or else she could get fired.”

“Oh,” said Jake, visibly disappointed.

“Would you mind your own business?” Grace said, scowling at Nathan.

“Sorry, honey, it is my business because you’re not doing your job,” Nathan said with as much sass as he could muster.

“Like I said, it’s police business,” Dean said, sounding a little irritated.

“Mmhmm… It’s some kinda business, and she needs to get back to work,” Nathan said then turned back to Jake.  “We can’t give you their room numbers, but I can tell you that they’re actually meeting in the Nando’s.”

Jake’s eyebrows raised.  “You’re saying they’re in there right now?”

“Yeah, right now,” Nathan pointed.  “Their boss guy was all about the chicken.  He saw the restaurant while he was checking in this afternoon – said he thought they were only a Chicago thing.  It was pretty cute,” he finished with a smile.

Jake looked from the clerk to Dean, who shrugged his shoulders.  “Told you this would work,” he said and smiled.

Jake took a moment to thank Nathan, then turned and moved across the lobby to a large glass double-door entrance to the dimly lit restaurant.  The floor was a dark hardwood, and the patterns on the round wooden tables gave the place an African feel.  The hostess turned to Jake and smiled.

“Table for one?” She asked.

Jake frowned, looking past her into the restaurant, and in the far corner saw a large group – about eight or so people, seated around a larger round table that had what looked like crocheted umbrella hanging above it.

“I’m here to meet someone,” Jake said.  “I think that table in the corner?”

“Thought you might be one of them,” she said, nodding.  “You’ve got that whole ‘cop vibe,’” she said and smiled.  “Go on in!”

“Thanks,” Jake said.

He walked past her into the restaurant and picked Anthony out of the group.  It looked like they were just settling-up their bill and preparing to leave.  “Just in time,” Jake thought as the group rose.

“Okay, so tomorrow bright and early guys,” Jake heard Anthony’s voice carry over the noise of the restaurant.  “Shuttle leaves at eight.”

There were murmured replies, and then Jake was making his way past the dispersing group towards Anthony, who was still standing at the table.  He was tall, about six-foot-four, though most people would think he was taller, and he carried himself with confidence.  He was charismatic and had a natural smile that graced his face often, and it was matched with the type of laugh where you throw your head back and belt it out.  He had an air about him.  Even in their days in the service during some of the darkest times in Iraq, being around him made you believe everything would be okay, and that was the same way Jake felt now.

Jake watched as Anthony pulled two twenties from his wallet, then thought better of it and pulled out another and tucked them under glass.  Then Anthony looked up, and his eyes met Jake’s.  His reaction was instant.  The smile lit his whole face.

“Jake?” He said, his tone a mixture of incredulity and happiness.

“Surprise,” Jake said with a smile.

The two embraced as any two old friends do in a kind of bear-hug.  “How’d you know I was here?”  Anthony asked as they separated.  He still had one hand on Jake’s shoulder, and he gave it a kind of reassuring squeeze.

“It’s a long story,” Jake said with a grin.  He was shorter than his friend, and had to look up a little and felt distinctly like the little brother Anthony had always treated him like.

“Damn kid,” Anthony said, switching comfortably into their old vernacular.  “It’s good to see you!  I mean, I knew that I would see you tomorrow at the station – I’ve had a chance to review some of the information your department sent, so I knew you were heavily involved in the investigation – but man!  I didn’t expect a welcoming party.  This is too cool.”

They stood there in silence for a few moments, smiling at one another like idiots, then Anthony turned to pick up his jacket.  “Hey, let’s get outta, here so we can hear ourselves think, huh?”

“Yeah,” Jake said awkwardly.

6

They made their way out of the restaurant and back into the hotel lobby.  Jake saw that Dean was still hanging around the front desk, and he gave a wave as Jake passed, following Anthony, who led him to the hotel bar.  He placed his jacket over the back of a chair before sliding into it.  Jake took a seat next to him, and Anthony turned to him, giving him an appraising look.

“Man, it’s good to see you,” Anthony said again.

Jake nodded.  “It’s good to see you too, Anthony.  It’s been too long.”

“It has!” Anthony agreed.  “Corona,” he said to the bartender then.  Jake indicated he would have the same.  “How’s Lindsay?”

“Moms good!” Jake said brightly.

“Still with Walter?”

Jake signed.  “Yeah.”

Anthony clicked his teeth as the bartender slid a Corona across the bar to each of them.  “Can’t pick your parents,” Anthony said.  “And stepparents are the worst from what I hear.  I’ll have to stop in and visit while I’m here.”

“Oh, they’re living up in New York now – Long Island.”

“My old stomping ground,” Anthony said with a grin before taking a sip.  “Lawn-guy-land.”

Jake laughed.  “Yeah.”

Anthony set his beer down and gave Jake that same considering look.  “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of you visiting me here?”

“Can’t a guy visit a buddy when he comes to town?” Jake asked, feeling awkward and a little stupid.

“Oh sure,” Anthony said, “but that’s not why you’re here. You aren’t that sentimental; you’d wait until I came in tomorrow, and we’d tie one on after work and catch up.”

“Jeez, what are you some kind of special agent?”

“I just know you real well, Jake,” Anthony laughed.

Jake was a little annoyed.  The last thing he wanted was to seem like he’d shown up hat-in-hand to ask for help.  Jake had worked out his plan – to offer his own support and insight – to give Anthony some advanced info on the case, and then casually ask Anthony at the right moment to pull a string or two.  He supposed it was what he should have expected, though.  Anthony knew people.  That was always what everyone had always said.  He met them and almost instantly analyzed and categorized them.

“Bet he’s good at math too,” Jake thought and shrugged.  He supposed he should have expected nothing less.  They had been deployed together to Afghanistan and to Iraq.  They had been part of a scout-sniper platoon and had been paired often on missions.  They had needed to know one another.  Of course, Anthony would have sensed something was up.

“Jake,” Anthony said, clinking his beer bottle against Jake’s, snapping him out of his thoughts.  “I can see you’re anxious, and I think it’s probably because you need something, so shoot – what can I do for you?”

“I don’t want it to seem like the only reason I showed up was because I wanted something,” Jake said, feeling uncomfortable.

“Hey, brother, it’s all good.”  Anthony was doing his smooth talk thing.  It was a tone and a vibe he gave off when trying to calm people.  “It’s just an observation. I’m trying to say that if you need something and I can provide it, you only need to ask.  But hey man, come to it in your own way and time.”  He turned a little in his chair, looking up to one of the televisions above the bar.  There was a basketball game on, and Jake felt some tension leave him.

He felt muddled, though.  He’d spent the hours after work until Dean had come to pick him up rehearsing what he would say and how he would say it.  He felt off-guard now, and unprepared.  It was stupid, and it frustrated him.  “Just fucking ask him!” He thought irritably.

Sensing his friend’s discomfort, Anthony spoke.  “I understand that you’ve been in charge of the investigation into this Turquoise Killer to date?”

“Yeah… have been. Sort of. So far anyway,” Jake answered.

“Sort of?”

Jake sighed and began to explain, sliding his bottle in a circle on the dark quartz of the bar nervously as he spoke.  When the first turquoise victim had been found, Jake had been one of the first from homicide to respond.  The investigation had been tumultuous from the beginning; no one knew what to make of it.  Even before the second victim showed up, there were murmurings, and it had seemed like everyone was just waiting for someone else to turn up dead with their heads dyed turquoise.  The press had been quiet initially, but after the second victim was found, they began to connect the dots themselves.

“As a department, we were slow to call it serial murder.  The second victim could have been the result of a copycat – someone trying to cover his own tracks using the weird circumstances of that first body, but after ballistics came back with a match, we knew.  When the third victim turned up, it was clear what we were dealing with.  SIU started campaigning to take over the investigation–”

“But there’s no sexual component or children involved,” Anthony said.

“Right,” Jake nodded. “It was clearly not within the bounds of what they investigate. Their position, though, was that since it was weird, they should be heavily involved.  Major Crimes made a push too – a wack-job serial killer is about as major as it gets, but it was all just noise.  Homicide pushed back. Murder cases are ours.”

“Makes sense.”

Jake nodded again.  “Instantly, it was this high-profile case, but I was left in charge.  Problem was, both Captain Driscoll and Major Ross were heavily involved, calling a lot of the shots.  Mostly Ross.”

“And I’m guessing that one or both have slowed things down while the murders continued.  Now the FBI is coming in, the shit’s flowing downhill and you’re the guy it’s piling up on.”

“I think I was set up from the beginning as a potential fall guy.  Driscoll told me not to take the job.  I got promoted to Lieutenant and put in charge so that if things didn’t go well, the brass could pull me off the case and pin everything on me.  I had been assigned to the case when it was just some freaky homicide.  A social worker two years from retirement shows up dead, and they like the husband for it, so it was my case.  That made sense, but when the heat turned up, and they needed someone to run a task force?”

“You have combat experience and a history of solving crimes quickly.”

Jake eyed him, and Anthony shrugged.

“I’m just saying that they should have put Driscoll in charge, or Major Ross should have overseen it himself.”  Jake sighed.  “Anyway, word is that they’re pulling me off the case so that if you pop this guy quickly, they can blame me for the failures of our investigation up to this point.”

“Career killer.”

Jake nodded.

“Shit,” Anthony said.  “So, I’m guessing it would probably help you out if I keep you on.  Then they can’t sell you down the river.”

“I mean, I know the case,” Jake said.  “I’ve been working it since day one, and I feel like I’d be an asset to you.  I can brief you on all the theories we’ve had – bring your people up to speed.  Once you take this thing over and BPD is out of the way.”

“We’ll be keeping the investigation inside BPD,” Anthony said with a hint of irritation.  “I’ll have logistical control, but I’m here with eight agents, not a hundred.  More are available from the Baltimore field office if we need them, but my mandate is to build a task force for this thing that includes local law enforcement.  My job is to oversee and coordinate it using a mix of resources and personnel,” Anthony said as though he were reciting a memo.

“If you’re running things out of HQ, Major Ross is going to be a headache for you. He has been for me all along.”

“Competent?”

“Mostly,” Jake said.  “But the guy is also an egomaniac.  Thinks everything should be run past him first and wants to control everything.  Basically wants to put himself into a position where he can take credit for success but insulate himself from failure.”

“Corporate culture at it’s finest.”

“Yeah and he’s just good at,” Jake took his first swig of beer and grimaced.  He wasn’t a fan of beer.

 “I’ll handle him,” Anthony said unconcernedly.  Jake smiled, sure that the man had no idea what he was in for.  “What about Captain Driscoll.”

“She’s a good cop.  Really good.”

“Trustworthy?”

“Yes…” Jake said hesitantly.

“But?”

 “But she’s also a climber,” Jake said.  “She’s given up a lot for the job.  Can be a bit of a hammer even when a scalpel is needed.  A shoot-first type of person.  But she listens, and she’s wicked smart.”

“You admire her,” Anthony said, eyeing his friend.

“I do,” Jake said.  “She’s a good cop like I said.  She’s on my shit list right now because I’m afraid she’s letting me take a hit that I don’t deserve, but she’s a great detective.”

“Good,” Anthony said.  “Who wants you off the case exactly?”

Jake shrugged.  “The Major I’m guessing, but it could be from higher up.  There’s nothing official yet – nothing on paper anyway.  Dean – the guy who was at the front desk – has been with me since this started.  He was my partner until I became Lieutenant when I got assigned to this task force.  Anyway – he’s special friends with the Major’s secretary, and she told him some stuff.  Someone wants to give me the boot.”

“Well, that’s just stupid,” Anthony said.

Jake actually laughed at that, and Anthony smiled.  “I mean whether I knew you or not – cutting the lead investigator would be an asshole move.  You should know this case better than anyone.  Besides, from a personal standpoint, you’re the only one from BPD whom I know I can trust.”  He took another sip of beer.  “That and I’ll need you to bring me up to speed before I drop you and take all the credit for myself.”

Jake grinned.

“I do have a question, though,” Anthony said, growing serious.

Jake nodded, taking another swig of beer.

“What asshole named it the Turquoise Taskforce?  You sound like some lunatic-fringe environmental group.”

Jake spat beer into his hand, and Anthony laughed.  “This is gonna be like old times,” he said.

“Yeah,” Jake smiled.  “Let’s catch this fucker.”


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