John Hardy Bell
The Darkest Point - Teaser
FBI Special Agent Peter Crawley was all-too-aware of his reputation. Cold. Aloof. Distant. Robotic. He’d even been given a nickname by certain members of the B.A.U. Team: Doctor Ice. It bothered him more than he cared to admit, but he did his best to take it in stride. Deep down, he understood that the moniker was justified. The twenty-three-year Bureau veteran had many strong suits, but emotional engagement wasn’t one of them.
So when tough questions arose about a former special agent’s decision to join the task force charged with discovering the whereabouts of her missing father, Crawley addressed them with a forced composure that belied his mounting irritation. In addition to being one of the finest profilers he’d ever encountered, Camille Grisham was also a friend, which made the criticism of her inclusion – an inclusion that he’d insisted on – feel very personal.
But because Doctor Ice’s well-earned reputation didn’t allow him to take such things personally, he had to ensure that his poker face held up, despite persistent badgering from the two local agents assigned to the task force; agents he didn’t know, and based on early results, didn’t like.
“Look, I understand that she has a long history in Behavioral Analysis and that the two of you are close. But she quit, remember? And based on everything I’ve heard, she has no desire to come back.”
The most vocal of the pair was a hothead named Gabriel Pratt. As profilers went, Pratt was made of all the right stuff. Crawley could see that the moment he laid eyes on him. Subsequent reviews of his personnel file confirmed it. The problem with Agent Pratt was his ego. His was the classic ‘big fish in a small pond’ syndrome that afflicted many a D.C. hotshot forced to relocate to a Midwest field office too small to handle the weight of their considerable talent.
“I know what’s at stake for her, so I don’t want to sound insensitive,” he continued, “But I'm not sure what she can bring to this investigation beyond her witness statement.”
“He’s got a point, sir. How do we know she won’t let her emotions get the best of her? It’s certainly happened before.”
Allison Mendoza was Pratt’s less-talkative yet equally presumptuous partner. Like Pratt, Mendoza came highly recommended. And like Pratt, she assumed that her opinion was much more relevant to Crawley than it actually was.
“With all due respect to both of you, it isn’t your job to understand Camille Grisham. You’re here as my CBI liaisons. And while I can appreciate your experience and ability, your involvement here is procedural. In other words, I didn’t have a choice. So before you waste another breath questioning Camille’s credentials or my judgment, please put your misguided ego aside long enough to understand the actual flow of things here. You’re on this task force because the crime occurred in your city. Camille Grisham is on this task force because Director Spaulding wants her to be. The sooner you accept that, the sooner we can all move forward. I want Agent Grisham to feel nothing but welcomed here. Is that understood?”
“Agent Grisham,” Pratt chided.
“Is that understood?”
Pratt and Mendoza looked at one another, their eyes silently communicating a mutual disdain of Crawley, his condescending tone, and their inability to do anything about it.
“Understood,” Mendoza answered, her stare still fixed on Pratt.
“Loud and clear,” Pratt concurred, wisely taking his partner’s cue.
Doctor Ice breathed an undetectable sigh of relief. “Great. Now can we move ahead with the briefing that brought us here in the first place? Camille is on her way, and I want to make sure we’re fully up to speed before she arrives.”
He opened his briefcase and pulled out three manila folders, two of which he gave to Pratt and Mendoza. He opened his and immediately began reading.
“From page two of the report. There are four dead that we know of so far. All women. Two in Pennsylvania, one in Tennessee, and one in Missouri. In each case, the victims were abducted from their homes, taken to a remote location, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and strangled. The mutilation patterns are consistent with those used by Daniel Sykes. As we know, Sykes is in a federal prison awaiting execution. That leaves us with the probability of a serial copycat. We’re in Denver because the two latest incidents, the abductions of Paul Grisham and Jacob Deaver, occurred here.
Crawley flipped to the next page of the report. “Daniel MacPherson is the man currently in custody for Deaver’s abduction. MacPherson is the brother of Candace MacPherson, Sykes’s last victim. Deaver reportedly met MacPherson during his research for a book he was writing about Sykes. The extent of their relationship during that time is unclear, but we do know that at the time of his arrest, MacPherson was posing as Deaver in an effort to get close to Camille. This obviously makes him a prime person of interest in Deaver’s disappearance. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to establish a firm connection between MacPherson and the disappearance of Paul Grisham or the previous murders, even though it’s safe to assume they’re connected. DPD has interviewed him several times to no avail. I’m counting on us to do better.
He flipped to the next page. “There’s scant physical evidence aside from the two notes sent to Paul Grisham’s residence and the B.A.U. Offices, respectively. The notes were identical in content. DNA from blood found on the paper is a match for Kerrie Wallace and Harley Middleton, two of the victims. But there are no prints, and the writing doesn’t match samples taken from MacPherson, Deaver, or Paul Grisham. That basically leaves us at square one.”
Crawley closed the report and looked up at Pratt and Mendoza. They were attentive despite already knowing the details of the report. It would have been easy to tune out his summary, but they didn’t. He took this as a hopeful sign that they were team players.
“Only about Camille,” Pratt said.
Crawley rolled his eyes, the first visible crack in Doctor Ice’s armor.
“Specifically, as it relates to our suspect,” Pratt clarified.
“She believes that MacPherson is involved in her father’s disappearance.”
“An assumption we’re all making at this point.”
“But we don’t have the skin in this that she does. Her confrontations with Daniel before his arrest were contentious, and she’s already assaulted him once. How do we know she won’t go after him again?”
“Jesus, Gabe. Can you blame her?” Mendoza said. “I’d want to beat the hell out of him too. And so would you.”
“I’d like to think that if either of us were in that position, we’d have enough foresight to remove ourselves from the situation before it escalated to that point.”
“You’re telling me that you’d sit on the sidelines if it were your mother or sister out there?”
“I’m telling you that for the integrity of the investigation, I’d have to.”
Mendoza laughed. “That’s bullshit, and you know it.”
“Of course it’s bullshit.”
Pratt and Mendoza spun around at the sound of the new voice in the room. Neither of them said a word when they saw who it was.
For his part, Doctor Ice stood up from his desk and smiled, refusing to suppress the overwhelming emotion that this moment inspired in him.
“Good morning, Camille.”