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Me, Myself and Why?, Page 2

MaryJanice Davidson


  We moved through various secure areas, slipping key cards through scanner after scanner. There were very few security guards at BOFFO: too many of us were paranoid and would begin acting like inmates. (Some of us, I suspected, had been in the past.) So whatever security could be automated, was.

  Connie Miller was sitting quietly in an interrogation room, dressed in a lime jumpsuit with BOFFO printed in black letters on the back and sleeves. She was handcuffed in front, as she was deemed docile, cooperative, and even oddly friendly, not to mention in her early forties and overweight.

  “Ms. Miller!” George called. “Ready for your day in court?”

  “I can’t wait,” she replied, twinkling up at George. Her blue eyes (almost, I hated to admit, the exact same shade as mine) were wide and practically glowing. “The jury will believe me, once I explain everything.”

  “Don’t forget to mention how you used peach puree to cover up the acidic taste of the poison,” George suggested amiably. He yawned and scrubbed his face with his palms; he’d been up until the wee hours playing computer games, no doubt. “The jury will eat it up. Get it? Eat it up? Heh. You do realize your poor dead babies are going to be waiting for you in hell, right?”

  I resisted the urge to kick him in the ankle. For one thing, George was an atheist. Rather, he did believe in God, and he believed he was that God. For another, he wouldn’t have minded if Miller had killed twenty babies. George, like all sociopaths, lived for fun, passion, and challenges. Morality wasn’t just an alien concept for him, it was utterly unknown.

  No, he was just fucking with her. It was cruel, even for someone like her. Whatever we were, we were professionals.

  I forced a smile, ignoring the throbbing in my temples. “If you could just sign here. And here. And initial here.” It was a little like accepting a package from FedEx. “And sign here.”

  Connie obediently scribbled with the soft-felt-tip pen I’d handed her.

  George sprawled himself in a chair opposite her and stroked his dead-rainbow-Jesus-dog tie. “Your problem is, you got greedy. One baby, okay. Two? Prob’ly would’ve worked. But four? And you crossed state lines? And let every hospital have your chart?”

  “I can explain everything,” she muttered, her red hair falling into her eyes as she huddled over the paperwork I was handing across the table.

  “Tell it to the judge, sweetie.” Like many sociopaths, George was charismatic and could make an insult sound like a flirtation. He was even leering at her, which would only confuse the poor woman.

  It wasn’t the first time I’d questioned Michaela’s judgment in putting a pure sociopath on the team. They were just so darned unpredictable, not to mention unreliable when it came to pulling their weight at the Secret Santa party.

  “You can’t talk to me like that,” the killer said primly. “The Lord has blessed me with many babies and many challenges.”

  “Challenges!” George hooted.

  “Stop it,” I pleaded. What was his point, other than to upset her? She had been caught. The jury would put her away. She’d spend the next thirty years in Shakopee. There was no point to this and it was upsetting the prisoner.

  And me.

  “Yes, stop it!” she shrieked, and lunged over the table at me. I stepped away from her and

  Chapter Two

  Caught her by the wrist, twisted, ignored her howl, and flipped her away from me.

  “Ohhhhhh!” someone chortled. “And Shiro sinks a three-pointer right before the buzzer!”

  George Pinkman. Of course. “Be quiet,” I snapped. Connie Miller came up for me, clawing, shrieking something about how my children were not safe from the whims of the Lord, how she was the Angel of Death, how she would separate the wheat from the yak-yak-yak. The prattling set my teeth on edge and made it easy to break her arm at the elbow, just so I could hear something different come out of those sweaty, nonsense-mongering lips.

  Foolish woman. I could understand her initial mistake, as Cadence was an idiot who could not defend herself against a paper cut, but once I was there, what was the point of pissing me off?

  Perhaps she was fooled by my size. Like many Asian Americans, I was a bit short.

  It was hard to talk over Miller’s screams, but I managed. “You have explaining to do, George Pinkman.”

  “What?” Being a bully, he was amazed when things went too far, and did not make the connection between his comments and her reaction. “She’s the psycho, not me.” He laughed, a nasty sound and entirely out of place amid the screams of pain.

  A single guard raced into the room, trying to look everywhere at once. He secured Ms. Miller’s hands—this time behind her back—and hauled her away, presumably to the infirmary. I did not especially care where they took her, so long as I did not have to listen to the wailing.

  On his way out the door, he turned. “You all right, Cadence?”

  “That’s not Cadence,” George the everlasting blabbermouth said. “That’s Shiro.”

  As always, I was amazed to be confused with my sister. We looked, spoke, and acted nothing alike. Could this guard not see that? He was trained security, one of the few we had! Maybe we needed to go full automation. . . .

  Maybe there was something in the nose. . . .

  “Special Agent Jones, then,” the guard corrected himself, unruffled.

  “I am fine. She was unable to injure me.” What a pity I could not say the same about George. Every time he opened his mouth he injured me. What a terrible man! But I knew perfectly well why Michaela partnered him with me. . . . I was the balance to his checks. It showcased her wisdom and bureaucratic ruthlessness.

  George watched the guard take Miller away. “Yeah, you know there’s gonna be more paperwork, right? I don’t mean a little more, a Post-it more, I mean reams.”

  I stifled a sigh. Sadly, he was right. Everlasting paperwork, the bane of law enforcement. A thirty-second incident would require three hours of documentation.

  “I know.”

  “You can do it,” he told me, as if I took orders from any man. “You’re the one who broke her damn arm. They probably heard the snap all the way down Nicollet Avenue.”

  I eyed him and thought about breaking his arm. But more paperwork I did not need. Also, such an action would result in even more sessions with the idiotic Dr. Nessman.

  I checked my watch. “We have a debriefing. The paperwork will wait.”

  With George trotting at my heels and my identity card flashing through all the right automated checkpoints, we made it to Da Pitt in less than five minutes. The other agents and Michaela were already seated. We took the last two empty chairs. Almost the entire Minneapolis staff was here—like most federal bureaucracies, we were a small field office that reported to a much larger office in D.C. Sometimes I shuddered to think about the lunatics that must be running around that building. They probably recruited straight from the Clinton and Bush administrations.

  “Thanks for joining us, Cadence,” my supervisor said in the only tone she knew—sarcastic.

  “Wrong,” I replied in the tone only I could get away with when speaking with Michaela.

  Michaela blinked. “Oh. Sorry, Shiro. Didn’t recognize you right away.”

  “Wait till you hear—aagghhh!” George lifted his foot up and cradled it like a baby. Like all sociopaths, he could handle anyone’s pain but his own. Everyone else around the table looked startled, but no one dared to chastise me for the heel shot.

  Like the rest of BOFFO, we ignored his shriek. A day without a sociopath’s agony is a day without sunshine.

  “Hey, hi, Shiro, no offense, but do you think Cadence could come back?” Tina McNamara said, indulging in her tic—she was snapping her fingers in a rapid, complicated tattoo. “I’m having a housewarming party on the fifth and I was hoping to invite her.” Snap-snap, snappity snap-snap-snap. “It’s always so much more of a good time if she comes. Everyone just loves her to death.”

  “A . . .
party?” I managed not to choke on the word.

  “Maybe you could leave her a note. Oh, and tell her to bring a side dish. Maybe that pasta salad she learned off Rachael Ray?”

  I loathed Rachael Ray.

  “With the chicken and the tomatoes?”

  Almost as much as I loathed tomatoes. I eyed Tina with real distaste and

  Chapter Three

  Found myself in the briefing room. Which was mega-weird, since the last thing I remembered was Connie Miller lunging at me. I sneaked a peek at my watch. Nine minutes, gone. Long gone. And George, for some strange reason, was holding his foot and groaning.

  “What?” I asked, assuming someone had been talking to me.

  “Oh, good, you’re back,” cute little Tina McNamara said. She was a teeny brunette with brown eyes and quick hands. Unbeatable on the firing range (except for my sister) and (so it was said) in the bedroom (except for my other sister), she threw a wonderful party. “Can you come to my housewarming on the fifth?”

  “Really?” Ooooh, I love parties! “I’d love to! Can I bring anything?”

  “Rachael fucking Ray’s fucking pasta salad,” George hissed, massaging the top of his foot.

  “Jeepers, are you okay?”

  “Shut the fuck up.”

  “If everyone is finished,” Michaela said calmly, “perhaps we can get some work done?”

  And so the debriefing on the ThreeFer Killer began.

  Chapter Four

  I love crime scenes.

  I guess that sounds pretty bad, and I apologize. But to be perfectly honest, there’s nothing like it. It’s not just the puzzle it represents (who? why? and why today? why not yesterday, or tomorrow? and will he/she do it again? and if so, why why why?), it’s the camaraderie—the team pulling together.

  It’s drinking bad coffee out of dirty cups. It’s teasing Wenkum because his wife kicked him out again, and teasing Nadia because she’s getting pretty heavy in her second trimester. It’s avoiding Beth if it’s a rape scene because she has a—a—she has a thing. A bad thing.

  It’s—you know. Well, maybe you do know, being a criminal psychiatrist and all. For me, a crime scene is wonderful because I know I belong there. Even better, everyone else on scene knows I belong there. There! Now how many people can say that about their job? And who wants to attach herself to an office cube? Or run tar alongside a new street?

  And don’t get me started on the adrenaline rush. And—this is going to sound awful—I feel proud that I can flash my ID and get waved past yellow crime-scene tape, get as close as I want to the bodies. It’s gross, but cool. None of the reporters or public can get that close—not without cheating—but I can.

  In addition to a brand-new puzzle to solve (and oh Lord, I love puzzles), there is the delicate balancing act between the Feebs and the local police.

  And it’s not the Feebs’ fault! So you mustn’t blame them. The average street cop will draw his gun a couple dozen times in the course of a career. An FBI agent? Maybe three times in a career. Maybe. And our agents . . . well, of course, we don’t even have guns. (Some say this is for the sake of public safety, but my sister believes it’s a matter of cost efficiency. After all, she’s never needed one.) Anyway, most federal agents specialize in investigation, computer manipulation, voice recognition, that sort of thing. So if you meet a Feeb who’s in his or her late forties, you think to yourself, Wow, he’s got tons of experience!

  But in city-cop years, that forty-something Feeb is maybe . . . five? Yeah. That sounds about right. A kindergarten fed.

  The cops’ disdain doesn’t stretch to BOFFO, because most of the people on the planet don’t know about BOFFO. We see quite a bit of action, but it’s not like we can ever talk to a reporter about it or anything. Hello, reporter, good-bye, funding.

  Besides, it doesn’t matter who draws and who doesn’t. Who sets up a computer sting and who chases the bad guy while sirens wail and


  children scatter.

  I just want to catch the guy. I don’t care how it gets done, and I don’t care who gets the credit—credit for our bureau would be a disaster for us. And I think that’s probably the only reason the Minneapolis cops actually help us. Especially me.

  Not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty good at talking to them. They like talking to me, they like taking credit, they like the fade we do as they solve the case. And that helps us all play nice.

  “My, my,” Detective Clapp said, slurping at—judging from his jittery countenance—his fifth or sixth cup of coffee that morning. “Look what the dog barfed up.”

  “You be nice,” I said reproachfully. I had pulled the powder blue paper booties over my sneakers (Michaela could be a slave driver, but she didn’t care how we dressed . . . in fact, since most people didn’t know about BOFFO, she didn’t want us looking too much like federal agents) and now crossed to him, carefully skirting the photographers and the CSI agents, and hoping no one would spill coffee on my butter yellow T-shirt and faded jeans. I flinched back as an investigator darted past me and took a quick succession of pictures and—whew! Didn’t trip.

  Oh, and while I’m on the subject: I would never, ever imply that the CSI folks aren’t helpful, because they are, and we couldn’t do our job without them. But they don’t solve crimes like it’s shown on TV. None of what we do is anything like TV. They collect evidence and write reports and give the reports to us. We solve crimes.

  Did that sound conceited? I didn’t mean it to. I guess I just wanted to set things straight. Does that mean I’m vain, or just anxious for people to know the truth? Might have to mention that in my next session . . . unless you don’t want to talk about it. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it.

  “D’you want a cup?” Clapp was saying, offering me a plastic cup full of vile-smelling sludge.

  “Thanks,” I said, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I’d almost rather drink my own vomit than choke down a cup of—

  I’m sorry. That was disgusting. Can we scratch that? Put it down to a stressful morning. . . . It’s not every day I wake up to purple vibrators and lemon slices in my bathroom.

  “I hate to wreck your morning, blondie, but it looks like we’ve got another one from the ThreeFer.”

  I stared down at the crime scene, hoping none of the reporters (how did they get there so fast?) were getting a zoom shot of my inordinately large ass. It was definitely textbook ThreeFer, a nickname George had come up with that, as these things sometimes do, had stuck.

  The ThreeFer Killer always took victims in threes (thus the catchy nickname). He always left exactly three bodies. This time he’d left his awful mess on the corner of Chicago and Lake, which meant we needed to clear the scene ASAP or some poor little kid in the area would have nightmares for the rest of the year.

  Ah. The other thing. The crime scenes were always outside and in fairly open spaces. We had yet to find a ThreeFer victim who had been dead longer than ten hours. And that in itself was a puzzle, if you thought about it. Certainly it made things more risky for the killer. So why do it?

  Well. Why do crazy people do anything?

  And who would know better than a BOFFO agent?

  They do it out of compulsion.

  They do it because they can’t see any other way to do things.

  They do it because the voices in their heads won’t let them rest unless they do it that very specific way. Every single time.

  Poor bum. ThreeFer was doing awful things, but it seemed to me he had been a victim first. And now a slave to the rituals he forced himself to complete. I could feel sorry for him, but that wouldn’t stop me from catching him.

  “Shit on toast,” George said, yawning. He was on his second cup of coffee already—black. Yech! Why not just suck on the coffee grounds, get the caffeine jolt that way? “Probably should have paid more attention in the briefing.”

  “Yes.” I could have said a few more things but didn’t. But yes—we had just had an
extensive briefing on this killer, one George had practically slept through.

  “What was the gist?”

  “Check your notebook,” I advised sweetly, knowing full well my charmingly sociopathic partner hadn’t written down a thing that morning—except maybe the phone number of the new redheaded temp in Processing.

  I had my notebook out, and, looking smugly officious, I scribbled in it. Among other things, there was a perfectly nice hotel not three blocks from here—had the killer stayed there? This wasn’t the only state he’d dumped vics; he could be from anywhere in the Midwest—maybe even anywhere in the country. The hotel was a place to start—and probably not much else. Time to talk to the manager, the housekeepers, the chambermaids, the loading-dock fellas.

  “Aw, come on, Cadence,” George whined. “Give me a break. I was, like, all freaked out when your sister committed felony assault earlier.”

  “Sure you were.” As if George “Psychoboy” Pinkman were freaked out by anything that didn’t directly affect his id or ego.

  “Caaaaaa-dence . . .”

  I hated when he said my name through a nasal whine. But I kept jotting (at least one of us could be a professional, for gosh sakes!), noting the local businesses within thirty yards of the bodies. More people to question. Security-camera film to subpoena and stare at for hours. Cops knocking door to door to door. That’s where the locals were invaluable. They’d do the door-to-door interviews, write the reports, scarf up all the scut work, the legwork. They’d pick through hundreds of pounds of garbage, search hundreds of yards of carpet, sidewalk, and street for the tiniest hair, the smallest bit of trace evidence. If anything looked promising, they’d send one of BOFFO to reinterview.

  Yeah, it’s part of that process where civilians get peeved because they have to tell the same story four times to eight people. And who could blame them?

  It’s ironic I’m in this business, because sometimes crime solving isn’t as much like puzzle solving as it is like capture the flag.