With the body count at five, and the blade marks left on the latest victim determined to be have been made by an eight-inch blade, Mac Jackson had little doubt in his mind that they had all died at the hands of the same killer. Another serial killer on the streets of San Francisco, but this one left no cryptic clues or taunting letters, made no demands to the police or the general public. He didn't appear to want attention or recognition. Jackson suspected he had a particular grudge, or some type of personal vendetta, only he hadn't been able to figure out what.
Exhausted from working through the night–even with a little extra civilian help to which he'd consented–he rubbed at his eyes, and took a slurp of coffee that had already turned cold. He'd been making notes and sifting through the scant evidence left behind since the young woman's body had been found by a lonesome jogger, during the early hours of Tuesday morning. What the hell is your motive? He set the mug down, sighed, and looked at the photo of the deceased. If he'd been called to the scene half an hour sooner, he might have been able to ask the killer that question. Her body had still been warm.
"She was just a kid," he said to Red. "Twenty-four. Only two years older than Bryce."
Red shook his head, no more enlightened than Jackson. "I know. There's no pattern. He butchers men, women, old, young, but never rapes them or robs them. What's the motive? What the hell does this bastard want?"
"I wish I knew," Jackson said, grimacing at another mouthful of cold coffee, "but one thing's becoming clear; he's getting careless or cocky. Thirty minutes sooner and we'd have had him."
"Doubt it. That was deliberate, Jackson. The bastard knows what he's doing. He doesn't want to get caught until he's ready."
"Well, so far he doesn't have to worry about that. We've got extra cops patrolling the streets, and he still manages to leave us a warm, dead body and no witnesses. There's something we're missing." He pressed his hands and finger-tips together, hooked his thumbs under his weary chin, and closed his eyes, trying to get inside a killer's head.
"This is his arena, man, his stage," Red said. "He's killing right under our noses like there's not a damn thing we can do about it. And the warm body?…he's performing. That's arrogance."
"Or anger." Jackson opened his eyes. "Or maybe he's bored."
"He's not bored," Red said, shaking his head. He strode around his desk to sit on the front edge of it, facing Jackson. "He thinks he's superior. He stays one step ahead, but barely, he leaves virtually no clues, and he seems to murder at random."
"And always in a busy location." Jackson drummed his long fingers impatiently on his desk. "Why do you think he makes no effort to conceal the bodies?"
"He wants them to be found. He wants us to know he's killed again, and we've failed again."
"To protect the city. To do our jobs. He's not just satisfying some sick thrill, you know, he's making fools of all of us, of law enforcement."
"So, maybe that's his message. There's a reason for the killings, I'm sure of that, but the real anger is against the law. And he wants us to figure out why."
"I'm going out on a limb here," Red said. "Call it one of your hunches, but I'd say he's never done time. He's not going to be in the database."
"What makes you say that?" Jackson looked at his partner with interest.
"Something tells me he hasn't reached his zenith. He's leading up to something, and until we figure out what it is, he's not going to get caught. He wants to get caught, but not just yet, not until he's ready. And another thing…I don't believe he kills at random. He picks his victims."
Jackson nodded, thinking, pinched the bridge of his nose while he contemplated. Finally he looked back at Red, still perched on the edge of his desk and looking as beat as Jackson felt.
"You know," he began, "I can't stop thinking about the tongue. He'd already slit her throat, so she'd have been dead already, bled out, so why cut it out? And why didn't we find it?"
A thorough search of the area where the body had been found had not turned up the missing muscle.
"I'd say she pissed him off," Red suggested. "Maybe she said something he didn't like."
"You think he knew her?"
Red shrugged. "Maybe, probably not. But I'd say he'd been in close proximity the night he killed her, maybe listening to her conversation."
Jackson picked up the report on his desk and reread the notes about the young woman's last night. "She'd been out with friends," he read aloud, "celebrating a promotion, according to her friends." He searched Red's face. "They work in finance."
"Jealousy?" Red suggested.
"Possible. Except her friends state they were all doing well."
"Yeah, well maybe one of them thought she wasn't deserving, thought she got promoted out of turn. She was considerably younger. They were in their forties. Hell, I'd probably be pissed if I got overtaken by a kid in her twenties."
"But if they're all hot shots, I'd say it's unlikely," Jackson said. "Anyway, they all checked out. They all left together, without her, and went straight home. She'd had too much to drink, apparently wanted to walk it off."
Jackson shrugged. "It happens. None of the other diners remember anyone suspicious. Nothing we could use."
"What about credit cards?"
Jackson shook his head. "Slow night, only a few transactions and they checked out."
"So he paid cash."
"Maybe. No one remembers a lone diner. No one paid her group any attention."
"Well, someone did." Red pursed his lips, removed his legs from the desk, and walked round to the other side to sit down. "If the guy was there, he looked like a regular. He fitted in. No one noticed him."
"And a regular guy can fly under the radar, mingle easily. That's how he does it." Jackson slapped a hand down on his desk. "We're looking for someone who fits into society. Someone with a job, maybe even a few friends. On the one hand he kills, has an aversion to the law, but he also lives a part of his life normally, like everyone else."
"Could have been someone she worked with. One of the group. Or a schizophrenic."
"Not a schizophrenic. I don't believe there's any distortion of reality for this guy. I believe he knows exactly what he's doing."
Red nodded. "You're right about him being local."
Jackson pulled up a fresh sheet in his notepad and began to scribble. "Here's what we've got," he said to Red, "I think he's a white male, probably late twenties to early thirties, strong, agile, social to an extent but really a loner."
"Little or none."
"Think he killed 'em?"
"His family? No. If he's local we'd have gotten something on that. He's from this area, so they're either dead already, or they've moved away."
"Why d'you think that?"
"Hunch. Plus, he can go about his business more easily with no one keeping tabs on his hours, his comings and goings. My gut tells me this guy is a loner, not one of her group."
"Good enough for me." Red yawned behind his hand, and rubbed his eyes, ran a hand through his hair, and stretched in his seat. "I'm beat." He laced his fingers together behind his head and leaned back, putting his feet up on his desk. "Still think it's a thrill killer?"
Jackson sighed. "I don't know. Yes…and no. There's an underlying motive, but he's a sadistic bastard. He enjoys the violence."
"That, the genitals, and the fact he mutilates them after they're dead. The two back in ninety-five…I believe it's the same guy." He locked eyes with Red, saw his furrowed brow, and could almost hear the cogs turning in his partners head. "What is it?"
"The fact her body was still warm."
"What about it?"
Red unlaced his fingers, removed his feet from his desk, and leaned forward in his seat, his face taut with concentration. "The jogger found her at four-thirty, Tuesday morning."
"Right." Jackson watched his expression with interest.
"If he'd been inside the restaurant and followed her out, killing her on her way home, her body would have been cold by the time the jogger found her. We know the jogger didn't do it because he'd only left the house ten minutes earlier, confirmed by his wife, and he had no blood on his clothes."
"Ok." They'd been through this already, but Jackson didn't mind going over it again. Maybe they'd missed something the first time.
"We know she'd been dead for only about thirty minutes, so, if time of death was four in the morning, we've got six hours to account for from the time she left the restaurant to when she died."
"Well, we know she went for a walk, she was drunk, and she was alone. Maybe she fell asleep somewhere, and maybe he didn't follow her. He might not have been in the bar at all; no one remembers a lone guy, so maybe it was purely random and he stumbled upon her sleeping it off."
"It's possible," Red said, "but it doesn't fit with the tongue. That kind of violence had to be provoked. It wasn't random. She said something to piss him off. He was in that bar, and he followed her out. Know what I think?" He didn't wait to be asked. "I think he tortured her for a while."
Jackson sighed. "No marks on her body to suggest it, no ligature on her wrists or feet."
"Mental torture. I think she felt comfortable with him, trusted him. She went with him willingly."
"She was drunk," Jackson reminded him, a headache beginning to kick around at the back of his eyeballs. "She wouldn't have had the same fear she might have had sober."
"That's true, too, but…if he was mad enough to hack off her tongue, he wouldn't waste six hours idly chatting. Somehow, he gained her trust before he killed her, and he took six hours to do it. There's a reason for that, and I want to know what it is."
Jackson scratched his head. "We've been over this. I don't know."
"Jackson," Red shot him a dry look, "you're the master of hunches, and maybe it's rubbing off. My hunch: he's testing himself."
"Red." Jackson stared at him in astonishment, his headache suddenly vanishing. "That's it. You're brilliant." He punched the air.
"What did I do?" Red stared back in surprise.
"You hit the nail on the head, that's what you did." Jackson smacked his hands together triumphantly. "He is testing himself, not us." He laughed out loud. "Why didn't I see it before?"
Jackson grinned at Red's puzzled expression. "You see how the murders have been escalating? Both in frequency and violence?" He didn't wait for Red to comment. "I figured he's been working his way up to something." He pulled open the file on his desk with the old notes from the earlier murders. "The ones in ninety-five…those were homeless, nobodies…their bodies could drift about for days, months, and no one would miss them. He was warming up, getting a taste for murder. He didn't care if anyone found them."
"And these latest ones?"
"These victims have families. He knew they'd be missed. He wanted them to be found. He wanted to know he could walk into a crowded area, somewhere like the Embarcadero, choose a victim, and kill them without getting caught, and then watch how the case unraveled. See what he could learn from the moves made by police."
"If we don't believe the victims were chosen at random," Red said, Jackson's sudden enthusiasm rubbing off on him, "then there's a common link, something that makes him snap, something that ties them all together."
"Yes." Jackson smacked his desk again. "We need to find that link." He grinned across at Red. "We're finally making progress."
Red seemed to be on a roll. "And if the victims were chosen by something they said or did, he upped the stakes each time, increased the violence, let us get closer. He tested himself to see how far he could go before we start closing in."
"And that tells me something else. Red, when he abducts his final victim, he's going to do it in a public place. He's been training for it, building up to it. He's going to try to snatch him or her from right under our noses."
"Think he's following the reports on the news?"
"I don't doubt it. The vicious bastard has enjoyed destroying those families."
"That's it." Red leapt from his chair, wide-eyed and without a trace of exhaustion.
"What?" Startled, Jackson stared at him as if he'd gone mad.
"Jackson, you're fucking brilliant." Red grinned.
"Piss off, Dennis."
"Don't you get it?" Red flicked a paperclip that hit Jackson on the nose. "You just figured out the motive."
Madness and Murder is Jenny Hilborne’s first novel, set in San Francisco. Her second suspense novel, No Alibi, is also set in San Francisco, featuring homicide inspector, John Doucette; an experienced inspector plagued by personal betrayal. Jenny is working on her third and fourth mysteries; the fourth being a break from the norm and set in England.