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Episode 14 – Into the Eyes of a Killer

December 29, 2015

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** PLEASE NOTE **

IF THE IMAGE ABOVE FREAKS YOU OUT, YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ THIS ONE.

DISCLAIMERS:

This thriller/drama is an original story and all characters are created by me.

All characters depicted, names used, and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended nor should be inferred. Any resemblance of the characters portrayed to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

The registered trademarks mentioned in this story are © of their respective owners. No infringement of their rights is intended, and no profit is gained.

This story focuses on an FBI investigation and contains a serial killer case, including scenes of violence towards women. It also includes a very brief attempted rape scene. Any readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

This story depicts a loving, sexual relationship between consenting adult women. If such a story frightens you, you better click on the X in the top right corner of your screen right away.

* * * * * *

So many thanks go to my beta-reader, Norsebard. Your help is very much appreciated and continues to be most welcome. And a big thank-you to all my readers. Your patience is appreciated.

This is the next installment in my series, After Montana, which can be found at http://marshallcarson.wordpress.com

As usual, to understand and enjoy the characters and situations fully, you should probably read them in sequence. Comments and/or opinions can be sent to stagefreakmusic@hotmail.com or left at http://marshallcarson.wordpress.com

* * * * * *

Chapter 1

He loved his upper-class apartment building. It had so many positive attributes, so much in its favor. For one thing, the rear-access parking lot was easily reachable from his ground-level apartment door, and for another, the soundproofing throughout the building was top notch.

The apartment itself had two double bedrooms that shared a perfectly kitted-out bathroom in the form of a wet-room, meaning the entire floor in there was easily cleaned with minimal bleach and very little effort. The master bedroom had its own adjoining bathroom, a luxury he very much appreciated since he liked to keep the filth from his ‘work’ out of his private space. A state-of-the-art sound system was installed in every room of his home, and at this very moment it was regaling him with the most wonderful classical music. Dramatic violins and an accentuating flute were the perfect accompaniment to his current work in progress. The tiled wet-room floor was a rustic, earthy-orange color that camouflaged the blood a little too much for his liking. He preferred to see the aesthetic drama of his work, but he had no time for a remodel right now, so he would have to be content with the floor color.

His latest victim lay there peering out of lifeless, bloodshot eyes. An overweight fat-cat of a businessman, his rounded belly would be a challenge to carve, but that wouldn’t stop this killer from delivering his message as neatly as possible. And anyway, he had overcome this particular problem before, only three murders ago.

“So much excess in this world,” he said, drawing his eyes away from the bulging corpse in disgust. He, of course, ignored the irony in that statement, since his bank account was probably almost as healthy as that of the businessman.

He casually walked over to the ornately-carved cabinet that stood out against the stark décor of the wet-room. On top of the cabinet lay some of his tools of the trade: disinfectant wipes in case of any overly-disgusting bodies, a pair of latex, size-large gloves, a precision scalpel, and his crystal wine glass filled with Merlot. It was a personal preference of his – a relaxing drink while he conjured up his next cryptic clue.

“Slightly pointless, perhaps,” he said to the recently deceased body at his feet. “After all, it’s time for me to pay Agent Regan a visit. She’s simply not a worthy adversary for me, so she must go. I had thought she would have tracked me down already, and I’d have to move out of my lovely apartment. Oh, well. I’m sure her colleagues will enjoy your riddle. Maybe they’ll even solve it.” He laughed at that and changed the tone of his voice to mimic an imaginary conversation with the second law officer to be assigned to his case.

“A date, you say, Agent Regan? Why, I would be very pleased to take you to dinner, perhaps a stroll in the park afterwards? Oh, and I feel that after that, a little rape and murder would suit me just fine. In the end, your fate will be the same as Detective Sanchez of the San Francisco Police Department.” The memory of Milo Sanchez brought a new glint to his eye. “Yes, Agent Regan. You were a little better than Sanchez, but still…”

With a quick check to his watch, he grinned to himself. “Not good enough. Oh, they should be finding my last clue about now, assuming they are capable of doing their jobs, of course.”

A sadistic smile remained on his face as he took the scalpel in his hand, holding it up at eye level to admire its shiny surface and immaculate blade before he straddled his hefty victim to carve into his torso.

* * * * * *

Two hours later, the FBI’s Special Agent Kelly Regan left the San Francisco field office after a thirty hour shift. A sinewy yet somehow robust woman, she worked out regularly wherever she could and utilized normal everyday things as weights when she was on the road. Last month, she had maintained her regime while out of town by lifting a couple of heavy rocks she had found outside her hotel – anything to keep her in fine shape.

Kelly had been with the Bureau for eleven years, specializing in serial killers for the last two. She enjoyed the job and she was pretty good at it, but right now her tired, blue eyes were nipping and her mind was completely fried. She knew she couldn’t rest yet, even though she had been working non-stop for those thirty long hours, doing her best to find the Tick-Tock killer who had been on a murdering spree for the past two months. She had built up a satisfactory profile on him, but his victims only seemed to have one vague thing in common, which was irritating Kelly since she couldn’t pin him down to any one type. The victims all had an obvious flaw as far as the killer was concerned. He had started in the city and seemed to be working his way south, leaving moralistic riddles on each kill. Each riddle pertained to something in the victim’s life, leading Kelly to believe he was very thorough in his selection. He must have been very organized, making sure to pre-plan everything, and he liked to know something about his targets before he pounced. He also seemed to judge them severely on their choices in life, and it appeared he perceived his life to be perfect. He thought himself as vastly superior to everyone – a classic narcissist.

The case had originally come to the attention of the San Francisco police department, where homicide detective Milo Sanchez had been assigned to find the killer who at that time had racked up a body count of four. Milo was now dead, murdered by this Tick-Tock killer who seemed far too experienced to be new at this evil game he had created. His latest victim had been discovered in a well-staged crime scene in Fresno just four hours ago, and Kelly knew she had to travel there to speak with the pathologist and visit the crime scene before she could even think about laying her head on a nice, soft pillow for the night.

“A three-hour drive is just what I need right now,” Kelly sarcastically muttered to herself as she glanced at her watch.

It was fast-approaching eleven PM, and when she collapsed into the driver’s seat of her Prius, she shook her head a few times before rubbing her eyes briskly.

“Something to perk me up. That’s what I need.” After selecting an upbeat radio station to keep her mind active, she drove off toward the nearest bistro. She knew it would still be open since it was one of her regular haunts. “A refreshing herbal tea, here I come.”

* * * * * *

Just over three hours later, Kelly pulled into the parking lot of her motel. She looked around her at the accommodations. The doors to each room were peeling and could seriously do with a fresh coat of paint. The motel’s office had one of those flashing neon signs that always seemed to have a fault. This one stated, No…cancies.

Kelly sighed. “Ugh. Well, I booked ahead, so there better be a ‘cancy for me. The Bureau could’ve sent me somewhere without ‘roaches.” She rummaged around in the door pocket and found the brochure she had printed off before she left. “It sure doesn’t look like it does in the pictures. All right. Get checked in and get to work, Kelly.” She got out of the car and grabbed her overnight bag before heading toward the office.

Kelly was a good agent, but perhaps she didn’t have the experience to take on someone of the Tick-Tock killer’s caliber. Four people had been murdered before Milo Sanchez was taken out. Two people had also been murdered since then, including the body she was here to retrieve. Kelly hadn’t thought the killing of law enforcement would be a part of his plan. She hadn’t really entertained the idea that the killer could have other victims out there somewhere already, and he was now ready to come after her…but she should have. She failed to notice that someone was watching her. In fact, perhaps in her overtired state, she had failed to notice that someone had been tailing her car since San Francisco.

He observed with interest as Kelly shuffled across the parking lot toward room seventeen. He knew she would never get there. She would never have to stay in that hellhole of a motel. Little did she know that it would have been preferable to what was coming next.

* * * * * *

Kelly Regan woke up already groaning at the pounding pain in her head. Someone had thumped her with a blunt, heavy object. The last thing she remembered was putting the key in the door at that motel, but after that, nothing. No warning. She was out like a light.

She became aware of the constrictive, rough bindings around her wrists and ankles, and as the dizziness subsided, she cracked one eye open. As her other senses began to engage, she heard a male voice that seemed to be involved in a one-sided conversation. It was only when he said her name that Kelly realized he was talking to her.

By the time she had seen him he had her gun in his hand, and he was looking at her with a dangerous smirk on his face. His smooth, pleasure-filled voice became terrifying to her as he casually tickled her face with the nose of her Glock.

“It’s pathetic, really. None of you can hope to match up to my standards. I’m too smart, you see. I’m not easy to spot. I mean, who would pick me out of a line-up? Some idiots would say I’m ordinary, which I suppose can be an excellent trait in my line of work. Everyone else would say I’m handsome, debonair, charming even. No one would ever suspect me of anything other than womanizing at the office parties.” He laughed as he prodded Kelly’s cheek repeatedly with the gun to make sure she was alert and listening. “You know all those words you people hear at work every day? Raped, murdered, disemboweled? Well, you’ll get to know what they really mean, Special Agent…and I don’t even have to charm you or trick my way into your bed. You’ll simply have no choice. You’ll do whatever I desire because I’m the boss, a king at this moment in time.” He brought the gun up to check if he could see his reflection in it. When it was too dull to see any sign of his wonderful features, he puffed out a breath in disgust. “I’m afraid this is the end for you, and I won’t make it quick and painless. No, no. Quite the opposite.” He moved the gun under her chin to make her look directly into his eyes as he began to unzip his expensive pants. He wanted to see the only sign of Kelly’s extreme distress – her pupils dilated in shock and panic.

There was no way she could get out of this. She had underestimated the Tick-Tock killer.

* * * * * *

“I do love to leave a nice, little note for your colleagues to find,” he said, talking to Kelly’s body that lay in the backseat of his car as he drove back to the motel. He glanced into the rearview mirror at himself before looking at the motel room key that lay on his passenger seat. “This will be so perfect. I’ll just leave you right under their noses. Ah, the provocation. They won’t believe I had the audacity, the gall to leave you in your room. They’ll be enraged, to say the least.”

It had only been five hours since he had taken her, but those five hours had been filled with gut-wrenching torture. He enjoyed it most when they were still alive. Of course, sometimes they would go and have a heart attack like that last moron he had chosen. He hated it when that happened. But this time, with Agent Regan, his work had been completed while she was alive. Yes, it was messier since there was more blood, but he wasn’t at home and didn’t feel the need to clean up so much. He would burn the waterproof sheet later, of course.

The message would not be the same as his normal victims. This one was a law enforcement officer, just like Detective Sanchez. The only note on his body was, ‘Really?’ The killer was pretty sure that it would have given the other detectives something to think about. He truly hoped it had pissed them off. After that, his case had been handed over to the FBI. Hurrah. Could it be that he would meet his match?

When he stopped the car in the parking lot in front of the motel, he turned to look at the human lump on the backseat. “No. Not this time.”

He got out of the car and scanned the lot that was dimly lit by three streetlamps. There was nobody around, and he used the key to open the door to room seventeen. The bed looked clean however the sheets were not ironed. “Hmm. I suppose that’ll do just fine. It’s not like I have to lie in them.”

With a final check around him, he lifted the body from the vehicle. Once he had placed her in the room the way he wanted her to be found, he stood up and brushed his hands together like he had just completed a job well done. He had planned to leave her here with her gun in her hand and a fake bullet hole in her head that he had created with his trusty scalpel, but his confident demeanor changed when he heard two people talking and laughing as they walked across the parking lot. He could not risk being seen in this room by anyone, so he made a quick exit while appearing calm so as not to arouse any suspicion.

As he smiled at the two inebriated revelers, he casually but swiftly got into his car, threw Kelly’s gun out the door, and drove away from the scene. Once on the highway, he regained his superior, confident manner. “Goodness. It’s almost seven o’clock in the morning. Time flies when you’re having fun. I’m sure her colleagues will be missing her soon. I’d better get on with my work. Perhaps the next special agent will indeed be special enough to challenge me.”

* * * * * *

It was just before noon at the Los Angeles field office when CJ Carson walked into the Specialist Serial Homicide Unit with a major swagger. She tipped her imaginary hat at her buddy, Jamie, before she continued to swagger all the way over to her chair. When she sat down, she curled her signature eyebrow to wait for someone to ask her the question.

Since it was slap-bang in the middle of Mikey’s vacation time, it left Jamie, Ethan, and newest team member, Tim Dalton, to watch CJ twitch and tilt her head in expectation.

The eyebrow rose even higher when nobody engaged her, and after a few more seconds of silence, Tim couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Well? Did you pass?”

CJ smiled smugly. “Damn right, I did. With flying colors too…”

A polite round of applause met her ears, and she chuckled happily to herself – more at her accomplishment than at her friends’ behavior.

“I knew you would, DM. That tiny broken wrist couldn’t keep you down,” Jamie said, adding a wink since she knew how serious her friend’s injuries had been.

CJ had been on the road to recovery for months after the plane crash that almost took her life, but today was the final step to freedom. She had passed her firearms reassessment which meant she could now be back to work in her full capacity as lead agent in the SSHU. It had been a long time coming – and during her desk duty she had been a short-tempered bitch on occasion – but as soon as she received the word from Assistant Director Mark Mulroney later this morning, she would be leaving the office to assist with the case Jamie and Ethan had been working on – three murder victims so far, shot in the head.

“I wanted to thank you guys for putting up with me,” CJ said a little more seriously. “I know I can be a pain in the ass when I can’t do stuff.”

Tim gave her a sympathetic look. “Hey. I can understand it a little, CJ. I was only away for a long weekend of training, and all I wanted to do was come back here and work the case with these guys.”

“Aww. That’s not even the same thing, but look at you trying to make me feel better.”

Tim grinned and shrugged. “Worth a shot.”

“And I’m grateful for your attempt,” CJ said with a majestic bow of her head.

“Anything for you, Ma’am.”

Jamie just snickered quietly behind her desk.  The gentle banter that CJ and Tim shared was commonplace now. At first, it had made Jamie uncomfortable and jealous, but after CJ had talked with her about it she realized she had been a tad childish. The fact of the matter was she actually really liked Tim. He seemed to genuinely care about CJ, and that was just fine with Jamie.

A few moments later, both CJ and Jamie jumped when two phones started ringing in unison. They looked at one another before answering the calls. Jamie’s was an agent from forensics getting back to her about the case she was working, and CJ’s was from her boss.

Once CJ had hung up the call, she stood from her seat. “This is it. I gotta go see Mark.”

Tim gave her the thumbs up. “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”

CJ frowned. “Nope. Not Tiger.”

“No?” Tim asked with a hint of teasing.

“No.”

CJ strutted along the corridor and into Mark’s office with a small smile on her face, happily anticipating her official return to full duty, but when she saw him, he wasn’t quite as chirpy as she was. “Sir? Everything all right?”

“Hmm? Oh, CJ, please sit,” Mark offered as he removed his reading glasses.

CJ analyzed him for a few seconds before she spoke. “I had thought this was about my return to full duty, but now I’m guessing it’s not.”

“It is about your return to duty, but…”

“But that looks suspiciously like a very fat case file, Sir,” CJ finished for him while nodding toward the bundle on his desk.

“You are correct.” Mark reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a letter to hand it over to his agent. “Welcome back, officially, CJ…and well done on your one hundred percent score this morning.”

“Thank you.”

“And now to this file. Ever heard of the Tick-Tock killer?”

CJ got that gloomy feeling of foreboding. “Yes. Agent Regan up in the San Francisco office has the case, doesn’t she?”

“Not anymore.” Mark seemed to pause before he passed the file over to her. “She was discovered at eight thirty this morning after she was unreachable and didn’t make it to an appointment with the coroner in Fresno.”

CJ read the notes on the top piece of paper then flicked through the crime scene photos underneath. “He didn’t kill her.”

“No, not quite, but I’m wondering if he thought he had. She has gone through the most horrendous ordeal, and we’re not sure she’ll ever wake up.”

“Raped and tortured,” CJ said, her eyebrows set in a new, permanent frown. “He’s a sadistic bastard, if you don’t mind me saying so, Sir.”

“No, CJ. I don’t mind at all. I can think of many words to describe him. You’ll find the files on all his other victims in that folder too.”

CJ looked up at him. “You’re giving me the case?”

Mark sighed. He was worried about giving this case to her. He knew CJ was the best, but for some reason, this killer above all the others, made him very uncomfortable. “Yes. There’s no one I’d trust more.”

“Is he here in LA?”

“He seems to be heading this way. I’m waiting for the latest report to land on my desk. Another body was found near Delano, forty miles north of Bakersfield just minutes ago. Looks like he was killed somewhere else and placed at the dump site.”

CJ dropped her eyes to the pages once more. She quickly found the profile written by Kelly Regan and scanned the killer’s MO. “He meant to kill her. So why did he not make sure she was dead before he left her?”

“I know you’re just thinking aloud, CJ, but it seems to me like he was disturbed in the act,” Mark said as he clasped his hands on top of the desk.

“I’ll get on this right away, Sir.”

“Good. Jamie and Ethan will have to continue with their case. If this one gets to be too much for you and Tim, let me know and I’ll call Mikey in from leave. Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I have a budget and expenses guy coming in to scrutinize our records.”

CJ rolled her eyes. “Fun times for you too then.” As she was walking out the door, a tall, handsome, suited man was standing outside it, his hand raised as if he was about to knock.

Mark spotted him, and shouted him inside. “Come in, Mr. Fleet. I was expecting you.”

“Mr. Mulroney. I’m Theodore Fleet, the assessor from Bailey, Jacobs and Fleet Financial.”

“Take a seat, Mr. Fleet.”

CJ snorted at Mark’s unintentional rhyme as she pulled the door closed behind her. “Good luck, Mark,” she said to herself as she walked away.

* * * * * *

Later that day at the Carson family home, Kate pulled on her bottom lip while she tried to remember where she had set her cell phone down. She had found that she had been a little flaky this week since things had gotten hectic on the run up to her new show, Infinity One, starting in earnest. Monday morning was the first day of shooting, and even though it would be strange going back to work again, she was really looking forward to it. A Monday to Friday acting job was not the norm. She did suspect there would be the occasional weekend shoot when things didn’t go according to plan, but on the whole her contract was for a standard five-day-week.

As Kate started to move through the house, she retraced her steps verbally. “I was in the kitchen then I went to pee…but before I did that I got sidetracked by Shannon, and I headed out to the backyard.” Once she had scanned the yard for any sign of a small, shiny object, she came back inside. “So, here in the toilet,” she said while searching the smallest room in the house. “I didn’t stay long, and I went back…ah!” When she turned around, she was suddenly faced with a grinning CJ. “Jeez, CJ. You scared the crap outta me!”

“Sorry. I was enjoying your monologue so much, I thought I’d wait until you had found whatever you were looking for before I said hello.”

Kate took a few breaths before she gently pushed CJ back a little. “Well, next time, just announce yourself.”

“My apologies,” CJ offered with a little bow while she pulled her hair out of its ponytail. “May I have a kiss?”

“Of course you can. I’m guessing by the look on your face that you’ve got a new and not very pleasant case, so I’ll give you two kisses.”

“Are they ever pleasant?” CJ asked as Kate walked into her arms.

“Good point. Kiss me.”

After two gentle, lingering kisses, CJ felt truly welcomed home. She finished by depositing a slow line of tinier kisses across Kate’s forehead. “There. Now you can continue your search.”

“What was I looking for?” Kate said with a frown.

“I have no idea.”

“Oh. My cell.” Kate swirled around on the spot. “Right. I’ll find it while you get changed, and then you can tell me about your case.”

“It’s the Tick-Tock killer,” CJ said calmly.

Kate instantly swirled around again to face her. “We were just talking about that the other day. How come you have to deal with it?”

CJ approached her, and after putting down her jacket and the bag containing her files, she placed her hands on Kate’s shoulders. “He put Agent Regan into a coma.”

The impending worry and strain slowly seeped into Kate’s expression. “He killed that first detective, and now he’s almost killed a federal agent? CJ, what if he-”

“Don’t say it,” CJ interrupted. “It’s my job, Katie, and I told you about it because we agreed to talk about everything. I won’t let him come after me.”

“But how can you know that he won’t do to you what he did to-”

“Hey. Let’s not do this now, OK? I can hear the girls coming. I promise you, I won’t let it get that far. Trust in me.”

Kate looked for reassurance in CJ’s eyes, and it was there in abundance. “I do. Just be super careful. I can’t lose you.”

“I know. I’ll keep you posted every step of the way.”

“Hello, gorgeous family!” Eddie Senior exclaimed as he followed Shannon and Lucy in through the kitchen.

“Hey, Dad,” Kate responded after she had squeezed CJ’s arm.

“I just popped over to bring you this delicious lasagna! Oh, hi, CJ. Glad you’re home!”

CJ smiled. She couldn’t help it when Eddie was around. “Looks great. Just hold that thought until I go get changed.” She took a sniff at the oven dish full of wonderful aromas. “You made this masterpiece on your new stove, huh?”

“Oh, yes! I can’t believe we’re moved in already. That beautiful house went up faster than I could say Liza Minnelli! And the kitchen is a dream! Jeffrey just adores it.”

Their new log home was up and functioning within two months of construction starting, and both men had settled in immediately. It was less than a one minute walk from the ranch house but had the privacy of the new security fencing between the buildings – a perfect setup. Eddie obviously thought so as his eyebrows were dancing all over the place in his exuberance.

“I’m glad,” CJ said as she tried to hold back her laughter. “Where is Jeffrey?”

“Oh, he’s waiting for me to return. We’re having a romantic meal tonight. Candlelight and soothing music, dinner and who knows where the night will lead. Oh!”

“O-kay. Too much info,” Kate butted in as she grabbed a hand towel to take the oven dish from him. “Dad, go enjoy your romantic night in. Girls, go wash your hands. CJ, go get changed.”

Eddie threw his oven-mitt-covered hands in the air. “So bossy!” he exclaimed before he waved at his granddaughters and strolled out the back door whistling a jaunty tune.

CJ gave Kate her raised-eyebrow look. “Katie, go find your cell before you forget.”

“Oh, right.”

Lucy looked completely confused. “Mama’s cell is in the playroom.”

Kate spun on her heels to face her younger daughter. “It is?”

“Uh-huh. Remember we were playing a game on it.”

“Oh, my goodness. I totally forgot about that. Thanks, Luce,” Kate said a little sheepishly.

CJ smiled at her before she made her quick dash upstairs to put on her comfy clothes, but in the back of her mind she was still running through the Tick-Tock killer’s profile and trying to deny that Kate’s fears were actually valid.

* * * * * *

Lying in bed that night, CJ was pretty sure she could hear Kate’s mind going around and around in circles, so she turned on her side to face her. “Katie, are you asleep?”

“Yes,” Kate murmured.

“I know that trick.”

“You’re too smart for me. I’m nowhere near asleep.”

CJ knew why, so she pulled Kate closer until she was tucked into her body. “Mmm, that’s better. I love spooning you.”

“And I love being spooned.” Kate snorted out a laugh. “Jeez, I made myself sound like an ice-cream dessert.”

“I’d say you were much more delicious than an ice-cream dessert.”

“Correct answer,” Kate said as she patted CJ’s hand that was cupping her belly. When the hand started caressing her, she tried to let her body relax into the sensation. “Do you want something, my love?” she whispered.

CJ nuzzled into the back of her neck, letting Kate’s short hair tickle her face as she moved from side to side trailing her lips across the soft skin there. “Depends…”

“On what?”

“On what you want…”

Kate inhaled deeply before she turned in the embrace. “I want you to be safe.”

CJ looked deeply into her eyes. “I will be. You’re stuck with me, remember?”

Kate nodded, but CJ could see the fear that would haunt them both until the case was over. This particular killer was taking out cops, but she was convinced she would figure out who he was and capture him, just like she always did.

“Stop thinking about things and let me make love to you,” CJ whispered before she kissed Kate’s forehead.

“I’ll try.”

CJ’s lips began to mark a slow trail down Kate’s cheek and onto her neck. When Kate lifted her chin, CJ gently tickled her tongue along her collarbone, continuing back across and down between her breasts. When she met the material of Kate’s tank top, CJ reached up to stretch the cotton barrier out of the way before she sucked and kissed the soft skin of her right breast, eliciting a lazy inhale from Kate.

When CJ reached Kate’s nipple, she bared her teeth and rasped them over the tip until the nipple was hard and standing erect. While Kate gasped above her, CJ engulfed the nipple with her warm mouth and sucked on it until Kate grabbed her head.

“Come up here and kiss me, Ciara.”

Momentarily wondering why Kate would stop her, CJ gave the nipple one last, playful nudge with her nose before moving smoothly up to Kate’s mouth. “You OK?” she whispered before kissing her gently.

Kate shook her head. “I’m distracted.”

“Damn,” CJ said quietly. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you about the case.”

“No. I want to know about it.” Kate sighed as she moved to hold CJ beside her. “Maybe I’m just not in the mood.”

“Wow.”

Kate had to grin at that. “I know, right? When does that ever happen?”

“Almost never, but I guess I understand since my mind is like a whirlwind right now. How about I just hold you all night instead?”

“How about we hold each other?”

CJ grinned at her. “Deal.”

“I love you.”

“Love you more.”

“Not possible.”

“I beg to differ.”

“Agree to disagree?”

“Uh-huh.”

.

Chapter 2

CJ arrived at the field office’s lobby the next morning with her mind focused on a full day of thorough investigation. When she saw the elevator doors closing, she was about to shout for whoever was inside to wait, but a hand shot out between the doors before she had the chance.

“Just in time,” Tim said as she slotted in beside him.

“Mornin’, partner,” CJ replied with a nod.

“Morning.”

“Did you sleep well?”

Tim shook his head as the elevator began its ascent. “Nah. Too much on my mind.”

“Me too,” CJ said before a sigh escaped her mouth. “And we haven’t really gone through the case file yet, so it’ll probably get worse. We’ll need to make sure to keep each other awake in the days to come.”

“Don’t worry, CJ. I got your back.”

She turned to smile at him. “And I have yours.”

Once in their office, the pair got themselves situated around CJ’s desk. All the required files were collated into one bundle, CJ’s pin board was cleared and ready to receive a new set of morbid pictures, and Tim had made his special concoction of coffee in preparation for the long day ahead.

It was an hour later before CJ realized that Jamie and Ethan hadn’t arrived at the office. After a few minutes of scratching her face with her pencil, she remembered that they had to go visit a witness from their case.

“Where did that witness live again?”

Tim looked up from the page he was reading. “Witness?”

“Yeah. Jamie’s witness from the Tompkins murder.”

“Oh. That was out in Orange County. Irvine, I think.”

CJ nodded before she looked at Tim and saw his grin. “What?”

“You totally confused me. I was reading about victim number seven. No witnesses there. I know we have a connection, CJ, but I can’t read your mind.”

CJ puffed out a laugh. “Just as well, ‘cause it works in weird and mysterious ways. You wouldn’t wanna know what goes on in there.”

Tim just pretended to think about it for a moment before he waved his hand. “Pfft.”

“Intelligent response, Agent Dalton.”

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s get on with this.”

“I’ve already finished reading through it three times. The photos are on the board too. You ready?” CJ said as she got up to pour another coffee from the colorful carafe Tim had produced from his bag that morning.

Tim looked up at the pin board. “When the hell did you do that?”

“While you were engrossed in your analysis of the Tick-Tock killer’s misdeeds…”

“Huh.” Tim shook his head and turned the file back to the first murder. “I have a few questions for you since I’m still learning.”

“Fire away. It’ll be good to discuss it.”

Tim pulled his chair in a little more until he could lean back and still glance at the file. “As far as I can see, Agent Regan was dead on with her profile, but I don’t think she went far enough with it.”

CJ’s eyes narrowed. She could already feel that he was going to be a good match for her. “Go on…”

“Well, she said here that she believed he was stalking his victims beforehand. He knew something of their lives and must have been watching for at least a month, but he was killing them more frequently than that, so I think he was watching more than one at a time. I think he is even more organized that Regan predicted. It’s like it was a full time job for him, not just an impulse to kill. I imagine him to be compulsively organized and compulsively neat. If anything’s out of place in his life, he can’t deal with it.”

CJ looked straight into his eyes. “I think you’re right. And I think he went even further than that. I think he not only watched them, but used other methods to find out about their pasts, about their families and their way of life, like he had to know everything.”

“What other methods are you thinking of?”

“Maybe the Internet or hacking police records, or maybe even visiting their family members under the guise of a cop? I’m not sure yet.”

“It’s totally possible,” Tim said as he gave his temple a gentle massage. “We may need to revisit the victim’s families then, and ask them if anyone came prying about their loved ones.

“Yeah, because it doesn’t look like Regan had covered that angle.” CJ stood up with a whiteboard marker in her hand. She walked over to stand next to the pin board and turned around to face Tim. “Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure.”

“Read out a quick victim description, and then read out the message that was left on them? I’ll put them up on this whiteboard for us to glance at, as and when we need them.”

Tim leaned forward, ready to flip through the pages of various reports. “OK, ready?” At CJ’s nod, he started to read. “Technically, the first victim was Sherry Stevenson, but she was not linked to the Tick-Tock killer until two victims later. No message on her body, only straight score marks. She has now been added to his tally since she was incapacitated with chloroform and he left a pocket watch in her jacket pocket.”

“Does that tell you anything?” CJ asked while she finished putting asterisks around this victim’s details.

Tim tapped his pen on his lips before answering. “From what I’ve read of the other victims, this one was a test victim, a trial. He either wasn’t sure of how he was going to proceed, or the differences in her murder have another purpose that we aren’t seeing yet.”

“Good. OK, next one. The first of his true pattern.”

“Second victim that we know of is Steve Birrell, aged eighteen, lived in Berkeley. He had very rich parents and drove a top of the range Porsche, always bragging about his wealth according to his so-called friends.”

CJ jotted down abbreviations for each piece of information. “And the message?”

Spoiled and needy children harbor evil.” Tim looked up from the page. “Our killer didn’t like that fact that this kid was flashing the cash, huh?”

“Seems like it,” CJ confirmed. “Next one?”

“Viz Iello, forty two years old, lived in San Francisco. He was a drug-dealing pimp who abused his hookers on a regular basis. A lot of them were vulnerable young girls.”

“What kind of name is Viz?” CJ asked as she wrote.

“He’s on file as Victor, always known as Viz.”

“The message on his body was…?”

Tim let out a humorless laugh. “Zero tolerance of lecherous dealers.”

“Nice,” CJ said sarcastically.

“John Peters is next…old guy and a pedophile to boot. He lived in Daly City when he got out of prison. He was on parole and tagged.” Tim shook his head. “Message reads, old flaccid man, young victims.”

“So, our killer didn’t immediately start traveling south. Something must have spooked him. Maybe the cops got too close.” CJ turned to Tim who had somehow known she was not expecting an answer and was already looking at the next victim’s details. She smiled without even realizing it. “The last guy before Sanchez was killed was a drunk driver, right?”

“Yeah. David Dean Wilbur, thirty six. He was found in Stockton, so I guess this is when the perp decided to spread out a little. Wilbur served two years for a DUI that killed three people. He got out and mowed down an innocent nine-year-old boy while under the influence. Our killer wrote intoxicated citizen takes out roadkill youth.”

CJ finished writing and pinched the bridge of her nose. “And then he kills Detective Milo Sanchez,” she said, raising her hand to write again. “The message on his body was just one word.”

“Yes…really, with a question mark,” Tim confirmed.

“What’s your take on the message?”

“The killer is emphasizing how easy it was to kill a detective?”

“Could be,” CJ said as she moved to stand in front of the board. “I think he meant it to be sarcasm, like he couldn’t believe they would assign such a stupid…in his opinion…cop to the case.”

Tim came to stand beside her. “That’s more likely.”

CJ turned her head. “Don’t just agree with me if you think it’s not right.”

“I’m not. But I am learning from you, CJ. That’s what I’m here for.”

“OK, but I want to hear your ideas too. I need to hear your ideas. They might be right one of these days.”

Tim grinned briefly. “Gotcha. So we have a narcissistic psychopath on our hands.”

“Yes, but not only that. He is extreme in a lot of ways. An extreme perfectionist…”

“Tell me why you say that.”

CJ nodded. “He puts punctuation into the messages on his victims’ flesh,” she said, tapping her pen on the photo of Milo Sanchez’s torso. “I haven’t encountered that before. If they wanna write something, it’s usually basic or not even spelled right, but this guy, he’s very precise.”

Tim looked more closely at the pictures. “True. I noticed the question mark, but on this one I had thought that was just a freckle or something,” he said, pointing at the comma-shaped slice on John Peters’ body. “It’s like he’s showing us that he never makes a mistake. He thinks he’s better than everyone else. Does he have a God complex? Like, he judges his victims and believes their weaknesses are sins that he has to cleanse?”

“Not sins, but he does think their weaknesses are disgusting. He perceives himself to be perfection. Look how clean these bodies are,” CJ said, tapping the board again. “He did this pre-mortem, so there would have been a considerable amount of blood. He has cleaned them to make sure we see his message loud and clear, and I’m betting he took a fair amount of time preparing the dump sites too. Did you notice exactly where he left these victims?”

Tim went back to his seat to scrutinize the file a little more. Once he had checked the reports, he didn’t see anything obvious in the addresses and frowned as he looked up at CJ. “What do you know about the locations?”

CJ crossed her arms and tilted her head to the side in a conciliatory but authoritative stance. “This is where local knowledge comes in real handy, but I’m not that familiar with the San Francisco area, so I researched the places last night to get a better insight. Birrell was left outside a bank in one of the most affluent suburbs of the city to emphasize the shock factor of a rich kid being killed. Iello was left right in front of a known crack den. Do you see where I’m going here?”

“Absolutely. This killer is as bold as they come. I mean to even approach a known crack den…” Tim glanced down at the page. “And at one AM too. He’s not scared of anyone, huh?”

“No, he’s not. It just adds to the severity of his narcissism and the fact that he feels no emotion, no fear. He thinks he’s untouchable,” CJ said as she unfolded her arms.

“The dump site of that very first victim didn’t have any major significance, did it?”

“Not that I can see, so you may be right about him just testing the water, watching to see what the cops would do.”

“Can you tell me where the other two civilian victims were left?” Tim asked, genuinely wanting to learn since CJ’s knowledge was already blowing his mind. The speed at which she picked up information that Tim couldn’t even see was astounding to him. Yes, she had done this many times before but still, he was impressed.

“Peters the pedophile was left in a playpark which tells me this perp doesn’t give a damn about anyone, even kids, because they could’ve stumbled onto the dead body. Wilbur was dumped very carefully behind the wheel of a stolen car and doused in alcohol.”

Tim noted it all down on his copy of the file for reference later. “It’s like he wants to make his point…even after he’s made his point in the messages. He’s a little obsessive.”

“A lot obsessive,” CJ added. “Read out the next one.”

Tim grabbed the file and flipped the page. “OK, after Sanchez there was Lily Lichfield, fifty nine years old from Antioch. She was friends with everyone she knew, no enemies at all. Going by the message he left on her, he didn’t like the fact that she was obese. Realize excessive greed and neutralize it.”

“So he’s still using a location in the San Francisco area, possibly his own home, wherever that is,” CJ muttered to herself as she wrote it all on the board. “It seems like she was a sweet lady with no criminal history. He’ll just take anyone down to make his point.”

“Looks that way,” Tim said while turning another page. “Lichfield was left outside a donut and candy shop, and the killer poured a pile of sugar into each of her hands. Jeez. No hidden mystery there. Next, we have adrenaline junkie, Laura Cane, twenty four, from San Francisco. She loved any sport that gave her a rush, including bungee jumping, base jumping, and high speed car racing. Seems it leaked out into her everyday life since she had priors for reckless driving and excessive speeding. She put a guy into a wheelchair after her car hit his at a red light. Her license had been revoked last year, but she was caught again doing over a hundred on the Interstate.”

CJ nodded thoughtfully. “If Cane was caught breaking the law after driving without her license and seriously injuring someone, how come our killer could even get to her?”

“She was out on bail, awaiting sentencing.”

“Tough break.”

“Yeah. Cane’s body was hung from a streetlight…with the ropes from a parachute? What the hell?” Tim said, perplexed.

“I told you, this killer is much more than Agent Regan had considered. He goes to extremes, and it seems that also includes staging his body dumps. He likes to create a dramatic display of his work, and he is so confident he won’t get caught that he takes the time to do things like this. What was the message on Cane’s body?”

Speed ahead, die early,” Tim said before he stretched to straighten out the creaks in his neck. “Has it been released to the press about Regan?”

CJ shook her head. “No. As far as the world knows, a federal agent was killed in the line of duty. She’s under guard at the hospital. There’s one more victim…?” she added, waiting poised with her Sharpie at the whiteboard.

“Simon Reeves, fifty seven years old. He was the CEO of a chemical company. Their toxic waste was found to be polluting lakes and waterways in two locations in California. His body was dumped on a landfill site near Merced. Message reads wealth obliterates man and nature.”

“So, I’d say this is the first murder after he left his home. It’s too far from his comfort zone. Whatever spooked him-”

“Hold up, CJ,” Tim interrupted. “If he had left home by this point, how did he find out where Regan was going? If we follow the profile, he would have been watching her. She lived in San Francisco, so…”

CJ stopped writing and leaned her shoulder against the board. “You think he stalked Agent Regan as well?” At Tim’s nod, she chewed on her lip while she thought about it. “You might be right. He could’ve followed her to Fresno, which means he would have gone back to San Francisco after the Merced body dump. That’s a hell of a long way. He was probably trying to throw Regan off his scent.”

Tim agreed. “And maybe that’s why he decided to kill her. She fell for it.”

“She wasn’t worthy of him,” CJ said pensively.

Tim’s stomach performed an unpleasant flip. “But you are, CJ. You’re better than him, and we’ll get him.”

Once again, CJ was caught a little off guard by Tim’s words. He wasn’t being facetious in any way. He was such a genuine guy, and he made her feel ridiculously mushy, which in turn made her feel a tad uncomfortable.

“I don’t know how to respond to that, Tim. Quit the compliments, will ya?”

Tim could see that hidden appreciation once more. “So what’s next?”

“We investigate the watches real quick. The press weren’t told about those. They’re our big hold-back.”

At the mention of the watches, Tim got up from his chair and snagged the evidence box from his desk before returning to stand beside CJ. He put the box on a nearby table and lifted one of the clear evidence bags from inside. “So that brings us to these,” he said thoughtfully.

An antique pocket watch, complete with chain, had been left with each victim. Apart from the very first victim, the watches had been left in full view as part of a message to the police, and thereafter to the FBI. CJ hadn’t found any notes on their value in the reports, so she would have to find out soon if they were of any more significance than a reference to the killer’s media name. He could just have been taunting law enforcement by shoving the fact that they were running out of time down their throats, or there could be a reason he used old pocket watches rather than just a modern wristwatch.

“They all just look the same to me,” Tim said, pulling CJ from her thoughts.

“Well, they’re all silver, silver plate, or gold I think, but they have different face colors, different makers…”

Tim pursed his lips. “I guess I’m not an antiques expert, huh?”

“Me neither. We need to get these checked out.” CJ looked up at the board, now littered with victim details. “We also need the autopsy report on Reeves from the ME.”

“I can pop down there now,” Tim offered. “I remember you saying something about not liking her that much.”

CJ smirked at him. She would happily let him deal with Chris Wilder, slutty medical examiner extraordinaire, but only because she knew he could handle it. “I would totally appreciate that, Tim.”

“I know.”

He smiled at her before he left the office, and when CJ grabbed the evidence box and sat down in her chair, she realized she was mentally coping quite well with this case so far. Hmm. I feel so motivated. I always feel motivated to catch a murderer, but not like this. It’s not a dark motivation this time. I feel encouraged. Ah. It’s Tim, she mused before she pulled the remaining watches out of the box to examine them. Better not tell Jamie that. She’ll throw another tantrum. Memories of Jamie’s jealous hissy-fit made her grin for a moment, and she wondered how her buddy’s case was progressing. CJ missed her a little, but there would be time to catch up after the bad guys were caught.

A couple of minutes later, she looked up when the door opened again to reveal Tim, who had a weird look on his face and was closely followed by Chris.

“Look who I found in the corridor,” Tim said as neutrally as he could.

CJ plastered a smile on her face. “Dr. Wilder. How are you?” She felt safe enough to be polite to the ME without fear of an attack as long as she had her wing man for backup.

“Hello, CJ. I’m fine. I just wanted to bring this report up to you.”

“Thanks,” CJ responded. When Chris remained on the same spot and didn’t leave, she raised her eyebrows in question. “Is there anything else?”

Chris’s usually-lurid reply to a question like that didn’t transpire, and she shoved her hands in her lab coat pockets before answering. “This victim was different from all the others in your case. He died of a heart attack before the killer wrote the message on his body.”

The sullen, exhausted look on Chris’s face gave CJ a clue as to her demeanor. Their ME was run off her feet.

“I’m sure that would have irritated this killer a little. Thanks for letting me know,” she said as she flipped the front page open.

Chris gave a single nod. “You’re welcome.”

CJ frowned. “The victim had chemical burns all over his back?”

“Yes. Mr. Reeves was found in a pool of various kitchen cleaners mixed with acid. It was a volatile concoction. The skin on his back is pretty much gone,” Chris said mechanically. “The killer subdued him with chloroform, just like the others. When he awoke, he was tortured, causing the heart attack. The body was beaten post-mortem then the stomach area was cut. I’d say a scalpel was used, or a similar precision tool. He took his time to pour the chemicals. There was no trace of them anywhere at the landfill site except a concentrated pool under your victim.”

CJ looked up at her and nodded. “OK, thanks.”

“No problem,” Chris replied, giving CJ the first sign of a small smile.

When she began to leave the room, Tim shrugged at CJ before he said, “Are you all right, Dr. Wilder?”

Chris paused. “Yes, just tired. I thought the walk up here would give me a temporary change of scene and a break from the dead people.”

“Ah. Keep up the good work.”

“Thank you, Agent Dalton.”

“Please, call me Tim.”

Chris nodded in acknowledgement before she closed the door behind her, leaving CJ slightly puzzled, but ultimately relieved.

“I’m so glad you didn’t offer her a coffee or something. That would have perked her right back up to her usual, unbearable self.”

Tim tilted his head and analyzed CJ. “What’s going on with you and her really? It’s more than just not liking her.”

“You’re annoyingly observant, Tim. She’s an old flame, and as much as I tell her that I have zero interest in her, she doesn’t seem to hear it. Her behavior was bordering on sexual assault just a few weeks ago.”

“Oh.” Tim didn’t like that. “Like I said, I got your back.”

CJ’s grin changed her entire expression. She searched Tim’s face and couldn’t fully understand that connection he had mentioned earlier. She was just glad that he seemed to feel it. “I know.”

* * * * * *

A few hours later – after Jamie and Ethan had fleetingly appeared in the office before a shooting hauled them back out again – CJ had tried to trace a couple of the pocket watches through their serial numbers. Her efforts had met with a dead end, but she had spoken to an antiques dealer who was willing to give her some insight and to value the pieces for her. She didn’t think it would lead them right to the killer, but she wouldn’t rule out getting any piece of information that might help them along the way.

Just before she and Tim left the office to meet the dealer, the telephone rang. CJ picked it up immediately since she recognized the number, but she answered professionally anyway.

“Agent Carson…”

“Hello, Agent Carson. It’s Kate Carson.”

CJ grinned despite her horrible workload. “Hey. What’s happenin’?”

“Not much. I just finished a call with Lorena. Everything’s set for work on Monday, and now I’m just enjoying my last, unemployed days at home.”

“Good. Take it easy.”

“I will. What about you, honey? Are you getting anywhere with the case?”

CJ sighed. “Not yet. We’re just in the initial stages, you know? We’re about to go see a guy, so I need to cut this short, but I will call you later. OK?”

“Sure. I love you. I just wanted to check in.”

“I’m glad you did. Very glad,” CJ said while glancing over at Tim who was grinning like an idiot.

Kate answered with a mildly mischievous voice. “Yeah, yeah, you love me too, but there’s someone in the room. I get it.”

“Actually, it’s only me and Tim here, so…I love you too.” CJ rolled her eyes when Tim pretended to swoon. “Bye, Katie. I need to go kick Agent Dalton’s ass.”

Kate giggled on the line. “Bye, CJ.”

Once the call was disconnected, CJ got up and began a slow and menacing stalk toward her partner, but Tim stood his ground. He knew damned well her dangerous look worked with other people, but he just couldn’t stop grinning.

“You can’t kick my ass,” he said, trying his best to look serious.

“Wanna bet?” CJ snarled.

Tim laughed out loud. “Let’s not find out right now,” he said hurriedly before he shot out the door and headed along the corridor.

CJ smiled to herself and found her swagger again as she followed him to the elevator.

* * * * * *

In the car on their way to the antiques store, CJ made a decision, and while she kept her eyes on the road she shared it with Tim. “So, during Detective Sanchez’s investigation, the SFPD did a press conference about the Tick-Tock killer in an attempt to advance the case and appease the bosses who were pushing down in the department. And for some reason, the same happened with the FBI when Regan was investigating…”

“Yeah, I watched those. They actually mentioned the lead investigator each time. I would guess we will not be doing that,” Tim said quite adamantly. “It meant the killer definitely knew who was on his trail both times. It seems crazy to me that they put it out there, so I hope they won’t force us to do it. I mean, I know you’re awesome, but I’d like you to stick around for the next few decades at least.”

CJ was impressed with him as an agent, but she also found there was a tiny lump in her throat at the protective sentiment from her friend too. The look that passed between them as she glanced round at him said it all, which meant she didn’t have to. “There you go with the compliments again.”

Tim could see her smile lingering beneath the surface, and he was glad she was secretly appreciating his sense of humor. “I won’t take this one back since I’m completely serious, but we are going to hold off for as long as possible with the press conference thing, right?”

“Yes. I’ll talk to Mark, and I know he’ll listen and run interference with Mitchell and the director.”

“Good,” Tim said as he removed a small evidence bag containing a pocket watch from the box on his lap. “These are all at different times. That’s deliberate, right?”

CJ glanced at Tim again and nodded before her eyes focused back on the road. “Yes.”

“Which killings are they set to? The one they were found on or the next one in line?”

“You know you’re really good at this…”

Tim looked up at her. “Thanks. Maybe I was in the wrong department before, huh?”

“I’d say so. And to answer your question, the watches were set to the time of death of the next victim in line, which doesn’t really help us at all since the cops had no idea what day the next murder would take place.”

“He was taunting them.”

CJ snarled a little. “Yeah. I want to find him before he starts taunting us.”

Tim didn’t respond since they had arrived at the antique dealer’s store. As he got out of the car, his mind was still running through the images of the dump sites of each of the previous murders. The killer set every one of them up precisely for dramatic effect when they were discovered. Was he killing because he hated cops and wanted to show them how insignificant they were, or was he simply the psychopath they thought he was, enjoying the kill and the game? Did he have even more victims yet to be found? Tim would have to ask CJ if she had considered that. As they walked into the store, he almost rolled his eyes at himself. Of course she has.

* * * * * *

Jim Paulson fell into the category of ‘stereotypical antiques dealer’. He was a sixty-year-old man with gray hair, and a snappy suit with a chain hanging from the waistcoat pocket where he kept his own rare pocket watch. He had glasses hanging around his neck on a chain, but he currently wore a monocle while he examined something in his hand, which made CJ think of Sherlock Holmes when she saw him. She had to restrain her smirk as she approached.

When he saw the two agents in front of his counter, Jim scrunched up his face in an attempt to get a better look. “I’m bettin’ you’re Agent Carson?” he said with a smile.

“I am indeed, Mr. Paulson.”

When CJ showed him her badge, he nodded and waved her off. “I don’t need to see that. I recognize your voice from the telephone, and even if I didn’t, you two look exactly like FBI. No question.”

CJ realized the stereotypical thing went both ways. “I suppose we do. This is my partner, Agent Dalton.”

“Good to meet ya, Sonny.”

“Mr. Paulson. Thanks for helping us with these watches,” Tim replied politely.

“Oh, no problem. Let’s see them then.”

While Tim handed each evidence bag over to the expert, CJ watched as Jim examined them, sometimes with his magnifier, sometimes not. He would let out a little grunt on occasion, or raise an eyebrow, and when he was done he nodded and looked back up at the agents.

“Well, they’re antiques all right. Not one of ‘em worth less than a thousand dollars,” Jim said, obviously quite impressed with the collection.

CJ was only somewhat surprised. The killer was meticulous about everything else, so why not this? He clearly liked quality in his life.

“Are any of them worth substantially more than that?” Tim asked.

“Yes,” Jim responded before he started pointing to each watch as he valued it. “These five are around a thousand. These two here are around the thirty five hundred mark, but this…this one here is a solid gold watch from a renowned maker, made around nineteen-ten or nineteen-twenty, so it’s old and highly valuable. The inner workings will no doubt be made of platinum and these stones in the face? Those are diamonds.”

CJ leaned over to get a better look at the watch he was talking about, and when she saw it was the one left on the body of Steve Birrell – the rich kid – it made sense to her that it would be singled out as the most expensive. “How much is it worth, Mr. Paulson?”

“This one would be hot property in any decade, Ma’am. I’d say you get fifteen thousand dollars for it, easy…as long as it’s working. Maybe ten if it’s not.”

Tim let out a tiny whistle. “Can we check it?”

“Sure.”

Jim placed his fingers on either side of the winder at the top of the watch – through the clear evidence bag, of course – and wound it for five revolutions. After examining the face closely for a few seconds, he nodded. “Yep. Fifteen thousand.”

“Thank you so much for the information,” CJ said.

“Well, if you’ll just let me check my computer, I could give you the most important piece of information,” Jim offered. “Might help your case? I know enough to see these are part of an investigation.”

“Please, go ahead.” When Jim gave CJ a small salute and went into his back office, she turned to Tim. “That’s a hell of a lot of cash to be throwing onto dead bodies,” she whispered.

“I know. Do you think the killer has no idea of their value?”

“I think he knows exactly what he’s doing. I don’t think he cares how much they’re worth, which makes me think he’s pretty rich himself. It would be beneath him to use cheap watches for this.”

“Agreed,” Tim said, waving his finger to signal that Jim was returning.

“Here you go, Agents. I knew I recognized some of these,” Jim confirmed, spreading his hand across the counter. “They’re part of a collection that was sold as one lot in auction. Most dealers have heard about them. Last time they were sold was twenty or some years ago. The auction house was Miller and Sanders Fine Antiques and Rarities Auctions over in Santa Barbara. They’re still in business, you know. Family company.”

“Wow, Jim. You really know your stuff,” CJ said.

“You have to know your stuff if you want to make it in the antiques game, Ma’am.”

CJ snagged one of her cards out of her suit jacket pocket while Tim collected up the watches. “If anything else comes to mind, please give me a call?”

“Sure thing.” Jim narrowed his eyes to see the writing on the card. “Special Agent.”

Once they were back in the car, CJ and Tim looked at one another until Tim realized she was waiting for him to speak first.

“That last piece of information…” Tim finally said thoughtfully.

CJ just knew he was going to say something awesome. “Yes…?”

“Our killer didn’t know that.”

“Tell me why you think that?”

Tim shrugged. “Because he’s so careful. No DNA or prints, nothing that could help us. He wouldn’t leave us anything that could lead us to him…and that could.”

Somewhere inside, CJ wanted to do a little dance, but instead she gave Tim that confirmation nod. “It could help us, but I don’t think it’ll lead us right to him. That auction house should know exactly who bought those watches twenty years ago, especially if the collection is kinda famous in certain circles, but I doubt our killer was buying antiques twenty years ago. According to Regan’s profile, which I agree with, he is in his mid-thirties to early forties.”

“He could’ve inherited them,” Tim suggested.

CJ’s eyes popped open. “I was about to say that. Quit reading my mind.”

“I told you, I can’t read your mind,” Tim replied with a smirk.

“Sure as hell seems like it.” CJ started the car, and after a quick nudge to her partner’s shoulder, they took off for the office. Once there, she ‘ordered’ Tim to make her a nice coffee while she called the auction house, hoping to get something, anything to progress their investigation.

.

Chapter 3

Down in the medical examiner’s office, Chris sat slumped in her chair for a few minutes rest between corpses. Between CJ’s case, Jamie’s case, and three others that were active right now, she was run off her feet. For CJ, she had ordered three exhumations, and then had all the previous victims’ bodies shipped to her. She had only just finished re-examining all of the evidence. She had also re-autopsied each one in case anything was missed – anything to give CJ the best chance of finding the killer.

Chris had seen the news. She had seen the footage of the press conferences for this case. The Tick-Tock killer was one of the smartest in recent years, and when she had found only one discrepancy in a previous victim’s report, it didn’t seem like anything important, but she wanted to let the agents know about it if it would help to stop the killer coming after CJ.

* * * * * *

“Well, that didn’t seem to help much,” CJ said before she took a swig of her coffee. “The guy from Miller and Sanders did have information about the sale of the watches, but I’ve just checked the system, and this Ethel Geirson who bought them doesn’t have any children.”

“Nieces? Nephews?” Tim asked.

CJ tapped her pen on the desk while her brain ran around in circles trying to figure out how to predict this killer’s movements. “One nephew, but we don’t know who that is yet. No relatives with the name Geirson.”

“And where does Ethel li-” Tim started to ask but was interrupted by a knock on the door before Chris walked in.

“Hey, guys.”

“Doctor,” CJ addressed her professionally while noting Chris’s dark hair that wasn’t as perfect as normal. Man, she really is busy. “What’s that?” she added, pointing to the files in Chris’s hand.

“Autopsy reports and forensic files for you,” Chris replied, offering the bundle to CJ.

“Uh, I already have those.”

“Not these ones. These are my findings on all the victims in your case so far.”

CJ frowned, and after a brief pause said, “You re-autopsied all of them?”

“Yes. I wanted to make sure nothing was missed. Turns out I only had to add one addendum to the second victim’s report. The others are all accurate. I don’t know if it will be significant to you, but it’s there anyway.”

CJ nodded, and when she looked up from the paperwork, she saw a tiny hint of that dangerous desire in Chris’s eyes, but it was gone in seconds. It seemed that this was just a temporary reprieve from her lurid advances after all.

Tim was watching all of this carefully, scrutinizing the medical examiner and checking CJ’s reactions to the conversation. He was doing it mainly to be a witness to everything between these two, but also to hone his agent skills in reading people. He studied Chris Wilder. She was a stunning individual with dark hair and eyes, a statuesque figure and a confident manner. He caught the change in her eyes that appeared just long enough to show the alluring underbelly of her character. She was intelligent, but was she manipulative? Was this demure side to her all an act to lull CJ into a false sense of security?

Get a grip of your imagination, Tim, he told himself sternly, and when he broke out of his thoughts, Chris was already saying goodbye. “Thanks again, Doctor,” he said as she left.

CJ’s head was already buried in the addendum file. “Steve Birrell’s body was moved twice before it was dumped, not once. I wonder if that’s significant.”

“Maybe the killer put it into an unsatisfactory position the first time?”

“Could be, but according to the blood-stain analysis, it wasn’t quickly moved into the second position, so maybe he stored it somewhere until he had perfected his first staged body dump. I dunno.”

“Anything else?” Tim asked.

“Uh…” CJ skimmed the rest of the page. “Traces of vomit in his mouth.”

Tim drummed his fingers quietly on his desk. “They’ve never found the murder sites, have they?”

“No. Only the dump sites. We probably won’t have any idea where he killed these people until we know who he is.”

Tim sighed and went back to thinking about Chris. “CJ, do you think the medical examiner is worried about you?”

CJ looked up abruptly. “In what sense?”

“I was watching her when she was talking to you. I just wonder if she has re-examined every victim because it’s you who’s leading this. She might be worried about the fact that this killer seems to keep track of who’s keeping track of him…and he kills law enforcement.”

“She re-examined them because it’s her job, Tim.”

“I don’t believe she had to do that, though,” Tim said. “Anyway, I was about to ask you earlier where Ethel Geirson lived.”

CJ’s glare was fleeting before she answered. “In a rural area near San Jose. I’ll get the San Francisco office to send a couple of agents out to talk to her.”

“Is it bad that I want to go visit her myself?” Tim asked.

“Nah. If you’re anything like me, you need the whole experience to get a feel for the place and the person. You know…sights, sounds, even the smell of the house and the demeanor of the subject? I’m pretty visual when it comes to investigating, which is why I like the pin board covered in pictures, but for this, I’m sure our San Francisco colleagues can relay all the information to us.”

“I understand. I did notice you don’t use the fancy TV system. Too restrictive, huh?”

CJ snorted. “Yeah, it is fancy, but I can’t fit all those images on that screen. I usually have more of my own pictures too, but we haven’t been to a crime scene yet, so…”

“Oh, I hear ya. I like your style.”

When Tim’s phone rang and he was distracted by it, CJ leaned back in her chair and tried to decide how he might be feeling about her. It was a momentary distraction from the case, but a welcome one. Was Tim attracted to her? Sometimes she wondered when he looked at her the way he did. She cared about him – she might even say she loved him, but more as a brother than anything else. When the time was appropriate, she would ask him since she felt he would answer honestly. She couldn’t imagine anything coming between them, which was totally weird.

* * * * * *

An hour later, Mark arrived at their office door. With no greeting except a brief nod, he handed a file to CJ. “After about twenty phone calls, I finally managed to get a copy of Agent Regan’s medical report. It’s not pretty.”

CJ blew out a breath. “I wasn’t expecting it to be.”

And with another nod to both agents, Mark was gone again. He looked as stressed as CJ felt.

Tim got up and walked over to stand behind CJ’s chair. He read the report while she did, and it revealed Kelly’s horrific injuries, specifically to her head and her genital area.

“I can’t believe she survived all this,” CJ said in a low voice.

Tim knew she was thinking about why Kelly had undergone even more torture than Milo Sanchez. “Why did he do this to her? Is it because she’s a woman? It wasn’t in his MO to rape.”

“His MO can always change. It’s unusual with a serial killer, but it can happen. It could be that he thinks women are things. His victims are things, not intelligent minds who should be trying to catch him. It most likely pissed him off that a woman was closing in on him and could put him behind bars. She was in a position of authority. He didn’t like that at all.”

“So he deemed Sanchez not worthy of him, but putting Regan on the case was an insult to him?” Tim queried while his mind reeled at the fact that CJ was a woman chasing after this killer too.

“Something like that,” CJ said as she closed the file and slumped over her desk. “He didn’t carve any message on her and she’s still alive. He was definitely disturbed during this one.”

“Well, he chose to leave her back at the motel. Like I said, he’s as bold as they come, but there are gonna be people around a motel at any time of day.”

“True. This is frustrating me so much. How the hell are we supposed to figure out his next move? He doesn’t even have a victim type or a pattern to the places he leaves the bodies. We only see any sort of pattern after we know who the victim is. And the only thing we really know about him is that he has left his comfort zone and that he loves to put on a show. He stages them without leaving a single shred of evidence and makes sure to drum his moralistic message into us. He’s gloating.”

Tim could see her anxiety showing, but only through her expressive eyes. “We’ll get him, CJ. We have this house upstate to check out. Let’s see what that brings.”

“Right.” Just as CJ had stood up to stretch, the phone on her desk sent out a shrill ring. “Agent Carson.”

“Agent Carson, it’s Captain Chan, LAPD.”

“What can I do for you, Captain?”

“There’s been a murder that matches the Tick-Tock killer’s MO. We were told to contact you immediately. I’ve emailed the details to you. Just wanted to make sure you received it.”

CJ’s stomach dropped, and as she checked her email she hated herself for thinking that this might have been the break they needed to find this damn killer. “Got it. We’re heading out now. Thanks, Captain.” Once she hung up the call, she jumped from her seat. “Grab your gear. Looks like this could be one of ours.”

Tim was by no means a sloppy agent. He was ready to go before she had gotten off the phone, and about ten seconds later – after CJ had printed off the email – they were heading down to the parking garage.

As CJ navigated the black Bureau SUV into the moderate traffic on the street, Tim read through the details of this latest murder. It sounded like the Tick-Tock killer all right.

“Tilly Morrison, just fifteen years old. Shit. She hadn’t even been reported missing as her mother thought she was at a friend’s house.”

CJ grimaced. “Read the initial description of this location.”

“It just says she’s been found behind an equipment store on school grounds,” Tim replied before he punched the car door next to him.

CJ jumped a little at the sound. “Hey. We’ll get him. Those were your words, Tim. As much as I hate it, this murder might help us to track him down.”

“Right. That really sucks.”

“I know it does.”

* * * * * *

As CJ drove under the cordon tape that was held up by a patrol officer, she saw the large cover that had been carefully placed over the victim. Once she had found a suitable spot to park, she jumped out of the vehicle and was immediately addressed by a sergeant from the LAPD. He explained that the school’s extra-curricular activities had been ceased after the gruesome discovery. Everyone’s details had been taken, and now only the child who found the body was held indoors for questioning.

“I need to speak with him, so don’t let him leave when his parents arrive,” CJ said, before pulling a pair of latex gloves from her pocket. After the officer nodded and left them, she turned to Tim. “You ready?”

“Yes,” Tim answered as he handed her the camera then put on his own pair of gloves.

When they approached the covered body, CJ noticed the victim’s school bag lying on the ground. It was obvious that someone – presumably the child – had tried to scrub it clean. The word ‘freak’ was only just readable on the beige-colored canvas material. The area behind the equipment store was tidy, but it was also where the school’s industrial-sized trash bins were stored, so it smelled disgusting and had the occasional patch of old, layered waste smashed into the ground, no doubt from years of rolling the bins in and out over it. It was all symbolic to this killer.

CJ had already guessed that the victim had been badly bullied, and when she lifted the cover to reveal Tilly Morrison, her face contorted a little at the waif-like teenager who lay there in the darkest kind of silence. Tilly looked even younger than her fifteen years, and her slim build had probably made her an easy target for bully and killer alike.

After a quick question and answer session with the cop guarding the crime scene, CJ knew Tilly was found less than an hour ago – only three hours after school was over – and that no one had touched the body except for the first teacher on the scene, and then the first paramedic. They had both checked for a pulse, and the teacher was also waiting to speak with the agents to give her statement. All of this meant that CJ knew nobody had lifted the victim’s sweater, and it was now down to her to check for the message that would tie it to their case. In her gut, she already knew it was him, but she leaned in to move the blue cotton material aside anyway.

Tim had crouched down beside her and shook his head when the words were revealed. “Can a reject shine?” he said quietly.

CJ looked up to see if there were any lights around. Even though the sun was still in the sky, she figured he would want more than just words in his staging of the body. Perhaps he wanted her to be found after dark, to add to the drama of his kill, and when CJ saw that he had placed Tilly under a huge floodlight which was attached to the side of the school building, she grunted in disgust before she turned back to Tim. “We need to speak with the teacher to find out who was bullying this girl. The perp hasn’t been here that long and yet he had a chance to watch her movements during school hours? He moves pretty fast, but I want to know how he chooses them.”

“Could just be that he finds them by chance. He’ll find weakness in everybody if your theory about him is correct,” Tim said in the same hushed tones CJ was using.

“You’re good,” CJ said again. “I want the entire area checked meticulously for prints, including that floodlight.”

“The floodlight?” Tim confirmed.

“Yes. See the way the paint on the bracket has flaked off? I think he moved it to shine on the body after dark.”

Tim nodded. “He didn’t leave us anything before, but you never know, right?”

“Exactly. Let’s get the pictures we need before Chris arrives and moves her. And bag the watch, but be careful because it’s clutched in her right hand and rigor may be setting in.”

As CJ did her best to maintain her professional poker face, Tim simply nodded as he had already been writing everything down in his notebook, including the weather, the concealed area the girl had been left in, the amount of trash bins around her, and the fact that the killer must have snatched her from school – or on her way home – taken her away to murder her, and brought her back in a matter of hours. A quick glance at his watch revealed it was now eight PM. Where the hell did the day go?

A short while later inside the school, CJ and Tim had spoken with the teacher, Mrs. Allen. She had given them her statement and a good amount of information on Tilly herself. Described as a quiet and gentle girl from a low income home, it seemed that there was no shortage of love from Tilly’s parents, but at school the girl was an outcast, apparently brought on by her ‘different’ looks and her bright-red hair. One thing CJ took away from the conversation was that school kids could be extremely cruel for the most trivial of reasons. Mrs. Allen had also informed the agents that the main student to bully Tilly was the boy who had found her body.

“I swear I didn’t do that to her. I swear!” Callum Smith yelped through his cries as CJ and Tim approached him.

“Whoa,” CJ said, her hand held up. “We only want to talk to you, Callum.”

“But I swear! I would never…I couldn’t. I just saw her there…”

Even though he was a bully, he choked a little during his outpouring of grief. CJ couldn’t imagine what it was like for him to find a dead body at his age, so she waited until he had blown his nose on a handkerchief given to him by one of the officers.

Once Callum had sniffed a few hundred more times, CJ spoke more gently. “I’m CJ, and this is Tim. We just need to ask you some questions. Your teacher told us you found Tilly.”

“Y-Yes.”

“Why were you still here at the school?”

Callum wiped his eyes and stuffed the tissue in his pocket. “I had football practice in the Phys-Ed hall, just over there,” he said, pointing to a large building over at the other side of the school.

CJ was slightly amazed that the killer had left a body out in daylight when there was a group of teachers and children not that far away. It made her think that he was a little desperate to start this new group of killings in LA, but she put those thoughts on the back burner to continue her current line of questioning. “Why did you come over here behind the equipment store?”

“I…I had left something here from earlier.”

CJ frowned. “What?”

Callum looked terrified, and he paused long and hard before he answered. “I had stolen Tilly’s backpack from her and hidden it there.”

“So you went back to get it, but you found Tilly instead?”

“Yes,” Callum managed to say before he started crying again. It seemed this bully had seen enough to scare the crap out of him.

“Did you see anyone else nearby? Anyone suspicious?”

Callum shook his head. He was looking anywhere but at CJ and Tim.

CJ decided to go with her gut and asked, “I take it you bullied Tilly behind the equipment store on a regular basis, Callum?”

“Sometimes. She walks past there on her way home.”

“And you wrote freak on her bag?”

Callum nodded solemnly.

“OK. Believe it or not, you have been helpful, but I will contact your family again if I need to speak with you further. Do you understand?”

Callum repeated the nod, and when his father arrived, Tim approached him to let him know he could take the boy home. CJ was listening in, and when Mr. Smith told them they shouldn’t be questioning his son without him present, Tim explained that he was not a suspect and that Callum had helped them with their inquiries. Mr. Smith was suitably placated and went to be with his son.

Once Chris had arrived and chatted briefly with the agents, they left to head back to the Bureau. Chris would deal with the removal of the victim, and once she had completed her autopsy report and forensic analysis, CJ was sure she would appear up in their office to share her findings. She just hoped the killer would slip up and give them a break. She didn’t want to be waiting for another victim before their investigation could move forward again.

* * * * * *

“Yeah, the girls are asleep,” Kate said into the phone, her voice having its usual effect on CJ’s tension.

“Good. What are you going to do now then?”

“Well, that depends on whether or not you’ll get home for a while.”

CJ sighed. “I’m definitely coming home to see you, and to get a quick shower and something to eat.” She looked at her watch. “Probably around eleven…”

“Good. Let me know if you get sidetracked, though,” Kate said softly.

“I won’t. We’ve been at this case all day without a break. Tim’s gonna head to his apartment now, and I’ll leave here as soon as Chris brings her report to me. I’m kinda desperate to see you.”

Tim made puppy-dog eyes across the room, and CJ looked for something to throw at him. Coming up with nothing, she gave him the finger, much to his surprise. He grinned as he pulled his bag from under his desk.

“Can’t wait to see you too…and uh, you know, if you need a fresh pair of eyes…?”

CJ allowed herself a little smile. “I hear ya. See you soon.”

“Bye, CJ.”

“Bye, Katie.” CJ replaced the receiver and gave Tim a narrow stare. “Get your butt out of here for a couple hours. I’m aiming to be back around one. Kate knows I won’t sleep anyway, so I may as well be here working.”

“I’ll be back by midnight. See you later then,” Tim said as he headed out the door.

CJ had found a projectile, and as he left she fired it at his back. Tim turned around dramatically to see a small ball of elastic bands go bouncing across the floor. He brought two fingers up to his eyes in an ‘I’m-watching-you’ kind of way, making CJ snort as she grabbed her jacket.

Barely a second later, the phone rang, and it was Chris letting them know her initial report was complete. Tim had paused outside the office door, and he insisted on accompanying CJ to the morgue to collect it. Ten minutes later, they were at the basement garage where CJ waved at Tim as he left in his car before jumping into her truck and hauling ass toward her haven. It was the only way she was going to keep her positive momentum going on this case – to have Kate give her strength and keep her out of her dark thoughts at home, and to have Tim keep her from falling at work.

* * * * * *

Only a little over one hour later, CJ pulled the key from the ignition and hopped out of her Dodge Ram. Just a couple of lights were on in the house, which meant Kate was probably in the living room waiting for her. On closing the front door behind her, CJ slumped against it and placed her files on the nearby table. When Kate approached her in pajamas and fluffy slippers, CJ smiled and watched as Kate’s hand went in to touch her Glock. Had this been any other person, she would have already taken them down and pinned them to the floor in a painful grip, but she knew exactly what was happening.

Kate hated having guns in the house, but since they had to be, she preferred that they were locked away immediately for safety reasons and because she didn’t ever want Shannon and Lucy to get anywhere near them. She flipped the little stud open on CJ’s holster and pulled the weapon out before opening the gun cabinet mounted high on the wall above the table. She placed the Glock inside, and only when the cabinet had beeped to signify that the lock had re-engaged did CJ speak.

“Thanks.”

Kate was now slowly reaching up for a kiss. “You’re welcome.” The kiss was long, gentle, and an affirmation of their bond. “Now, come in and relax while I make you a snack.”

“Sounds good. I haven’t eaten all day.”

Kate started to chastise her. “CJ, you know that’s not a good idea-”

“I know. I know, Katie, but we’ve been at this case constantly. Too much to do, no time to stop…”

Kate relented when she saw the look in CJ’s eyes. “How are you doing with this one?”

“Actually, I’ve been fine,” CJ replied as she walked into the kitchen behind her and sat on one of the bar stools. “And you know what I think it is?”

“What?”

“Tim.”

Kate turned around with a little jar of herbs in her hand. “What about him?”

“He’s kinda like the work equivalent of you in that he keeps me feeling, I dunno, upbeat? No, that’s not the right word.”

Kate smiled at her. “Strong? Motivated?”

“Yeah, that too, but also on the level, you know? I haven’t felt really depressed about this case yet, and believe me, there’s a lot to be depressed about when it comes to this killer,” CJ said while nodding along to her words. “Remember how fast I went down the hole during the Davenport case?”

Kate sprinkled the herbs into an oven dish full of something wonderful. “Yes, I do. Wow, there’s a flashback.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I for one am very glad that Tim has these magical powers. I always hate that I can’t be there with you. I guess I don’t have to worry about that aspect anymore, huh?”

CJ watched as Kate stooped to open the door on the stove. “No, you don’t, honey. Um, what are you cooking?”

“It’s the same as what we had for dinner. It was already cooked so just needs warming up with a little seasoning. Dad made it,” Kate said as she turned around and approached CJ.

“They really need to stop cooking for us. That’s not why we invited them to build a house here.”

“Might be part of the reason?” Kate offered with a grin.

“Heh. Maybe.”

“So, may I be of assistance with the case?”

CJ gazed at her, and with the grounded feeling of Kate wrapped neatly in her arms, she felt at ease enough to acquiesce. “If you want to. It’s a tough one, though.”

“They’re all tough ones, CJ. I’d like to help.”

“I know, and I love you for it. Let’s set up on the counter, huh?”

Kate nodded, and after nuzzling into CJ’s neck and kissing the soft skin there, she retreated to grab a couple of glasses of grape juice to sip on while they worked.

It only took an hour for Kate to finish scanning through all the files – avoiding some of the nastier crime scene photos – while CJ finished off her dinner and pointed out various important profile factors along the way.

When she was done, Kate sat in a few moments of silent contemplation before she nudged CJ’s shoulder to get her attention. “You believe this guy is incredibly intelligent, so meticulous in his planning that he’s at least one step ahead of you at every turn, right?”

“Yes.”

“And you wouldn’t suspect for a moment that he would do anything…simple?”

CJ frowned a little. “I think it would be beneath him if it were simple.”

“Exactly,” Kate said. “But maybe that’s his trick. On this page right here,” she added, pointing to the papers on the countertop. “I can see something I think you might have missed, but only because it’s too simple. We did it once on an episode of Deadline, but it’s too tacky and cheap for your killer’s profile.”

Now CJ was worried because she knew Kate had seen something she hadn’t. “What do you see, Katie?”

“Hey. Don’t look so panicked. You’ve been so focused on the complexity of this case…both you and Tim…that it would have been easy to miss that the killer has done something that’s been done so many times before, just never by a killer so…so intellectual.” When CJ just stared at her waiting for the answer, Kate took hold of her hand. “The first letter of each word in the messages…” She didn’t have to say anything more since CJ had gasped and looked down at the page.

“Shit!” CJ quickly scanned the messages she could see, and it all became so obvious to her. “Oh, no…Regan,” she said as her eyes pinpointed the letters. “He was leaving a double message each fucking time.”

“Don’t you dare get angry with yourself-”

“But I am angry with myself. I should’ve seen this right at the start. Look at this,” CJ growled as she maneuvered the pages around and picked out the first letter of each word in the hideously displayed messages. “Sanchez…told of my…victory. Damn it.” CJ continued to scribble down the hidden messages. “Regan is a de…woman. That’s not right.”

Kate looked on with concern. “There’s something missing on that one, but the others all make sense.”

“I have to find out what went wrong there.” CJ looked at her. “You…how did you see this so fast?”

“I don’t know. Like I said, we did it on Deadline, and maybe a fresh pair of eyes always helps?” Kate offered.

“It’s not just that, Katie. Your fresh pair of eyes always helps. It’s you. Your mind, your intelligence…”

“Hmm. Not sure about that. Will this help you catch him, though?” Kate asked quietly.

“Yeah. I need to go into the office right now.”

“No. You need to freshen up. It will make you feel better. And CJ, there’s one more thing.”

“Something else about the case…?”

“Yes. I have a question.” When CJ continued to watch her intently, Kate went on. “You said that the killer must have found out about the lead investigators from the press conferences, right?”

“We think so, yes.”

“Well, he couldn’t have. Not the second time, anyway.”

“Why?”

“The timing is off. He knew about Agent Regan before the FBI press conference took place.”

CJ blew out a frustrated breath. “I can’t be making mistakes like this!”

“Quit that. You and I are a team, and you guys have been on the go continually since you started this morning. Give yourself a break.”

“No. I can’t,” CJ said with agitation. “I only just got back to full duty. I need to get this guy otherwise they’ll think I’ve lost it.”

“Oh, that’s ridiculous. Think about what you’ve been through and yet here you are trying to crack the biggest case of the year,” Kate admonished while taking CJ’s hand to stop her from frantically flipping through the pages. “Listen to me for a second.”

CJ took a deep breath and slowly exhaled it. “OK, I’m listening.”

“That press conference given by the FBI while Regan was investigating was after the discovery of…” Kate looked at the relevant page. “Lily Lichfield, but the killer had already written his message on her, so he knew about Regan before the release of that information. What you need to figure out is how. Also, that very first body with no message…did he do that to wait for a cop to be assigned to his case?”

CJ grabbed her own head in a vice grip. “Shit. It’s been a game for him all along, and you just discovered these hidden messages. Agent Regan never found them. Sanchez never found them, so we didn’t even realize he found out about the investigations some other way. What the hell is wrong with us?”

“Like I said, your profile is for a sophisticated, psychopathic killer, which I think he definitely is, but he has included this part of the game as a childish, subliminal taunt. He’s trying to make you feel this way, to make you feel exactly like you do now, to undermine you. Don’t let him win.” Kate stopped talking when CJ’s stare got a little hazy. “What?”

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a thousand times more. You’re amazing, and you need to think about changing jobs, Katie.”

Kate wanted to kiss her, so once she had done so she held CJ’s hand in her own. “No. I’m your secret weapon.”

“Secret agent?” CJ said, pointing at Kate and wiggling her finger in her face. “Have you been undercover all this time and I didn’t even know?”

“Hah. Like I could keep anything from you, my love.”

CJ suddenly grew serious again. “I really do have to get back to work, like, now.”

“You said you wanted a quick shower and some fresh clothes, so just take a few more minutes. Please?” Kate begged. “I’ll help you get ready.”

CJ couldn’t resist and nodded her ascent. “All right.”

Kate had to surrender to the fact that she was not going to have CJ for any length of time until the case was concluded, and in the back of her mind she had to keep telling herself that concluded meant home safe, because the alternative was just too much to cope with. She hadn’t failed to notice the very latest message on Tilly Morrison’s body. The initials on each word spelled CARS, and Kate knew that meant the killer was somehow aware of CJ already.

“Be careful,” she whispered.

“Always,” CJ said before kissing her again and heading upstairs.

.

Chapter 4

CJ strolled through the darkened corridors of the FBI building. The lights were usually on dimmed or standby mode at night, so they only illuminated as she passed every second doorway. There was certainly a light on in her office, though. Tim was already back and had some coffee and muffins ready for CJ when she entered.

“Where did you get those at this time of night?” she asked when Tim offered her a smile in greeting.

“Well, I tend to, uh, bake when I have things on my mind, so I had time to prepare the mini muffins before I took a shower.”

At Tim’s sheepish look, CJ did her best to restrain her grin. “You’d better watch out, man. I might need to install you in my kitchen at home.” As she stood over the plastic container full of treats, she zoomed in on the biggest one – the biggest one being about an inch and a half in diameter. After a bite, she closed her eyes as she savored the confusing but satisfying mixture of flavors. “Mint?”

Tim stood up behind his desk. “Yes. These are my mint and maple muffins, with crushed walnuts and flax seeds for added goodness.”

“They’re awesome. You have a talent there. You should talk to our friend Tony. His dad was a baker, and he’s inherited some cool recipes.”

“Is he an agent?”

CJ shook her head while she finished chewing another bite of the muffin. “No, he’s Kate’s personal assistant and a close family friend.”

“He might be too much competition for me,” Tim jested.

“Oh, you could have a bake-off.”

“I’d lose for sure.”

“Nah. These are just delicious.”

“Don’t start another one yet. They’re even better accompanied by my special coffee.”

CJ laughed. “Right. I’m gonna put on about fifty pounds with you around.”

Tim just rolled his eyes while waving off her silly comment. He made her a mug of coffee and went to place it on her desk. “OK, that was our little relief chat for today. Now back to business.”

CJ sat down and positioned another muffin next to her FBI – Female Body Inspector mug before she said, “Relief chat?”

“Yeah. I think we should take a couple of minutes at the beginning of each day while we are on a case, to make one another smile, or maybe even just talk about something completely non-work related. It’ll help to keep us sane.”

Ah, I do love this guy, CJ decided as she nodded in agreement. “I like that idea, but now I have to get you up to speed on some new information that we didn’t see. Information that no other cop or agent saw either.”

“You figured it out while you were home?” Tim asked with his eyebrows raised high.

“Uh…well, I had help.” CJ went on to give Tim all the details of her talk with Kate, which led to a brief conversation about Kate’s history with Bureau cases and how CJ had met her in the first place.

Twenty minutes later, Tim was processing most of what he had just heard – he had already known about Kate’s abduction – while CJ added the details to the whiteboard. She knew she could trust Tim and so telling him about Kate seeing the files was not a problem. She had also let him know that it was something Mark was very much aware of.

“So the killer already knows you’re on the case,” Tim said quietly.

“Looks like it.”

“I still think we should hold off on a press conference.”

CJ nodded as she perched herself of the edge of her desk. “Yeah, me too.”

Tim leaned forward to rest his elbows on the desk. “The letters in the message that are missing…do you think there’s a body we haven’t found?”

“Definitely, but I don’t know why this killer would hide it. He’s such a showman, and leaving a message with a mistake in it isn’t his style.”

“That missing victim could give away his location,” Tim suggested.

“I was thinking that too. It’s just that he’s so determined to get his message across that I would imagine he’d kill again just to fix the mistake.”

“Well, after Laura Cane’s murder is when we suspected he might have been spooked. Something must have happened to throw him off. Maybe Regan got too close, too soon.”

CJ had nodded along as he spoke. “That’s a definite possibility. We really need to figure out how he gets information on who’s in charge each time.”

“That could be tough, CJ. I mean, even if he worked inside the Bureau, it would be hard to pin him down.”

CJ frowned at that. It was possible that the killer had inside knowledge because he already had access to case files, but for some reason it didn’t sit right with her. “I don’t think he’s an agent…just a gut feeling, but he could have some sort of access to our computer systems.”

Before Tim could respond, the phone on CJ’s desk rang, and since he was sitting in her chair, he answered it. “Agent Carson’s desk. Agent Dalton speaking…”

“Dalton, it’s Agent Clark, San Francisco. We just got back from Geirson’s house.”

“Hold on. I’ll put you on speaker.” Once Tim had engaged the mic on the display, he asked, “Did you manage to talk to her?”

“No. There was no answer when we knocked, so we snooped around a little. The house is pretty old, and from what we could see inside, the furniture is old too, covered in dust. There was some mail behind the front door…pretty big pile, actually…but nothing else unusual. She might be in a care home now. We’re checking into that.”

CJ scrunched up her nose. “Clark, it’s Agent Carson here. Did you happen to take a sniff through the letterbox?”

“That, we did. I don’t think there was a body in there.”

“Do you have anything more on the nephew?” CJ asked.

“Only that there is one. We’ll keep workin’ on a name.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that. Let us know if you track Geirson down, yeah?”

“Sure thing.”

With the call complete, Tim slouched back in the chair. “Hmm. So we still need to find the nephew…or Geirson herself.”

“Yep. You never know what information they might have on those watches. We’ll keep digging once we get the forensic and autopsy reports from Chris,” CJ said with a sigh. “You know what’s bugging me?”

“What?”

“Since our killer is so judgmental, why did he not target the bully instead of Tilly Morrison?”

Tim pursed his lips before he answered. “Tilly’s weakness. She didn’t stand up for herself. Maybe he saw the bully as strong.”

“Maybe,” CJ muttered as she got up to walk around the room, flexing and rubbing her wrist as she did so. “For now, let’s go over the names of the people who found the victim each time. It probably won’t help, but I wouldn’t rule out this killer being around for the big reveal to the cops.”

“Good thinking,” Tim said. “Hey, is that still annoying you?” he added, signaling toward her wrist.

“Oh…no,” CJ replied adamantly while flapping her hand to show it was not painful in the slightest. “I just keep massaging it. Probably just the memory of what it felt like before, you know?”

“CJ, I wasn’t prying. Just concerned, that’s all.”

CJ stopped pacing, her shoulders drooping as she fell into her chair. “I know. I guess I’m feeling a little weird about missing those clues.”

“So the wrist massage is a new nervous twitch of yours. Got it,” Tim said, waiting for the inevitable response.

“What? No. I don’t have nervous twitches!”

With a snort, Tim began to laugh. “You’re so easy.”

“Oh, you bastard,” CJ snarled. “I’ll get you back for that.”

“I look forward to it.”

While CJ continued to send him a badly executed evil smirk, Tim just grinned smugly as he started to pull up the details of the people who had found the bodies in their case. He decided that even though their job was one of the worst in the world, it didn’t mean he couldn’t keep his partner smiling in between the horror. To him, it was a vital part of his job.

* * * * * *

The sun was rising on a new day when Jamie and Ethan entered the office to find CJ and Tim still working away. Jamie noted CJ’s tired eyes and slightly unkempt hair, and Tim’s open mouth as he dozed in a highly uncomfortable position in his chair.

“Hey, DM,” Jamie said quietly. “Is he OK?”

CJ smiled at them both. “Hey, guys. Yeah, he’s fine. We’ve been here since one this morning, so he’s grabbing forty winks. I took a nap earlier after my eyes started crossing.”

“Why didn’t he use the cot in the back room?” Ethan asked as he threw his jacket onto a hook on the wall.

“I don’t think he had the chance. I was talking to him one minute, and the next, he was asleep.”

“How’s the case going?” Jamie asked.

“Slowly. We got another body yesterday, but this guy isn’t leaving anything for us at all.”

“Any other leads?”

CJ yawned. “Maybe, yeah. How’s your case?” she asked, knowing they wouldn’t discuss details with one another because it only led to confusion. Keeping track of your own prolific serial killer was enough for any agent.

“It’s still ongoing. We thought we had him a couple of days ago, but it turned out to be a false tip. We’ve been working with the San Diego office a lot since he seems to be focusing on that area now. We need to go there again this afternoon, but I just wanted to check in here and pick up some things first,” Jamie said with a look that CJ could read like a book.

“Missin’ me, huh?”

Jamie puffed out a laugh. “You? Nah.”

But CJ could tell she was. “Miss you too, Penfold.”

“Oy.” Ethan butted in after a few gulps of coffee. “You guys are gonna give me a cavity.”

“Me too,” Tim added since he had been wakened by the chatter. “How long was I out, CJ?”

“Just five minutes, bud. Don’t worry about it. Gotta grab forty when we can, right?”

“Right.”

Jamie got up to get herself a mugful of the good stuff, but when she saw the carafe only held a dribble, she pouted. “Tim, you know how I think you’re an amazing agent?”

Tim frowned and turned to look at her in confusion, but after realizing that she was desperately in need of coffee, he snickered. “Amazing coffee agent, yeah.”

“That too.”

He got up and trundled over to the machine. “Oh, I always feel so useful in the kitchen, slaving over a hot stove for you guys, day in, day out…”

After a small, unexpected round of laughter, some fresh coffee, and all of them perked up for the day in more ways than one, Jamie and Ethan seated themselves around one desk to gather the info they needed, and Tim and CJ continued with their investigation via CJ’s computer.

They were currently running through any photos of witnesses who were in the vicinity when the victims were discovered. CJ wanted to make sure the CSU guys didn’t inadvertently capture something useful while they photographed the scene.

* * * * * *

By two PM, Jamie and Ethan were gone again, leaving CJ and Tim checking into the background of some witnesses. After analyzing all the people who had discovered the bodies, CJ wanted to focus on the second one, which was the first victim found with a message displayed for the police. The man who had discovered Steve Birrell had given his name as Gerard Murray, and she was currently running him through the system to get a better insight into his life.

“Hmm. This isn’t quite adding up,” she muttered, mainly to herself, but Tim overheard it.

“Care to share?”

CJ popped her head up to look over the computer monitor. “This Gerard Murray has already moved from the address he gave police. It was a rental, and now he’s gone. Maybe I should try to call him.”

“How about a forwarding address?”

“None that I can see…”

“What’s the number?” Tim asked as he lifted the handset to his office phone.

“Cell phone must have been registered down here because the number he gave is eight-one-eight, five-five-five, fifteen-twenty,” CJ said before she looked up from the screen. “Pretend you’re an insurance salesman.”

Tim smirked at that, but he was prepared with a different cover story – Mr. Murray had won a competition. But only a few seconds later, he hung up the phone. “Disconnected.”

“Damn. There’s something here, Tim,” CJ said, shaking her head.

“It could be that he was right there rubbing it in their faces and enjoying the thrill of watching them with one of his victims.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised one bit with this guy.” CJ began to type on her keyboard. “We don’t have any pictures of him, so I want to know what Murray does for a living.”

“I’ll take a cyber-walk down his street. It probably won’t help any, but…” Tim shrugged to finish his sentence.

“Shit, it’s like you’re my twin. I did that for all the dump sites of the previous victims.”

“Your twin?”

CJ grinned as she watched the little egg timer on her screen flipping around. “Yeah. I mean, the dark hair, the blue eyes, the intimidating stature, and that incredible mind of yours…twins.”

Tim snorted. “You’re weird.”

“The weirdness and the snorting just backup my theory even more.” With a quick glance at him, CJ noted the expression on his face which proved he thought it was funny, and that he was ultimately contented with her assessment. “OK. Murray works in a bank. That doesn’t really tell me anything.”

Without looking up from his cyber-walk, Tim blew out a breath. “That sucks. The only link, which isn’t really a link, is that Murray works in a bank and we think the killer has plenty of money.”

CJ looked up then. “You think he knew Murray and used his details to give to police?”

“Uh, no. I was just letting my thoughts fall out of my mouth.”

“Just keep doin’ that whenever you want to, Tim. It’s unlikely that you’re right about this, but it is possible.”

Tim met her gaze and raised his eyebrows. “You think?”

“We can’t rule anything out.” Just as CJ said it, her phone rang. “Agent Carson.” After jotting a few notes down on a pad, she completed the call with a darkened expression on her face. “We got another one.”

“Shit. He’s stepping up his game. Is he gonna give us one each day now?” Tim stood up, and within mere moments they were organized with email printout in hand and heading out the door together.

CJ hadn’t answered him, but she had the same feeling he did, and they both knew there were going to be more bodies before they caught the killer.

With Tim driving the Bureau’s Chevrolet Suburban this time, CJ looked over the email from Captain Chan who she now realized was head of the LAPD’s Homicide division. “Our guy went over the top with this one. Candy Finnegan, a drug user from LA with twenty five needles stuck all over her arms and legs. She was found forty minutes ago in an alleyway on the outskirts of Montebello. She was known to police…a confidential informant.”

“Do you think the killer knew that?”

CJ didn’t need time to think about it. “No. Even if the killer somehow has access to investigator details, he wouldn’t know about CIs…even if they were carded.” She looked up from the page and watched as Tim navigated the traffic with ease. “Man, I hope he’s not a cop.”

Tim shook his head. “It doesn’t quite fit.”

That was all he had to say for CJ to understand what he meant. It just didn’t feel right for this killer. She had to keep trusting her hunches…and Tim’s.

* * * * * *

Upon arrival at the scene, even CJ was a little caught off guard at the state of the victim. The killer had not simply pricked the skin with the syringes. He had made sure the entire length of the needle was inserted, making the syringes stand out at a ninety degree angle to the surface of Candy Finnegan’s arms and legs.

Once their latex gloves were on, both agents crouched down on opposite sides of the body. CJ looked at the face of the woman who had been ravaged by years of drug abuse. Had it not been for the gaunt cheeks and grayish skin, she would have looked like a young and healthy woman. Her clothing was grubby but stylish, and her hair a bright, bleached-blond color. When CJ saw her left hand, she grimaced.

“What the…?” she whispered as she lifted the hand carefully off the ground so that Tim could see it.

“He cut off her fingers,” Tim said, a little puzzled since the hand on his side of the body was complete.

CJ thought about it for a minute before she offered a potential reason for the anomaly. “She got a piece of him. She scratched him.”

Tim nodded. “She has scuffs on her knuckles so that would make sense. She fought back. Do you think she woke up early from the sedation?”

“Maybe.” CJ lifted Candy’s ribbed, pink sweater. “Opiate needles won’t inject life.”

Tim jotted down the message – and the initials of each word – in his notebook. “Clearly, the drug abuse is the weakness for this one.”

CJ stood up, and once they had gotten everything they needed – including photos and the pocket watch which was hanging on Candy’s shoulder like a purse – they handed the body over to the ME who had just arrived.

“Well, he’s completed your name,” Tim said pensively once they were back in the car.

“Yeah, I noticed that. It’s what we expected, but I wonder what the ‘wil’ part is going to be.”

“Going by the previous messages, nothing good, CJ,” Tim replied before he started the car and drove slowly out of the crime scene. “Back to the office?”

“Yeah. Let’s grab some dinner on the way.”

It was already five fifty PM. The days were passing too fast for CJ’s liking. If the killer kept up this pace, they only had hours until the next one would be taken, that is, if he hadn’t done that already.

* * * * * *

This house wasn’t as clean and modern as he was used to, but it had proved to be somewhat sufficient so far. The neighbors were far enough away, and he could drive his car right up to the back door. The décor was a tad traditional for his tastes, but on the whole it was pleasing to the eye. It disturbed him a little that he didn’t really have time to remodel this bathroom. He was anticipating his meeting with Agent Carson so much that he wanted to get the four murders out of the way as fast as possible. His pattern was four murders before each law enforcement officer – apart from that little faux pas in the middle, but they would make sense of that one day – and he did prefer to stick to that, but he was getting restless. He wanted her.

He was so confident she wouldn’t be able to catch him because she was a woman, and it was going to be so much fun when he took her as his… Oh, what would it be by then? He counted in his mind. She would be his eighteenth victim by that point in his planned timeline.

He couldn’t wait to see the fear in her eyes close up. He couldn’t wait to feel her under his hands…under him. He couldn’t wait to hear her scream as he slowly killed her. He couldn’t wait.

“I’m so glad you had a basement,” he said to the body under the floorboards as he placed the second to last plank in position. “You’ll both be here for a while, I’d imagine. And it’s nice you’ll be so close for all the action. I’ll bring her down here. Yes. This will be the best place. It means I can take my time with her because nobody will hear. Once she wakes up, I don’t want to have to do it all right away. I need to savor this one.”

After hammering the board into place, he got up to grab the last plank of wood. “Maybe I should leave this one off. She’d know your fate and wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Wouldn’t that be nice?”

He shook his head at that idea and proceeded to cover the hole in the floor, deciding it could be a trip hazard. “Thanks for letting me use the house.”

As he headed out to his car, he noticed an annoying splinter in his palm. He removed it before using his expensive hand cream and pulling on his leather gloves. It was time to collect his next victim. She was going to be a challenge, but he felt this one would be good practice for what was to come.

* * * * * *

As ten o’clock approached, CJ came to the conclusion that she wasn’t going to get home that night. If the killer was going to murder someone every day, she knew they had to go over everything they had so far with a fine-tooth comb. Tim was currently at the morgue to see if Chris had completed the autopsy, but as soon as he returned, they would dive into the case even deeper to try to come up with a lead. It was beyond frustrating CJ now. The only potential evidence was probably under the nails of Candy Finnegan’s left hand. If only they had found the fingertips at the scene.

“That would’ve been too easy. No way would this guy leave a clue,” she huffed as she got out of her chair.

“You talking to me, CJ?” Mark asked from the door.

“Oh. No, Sir.”

“Didn’t think so,” he said as he walked in. “I just came to check in with you. I haven’t heard from you since this morning. How’s it going?”

CJ scratched her head. “It’s difficult. He’s not leaving us a thing to go on. We have a couple of inquiries ongoing with the San Francisco office, but so far they haven’t gotten back to me.”

Mark perched himself on the corner of Ethan’s desk. “Where’s Tim?”

“He went to see Dr. Wilder. She’s been bringing her reports to us, but she usually waits until she has the autopsy and the initial forensics done. He went to hopefully grab the autopsy report now.” CJ noticed Mark’s tense face. “Are you all right, Sir?”

Mark forced a smile. “Sure. I just can’t wait to get through this audit stuff, you know? I feel like it’s a distraction I don’t need right now. I also feel like I’m walking a tightrope, worrying if they’re going to say we’re using too much money.”

“They won’t shut us down, will they?”

“Not if I have anything to do with it. I’ve been careful with our budget.” He shrugged. “I just don’t like feeling like I’m the perp.”

CJ nodded. “You feel like it’s you they’re auditing. I get that. We’ll be fine, Sir.”

“Yes, we will. And I have an accountant, a Mr. Bull, coming in tomorrow. Not sure how I’m going to get through that conversation without laughing.”

“I don’t envy you there,” CJ said with a sympathetic frown.

When Tim walked in the door, Mark stood up. “Tim. Good to see you. I’ll let you guys get on with things. You know where I am if you need me.”

“Thanks, Sir,” Tim replied as Mark left the office. “Is he OK?”

“Yeah, he’s just a little stressed with assistant-director-type stuff.” CJ patted the arm of the chair next to her. “Let’s see what we’ve got then.”

Tim sat down and placed the report on the desk. With a sigh, he flipped open the front cover. “Nothing unexpected. She was sedated with chloroform then bound by her wrists and ankles. When she woke up the torture began. He put those syringes in while she was alive.”

“We pretty much knew that. He’s as sadistic as they come,” CJ said as she continued to read. “The message was pre-mortem too. Did you notice anything about the lettering this time?”

Tim leaned forward to look at the photo. “Just that it’s a little messy.”

“I thought so too. He’s stepped up the frequency of the murders, and now a few letters on the message are not exact. That’s not like him.”

“Why is he rushing it now?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s not as comfortable here in LA. He must have somewhere to carry out the murders. A second home or…”

“Or a rental?” Tim suggested.

“Possibly. Thing is, I can’t imagine this guy doing his work anywhere that he isn’t satisfied with, so his location can’t be the reason he’s rushing. He’s precise, so he would’ve made sure to set up his torture chamber the way he wanted it. He might just have more of a taste for it now, and if that’s the case, we really do need to find him because he won’t ever stop.”

“And we’re running out of time.”

CJ turned to him then. “You mean if he follows the previous pattern.”

“Yes,” Tim said, his concern showing clearly on his face. “One or two more…and he’s coming after you.”

CJ inhaled deeply and stood abruptly. “We need coffee.”

Tim could see she was trying to avoid thinking about that eventuality. He supposed she had to in order to focus on the task at hand, otherwise it would consume her.

CJ had poured two mugs of bitter coffee from the carafe. “Let’s go through it all again, including Finnegan’s autopsy. Maybe once we’re done, Chris will be here with some forensics for us to work with.”

“Roger that,” Tim replied as he grabbed the creamer and sugar before wheeling his chair over to CJ’s desk.

* * * * * *

Day seemed to suddenly turn into night, and before they knew it, the sun was rising once more. CJ had barely spoken to Kate yesterday. Only half an hour ago, they had sent a text to one another, but it did not feel like enough for either of them.

The Tick-Tock killer’s case had only been given to them days ago, but it felt like they had been working on it for months. By eight AM, CJ and Tim had not managed to find any new leads, and Chris did arrive with the initial forensic report from the body and the crime scene, but immediately after she had left, the phone had interrupted them bringing news of another victim. It hadn’t even been twenty four hours this time.

Tim walked along the corridor behind CJ carrying the few items they always took with them. CJ had the camera bag over her shoulder as usual, but he hadn’t failed to notice her change in demeanor and the fact that she hadn’t said anything since the phone call.

It was only after the elevator doors had closed that CJ whispered, “What are we gonna do?”

“I don’t know. All we can do is to keep on it and hope he slips up,” Tim answered with the same hushed tone.

CJ turned to look at him, her face showing only a slither of her torment. “He won’t slip up.”

“Technically, he already has, CJ. There’s a part of a message missing, and no way did he know about those watches being traceable and from a well-known collection.”

“Still, that hasn’t helped us much yet, has it?”

“No, not yet, but I have confidence that we’ll get him. I read your file, remember. I know who you are,” Tim said while the elevator finished its descent to the basement garage.

A deep inhale was CJ’s only response, and as they walked to their vehicle, she started to really feel the pressure. People were dying, and while she had the case, their deaths were in her hands. She couldn’t stand the thought of being responsible for someone else being tortured and killed. She had to do whatever it took to hunt him down.

It wasn’t long before they arrived at the location to find the usual personnel all running around doing their jobs. Police officers were diverting passers-by around the cordon tape to maintain the perimeter, crime scene techs were photographing the victim or placing markers on the ground at relevant, potential pieces of evidence, and Chris Wilder was just getting out of her car when CJ and Tim walked past the large sign that told them this was Peterson’s Gym.

This victim was a female bodybuilder, and when CJ saw her, she realized the killer was beyond emboldened. How he had captured, sedated, and held this woman in restraints, she would never know.

“Carla Bryant,” Tim said as he stood shoulder to shoulder with CJ. “A twenty-eight-year old personal trainer from Rolling Hills, she was an amateur boxer and regional champion bodybuilder.”

CJ shook her head as she crouched to examine the victim more closely, all the while noticing that the medical examiner was standing quietly waiting for CJ to finish. The fact that she was being so polite unnerved CJ a little. “What do you make of these, Doctor?” she asked while pointing to the marks on Carla’s wrists.

Chris crouched down opposite her. She snapped on her latex glove before gently cradling one of Carla’s wrists in her hand. “These are much more pronounced than the others. I’d guess by the look of this victim that he had to use something stronger to hold her, and going by the pattern on the skin, I’d say handcuffs.”

“That would be my guess too,” CJ agreed. “And on the ankles? Those marks look like chain links.”

“Yes. I’ll be able to tell you for sure once I examine her. May I…?” Chris requested as she touched the bottom of the victims sweater.

CJ nodded, knowing that she was going to look at the message.

When it was revealed, Tim said it out loud as he wrote it into his notebook. “Lifting daily is excessive.” As his pen moved over the paper, he felt like he was going to vomit. The initials on each word seemed to score like a laser across his brain.

CJ sighed. “Well, it seems excess in anyone…except him…is repulsive to him, and he’s sending me a pretty clear message too.”

Chris wasn’t privy to the hidden messages yet, and it wasn’t in her nature to shy away from a question. “What’s the message to you?” she asked quietly.

“He’s basically telling me that I’m going to die. I guess he’ll be sticking to his pattern after all.”

The blank look on CJ’s face worried Tim a little. He hadn’t seen that expression since she was in the midst of her hellish ordeal in Minnesota.

Chris, on the other hand, was not so difficult to read. She looked horrified. “I…I’d better get her wrapped up.”

“Right,” CJ replied as she stood up. “Tim, could you bag the pocket watch-”

“I’ll have to do that this time,” Chris interrupted. “It’s very tight around her neck, so there may be evidence lost if you remove it out here.”

CJ looked dazed for a split second before she nodded. “Of course. See you back at the office.” As CJ walked off to take the rest of the pictures she needed, Chris looked up at Tim who just bit his lip before following his partner. None of them were under any illusions. If the killer was indeed sticking to his pattern, there would probably be one more victim before he would be coming after CJ. If his one-a-day pace was going to continue, that didn’t give them very much time. They needed a break in the case, and they needed it today.

.

Chapter 5

Mark had intercepted them on their way along the corridor to demand an update. Apparently, their deputy director, Julius Mitchell was pressuring Mark about the Tick-Tock killer. When CJ and Tim finally did make it back into their office – after reassuring Mark that they would get the job done – CJ was beyond tense. As she stood staring out the window trying to search her mind for the answer, Tim uploaded and printed out the photos from the crime scene. He noted this killer’s usual, sickening flamboyance in the way Carla Bryant had been displayed. Her sweater had been cut to show her bulging arm muscles, the bloodied, iron weights from two sets of dumbbells had been positioned around and on top of the body, and the message had been carefully written on the victim’s six-pack.

“Meticulous, disgusting, and disturbing,” Tim said to himself as he pinned the last three pictures to the board.

“Hmm?” CJ mumbled before she turned around. “Sorry, Tim. I was just trying to figure out a way to catch him. I’m gonna call the San Francisco office again. They’d better have something on Geirson by now.”

Just as Tim was about to answer, the phone on his desk rang. While CJ sat down to call their colleagues upstate, he answered it accordingly. “Special Agent Tim Dalton.”

“Hello, Agent Dalton. This is Dale Smith, Callum’s father.”

“How can I help you, Mr. Smith?”

“My son has remembered something that might help you….something about a van near the school the day Tilly was found.”

Tim’s eyebrows lifted slowly. “That might be helpful. I’ll come out to take Callum’s statement again. Will you be home today?”

“Yes. After five PM is best for us. I’m leaving work now.”

Tim looked at his watch. It was already four. “OK. I’ll see you then.” Once he had finished the call, he saw CJ was still on the phone to San Francisco, so he flipped through his notebook to refresh his mind on the Tilly Morrison crime scene details. He noted from the plan they had drawn out of the area, that there was an access road behind the equipment store to allow for garbage disposal. He wondered if that was where Callum had seen the van. I’d better not jump to conclusions, he reminded himself. Take his statement again, and figure it out from there. When the office printer began to reel off pages of info, CJ stood up from her desk which effectively brought Tim from his musings.

“I have an address for Geirson’s nephew. His name is Dan Fields. We need to go out to talk to him,” CJ said as she made the sheets of paper into a pile and knocked them on her desk to tidy the edges.

“I was going to go speak with Callum Smith. He has remembered he saw a van parked near the school that day.”

“Oh,” CJ looked over at him. “That could be important.” She pulled at her bottom lip while she thought about it. “OK. I’ll go talk to this Dan Fields. You take another statement from Callum, and I’ll meet you back here in a few hours.”

Tim was a little wary about them splitting up. “Shouldn’t we go do both things together?”

“Tim, this killer is going to throw another victim at us real soon. We need to move fast.” CJ picked up her jacket and the file she had on Dan. “I’m outta here.”

“OK. Text me if you need me,” Tim shouted at her back as she disappeared out the door. He leapt up from his seat and grabbed a set of keys for a Bureau sedan before following her along the corridor.

* * * * * *

Callum Smith had indeed helped. He had described the van to the best of his ability, but the main thing was that he had remembered a partial plate number. “It definitely said CAK. My ferret was called Pancake. It reminded me of him.”

“That’s great, Callum. So it was a white van, kinda rusty with a big dent in the right side, and part of the license plate said CAK?”

“Yes. I didn’t even think it was that important, but then I found Tilly and…”

When Callum looked down at his hands, Tim nodded at Mr. Smith who was sitting next to his son. “It’s good you told us now. It will help, I’m sure.”

Tim left the Smith household under a dark cloud. As soon as he was back in the car, he accessed the computer database and input the plate number and description of the van. He wished they had a make and model to work with, and when ninety three possible matches came back, he tightened his frown and slammed his fist against the empty passenger seat. “How the hell are we supposed to-” he began before he was interrupted by a beep from the computer. One of the vans had been reported stolen two days ago. “That might be it, which means I’m at a fucking dead end again.” After a sigh, he decided to head back to the office to check it out anyway. Maybe the van’s owner would have some pertinent information.

Barely five minutes later, Tim’s cell phone started to ring as he drove along the highway. He pressed the button for the speaker and answered, “Agent Dalton.”

“Dalton, it’s Clark. I tried to call Agent Carson, but she’s not picking up.”

“What’s going on, Clark?” Tim asked, suddenly very anxious.

“Something wasn’t right at the Geirson house, and I couldn’t find anything about her at all, which made me more suspicious. No hospital stay, no care home, no phone calls, no activity on her credit card, no nothing. A couple of  her neighbors said someone had been coming and going from her house recently under the cover of darkness, so I got a warrant and we checked it out. Ethel Geirson’s dead, Dalton.”

“Murdered?”

“Yes. We found her in a freezer in the back room. And that’s not all. The entire house is old and run down except for the bathroom. It was the weirdest thing. It’s been completely remodeled.”

“You think the killer did that?” Tim said, trying to get a feel for the house that he could only see in his head.

“That’d be my guess. The place had been cleaned with bleach, but we found blood staining on the grout between the floor tiles. We’re running it now.”

“Shit, I gotta go. Text me the nephew’s address, will ya? I don’t have it here.”

“No worries. I’ll email everything else to you as I get it.”

Tim hung up the call abruptly and hit the speed dial for CJ. When he got no reply, his heart started to race. She was at Geirson’s nephew’s house. What if the killer had murdered Dan Fields too? Or what if Dan was the killer?

“Fuck!” Tim glanced at the text message and knew he was at least a forty minute drive from CJ, so he pulled out into the fast lane, sirens blaring and lights flashing. He tried her speed dial again. No answer. He had never been so afraid in his life.

* * * * * *

Meanwhile, CJ had only just arrived at Dan Fields’ property. It was on a pretty suburban street where the houses sat on large lots with plenty of space for families with kids and pets. The house itself was well kept, a two-level property with a back yard that seemed to go on forever. As CJ got out of the SUV – leaving her cell phone charging on the passenger seat – she noted the detached garage off to the side and a little farther back from the street. Both its remote-controlled doors were closed, so she wondered if Dan was even home.

She rang the bell and took a quick look through the small glass window beside the door while she waited for a response. When none came, she tried once more before wandering off the porch’s side steps to check around the back.

Moving along the pathway between the house and the garage, CJ thought she heard someone hammering, and when she saw a large workshop through the trees way at the back of the lot, she figured it had come from there. She admired the colorful arrangement of blooms in the flower bed and decided that Dan Fields must have green fingers. The rest of the yard looked like a well-manicured garden of plants and vegetables, giving CJ some ideas for her own back yard at home. As she approached the workshop, the hammering stopped, so she shouted to announce herself.

“Hello! Mr. Fields?”

As she entered the double doorway, a vast array of tools and clutter met her eye, but she wasn’t expecting to be attacked only a second later. The blow came down directly on top of her head, and the only reason she was still conscious was because she had somehow sensed it and ducked in the nick of time. He had managed to knock her sideways, though, and in the next moment a fight ensued.

CJ swiped her fists at him, all the while trying to get the upper hand in order to grab her gun from its holster, but he was coming at her fast and furious. A blow to her right cheek sent her head lolling to the side. Her only way of staying upright was to grasp a fistful of the killer’s short hair, but there wasn’t enough there to stop her losing her balance. A sharp punch to her stomach put her temporarily out of commission, and he proceeded to drag her across the floor, haul her up by her jacket and pin her back to the tabletop. Before CJ knew it, he had a scalpel against her throat.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he said breathlessly, his mouth spitting little droplets of blood on her face from one of her left hooks…one that had made her wrist ache a little. “I wasn’t expecting this pleasure just yet.”

As he pressed the scalpel’s blade harder against her jugular, she fought to catch her breath and remain calm through the stinging sensation of the cut. “I know you,” she gasped, trying desperately to remember where she had seen him before.

“Ah, yes. I was very excited to find out who you were that day at your boss’s office. Imagine my anticipation.”

The killer was leaning so far over her that his face was mere inches from hers. She could smell his breath, see the perspiration on his skin, and hear his breathing as it settled into a slower rhythm. The fight over, he was going to enjoy the next part, and CJ couldn’t move because if she did, she knew the trickle of blood that was clotting at her neck would turn into a torrent.

“Fleet,” she whispered. “You’re Mr. Fleet.”

“Well remembered, Agent Carson. I’m flattered. You can call me Theo,” he said, moving his face closer to hers. “For the next…mmm…ten minutes.”

Now there was nowhere for CJ to look but into his eyes. What she saw there scared her, but she wasn’t about to show him that. He was confident, blasé, aroused, and yet maniacal too. His narcissism, his penchant for cutting into his victims, and his undeniable brute strength made for a killer so deadly she thought maybe it was game over for her.

Don’t freak out, she kept chanting in her head over and over. “Where is Dan Fields?” she asked, hoping to stall him for a while.

Theodore narrowed his eyes for a moment while he examined her face. He found her beautiful, alluring, and almost a worthy adversary. “I’ve been looking forward to you. It’s a real shame I didn’t get to plan this better.”

“Where is Dan Fields?” CJ repeated.

“Oh, he’s here somewhere with his fiancée. In the basement, probably.” Theodore traced her lips with his eyes before he slowly met her gaze once more. “I do love that song, Under the Boardwalk, don’t you?”

CJ could see from the sadistic look on his face that he had killed them both, and she had a pretty good idea what that last comment was about too. She filed it away for later…if there was going to be a later. “You can’t believe I found you, can you?”

Theodore pressed harder against her neck. “I’m a little surprised, but nevertheless, I am pleased that I get to kill you now.”

When he reached for her gun, CJ panicked a little, but he slid the scalpel over her skin to make a larger cut, ensuring she stopped moving. With her Glock now in his hand and pointed at her temple, he put down the scalpel and started to unzip her pants roughly. CJ could feel her heart rate increasing dramatically. She knew what was next in his game. He had not raped the female civilian victims, but law enforcement was different. She knew he hated the idea of her, and she wasn’t about to give in without a fight. When he kicked both her legs farther apart and tugged harshly on her clothing, she felt the cool air on her mound and knew she was exposed. She had run out of time.

As he reached for his own zipper, she brought her knee up with every bit of power she had in her. It connected directly between his legs, and after he had yelped out a scream in response, she tried to get up from the tabletop. They struggled, and CJ managed to scratch him a couple of times, but even with that and the pain he must have been feeling, Theodore still punched her directly in the face, knocking her backward into her previous position. In seconds, he had the nose of the Glock pressed against her forehead.

Deciding she was too volatile to rape, Theodore pinned her legs under the table in a painful position and used his body to hold her torso in place. “That wasn’t a good idea, Agent Carson. Looks like I’ll have to skip the good part and kill you now instead. You’re starting to piss me off.”

CJ was terrified. She could feel his arousal through his pants – even after she had kneed him in the balls – and it disgusted her beyond all measure. She knew he was getting off on the violence, on hurting her. “If you kill me now, your plan will be flawed.”

“Oh, you mean a fourth victim?” he said with a fake frown. “Don’t you worry about that. She’s already dead, so I could simply dump her after I’ve killed you and everything will still be in order.”

With the pressure of the gun against her forehead and all the other pain she was in, she had to use her words to suggest an alternative to him that didn’t involve her getting killed just yet. “You need to use the scalpel. You didn’t shoot any of your other victims, so you won’t get the proper credit for this one if you shoot me.”

“Hmm. That might be true…”

* * * * * *

Outside at the front of the house, Tim had arrived using a silent approach – no sirens, no lights. He ran over to CJ’s SUV and noticed her cell on the passenger seat. “Shit.”

Drawing his gun, Tim ran past the chain-link perimeter fence and went up to the front door to try the handle. It was open, and he went in to search the house as quickly as he could, feeling in his gut that CJ had been incapacitated somewhere. He had called for backup, but he had no time to wait for them, so when the house was clear, he slipped outside and glanced quickly through the side window on the double garage which revealed an old, white van inside that matched the description given by Callum Smith. He saw no sign of CJ in there, and with his suspicions confirmed about the killer using the van to murder Tilly Morrison, he moved alongside the garage until he heard someone talking in a low, masculine voice. It was coming from the large shed at the rear of the property.

Inside, Theodore had decided it would indeed be better to use his beloved scalpel, and he now had it tucked neatly under CJ’s chin. The Glock had been tossed aside on the floor and there was no way CJ could get to it. She was beginning to sweat under Theodore’s body weight and his sickening observations of her.

“I bet you think you’re the best of the best. A truly special agent. Are you a special fuck too? I bet you are. I wish I could’ve found out. I bet you have some handsome boyfriend who just hangs on your every word. It’s such a shame that the last time he’ll see you is in the morgue. You’ll be a little less attractive than you are now too.”

Somewhere inside, CJ felt a mild pang of relief at the fact that he only seemed to know about her work-related information, which meant Kate and her children would be safe. The thought of Kate was something that would shift her focus, so she had to push her family out of her mind immediately. Just as CJ tried to do so, she saw movement out the side of her eye, but she daren’t look to see who it was. It would tip Theodore off to the fact they were not alone. The person near the doorway froze, which made her think – and hope – that Tim had found her. If it was an accomplice of Theodore’s, they would have kept moving in order to help him with his difficult captive, or at least spoken to him. And anyway, she really didn’t think he was the type of killer to have an accomplice. He was too greedy. He wanted to be the sole owner of his kills.

CJ knew she had to somehow get him to take the scalpel away from her neck, to keep his attention so that he wouldn’t turn around and discover her savior. She had to stay alive a little longer. She altered the position of her left hand behind Theodore’s back, giving the ‘wait’ signal. When the person didn’t move, she was sure it was Tim, but she couldn’t let him shoot right now otherwise her throat would be slit. Theodore would do it in reaction to being shot, or the shot wouldn’t incapacitate him enough and he’d kill her while he bled out.

“You should really stick to your plan, Theo,” CJ croaked under the increasing pressure. “Just a little chloroform could have me compliant in a matter of seconds. You could do this thing right. I know how you like everything to be perfect. Imagine having me bound. Your work would be masterful.”

Theodore looked at her like he was trying to work out if she was actually saying these words or not. Had she accepted the fact that she was going to die? He did like the idea of having her tied up and at his disposal. He also loved the idea of taking his time with her.

“And you should really clean off that blade. I bet it’s covered in blood already. Might not cut so neatly, so precisely,” CJ said, desperately trying to keep the anxiety out of her voice. She saw his eyes travel down to look at the scalpel and hoped he would listen to her.

Theodore lifted the blade away from CJ’s skin for a quick, visual check of the underside, and it was the moment CJ had hoped for. Her hand instantly closed to form a fist and the shot echoed loudly through the large workshop. The second shot seemed like a duller, hollow sound, but CJ suspected it was because she was going into shock and everything was getting a little hazy. Theodore’s body was suddenly rigid, and his eyes held some surprise as he stared at CJ right before he slumped down on top of her.

“Get him off me!” she yelled.

Tim rushed over to CJ and knocked the killer’s body to the floor. Due to her state of undress, he avoided touching her until he could snap her out of her daze. “CJ? CJ!”

The thunder in CJ’s ears gradually faded away, and as she drifted back to reality, she became aware of Tim standing right next to her. “He…did you get him?”

“Yes. Here,” Tim said, wrapping something around her neck to stem the bleeding.

CJ held the material tightly against her skin, but it was only when Tim threw something else onto her torso that she realized he was trying to cover her up. “Shit.” She grappled with his jacket until her hand could venture underneath it to pull up her underwear and pants. She knew Tim had seen everything now, and she felt about ready to have a breakdown. She had been in potentially the most terrifying and vulnerable position a woman can be in, and Tim had witnessed it. She should have been screaming and crying right now, but instead she focused on the man who lay at her feet.

Theodore Fleet – the Tick-Tock killer – was dead. CJ was glad, but at the same time, she felt she had missed an opportunity. A million things ran through her head at that moment, things she had wanted to ask him, things she needed to know, but she couldn’t seem to make sense of any of it as her mind spun like a whirlwind.

While Tim relayed information to the backup agents via his radio, CJ held the cloth on her neck with one hand, and with the other she retrieved her gun from the floor. The scalpel had been the murder weapon. There was no way they were taking her gun into evidence. She knew she was moving in slow motion, but she couldn’t seem to function at a greater speed, and when her partner stood directly in front of her, she couldn’t look him in the eye.

A moment later, Tim did something that CJ remembered doing for Jamie after Allison Timmons had captured her. He gently urged CJ to move out of the workshop, and as the other agents filed in along with a couple of medics, he led her to a spot in the yard just behind the garage. Tim ducked his head down to force CJ to meet his gaze. He desperately wanted to hold her, but he wouldn’t unless she gave him permission.

CJ finally looked at him and saw he was searching her face for any trace of emotion. When she couldn’t stand the scrutiny anymore, she grabbed him with her free hand. She didn’t cry, but when his arms went around her shoulders she stood there feeling the safety of his embrace grounding her and bringing her back to herself. It only took a few minutes, and when she stepped back she could see his fear, plain as day.

“How did you know?” she asked as she began to resume her confident, professional stance.

“Clark called to tell me that Ethel Geirson was found murdered. I put two and two together…”

“Right.”

“I also called you. When you didn’t answer, I got…” Tim ground his jaws together and seemed to be trying to curb his feelings. “I got scared, actually.”

“Why?”

“Uh, because I thought you were dead.”

CJ blanched at the straightforward statement. “Well…thanks to you, I’m not.”

Tim covered his face with both hands and scrubbed to erase what was going on in his head. “You can leave all of this to us if you want,” he said, signaling toward the workshop. “I’ll get everything we need.”

“Not a chance. I’m fine, Tim. Trust me.” When he looked doubtful, she frowned. “What? You don’t believe me?”

“No. It’s not that. It’s just, you need…” Instead of telling her, he reached up to smooth out her hair. Clearly her scuffle with Theodore had messed her up a little, and after he had brushed some dust and cobwebs off her shoulder, his hand fleetingly held her bruised cheek until he realized what he was doing. “You also need to get your injuries examined. The medics are ready for you.”

CJ glossed over the fact that she accepted the intimate contact from him and spun around on her heel to see the two paramedics leaving the workshop. She was about to protest about her injuries when Tim put his finger up to stop her.

“That needs stitches. No arguments.”

Since CJ could feel the blood seeping onto her hand through the material, she had to agree. “OK, but we need to talk about that later.”

“What?”

“That moment, or whatever it was we just had.”

Tim smiled. “We can talk about it anytime. I think I’ve figured it out now.”

CJ threw him a puzzled look before she followed the medics out front. She really needed to clarify what he had figured out, but there would be time when they were done with the hectic crime scene. After he had watched her walk away, Tim leaned against the fence for a moment to gather his thoughts before he went back into the workshop to organize the other agents, but he didn’t want to be there doing this right now. What he wanted – and needed – was a stiff drink and a lie down. The SSHU was a tough department to work in, but he did love his team, especially the team leader.

tim-dalton-am15

* * * * * *

Fifteen minutes later, CJ was stitched up and sitting in the back of the ambulance waiting for a dressing to be applied when Mark appeared at the rear doors. His face held his deep concern, and his nostrils flared a little when he saw the state of CJ’s neck. He seemed to shake off the feelings that coursed through him and regain his assistant director face quickly, but CJ saw it. She saw it all: the relief that she was alive, the pride that she had caught the killer…and the anger at the fact that she had put herself in a dangerous situation. But Mark said nothing about any of that. He simply gave her a small nod and continued toward the house.

CJ felt deflated. Even though she had solved the case, it wasn’t through some sophisticated profile indicator or a planned trail of evidence. She had stumbled onto the killer this time, and she felt like an idiot for not being more careful. As her shoulders sank, she had to console herself with the fact that he was dead. His game was over, and he had lost.

Once her dressing was applied, she mentally brushed herself down and walked back up to the workshop where she found Tim bringing Mark up to speed on the events leading up to the shooting. Mark was telling him he needed to relinquish his weapon once they were back at the office, which reminded CJ once again that Tim had saved her life.

Since Chris was already there and quietly going about her business – without a single glance at CJ – the two agents were dismissed while the crime scene guys documented everything. On their way to the SUV, they passed the other agents who were crawling all over the house and the garage. CJ nudged one of them on the shoulder as he passed her.

“Hey, Michaels…in the basement, under the floor.”

Agent David Michaels looked at her with a frown on his face until he caught on. “Understood.”

When they got into the car, Tim sat leaning forward with his forehead on the steering wheel. “Let’s not ever do that again,” he muttered.

“Which part?” CJ asked quietly.

“The part where we split up and you almost get killed…”

“Oh. That part.”

Tim looked at her. “I’m serious.”

With the threat of tears not far away, CJ nodded. “I don’t want to leave this to them,” she said, flicking her hand toward the house. “This is our case.”

“Yeah, and we solved it.”

“I feel fine. I want to go back in. I want to finish it.” When CJ saw Mark walking out to his car, she leapt out to intercept him. “Sir!”

Mark stopped and turned to her. “Agent Carson?”

“Sir, I really don’t think I should have to leave the scene. I feel fine, and we’ve worked hard on this case. I think we should be able to see it through to-”

“CJ,” Mark said for her ears only. “I never said you couldn’t deal with this, but Tim can’t. He killed the perp. I was dismissing him from the scene, and if you were actually as fine as you say you are, you would’ve known that.”

CJ looked at her hands that were still slightly stained with her own blood. “Right. I just need to finish this.”

“I agree. So go finish it. I’ll take Agent Dalton back to the office and leave you my car.” Mark handed her the keys to his sedan, and when she took them, he glanced at the dressing on her neck and shook his head as he walked away.

With an agitated shudder, CJ stood and watched them as they drove off. “I guess I screwed up, and he’ll no doubt tell me all about that later.” She sighed and walked back up to the house. There, she found David Michaels coming up the stairs from the basement.

“Carson. We found Dan Fields and his fiancée, Debra White.”

CJ’s eyebrows lowered into a disturbed frown. “Yeah, Fleet basically told me he’d killed them. They were under the floor, right?”

David nodded. “Throats were slit, no doubt with that scalpel we recovered from the workshop.”

At the mention of the scalpel, CJ subconsciously put her hand to her neck. “Anything else?”

“Looks like he was setting up the basement for another kill. We found duct tape, ropes, bottle of chloroform…”

“Right. Thanks, Michaels.”

She continued down the stairs to find the two victims being bagged by the medical examiner and her assistant. When Chris realized who had entered the room, she averted her eyes, but CJ wanted to talk to her, so she stopped right in front of her which meant they had to look at one another.

“What did you find?”

Chris continued to avoid her gaze and looked down at the body bags as she spoke. “The male victim was bound while the killer dealt with the female. He most likely made him watch since I found traces of what appears to be duct tape adhesive on the male’s eyelids. I’ll confirm that back at the lab.”

“So our guy had two sadistic games going on in tandem. What a bastard,” CJ said as she scratched through her hair. “Judging by the neighborhood, these two were probably planning on getting married and having a couple of kids. A nice life…”

When CJ stopped talking, Chris finally looked up at her. “Are you OK?”

CJ blinked a few times at the change in direction. “Yes. As usual, I just wish I had caught him sooner.”

“What did he do to you in there?”

“Why? Is it relevant to these victims?” CJ asked rather sharply.

“No. I was asking as a…never mind. I have to get the victims removed and head back to my office.”

Chris walked away leaving CJ a little confused and a lot suspicious. Was Chris really being nice? She inferred she was asking as a friend, but even saying that seemed to almost make her gag. Maybe the case had freaked her out, and she would get over it soon and be back to her horrid self in a matter of days.

Yeah, that’s it, CJ mused as she left the basement, ignoring Chris as she passed her by. She had only just stepped outside when she heard a shout coming from the workshop.

“Get the medics back here! We got a live one!”

CJ yelled back at the disembodied voice. “Fleet’s still alive?”

“No. There’s a vic in the storeroom!”

“Fuck.” CJ jogged across the lot and into the building where she had been so close to death barely an hour before. “Where?”

“In here,” answered an agent she didn’t know. “We had to cut through the padlock on the door.”

An unconscious female was lying on the floor, bound at the ankles and wrists. CJ suspected this was the victim Theodore had spoken about, but he had lied to CJ about killing her already. She had to take solace in the fact that they may have saved one life after all. And it now made sense as to why Theodore had attacked CJ immediately when she had initially came into the workshop. She had disturbed his work.

As the medics ran in to help the victim, CJ stood back and felt her head pounding louder than before. She knew she needed to rest, but she had to finish up here before she could even sit down, so she pulled out her notebook and began to take down everything she needed in order to close the case.

Once they were done with the scene and Chris had finished the autopsies, CJ and Tim could start to finalize their report on the Tick-Tock killer’s atrocities. She couldn’t get this one over with fast enough. Theodore Fleet was someone she would never forget.

Another hour later, the ambulance had left with its lights flashing, the entire property had been thoroughly searched, the forensics team had completed their sweep, and most of the backup agents had gone back to their other duties. CJ could feel her body beginning to quiver, mainly because she wanted to collapse onto a warm, comfortable mattress, but also because of what had happened with Theodore. In those moments of terror, a federal agent could cope with the strain, the fear, and the agony of helplessness, but now, as a human being, she needed something, anything to give her the strength to keep going. She knew she would get that from Kate and her children when she got home, but it seemed she would also have Tim. He had just shared one of the most extreme moments in her life with her. No one else would know what it had been like in there.

.

Chapter 6

It was eight thirty PM that night when CJ got back to the field office. When she discovered that Tim was not there, she stood and stared blankly at the pin board for a while until she felt the tears welling up in her eyes. After marching quickly to the ladies locker room, she threw some cold water on her face and looked in the mirror, determined not to cry about the evil psychopath who had attempted to rape her and held a scalpel to her throat.

With waves of shivers running through her body, she went into one of the toilet stalls and closed the door, and as soon as her rear-end hit the closed toilet seat, her cell phone rang in her pocket. It was Kate.

“Hey,” CJ said timidly.

“Hi. Where are you?”

“Um, in a stall in the locker room.” CJ heard Kate talking to someone. “Who are you talking to?”

“I just met Jamie in the corridor. She told me where the locker room is, and I’m coming in the door right…now.”

CJ heard the outer door opening and her mouth twitched into a tiny smile before her face closed down under its mask of doom again.

A small knock on the stall door was accompanied by some simple words. “Open it, honey.”

“How do you know what stall I’m in?”

“It’s the only one with the door closed.” Kate tapped her foot on the floor, knowing that CJ would see it. “Are you going to make me stand here like an idiot?”

“You’re not an idiot.”

When the door lock clicked, Kate saw CJ sitting on the closed seat with her cell pressed against her ear. “You can hang up now.”

They both cut the connection, and as Kate approached her, CJ leaned forward until her head met Kate’s torso. It was enough to force a few of those restrained tears from her eyes, and her arms slipped around Kate’s waist to grasp at the back of her shirt. Kate curled herself around CJ and remained quiet until she was ready to talk.

“How did you know?”

Kate took in a gentle breath of relief, knowing that CJ hadn’t shut down completely. It allowed her to relax a little, and she rubbed through CJ’s hair as she spoke. “I could feel what you were going through. It was only for about five minutes, but there was no doubt in my mind it was you.”

“What was the feeling like?”

“Terror…and I was sitting reading a magazine, so I knew it wasn’t mine. You’re the only one I can sense like that, so I came to find you. Dad and Jeffrey were out, so I had to wait for them to come back and watch the girls before I left. Then the drive down here seemed to take forever.” Kate continued to stroke her hair even when CJ looked up into her eyes. “Why did you go alone, CJ?”

“I see someone’s been filling you in.”

“It was Jamie.”

“Did she tell you what happened?”

“Not really. She said the hard parts would be up to you, and anyway, she was a little sketchy about the details of your day. Why did you go there by yourself?”

CJ sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know. I just wanted to talk to Dan Fields as soon as possible. I had no reason to suspect it was him or anyone at his house, and we had to get the killer before he struck again, so Tim went to deal with one inquiry, and I went there.”

“It was a stupid decision.” Kate gave CJ a look when she was about to come back with a quick retort. “You are not stupid, CJ, but you made a stupid decision this time, especially with this killer the way he is….was.”

CJ’s shoulders slouched. “I know.”

“Don’t ever do it again.”

“I think I learned my lesson, Katie.”

“Tell me what happened, please.”

“Here?” CJ asked. “In the toilet stall?”

“Yes. Here is as good a place as any. I won’t let you sweep this under the rug and try to distract me from getting information out of you.”

CJ shook her head again. “Boy, you’re good. You should definitely do some interrogations.”

“I’m not interrogating you, honey. I love you, and I want you to purge what happened to you. Right now, please.” Kate took CJ’s chin in her hand and pulled her face up until their gazes met. “Now…”

CJ gulped repeatedly before giving Kate a slight nod. “It was in this workshop in the backyard. He blindsided me. We fought. The struggle seemed to last forever. I ended up with my back pinned to a table, and he was leaning over me with his knife…scalpel to my throat. He was really strong…” CJ faltered, and she tore her eyes away from Kate’s for a second until a gentle tap on her head brought her back.

Kate wasn’t letting her miss out any part of it, and she made sure CJ could see that she could handle whatever she was about to tell her. “And…?”

“He took my gun and told me he was going to kill me, but before that he wanted to have some fun. He said he’d had a Fed before, but that she wasn’t as good as I was going to be. She had fought him too, but he said she didn’t win. He had no idea Agent Regan had survived. He opened the front of my pants, and when I tensed he pushed the scalpel harder against my neck. I could feel the sting, so I knew if I struggled he would’ve cut me even more, but when he had fully exposed me…” CJ had to gulp again to keep the bile from rising to her throat. “I fought him hard. I think my knee connected with his balls, and that’s what saved me from being…being…”

“Raped,” Kate finished for her.

CJ stared helplessly into Kate’s eyes. She could see the strength there, but she could also see the horror. Kate was living through it with her, and when she realized how she would feel if it had been Kate in that workshop, she was reminded once again how incredible her wife really was. “He decided just to kill me instead, so I had to keep him talking. I asked him questions, but he got more and more agitated. He moved the blade to cut closer to my windpipe.” CJ winced before biting her lips. She knew she had to continue since Kate was standing firm in front of her, so she pretended she was writing her report and described the rest of the scene. “This time the blood started running down my neck. I could feel the heat of it on my skin. That’s when I saw someone come into the room. I’m not sure how, but I just knew it was Tim, so I held up my hand to stop his advance. If he had said anything or pulled the trigger at that point, the scalpel would’ve cut me open either way.”

Kate stood completely still and her body was rigid. She had to keep reminding herself that it was all over. She knew it was a necessary part of their relationship for CJ to tell her everything – and it was she who had insisted upon it – but still, it was tough to hear the details.

“I spoke to him again. He was staring into my eyes, and I couldn’t look anywhere but into his because he was so damn close to me. I could smell his bad breath, and I could feel his…his erection. It was so disgusting. He got off on hurting me, on violating me…such a sick bastard. I told him he really should clean his blade before he killed me…neater incisions that way. He took it off my neck for a second, and I closed my hand into a fist. That’s when I heard the shots. His body went totally rigid before he collapsed on top of me.” CJ grimaced until her entire face was taut.

Kate had been silent and still for the whole story, but she lifted her hand now to trail her fingers through CJ’s hair. It had the desired effect, and CJ’s face relaxed somewhat.

“And was it Tim who had come in?” Kate asked quietly.

“Yeah. He’d gotten a phone call that probably saved my life. He saved my life. He had rushed in to help me when he saw my car in front of the house. Tim saw everything. After he had shot him, I screamed at him to get the guy off me, and he did. He tried to reach out to me, I think, but I felt like I wasn’t in the room, you know? I was in shock, and when I realized I was still exposed I was a little embarrassed too, so I turned away from him to cover myself up. He seemed to understand and crouched down to make sure Fleet was dead. That was the killer’s name. Theodore Fleet.” CJ paused for a moment with her eyes glazing over before she continued. “I fastened my pants before I picked up my gun. I think some other agents came in then. Tim briefed them before he nudged me outside and into a corner at the back of the garage. I remember doing the same thing to Jamie once. He didn’t let me avoid him this time. He held me…and I let him.”

“I want to meet him,” Kate said. “I need to meet this man.”

“You will. I think he’s giving his statement and being interviewed right now. He shot the killer, so they have to question everything about what happened, but you’ll meet him, Katie.”

“Invite him for a quiet dinner tomorrow night, please.”

CJ met her eyes. “He might be back in the office by now. You could invite him.”

“I’d be happy to,” Kate said before she held CJ for a few precious, long moments.

When CJ pushed back a little, she sighed heavily as she finally let it sink in that it was all over. “Thanks, Katie.”

Kate didn’t say anything. She just kissed her tenderly on the lips and pulled her into a standing position. She led CJ along the corridor until they arrived at the office. Inside, Jamie was packing her bag to leave for the day, and Tim was tapping away on his keyboard, no doubt typing up some of their completed report on Theodore Fleet. Of course, he didn’t fail to notice who had just walked in, and he watched covertly until they were ready to talk to him.

Jamie approached CJ and wrapped her in a hug. Still holding her, she whispered into her ear, “I gotta go, DM, but I want to talk tomorrow. Love you.”

“Love you too,” CJ said, her words slightly muffled against Jamie’s shoulder.

“Take care of her, Kate. I’ll see you guys later.” And with that, Jamie waved at Tim and left for the night.

As he waved back, he continued his observations of Kate, only now he made them perfectly obvious by smiling widely at her.

CJ put her arm around Kate’s shoulder and led her toward Tim. “Tim Dalton, my savior…meet Kate Carson, my superhero.”

As Kate gave her a self-deprecating look, Tim got to his feet and held out his hand. “I’ll go for the handshake since this is the first time we’ve met. The pleasure and the honor are mine, Kate.”

Kate smiled at his manner and his choice of words. “No way, Tim. The honor is very much mine. It’s great to finally meet you,” she said, pulling him into a tight hug. “And thank you.”

Tim only felt a little awkward for all of two seconds before he held her in return. When she had stepped back, he smiled sheepishly. “Just doing my job, and I, uh, have to say I very much admire your work.”

CJ rolled her eyes and almost laughed. “Here we go.”

“What?” Tim said, forcing himself not to pout. “I really do.”

Kate smiled proudly. “Well, I’m happy to have such a distinguished man say that to me.”

“Jeez, it’s the mutual admiration club,” CJ muttered, even though they all knew she was joking around. “Not sure I could cope with the sweetness-”

“Anyway,” Kate interrupted. “I wanted to invite you over to our place for dinner, Tim. Would tomorrow night suit you? I mean, I’m hoping tomorrow will be a not-so-loud day for you guys.”

Tim nodded. “Tomorrow is good. Thanks for the invitation.”

CJ squeezed Kate’s shoulder gently. “Excellent.”

“I’d better go. The girls are probably driving Dad around the bend.”

“I won’t be too far behind you, Katie,” CJ said as she took her hand.

“Good,” Kate said to CJ before turning back to Tim. “It was great to meet you. See you tomorrow.”

“For sure, yes. And it was great to meet you too.”

Once Tim had given Kate a shy wave, CJ walked her out into the corridor. At the elevator, Kate hugged CJ once more and gently touched her slightly swollen cheek as she spoke.

“You sure you’re all right?”

CJ smiled wanly. “Yeah. We just need to finish up the paperwork. It won’t take too long. I promise.”

“OK.”

“I love you, Katie.”

“Love you more…” Kate said as she backed into the elevator.

“Not possible, but we’ll finish that when I get home.”

The elevator closed, and the last thing CJ saw was Kate smiling through the gap. That vision was definitely what gave her step a little bounce on her way back along the corridor.

* * * * * *

An hour or so later, they had collated all of the information they had from the crime scenes at Dan Fields’ house, the San Francisco office, and their own vast bundle of notes and evidence from the case. Tim was now silently working on his computer while CJ collected the photographs off the board to file them away in the store room. When she had finished that, she began logging some items of evidence and sealing them in the usual clear, plastic bags.

They had received confirmation that Theodore Fleet was indeed deceased, and that the woman found in the store room was Courtney Moore, a twenty-one-year old former beauty queen. A diary of Theodore’s kills was discovered in the basement of the house, which included what he had planned to write on Courtney’s body. The words ‘such obsession offers nothing’ were apparently the completion of his message to CJ and her colleagues. She was supposed to ‘die soon’.

Courtney was in hospital but doing well, considering what she had been through. She would make a full recovery. Not so, Dan Fields and his fiancée. They had died at least two days before CJ had gotten there, killed so that Theodore could use the house for his continuing tirade of murders. It turned out he had been gifted the collection of watches from Ethel Geirson. She had been a friend of his now-deceased mother who had left the watches to him years ago. When the police had gotten too close for comfort, Theodore must have felt he had to leave his luxury apartment, and when Ethel called him on a whim, he had decided to use her place…after he had killed her. Later, he had left the San Francisco area completely and headed to LA, knowing that Dan’s house could be his next hideaway.

Possibly the oddest discovery was when the agents had found Theodore’s trophies. CJ had wondered if he had kept any, and when the stolen van was searched they found a smart, leather briefcase inside containing a custom-fitted holder for medical test tubes. Each one was filled with blood and numbered. It was pretty clear to CJ that there would be one sample per victim.

“I wonder what he was going to do with the blood,” CJ suddenly said, breaking the quiet in the office.

“I dread to think,” Tim answered. “Serial killers tend to want the trophies to relive the thrill of the kill, so I guess he was going to have them made into a nice piece of modern art or something?”

CJ blinked. When she saw Tim’s cheeky expression, she couldn’t help but bark out a laugh. “You might just have a darker sense of humor than me.”

“You laughed. I’d say we’re pretty even on the darkness.”

“Oh, you think?” CJ asked with her eyebrow raised.

With his grin partially restrained, he flopped back in the chair. “Yeah I do.”

The way he was looking at CJ made her think that now was a good time for the talk. Since the look made her feel strangely comfortable, she decided it was absolutely necessary to have the talk.

“We need to-”

Tim interrupted. “I know. Are you done here?”

CJ looked around her at the items on the desk. “Once I log these into evidence, yes.”

“Then let’s go do that on our way to the garage. We can talk in your car…or my car. But I like your car.”

“Well, mine is better,” CJ remarked without missing a beat. “Did you finalize your statement already?”

“Just sent it to Mark, and since you’ve already filed the preliminary report, I’d say we’re done for today at least,” Tim said as he stood to grab his jacket.

“Sounds like it.”

“Oh, and did you see that email from Agent Clark?”

“Not yet.”

Tim flipped a few of the printed pages lying in his in-tray. “Here. Remember that message for Agent Regan that wasn’t quite perfect?”

CJ nodded as she read. “A distraction. He wrote it on Geirson. He couldn’t reveal her to us because she would give away his location. So the completed message reads Regan is a dead woman. Well, it was pretty obvious he intended that to be true anyway.”

“Yeah. I hope she pulls through.”

“Me too. Come on. Let’s get outta here.”

Once they had visited the evidence room, they stood in the elevator in silence until it deposited them at the basement. They strolled along past the row of neatly parked cars until they got to CJ’s Dodge Ram, and when Tim opened the passenger door, he let out a whistle.

“Nice leather,” he said as his hand brushed across the tactile surface before he climbed in.

“Yeah. Katie chose it. This thing was a gift from her.”

“Aw, you’re so lucky. I wanna find someone who buys me gifts like this.”

CJ snorted. “This is the least of the gifts she gives me. And she’s the best gift.”

“Oh, stop it. You can’t be this perfect.”

“I’m far from perfect, Tim. And I guess that leads nicely into our talk.” She scooted round in the driver’s seat to face him. “So how do you feel about me?”

Tim was not shy of the sensitive chats – and he had nothing to hide from CJ – so he shifted his shoulders to face her too. “It was confusing for a while. Back in Minnesota, I had thought it was sexual attraction…and maybe then, it was. I probably had a crush on you, but I never really thought it through because of why you were there. There was too much serious stuff going on. I think you’re stunning, CJ. I mean, I know you hate hearing that, but it’s a simple fact.” He paused to smirk at her darkened cheeks. “But now, it’s like I know you’re this incredibly intelligent, witty, loving, generous, beautiful woman, and I care about you so much. Actually, I think I love you, but…it’s not sexual. That’s the confusing part. It is powerful, though.”

CJ was a little stunned for a moment by the way he articulated himself and boldly told her everything, but she didn’t take long to respond. “Wow. Um…I love you too. Is that really weird?”

“No. I’m a firm believer in going with your gut. When you feel it, you feel it.” Tim watched her mulling it over. “It shouldn’t be uncomfortable. If it is, we-”

“Oh, it’s not. Not at all,” CJ interrupted. “It’s just surprising. I never felt this for Ethan or Mikey.”

“What about Jamie?”

“She’s my soul sister. I definitely love her.”

“I suppose she is kinda cool,” Tim said, waiting for a reaction that didn’t transpire since CJ was so deep in thought. “So we’re OK, right? I mean, you’re sexy as hell, but I don’t want to cross that line with you. And anyway, Kate’s awesome…hot too.”

CJ burst out laughing since he had successfully knocked her right off her train of thought. “You keep your eyes off my wife,” she jested.

Tim shook his head even with his smile firmly in place. “Not interested. You have your happy family, and I think that’s great. I’ll find mine when the time is right. I’m just glad I have you in my life.”

“OK, you need to quit being so mushy. I’m already on the verge of crying after the day I’ve had.”

“Sorry. I know it was a tough one. Well, that’s an understatement when just being alive is a good result.”

“I’m alive thanks to you.”

“I think you would’ve found a way to get him. You keep forgetting I’ve read your file. I know how good you are at this job. Don’t doubt yourself.”

“You sound like Kate…but I did screw up this time.”

“I disagree. The killer is dead. We got him because we followed up on those watches. That was you, CJ.”

CJ sighed. “I guess.”

When her eyes seemed to lose focus again, Tim leaned on the central armrest. “May I hug you before you go home?”

CJ’s pensive expression morphed into one of gratitude. She nodded as she reached over to meet him. His arms fitted snuggly around her back, and it felt great to both of them. CJ held onto him and thought about the connection. He did not feel like her lover. She had thought he felt like a brother but it wasn’t really that either. It was somewhere in the middle, a unique bond that fell on a different plane or dimension, and CJ was thankful for it as he leaned his chin on her shoulder. After a minute, he pushed away and sent her a sheepish grin.

“I figured we should stop before I got carried away,” he said before he stuck out his tongue and opened the truck door to leave.

“Get the hell outta here,” CJ chastised, but she couldn’t stop smiling. “See you tomorrow, partner.”

“Yep. Lookin’ forward to it.” Once he had closed the door, he walked in front of the truck on his way to his own car.

When he turned around to wave at her, CJ waved back before starting the engine. As she left the parking garage, she realized she was finishing an ultimately terrifying day at work with a smile on her face. “Now that really is weird.”

* * * * * *

It was pretty late when CJ got home, and before she went into her own house, she quickly jogged over to Eddie and Jeffrey’s. When Eddie answered the door, he was still wearing his clothes from a day of decorating – the tell-tale sign being paint splashes on his pant leg – but Jeffrey was already in his PJs and a fluffy dressing gown, with puffball slippers on his feet to complete the picture.

“CJ!” Jeffrey gasped when she walked in. “Oh, how was your day, my lovely?”

“Hey, Jeffrey,” she said through her laughter at his outfit. “It was fine, thanks.”

“Oh, nonsense!” Eddie barked. “We know you caught that wretched man today. Are you truly OK?” he added while he examined the dressing on her neck.

“I’ll be fine, really. It’s just a scratch.”

Jeffrey looked skeptical. “Hmm. Miss Understatement is here!” he exclaimed before he waved her into their cozy living room.

“No, I can’t stay. I just wanted to give you guys a hug before I went home for the night.”

“Well, all right then,” Eddie submitted while giving Jeffrey a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “You can see my handiwork another time. Best get home to Katie.”

“Where were you painting?” CJ asked as she headed back toward the door.

“Our office. I’m so glad we decided to put drywall up in places. The logs are now a feature and the whole house looks colorful and fabulous.”

“I bet it does. Kisses,” she said leaning in to hug Eddie and kiss him on the cheek. Once she had done the same to Jeffrey, she stepped outside onto the porch. “If you’re free tomorrow night, you could come over to meet one of my colleagues. He’s coming for dinner.”

“Oh! Do you want us to make something?” Jeffrey queried with his hands clasped together hopefully.

“Aw, come on, you guys. You don’t need to cook for us all the time.”

Eddie wafted his hand at her comment. “Nonsense. We love doing it! How about we come over a little earlier and Katie can help us whip up a treat?”

“OK, I surrender. See you tomorrow. Night, dads.” CJ headed for home, hearing a “Bye, sweetheart!” being shouted at her back. She waved over her shoulder before picking up the pace to jog through the dividing gate. When she saw her home in the not-so-far distance, she broke into a run. She couldn’t wait to grab a hold of Kate.

When CJ got in, she wasn’t surprised to find that the house was quiet and the children were in bed. She missed them and hoped that tomorrow she would get back from work at a decent hour to spend some time with them. At least Kamali appeared and greeted her with his usual doggy enthusiasm, but he did take some time to sniff her over very carefully, no doubt due to her clothes smelling of Theodore Fleet. With that in mind, she decided a shower was in order as soon as possible.

“Just paperwork for me tomorrow, buddy. I’m leaving the office at five on the button,” she told the dog who gave her one of those canine head tilts in response.

“Are you indeed?”

When CJ saw that Kate was about to walk into her arms, she gently grabbed her shoulders to stop her. “I’m desperate to hold you, but I’m filthy. I need to get out of these clothes.”

Kate hesitated to respond with a suggestive remark after the day CJ had just had. “Do you want any help at all?”

“You bet. No matter what has happened to me, I’ll always want you near me. You know that, right?” CJ responded, having seen right through the question behind the question.

Kate nodded and took her hand to lead her upstairs. “The water is really hot. You could take a bath if you want.”

“Will you sit with me?” CJ asked as they entered their bedroom. “Or maybe come in with me?”

Kate answered with a smile, and as the comfortable silence continued, they prepared the bathroom for a relaxing soak in the tub. CJ took a moment to shuffle along the upper hallway to look in on Shannon and Lucy before returning to the bedroom where Kate stood waiting for her.

“Are you sure you’re all right? I know you had a…I was going to say bad day, but that’s not enough to describe it.”

CJ used her index finger to trace Kate’s face. She kissed her softly on the lips, and when it felt good, she did it again. “I’m fine. This one was really tough, but I’m surprisingly unaffected. I dunno. Maybe it’ll hit me later, but I really do feel normal.” When Kate kissed her again and attempted to move away, CJ stopped her. “How are you doing with it?”

“You mean the fact that you were almost…?” Kate sighed. “I’ll be fine. You’re here, and that’s enough to get me through.”

“Want me to quit?” CJ offered, the mild humor apparent in her expression.

Kate smiled. “No, because if you did, people like him might never get caught. Now, get your clothes off and get in the bath.”

Five minutes later, CJ had thrown her dirty clothing in the hamper, tied back her hair, and slipped under the soothing water. Kate climbed in to sit in front of her, and the loving, healing therapy began.

The citrusy scent of oranges emanated from the bubbles floating on the surface of the water and quiet piano music wafted through from the stereo in the bedroom. It was the only sound in the room until Kate spoke while she massaged CJ’s fingers.

“What’re you thinking about?”

“Hmm…” CJ murmured lazily. “Oh, I was just thinking about Tim.”

“What about him?”

CJ appreciated Kate’s soft-spoken words. This would be a conversation in hushed, peaceful tones – just what she needed tonight. “Well, apart from everything that happened today…just stuff that’s been going on between us over the past week or so, especially while we were on this case. We’ve had a few moments.”

“Describe them?” Kate requested, not in the least bit worried about where this conversation was going.

“We talked about it before we left work tonight. We love each other, weird as it sounds,” CJ said plainly, all the while noticing that Kate’s massage never wavered, not even for a second. “We had to discuss it because he was being so mushy in our moments alone. I guess after the stress of my run-in with Fleet, it just got kind of intense. Tim held me so tight after that…and then the way he touched the bruise on my face. I knew I had to find out what was going on in his head.”

Kate lifted CJ’s hand to kiss it before she asked, “Did he tell you?”

“Yeah. He’s pretty direct and straightforward. He said it was confusing for a while and that he was probably attracted to me at first sight in Minnesota, but now that he knows me…and you…it’s not like that anymore at all. He does feel a deep love for me, though…”

“And you feel it too?”

“I do. He told me he just goes with his gut feeling, and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. We’re very alike.”

Kate turned her head to look at CJ. “He’s not a long lost sibling or something, is he?”

The question made CJ laugh a little under her breath. “No. I’m definitely an only child, honey.”

“Just checking,” Kate said as she returned to her massaging. When she was satisfied with her work on both hands, she placed them on her stomach and leaned back onto CJ’s chest, inhaling deeply as she absorbed the warmth and love only CJ could give her. “I’m looking forward to getting to know him.”

“I knew you would be cool about this.”

“Why wouldn’t I be? I’m secure in what we have and in our trust in one another. I know who you are, but I also know you have plenty of love to give. I’m just glad you decided to marry me,” Kate said, tilting her head to wink at CJ.

“I love you, Katie.”

“Oh but I love you more.”

“Not possible,” CJ said, depositing a kiss at Kate’s ear.

“I beg to differ.”

“We’ll agree to disagree then.”

“Good idea.”

.

Chapter 7

The next morning, CJ awoke at six thirty AM as usual when the alarm sent out its annoyingly prompt bleep. With her eyes not ready to open just yet, she moved her hand toward the sound, felt along the edge of the nightstand with her fingertips, walked her fingers across to the clock, and found the button on top. When the noise stopped, she sighed and smacked her lips together before her other hand went on a journey to find Kate.

After roaming around the sheet for a few seconds and finding nothing, CJ’s hand flopped down on the mattress and a grumpy frown appeared on her face. She was about to let out another sigh when a sweet voice met her ears.

“Looking for me?” Kate asked as she stood in the middle of the floor carrying a small tray.

With her eyes still closed but a smile now gracing her lips, CJ replied in a lazy voice. “I was. And I don’t want to get up.”

Kate placed the tray on the couch cushion after shoving a couple of items of clothing aside. She knew that putting a couch in the bedroom would only mean it ended up as a dumping ground, but she loved the deep colors of the fabric, so it was a keeper. She then climbed onto the bed and snuggled in close to CJ to embrace her. With her hand cupping CJ’s cheek, she kissed her good morning. “Here I am,” she whispered.

CJ opened her eyes to gaze at the perfection next to her. “Now I really, really don’t want to get up.”

“I’m afraid you may not have a choice.”

CJ had heard the faraway singing voice, so she had assumed that both their daughters were downstairs which gave her time to make out with Kate before being disturbed, but she had assumed wrong. Lucy was still running around in her room, and it was now obvious that she was heading their way.

“Shine a light, shine a light, shine a light!” Lucy yelled – or perhaps sang – as she approached the master bedroom.

“What’s she singing?” CJ asked before she sneaked another quick kiss from Kate.

Kate shrugged. “I actually don’t know. I think she learned it at school, but I still haven’t managed to figure out the whole song.”

“Mommy!” Lucy bounded onto the bed, and soon CJ and Kate had a round, inquisitive face invading their intimate moment.

“Hey, Little Dudette,” CJ said with a smile. “What’s been happenin’ with you, huh?”

“Things,” Lucy replied as if it was obvious. “It’s Friday!”

“It sure is.”

Lucy played with Kate’s still-cropped and somewhat unkempt hair as they continued the huddled discussion. She didn’t see anything unusual about the close proximity of her parents. As far as she was concerned, they were cuddling…which was actually accurate on this occasion. “Are you staying home today?” she asked CJ.

“Nope. I have to go to work today, but I’ll be home all day tomorrow and maybe even Sunday too.”

“Oh. That’s good. We could play soccer then.” Lucy finished fixing Kate’s unruly strands before she bounced on her knees to the edge of the bed and slipped off. “Hey, Kamali,” she sang to the dog who was waiting for her at the bedroom door. As she began her original song again, she skipped out of the room and descended the stairs.

“She’s in a good mood,” CJ said once she had stolen yet another kiss to get Kate’s attention.

“She sure is. Must have had a good sleep…” Kate laid her head down on CJ’s shoulder and yawned. “Do you remember having a nightmare last night?”

“Uh, no.”

“I didn’t think you had woken up. You weren’t making much sense.”

“Was I thrashing about?” CJ asked, concerned that she may have hurt Kate.

“No, just muttering. You got pretty stressed, though, so I rubbed your back and it seemed to calm you.”

CJ knew Kate would be concerned. “I truly don’t remember it.”

“I believe you. Just…please wake me if you do remember them, OK?”

“I promise I will.” After a yawn, CJ pulled Kate tighter against her. “I wanna go back to sleep.”

“Mmm, that would be nice. Can we just stay here all day then?”

CJ groaned. “I would love to, but…”

“Bah. I know,” Kate grumbled as she lifted herself up again. “Want me to take your breakfast tray back downstairs?”

“I’ll bring it. I want to spend some time with you guys this morning.”

* * * * * *

In the kitchen soon after, the family were seated around the island counter finishing off breakfast. Even though they only had a half hour to eat together, it was better than nothing. CJ knew she could be with them all day tomorrow, so it wasn’t too hard to watch when Kate took them back upstairs to get ready for school.

CJ finished off her last few gulps of coffee before she hopped off her bar stool. On her way through the living room, her cell phone rang, so she grabbed it off the coffee table and perched on the arm of the couch. “Hey.”

“Hi, CJ,” Tim said over a slightly crackly connection.

“Where are you, man?”

“Hold on. I’m just getting out of the elevator going back up to my apartment.” Tim was quiet for a few seconds. “Is that better?”

“Yeah, I can hear you now. What’s up?”

“Well, I’m glad you are. I know it’s early, but my car won’t start, so I was hoping you could swing by on your way in to the office and pick me up?”

“I told you my car was better than yours. You need to get yourself a new set of wheels.”

Tim laughed. “I know, I know.”

“I’m about to hop in the shower, so I should be able to come get you at say…eight thirty?” CJ suggested since Tim’s rental apartment was about twenty minutes from the office.

“Awesome. Thank you. I’ll see you then.”

“Cool. Hey, why were you going out so early?”

“None of your business,” Tim said, waiting to see what she would do.

“Uh…”

“Hah. You’ll have to learn when I’m being serious and when I’m not.”

“I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“Whatever. Anyway, I was gonna go in and do some paperwork. I figured it would mean we could take it easy for most of the day.”

“I see. Well, it’s good your car broke down then because you and I are a team. You shouldn’t be doing extra just to give me an easier life. I wouldn’t want it that way anyway.”

“I woke up really early, CJ…couldn’t sleep. I’d rather just get up than lie there thinking about what I could be doing, you know?”

“Uh-huh. So get off the phone and let me get ready.”

“So bossy. OK, see ya later.”

“Bye, Tim.” CJ hung up the call and tossed the phone next to her jacket on the couch. As she walked up the stairs, she realized she was grinning like an idiot again. Tim seemed to have that effect on her, and if it continued she decided her working life would be a much lighter place. Yes, she had Jamie to keep her going too, but Jamie tended to emulate more of what CJ was going through at any given time. She was more empathetic, whereas Tim kept digging CJ out of the dark spots that would emerge in her head. It was a different and welcome dynamic, and CJ knew she appreciated them both in different but ultimately important ways.

At the top of the stairs, she heard Kate organizing Shannon and Lucy in the main bathroom so she popped her head in the door. “Is everything proceeding in an orderly fashion in here?”

“Yes, Ma’am!” Shannon replied promptly with a salute even though Kate was brushing through her hair.

“Mommy, can you…?” Lucy requested, holding up her toothbrush to CJ.

CJ knew she was going to end up short of time, but a few minutes to brush Lucy’s teeth would not make any difference. “Let’s see,” she said as she lifted Lucy to sit on the vanity in between the double sinks. She took the toothbrush, which already had toothpaste on it, and laughed when Lucy exposed all her teeth in a wide and slightly freaky smile. “Wow. Look at these guys in here. They’re pretty shiny and white already, but I’ve just spotted an intruder.” She pinned her lips together when Lucy tried to respond, but the toothbrush stopped her from chattering, so CJ went on. “Get out, cornflake!”

Lucy wriggled as the brush went from tooth to tooth. “Ick kickles.”

“I know it does,” CJ said with a fake-evil grin on her face. “You should do it by yourself then. It would tickle less if you did it.”

At Lucy’s adamant shake of the head, CJ continued to scrub her bottom teeth gently until they were all food-free. “Spit.” CJ held up a cup of water and watched as her younger daughter took a gulp and swirled it around in her mouth before spitting it out again in dramatic fashion, blowing a raspberry to get rid of every droplet.

“Are they clean now?” Lucy asked before displaying the teeth for inspection.

“Yep. You’re good to go.”

When CJ had lifted her down to the floor, she scooted out of the bathroom while pulling her pajama top over her head. “Careful! Make sure you can see where you’re going!”

Thump!

“I’ll get her, CJ. You need to get ready for work,” Kate said as she went to Lucy’s aid.

“Mommy, can we go riding tomorrow?” Shannon queried.

“Sure thing. Will you help me to work Calli in the corral too? I think she’s ready for a small rider.”

“Oh! Me-me-me!” Shannon squealed as she jumped on the spot.

“Uh-huh. I meant you, since you’re getting so good at it.”

“Yes!”

CJ shook her head at Shannon’s enthusiastic fist-bump, and a few seconds later she realized she had been left alone. “OK. What just happened?” As she exited the bathroom, she saw that Lucy was fine, as was evident by her hopping around the hallway accompanied by ‘boing, boing, boing’ sounds. “I wish I had some of her energy. Oh, to be that age again.” CJ quickly deleted that thought since she had no desire to go back to being a kid…apart from the fact that she would see her mom. Feeling a tad melancholy, she shuffled into the master suite and stripped off her clothing, noting the time on the clock and realizing she was probably going to be late after all.

* * * * * *

After rushing out of the house and only giving Kate a peck on the cheek, CJ promised her that she would make it up to her later, before she jumped into her rather dirty, blue Dodge Ram and shot off down the driveway toward the gates. When they opened, she saw Tony in his car waiting on the other side, so she threw him an exuberant wave and headed out onto the open road. The drive to Tim’s apartment was relatively drama-free, and her GPS had brought her neatly to the front of his building. She hadn’t been there before so she sent him a quick text, and two minutes later he was climbing into the cab of her truck.

“Thanks for swinging by to get me, CJ.”

“No worries. Sorry I’m late.”

Tim glanced at his watch. “Only five minutes.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll make up the time on the way to the office,” CJ said as she signaled to move out into the traffic. “How come you couldn’t sleep?”

“Oh, I’d imagine it had something to do with yesterday. I kept running it over and over in my head.”

“All of it, or a specific part?”

“Truth?” Tim asked.

“Of course, truth.”

“What was keeping me awake was finding you in that position…seeing what he was going to do to you, what he had done to you. It terrified me, CJ. I gotta get over that feeling if I want to stay in this unit.”

CJ paused to think for a moment before she answered him. “I don’t think you have to get over it. Maybe just control it until after the fact. Nobody’s asking you to be inhuman, Tim, and to be honest, you did everything exactly right in there. If it didn’t affect you, I’d be more worried.”

Tim absorbed that and nodded his acceptance of it. “I guess you’re right.”

“I know I’m right,” CJ announced, glancing over at him with a grin, but it gradually waned at the seriousness of what he had said. “About what you saw…”

“Hey,” Tim said to briefly catch her eye while they were at a stop light. “I weirdly love you, remember? Don’t worry about it.”

CJ was taken aback again, but it was becoming less of a shock each time he said something like that. “Right.” She focused on the red light until it changed, and as she drove off from the intersection, she had a question for him. “Is that gonna be our thing now?”

“What?”

“I weirdly love you?”

Tim laughed. “Yeah. I think it’s pretty accurate, don’t you?”

“Weirdly-yeah.” When he laughed again, CJ couldn’t help but join him, and the rest of the drive to work passed pretty quickly as the bantering continued until they had walked out of the elevator and along the corridor to their office.

CJ was sure it was Jamie she had spotted going into the locker room, so she told Tim she was going to stop off there first. On entering, she could not find her friend anywhere, but after a flush was heard, Jamie appeared from the last stall in the row.  “Hey, Penfold.”

Jamie glanced at her, but it was fleeting as she washed and dried her hands. “DM. How are you this morning?”

“I’m all right. Glad it’s all over.”

“I don’t know the fine details of what happened yesterday, but I want to hear them at some point.”

CJ watched as Jamie struggled to hold back her feelings as she turned to face her. “Just say what you mean. I can take it.”

“I just did.”

“No. You want to slap me for going alone. You want to tell me how stupid it was…which is fine because Kate has already told me I-”

“Good!” Jamie blasted.

“Ah, there it is. Come on. Let it out.”

“Fine! Why didn’t you both go to that house? You could have been killed, CJ! If it was me, I would’ve made sure you didn’t-”

“Whoa,” CJ interrupted angrily. “By all means, let me know what you think of my mistakes, but do not bring Tim into this. He did everything right. I was the one who said we should split up and cover the work faster. We were running out of time, and it was the right thing to do. There was no reason at that point to suspect Dan Fields’ house had any direct link to the killer. My choice, Jamie. Not Tim’s. He saved my life, so leave him out of your rant!”

Jamie was a little taken aback by the veracity in CJ’s voice, and even though she could understand it, her emotional state made her bite back. “I wasn’t ranting! And I didn’t disparage Tim in any way. I was only pointing out that…oh, forget it!”

CJ took a moment to calm down. She didn’t want to argue with Jamie, and since the two of them had strong personalities – and were stubborn to boot – she knew it could escalate if she did not take a breath to think it through. “I know I almost got myself killed, OK? But we choose to do this job and it can happen at any time, on any day, and with any case. This guy was coming after me. That much was obvious, and he absolutely would not have stopped unless we somehow got a break. Every angle had to be covered, and fast. So if you’re angry at me, just say so…then maybe give me a hug since you’re only angry because you love me.”

Jamie’s glare lessened a little, and as she put her hand up to put a little pressure on her frowning temples, she realized that CJ was right, as usual. “I do love you, so I have a right to be a little angry. He…he almost…I can’t even say it.” Her shoulders drooped in defeat as she struggled to push back her anxiety.

CJ blew out a relieved breath and took Jamie into her arms. “I’m fine, Penfold.”

“I know you are,” Jamie said at her shoulder. She turned her head to kiss CJ’s cheek before she held her tighter.

Still in the embrace, CJ wondered just how much Jamie knew about the horrid events that led up to Theodore Fleet’s demise. “So you read my report then?”

“No,” Jamie mumbled. “You left your handwritten statement on your desk. I just happened to see it as I passed by.”

CJ let her go and smirked at her disbelievingly. “Right. Just passin’ by, huh?”

“Yes.”

“Tell the truth, Jamie Green.”

“What? You don’t believe little old me?” Jamie said with her hand to her chest in mock outrage. “I may faint at the insinuation.”

With a snort, CJ turned to leave the locker room, and she outright laughed when Jamie followed her along the corridor still acting like the wilting flower. Or was it the outraged dame from an old Western movie? CJ wasn’t sure. It was probably a mixture of both.

When they arrived at the office, CJ rolled her eyes at Tim and Ethan. “Just ignore Calamity Jamie here. She’s gone into overdrive.”

“Why, I do believe you exaggerate there, Miss Carson,” Jamie gasped out. “I’m just full of concern for a wondrous, charming, sweet lady in distress…”

“Who you callin’ a lady?” CJ tried to ask seriously.

“Well, you might act all tough and rugged, but underneath it all, you’re still a lady,” Jamie replied as she wiggled her eyebrows at CJ then batted her eyelids at everyone in the room.

By this point, Ethan and Tim were grinning like a couple of school boys, and when Jamie pretended to lift her large, old-fashioned skirts up before she sat down, CJ couldn’t help but grin as well.

* * * * * *

Two hours later, CJ looked from side to side over the surface of her desk. “I think we’ve done everything.”

“I think you’re right,” Tim said from over at the coffee machine. “Want one in celebration?” he added while holding the carafe high.

“It’s only been an hour since I finished my last one, so it must be about time.” When the mug landed beside her, she lifted it and took a small gulp. “Ooh. Syrup?”

Tim nodded. “Hazelnut. You like it?”

“Hell, yeah. Got any muffins today?”

“Sorry, no. I’ll make some later.”

CJ leaned back in her chair to savor the second taste. “Mmm. You guys should try this,” she said to Jamie and Ethan who were unfortunately still working on their case.

Since Ethan’s phone had just started ringing, Jamie answered for them both. “Yes, please.”

But before Tim had even started to pour two new drinks, Jamie’s phone was calling for attention too, and when CJ’s did the same, he put down the carafe and waited to see what was going to happen.

“Agent Carson.”

“CJ, could you come up to my office please?” Mark said on the line.

“Yes, Sir.” She disconnected the internal call and stood up. “At ease, Tim. Mark just wants to see me. I was wondering when I was going to get my ass chewed for yesterday.”

Tim walked over to her. “Just remember, we got him. That’s all that matters.”

“I know. I won’t be long.” CJ nudged him shoulder to shoulder as she walked by. “Get back to your coffee duties.”

It didn’t take her long to get up to Mark’s office. Even though the elevator was full of personnel, it had been on its way upward meaning she didn’t have to wait long. Mark was currently in a temporary room on the floor above them due to renovation work being done next door to the SSHU. It would be Mark’s new office once it was completed, and the storage room adjoining CJ’s office was to be opened up to give the five agents more room to work. After Tim’s arrival, he had used one end of CJ’s desk for a few weeks until they had acquired another, but they were still all a little squashed in the relatively small space. Thankfully, DD Julius Mitchell had authorized some improvements, so CJ and her team could spread out a little.

Once she had knocked Mark’s door and pushed it open, she saw him sitting at his desk on the phone. We waved her inside, and when she had taken a seat opposite him she realized he was talking to Julius. It seemed their conversation was coming to an end, and CJ hoped it had been an amicable one.

“Right,” Mark said after he had hung up. “I think that went well.”

“Have I created problems for you, Sir?”

Mark looked up at her. “Problems? You are kidding, right?”

“Uh, no.”

“CJ, you caught the most prolific serial killer we’ve had in years. It was a difficult case, and you were the third investigator. I have no problem with that.”

CJ clasped her hands in her lap. She still felt she had made mistakes.

When she failed to offer anything in response, Mark sighed. “But I do have a problem with almost losing you to that rat bastard.”

“That was my fault, Sir.”

“I don’t see anyone else in this room, CJ. I’m Mark right now. The problem I have is personal.”

CJ met his eyes. “Oh.”

“I’ve read everything from you and Tim on this. As far as I can see, you did your job. The thing is, I know you. You’ll be beating yourself up over the fact that you went in alone, and while I’d rather you hadn’t, I can see why you wanted to get things done as fast as possible. I also don’t see anything in these reports that indicated Fields was anything other than a potential witness at that time. Are the reports accurate in that respect?” Mark asked, knowing that they absolutely were accurate. He was just trying to push his point home.

“They’re accurate.”

“Which means you didn’t do anything that wasn’t by the book, so quit the self-punishment.”

“Is that an order?” CJ said, a small frown still stubbornly covering her features.

Mark smiled. “If you don’t quit it, it might have to be. Seriously though, are you coping with what happened?”

CJ let her head fall back onto the top of the chair, and while she closed her eyes for a few seconds, she took in a deep breath. “I’m actually doing fine,” she said as she looked back at her boss. “As you know, I have Kate to keep me sane…and the guys. They’ve been really great.”

“Good. Your statement was difficult to read, CJ. Just remember you have me too.”

“I know that.”

“You and Tim make a great team,” Mark stated plainly.

“Yes, we do. He’s a fantastic agent, Mark.”

“I agree. Well, I’ll keep the pairings the same for the foreseeable future. It will allow Jamie to lead her own investigations. She has great potential, but you are still the team leader when it comes down to it.”

CJ nodded in response. “Did you hear anything further on Agent Regan?”

“Not yet. She’s still unconscious.”

“I wish I could’ve told Fleet that he’d failed.”

Mark folded his arms and leaned on his desk. “Don’t you dare regret that he’s dead.”

“I do, a little, Mark. I needed to know if he had any other victims. I needed to know if he had been planning this game for years and working himself up to killing people. What did he do before this? Did he rape and torture women that we haven’t even linked to him yet? Did he kill animals? Did he stash previous bodies away somewhere we’ll never find them? He was too smart and too much of a butcher to be new at this.”

“You’re right. We might never know if he had previous victims, but at least he won’t have any future ones. Console yourself with the fact that you found him and you stopped him. You saved a life. Courtney Moore survived because you followed up on a bunch of pocket watches. You were the only one to even think of that.”

CJ pursed her lips as she tried to accept his words. “OK. I’ll let it go. I just needed to understand him better. You know what I mean, right?”

“Of course I do. All of it helps you become a better profiler. I get that. But CJ, you are already the best I’ve ever seen.”

“Oy,” CJ said, shaking her head.

“I’m angry about him too, you know.”

“Why?”

“He was right here,” Mark said as his eyes lost focus while staring at his phone. “Right here in my office. He spoke to me about travel expenses and any budget concerns I had with the unit. He even mentioned your name when talking about our current caseload. It makes me sick.”

“I saw him too, Mark. There was no way we could ever have known. To be honest, he was even crazier that I had thought.”

Mark fixed his eyes on her. “In what way?”

“Well, I had thought that maybe he’d been a witness calling in one of the early victims just to feel the rush of seeing cops trying to decipher his work. That would’ve been a ballsy move on its own, but he went further than that. He was actually inside each law enforcement agency, so close to it all and right under our noses while his case was ongoing. Beyond crazy,” CJ said as she shook her head at how Theodore’s audacity made her feel.

“You stopped him, CJ. You did a great job…you and Tim both.”

“May I go before you make me even more uncomfortable?” CJ requested.

Mark shook his head at her usual humble attitude. “Oh, I suppose so. And tell Tim he’ll have his gun back by the end of the day. It was a straightforward shoot as far as the department is concerned, and I agree.”

“I’ll tell him. And…thanks, boss.”

“Uh-huh. Now, get out of here and do some work or something.”

CJ left his office in a much better mood. A lot of her worry about how yesterday had transpired was to do with letting Mark down. She realized on her way back to her office that perhaps she hadn’t let anyone down but herself. Her self-depreciative nature always set such high standards for her – in her work and personal life – which was slightly annoying since she was the only one who could break them down. It was something that would continue to irritate her because it was who she was. She would just have to keep reminding herself that Theodore Fleet had killed at least seventeen people, and he had now been stopped due to the investigation conducted by her and Tim. By FBI standards, it was indeed a success.

* * * * * *

CJ had managed to get home by three PM. As she entered the house, she was in a much better mood than earlier because she had just received a call to inform her that Agent Kelly Regan had awakened from her coma. There would be a long road to recovery for her, both physically and mentally, but CJ was just glad that the news was good for a change. She really wanted to call Kelly just to connect with the woman who had survived the Tick-Tock killer, but it was way too soon for that. She did hope to meet her at some point in the future, though.

With the house devoid of children until Tony returned from the school run in about an hour, CJ went in search of Kate. There was music playing somewhere in the house, so she was definitely home. The sounds took CJ toward the kitchen, and then through the rear hallway to the gym. The door was ajar, so she slithered up to the gap and peered inside. Kate was working out, and the sight was just what CJ needed to divert her mind neatly away from work.

Kate was currently using the punch bag. After a few central jabs, she swung a left then a right before ducking and smoothly launching into a swipe with her leg. She regained her balance and performed a high kick, the sole of her foot hitting the bag and making it swing abruptly on its sturdy support chain. She finished with a few more jabs followed by a couple of left hooks. Once she was done, she turned around to face the door.

CJ realized Kate had known she was there all along, so she sheepishly entered the room. “I wasn’t spying. Honest.”

“Oh yes you were,” Kate replied while taking off her boxing gloves. “Not that I mind. You’re home early.”

“I sure am. Jamie and Ethan are off to San Diego again. Tim and I finalized the case work, so I came home. I’m still on call, but I doubt there’ll be-”

“Don’t finish that,” Kate said with her hand covering CJ’s mouth. “Don’t want to jinx it.”

CJ half smiled. “True.”

“I’m pretty much done here, so I’ll go get freshened up before the dads arrive to prepare dinner.”

“I dunno. I kinda like you like this.” CJ had taken Kate into her arms, and her eyes had zoomed in on a droplet of sweat that cascaded down underneath Kate’s tank top.

“You want something?” Kate asked, wondering if it was an appropriate time for intimacy. She was still worried about what CJ had gone through the day before. “I mean, it was only yesterday that…oh, I don’t know where I’m going with this.”

“Neither do I, Katie. I’m fine, and anyway…this is me and you here. There’s nothing scary about that.”

“I know. I just felt I had to check. Not sure why.”

CJ held her tighter. “I know why. It’s because you are a compassionate and sensitive woman who loves me…lucky, lucky me.”

Kate’s breaths had finally returned to normal after her workout, but she could feel her heartrate picking up again, brought on by the hooded look in CJ’s eyes. Without a word, she took CJ’s hand and led her through the house, up the staircase, and into the master suite. When Kate began to undress, CJ watched her until there was nothing left to cover the woman she would love and adore forever. Her eyes trailed slowly from Kate’s short, blond hair that had started to grow and curl around her delicate ears, to her firm torso that shimmered slightly from a layer of fine sweat, to her defined legs that still held a couple of Kate’s scars. CJ was in awe of her, as always, and she moved toward her until her suit jacket pressed against Kate’s nude breasts. She slipped the jacket off and down her arms, and when it had fallen to the floor, she gazed into Kate’s eyes.

“You do the rest.”

Kate undid the buttons on CJ’s shirt, one by one, before pushing it open to reveal her white bra. When the shirt had followed the jacket to the floor, she reached around CJ to release the underwear. When CJ’s breasts were freed, Kate placed a delicate kiss on each mound before sitting on the edge of their bed to continue the disrobing.

CJ stood tall while the button on her pants was unfastened and her zipper was pulled down. Her head jolted to the side as a flashback forced its way into her consciousness. With her nostrils flared, she blinked a few times as her pants were slowly removed. But Kate had noticed it. She was deliberately watching CJ for any signs of a problem.

“Hey,” she whispered. “I’ll stop if-”

CJ shook her head adamantly. “No.”

While CJ stepped out of the pants, Kate stood up. “CJ, I saw that. I don’t want any part of making you uncomfortable. It might be too soon to do this.”

“It’s fine. It’s over now. It was just the…the zipper.”

Kate was hesitant to continue, but she knew CJ wanted to do this as soon as she could. “OK, but hear me on this. You go on top.”

CJ focused fully on Kate’s face and knew why she had said it. There was no way she was going to let what happened to her – what almost happened to her – affect her relationship with this amazing woman. Just this once, though, she agreed. She removed her own panties and nudged Kate onto the bed before carefully positioning her body on top of her. The connection alone was enough to overcome the temporary flashback, and she lowered her head to kiss Kate softly. The kiss was everything to CJ, because Kate knew exactly what she needed in that moment, ensuring that what was to come would be nothing but enjoyable for them both. It was safe, loving, and cathartic, which allowed CJ to fully enjoy a passionate lovemaking session with her wife.

* * * * * *

“Get your butt in this shower,” Kate ordered an hour later. “Come on. We need to hurry before the girls get home.”

CJ was still lounging on the bed and was loathed to get up at all for the rest of the day, but the thought of their daughters coming home – and Tim coming to dinner – made her finally drag herself off the comfy mattress. As she walked into the bathroom, she realized that there was another fantastic reason to get in the shower. Kate was already washing her delicious body under the warm spray. CJ stepped in behind her and ran her hands down Kate’s back.

“Oh no you don’t. No time.”

“Five minutes won’t matter,” CJ said with a pout.

“Yes it will. They’ll be here any minute. I’m surprised they’re not home already.” After a quick scrub in all the right places, Kate jumped out of the cubicle before CJ could capture her. She wrapped a large towel around her body and scrubbed a smaller one over her hair while listening out the door for any sign of activity. “Nothing yet. You take your time in there. I’ll be the welcoming party.”

CJ pressed her nose against the glass, making Kate giggle a little as she exited the bathroom and pulled on some clothes. While CJ stood under the cascade of water, she thought about their lovemaking. Kate had been her usual intuitive self, and every second of it had been bliss for CJ. Going by the sounds and reactions, Kate had enjoyed it immensely too.

CJ thought about her brief flash of memory earlier, and she supposed if that was all she would suffer, she would get past what Theodore had done to her pretty quickly. She was not underestimating the seriousness of those terrifying moments, but with the people she had in her life and the fact that they would not let her bury any issues regarding it, she was sure it would not haunt her too much.

When she heard a noise above the running water, she figured the children had arrived with Tony, so she rinsed herself off and jumped out of the shower. Within five minutes, she was dressed in her sweatpants and hoodie and heading down the stairs.

In the living room, it wasn’t just Tony who had collected Shannon and Lucy from school. Cyn had accompanied them and was having a discussion with Kate when CJ entered and greeted the children. Lucy, of course, was her overly exuberant self.

“You’re home already!”

CJ crouched down to meet her at eye level – although Lucy’s eye level was getting higher by the day since she was growing so fast. “I’m home for the whole weekend!”

“So is Mama!”

With a chuckle, CJ hugged her before Lucy shot off to do some other important task…like emptying her school bag all over the coffee table.

“Hey, CJ. Good to see you,” Cyn said when she was done talking to Kate.

“You too, Cyn. Looking forward to Monday?”

“Oh, totally. I can’t wait to start working with Kate again. I missed her, and the new show sounds really cool.”

“It does. I can’t wait to watch it,” CJ said as she shared a knowing look with Kate.

Cyn laughed. “Yeah. Kate in those nice, commanding pilot uniforms…”

“Uh-huh.”

When CJ’s eyes glazed over, Cyn giggled to herself. “I’ll leave you with that vision then.”

Tony and Cyn stayed for half an hour, but it seemed to fly by, and CJ barely remembered saying goodbye to them. In a blur, she found herself standing in the kitchen rinsing some mugs at the sink. It wasn’t until Eddie and Jeffrey arrived through the back door in their usual, everyday fashion that she snapped out of her apparent haze.

“Where are all those beautiful, smart girls?” Jeffrey shouted in greeting. “I need to hug them all! Oh!”

Eddie responded with a tut-tut sound and a shake of his head. “Goodness sakes, Jeffreydoodle! Can’t you just say hello like a normal person?”

“Oh, and Jeffreydoodle is normal?”

The banter between them made CJ laugh, which alerted the two men to her presence.

“There you are, Special Agent Fabulous!” Eddie exclaimed as he shuffled over to her. “Oh, I love this bed-head look. It’s absolutely adorable.”

CJ then realized she had forgotten to pull a brush through her long hair after the shower, making it no doubt look like a wild nettle bush. “It’s not a bed-head. It’s a shower-head.”

Eddie put his finger up to his mouth in thought. “Your humor is a little off the mark today, sweetheart.”

“Yeah. That wasn’t funny, was it? Maybe I’ve lost my touch.”

“No, no. You’ve had a rough week. We’ll give you a pass to let you recover.”

CJ snorted. “Thanks ever so much. So generous.”

“Oh!” Eddie made a chortling sound and wandered off to greet Kate who was walking through the living room. “Katie! And where are my two little cherub angels?”

“Hey, Dad. They’re upstairs getting changed out of their school clothes. Jeffrey is already on the case,” Kate said as she hugged him in passing.

“Well, I’ll just head up there too. I need to complete the hug cycle.”

Kate entered the kitchen shaking her head. “Those two are nuts.”

“You’re telling me?” CJ replied while wiping her hands on a hand towel. “But we would be worried if they weren’t nuts.”

“True that.”

“What’s the plan then?”

Kate raised her eyebrows. “With them? I think they’re going to prepare the meal, possibly cook it and then take the girls over to their house for a while to let us have a grown-up dinner with Tim. We’ll be their servants and do the dirty work while they chef it up a little.”

“Sounds great. It saves me having to think at all. I’m pretty wiped out.” CJ placed the back of her hand on her forehead to exaggerate the fact. Her pitiful acting worked as Kate pulled her into her arms.

“We’ll just have to make sure you get a good sleep tonight with no nightmares.”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine. And if I’m not, we’ll get through that too, right?”

Kate nodded. “Right.”

.

Epilogue

It was eight PM. Eddie and Jeffrey had just left with Shannon and Lucy who would no doubt be super-excited to be staying up late and spoiled rotten by their grandpas tonight. CJ and Kate had changed into smarter but comfortable clothes, the table was set for a nice meal for three, and everything was ready except for the salmon that would be put in the oven when Tim arrived…which was now.

The buzzer sounded for the new entry system on the gates, and CJ went to answer it. “Hey, Tim.”

“Cameras too, huh?” Tim said over the intercom.

“Oh, yeah, we have all that here.” She opened the gates for him, and a couple of minutes later she waved from the front door as Tim’s car came to a halt just behind her truck

When he stepped out, he looked all around him. “This place is gorgeous.”

“Thanks. We love it here. I see you got your car fixed.”

“Yeah. I need to get rid of it, though. I mean look at it sitting next to your cars. It will develop a complex.”

“Cars are just a means to an end. The house is our home.”

“No kidding. And it’s so out of the way that it’s like another world,” he said as she came up the porch steps. “It’s like, big but not flashy. Nice balance.”

CJ smiled. “Listen to you, Mr. Realtor.”

“Funny. No, I just appreciate the nicer things in life,” Tim confirmed as he automatically took her into a hug.

CJ returned it and led him into the house. “Kate’s in the kitchen, and dinner’s almost ready. Roast salmon, spring vegetables, and jasmine rice.”

“It sounds delicious, but I hope you didn’t go to any trouble. I’d be just as happy with a slice of pizza.”

CJ stopped just before the kitchen’s double doors. “Are you my twin brother?”

It made Tim laugh out loud and shake his head rapidly. “No…not brother.”

“Why not brother?” CJ asked, making him open his eyes wider and pin his lips shut. She glared at him when she realized what he meant. “Quit that. You said you don’t want me that way, so gimme a break.”

Tim relented. “Doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate your beauty and the fact that you’re intelligent, alluring, and downright irresistible, does it?”

CJ was silenced by his forthright words yet again, but Kate – who had approached stealthily from behind CJ – was not.

“Hmm,” she said. “Maybe I do need to be worried after all.”

With the smile on Tim’s face never faltering, CJ realized he knew Kate was there, but she still think he totally meant every word. “Katie…you may have to kick his ass.”

“Nah,” Kate replied as she hugged Tim warmly. “He saw me sneaking up on you. Well played, Tim.”

“Thank you, Kate.”

But as Tim and Kate chatted while they walked into the kitchen, CJ followed with a pensive look on her face. She suspected that she would be on the receiving end of a few more practical jokes while she worked with him, which she would happily deal with for a long time to come.

Their dinner progressed with the casual communication between all three continuing easily. After many compliments to the chef from Tim, Kate had to admit that she didn’t prepare the meal, which led onto the subject of relatives. Tim was happy to hear more about Eddie and Jeffrey. He loved the diversity in this family – and in his office at work – and he truly felt right at home in their company. He shared a little about his parents who lived in Canada and were not only geographically distanced from him, but emotionally as well. They still spoke on occasion, but they didn’t really see eye to eye when it came to his lifestyle choices, so it was only his grandmother whom he had felt close to. This was the first time he had felt connected to anyone since she had died.

“So, no siblings, huh?” CJ asked.

“No. I’m an only child, and I didn’t have a bad childhood, but I started to drift away from my parents when I was in my late teens. That’s when I realized I wasn’t straight,” Tim answered before taking a swig of lemon water.

CJ’s curiosity got the better of her, and she was enjoying getting to know him better. “I hate to put a label on it, but how would you describe your sexuality then?”

Tim had never been asked that before, so he took a moment to confirm where he was on the scale between heterosexual and gay. “I’d say I’m slap bang in the middle. Bisexual. I like men and women equally, although I tend to develop a more emotional bond with women…well, some women, present company included.”

“Aww, can we keep him?” Kate asked, making CJ and Tim laugh.

“Am I allowed to ask you guys the same question?” Tim ventured.

“You want to keep us?” CJ jested even though she knew what he meant.

Kate’s apologetic look and a slap to CJ’s hand on the table preceded her answer. “Yes, you are allowed. For me, I’d say I am now a lesbian, but I don’t tend to put labels on myself. It wasn’t something I really thought about before. I mean, I had only ever dated men up until CJ and I met, but as soon as she was in my life, that was it for me. There was no question I would always be with her.”

“That’s really awesome,” Tim said seriously. “And I can understand why…” he added with a glance at CJ. It made Kate laugh again, but CJ’s face took on a mock suspicious expression that just made Kate laugh even more.

“Well, I’ve always been a big ol’ lesbian,” CJ said, still staring Tim down. “And I always will be.”

“Pity,” Tim responded with a dramatic sigh.

CJ couldn’t hold the pretense any longer. She burst into fits of laughter, and even though everything was out in the open, she still felt a lingering concern that he was serious about his attraction to her. Once she had her giggles under control, she figured she may as well ask him. “OK, serious for a moment. Is this all covering up some unrequited lust for me?”

Tim threw his head into his hands. “We already covered this in the truck, remember?”

“I’m just checking.”

“I told you I weirdly love you. That’s our thing,” Tim said, looking to Kate and seeing nothing but affection for his words. “I thought you were totally hot, and I still do…but no, I’m not interested in you that way. I adore you and Kate. And if it wasn’t so inappropriate, I’d tell Kate she was hot too.”

CJ blurted a laugh and turned to Kate. “What did I tell you? He just comes straight out with these things. It’s so weird.”

“Weird, but good,” Kate confirmed. “I like that better than people just keeping it to themselves or gossiping behind your back. And I’d like to point out that CJ and I can still appreciate a devastatingly handsome man when we see one. Right, honey?”

“Oh, absolutely,” CJ said, rather pleased that they had made him blush for a change.

Kate silently giggled. “And thank you, Tim. I accept the hot comment with gratitude.”

“See? Why can’t you just take a compliment like Kate did?” Tim asked CJ while fanning his warm face.

“Anyone for dessert…?”

“Ah. Now we see her excellent diversion tactics,” Kate said as she got up and followed CJ to the fridge.

Tim watched as they fetched the sweet course and put it into three bowls on the counter. When CJ stuck her finger into the remains, Kate slapped her hand away, admonishing her for ruining a potential second helping.

“Tim doesn’t mind. He’s into me anyway. Right, Tim?” CJ said while winking at him repeatedly.

“I plead the fifth right now…and to infinity and beyond.”

“Ooh. Sneaky.”

Right after CJ and Kate had sat down at the table again, their evening was slightly interrupted by a high-pitched holler from the back door of the house. When Eddie and Jeffrey – followed by Shannon and Lucy – came skipping into the kitchen, CJ knew they just wanted a peek at Tim. And peek they did. Or was it more like gawking. Tim was indeed a handsome man, and it seemed both Eddie and Jeffrey were appreciating that a lot.

“Well, hello!” Eddie said, holding out his hand to shake Tim’s. “We’re so glad to meet one of CJ’s esteemed colleagues.”

“So glad,” Jeffrey cooed beside him.

“It’s great to meet you guys too,” Tim answered looking slightly overwhelmed by them both.

CJ held back her revenge smirk. “Uh, Tim. The one that is still lovingly holding your hand is Eddie, and that’s Jeffrey who’s dreamily ogling you.”

“Thanks, CJ.” When Eddie withdrew his hand while giving CJ a bitch stare, Tim focused his attention on the two girls beside Jeffrey.

“Hi. I’m Tim.”

Shannon was first to step up. “Hello. You work with my mommy, don’t you?”

“I sure do. And you must be…” Tim pretended to visually measure both girls to see who was taller. “Shannon, right?”

“Yes.”

“And I’m Lucy!”

“Wow. No kidding,” Tim said with equal enthusiasm. “What you got there, Lucy?”

“Cupcakes. We made them!”

“Oh, nice. Is there one for me?”

Lucy nodded profusely. “We wrote your name on it with icing. Here.” She proceeded to not-very-delicately pick one out of the plastic tub and hand it over to Tim who saw in their expectant faces that he was supposed to taste it right away.

He took a bite and closed his eyes. “Mmm. It’s so yummy. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Shannon said politely.

CJ’s heart melted, but she was still wondering if there was one for her. “Are there more cakes in there?”

Lucy trotted around the table and stood between her parents. “This one has a picture of a horse and this one has a picture of a dog. You can eat the pictures! And here’s one that came out in a funny shape. I like that one.”

“It is pretty awesome. Can I have the one with the horse on it?”

“Yes! That means Mama gets the dog one, and I can keep the funny one,” Lucy decided a little selfishly.

“What about Shan?” CJ asked as she handed the dog cupcake to Kate.

“Oh.” Lucy scrunched up her face in thought. “Well Shan and me could share ‘cause we ate two already.”

“I see,” CJ said while throwing a wink to Shannon. “Well, I suppose you two are having a special night with your grandpas, so some cakes are allowed.”

Lucy smiled in agreement and shuffled back round the table. “Did you really like it?” she asked Tim.

“It’s delicious, but I’ll eat the second half with my coffee. It’s gonna be great.”

“OK.” Satisfied with that, Lucy headed out the back door, and after Shannon had said her goodbyes, she followed her sister.

“I think that’s our cue, dear,” Eddie said to his husband.

“Right-o! So very lovely to meet you, Tim.”

“Same to you both. And thank for the delicious meal.”

Jeffrey almost blushed. “Oh, that was nothing. We cook for a living!”

Eddie waved as he ushered Jeffrey out of the house, and once they were gone, CJ grinned widely.

“And that…was Dad and Dad two.”

Tim nodded. “It sure was. They’re great, actually.”

“Yeah, they are,” Kate agreed. “And they were on their best behavior.”

After they all exchanged looks at the humor in that statement, they continued with their evening until two hours later when Tim felt it was time to leave them in peace. He said his goodbyes to Kate with a heartfelt hug, and once CJ had walked him out onto the porch, he turned to face her. “I had a great night.”

“Me too.”

“If I was an envious type of person, I’d be jealous of your family. They’re all wonderful.”

CJ was a little confused. “Why would you be jealous when you’re a part of it, Tim?” When his eyes filled with tears, she shook her head frantically. “No, don’t cry.”

“Why not?”

“Because then I’ll cry, and your super-tough image of me will be cracked. It’ll lead to ruin, I tell you. Ruin!”

Tim laughed through the few tears that had managed to emerge. “Nothing could ruin my opinion of you, CJ.” He wiped at his face with his hand before rubbing the moisture off on his sweater. “And now I’m gonna go and let you enjoy your weekend. See you Monday, partner.”

“Monday.” CJ pulled him into her arms and held him tight. When he reciprocated, she smiled. “It’s good we’re the same height. Easy to hug.”

Tim laughed again before he walked off the porch toward his car. “Weirdly love you,” he shouted over his shoulder.

“Weirdly love you too.”

.

The End.

©2017 StageFreak Productions

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25 comments

  1. This is the second email I recievied, and when I click on the link it will not take me to the story. It is very frustrating, but I have re- read the last story in preperation. Is it a problem with the link, or am I doing something wrong?


    • Sorry, Helen. I have created the page for the story but its not out yet. Perhaps you should undo the notifications to your email? I edit the site quite often.


  2. It really sucks that some people were complaining while the rest of us have been waiting patiently. I am sorry it has interrupted your creative flow. Don’t let those bozos rush you into anything. Take your time and get it the way you want it.


    • Thank you, Polly. I know that the ‘real fans’ are happy to wait. I mean, there are loads of awesome stories out there to keep you all busy 😉 I will write as soon as I find my va-va-voom!


  3. I agree with Polly it’s sad people have to be jerks, especially since you are offering your story for free. I stumbled on CJ and Kate’s story by luck. I have so enjoyed reading their journey. I will be patiently waiting for the next chapter of their love story! Cheers!


    • Thank you for your support, Kim. I will get back to CJ and Kate at some point as I do miss them. I just don’t know when it will be.


  4. I follow Laurel K. Hamilton’s blog, and based on what I see there, even commercial writers with dozens of novels published get anguished pleas from fans to feed their addiction. I honestly think you should package this series into individual novels and talk to Bella Books or other similar publishers, because, chica, you have plenty of talent. It’s only the specific X and G visions after C.J.’s crash that a non-XWP reader wouldn’t understand. You *absolutely* should get paid for your work. Great story.


    • Hi ‘gunnora’. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate it! I wish I could afford to publish a version of the After Montana episodes (individual books and a box set for each season), but doing that would cost quite a bit, and I’d rather self-publish my works . Glad you think they are that good, though 🙂 Thanks again!


  5. Wendy,
    As far as CJ and Kate go, I’ll wait.
    There are givers and takers. You are a giver of stories.
    Much and many thanks for allowing us to read them.

    Gail


    • Thank you, Gail! Your comments are very much appreciated 🙂


  6. Do what you do Wendy! Good things come to those who wait and Cj & Kate are definitely worth the wait.


    • Thank you, Susan! I promise it’s not over for CJ and Kate…not by a long shot. I miss them too 😉


  7. Just checking in on one of my favs! Sending love!!


    • *thumbs up* 🙂


  8. Wendy,

    I really enjoyed reading your new CJ & Kate story.
    Thanks so much for sharing with us.

    Gail


    • Thank you, Gail. Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂


  9. There I was just checking for an Update and what Surprise do I get… the new Chapter ❤ and it was amazing, I love it and can't wait for the next (I know good things need time ;-))

    (Sry for me English, greetings from Germany)


    • Thanks, Franzi. So glad you enjoyed the episode 🙂


  10. Hi
    let me tell you the truth i love this story! I love the characters ( cj and kate). I so much enjoyed reading their story. I love how they talk about stuff to each other and you don’t shy away from writing about it. once i started reading i couldn’t stop my! you are awesome! it’s like 24 hours jack Bauer in another version and thanks for sharing with us (the full series) and am so looking forward to the next series. will it be added up in this particular site or the royal academy of bard post? cj and kate are not ordinary characters and i wouldn’t want to miss a bit of their journey
    of course Wendy this story is a master piece and you are one in a million!


    • Hi Lucy.
      Many thanks for your message today. I am so very glad you enjoyed this latest episode! You have given my muse a little nudge to perhaps write a little more. Any new material will be here on the After Montana site only, so stop by and check in on occasion, and I will try to continue with Interference as soon as I can. Thanks again!


  11. Damn Wendy! I LOOOOOVED it! You have not lost your muse and this was soooooooo worth the wait! You’re pretty good at this writing thing ya know. I so appreciate your work and willingness to share it with us. Cj & KATE are my faves. Thank you again.

    I weirdly love you 🙂

    Susan


    • Thank you, Susan. You have no idea how nice it is to get some feedback! Every writer needs a boost now and then, so your comment is very gratefully received. 😉


      • No problem! Just now getting around to Full Circle. Love the trips you take us on! May your muse stay active. ♡


  12. Hi Wendy i want to ask, please do you have other stories posted online while i want for cj and kate Carson Montana series. i have checked but…..

    Lucy


    • Hi Lucy,
      The only other story posted online is Full Circle (at the bottom of the homepage). Other than that, it’s After Montana or my novel, To Die For (on Amazon). 🙂



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