Manhattan, New York
The weary comment came from Detective Alexandra Eames, as she stood observing the pearl-white body of the dead boy in the box. Her partner, Detective Robert Goren, didn’t bother to respond as he crouched down to get a closer look at the corpse.
It was the seventh victim in four weeks, and everyone was starting to get extremely antsy. Though the Homicide division at the Three-One had originally had the case, it had been handed to major Case after the discovery of victim number four. Now, though, three more victims later, they were no closer to getting an ID on the killer.
At first, the detectives from the Three-One had gloated at Major Case’s lack of success, believing it to vindicate their own fruitless efforts. By the time the sixth victim had turned up, though, no one was laughing. It was painfully obvious that there was a serial killer in full flight, and the fact that not even the great Bobby Goren, Detective Extraordinaire, could make headway in the case sent chills through the collective NYPD.
Bobby had not been able to even put together any sort of profile, and his partner knew first-hand that it was just about killing him. She’d tried to reassure him that it was no reflection on his abilities, and he seemed to accept that. It hit him hard, though, that the bodies were piling up while he seemed to be impotent to stop the carnage. It had hit them both hard – neither was prepared for a killer who took his victims’ lives and left not a trace of himself behind.
That was the part that was driving Alex crazy. There was always trace left behind, no matter how careful the killer was. Whether it was semen from a dodgy condom, saliva or teeth marks from a careless bite, or skin traces beneath a victim’s fingernails, there was always something. With all seven victims, the only trace left behind was that clear, slimy substance – so like saliva, and yet apparently nothing natural. Whatever it was, CSU was at a loss to define it.
Mac Taylor had apparently reported that one of their trace machines had actually blown up in the process of trying to identify the liquid. It was a mystery to everyone involved.
“A homeless boy,” Bobby muttered, drawing Alex’s attention. “Last victim was a middle-aged housewife on her way to pick up her sons at school. There’s no… no pattern here. It doesn’t make sense.”
Alex sighed softly.
“It was going to happen sooner or later, Bobby. We were bound to strike a totally random killer eventually.”
“But there should be something,” Bobby insisted. “Some small connection… some pattern! There’s always a pattern! It’s impossible that it could be so totally and completely random like this! It just isn’t right!”
“No,” Alex agreed softly, her gaze falling on the dead boy. “It’s not right.”
The boy was little more than fifteen; visibly gaunt beyond the shade of white his skin had been turned. There was no ID on him yet, but Alex suspected it wouldn’t be long. A boy on the streets was usually a product of a severely broken home, and odds were that his records were in the Juvenile system, as a foster kid if nothing else.
It grated on her to see a victim so young. There had been one other child victim, a little girl who had wandered away from her nanny at the park. That had been a very hard scene to cope with, and she knew she and Bobby would be sharing more than a few drinks together when this case was finally solved.
She shared his frustration, though. The randomness of the victims, the inexplicable liquid left behind at every scene, and the bizarre and as yet unknown cause of death all served to give them both a healthy dose of chronic migraine.
Seven people, all unrelated in every way imaginable – all dead, ivory-white bodies locked in the final death throes, and not one with so much as a bruise on their bodies.
Alex hazarded another glance at her partner, and was not surprised to find him scowling again. She desperately wanted to tell him to take it easy – after everything that had happened in the last couple of months with his mother, his brother and with the serial killer Mark Ford Brady, the last thing he needed was to stroke out over a case like this. She said nothing, though, knowing damn well that nothing she said would help him to relax. Nothing would help now except catching the killer, and she knew in her bones that it was now personal for him. He wouldn’t rest until the killer was caught.
Though she would never have said so, she had no intention of trying to dissuade him from that course, because deep down, she felt exactly the same way. They were in this now, no matter where it took them, and neither one of them was going to quit until the job was finished.
Bobby frowned deeply as he observed and examined this newest victim. He loved a challenge, but this was seriously starting to piss him off. The only trace left behind at any of the scenes was the clear fluid on the flesh of the body, and no one had the first clue what it was. Bobby himself had no idea, and that was just one of the many factors of this case that were driving him crazy.
He stared at the substance now, covering the upper half of the victim in globulous portions, like some bizarre combination of water and jelly. It was odourless, and completely colourless – opaque in quality. He could barely begin to describe it, and he hated that with a passion.
Initially, he'd thought it to be saliva, though it was unlike any kind of saliva he'd ever seen. CSU reports had knocked that theory on the head, though. It was not saliva, not from any human or animal. In fact, the only thing that CSU could tell them was that it was not any kind of chemical. It was a natural substance... but what that substance was remained a true mystery.
Rumours were circulating with full force, some borderline silly and others outright ludicrous. The most ridiculous rumour going around was that it was a completely alien substance. And then, of course, the jokes about UFOs and little green men had started. Bobby had been particularly irritated to arrive at work two days ago to find a mock-up business card taped to his phone, offering the services of 'Alien Catchers Extraordinaire'. Ross, sympathetic with Bobby's aggravation when there was still a serial killer out there somewhere, had read the squad the riot act over the juvenile prank, and subsequently all alien jokes had abruptly ceased.
And so there they were, still at square one, with no clue as to the killer's identity, and no answers to give an increasingly nervous public.
Sighing in aggravation, Bobby got to his feet and rejoined his partner back at the crime scene border that had been marked out by the bright yellow police tape.
“Nothing different this time, either,” Alex commented softly. It was not a question, and nor did Bobby condescend to treat it as such. Instead, he nodded, resisting the urge to let his frustration show. At the last crime scene, he had made the mistake of running his fingers through his hair and then burying his face in his hands. The truth was that he'd had a splitting migraine and was struggling to focus through the debilitating pain. There had been a photographer at the scene, though, and the next morning the front page of at least three major newspapers had featured a shot of him with his face in his hands, along with captions like “Major Case Stumped”.
The brass had come down on Ross like a ton of bricks over the headlines, and he in turn had ripped into Bobby – until Alex jumped into the fray and told him that Bobby had worked through the entire day with a migraine that was almost severe enough to have put him in the hospital. Bobby remembered with some small degree of satisfaction the dull shade of red that Ross had gone, before quietly apologising and promising that he would do his best to keep the media and the press out of their faces from then on.
“Nothing different,” he agreed aloud. “Doesn't appear to be a mark anywhere on the body. Rodgers is not going to be happy.”
Alex nodded wordlessly in agreement, silently dreading their next meeting with the Medical Examiner. She could understand Rodger's aggravation, though. This was victim number seven, and they still didn't have a cause of death. Everyone was getting increasingly upset over these murders, and for once Alex couldn't blame the brass for the way they were breathing down all their necks.
The grim bottom line, though, was that neither she nor Bobby had any answers. No one did.
Shaking her head, she turned away from the grim sight of the dead boy, and scanned the scene beyond the crime tape. Not that she expected to see anything or anyone that might be able to contribute, such as a possible suspect, but it gave her something to look at other than the depressing sight of a young boy who had had his life taken from him far too soon.
Her eyes passed over the small crowd that was gathered, and then locked onto a familiar figure that was just getting out of a black sedan.
“Ah, shit,” she hissed. “Captain's coming.”
She felt Bobby tense as soon as the words were out of her mouth, and had to fight to hold back a smirk. She knew damned well that he wouldn't appreciate her finding humour in his discomfort, but she just couldn't help it. Even now, after a year of working under Ross, Bobby still let himself get stressed out by the other man. It was a pointless exercise in her mind. Ross had not turned out to be the bad guy that they'd all expected, and he'd given them vital support in many instances. Not to mention, she thought wryly, that he could be as cunning as them.
She knew what Bobby's issue with the captain was, though, even if he didn't realise it himself. Ross refused to stay behind his desk, insisting on getting out on the streets with them on a regular basis – whether that meant joining them at crime scene, participating in stings, or simply being there to oversee them as they worked. Bobby, she knew, viewed it as interference, and interference was something he had no tolerance for.
Alex, on the other hand, was quietly pleased that their new captain refused to be a desk jockey. As far as she was concerned, his determination to get out of the office and join his detectives on the streets was the most effective means a captain had of staying in touch with the reality of the job. As much as she loved Jimmy Deakins, he had always been a politician as much as he was a cop.
Different men, different methods, she had said to Bobby early on. The only response she'd gotten was an annoyed grunt, and she'd had to quickly excuse herself to the ladies' room in order to avoid him hearing her laugh.
“Relax,” she murmured now, allowing her fingertips to brush lightly against his in a subtle gesture. “He's on our side, remember?”
Bobby grunted softly in answer, but said nothing. They watched guardedly as Ross approached. He paused briefly to exchange a few words with Mac Taylor from CSU, and then continued on to join them on the other side of the crime tape.
“Same as the rest?” he asked quietly as he came to stand beside them. Alex nodded.
“Exactly the same. Random victim, nothing to connect him to the previous victims. No visible wounds, same unidentified fluid left on the body... It's like the kid had the life sucked out of him.”
“Witnesses?” Ross queried, though he sounded none-too-hopeful.
“No,” Bobby confirmed. “No one saw anything, no one heard anything. We've got nothing.”
Ross glanced at him, hearing the frustration and aggravation clearly in Bobby's voice, mixed with a not so healthy dose of self-recrimination. Not surprising, the captain thought grimly. Bobby Goren was possibly taking it harder than anyone that no leads had been found so far, even though Ross whole-heartedly believed that it was not in any way a reflection on the unorthodox detective.
“Go easy on yourself, Detective. You're doing your best. I can see that, and I'm the only one that you need to be concerned with.”
If Bobby was surprised by Ross's quiet declaration of support, he didn't let it show. Instead, he began gesturing towards the body.
“Same fluid on the victim as with all the others.”
Ross swallowed back a sigh.
“So we start the cycle again. Collect the evidence, run the tests, come up empty. Son of a bitch...”
Bobby hesitated. He had an idea, slender though it was, but he was instinctively hesitant in raising it with Ross. The captain happened to glance up at him at that moment, though, and raised an eyebrow questioningly at him.
“What is it, Goren? Spit it out, Detective.”
Not for the first time, Bobby found himself quietly cursing the captain's perception. Nevertheless, he forced himself to speak out and say what was on his mind.
“Captain, I have a friend in the FBI. I'd like to send him a sample of that stuff.”
Ross went very quiet all of a sudden, and Bobby felt his stomach sink.
“You want to involve the FBI.”
“No, sir. This is just a friend. He wouldn't compromise our investigation. But he does have access to forensic equipment that we don't.”
Ross was silent, frowning slightly as he considered Bobby's words. God knew they needed the help, although he didn't particularly like the idea of that help coming from the FBI – however unofficial it might be. Still, if Bobby Goren trusted this friend of his to be discreet, then perhaps it was worth trying. It also did not escape his attention the significance of Bobby asking him to begin with. He wondered whether maybe, just maybe, the quirky detective was finally starting to trust him. He hoped that was the case and, if it was true, then surely he could repay that favour in kind?
He surveyed the scene before him with a heavy heart. Seven victims with a hundred percent possibility of more to come, and them with not a clue. It was time, he realised, to take a chance and step outside the boundaries of procedure. He looked back at Bobby, and was mildly amused to see the anxiety in the big detective's face. With some effort, though, he kept that amusement well-hidden. He knew Bobby would not appreciate it, and rightly so.
Instead, he spoke quietly to Bobby, saying just two simple words.
“So, who's this friend of yours?” Alex asked amusedly as she and Bobby walked away from the crime scene, a small phial of the clear gel-like substance hidden safely in Bobby's pocket.
“Just a guy I've known for a long time,” Bobby answered. “He's into conspiracy theories, alien abduction and cover-ups, supernatural phenomenon... Anything you can think of like that, and he's into it. Think John Munch, over at SVU, and multiply by a hundred, and that's my friend. He's smart, though, and his partner has a friend or two with their forensics department. I can get them to run this stuff, and see whether they can figure out what the hell it is.”
Alex chuckled softly.
“Mac Taylor won't be happy, getting trumped by the FBI.”
Bobby grimaced in response.
“Well, let's wait and see whether they have any luck with this.”
He pulled the phial out once they were seated safely back inside their SUV, and examined the contents with a deep frown.
“It just doesn't make any sense.”
Alex eyed him sympathetically.
“That's what bites more than anything else, isn't it? You never could stand anything that didn't make sense.”
“I never liked anything that didn't have a logical answer,” Bobby corrected her. “Anything without reason. There's no reason to this... no pattern.”
She nodded her agreement.
“I know. That isn't your fault, you know.”
He answered that with silence. Alex hesitated, waiting until they were back on the road and on the way back to One Police Plaza before speaking again.
“Bobby, you're not omniscient. We will figure this out sooner or later. Just have a little faith, okay? We'll get there.”
Bobby stared across at her, and the anguish on his face was almost more than she could bear.
“I know we will, Eames. The real question is how many more people will die before we do?”
Bobby was in contact with his friend that afternoon, arranging to meet and give him the phial. Despite Alex's curiosity over this mysterious friend, whose identity he would not even give up to Ross, she conceded and remained behind at the squad room, leaving him to go alone.
He was gone for an hour and a half, and when he came back there was a look on his face that was a tense mixture of worry and hope. She supposed she could understand that. They were both hopeful that the FBI might be able to provide them with answers where the NYPD's resources had fallen short. However, if it got back to the brass that Bobby had given a sample of key evidence to the FBI, all hell would well and truly break loose.
“Well?” she asked softly. Bobby regarded her ruefully.
“They're going to try, and they'll let me know as soon as they have something. Is Ross here?”
“Upstairs, with the Chief of D's,” Alex told him. “He's really had our backs with this one.”
“I know,” Bobby murmured. “I hope we get something out of this, I really do.”
She offered him what she hoped was a reassuring smile.
“We will. Something has to fall into place sooner or later. Whatever this is... whoever it is... we're going to nail them. You did the right thing, Bobby. Even Ross thinks so... and just between us, he was pleased that you asked him, instead of just going off and doing it.”
Bobby raised an eyebrow at her quizzically.
“Yes. It shows that you're starting to trust him. That's a big step for you, Bobby, and he knows it.”
He didn't answer that straight away, taking a minute to consider what she'd said. Slowly, though, realisation dawned that she was right. He was starting to trust Ross, even if it wasn't a conscious thing in his own mind. Not twelve months ago, he would have taken that sample to his friend and not even considered telling Ross that he was doing it. But this time, he hadn't merely told the captain – he'd actually asked permission. A moment later, he corrected his own thoughts. Perhaps he hadn't asked, per se, but as good as.
“He's... a good cop,” Bobby conceded in a subdued voice. “And a... a good captain. I guess I just didn't want to see that to begin with. Deakins...”
“I understand that,” Alex assured him. “And I think Ross does, too. But he's been waiting for you to give him a chance, and this time, you did. It'll pay off, Bobby. You'll see.”
He sighed again, slumping back in his seat, and thinking ruefully of the way his friend's face had lit up like a little child on Christmas morning when he'd handed over the phial.
“I hope so, Eames. I really hope so. Because if nothing comes of this, then I don't know what we'll do next.”
“Did your friend say how long it might take to get a result?”
“Well, his partner has a friend in forensics who owes her a big favour... He thought that they might be able to get a result of some sort within twenty-four hours. I just hope that no one else is killed in the meantime.”
“Well, this is the seventh victim in a four week period,” Alex mused as she looked back over the timeline of the killings. “The killer has been averaging two per week...” She looked up at Bobby worriedly. “If he keeps to his MO, we could have another victim within the next three or four days.”
Bobby nodded, the news no surprise to him.
“The clock's ticking, and we're running out of time.”
It was twenty-four hours later when Bobby got a phone call from his friend. The tests they'd been able to run had come up negative. Nothing they had told them what the substance was, or whether it was chemical or otherwise. However, he had friends who had connections, and would Bobby mind him passing a sample on for them to have a look at?
This time, Bobby said yes without consulting either Ross or his partner. He knew they would both be pissed off if they found out, and he hoped neither ever would. He was at the end of his rope, though, and any idea seemed like a good idea right at that moment.
In all honesty, and he would never have admitted this to anyone – not even Alex – Bobby felt completely and utterly helpless. He arrived at a crime scene, and it was as though a veil descended over him. The last time, it had come in the form of a blinding headache. The time before that, he found himself suffering an inexplicable bout of vertigo, and this time he'd found himself utterly unable to pick out details. Every time he tried, his very vision seemed to blur and swim in and out of focus.
Then, the moment he was away from the crime scene, everything went back to normal again. The only exception to that had been the migraine, which had stayed with him the entire day and hadn't disappeared until he got home and lay down on his bed.
He opted not to mention any of this added strangeness to Alex, not entirely sure what she might think. After all, it was still relatively soon after his mother's death, and after the Brady case, and the last thing he needed was for her to think that he couldn't cope. It was hard enough having to admit to himself that he wasn't really dealing with this well, without having his partner thinking that, too. And the other thing he didn't want or need was to be taken off the case.
Not that he thought Ross would. According to the rumour mill, the brass had been questioning his state of mind after the resolution of the Brady case, and according to Alex, Ross had well and truly stepped up to the plate and defended him whole-heartedly. Then, when this case had come up, the Chief of Detectives had apparently wanted Mike Logan assigned to it, citing Bobby's supposedly fragile state as cause to leave him out. Again, it had been Ross who had defended him, and insisted on handing the case to him and Alex, with Mike to act as back-up if it was needed.
Mike, who had been without a partner since Megan Wheeler had left to go overseas and temporarily rejoin a taskforce, had been assisting them where he could, grateful for the inclusion.
It was Mike, subsequently, who walked in on him in the task room just as he ended the phone call with his friend, and the Irish detective paused in the doorway, eyeing Bobby curiously before stepping all the way in and closing the door.
“Was that the buddy that you didn't give a sample of that stuff to?”
Bobby eyed Mike wryly.
“Alex told you?”
“Actually, Ross did. And then he told me to keep it under wraps. I'm telling you, if looks could kill...”
Sitting back, Bobby finally nodded.
“Well, that was him.”
For the briefest of moments, Bobby considered lying, but he simply couldn't bring himself to do it. Shaking his head, he spoke in a defeated voice.
“Nothing. They couldn't help us.”
“Shit,” Mike whispered half-heartedly, and sat down opposite Bobby with a thud. “So... what now?”
Bobby shook his head.
“I don't know, Logan. I just don't know.”
Less than twelve hours after being passed on from the FBI agents that Bobby Goren had contacted, the details of the sample, along with articles about the series of murders, were uploaded to the internet by three men, effectively throwing the door open for anyone to look at. For the next twenty-four hours, it went more or less unnoticed or disregarded by virtually everyone who happened across it. Then, almost by chance, someone from the British-based UNIT stumbled across it while conducting a random sweep.
Not understanding fully what they were looking at, they took it to their superior officer. That officer thanked the young woman for her diligence, and told her to immediately forget about what she'd seen. Then, once he was alone, he promptly sent a heavily encrypted email to a close friend, with all files attached.
Once he had done that, he deleted all records from the UNIT files, and went on about his business as though nothing had happened to begin with.
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