A/N: This chapter was going to be longer, but then it would have taken more time to finish than I liked, plus it seemed to work better divided into two parts.
Sorry this has been so long in coming, but my muse finally decide to clue me in as to what is going to happen.
“That better not be beer, Munch,” Elliot said in a lightly threatening tone as they joined Fin and Munch in the local bar.
“Root beer,” Munch said unconcernedly before quickly emptying his glass. “Just think of it as root beer, Elliot.”
Elliot smirked as they sat down around the table.
“Don’t push your luck, pal. The next one had better be root beer for real, or Cragen will be so far up your ass when we get home…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Munch grumbled.
The eight detectives put in their orders for lunch, and then Olivia looked around at the group questioningly.
“We might as well go over what we have so far. Who wants to start? Bobby? Alex?”
“Well, just to state the obvious,” Alex said dryly, “this is no copycat. It’s just some sadistic mutt who happens be operating in the same vicinity as… you know.”
“The way he treats his victims suggests he might have taken a few tips from the Erik Mathers killings, but he’s operating on his own,” Bobby added quietly. “What we do have on our hands is a serial sexual predator. He likes what he does, and he’s not going to stop. He’s working it down to an art form… He seems to pick his victims at random… I haven’t been able to find a pattern yet, but one will be there, somewhere. What we can say is that our killer is probably in his mid-thirties to forties… white male…”
“And has an unusual relationship with his mother,” Munch interrupted sardonically.
“Can’t keep your mouth shut, can you?” Fin snapped. Bobby, however, was grinning.
“As a matter of fact, Munch is probably right.”
“Great,” Logan said wryly as he took a big mouthful of coffee. “We’re looking for a thirty to forty year old Momma’s boy with sociopathic tendencies. You realise that could probably be an accurate description for more than half the men in this town?”
“Oh, I’d love to hear you say that in front of Brenner,” Alex said with a smirk. Logan rolled his eyes.
“Sure, and while I’m at it, I’ll just shoot myself in the head. You know what I mean, Eames.”
“I think we’ll find, when we get this guy,” Bobby put in thoughtfully, “that he’s not a local… At least, not in the true sense of the word. Men who commit serial crimes like this tend to operate away from their hometown.”
“Mathers didn’t,” Bishop pointed out. “He came from this area, and he used it to… do what he did.”
Bobby shook his head.
“Not to start with. He started his killing spree in Miami, and when he moved back here, he never actually killed anyone from this town.”
Alex nodded. “He travelled to New York to find his victims.”
“Exactly,” Bobby confirmed. “All these current victims are from this town, and the surrounding region. It would suggest the killer has contempt for the women here… And the positions they were found in… naked… exposed… say that he wanted to humiliate them. He didn’t come from here… Even if he’s lived here a long time, he doesn’t actually come from this area.”
Elliot nodded in appreciation of Bobby’s profiling skills, especially given their current circumstances.
“Logan, Bishop, you wanna share?”
“Again, evidence says this isn’t a copycat case. That idiot Salinger just put that spin on it. All the victims were stabbed… I suspect, prior to being raped… and then shot dead.”
“You keep saying it’s definitely not a copycat,” Fin said with a frown, “but weren’t all of the victims released and then chased?”
“Yes, but it’s more of a quick thrill for this guy. None of the bodies of the women showed the effects of a prolonged period out in the elements. They were chased…”
“But they weren’t hunted like… like…” Bobby faltered, the words catching in his throat. Alex looked at him sympathetically, then quietly spoke the words that he was trying so hard not to choke on.
“They weren’t hunted down like we were. This son of a bitch probably never actually let the women out of his sight.”
Elliot looked across at Fin and Munch.
“Guys? You turn up anything interesting?”
“The most recent victim was a barmaid here,” Fin said. “Michelle Whyte. She was married, with a young daughter. Some of the locals seemed to think she was having an affair with someone, but no one seems to know who the lucky guy was.”
“If we can find that out,” Olivia mused, “then it might give us a starting point.”
“We need to start asking around,” Elliot said. “Find out whether the other victims were seeing anyone… and whether or not it might be the same guy.” He glanced up as the waitress arrived with their orders. “But right now, lunch. We’ll get stuck into it this afternoon.”
“Where, exactly, are we going?” Alex asked, frowning slightly as Olivia drove her and Bobby to an as yet unknown destination.
“Just to get a little issue sorted out,” Olivia answered calmly.
Bobby and Alex exchanged bemused looks, each one as baffled as the other. After lunch was over, Elliot had sent Logan and Bishop, and Munch and Fin respectively to separate ends of town to start questioning townsfolk. Elliot himself had headed back to the police headquarters, leaving Olivia to carry out this particular task whilst the other detectives were otherwise occupied.
“Someone forget something at the motel?” Alex asked dryly as the car turned into the motel driveway. Olivia smiled as she guided the vehicle around to the opposite side of the motel to where their rooms actually were.
“Not exactly.” She twisted around in her seat so that she could look at the both of them, and held up a motel room key. “This is the key for your new room. Room Four, just over there. Elliot and I took the liberty of shifting your things already. Fin and Bishop both know about it, but we decided not to enlighten Logan or Munch just yet.”
The silence that met the statement was profound.
“You… you and Elliot… you didn’t…” Bobby stammered finally. Olivia smiled.
“What, pay for it ourselves? No, but we would have if we’d needed to. We talked to Gus Brenner on the quiet, and he organised the room, courtesy of the town, and the local PD. He was more than happy to oblige… although, he apologised profusely – the room is on the wrong side of the motel for a view of the mountain.”
Bobby chuckled softly.
“Not our biggest concern.”
“No, I told him it wouldn’t be,” Olivia agreed. Alex frowned a little with increasing suspicious.
“Just what did you tell him, exactly?”
Olivia smirked openly, then.
“You don’t have to worry about that… suffice to say that he was very understanding, and thinks the NYPD frat regs are a total waste of time and effort.”
It was all Olivia could do not to laugh aloud at the bright shade of red that both their faces turned.
“Thanks,” Alex said finally, and Bobby nodded in wordless agreement.
“You can thank us by getting a decent night’s sleep tonight,” Olivia told them, her voice taking on a stern edge. You won’t be any good to us if you’re both exhausted beyond comprehension.”
“We will,” Bobby promised as Alex accepted the room key from Olivia, and slipped it away within her coat. “We promise.”
“You know, you have a bad habit of making promises that you can’t be positive of being able to keep.”
Bobby looked up at Alex, puzzled.
They were back at the local police headquarters after being clued in to their new accommodation by Olivia. Going with Bobby’s theory that the killer was an outsider, they were now going through the records of all the men who lived in and around the town.
As claustrophobic as the little room felt to them, it was still a marked improvement on having to traipse around the town on foot, in constant sight of that damned mountain. Given their anxieties, and Bobby’s inability to walk lengthy distances, it was a fairly safe bet for all concerned just where Bobby and Alex preferred to be.
“What do you mean?” Bobby asked.
“That promise you made to Olivia, about us getting a good night’s sleep.”
“Well… Why wouldn’t we?”
Alex rolled her eyes in mock exasperation. For such a smart guy, he could really be incredibly dense.
“Think about where we are, Bobby. Is having a room together really going to make any difference?”
He smiled gently at her, then, finally understanding her concerns.
“Alex, think back to that night, in Mathers’ cabin.”
“I’d rather not,” she muttered. Bobby ignored the comment.
“We both slept then, even though we were both just about frightened out of our minds. And this morning, too, we were okay. Why were we okay?”
She stared at him, helpless to give an answer. Eventually, he answered for her.
“We were okay because we were together. We felt safe. That’s all we need, isn’t it?”
She sighed, and pushed her hair back behind her ears in irritation.
“My Bobby, the eternal optimist. Who’d have thought?”
He regarded her with an amused grin.
“Your Bobby? You have ownership rights, now?”
She glowered at him, her cheeks heating up.
“Don’t make me start throwing paperclips at you.”
“Hey, as long as it’s not elastic bands…”
“Watch it, bud. Don’t tempt me. I’m tired, and I have not had anywhere near my quota of caffeine for the day.”
Bobby grinned at her. She felt her resistance crumbling, and finally gave up and returned his grin.
“Found anything yet?” she asked, deciding it was time to change the subject.
“A few possibilities worth looking at,” he answered. “One in particular…”
He handed a file to her across the table, and she looked down at it thoughtfully.
“Tobias Page… Thirty-seven years old… moved to the town twenty-three years ago, at the age of fourteen.” She looked back up at Bobby, a fresh grin lighting up her features. “I wonder what his old teachers have to say about him.”
“Toby?” former principal Marcus Brady mused an hour later when Bobby and Alex met up with him in the local bar. “Yes, I know Toby. A quiet, sullen boy who became an equally sullen man. He was never the social type, not in high school, and not later on, either.”
“What was he like in school?” Alex asked. “Was he ever in any trouble?”
“No, Toby was never in any trouble… at least, not with his teachers.”
“You’re saying he was bullied?” Bobby asked, and Brady laughed.
“That boy got the crap beaten out of him on a regular basis by the boys, and I think he was systematically humiliated by every girl in his age group. He wasn’t a happy boy.”
Bobby and Alex glanced at each other, each thinking the same thing. It was seriously starting to sound like they had a prime suspect, but at the same time they shared an equal level of repugnance for Brady’s amusement at another’s abysmal treatment.
“Have you had much contact with him recently?” Alex asked crisply, her professional tone not betraying the disgust she felt for Brady.
“No, hardly ever see him,” Brady answered dismissively. “He lives on the outskirts of town… lives on his own, a bit of a recluse, you know.”
Again, Bobby and Alex exchanged glances. Recluse… That sounded familiar.
“What did you mean, precisely, when you said systematically humiliated by the girls in his age level?” Bobby asked.
“It was just harmless teasing,” Brady said dismissively. “The girls were just trying to bring Toby out of his shell. Unfortunately, I don’t think that boy was born with a sense of humour, and he never understood it was all meant to be harmless fun.”
Neither detective spoke, but rather stared intently at him, waiting for him to elaborate. He finally did so, cringing under the intensity of their combined stare.
“I recall one time the girls set him up for a so-called blind date for Prom Night. The girl who drew the short straw to be his date lured him into an empty store room in the gym, where the Prom was held, got him undressed down to his boxers, then threw his clothes out the window to her friends. Toby would have stayed hidden in there all night, except the girls clued the boys in to what they’d done, and Toby was literally dragged out screaming for everyone to laugh at.”
“And you think that was harmless?” Alex asked incredulously. Brady shrugged.
“He wasn’t physically harmed in any way. The students were a little bit rowdy about it, but they were just having a little bit of fun.”
“And what about Toby?” Bobby asked. “Did he retaliate in any way?”
At that, Brady’s face darkened considerably.
“He showed up at school the next day, and confronted the girl that went to the Prom with him. He demanded an apology in front of everyone, and when she refused, he punched her in the face. He had a knife on him, and he knocked her to the ground… Luckily a couple of the boys pulled him off her, otherwise I’m sure Toby would have stabbed her. He certainly tried hard enough.”
“Who was the girl?” Bobby asked, opening his notebook to write it down. “We’d like to talk to her.”
Brady stared at Bobby, suddenly uneasy.
“Claire Howard, but I’m afraid talking to her is out of the question, Detective. Claire was the first woman to be killed.”
“Tobias Page, huh?” Elliot mused when Bobby handed him the file back at police headquarters a little while later. “He doesn’t have a record, does he?”
“Not even a parking ticket,” Alex said dryly. “But he fits the bill…”
“And no one has actually seen him since before the killings started…” Bobby added.
“But his car has been sighted regularly around town over the last couple of months,” Alex finished off. Elliot looked bemusedly from one to the other.
“Do you guys even realise that you do that? Finish off each other’s sentences like that?”
“Not really,” Bobby said. “It’s…”
“Instinctive, not practised,” Alex finished off with a small smirk. “We’re not consciously aware of doing it.”
Elliot grunted as he returned his attention to the file in his hands.
“Suspects must absolutely love you two in the interrogation room.”
Bobby and Alex said nothing, exchanging amused smiles.
“Well,” Elliot said finally, “it’s worth checking out. So, how about it? You two care to take a ride out to say hello to Mr Page?”
Bobby grinned and stood up, as did Alex.
Count us in,” he said enthusiastically.
One Police Plaza
In the end, Deakins could do nothing but wait for Oliver King to deliver back to him the information he was waiting for. Truth was, he didn’t even know what he was waiting for, or what he was expecting to find. All he knew was that something wasn’t sitting right with him. Everything about this situation was starting to seem unnatural to Deakins, from Salinger’s determination that Bobby and Alex return to Gore Mountain, to his sudden absence from duty.
He supposed the man’s father may have died suddenly, but he just couldn’t help but be suspicious. When it was the welfare of Bobby Goren and Alex Eames that was the central issue, Deakins found himself to be suspicious of just about everything. He didn’t like it, but that was just the way things were.
His phone rang. Frowning at the unwelcome interruption to his thought process, he answered the call with reluctance.
“Deakins. …What? Really? …Thankyou, thankyou very much.”
He hung up and pushed himself carefully out of his chair. He’d just made it to the door of his office, leaning heavily on his cane, when a very welcome figure appeared, striding through the Major Case bullpen.
“Commissioner,” Deakins greeted Adkins enthusiastically. “You’re back early!”
Adkins chuckled and nodded, motioning for Deakins to return to his chair.
“I know. That conference was the most boring pile of manure I’ve had to deal with for a long time. A week and a half in, I’d had enough and decided it was time to blow the whole damn thing off. Now, I get back to rumours that that little prick Salinger has been making life difficult for you and your people. Is that true, Jim?”
Deakins’ smiled faded rapidly, and Adkins sighed.
“I take it that’s a yes. I’m sorry, Jim. If I’d had any option other than to leave him in charge, I would have taken it. But believe me, he’s going to get my foot right up his ass now if he doesn’t leave you all alone to do your jobs.”
“Commissioner,” Deakins said quietly, “you have no idea just how difficult he’s made things. A couple of days ago, he showed up here and told me he was assigning Goren and Eames to a joint task force with detectives from SVU to investigate multiple killings.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound too big an issue.”
“It isn’t the what. It’s the where. The killings all happened in Wolf River, at the bottom of Gore Mountain.”
Adkins suddenly went very quiet.
“Gore Mountain. As in, the same place where Erik Mathers…”
“Yes, the same,” Deakins confirmed grimly. Adkins sucked in a long, hissing breath.
“Okay… Please, tell me he gave them a choice.”
Deakins shook his head slowly.
“He told them they either went, or he’d fire them on the spot. And he told me that when they came back, I was to split them up permanently.”
“That son of a bitch!” Adkins exploded, and several detectives working close to Deakins’ office all looked around in surprise at the verbal explosion. “He doesn’t have the authority to do that, and he damn well knows it! Where are they, Jim? Where are Goren and Eames?”
“They’re already in Wolf River, sir. They arrived there late yesterday.”
“Goddamn it… All right, I’m going straight to Salinger’s office and set him straight over this, and then we’re getting your detectives back here.”
“He’s not there, Commissioner.”
Adkins stared at Deakins, confused.
“What do you mean?”
“I tried to reach Salinger this morning. I was told he’d taken leave of absence to attend his father’s funeral.”
“His… father’s funeral? You were told his father had died?”
“What is it?” Deakins asked, his heart suddenly in his throat. Adkins was on his feet again, visibly agitated.
“Jim, Gary Salinger’s father died when he was fourteen. Can I use your phone?”
Deakins nodded, even as Adkins snatched up the handpiece and punched a memorised number into the keypad.
“…Kate, it’s Gerry. I need you to charter a flight for me as fast as possible, to Saratoga, and then arrange for a car to get me from the airport to a little town called Wolf River. I want to leave as soon as possible.”
“I’m coming with you,” Deakins said abruptly. Adkins glanced at him grimly.
“Hang on, Kate. Jim, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“They’re my detectives, Commissioner…”
“I’m aware of that, Jim, but if this gets dangerous, I don’t want you getting hurt, or killed.”
“They’re my detectives,” Deakins repeated softly. Adkins stared at him for several long seconds before sighing and speaking back into the phone.
“Kate, book for two people. Captain Jim Deakins from Major Case will be coming with me.”
He hung up, then looked back at Deakins.
“I suggest you get on the phone, Jim, and call Goren and Eames. Warn them that there could be trouble headed their way.”
Fighting off a powerful urge to panic, Deakins picked up the phone to make the call. It rang seemingly endlessly before finally cancelling out and going to voicemail. He looked up at Adkins, genuinely worried.
“No answer. Something’s wrong.”
“C’mon, Jim,” Adkins said quietly. “I’ll take you home so you can pack a bag, and then we’ll head to my place. We’ll get to the bottom of this, and when we do, Salinger’s going to regret the day he ever decided to become a cop.”
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