Thank you to Frontma for her diligence with my editing.
*If you love your work, is there room enough to love someone else*
(This is not a story about murder or detective work; it is a story of loving what you do and what that leads to.)
I’ve been with the FBI for six years but this is my first time being lead on a case. I am in Seattle working on a case of a serial killer known as the Rialto Fatale for her attacks in Denver two years ago. She showed up, killed four married women and one married man in a five-month time span, and then vanished. Three weeks ago, a thirty-three year old wife was murdered the same way here in a new city, Seattle.
This afternoon a second body has been discovered in the Cascades. My partner, Special Agent Greta Larson, and I have come to the mountain crime scene to take a look. The MO is the same; non-fatal stab wounds then strangled to death with what we believe was a narrow belt. The body has been left half naked with small statements written in marker left on the body. In this case it said; ‘you will never hurt anyone again.’
The difficult part about this assignment is, we are sure the killer is a woman. All but one of the victims had last been seen in the company of an unidentified woman with mid-shoulder-length blonde, black, or brunette hair. She is also pretty, and pretty damn bright because not only did she seduce her victims, but she lured them away even when they knew the risk. My predecessor had been unable to track her down and since he retired six months ago, it is now my case.
Greta stayed at the scene to work with the Seattle CSI while I headed down to the city to start reviewing every bit of old data yet again. I know I have to be missing something. I am thinking so hard about it, I almost miss the broken section of railing by the road. Something about the damage looks new so I pull over, get out, and take a look down the steep hillside.
About twenty meters down I see a car sitting on the edge of a huge drop-off. I pull out my phone but get zip reception so I pocket it and scramble down the slope. For the last bit I have to grab onto a small tree and slide down to the driver’s side door. The woman inside looks terrified. Even as she turns to look at me the car shifts slightly and inches toward the cliff.
“Can you open the door?” I say softly. She shakes her head.
“Every time I do something the car slips,” she gulps nervously.
“Does it slip even when you are still?” I ask. She nods. I look up at the sky and can tell rain is going to fall and soon.
“Miss, when the rains come, this slope will become mud and then you will go over the edge for sure. I’m not sure we have time for me to go and get help. You have to try,” I urge her. The woman looks anguished and then the predicted rain begins to fall.
“Let me open the door,” I beg. She swallows deeply and nods.
Thankfully, the door comes open and I put a hand in to reach her. She looks at me, almost out of her mind with fear but is focused on my outstretched hand, not on going over the cliff.
“Take my hand,” I plead. The car slips and she squeezes her eyes shut. I can’t grab her because any struggle might kill us both.
“Listen, what’s your name?”
“Art…Artie,” she gulps, “Artie Caruso.”
“Artie, if you don’t grab my hand we are both going to die,” I tell her sincerely. She doesn’t seem to understand.
“Artie, I’m not going to leave you so if this car goes, I go with it. Now, take my hand,” I repeat. “I really don’t want to die today.” That seems to affect her and she tentatively takes hold of my hand. Once I’ve gotten a solid grip I start pulling her out. The car slips again, she yelps, and I whisper a few prayers.
I roll her into a one-armed hug as the car breaks free and slides out of view; seconds later we hear it crashing on the way down the ravine.
“Okay, now, Artie, I want you to crawl over me and climb up the slope. I’ll catch you if you slip,” I instruct her. She puts her purse in her mouth and claws her way up me until I can get her hand on the vines and climbing head of me.
A few times I have to push her ass ahead of me but we finally get back to the road. In retrospect, Artie recovers remarkably fast and proves very athletic getting herself to safety. When we get into the car and out of the rain, we are breathing heavily, more from relief than actual fatigue. She turns to me with this quizzical look on her face.
“You have a gun,” she comments. I reach into my coat and hold up my FBI identification for her to see.
“Wow, an honest to God FBI agent,” she grins. “I never thought I would meet one this way but I’m glad I did. To what do I owe my salvation?”
“I really can’t talk about it but it was official business,” I inform her.
“Oh,” she breaths deeply, “that sounds very mysterious. So what do we do now, Mr. FBI Man?”
“Special Agent Mark MacKinnon,” I answer her. “And I think I take you down to the closest service station, we call the wreck in, and we see about getting you to a hospital.”
“I don’t need sincan escort bayan a hospital,” Artie responds.
“You were in a wreck; I highly recommend it,” I push. She sets her jaw and locks gazes with me.
“How about this; you drop me off and I’ll take care of my car, then you can check up on me this evening over dinner?” Artie suggests with a certain aura of elegance and self-confidence that I find intriguing.
I feel myself rubbing my ring finger and the band that has been on it for the better part of a decade.
“Oh, you are married?” she asks speculatively. I look at the ring.
“I was,” I reply. “She was killed by a drunk driver two years ago.”
“Yet you still keep the ring on…how odd,” she observes.
“Have you ever been in love, Artie?” I counter.
“No, I don’t think I have,” she admits.
“Well, when you do, you will understand how there is this ache when they are not around and how much it hurts when you know you will never see them again. I keep the ring because that is all that I have left of her,” I relate to Artie, who seems mystified by my little speech.
“Oh. I’ve never felt that way about anyone,” she smiles. “Somehow that story doesn’t fit the macho image I envisioned every male FBI agent having.”
“Didn’t mean to disappoint,” I shrug. I start the car and begin heading down the mountain.
“I’m not disappointed,” she states. “Are we still on for dinner?”
“Not unless I pick you up from the hospital,” I persist.
“Fine,” she concedes but she clearly finds me amusing and I find myself thinking about a woman like I haven’t felt since college.
Though muddy, frazzled, and soaked, I can tell Artie is an attractive woman around five-ten, black hair that barely reaches past her shoulders, and facial features that remind me of a certain French model I once met. The rest of her features are somewhat obscured by her damp, muddy clothing but I can tell she’s probably a nice B-cup, a decent waistline, and nice, if somewhat slender hips. Her ass is a little small but very firm as my hands can attest to, and her legs are testaments of a love of physical training. For her part, I can see she is checking me out on the way down as well.
I’m just over six foot with brown hair and a runner’s build, which is good because I love to run 10K’s. I take good care of myself but I know I’m sexually repressed. I’ve only had sex with one woman in the past twelve years and no sex in the past two. Quite frankly, until today, I’ve found the attention women have been showing me a bit irritating because I’ve been at war over my own growing sexual appetites and my longing for my lost love.
I have reacted to this stress by pouring myself into my work, doing an excellent job at it, and that has led me to Seattle. In the back of my mind I know nothing can come of any relationship here. I’d do my job, put the killer behind bars, and fly back to DC. I might come back for the trial but that is it. Still, I decide I’d like the company, someone to talk to.
Every minute or so Artie checks for reception and when we finally get some she starts making calls. I have to remind her to call the Highway Patrol as well as her insurance. We catch up with the HP officer at the closest hospital where it is revealed that Artie has a few bruises from the air bag and seat belts but is otherwise okay.
I check in with Greta but the rain hasn’t helped gathering evidence, so I relay my little tale to her and agree to meet her at the local PD. I tell Artie it is going to be another long night but take a rain check for tomorrow. The first forty-eight hours after a crime are the most crucial so I ask her to make it for two nights instead.
(Two days later)
I keep telling myself that crime solving is based on persistence as much as luck. You have to keep coming at these cases until something breaks. Somehow the killer has made a mistake and all I have to do is sift through the evidence until I find it. I’m doing that once again when I have a phone call directed my way.
“Hello, Special Agent McKinnon; it is Artie Caruso. Are we still on for this evening?” the confident female voice inquires. Oh, crap. I’ve totally forgotten about my promise.
“Um…sure. There is this little Italian place down the street from the station,” I struggle to plan. “How about I pick you up at seven?”
“Mark, it is already six-thirty and I think I know the place you are talking about and the food is dreadful. How about you meet me at Trent’s downtown in an hour instead?” she suggests.
“Sounds good; I’ll see you then,” I answer while wondering how expensive this place is going to be.
“I’ll see you there, Mark,” she says pleasantly, then hangs up.
I catch Greta’s eye.
“I’m calling it a night and come at this with a fresh mind tomorrow morning,” I tell her.
“So is that the lady you pulled off the cliff?” she smirks.
“Yes, but it is only a thank you thing. Don’t make anything of it,” I respond.
“Mark,” she chuckles, “go by the motel and clean up. You need a eryaman escort shave and you look like you’ve been sleeping in that suit for the past two days.”
Great, I think, now I’m going to be late. I make as graceful an exit from the room as possible and hope to God traffic is light.
As it is, I’m five minutes late and race into the place so fast I nearly bowl over the elderly couple that came in before me. The maitre d’ gave me a once-over because I’m not exactly their preferred clientele.
“Is Ms. Caruso here?” I request. He nods and a hostess escorts me to the back where Artie sits at a secluded, darkened table for two.
“Good evening, Ms. Caruso,” I greet her as I sit down.
“Call me Artie, Mark. I think you’ve earned the right,” she tells me as she flashes me a smile full of sensuality and promise.
“You look really beautiful tonight,” I compliment her. “Not that you weren’t beautiful the last time we met but…well, you know what I mean.” She smiles even more.
“I’m not going to stop you if you want to say I’m beautiful a few more times,” she laughs. I blush slightly. I really am rusty at this.
“So, Artie, what do you do?” I feel is safe to ask.
“I’m a foreign investment consultant,” she informs me. “I tell businesses and wealthy individuals how to invest in foreign markets, primarily the Asia/Pacific region.”
“Do you like the work?” It is easier to ask that than how much does it pay.
“It allows me to travel and the hours are good,” she shrugs. “What is it like being an FBI agent? Is it anything like TV?”
“Sadly, it is not solving a homicide once a week in a one-hour time span,” I grin back at her.
“In reality, it is studying, research, interviewing people, and walking over crime scenes a dozen times,” I confide in her.
“Sounds fun,” she replies sarcastically. “Why do you do it?”
“Bad people need to be stopped,” I answer. “It may sound simple but that’s pretty much it. Someone has to put criminals away so why not me?”
“Well I should have figured you weren’t a very practical man when you said what you told me in the car,” she seemed amused.
“What was that?”
“You said you wouldn’t leave me, that you would go over the cliff with me rather than leave me alone to die. That was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard,” she expresses to me.
“I didn’t want to die, Artie, but I wanted you to live more. It was a judgment call and I think I made the right one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have the joy of your company now,” I point out.
“I would have let you die,” Artie responds.
“Most people would have,” I say, “but I’d like to think I live beyond the normal conventions of the crowd and do my own thing.” I get the feeling Artie thinks I’m lying.
“Well, speaking of saving lives, how goes the case? I hear on the news that you are going after the Rialto Fatale,” she changes the subject.
“I can only tell you what we’ve told to the press. Caucasian female, five-nine to six feet, medium build, black or brunette hair, aged thirty-two to thirty-seven, and with a limited social network,” I relate.
“How do you come up with all that?” she asks as she leans across the table, resting on her elbows and putting her chin in her hands.
“Surveillance shows she’s white; likewise, we can put the height and build together from footage. She’s a methodical killer, acting out a deep-seated revenge fantasy, and she’s very bright,” I continue.
“Deep-seated revenge fantasy?” she murmurs.
“Child abuse most likely; I’m thinking a lesbian relative that had extensive access to her as a child. She sees that person in her mind when she confronts her victims,” I answer. “The perpetrator of that crime is dead now, more is the pity. They should be put into a deep dark hole for what they put her through.”
“You sound sympathetic toward her,” she comments.
“Sympathetic? She’s got to be stopped. That’s my top priority. Once that’s done, I hope she will get the help she needs,” I say.
“Would you shoot her if you had to?” she inquires.
“Absolutely,” I admit. “That isn’t the outcome I’d look for but I accept that she is very smart and dangerous.”
“Aren’t you smarter than she is? I hope so,” she grins.
“I’m not so sure about that,” I answer. “She’s committed seven murders in two cities; she’s obviously scouted the areas yet made her selection over several nights and left the bodies to be discovered with no physical evidence.”
“Wow. You seem to have your work cut out for you,” she whistles.
“Don’t I know it,” I sigh.
“Could I be your killer?” she teases me.
“How old are you?” I inquire.
“Twenty-seven,” she tells me.
“You are a little too young to be a prime suspect,” I inform her.
“Why is the age so important?” she asks.
“It is a rough measure of someone’s wealth and social acumen. Our perpetrator dresses at a certain income level that is appropriate for someone in that age range. Likewise, they are able to move through certain social levels. That implies a certain level etimesgut bayan escort of independence which gives the FBI an age range to work with.”
“Besides, have you ever been to Denver?” I inquire.
“No, I can’t say that I have,” she smiles. She takes a sip of her wine glass and seems to drink me in with her eyes. The rest of dinner is pretty much a blur. We agree to cover our own bills, which leaves me thankful because this place is expensive.
“Would you like to come back to my place?” Artie asks me as we exit the restaurant. She clearly looks like she’s expecting a positive response.
“Thank you, but, no,” I respond.
“Oh,” she whispers.
“Artie, I really like you but I’m not rushing into anything,” I confess. “I would like to see you again if that’s okay.” She reaches out for my hand and gently pulls it to her. She rolls my hand palm up and rubs the finger with my wedding band.
“Is this the reason?” she says softly.
“Pretty much, yeah,” I tell her.
“In that case, I will see you again, Special Agent McKinnon,” she graces me with a seductive glance.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” I offer.
“That’s not necessary,” she replies.
“There is a killer on the loose,” I remind her.
“Point taken,” she grins. She intertwines her fingers into mine and leads me down the street. We kiss briefly at her car and I watch her drive away.
(Two Months Later)
“Hey, Artie,” Greta calls out as Artie comes to the edge of the task force room. Artie was slowly becoming a fixture at the Rialto Task Force. You can almost set your clock by her.
“Mark, it is six o’clock; your lady-friend is here,” Greta jokes to me. I am already getting my coat on. As I walk up to Artie and kiss her on the cheek, I take her hand and we make our way to the elevator.
As we were going down Artie turns to me and yanks on my hand.
“What’s wrong, Mark?” she asks. She’s become very adept at reading me.
“They are going to pull us in a week,” I sigh. “I don’t know what I will hate more, not catching the Rialto Fatale or not spending any more time with you.”
Artie hugs my arm and puts her head on my shoulder. I am sure everyone thinks we have steamy passionate sex together but we haven’t gone beyond some heavy kissing. We spend most of our time dancing, walking, running and, most often, talking. Artie is an exceptional woman; both well-educated and incredibly bright, and she appreciates those qualities in me. There is no sense of competition between us and after the first date, sex hasn’t come up.
“Maybe I could come visit you in DC?” Artie asks hopefully.
“I have a spare bedroom so you could save on hotel money,” I respond. That makes her chuckle.
“You’d let me stay with you?” she smirks. “That’s a definite advancement in our relationship.”
“I really like you, Artie, and I’m glad you are taking it slowly with me. Besides, after a few months I could get transferred back here to the regional office.”
“Mark, I’ve had plenty of dates but you are the only boyfriend I’ve ever had. I like it. I don’t think you can understand how much I’ve enjoyed our time together,” Artie confesses.
“I still find it impossible to believe you didn’t date heavily in college, Artie. You are a really beautiful, fascinating woman,” I compliment her.
“I was waiting for a guy like you,” she flatters me. I’ve gotten the impression that Artie has some very strong trust issues but somehow, I’ve broken past that. She can’t wait to get me into her car and drive us to whatever entertainment she’s chosen for the evening. It is never boring. We stay up into the wee hours walking down town and talking about politics, economics, and world events. It has become our pattern.
“Mark, I don’t want you to leave Seattle,” she states with determination.
“I’m afraid I don’t have control over that. Neither option I have is good; either Criminal Division decides to put me on another assignment or there is another murder.”
“I’m out of town for the next four days, to Seoul for work, but will be back on Sunday,” she tells me.
Artie remained upbeat and we made plans for the Monday after her return.
(4 Days Later)
“This is definitely our girl,” Greta comments, as she looks at the body. Victim No.9 is a forty two year old mother of three children with suspected bisexual tendencies. Everyone is so surprised this could happen to her except a few of us who normally fear the worst. I’m walking around trying to make sense of it all but the thing that grabs me the most is the message left for us on the body this time: I am not done yet.
Usually the message is denigrating to the victim in some way. This one is different; it is aimed at us, her pursuers. Greta catches me kneeling over the body studying the comment and nudges me with her knee.
“What are you thinking?” she asks.
“This isn’t an impulse kill, Larson; this was deliberate,” I respond.
“She’s in cycle, though. I figure we have one more month before she kills again and disappears,” Greta says with a shake of the head.
“No. Something has broken her cycle – it has been two months. This isn’t her having a psychotic break. Or more appropriately, her psychotic break isn’t being caused by the normal stimuli. I’ve missed something,” I confess.