It was never a good thing to be called into the boss’s office. Special Agent Jerry Parker sat down in the chair across from his supervisor and took the news the way he always did.
“I’m being reassigned,” he said flatly. He smothered the sigh of resignation. Of course he was being reassigned. It had been less than two months since they’d had a break on the Stanley Peterson case. Peterson had pled out on the Tremaine murder charges so as to give evidence on the El Capitan operation. As usual, the bureau deemed Jerry’s skills to be of better use elsewhere, now that the case was winding up. Just once, he’d like to be part of the team that made the arrests instead of always part of the information-gathering system. Always the bridesmaid, he thought.
Assistant Director Harding cleared his throat, pulling Jerry’s attention back to the matter at hand. “Look, it’s a natural fit. You’re already based here in San Francisco now and Special Agent Flynn is returning because there’ve been some new developments on one of his cases. You know the one? The Grimm Fairy Tale killer?”
Jerry scowled. “Of course I know about it.”
“Well, the powers that be have decided that you should help out Flynn. Frankly, I don’t know why you haven’t gone into profiling. You’d be good at it. You and that encyclopedic memory of yours.” Harding passed a manila folder across the desk to Jerry.
He took it from Harding, automatically straightening the small disarray of papers within. “I don’t like serial killers,” he replied, closing the folder with a sigh.
“Who does?” Harding shrugged. “Flynn will be flying in to SFO later this evening. Pick him up, okay?”
Jerry mentally added “chauffeur” to his official title and wondered how a special agent could be shunted around so often within the bureau. “I thought the Grimm case was dead in the water.”
“New developments,” Harding repeated tersely. “It’s all there in that folder. The rest of the material is downstairs in evidence. Special Agent Flynn will catch you up when he gets in from Washington. Flight’s in at six fifteen. Be on time.”
“Sure, sure, why not,” Jerry said, this time letting the bitterness leach through. “I’m like everyone’s favorite book—you can’t wait to loan me out to someone else.”
Harding sighed. A pained expression crossed his features briefly before they hardened. “You’re good at your job, Parker. You’re invaluable to the bureau. Is that what you want to hear? But the truth is you’re a pain in the ass to work with and your investigative skills are better suited to the computer than the field. So, you give Special Agent Flynn the support he needs, okay?”
Did he hear an “or else” there in Harding’s voice? He did, he was sure of it. Damn it, he’d just moved to San Francisco less than a year ago. He didn’t want to relocate again.
“Right. Flynn. SFO. Six fifteen. I’ll be there,” he said, pressing his lips together tightly. It would be at the worst of the evening traffic. Why couldn’t the guy just get a cab like everyone else? He left Harding’s office, certain that his reluctance was showing and not knowing how to change that fact.
He spent the remainder of the afternoon catching up on the Grimm case. Three women murdered over the last six years, all tortured to death and left with odd items that obviously had symbolic meaning for the killer. All of the women had their mouths sewn shut with a heavy black thread in a pattern that had variously been described as a hemstitch or Ford-interlocking pattern, and coins of various denominations had been glued to their eyelids. Jerry googled the descriptions of the pattern. The Ford interlocking was a pattern sometimes used by surgeons, and he made a note to do a criminal background check on surgeons who had graduated in the last five years. As an afterthought he decided to expand the search to those who’d flunked out of surgical residency programs too.
He saw where the killer had made several suggestive threats last year against one of the lead investigators of the case, a woman detective with the SFPD, Inspector Lauren King. The threats had all been posted directly to the FBI; Flynn had been assigned to the case as a result. Nothing had come of it, and Flynn had eventually returned to Washington. Jerry noted with interest the stonewalling Flynn had done before finally conceding he had nothing further to go on. It had taken him months before he’d given in.
Jerry flicked his gaze over the photograph in the evidence bag: a newspaper clipping of King at the crime scene of the latest victim, the hallmark zigzag pattern drawn over her mouth with a permanent marker, her eyes blacked out as well.
Jerry didn’t think it was really meant as a threat against King. She wasn’t the killer’s type for one thing—much older than his typical victims, dark when the others were fair, and there was nothing vulnerable about her appearance in the newspaper photo. In Jerry’s opinion, all the previous victims had a certain innocent look to their faces that the hardened King did not. No, he was betting that the killer was sending some sort of message to King. But what?
Reading further, he saw that King thought the same. Well, she would know. As the officer of record, she’d put an inordinate amount of time in on the case; she had to know what the killer was thinking better than just about anyone else. According to Flynn’s somewhat illegible writing, King thought that the killer was just trying to get some attention. Hello, don’t forget about me. I’m still here.
Why call attention to himself in this fashion? Why not just kill someone else? Jerry made a note to check the list of prime suspects and witnesses against the prison records for that time period. Maybe something would standout among the inmates. Maybe the system had gotten lucky and the GFT killer was actually doing time for another crime. He amended his note to add hospitals and rehab centers to the list as well. Maybe it wasn’t even from the GFT killer, but some other criminal who had reasons for threatening King, throwing her off her game perhaps. He e-mailed a query into the SFPD for King to contact him.
In the end, the threat had been deemed significant, but not enough to warrant continued observation of Inspector King’s movements, and Flynn had been recalled back to Quantico.
He also saw that Flynn and King had made a breakthrough in identifying the elements from the various murders as originating in fairy tales, and more specifically, those written by the Brothers Grimm. The media had taken off with that; they’d had a field day with puns involving the words “Grimm” and “killer”. The red cloak and the blonde wig, the glass shoe and the dead goose. But what did it all mean? Maybe that was the real reason for the “message” to King. Maybe the killer had gotten tired of no one understanding what he was trying to say. Jerry scanned the photograph again, at the harsh black ink marring what was an unusually lovely face. Maybe the killer felt like he couldn’t say something. Why the coins? Paying passage for a trip across the River Styx? That would mean the killer was mixing up Greek mythology with his Grimm’s fairy tales, and that didn’t make sense. He made another note on the file.
Jerry gave a little shudder as he read Flynn’s notes. He really hated working on serial killer cases. They required him to get inside the mind of the killer, a nasty place where Jerry had no desire to go.
He plugged in the key elements from the murders into Google, added the words “fairy tales,” and came up with the Complete Works of the Brothers Grimm, circa 1825. He began to read.
Jerry spotted John Flynn as he waited by the baggage carousel for his luggage. He doubted he would have identified Flynn as an agent had he not taken a peek at Flynn’s personnel folder and case histories prior to leaving for the airport.
Well, maybe he would. The light-blue shirt with the rumpled dark suit did sort of scream Federal Agent, but watching Flynn as he swung his bag off the carousel and made his way unerringly toward him, Jerry had to wonder about the rest of it. There was certainly no mistaking him for the usual business-class passenger. There was something about the way he moved that suggested he didn’t spend his life behind a desk. As he came closer, Jerry noted the late afternoon stubble and the spiky dark hair that was at odds with his otherwise groomed appearance, as though someone had put a collar on a panther and was pretending it was a housecat. What was even more interesting to Jerry was that Flynn seemed to be doing a damned good job of pretending to be the housecat. Most people didn’t even give him a second glance.
Jerry somehow wasn’t surprised when Flynn stopped in front of him.
“John Flynn,” he said by way of introduction. He didn’t shift his bag to shake hands. “You must be Special Agent Parker.” Flynn had intense, odd-colored eyes that seemed to look right through Jerry, as though he could read Jerry’s mind. Bet criminals find that unnerving. And women find it fascinating.
“That’s right,” Jerry said in clipped tones. He gestured toward the exit and began to move in that direction. “Have you got a room somewhere? I’m sure you must want to get some rest and something to eat. Long flight and all that. You can fill me in on your interpretation of these new developments while I take you to your hotel. We can get started first thing in the morning, then.”
“Or tonight.” Flynn fell into step beside him, a hint of a drawl to his voice. He sounded like he hailed from Texas, though there was no history of his having lived there in his records.
“Or tonight,” Jerry agreed, dodging another exiting passenger with a large rolling suitcase. “Though I personally don’t see the rush. This case has been pretty quiet for a long time now.”
Flynn kept up with him easily, despite the fact that Jerry was in his usual airport-dash mode. The odd thing was that he made it seem like he was just strolling along. A flight attendant in her neat black uniform, a raincoat over one arm, and dragging a small wheeled bag behind her, arrived at the automatic doors at the same time as they did. She shot Jerry a pissed-off look but then smiled and took a step back to let them pass. He glanced over his shoulder. Flynn was smiling at her, and she practically simpered as they walked past. A second later the smile on his face was gone as though it had never existed. It was an interesting little glimpse into Flynn’s psyche. A real player would have continued the interaction, maybe even come away with her phone number. Flynn obviously wasn’t interested in her like that.
“In fact,” Jerry said, picking up the conversation again as they stepped outside into the orange-yellow light of the setting sun, “I don’t know why you felt like you had to come out here in person at all. You could’ve let someone else follow up on this and get back to you later.”
“Maybe I just like San Francisco,” Flynn said as they crossed the road and made their way to the short-term parking lot.
More like he didn’t want anyone horning in on his case. Jerry knew the type, and everything he’d read in Flynn’s file supported his theory. Flynn had practically badgered King into assisting with the case when it was clear that King wanted to put it behind her. He had a long list of successful cases to his name and a reputation for impersonal determination and tenacity that Jerry would have admired in anyone else. The perfect FBI agent, Jerry thought sourly.
“Nothing against you, Parker,” Flynn said easily, and Jerry got the feeling he probably used that sentence a lot, in situations similar to this one. “Sometimes you need a firsthand impression of a situation in order to put together all the pieces.”
“Uh-huh,” Jerry replied, not caring if his disbelief was apparent.
Thankfully, once they reached the car, Flynn wasn’t the talkative type, which also fit in with everything that Jerry had discovered about him. Perversely, that made him resent Flynn even more. If Flynn had been a braggart, boasting about all the cases he’d successfully cleared or his obvious athletic prowess, it would have been easier to loathe him openly. Instead, Jerry had to seethe secretly inside. Flynn was everything he wanted to be and would never become.
Flynn merely sat quietly, staring at nothing as the city skyline rolled by, the sinking sun slanting in through the car window and casting a golden glow on his profile. His eye color seemed lighter now than it had in the airport—more green, less brown. He had an interesting face as well, and Jerry smothered another sigh. Bad enough he was the Super Agent; the guy would have to be incredibly good-looking too.
Jerry had registered that the address he’d been given wasn’t in a very good part of town, but he shrugged it off and began the arduous task of getting out of the airport and into the rush-hour traffic. It had taken all his concentration, and he was relieved that Flynn had remained quiet.
The silence continued, with only a brief interruption for clarification of address, until they pulled up in front of the hotel.
“You can’t be serious about staying here.” Jerry was aghast when he pulled up alongside the curb at the hotel entrance. “This is really a bad neighborhood. Worse than bad. Dangerous even. You’re not safe here.”
During the drive, dusk had passed from twilight to dark, and the city had begun to light up. The streetlamps now cast a hazy pinkish glow on the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Three of the letters in the marquee were dead, and the sign hung a little drunkenly. A pile of clothes (or maybe a body) lay in a heap on a bench in front of the nearby trolley stop. The raucous beat of a hip-hop band spilled out of a nearby building that probably passed for a nightclub this week.
“I’ll be fine,” Flynn said dismissively. Even as he opened the car door, the sound of breaking glass was audible nearby, followed by a scream of laughter and a man’s loud and prolonged cursing.
“You might be fine, but I have no intention of driving down here every day to get you.”
“Nobody’s asking you to,” Flynn said, and for the first time, there was a hint of sharpness to his voice.
“You seriously think you can leave a government car here on the street? Look, just shut the goddamned door and listen to me a minute, okay? You’re asking to be a target, half in and half out of the car like that.”
There was a moment’s hesitation, and then Flynn pulled his leg back into the car and shut the door. He turned to face Jerry, one eyebrow raised, silently giving him thirty seconds to make his case. The light from the street caught the interiors of Flynn’s eyes, lighting them up from within, and highlighting the stubble on his jaw line as well. In the distance, sirens wailed.
Flynn’s serious study of him made Jerry unaccountably nervous, and he plunged hurriedly into his argument.
“I don’t know what your reasoning is for choosing such a seedy dive, but it’s stupid and detrimental to your case. Whether you like it or not, you’re my responsibility while you’re in town, and believe me, heads will roll if something happened to you that could have been prevented simply by better accommodations. It’s been a long day. We’re both tired. I can take you to a hotel closer to the field office, or you can come back to my place for the night, and in the morning, we can find you a decent place to stay. We can get something to eat, you can tell me what you think I need to know about the case, and we can get an early start. None of which I can do tonight if I have to come back and forth across town to this hellhole.” The sound of sirens was much closer now.
Flynn stared at him for a long moment. He opened his mouth to speak when a car came careening around the corner with a squeal of tires, narrowly missing sliding into them before straightening out of the turn and fishtailing down the street. Two black-and-white patrol cars followed within seconds, and Jerry found himself staring at their flashing blue lights as they proceeded at a high rate of speed down the street. He realized that he was gripping the steering wheel tightly and forced himself to relax his hands.
When Jerry looked back, Flynn had a little half smirk on his face. “Point taken,” Flynn said simply with a little wave toward the street. “Your place will do for the night. Home it is, James.”
“Jerry,” Jerry corrected automatically before he realized Flynn was making a chauffeur joke. He restarted the car and carefully pulled back into the street.
“Jerry,” Flynn repeated somewhat thoughtfully. “What’s that short for, Gerald?”
I bet you think I look like a Gerald, Jerry thought nastily before swallowing his anger and answering calmly, “No. Jerome. It means ‘sacred name’. St. Jerome created the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible during the fifth century.”
“Uh-huh,” Flynn said, tipping his head to look in Jerry’s direction. “You into religion or just facts?”
“Facts,” Jerry said succinctly.
“Uh-huh,” Flynn said again. “What’s my name mean? John, that is.”
“God is gracious,” Jerry said shortly. And isn’t He just? He flicked a glance over at Flynn. “Popularized as a Christian name because of John the Baptist and John the favored disciple, author of 3:16, probably the most well-known verse in the New Testament.” He thought for a moment before adding, “Flynn is a common Irish surname.” That would certainly fit in with Flynn’s dark Celtic coloring.
Flynn shot him an enigmatic glance before speaking. “So I take it you don’t subscribe to Holmes’s theory of the brain.” He sat up and unbuttoned one of his collar buttons, loosening his tie ever so slightly and sending it askew.
Jerry was tempted to reach out and straighten it. It took him a second to catch the reference Flynn had just made. “You mean Sherlock Holmes and his assertion that the brain had a limited capacity for storing knowledge? So when Watson corrected him for not knowing the Earth rotated around the sun, he said that he planned to forget that piece of information because it bore no reference to his daily work? That was a stupid affectation on Conan Doyle’s part. Knowledge is everything. It’s how you connect the dots. How can you say what is and isn’t important to a particular case? This from the man who could identify fifty-one types of cigars and cigarettes based on their ash.”
“Today Holmes would be replaced with a computer,” Flynn said, and this time Jerry could distinctly hear the drawl. “So, again, why keep all the bits in your head when there’s Google at your fingertips?”
“You still have to know what to look for,” Jerry snapped. The headlights from the oncoming cars were starting to give him a headache.
“So”—Flynn seemed quietly amused—“are you Holmes or Watson?”
“Holmes,” Jerry said. Of course he was Holmes. Anyone with half a brain would have to appreciate his talents and skills.
“I don’t think so,” Flynn said. “You want to be Holmes, but you’re Watson all the way.”
Jerry drove in tight-lipped silence the rest of the way to his apartment.