BEING CALLED into the boss’s office was never a good thing. Special Agent Jerry Parker sat down in the chair across from his supervisor and took the news the way he always did, with a sigh of resignation.
“Don’t tell me. I’m being reassigned,” Jerry said flatly. 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 in exchange for being a material witness in the El Capitan operation. As usual, just as the case was winding up, the Bureau had deemed Jerry’s skills to be of better use elsewhere. It would be nice if for once he was part of the team that made the arrests, instead of always part of the backroom information-gathering system. Always the bridesmaid.
If Assistant Director Harding was uncomfortable with the conversation, it didn’t show on his impassive face. “Look, it’s a natural fit. You’re already based here in San Francisco, 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 didn’t bother to hide his annoyance. “Of course I know about it.”
Only the comatose or the dead could have missed hearing about the Grimm Fairy Tale murders. Two years earlier, the series of brutal slayings in the Bay Area had been the number-one story on all the news outlets. Despite an intensive task force working in a joint operation with the local police, the murderer had not yet been caught. The killings had stopped as abruptly as they’d started, and without any leads, it had become a cold case.
Until now, perhaps.
“The powers that be have decided you should partner with Flynn.” Harding raised both eyebrows, as if to confer his supervisors with heavenly powers. “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.
Jerry took it from Harding, flipped it open, and automatically straightened the disarrayed papers. “I don’t like serial killers,” he replied, closing the folder with a sigh. That was putting it mildly.
“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.”
“As I said, new developments.” The warning notes of irritation were audible in Harding’s voice. “It’s all there in that folder. The rest of the material is downstairs in Evidence. Special Agent Flynn will bring you up to speed when he gets in. Flight’s in at five fifteen. Be on time.”
“Sure, sure, why not.” This time Jerry let 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, and your investigative skills are better suited to the computer than the field. Give Special Agent Flynn the support he needs, okay?”
Did he hear an “or else” 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. Bad enough he was frequently the butt of gay jokes around the office. It wouldn’t help if he got a reputation for being difficult to work with.
“Right. Flynn. SFO. Five fifteen. I’ll be there.” Jerry pressed his lips together tightly. That 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 his reluctance was showing. It was hard to make himself care, but if he didn’t, he might as well start packing again.
He spent the remainder of the afternoon catching up on the Grimm case. He wondered if Harding had any idea what reviewing the evidence would do to him. Compared to the average person, Jerry had a nearly photographic memory. The last thing he wanted to do was burn crime scene images of brutally murdered women on his retinas, to be relived with perfect clarity every time he closed his eyes. In theory, Harding knew if Jerry read or looked at something, he remembered it. The reality of it was that no one could really appreciate what that was like unless they had Jerry’s “encyclopedic” memory themselves. Jerry didn’t make a big deal of it. He was tired of being asked to perform feats of memory at office gatherings, and he couldn’t afford to be seen as needing special treatment either. But in general, he’d avoided working on serial killings for very good reasons.
The Grimm Fairy Tale killer had murdered three women over the last two years, all tortured to death and left with odd items that obviously had symbolic meaning for the killer. Coins of various denominations had been glued to their eyelids. All the women had had their mouths sewn shut with a heavy black thread in a pattern that had variously been described as a hemstitch or Ford-interlocking, depending on the source. Jerry googled the descriptions of the pattern. The Ford-interlocking was a pattern sometimes used by surgeons, so he made a note to do a criminal background check on surgeons who’d 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 as well.
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 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 last victim. The night of her death, Stacy Montrose left friends to catch a Muni. She was never seen alive again. The blonde beauty had been a contender in a national dance competition, and her murder had made the GFT killer a household name. When the FBI received the newspaper clipping, a great deal of speculation had been raised over the fact the killer had drawn the hallmark pattern over King’s mouth with a permanent marker and had 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 and dark when the others were fair. There was nothing vulnerable about her appearance in the newspaper photo. All the previous victims had a certain innocent look to their faces that the hardened King did not. No, Jerry was betting 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 in an inordinate amount of time on the case. She had to have a better feel for what the killer was thinking than anyone else. According to Flynn’s somewhat illegible writing, King believed 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 simply kill someone else? Shortly thereafter, the killings had stopped. Why? Jerry made a note to check the list of prime suspects and witnesses against the prison records for that time period. Maybe something would stand out among the inmates. Maybe the system had gotten lucky and the GFT killer was actually doing time for another crime. Better add hospitals and rehab centers to the list as well. Maybe the doctored news clipping hadn’t even been from the GFT killer, but from some other criminal who had reasons for threatening King, throwing her off her game perhaps.
In the end, the threat had been deemed significant, but not enough to warrant continued observation of Inspector King’s movements. King herself had disputed Flynn’s argument that the involvement of the FBI was holding the GFT killer at bay. After all, the threats had deliberately involved the FBI. Without any fresh leads, however, Flynn had been recalled back to Quantico.
The most interesting part of the case file was where Jerry noted that it was Flynn and King who’d made the 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. 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, taking in every detail. The harsh black ink marred what was an unusually lovely face. Why sew the lips of his victims shut? To silence them? Maybe it was the killer who felt he couldn’t say something. That he was being muzzled in some way. Forced to keep silent. 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. That didn’t make sense. Jerry made another note on the file.
He decided he’d better give King a courtesy call and let her know a new witness wanted to talk. It might prove to be nothing, but if he didn’t contact the SFPD, there would be hell to pay. He was dismayed to discover both King and her partner were in the hospital recovering from gunshot wounds incurred during their most recent case. The detective covering for King suggested it would be best to wait until they had confirmed the witness’s statement before notifying King, and Jerry had to agree.
A small shudder coursed through him as he read Flynn’s notes. God, he 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. Once he was there, he couldn’t let go of the grisly images either. Why the hell did he do this job? There were days when Jerry longed to be the curmudgeonly owner of a used bookstore. The worst thing he’d have to face then was competition from Amazon.
He plugged 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 waiting by the baggage carousel for his luggage. If he hadn’t taken a peek at Flynn’s personnel file and some of his case histories prior to leaving for the airport, Jerry wasn’t sure he’d have pegged Flynn as an FBI agent.
Well, maybe he would. The light blue shirt with the rumpled dark suit did sort of scream federal agent. But as Jerry watched Flynn swing his bag off the carousel and make his way unerringly toward him, he had to wonder about the rest of it. No one could mistake Flynn for the usual business-class passenger. Something about the way he moved, with a purposeful grace, suggested Flynn didn’t spend his life behind a desk. As he came closer, Jerry noted the late-afternoon stubble and the spiky dark hair that were at odds with his otherwise “business traveler” appearance. His ears, which Jerry would normally never notice, came to a slight point that was decidedly feline. It was as though someone had put a collar on a panther and pretended it was a house cat. Even more interesting, Flynn seemed to be doing a damned good job of pretending to be the house cat. Most people didn’t even give him a second glance. Those who did were mainly women.
Jerry somehow wasn’t surprised when Flynn stopped in front of him. He wondered if Flynn had known who to look for or if Jerry’s appearance somehow shouted “Fed.”
“John Flynn,” Flynn said by way of introduction. He didn’t shift his bag in order 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 a clipped tone. 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 dodged 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. Is that your only bag?”
“I travel light.”
Jerry waited until Flynn had turned away to roll his eyes.
Flynn kept up with him easily, despite Jerry being in his usual airport-dash mode. The odd thing was that Flynn 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 they did. She shot Jerry a pissed-off look but then suddenly beamed 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 Flynn’s 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.
Wordlessly, they left the baggage claim area and exited into the parking garage. Despite the likeness to the catacombs in Rome, Jerry made his way without hesitation through the garage to his car.
“I’m impressed.” Flynn tossed his bag into the backseat and got into the car.
Jerry waited until he’d buckled his seat belt to start the engine. “How so?”
A wicked smile made a brief appearance. “The last guy who picked me up spent twenty minutes trying to figure out where he’d parked.”
Jerry was not going to be charmed by that smile, no matter how devilishly handsome it was. Nor was he going to try to explain his memory skills to Flynn right now. If he did, Flynn would probably think he was bragging. “I have a good sense of direction.”
“Good to know.” In anticipation of leaving the darkness of the garage for daylight, Flynn slipped on a pair of aviator-style sunglasses.
Jerry picked up the conversation again as they drove slowly toward the exit. “Why did you come back here personally? You could’ve let someone else follow up on this and get back to you later.”
“Maybe I just like San Francisco.”
The drawl was still there, but less laid-back now. Clearly Flynn didn’t want anyone horning in on his case. Jerry knew the type. Flynn had practically badgered King into assisting with the case long after the trail had turned cold. He had an impressive 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. Lucky me.
“Nothing against you, Parker.” Something about the easy manner in which Flynn spoke gave Jerry the impression 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 couldn’t have cared less if his disbelief was apparent.
Thankfully, as they approached the exit, Flynn let all conversation die. That also fit with everything Jerry had discovered about him. Perversely, it made Jerry resent him 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 only a year older than Jerry, and yet he’d already been the lead investigator on several major cases. Jerry had never been more than a resource when others wanted information. Flynn had a lean, rangy athleticism combined with almost movie-star good looks. Jerry bet he never had to watch what he ate or worry about gaining weight. If they caught the GFT killer, it would be Flynn who would get the credit. Flynn was everything Jerry wanted to be and would never become. Maybe it was because Jerry didn’t seem to know the secret handshake, the “popular kid” way of interacting with his peers that made doors open. Maybe his colleagues found him a bit abrasive. Most days, it was hard to believe his sexuality wasn’t the major factor.
Jerry paid the parking ticket and then gripped the steering wheel. Keeping his eyes on the road, he said, “I need to concentrate on getting us out of here alive. The next few minutes will be dicey, so if you don’t mind, I need you to be quiet.”
Flynn lifted an eyebrow. “Did I say something?”
Jerry merely grunted. The traffic on exiting the garage was heavy, but a slight gap was coming up. He gunned the engine to slide into the space between cars, forcing his way with a hard merge into the far lane to take the San Francisco exit. Someone honked, but Jerry didn’t care. He took a deep breath. “Goddamn city engineers. Fifty feet to cross three lanes of traffic? It’s suicidal.”
Flynn sat quietly, staring at nothing as the scenery rolled by. The sinking sun slanted in through the car window and cast a golden glow on his profile. His eye color seemed lighter now than it had in the airport—more green, less brown. The red-orange sun highlighted the long, lean planes of his face. It wasn’t fair. Jerry smothered another sigh. Bad enough he was the Super-Agent; the guy would have to be incredibly good-looking to boot.
The address of the hotel Flynn gave him wasn’t in a very good part of town, but Jerry shrugged it off and began the arduous task of battling the rush-hour traffic. It took all his concentration, and he was relieved that Flynn remained quiet.
The silence continued until they pulled up in front of the hotel.
“You can’t be serious about staying here.” Jerry was aghast when he parked 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, the evening 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 bus 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 shrugged 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.” For the first time, there was a hint of sharpness to Flynn’s voice.
“You seriously think you can leave a government car here in a parking garage? 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 Flynn’s eyes, lighting them up from within and highlighting the stubble on his jawline 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 happens to you that could have been prevented simply by better accommodations. And to be specific, my head. 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’ll find you a decent place to stay. We’ll grab some dinner, 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 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, but 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 high speed down the street. He realized he was gripping the steering wheel tightly and forced himself to relax his hands.
When Jerry looked back, Flynn had a little smirk on his face. “Point taken.” Flynn waved toward the street. “Your place will do for the night. Home it is, James.”
“Jerry.” Jerry corrected him automatically before he realized Flynn was making a chauffeur joke. He restarted the car and carefully pulled back into the street.
“Jerry.” Flynn repeated his name thoughtfully. “What’s that short for, Gerald?”
I bet you think I look like a Gerald. The resentment boiled up suddenly, like steam venting from a kettle. Jerry swallowed his anger and forced himself to answer 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 tipped his head in Jerry’s direction. “You into religion or just facts?”
“Uh-huh.” Flynn paused, then asked, “What’s my name mean? John, that is.”
“God is gracious.” Jerry didn’t even have to search his memory. 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 John 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, unbuttoned one of his collar buttons, and loosened his tie ever so slightly, sending it askew.
Jerry was tempted to reach out and straighten it. Banishing the inclination as utterly ridiculous, he tackled Flynn’s reference instead. “You mean Sherlock Holmes and his assertion that the brain had a limited capacity for storing knowledge? When Watson corrected him for not knowing the Earth rotated around the sun, and he said he planned to forget that piece of information because it bore no relevance to his daily work? This from the man who could identify one hundred and forty types of cigars and cigarettes based on their ash. 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?”
“Holmes has been replaced with computers.” This time the drawl was even more pronounced in Flynn’s voice. Jerry couldn’t shake the feeling Flynn was toying with him. “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 sniffed. 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.