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Strangle the Heart
I don't know what's happening to me. My heart is beating so fast. I can't breathe. I need air - I'm scorching hot...yet I feel unbelievably cold. Is that sweat on my forehead? I'm shaking so badly I can't seem to lift my hand and wipe at it. It's running down my face, into my eyes. Or is it tears? I'm crying. Why am I crying?
"Don't cry," a soft voice whispered nearby.
Who's there? Who was that? My heart is racing, making my chest ache with a building pressure. My head is spinning . . . I need to lay down, to rest. Maybe I can make it to the bed.
"Yes, that's good. Lay down. It will go easier if you're comfortable."
Wasn't there someone with me? Where is she? I . . . there she is. Why isn't she helping me? Doesn't she know how much pain I'm in? Help! Please. Please hear me.
"Don't fight it. It only makes the pain worse."
Oh God, I can't breathe. The air is too thick. I'm so hot. I'm freezing. My chest. The pain. Dear God, please help me. Make her help me. Why is she just watching me? She is just standing there, watching me. Does she know what's happening to me. I don't even know what is happening to me.
My head! It feels like it's about to explode. I can hear the blood pounding. So hard it hurts my ears. The room . . . is . . .growing dim. Where did she go? I thought she cared. Is she's still looking at me! Please, help me! I don't want to die!
"I'm so sorry," the woman whispered, staring at her like some death angel. "If you hadn't lied to me, this would have been different. I'm only trying to find happiness. Is that asking too much?"
What does she mean? I don't understand. I want to understand. But the pain. I must sleep. I must. The room . . . is growing . . . darker. Please . . . please . . . help . . . me . . .
Cait Edmunds leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. "The first body was found in Miami, Florida, on the 12th of March." She stopped when she felt her partner's hard stare on her and leaning forward she grabbed the worn manilla folder and opened it with a less than inaudible huff. "At approximately 11 a.m.," she continued her recitation. "A maid entered the room to clean. Noticing what appeared to be a woman asleep, she left. Same maid returned at approximately 2 p.m., checked on the woman and reported her deceased nature to the motel manager."
Cait briefly lifted her hand to push a clump of dirty blonde hair off her forehead before continuing. "Miami Police report they were on the scene by 2:15 p.m. Crime Unit on scene by 2:45 p.m."
"The maid?" Bill Cameron asked, pushing an empty paper coffee cup back and forth between his hairy hands while keeping his keen brown eyes on her.
Cait flipped the first page of the report, looking for the information. "Hotel records listed her as Maria Diaz, but she disappeared before the police arrived." She looked up. "Probably didn't want to become involved with the authorities."
"Illegal," Cameron said, nodding. "What about the manager?"
Cait scanned down the MPD's witness log. "Manager was Julio Gonzales, and a note from the interviewing officer says the guy was almost too drunk to question. Time clock logged him on duty the previous night, but couldn't remember who rented the room."
"Room paid for in cash?" Cameron asked, and Cait extracted a receipt from the file on her lap and nodded. "Of course."
"Not a good one, but yes." Cait withdrew a freeze frame print of the victim paying for the room. She waved this at Cameron. "According to the tape, the victim rented the room at 12:30 the previous night. No one else in the lobby at the time."
"Name in the register?"
Cait drew a frustrated breath. "This hotel doesn't require names, Bill. The whole guest register is filled with Smiths and Jones if they even sign in at all."
"So who signed in at 12:30?"
Biting her lip she flipped through the file until she found the photocopy of the receipt. "Jane Johnson," she said, dropping it on top of the file. "And, yes," she said, cutting Cameron off before he could ask the question. "Her name has been run, no hits on the victim's identity. She obviously used an alias."
"Okay. So, MPD find any witnesses?"
"In downtown Miami?" She raised an eyebrow , her golden eyes trying to bait Cameron, but the burly agent just stared blankly back, patiently awaiting her response. "No witness," she finally said, her face falling. "Hotel seems to cater more to down and outs or hourly rentals and they all appear to be either be invisible or see nothing."
"Was the area canvassed?"
Cait nodded. "MPD did a good job there. Posters and rewards, but nothing of value surfaced."
"Anything not of value surface?
"If it was of value, Bill, it would've been kept."
"So that's a no?" Cameron asked, a dim twinkle in his tired eyes. "Okay. Victim's cause of death?"
"Cardiovascular collapse," Cait said, looking directly at Cameron, not needing the file for this section of the review. She'd been intrigued by the uniqueness of the crime, and had taken a special interest in the medical examiners report. "Toxicology reports showed highly elevated levels of cocaine in the blood stream. Medical examiner located a single needle mark on the victim's left thigh, which is believed to be the entry point. There is no other indication of habitual usage. Victim was dead approximately 12 hours before being found."
"Any trace evidence?"
Cait dug back into her file and extracted the evidence list. "A few mixed hairs and fibers were found in the room. Probably from previous hotel occupants. A few latent fingerprints around the room. None on the victim, and no eye witnesses remembered anyone coming or going from the hotel room."
"So why's this a murder and not some pathetic drug experiment gone wrong?" Cameron asked, his eyes focusing on a plastic evidence bag.
"The note," Cait said, lifting the bag so she could read the note. "It's been the same type of note on every body. This one reads 'Am I asking too much.' Never a print on it."
"Okay," Cameron said, leaning back. "Any luck ID'ing this one yet?"
Cait shrugged her shoulders, the muscles pinching her aching neck and forcing her to wince before her shoulders fell back into place. "Agent Rosales is still working that, but I haven't heard of any hits on her identity."
Cameron nodded, his face assuming a studied look of sympathy for a second before regaining his focus. "So what about victim two?"
"C'mon, Bill," she said, pinching the bridge of her nose where a low throbbing headache had been on the attack for the last hour. "Why are we going over this again? It's almost two in the morning."
"Victim two?" Cameron repeated, not giving her any explanation or choice in the matter. Biting her tongue, she contented herself with giving him an evil glance before exchanging the file on her lap for the next in the growing pile.
"Victim two," she began, briefly looking up at the post mortem picture of a young woman on the board next to them. "Found in Athens, Georgia on April 24th. Also found in a seamy motel room. Fully clothed. No visible signs of violence. Autopsy and toxicology the same as first victim. A lethal amount of cocaine which caused cardiovascular collapse." She looked up, wondering if he'd make her go slower.
"Uhuh?" he grunted, urging her on with the recitation.
"The victim's mother filed a missing persons report a day after the murder. Based on that, Georgia State Police identified her as 28 year old Anne Benedick. A grad student at the University of Georgia. Single, but recently engaged to a Ph.D candidate, Richard Crane."
"He a suspect?"
"No," she said, exhaling another frustrated breath that only made her head throb more. Every muscle in her body felt tight, making each movement laborious and painful. There were just so many sixteen to twenty hour days her body could handle before she collapsed. She needed a vacation. Somewhere quiet and . . .
"Quit thinking about a vacation," Cameron barked, leaning forward and pushing the next file at her. "Tell me about Victim Three."
Cait grabbed at the file and pulled it open. "Lucy Black. 29. Single." She looked up, her face mocking. "How interesting! Looks like this one was murdered, too. Think we might have a serial killer on our hands?"
Her sarcasm bounced off Cameron's iron exterior, making Cait boil even more. "Cause of death?" he asked, folding his large hands behind his small head and staring at her with fatherly patience.
Cait bit the inside of her cheek and counted to ten before answering. "Cocaine overdose." She dropped the file and waved her hand at the bulletin board which held the post mortem pictures of all known victims. "Same cause of death as all the rest of them, Bill." She held up her hand. "Same MO, too. Four confirmed murders in seedy motel room in the less desirable parts of cities. All cocaine overdoes with no known witnesses or suspects. And all have the cryptic note."
Cameron pointed at the red pinned map which denoted the murder locations across the country. "There a pattern?"
Cait looked from Miami, Florida in March to Athens, Georgia in April, to Phoenix, Arizona in June, to San Diego, California in August and ending with what appeared to be another one in Seattle, Washington last night. Her whole head was starting to throb. "I dunno, Bill. They all have roads? Airports? People?"
Cameron stared at her for a moment and nodded. "Go home, Cait. Get some sleep and try and come back in a better frame of mind."
"No," she began to apologize, feeling like a disobedient child. "I'm fine."
"You're tired," he said. "Rightly so."
"I'm frustrated. I feel like I'm spinning my wheels. I should be out there, Bill."
"Actually you should be back in the Phoenix working another case."
Cait felt her face tighten up. "I'm a good agent. I deserve this chance."
"Yeah, maybe, but you still belong to the Phoenix field office."
"Then send me back, Bill." She waited. Daring him to do it.
"You know I won't."
"I know more about this case than anyone." She bit her tongue. "Except you."
Cameron snorted a half laugh. "Go home, Catie. Rest and be ready by nine tomorrow. We're flying to Seattle."
She nodded, wearily wondering if she had any clean clothes to pack. "Just what my body needs, more time zone changes," she said, trying to smile, but Cameron remained deadly serious.
"This time might be different."
"Why?" she asked, her interest peaking.
"The Unit's got a working profile on the perp which we'll hear tomorrow. That should give us a better idea of where and what to look for." He crushed his paper coffee cup and tossed it at the overflowing garbage, shrugging when it bounced off the wall and landed on the floor. He looked up at her, making sure he had her full attention before nodding. "We also think there's a good chance the killer's still in Seattle."
"Really? Why?" Cait said, her energy level suddenly renewed.
"Go home, Catie. Sleep." He smiled. "There's plenty of time to catch the bad guy tomorrow."
I want someone who sees the pointlessness
It was wearisome. The search was fruitless. Disappointing. Frustrating. Enraging. It shouldn't be this hard.
I want someone who has a tortured soul . . .
Despite her aggravated thoughts, her fingers danced over the keyboard, her ears filtering out the library's background noise. Somewhere a child's voice shrilled with laughter, but she kept typing. Her mission was too important to give into distractions.
I want someone who will either put out for me
Everything had been readied. A new anonymous remailer had already been set up to filter her email and responses. Through the anonymous remailer she'd sent a payment using an untraceable eCash certificate bought and sold through five international banks. All that remained was to place the ad and wait. She didn't like the idea of being a spider to the fly, but yet the analogy kept forcing itself on her.
I want somebody who can hold my interest
The routine had become easy. Too easy. At first she'd been terrified of what she'd done, but now . . . Now her subconscious demanded she continue until she succeeded. Failure was a state of mind and she was determined to absolve herself of that.
She stopped and read what she'd typed. It said what she needed to say. It laid the groundwork for what she sought, but she sensed it needed something different. The last time it had given her a liar. This time she wanted honesty. . .
I'm tired of being the interesting one
A touch on her shoulder caused her to lift her head in alarm. "Your time's almost up, Miss," the librarian said. "There are other's waiting for the Internet."
"Sorry," she said, forcing her heartbeat back down, making sure the woman took no real interest in her online activities. "Be just a minute." She watched the librarian stop at the next computer user before shifting her concentration back to the screen. A few more lines and she would be done.
I want someone who's not afraid of me; or anyone else
Tell me, are you what I'm looking for?
She pushed the keyboard back a little, her hands falling to her lap. It was done. There was no more she could say. Her hand landed on the mouse, the pointer hovering over the submit button while she contemplated her options. There was only one thing she could do, and with an air of finality she clicked the button and sent her message on its way.
"All done," she said, closing the browser to clear the cache and wipe out the record of her activity. "Thank you." She stood to her full six feet and smiled sweetly at the middle-aged librarian who only nodded and consulted her waiting list for the computer's next customer.
A familiar ball of excitement began whirling in her stomach as she pretended to browse the best seller shelf, and she felt giddy with purpose again. The last time left her permeated with a stench of failure, but now she was beginning to feel pro-active. In charge of her own destiny. Not sitting idly by and merely waiting for the one to find her.
She glanced back at her now occupied computer and closed her eyes. By now the Bay Area Reporter would have received her personal ad. If their website was correct, it would be on the street by Friday.
By the time her scheduled took her to San Francisco, she would have enough time to sift through the replies and make her choice. Only . . . she exhaled a long breath.
It was getting tiring. The search was proving futile. It always ended in failure. Miserable, disappointing failure. It made her question if her actions were right, knowing she had no choice but to continue. She had honestly told them what she needed, and they all lied to her about their qualifications. They weren't the one.
'This time will be different,' she thought, pulling her umbrella from her tote bag and contemplating the gloomy Northwest sky. 'I will find the one.' She popped it open as she passed through the automatic doors and exited the library.
Waiting was hard.
Cait leaned against the door of the hotel room she'd been calling home for the past month. Her clothes were strewn pell-mell across the extra bed and floor, and from the state of disarray, she couldn't tell if the cleaning staff had entered or not.
A box of pizza was oozing a stale aroma of bell peppers and sausage into the room, and she couldn't remember how long it had been there. Walking across the room, she lifted the lid and depressed a finger into a piece. It still felt moist. That meant it was still good.
With a shrug she pulled it from the box and bit off a sizable chunk as her body collapsed onto the edge of the bed. She sat there mechanically chewing and swallowing the pizza while her brain masticated the victims' profiles.
Despite her frustration and exhaustion, she couldn't stop thinking about the case. There had to be a link. Some small thing which tied them together. There was always a link when a serial killer was involved. Something that set the killer off and ended with another victim. But in this case nothing had surfaced which lead them in one direction.
Other than the sex of the victim, each one had appeared to be randomly picked. Three women had died before the serial nature of the killing was discovered, so precious time was lost in collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. Cait knew that most local law enforcement did a fair job in preserving crime scenes, but they weren't the FBI. So maybe, just maybe that one link which tied them all together had been overlooked.
Cameron and a few others seemed sold on the theory that the killer hunted in local bars, but Cait didn't agree. Yes, it was true that most serial killers stayed in one area but this one appeared to travel. That fact reduced the chances that their killer knew his victims, or so everyone thought. Cait saw something different. Everything about the crime seemed too neat . . . too planned, even, for the killer to arbitrarily pick up victims. These women knew their attacker, of that she was certain. And that meant there was a common link.
She bit off another piece of pizza and chewed, trying to figure out how to tell Cameron her thoughts without damaging their new working relationship. She knew he was giving her this chance to make it beyond a field office, but there was still a part of him that refused to see her as anything but the child he once knew. There was anxiousness in her to prove herself to him, and that made her wary of contradicting his theories. However, it was something she kept in the back of her mind whenever reviewing the data. There had to be a link.
She looked down at the half finished pizza with wonderment, not remembering when she ate it. Her body was completely worn out, and even breathing seemed to tax her senses. On the way back to her hotel she'd treated herself with the idea of a luxurious bath, but now it seemed a tremendous effort.
"I'll just lay back and rest a moment," she said, kicking off her shoes and tossing the unfinished pizza back into the box. Her body curled effortlessly around a pillow, and within seconds her lips were moving with small sighs as she fell deeper asleep.
Hi, I saw your ad and thought I'd reply. It was very interesting . . .
Her finger hit delete and moved to the next message.
Sounds like you're a game player. So I am. What about getting together for a . . .
She hit delete again.
Here's a picture of me. I think you might want this. Can you think of anything you'd like to do with . . .
Her finger jabbed the delete button with an angry grunt. She didn't know why she had to be subjected to such bottom dwellers. Was it so wrong of her to think there might be someone out there she could love and respect and cherish?
Hi, I'm not sure if I'm what you want, but I don't think you're asking for too much.
She leaned forward with interest and kept reading.
In fact, the words you used spoke to my inner spirit and seemed to awaken me like never before. Everything you said was something I'd always wanted but been unable to verbalize. Perhaps we speak a language that only we can understand, but I think I comprehend exactly what you want. Why don't we see. Call me. 416-555-9090. April.
A slight smile tugged at her cheek and the ball of excitement began spinning faster in her gut. She moved to the next message and quickly deleted it. Several more found their way into the trash bin before she opened April's email again and her mind wandered with the possibilities.
She flipped open her notebook and quickly copied the message, careful to ignore the other messages which now bore four bold red 'X's'. The disappointments were too much to dwell on today. Perhaps April would absolve her of all the failures. Perhaps she would make it all worth while.
A dropped book caused her to raise her head, and reminded her that she needed to leave soon. While there was no way for the authorities to identify her through the anonymous library terminal or her triple bounced remailer, she didn't want to be remembered by anyone. This was her second visit to this library and she knew it was risky. It was just so close to her apartment, and the chance of her electronic activity being tracked diminished on such an overused terminal.
Hopefully, it would be the last time she used this library. Tomorrow her schedule took her to San Francisco. She verified April's number before emptying the trash folder and closing the browser.
Her mind was going over her plans as she left the library. A late meeting on Saturday would be good. She'd suggest the G-Spot or Harvey's to meet. Too many women there for either of them to be remembered.
I want somebody who can make me
What have you got?
The words trailed through her head as she wandered out of the library. Maybe April would be the one. A smile spread across her face as hope filled her breast. Maybe the line of disappointments would be over.
Continued in Chapter Two (chapter one posted 10/31)
The lines in the personal ad were taken from a song by Ani Difranco, Asking Too Much, on her 1995 album, Not a Pretty Girl. Used without permission.
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please email me at Pallas3@yahoo.com
Strangle the Heart, copyright 2001 by Pallas
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