Disclaimer - All things Twilight belong to Stephenie Meyers
Endless thanks and love to my favorite girls,
my boo Carrie ZM for betaing, and
Planetblue and Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy for prereading,
You three are the best!
Federal Bureau of Investigation - Behavioral Analysis Unit
Rapping softly on the door, I peek my head into my director's office. "You wanted to see me, Esme?"
"Flight 2212," she says over me, cradling the phone between her ear and shoulder while jotting something down. "Got it." Waving me in, she points at the seat in front of her desk. "And his flight is out of Ronald Reagan, not Dulles right?"
Chelsea follows me in and rounds the desk, stuffing papers into a secure folder and placing them onto a tray.
Esme mouths a thank you before speaking back into the phone. "All right, thanks, Seth. I appreciate your help."
I sit back in my seat, staring at the file, wondering which hellscape I'm going to be shipped off to today.
Please not North Dakota again. Anywhere but fucking North Dakota.
"Forks, Washington," she says, punctuating the city's name with the click of the receiver.
"Never heard of it."
"Little town off the one-o-one. You blink and you miss it." She snaps her pen shut and drops it on her notepad. "Too small to be racking up a body count."
"Three young ladies in a matter of almost two months."
"Has a pattern been established?"
She tosses the file in front of me causing it to echo throughout the space. "You tell me."
"Jesus," I mutter, flipping through the crime scene photos.
"Bound, tortured, strangled, and stabbed – in that order then left for dead in a wooded area near some hiking trails." She folds her arms over her chest. "Three weeks between the first and second, two weeks between the second and third."
I inhale deeply through my nose and shut the folder. "No agents in Seattle available?"
"They're all tied up with some big trafficking case and to be honest I don't think Agent Peters and his unit would even know where to start with this."
"Forks PD is requesting a full profile and assistance apprehending. I'll have Chelsea send you your travel arrangements." She checks her watch. "Your flight leaves at noon. Head straight to the station once you get there."
"Chief Swan will be expecting you."
Forks Police Department
"Can I help you, son?" a Barney Fife type drawls from the front desk with an 'I hate Mondays' coffee cup in hand.
"Uh, yeah. I'm here to see a Chief Swan." I open my jacket to show my identification. "Special Agent Edward Cullen."
"You're a Fed?"
"I'm a Major Case Specialist with the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit. I've been sent here at the request of my superiors and the Forks Police Chief to assist on an investigation."
He tips his chair back on two legs, grinning. "Is that right?"
"Agent Cullen," a sharp female voice sounds from a nearby office and the officer approaches with her hand extended, "Leah Clearwater."
"Nice to meet you."
Her grip is as firm as the set of her jaw. Poised and serious, she motions for me to follow her all the while scowling at the front desk clerk who makes a point of busying himself with some files. "How was your flight out?"
"Long, but uneventful, thankfully."
"I'm surprised they didn't send some of the agents from Seattle over to help."
"They're working some big trafficking case."
"And besides, cases like these are sort-of my thing."
"Your thing is brutal murderers?" she asks, opening the door to a conference room lined wall-to-wall with photos of the crime scenes.
My eyes scan the images of the victims, bloodied, battered, and bound among the trees with a purple flowered meadow in the distance. "Evidently."
A gentleman stands as I enter even though he looks dead on his feet. Dark hair, tired eyes, and a full-on Magnum PI 'stache. This must be the Andy Griffith to the Barney up front.
"Chief Swan," I shake his hand, "Special Agent Edward Cullen."
"Thanks for coming." Clearing his throat, he turns back to the photographs. "Are you up to speed on everything?"
"I've gone through all the info you've sent over, but if you don't mind, I'd like to do a thorough run-through with you."
He runs his fingers down his mustache and leads me to the wall with the first victim's information and photos. "Jessica Stanley, age twenty-four, born, lived, and died here in Forks. On the evening of May 3rd, her mom said that Jessi had a hankering for a crunch cone so she walked down to the Dairy Queen just before nine."
My eyes follow his finger over the timeline on the whiteboard.
"Found her body three days later after a group of hikers happened upon her. Wrists and ankles bound without a stitch of clothing on."
"Was the clothing found?"
"Yeah. Neatly folded in a pile a few feet from the body like the others, all but the undergarments."
"And the pearl on the fish wire?"
"Now see, at the time, we found that nearby on the ground. It wasn't fastened to her neck like the other two girls."
"It was his first time," I murmur, leaning in to get a closer look at the lacerations nearly hidden by her blood-matted, brown hair. "He was frenzied. Strangulation isn't easy to pull off and it certainly isn't quick. I'm guessing little Jessi gave him a good fight."
"Crime scene seems to point in that direction. We think the struggle started here," he points to a rotted-out tree, "and ended here, closer to the hiking trail. While the lacerations are consistent with your theory of being frenzied, the number of times she was stabbed has us stumped."
He moves to the next wall, pointing to a photo of a striking blonde, vibrant and full of life. And in the next picture, her corpse, bound and stabbed like Jessica before her. But this time, the killer has posed her, sitting up against a tree wearing nothing but ropes and a piece of fish wire with a pearl floating in the center.
"Kate McCarty. Local girl like Jessi, same age, same disposition. All sweetness and sunlight. The McCarty family runs the bakery here in town and she was working late on the evening of May 22nd, baking the cake for the Yorkie's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary party. According to the time-clock, Kate left at a little after nine. We found her the next night on the other side of the meadow, across from where we found Jessi."
Taking a closer look, I notice Kate's face is bruised significantly more than Jessi's. "She made him angry."
The chief puts his hands on his hips. "Stabbed her seventeen times, just like he did Jessi."
"But he left Jessica face-down in the grass. Makes me think maybe there was some shame there or that he got rattled. But with Kate," I gesture to the full-body shot, "he wanted to admire his handiwork."
"Now the next one is posed and bludgeoned as severely as Kate, however, here's where the sequence deviates." He moves to the third wall. "Emily Young. Another local girl, age twenty-three, worked at the diner during the day and took classes in the evening. Her boyfriend said she never came home from her Econ class at Peninsula College on Tuesday night. We found her body early this morning, closer to the creek, but still near the trails."
"What's the deviation?"
"The medical examiner cleaned her up and took a look at her a couple hours ago. Weapon, ropes, sequence of attack is consistent, but unlike the other two, this one was stabbed eighteen times."
I move to the final photo of Emily Young on a slab in the morgue and count the seventeen individual gashes around her torso and end at the largest one right over her heart. It's positioned just below where the pearl on a fish wire was wrapped around her neck.
"That eighteenth strike was significant."
"We thought so too."
"He knows her."
"You think it's personal?"
Running my finger over the print, I tap on the cut. "Deeply."
Hours later, Charlie hands me the keys to my new digs for the foreseeable future at the Town Motel. It's got wall-to-wall wood paneling, a small kitchen unit, and smells like a pine-scented car freshener.
Definitely not the Ritz, but thankfully, it's not fucking North Dakota.
"Get yourself settled and meet me across the street at Lunkers." He nods in the direction of the small bar. "I'll order us some food."
"You like fish fry?"
"Can't say. I've never tried it."
He grins and whistles low. "Boy, you haven't lived then until you've had Harry Clearwater's fish fry."
I head straight to the bathroom to splash some water on my face, doing my best to avoid my tired-ass reflection under the harsh fluorescent lighting. I look every bit of my forty-one years on this earth, fifteen of which I've spent chasing down serial killers.
On my way out, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and what I see confirms what I already know to be true.
I'm getting too old for this shit.
The bar is the exact type of place I'd expect a guy like Charlie Swan to hang out. Bob Seger on the jukebox, the Mariners on all the screens, and pictures everywhere of average Joes proudly holding up varying sizes of trout.
Everything is as I expected, right down to the late-thirties strawberry blonde waitress who dresses like a twenty-year-old and flirts like a teenager. What I don't expect is the gorgeous brunette behind the bar, bumping the cash register closed with her skirt-covered hip and charming the old-timers with her good looks and soft smile.
"You tell Shelly I plan to drop a casserole off at the Young's house tomorrow afternoon. They're gonna have a houseful until the funeral. Lord knows the last thing they need to be doing is cooking."
The old guy nods and drops a ten-spot on the bar. "I'll let her know."
Hand on her hip, she watches him leave. "Take care now, Earl."
Without so much as a backwards glance, he gives her a wave and bids her goodnight. As he passes, she notices me and those pretty dark eyes move over my body slow. Down then up until she meets my stare and those full pouty lips turn up at the corners.
"Well, hi there."
"Hello." My voice comes out rough and much quieter than I intended.
"You're new around here." She pauses a few seconds, waiting for me to elaborate. When I don't, she brings her other hand to her hip. "You lost or something?"
Sass. I like it.
"Don't let her give you a hard time, Cullen," Charlie says, slapping some cash down. "He's with me."
Snapping her fingers, she points to Barney Fife who's still grinning at the end of the bar. "You're the Fed Sam was talking about."
"Then this must be yours." The strawberry blonde waitress slinks up beside me, holding a grease-filled basket of fish.
"His meal and his drinks are on me." Charlie gestures for me to have a seat then looks back at the brunette. "Put him on my tab."
"You got it, Chief."
He eyes her seriously. "Don't walk to your car alone."
"I mean it, Bells."
She gives him a look that I can't decipher, but whatever it is, he relents. Once he's out the door, she turns back to me. "What're you drinkin' tonight, Fed?"
"It's Special Agent Edward Cullen." I smirk. "And I'll have whatever's on tap."
"Special Agent Edward Cullen? That's a bit of a mouthful, don't you think?"
"Oh honey, he's more than a mouthful," the waitress mutters as she heads over to another table.
Rolling her eyes, the bartender grabs a glass and pulls back the tap. "You'll have to forgive Tanya. She's just horny."
"She's forgiven, and I'm Edward." I hold out my hand. "Bells, is it?"
After sliding my beer beside my fish basket, she slips her soft palm against mine and grips it firmly. "Bella."
"Bella," my brow furrows, "I could've sworn he said Bells."
"He's called me that as long as I've known him."
"You guys go way back?"
An unexpected smile creeps over her face. "Way back. Now try the fish."
I take a bite. "It's good."
"Good? Not great?"
Taking a sip of my beer and instantly regretting it, I wince. "I can actually hear my arteries hardening."
"Makes sense." She flings a bar towel onto her shoulder. "Harry Clearwater died of a coronary."
She saunters away, checking on patrons as she goes. The sullen crowd thins out over the next hour, all the men dutifully reminding the girls to be safe or call if they need a ride. I nurse the beer and feign interest in the ballgame, biding my time until she chats me up again.
"Want another Vitamin R?"
"It's gotta be warm as piss by now."
"Eh," I shrug a shoulder, "it'll do."
Leaning forward on the bar, she props her chin on her hand. "So, where ya from?"
"All over, but I've lived in Virginia since I've been with the Bureau."
She taps her fingers on her cheek. "And now you've been magically whisked away to sunny Forks?"
"I have." I glance back at the now nearly empty bar. "It's interesting."
"The town or the bar?"
A quiet chuckle escapes her lips. "I'd hardly call Forks interesting. Current events aside, of course. And Lunkers?" She scrunches up her face. "Even less interesting than Forks."
"Is that so?"
"Yep. There are two bars in this town. Lunkers is where you drink if you want to hear a bunch of old men relive their glory days and brag about the size of their … fish." She jerks her thumb behind her at the 8X10 of Chief Swan holding up a trout in one hand, a trophy in the other, and somewhere beneath that big, bushy mustache, wearing a smile. "But if you want to raise a little hell or get some cheap thrills, you can head on over to The Spotted Dog."
"Cheap thrills, huh?"
"Well, yeah." Her teeth run over her bottom lip and those big, brown eyes stay fixed on mine. "Aren't those the best kind?"
Sweet Jesus. "I'm too old for any kind of thrills." Especially those of the pretty young thing variety.
Standing, she sighs and gives me a wink. "That's too bad."
A/N: *waves* Hi all! Thanks so much for giving this fic a chance. Also, huge love and thanks to the lovely admins at The Lemonade Stand for featuring Beneath the Branches on their Sneak Peak Saturday.
I admit that I've been slacking in the WIP department and haven't been reading as much lately, but I've got two recs for you that are owning me.
Like A Virgin Fic Rec:
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Let It WIP Fic Rec:
Vacation Town by bicyclesarecool - *Carrie ZM and Lay make heart hands* You guys, legit, bicyclesarecool is serving up some essential summer reading that's giving us EVERYTHING we didn't know we needed in our lives with her signature style and her vibe that just speaks to us. Don't sleep on this one, pals!
Sound off, fandom - what fic is owning you these days?
Thanks for reading :)