The Stone

The Stone: A Daria Fan-Fiction

By: Sam Lincoln (samlincoln@mac.com)

Summary: An unfortunately all too imaginable horror visits Lawndale, and Daria gets caught in the middle

Rating: R (strong language, violence)

Spoilers: None explicitly, but this is a post-IIFY fic.

Legal Disclaimer: The characters of Daria belong to MTV Animation, I'm just borrowing them.

Content Disclaimer: This is a dark, and potentially disturbing story. It was written in the spirit of Thomas Harris, if Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs bothered you, don't read this. Themes of graphic violence and mature language run throughout.

The Stone

Saturday, High Hills Park 2 AM

The man crept through the bushes surrounding High Hills Park as quietly as he could. He doubted anyone could see him, but it didn't hurt to be careful. After all, if he got caught he couldn't finish the job. And that was what was important, the job. He adjusted the bag slung over his shoulder, the last one hadn't weighed so much.

"Or am I just growing old?" He wondered. The man nearly giggled when he realized what he was thinking about, but caught himself. He wasn't focusing on the job, that was bad, he might fail if he didn't focus, and failure wasn't an option. He looked around, the location seemed like it would work, it felt right. He set the bag down and opened it. He reached into the bag to withdraw the inert form inside. Taking great care not to disturb the body too much he removed the bag and tossed it aside. Let the police puzzle over it, he didn't want it anymore. He looked down at the body lying on the ground. If one didn't know any better a person might think the boy was already dead. He wasn't of course, the man had started by killing the boys first, but that just wasn't the right way. The dead are beyond a mere mortal's ability to punish. He kicked the boy in the ribs, it also wasn't as good if they weren't awake, for the start at least, the pain cause most of them to pass out rather quickly. The boy's eyes shot open with pain, his ribs were definitely bruised, and most likely broken.

"You've been a bad boy, hiding out with the normal people, but now it's time to pay the piper. Pretty boys like you always do." He withdrew the large knife he kept razor sharp and began inflicting his final punishment. When he was done he left the carcass where it lay. He idly looked at the blood stained knife. It had gone well, but maybe next time he'd try working indoors, so he could hear the boy's cries for help. A feral smile crept across the man's face, what had started out as a job was turning out to be quite fun. He walked up to his lookout spot a fair distance from the site of the punishment and settled in. There were still quite a few hours until sunrise so he could get some rest before anyone came across the corpse. And if he slept through the discovery, well, that was what the camcorder was for.

Saturday, High Hills Park, 10AM

It all started innocently enough, Jane wanted to paint some landscapes and I wanted to get out of the house for a while.

"Let's go to the park," she said, "I haven't been to the park in ages."

I agreed because, let's face it, this is Lawndale we're talking about, nothing happens here, boy was I wrong there.

"Oh come on Daria, you can pose for at least one picture. It's not like I'm going to swallow your soul or anything." Jane had been bugging me to do some poses from famous works of art, in part I guess because she knew it would nettle me. Jane was always doing that, pecking and poking at me. I think she was trying to find out if I really was incapable of human emotion, or something. But I digress.

"You're out of your cotton-picking mind if you think I'm going to pose for one of your paintings willingly..."

"Then why don't we try for a different style of poses? I'm sure Tom would approve," Jane said with a leer.

"Go to hell Jane," I shot back. "I'll be over there reading, let me know when you want to go."

"Want to grab a slice or two afterwards?"

"Always," I replied as I turned away from Jane. I walked a short distance, through a copse of trees and over a small ridge. I was headed for what looked to be a nice secluded place to read. My only hope at that time was that the spot hadn't already attracted horny teens, a common problem I faced in my pursuit of solitude. In all honesty I'm not quite sure what that says about me. But again, that's not really important, I guess I'm just trying to avoid what comes next. I crested the small ridge and looked down into the small hollow, and that's where I saw it.

No, that's where I saw him, or at least, his remains. Lying in the middle of the clearing was a naked, mangled corpse. I wanted to scream, to run, to do something, but I couldn't. My feet were glued to the blood soaked ground and my eyes were riveted on the corpse.

The kid, because that's what he was, someone my age, was a wreck, that much was obvious. His eyes were open that much I remember clearly. The rest of him...shredded. He had not died well, even I could tell that. Part of me wanted to see if he was still alive, but I knew that wasn't true. The gaping hole in his chest told me that much. All I could think of was slaughtered beef. I don't know how long I stood there before it dawned on me that I knew the person. Well, that might imply too strong a connection. I recognized his face, or at least what was left of it, from school. He was in my English class, but I couldn't remember his name. Just another one of the nameless rabble who moved through the halls around me, lost in their own little world, only now he didn't have a face. He was nothing more than a thing now, chopped up and waiting to be shipped wherever.

As I stood there, rooted to the ground, I thought I could hear something, a voice. It started out softly, a faint whisper. I tried, but was unable to make out what the voice was saying. Gradually it grew louder, but I still couldn't make out any distinct words. It was like someone was trying to speak to me from across a large distance. I looked around furiously, trying to find the source of the voice. The longer I stood there the more I felt the madness of the scene leach into me. It felt like the blood from the ground had seeped through my boots and was rising up to seize my brain.

I shook my head to rid myself of the fuzziness that had crept into my mind. I wanted to run, how I wanted to run. Every fiber of my body was screaming at me to run, and never look back. But my feet remained firmly attached to the ground.

A robin landed on a nearby tree and started chirping. That simple sound of life was enough to break my paralysis and I ran away from that clearing faster than I had ever run in my life. I saw Jane and I made a beeline for her. Jane looked up from her painting and instantly saw that something was not right.

"Daria, what's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Body, copse, call police," I gasped out.

"Whoa, slow down there."

I took a deep breath and tried again, "There's a body back there in a copse of trees, we need to call the police." I was amazed at how calm my voice sounded.

"Holy shit!" Jane shouted, "A body, as in a corpse?"

I nodded, "As in the body of that kid you like to stare at in English."

"Fuck, someone we know?" Jane took a deep breath. "Ok, let's go call the cops."

We flagged down some yuppie and convinced her to let us borrow her cell phone. I talked to the cops since I had made the discovery.

"911, what is the emergency?" The polite, but officious voice on the other end asked.

"I'd, uh, like to report a homicide. I was walking in High Hills Park and found a body."

"This had better not be a prank call."

"It's not, my name is Daria Morgendorffer. If you don't believe me send a squad car to High Hills Park and I'll be happy to show you."

"Look Miss, there hasn't been a murder in Lawndale in years. Are you sure you didn't see a drunk sleeping?"

"Most drunks don't sleep naked with their faces cut off and left lying beside them," I replied evenly. Jane's eyebrows shot up when she heard that.

The voice on the other end was quiet for a long moment. "Okay ma'am," the dispatcher said finally. "I'm sending a patrol car to High Hills Park immediately. Could you meet the officers at the entrance of the park and show them where the body is?"

"Ok, I can do that."

"Thank-you for calling 911."

"I'm sorry I had to," I muttered into the phone before handing it back to the yuppie, who stared at me a long moment before running off.

"What's the scoop?" Jane asked.

"We wait for the cops to show up," I replied. "Look Jane, you don't have to stay if you don't want to. This could take a while."

"And what kind of friend would that make me?"

I suppose if I wasn't so emotionally numb by that time Jane's comment would have pleased me. "Come on, let's walk over to the entrance."

"I take it the corpse was particularly gruesome," Jane said as a question while we walked to the entrance of the park.

"It was..." I began when all of a sudden I could hear that voice and the madness that lay behind it. "...can we not talk about it," I said finally. So long as I didn't think about the body I was fine.

"Ok, if you're sure you don't want to talk about."

"I am," I snapped. We walked the rest of the way with an uncomfortable silence hanging over us. There was nothing else to do but wait for the approaching sirens to arrive.

Saturday, Quantico, VA 12 P.M.

I was reviewing a case file for a court date when I heard a knock on my door. "Come in," I shouted.

"Hey Steve." I glanced up and saw my boss handing me a case file. "There's been
another one."

"Yeah," I replied, I knew this was coming.

"We're going to need you to go out there."

"Yeah."

"AD Schoenweis says you'll be SAC on scene.

"Yeah." With a resigned sigh I took the folder and started flipping through it. "Where'd it happen?"

"The town's called Lawndale, typical rich suburb town."

I nodded, I knew the type. "Where was the drop?"

"In a local park, the site itself is pretty secluded."

"Are the locals playing ball?"

"They haven't even moved the body."

My eyebrows raised involuntarily, "That's damn nice of them."

"To be honest I don't think they know what to do with it. I just got off the phone with the local chief, they haven't had a murder in the town in over a decade."

I sighed and stood up. My bag was already packed and sitting by the door, "Well now it's just been a couple hours. Does Sarah and the rest of the team know?"

"They're waiting for you."

I walked to the door. "Who found the body?" I asked.

"Some kid."

"Shit," I breathed.

"Yeah."

"Do I tell him?"

"Her."

"Do I tell her?"

"Steve, we haven't even decided if he is targeting them."

"Still, do I tell her?"

"Have to ask the boss that."

"Lousy way to run a case," I grunted.

"Lousy case."

"Yeah," I agreed

"Better get going, the plane's waiting for you."

"Yeah," One of the perks of working the highest profile case at the Bureau was the exclusive use of a Department of Justice jet.

"Hey Steve."

"Yeah?"

"Catch the bastard, ok?"

I walked out of my office, "Yeah."

Saturday, Lawndale Police Headquarters, 6 PM

After they interviewed me the detectives left me in a break room with a cup of coffee. Jane had long since been sent home. My repeated inquiries as to why they weren't letting me go home, or the location of my parents were met with stony silence. This left me with plenty of time to mull over the interview. Which had gone quite well, all things considered. I told them as much as I could without stirring up the voice, or the madness. It was all I could do from breaking down completely as it was. I think they were an inch away from bringing in a shrink, which was something I definitely did not want to happen. So I told them the basics: found a body, body was fucked up. That seemed to placate them and I wound up in the break room. I was staring out at the squad room when a man walked in. He wasn't a local, that much I could tell, but he did seem to belong in the room. He was wearing a dark suit and trench coat that had the same rumpled look my dad's clothes had when he got back from a business trip. I watched as he walked up to one of the detectives and flashed a badge while addressing the officers. The detectives pointed in my direction and the man walked into the break room. I quickly focused on my attention on the coffee mug.

He didn't speak to me at first, instead he placed a manila folder on the table. He hung his trench coat on a coat rack and poured himself a cup of coffee. I noticed he used a Styrofoam cup instead of one of the mugs. Only then did he sit down at the table across from me.

"Hello there Daria," he said without consulting the folder. "My name is Steven Fraser," he pronounced it Frazer. "I'm a Special Agent with the FBI. I've been assigned to work on this case."

"Can I see some identification please?" I said coolly, anything to delay the inevitable interview.

He didn't miss a beat, "Sure thing." He reached into his jacket and I could see the butt of his pistol when the jacket flashed open. "Here you go." He handed me a leather wallet. I opened it up and stared dumbly at the lamented photo, and the bold "Federal Bureau of Investigation." I ran my fingers over the badge, impressing the texture of the metal into my fingers. "Satisfied I am who I claim to be?" He asked.

I closed the wallet and handed it back. "For now, but you can never be too careful."

Fraser chuckled ruefully, "No you can't."

Something clicked in my mind. "This was that guy who's been on the news wasn't it? That's why the FBI is involved."

Fraser looked at me appraisingly, it was very unnerving, "The file said you were quick, that's good. Yes it's that guy. The body you found was his seventh victim."

"Wonderful." Suddenly Lawndale didn't seem quite as insular as it had before. "So if you know who did it why am I still here? And while we're on the subject where are my parents?"

"To answer your first question you're here because I want to talk to you. Your parents aren't here because I said they couldn't be."

I stiffened, "Why the hell not?"

"Because I'm trying to keep you out of the public eye. The tabloids have already shown up and the mainstream press isn't far off. Do you really want to speak to Wolf Blitzer right now?"

"Well no."

"I thought so."

"Now what?" I asked.

"Now we talk."

"About what?"

He leaned back in his chair, "Whatever you want to talk about."

I looked at him a long time as I digested that statement. Agent Fraser was not an overly tall man, no more than six feet. He did seem to be in extremely good shape, not like a bodybuilder, but there was a certain solidity to his physique. His light brown hair was close cropped, in an almost military fashion. The clothes he wore looked well tailored and expensive, though that wasn't my area of expertise. All told the man radiated a calm professionalism, from his clear blue eyes to the relaxed way he held his coffee cup.

"Why do you care?" I asked finally. "I just found a body. It's not like I saw the killer."

"This is true, but you did find the body. You saw the scene exactly as the killer intended, and that's something I need to know."

"Are you one of those profilers?"

He smiled and shook his head, "No, I'm just a guy who can shoot straight. But this killer likes to stage his victims and every tiny detail you can relate to me will help the real investigators get inside this guy's head and help us stop him, hopefully before he kills another person."

As Fraser talked I could feel the madness come creeping back into my mind. I gripped the mug tightly.

Fraser noticed, "Daria, is something wrong?"

"No, I'm fine."

"You know, that's the other reason I'm here."

"What?"

"To make sure you're ok."

"I didn't know the FBI was in the mental health field."

"We are when it involves one our witnesses." He smiled briefly. "Seriously, you saw an intensely gruesome thing today. We want to make sure you don't become another casualty."

"I'm not suicidal."

Agent Fraser shrugged, "I'm sure you're not, but it's been known to happen to even the most stable, and hardened investigator. Mental trauma does funny things to a person."

There was a knock and the door opened before I could respond to Agent Fraser. A woman stuck her head in the room. "Hey Steve, the body's on its way to the morgue, Grisman and the others are still going over the scene with the locals. I'm about to head out and start on the autopsy." She told Agent Fraser.

Agent Fraser noticed my horror-struck expression when the woman said autopsy. He smiled apologetically, "Agent Raines, why don't you come in here and introduce yourself to Daria Morgendorffer, the girl who found the body."

The woman looked in my direction and apparently noticed me for the first time. "Shit, sorry about that." She entered the room fully and walked over to the table. "Hi there, I'm Special Agent Sarah Raines. I'm the lead forensic agent in this case. It's nice to meet you."

Before I responded I looked the woman over carefully. She was wearing an expensive looking pants suit that my mother would have loved. She wasn't very tall, only around five foot two or so. Her blonde hair was kept in a simple shoulder length pony tail. She was a very attractive woman by all accounts, but like Agent Fraser, there was an element of hardened professionalism to her demeanor. I shook her hand hesitantly. "Hello Agent Raines. So, you're the person who's going to be doing the autopsy on the person I found?"

She nodded, "That's right, normally in a homicide the local coroner would do the job, but since this is a special case I get to do the honors." She had a soft voice, but there was a great deal of force behind it.

As she talked I could see in my mind's eye this woman taking a circular saw to the corpse. It all seemed so, dehumanizing. I couldn't remember the boy's name, but at least had a few points of reference in common, I certainly knew him better than these FBI agents did. "Do you know who the person I found is?" I asked simply.

Agent Raines shook her head, "Not yet, he obviously didn't have any ID on him, his fingerprints aren't on record, and his face is mangled almost beyond recognition. One of the first things I'm going to do is take some dental casts. Other than that we just wait for someone to call."

Inwardly I shuddered, whoever he was no-one was looking out for him now. He was lying on a slab somewhere and his parents didn't even know it. "It's all so unfair," I muttered to myself.

Agent Raines seemed to pick up on my discomfort, "Well I've got a lot of work to do so I should be heading over to the hospital."

"Do you want the keys to the car?" Agent Fraser asked her.

"That's ok, I can get a local to drive me over. It was nice meeting you Daria," she told me, smiling.

"Uhm, likewise."

"I'll catch up with you when you're done here, right Steve?"

Agent Fraser nodded, "Yeah, that's the plan."

"Ok, I'll see you then, bye Daria, and don't worry, you're in good hands. Agent Fraser's the best." She walked out of the room and closed the door behind her.

"Uhm, sorry about that," Agent Fraser said apologetically. "Agent Raines is very good at her job, but in cases like this we tend to charge headlong at the problem so things like private conversations come second."

"Could I watch the autopsy?" I asked hesitantly.

Agent Fraser shook his head, "I don't think that would be a good idea. Autopsies are a nasty business, you wouldn't like what you'd see, trust me."

"I...just feel like I should see it," I said firmly.

"Daria, have you ever seen a real autopsy?" I shook my head, "It's a messy job, are you really sure you want to see Agent Raines scalp the victim, then peel the flesh back over his face so she can scoop the brain out with an ice cream scoop?"

I swallowed the bile back down, "Uhm, no, I guess not." Some things that kid had to go through on his own. "So do you want to hear about the crime scene?" I asked him coldly. The sooner I could be free of these FBI agents the better.

Fraser looked around the break room, "You know, you've been in this station long enough, let's get you home. We can talk about it there. I'm sure your parents are worried sick about you." Fraser stood up and offered me a hand.

"And what about the press outside?"

"We can go out the backdoor, I've got a car waiting there."

"You've got everything all planned out don't you?" I asked as I stood up.

"I try." He motioned to the door, "Shall we go?" I followed him out of the break room.

Saturday, High Hills Park 3pm

Lawndale was everything I expected it to be, your typical bastion of suburban conformity. I pulled the rental car into the crime scene's parking lot.

"Nice place," my passenger, Special Agent Sarah Raines, commented.

"I hate the suburbs," I said evenly as I adjusted my sunglasses.

"Oh come one Steve, you're going to have to settle down someday."

"Only if it's with you." I replied, we've dated a little in the past.

"In your dreams buddy." She shot back with a smile.

We walked up to the entrance of the park. A uniform cop met us there.

"Sorry folks, park's closed.

I took my badge out, "I'm Special Agent Fraser, this is my partner, Special Agent Raines. I believe you were told to expect us?"

The cops demeanor changed totally when he saw the letters FBI. "Oh, right yes sir, you can pass." He raised the yellow police tape. "I'll radio for someone to come and show you the crime scene."

"Thank-you," Sarah said warmly. She's always been better with the locals than me. It's probably due to the fact that she's attractive and has breasts.

I surveyed the park while we waited. It was a park, no different from a thousand others I'd been in. A half-hearted attempt by the citizens of the town to remind themselves that the world did not start out covered in asphalt and concrete. It was a pleasant enough place, if that was your thing, lightly forested with a slight roll to the terrain.

"Great place to dump a body," I observed.

"Killer thought so too," Sarah reminded me.

"Ok, so we've got a drop in the park, what's that tell us?" I asked.

"Parks are public, lots of people moving through during the day. They represent families, childhood, innocence. Do you think any of those are motivators?"

I shrugged, "that's your job, not mine."

"I'll know more when we see the site, but if this our guy it sounds like he's escalating. From what I've heard the wounds to the victim are much more severe than with any of the others."

"Fuck, and if it's not?"

"We've got a copycat."

"Shit."

"I know, let's just hope it is a copycat, and he was sloppy. Otherwise it could get messy."

"And you're not the one who's ass is going to be in a sling if there is another killing."

"Don't come crying to me about Bureau pressure, you volunteered to lead the investigation."

"Hey, it was either going to be me or Adams, now who would you rather work with?"

"Why Fox Mulder, of course. He'd have this case solved by now, thanks to his brilliant mind and nigh-psychic intuition. Which would leave us plenty of time for staring soulfully into each other's eyes."

I snorted derisively, "Right, and I'd like to have Dana Scully as my forensic expert. We would have wrapped this one up long ago and now she'd be showing me exactly why red heads are more fun."

"You do know she's a dye job right?"

"Gillian Anderson is a dye job, Dana Scully is a natural red head," I replied smugly.

"You're incorrigible Steve."

"I'm not the one who brought up the topic. That was all you."

"At least I didn't resort to the lowest denominator, my intentions for Mulder are as pure as the driven snow."

"Bullshit, you'd have that boy tied up and playing that kinky S&M shit you like in a heartbeat."

"I'm not a dominatrix!" Sarah shot back, a little too loudly if the expression of officer who'd just arrived was any indication. He coughed decorously, causing Sarah to whirl around and face him. Her face colored instantly.

"Uh Agents Fraser and Raines?" He asked, discussions of kinky sex were obviously things he didn't expect to hear from federal agents.

"That's us, I'm Fraser, she's Raines."

"I'm Officer Graham, I was sent to show you the crime scene."

"Great, well not great that you to show us to a...oh, to hell with it, where's the body?" I spluttered.

"Oh very smooth," Sarah whispered in my ear as we followed the cop. "I'm sure that just bolstered his image of the FBI."

"Like you were much better, shouting 'I'm not a dominatrix' at the top of your lungs."

"That was your fault, now if you'll excuse me I'll try to salvage the situation. Officer Graham right?" She asked the cop. He nodded, "What can you tell us about who's been to the crime scene?"

Graham shrugged, "Some paramedics, a few detectives, a photographer, and the person who first found the body."

"And nobody has touched the corpse, right?"

Graham shook his head, "Just to check for a pulse." He paused, "Well one of the paramedics did put a tarp over it, it was a little too creepy just lying there." He lead us to a small thicket surrounded by police tape. A small cluster of detectives and a uniformed officer stood outside the grove. One of the detectives saw us approach and walked towards us.

"Hello, I'm Detective Andy Secor, you must be the FBI Agents?"

"Special Agents Fraser and Raines, we're the lead pair. The rest of my forensic team will be along shortly." We all shook hands. "Detective I'd like to explain to you what's about to happen. My team consists of four other field agents, plus a couple of technicians. We're going to do everything we can to help you. We want to see this son of a bitch arrested, but we don't care who does it. There are going to be times when it looks like we're cutting you out of the loop, but we aren't you'll have to trust me on that." I like to be as up front as possible with local police, they respond well to it.

"Thanks for letting me know where things stand. So, want to see it?" Secor asked needlessly.

"Damn silly of us to come this far and not," I replied.

The detective held up the tape line for us and we entered the grove. "Show time," I muttered to Sarah as we both pulled latex gloves from our pockets. I could see the body in the center of the clearing but didn't approach it. Instead I walked around the glade to get a better feel for the place.

"Was that path the only way people have entered and exited?" Sarah asked.

"Yes," Secor replied, "Why do you ask?"

"Because any other stray footprints will be the killer's," I answered.

Sarah walked over to the tarp and gingerly uncovered the body. I could hear the detective wretch.

"Ok, we've got one Caucasian male. Age between fifteen and twenty. Cause of death, rough guess massive hemorrhaging. I'll know more when I get the body back to the morgue."

I nodded, half-listening, "Is it our guy?" I still hadn't looked at the body, Sarah had a better stomach for that sort of thing.

"Yeah, wound patterns are a match, same exaggerated mutilation. It's our guy."

"Fucking wonderful," I grumbled as I scanned the ground surrounding the clearing. My eyes caught a shape hidden under a bush. "Hey Sarah, I think I found something." I carefully walked over to the bush. "One large burlap sack, body sized." I planted a flag next to the bag, the rest of the evidence team would photograph, then remove the bag.

Hunkering down, I methodically examined the surrounding brush, looking for footprints. "Got a couple foot impressions too." I ran a hand over one of the boot marks. "The killer came from this direction with the victim in the bag. Was the victim dead yet?"

Sarah shrugged, "I can't tell that yet, ask me after the autopsy. But given the amount of blood on the ground I'd say no."

"Ok, so the victim was probably unconscious. The killer takes him here, why?"

"It's a park, a public space, a good place for a spectacle."

I nodded, "But what good's a spectacle if you don't see it?"

"You think he's watching?"

"It wouldn't surprise me. Have them run a check on possible sight lines based on the position of the body." The rest of the investigation team started to enter the grove. I motioned for Agent Paul Grisman, the senior agent on the team to talk to me.

"Yeah boss?" Grisman asked.

"There's a bag and some footprints over there, check 'em out first."

Grisman nodded, "Ok, anything else?"

I shrugged, "The local PD seems pretty content to let us run the show. I want you guys to survey the hell out of the scene, and get the corpse out of here ASAP, it's starting to smell."

"Ok, I'll let Crawford deal with the body, he's new, it'll do him good. Pemberton and Lewis can handle the surveying and I'll deal with the bag."

I nodded in assent, "Sounds good. Ok people," I called out, "We are now on the clock, let's work the case, find the evidence and catch this bastard

I started to leave the crime scene.

"Where are you going?" Sarah asked.

"Forensics aren't my thing. I think I'll go talk to our witness."

Morgendorffer Residence, 6:30 PM

Agent Fraser drove me home in a nondescript rental sedan. He tried to fill time by chatting with me. It was an extremely one-sided conversation.

"...So I joined the Bureau to put my skills to good use, and so far it's proven to be a challenging and rewarding career decision. How about you, what do you want to do after college?" I noticed he didn't say "When you grow up." I didn't bother responding. "Don't know, am I right?" He was, but that wasn't the point. Fraser chuckled, "That's ok, you don't have to know right now, I didn't."

"That's my house on the right," I said quickly. By that time I was ready to say any house was mine, just to get out of that car. He drove into the driveway and turned the car off. "Thanks for the ride home, I'll keep in touch."

"Not so fast, I'm coming with you."

"Why?"

"Because I want to talk to your parents, and you still haven't told me about the crime scene."

"Can't we do this tomorrow? I'm uh feeling sort of tired." The one thing I didn't want to do was talk about that damn clearing, especially at home.

"Nope, sorry. It's best to do it now." He walked back to the truck on the car and retrieved a briefcase. "After you."

I walked up to the door and let myself into the house, "Mom, Dad, I'm home," I called out. The response was startling; my parents came bursting out of the kitchen.

"Daria! You're safe. You didn't come home, and then we heard about the murder in the park. So I called the police, but they wouldn't tell me anything, lousy police, it's not right, keeping a father in the dark like that. Gah dammit!"

"Yes, the police have a lot of explaining to do," Mom mused. "They only told me you were at the station, but wouldn't tell me why. Whoever made that decision is going to pay."

"Actually, that was my decision Mrs. Morgendorffer," Agent Fraser said calmly.

Helen gave Agent Fraser the full brunt of her lawyer stare. "And who might you be? Not to mention what gives you the right to detain my daughter?"

Fraser reached for his ID and showed it to my parents. "I'm Special Agent Steven Fraser, FBI. I apologize for keeping the two of you in the dark for so long, but it was necessary."

"The FBI? I swear I had no idea Espinoza was backed by Colombian drug lords!" Dad shouted.

"And attorney-client privileges prevent me from talking to you about the Trans-Global- Mega-Corp case," Mom added hastily.

"Relax Mr. and Mrs. Morgendorffer I'm with the Investigative Support Unit."

"That's a relief...wait a minute, what does that have to do with Daria?" Dad asked, in a rare moment of lucidity.

"There was a murder in the park," I said evenly. "I found the body."

"Oh my god! Daria, how awful, are you alright?" Mom shouted.

"Why don't we continue the conversation in the kitchen, maybe over a cup of coffee?" Agent Fraser asked.

"Uh sure, the kitchen is this way," Dad said. We all walked into the kitchen and sat around the kitchen table. Mom and Dad made sure I was sitting squarely between them

"Okay, your daughter found the latest victim of a signature killer we've been investigating for the past five months. The current victim brings the killer's total up to seven, that we know of..."

"That you know of? You mean you don't know how many people this monster has killed?"

"Quite honestly no Mr. Morgendorffer. With offenders like this it's typical for them to take some time to settle on a specific target. They'll kill a bum then hide the body for instance. In any event we're sorting through every unsolved homicide in the VICAP system hoping to find something there."

"Well what do you know?" I asked.

Fraser shrugged, "Not as much as we'd like, obviously. The killer is mostly likely a white male. Age thirty to forty. He's over six feet in height, weight greater than 200 pounds. He's left-handed, has lots of rage, possibly has strong homophobic tendencies and almost certainly has parental issues. He's trying to make a statement with the killings. He probably has a history of harassing gay men."

"Were the kids gay?" My dad asked.

Fraser shook his head, "There's nothing to suggest that, but all of the victims have been good looking, sometimes to the point of being effeminate. The level of violence, as well as certain other factors, suggest that the killer is punishing the victims. Plus he left a note with the second victim, that read like a homophobic diatribe, that was when we were called in."

"What factors?" Mom asked in full lawyer mode.

"Autopsy results show that the mutilation is done while the victims are still alive," Fraser said evenly. We all started at the agent in mute horror. Dad turned a little green. "Now Daria, why don't you tell me what you saw." Fraser said while taking a tape recorder out of his briefcase.

"You're going to depose my daughter in my kitchen?" Mom asked sharply.

"We can go into the living room if you'd rather," Fraser replied blandly.

"But is this necessary? I'm sure the police took a statement from her already."

"They did, but your daughter was not very forthcoming. I thought she might feel more comfortable in more familiar surroundings."

Actually the reason I hadn't told the police much was because whenever I started to talk about what I saw I could hear that incomprehensible mad voice from the park in my head. I didn't want to talk about the park, because if I did I knew I'd let all that insanity and evil into my house, and then I'd never be free of it.

Fraser could sense my reluctance. "It's ok Daria, you can tell me. You'll feel better if you let it out," He said trying to coax me into talking.

I sighed, "Where would you like me to start?"

"The beginning is fine, of your day at least, that's germane to the topic."

I smirked, "You're trying to make me feel at ease aren't you?"

"If I hadn't qualified my statement you would have described the Big Bang. It's a great way to avoid my question." Again he was probably right, but I wasn't going to say so.

I sighed, "My friend Jane and I went down to the park. We split up, I went off to try and find a quiet place to read and found the body. I called the police and that's that."

"What did you see in the clearing Daria?" Fraser asked gently.

I closed my eyes to gather myself. I could see that ruined face in my mind's eye. I wanted to run screaming from the room, but that would've been a quick route to a real padded room. I opened my eyes. "He was naked," I said finally. "His body was all slashed, there were long strips of flesh removed. He had a big hole in his chest..." I trailed off.

"And?" Fraser asked.

"You know what I'm going to say."

"I think I do, but I still need you to say it. Don't worry, we're all adults here."

"Okay," I looked between my parents nervously, "Half the boy's face was cut off and lying next to the body."

"Gah! Mmmph, excuse me," Dad said quickly before running out of the kitchen.

"How was the body positioned?" Fraser asked evenly.

I shrugged, "He was just lying there."

"Did anything catch your eye?"

"You mean aside from the mangled corpse?"

"Of course."

I shook my head, "No, nothing really, of course I was pretty focused on the body."

"And you didn't touch anything?"

"No."

"Ok, that's all I need to hear." He turned off the tape recorder.

"Now what?" Mom asked.

"Now I try to catch the crazy son of a bitch. Look Mrs. Morgendorffer, Daria, there's something I have to tell you."

"What's that?" Mom asked guardedly.

"There's a small, very small, extremely thin chance that the killer might also be targeting the people who find the bodies."

"What?" Mom shouted, "You mean that monster is going to try and kill my daughter?"

"No, there's a chance the killer might try, but we're not really sure."

"How can you not be sure?" I asked, after finally getting my brain to restart.

"First of all let me say that not all of the people who have found victims of the killer have died. And of those that did die their deaths all can easily be attributed to other, much less malicious, causes."

"What?"

"I'm not saying this well, excuse me. Out of the now seven people who have found a body, three are dead. One died of a heart attack, another was involved in a car accident, and the third was a cop who was shot in a robbery attempt."

"So what's the problem? Those are all very explainable, if sort of strange."

"The catch is that every person who has found a corpse in this case has gotten at least one threatening letter or phone call and we think the killer is the one responsible."

"Well what are you going to do about it?" Mom demanded.

"We're going to catch the bastard Mrs. Morgendorffer. We're also going to do our best to keep your names out of the papers. I've already told the local police I'll personally destroy anyone who talks to the press. We've got the 911 tape in our possession and no one else knows what your found. And if it comes down to it, I can keep your daughter safe Mrs. Morgendorffer. Before I joined the FBI I was an officer in Special Forces, Green Berets, Delta Force, that sort of thing. And if it makes you feel any better, if we can get through this month without any unpleasantness you're safe."

"Why, what happens in a month?" Mom asked.

"Somebody else is going to die, right Agent Fraser?" I asked.

He nodded, "That's about it." Fraser looked at his watch. "I've got a conference call to make. It was nice meeting you Mrs. Morgendorffer, I hope your husband feels better."

"I just wish we could have met under more favorable circumstances," Mom said, sighing.

"Daria, I'm sure we'll talk more later. Don't worry about any of this. There are already a couple of agents around the house to keep an eye on you. We'll make sure you stay safe, even if this guy tries anything, and just think of all the money we're spending on you."

"Great, my tax dollars in action"

"Oh, Mrs. Morgendorffer, one more thing. Would it be ok with you if we put a wiretap on your home phone."

"A wiretap? What on earth for?"

"Just in case the killer calls here. I'd like to have it recorded. We'd be very discreet and destroy anything that wasn't in the scope of the case."

"I suppose so, but only if you turn over any tape that doesn't involve your case so I can destroy them, and if you produce a signed affidavit that you did not make any copies of the private conversations that you record."

Fraser shrugged, "Fine by me. A tech team will install the tap tonight, you won't even know it's there."

"Wonderful," Mom muttered. Agent Fraser stood up and left the room, leaving Mom and I sitting at the table.

"Uhm, I'm sorry I got you involved in this mess Mom," I said after a long period of silence.

"Daria, there's nothing to apologize about. You didn't intend to find that poor boy. None of this is your fault."

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Is there anything you need sweetie?"

"Uhm, just some time to myself right now?"

"Ok, I'll be around if you need me for anything." Predictably her cell phone rang. Mom looked at it hesitantly.

"Go ahead, answer it."

Mom mouthed a thank you as she raised the phone to her ear. "Hello Helen Morgendorffer. Oh hello Eric..." Mom stood up and walked off, all the while verbally kissing her boss's ass.

I sighed and walked into the living room. The TV looked incredibly inviting at that moment. The thought of watching brain numbing crap was an attractive one. I sat down on the couch and began flipping aimlessly through the channels. Eventually I settled on one of those schlocky music video channels. Normally I'd never even consider sitting through the inane strutting of teeny-bopper crap music, but right now it was proof that at least some people weren't worrying about serial killers, and I needed that comfort right then. Quinn came home at some point during my vigil in front of the idiot box. Mom dragged her off before she could say anything to me. When I saw Quinn she furtively slipped upstairs, assiduously trying to avoid me.

"How typically Quinn," I thought. "Then again how would I have reacted if Mom told me that Quinn has just found a dead body?" Several answers came to mind, none of them made me feel particularly proud.

The phone rang, I ignored it, chances were good it wasn't for me, and I didn't feel up to talking to any of Quinn's associates. The phone stopped ringing, I moved on to a sports channel. It was almost soothing to watch those painfully too hip sports anchors glorifying a bunch of immature, overpaid assholes.

Quinn crept into my field of view, holding the phone. "Uh, Daria, Jane's on the phone, she wants to talk to you."

I stared at the phone for a long moment before taking it from Quinn's hand. She then bolted out of the room like a deer on the first day of hunting season. "Hey Jane."

"Hey Daria, how are you doing?"

"Ok when you consider that I found the latest victim of a deranged sociopath who now might be trying to kill me."

"Whoa, who told you that?"

"The FBI agent who just left my house after delivering the good news."

"I don't even know how to respond to that. How close to death are you?"

"The FBI doesn't know, but apparently in a month we'll know for sure."

"What happens in a month?"

"Somebody else dies."

"Oh." An almost painful silence fell over us. "I'm sorry I dragged you down to the park today. If I had known this was going to happen..." Jane trailed off.

"Don't blame yourself for this Jane, nobody could've known today would be the day I found a corpse. Don't make me give you the same pep talk my mother just gave me."

"What did you apologize for?"

"The FBI is placing on our phones."

"Wow, so this conversation is being recorded?"

"Possibly, we weren't told when they'd start the tap."

"Whoa, I guess you'd better watch yourself next time you and Tom talk on the phone."

"I really doubt the FBI cares. Besides they're going to have to listen to all of Quinn's phone calls."

"Ouch I feel sorry for whoever gets that job. So, what was the FBI agent like?"

"He talked a lot and tried to get to know me."

"How disappointing."

"Look Jane, I'm really out of it right now. Can I call you back tomorrow?" I didn't want to deal with Jane's questions about the FBI at that point.

"Uh sure, talk to you tomorrow Daria."

I murmured a goodbye and hung up the phone. I went back to staring at the TV when I realized what I needed was human contact. "Well," I thought,. "There's no one here who fits that bill, and I just blew Jane off. I guess that leaves Tom." I picked up the phone and dialed the Sloanes's number.

"Hello, Sloane residence," Tom answered.

"Tom, it's Daria, I need you to come over to my house now."

"Daria? Do you know what time it is?"

"Not really, can you just come ever here, please?"

"Is something wrong?"

"I'd rather talk about it in person."

"Uh sure, I'll be right over."

Tom hung up the phone and I leaned back on the couch. To pass the time I forced myself to think about a paper that Mr. DeMartino had assigned us the past week. So what if a homicidal maniac was trying to kill me, I still had school to deal with. And if I had a choice I'd take the madman any day. I didn't get a SWAT team to protect from school after all. I continued that train of thought until I heard a gentle knock on the door. I got up and answered it. Tom was standing there with a concerned look on his face. Part of me was glad he had rushed over to see me. The other part was glad he wasn't holding a knife. In all honesty I didn't know what I felt towards Tom, but at that moment he was a sight for sore eyes.

"Hey Daria, what was so urgent?" Tom asked, concerned.

"Come on in, I don't want to make a scene in front of the FBI."

"The FBI, huh?" Tom asked as I pulled him into the house.

After I closed the door I turned and faced Tom. "This morning Jane and I went down to the park. I found the remains of a victim of a serial killer. Now the FBI is putting a wiretap on the phone and maintaining twenty-four hour surveillance just in case the killer comes after me."

"Holy shit, Daria, are you alright?"

"Oh I'm just peachy."

"So, what do you need me to do?"

"Just be around I guess."

"Need a little human contact to remind you you're alive?"

"Something like that."

"And you probably don't want to talk about it."

"I've trained you well."

"So what do you want to do?"

I shrugged, "Watch TV?"

"Sounds good to me," he replied. We sat down on the couch. Tom wrapped an arm around me. I must admit, it did feel nice. Tom turned on the TV; Sportscenter blared at us. "You were watching ESPN?" He asked. "Wow, you must really be depressed."

"It could have been worse. I could have been watching Fashion Vision."

Tom shuddered, "You're right, still have you ever willingly watched ESPN?"

"Well no."

"So what's the deal, and don't say a sudden interest in who won the Dubai Classic."

I sighed, "Because I didn't want to think since the only thing I'd think about is that damn corpse."

"Was it really that bad?"

"Tom, he was mutilated by a madman, what do you think?"

"Did you know the person?"

"No, yes, kind of." I took a deep breath, "He was in my class, but I don't remember what his name is. He didn't mean anything to me, just another face, but now he's dead and doesn't have a face, literally."

"And you're upset with yourself because you think it should have a deeper impact on you?"

"No, I'm upset because I am upset at his death!" I snapped. "We have this kid who probably had some sort of hope, or dream, and now he's just a body on a slab, a piece of evidence, another part in some puzzle for the FBI to solve. The only thing about his life that is going to mean a damn is how he died..." I paused, "And he didn't die well. I found him naked, and slashed to hell."

"Ouch."

"And since then it's almost like I've got this bond with him. I saw him at a moment of extreme vulnerability, he's naked, dead, and ripped to shreds. I know him better than the people now trying to find who killed him."

"And the two of you have the same person after you."

I frowned, "Yes, there's that too, thank you for reminding me."

He smiled, "Anytime. Look Daria, I won't pretend to know what to say, but I am here to help out anyway I can."

"I know you're here aren't you. Now can we please not talk about it?"

"That I can do easily," Tom replied as he leaned over to kiss me. We sat there for a long time, neither of us really watching the TV, but not speaking to each other either. I suppose the events of the day had worn me down because I drifted to sleep right there. Tom gently nudged me back awake. "Hey Daria, let's get you in bed."

I thought about my room, and then about that voice that kept running through my head, "I don't want to go up there. I don't think I can handle it right now."

"Uh, ok, do you want me to get you a blanket or something?"

"What I'd like is for you to stay right there," I said as I leaned against him. I didn't like the fact that I was craving human contact this much, but it did make me feel a little better. And at that point anything that made me feel better was desperately needed. As I sat there lying against Tom, listening to him fall asleep I wondered if my sleep would be dream free.

Sunday, Somewhere, 1:00 AM

Enshrouded in the darkness of his room the man put the videotape he had made into the VCR. He had slept through the discovery of the body, much to his regret. The camera had caught it all and the man rubbed his hands together in anticipation, he had even made popcorn. The tape started up, he grabbed the remote and fast-forwarded through the empty segment of the tape, pausing to admire his most recent masterpiece every once in a while. He stopped when he saw motion. He backed the tape to just before the green blur appeared on the screen. The image settled down and shortly a black and green clad figure appeared. He watched in fascination as the girl stared at his handiwork. She didn't scream, or say anything. She just stood there until finally running away. He rewound the tape and watched the scene several times.

"Maybe she understands," he thought to himself as he watched the blank expression on the girl's face. "She might be the one." He froze the frame on a shot of her staring directly at the camera. "I need to know your name little girl, then we can have a nice talk." She looked like she was in high school. "I guess I'll have to pay Lawndale High another visit." He chuckled; sometimes the job was so easy.

Lawndale Coroner's Office, 2:00 AM

"Hey Steve, wake up," Sarah said as she prodded me.

"I'm up, I'm up," I replied as I sat up on the gurney I'd been napping on. When I opened my eyes all I saw was white. I had fallen asleep on a gurney outside of the morgue. Sarah must have wheeled me into the lab and draped a sheet over me while I was asleep. She has an odd sense of humor. "Got something for me?" I asked.

"Lab results are back from the autopsy. Lots of people are getting overtime on this one."

"And if we catch the guy it's earned. So what's the score?" I got up and we walked over to the body, now resting in an autopsy bay.

She picked up a clipboard and began reading, "Our victim's name is Brian Wiltson, age seventeen. He was a student at Lawndale High School, a member of the football team, a decent GPA, but nothing to shout about. Preliminary background checks don't show anything other than your typical teenage."

I nodded, "We'll get to work on the victim Monday at the school, how did he die?"

Sarah walked over to the body. "Like I said at the scene, death was a result of massive blood loss from multiple stab wounds to the head and torso. The flesh from the right side of the face was peeled off and left beside the body."

"Nice job sewing it back on," I commented.

"Thanks, I thought the family would appreciate it. I used fishing line instead of normal sutures and then covered the whole thing with that liquid skin..."

"That's more than I needed to know. What else did you find?"

"In addition to the face the other major mutilation is the hole punched into the chest cavity. The internal organs were left in place. Though a little mashed."

"How did he do it, and was the injury pre or post mortem?"

"A heavy piece of metal. The wound pattern here suggests a solid piece of metal with a star shaped design. I picked a few metal slivers off some ribs so we can look for scratch marks if we find the weapon. There's no really definitive way to say when the blow was delivered, but my guess is that it came after the victim had bled out."

"What makes you say that?"

"There's not enough blood in the chest cavity. If I smashed your heart you'd expect a lot of blood to pool, that wasn't present here."

"So there was no one killing blow?"

"Nope, just like the rest, death was a result of multiple wounds. A couple arteries were nicked, but I don't think that was by design."

I nodded, "All consistent with the previous killings. Anything of interest in the blood work?"

"Other than the normal cocktail of goodies you'll find in a teenager there were traces of ketamine."

"Ketamine, horse tranquilizers?"

"That's one of its uses, yes. It's also used in hospitals and by people looking for a different kind of high."

"This is new isn't it?"

Sarah nodded, "Yeah, it is. Which means the kid might have taken some to get high."

"You wouldn't have brought it up if you thought that."

"There's too much in his system. He was given the ketamine a couple of hours before being killed. My guess is the ketamine was used to subdue the victim without making a scene."

"Have we put together the victim's day yet?"

"Local PD got a brief outline when they talked to the parents. He went to school and never came home."

"Ok, we'll add ketamine use to the questionnaire when we interview the students." I saw Sarah waver on her feet slightly. "Have you gotten any rest today?"

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not. Come on, let's get you back to the motel, this can wait until tomorrow."

"What are we doing tomorrow?" She asked, not bothering to suppress her yawn.

"Video conference with the profilers for starters. We have to get ready for Monday, and we've got to talk to the family."

"Great, I hate this fucking job," Sarah groused as she removed her scrubs.

"You're not going to hear any disagreements from me, but we do good work, and it means something."

She sighed, "Yeah, I know."

I put an arm around her shoulder, "Come on, let's get you that shower and a good," I looked at my watch, "five hours of sleep."

"Wonderful," Sarah groaned as we walked out of the Coroner's Office.

Sunday, Morgendorffer Residence 12pm

I was sitting in my room trying to work on my homework when I heard a tap on my door. "Come in," I said. The door opened and Quinn walked in. "Hello Quinn, what do you want?"

"I want to talk to you Daria."

"About?"

"What do you think about? The fact that you found Brian Wiltson's body."

"So, his name was Brian Wiltson," I murmured to myself. "Did you know him?" I asked Quinn.

"Yeah, he'd taken me out a couple of times. He was going to take me out again this Wednesday...I guess I need to find a new date," She said sadly.

On the surface this wasn't a particularly surprising statement; Quinn had probably gone out with every eligible male in Lawndale, but there was something about the way she had said it. "Wait a minute, he'd taken you out more than once?"

"Yeah, he's...was a really nice guy."

"You liked him didn't you."

"No more than any other guy who takes me out, but he was really nice, and kind of sweet, so I might've like him, but I don't know."

"And you want to talk to me about this because I'm the soul with the keen insight on death?"

Quinn frowned, "No I want to talk to you because who else am I going to talk to about this, Tiffany, Mom?"

"A point well taken, speak your piece."

"Well this whole thing is like so bizarre. I mean I saw Brian alive Friday night, and then last night Mom says you found a dead body, and then in today's paper the front page is all full of stuff about Brian being found mangled in the park. So I figured you must have been the person who found Brian."

"Good guess."

"But the really strange thing is that the paper said the guy who killed Brian likes to kill gay people. And that's so weird because I know Brian wasn't gay. At least I'm pretty sure. I mean he seemed to be interested in me as more than a friend. But what if it was all an act to try and hide the fact that he was gay. Then he'd be lying to me, not to mention using me to try and look normal. Not that there's anything wrong with being gay. But then again if was hiding his sexual preference what other skeletons were in his closet?"

My brain started twist itself into a pretzel by this time trying to follow Quinn's monologue, "Quinn," I said in desperation.

"...if you're gay you should just say so. I don't care, just let me know so I don't have to worry about going out with you..."

"Quinn!" I tried again.

"Sure, some people aren't as tolerant as I am, but at least let me know, I can keep a secret. I haven't told anyone about Stacy's bedwetting issues...."

"Would you shut your damn mouth and listen to me!" I shouted. Quinn stopped at stared at me. "Listen to me very carefully, Brian wasn't gay."

"Oh, says who?"

"Says the FBI agent who was here yesterday. None of the other people killed were gay so there's no reason to think that Brian was either."

"Then why did the paper say that he was?"

"Because of a letter left at one of the earlier crime scenes could have been interpreted that way. The killer is really just going after people who have a certain look."

"What's that?"

"Good looking."

"Yeah, Brian certainly was that," Quinn said wistfully. "And hey, at least you don't have to worry about Tom."

I frowned, "Hey, watch it there."

"I'm just making a factual statement, I know tons guys cuter than Tom."

"Quinn the conversation can end at any moment, with you on the ground." I must admit, I was impressed, Quinn got in a pretty good shot, she must have been practicing.

"I'll be good," she said contritely.

"Is there anything else you wanted to say, or did you just want to voice your concerns about Brian's sexual preference."

"Well, I did have one other question for you."

"And that is?"

"What was it like finding him there?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean seeing there, on the ground, dead. Was it, like, all creepy or what?"

I shrugged, "He was dead, there wasn't much more to it than that."

"Oh come on Daria, there has to be more."

"Look Quinn, I didn't even know who it was I found until you told me just now. Brian didn't really mean anything to me when he was alive and now, beyond the initial shock of finding a flayed corpse, and the sense of sorrow whenever a person dies, I don't have strong feelings for him. He's dead, that's sad, he was brutally murdered, that's tragic, but that's it." Actually that wasn't just it, but I wasn't going to admit that to Quinn. In fact Brian's ruined face had haunted my dreams the previous night. In the dream I saw Brain's head floating in front of me. His mouth was moving and it seemed like he was trying to tell me something, but I couldn't figure out what because that damn voice was shouting over him. I was convinced the voice was the sound of madness and I was slowly going around the bend, but I wasn't going to tell that to my sister. Or anyone else for that matter, the longer I could put off the real padded cell the better. I took a deep breath and continued, "Look Quinn I feel bad for you. You obviously cared about Brian and now you have to deal with his death."

"What about you?"

"I just have to live in fear for a month, then I'll be good."

"What?"

"Haven't you heard, I'm the next target."

"But you're not..."

"Pretty?"

"A guy."

"No I'm not, but the FBI agent said the killer might try to get me."

"But, you can't die now, not when you're, like, almost normal. I've been planning your prom dress for months!"

"You've been doing what?"

"Designing your prom dress. You and Tom were going to go to at least one of your proms, right?"

"Quinn you had better leave or else I'll be forced to hurt you quite badly."

"Alright, sheesh, do your sister a favor and this is the thanks you get." Quinn reached over and hugged me, "Don't go and die on me Daria, ok?"

"I'll try not to," I replied as I scraped Quinn off of me. She started to leave the room. "Hey Quinn," I called out.

"Yeah?"

"I'm really sorry about Brian, it was a pretty shitty way to die."

Quinn sniffed for a moment, "Yeah, he was a really nice guy, he didn't deserve that."

"Nobody does Quinn." She walked out of the room, leaving me to my thoughts.

Monday, LHS 7:00am

I sat in the office of the principal of the local high school, one Angela Li. She looked like your typical tinpot dictator type and was defending her kingdom vigorously.

"Now, Agent Fraser, I'm sure you can understand my position, what you're asking would disrupt my students' school day at a time when any additional distractions would be most harmful." Li told me, I let my eyes roam the office while she talked, taking note of the statue of Buddha and the books shelved behind her.

"First of all, the name's Frazer," I said, doing my best to keep my anger in check, "Secondly, I do appreciate what a shock this whole affair must be to you and your students, but I'm operating on a very tight schedule here and I have to interview your students today, and if I have to I'll call a judge and get a warrant."

"Now there's no need for that, we're both rational adults interested in keeping order," Li spluttered.

"That's where you're wrong, I'm interested in justice. You're going to give my interview team unfettered access to this school, quiet places to conduct our interviews, and we're going to be pulling students out of classes to interview them, I'm also going to have chats with all the faculty and staff. That's what we're doing and if you have any objections to that I'm getting a warrant. Something I'll be sure to mention to the national press quite loudly on the courthouse steps. Which will raise the question, 'Just what is she hiding?' and it'd be a shame if I had to do that."

"Uhm, yes, well, Lawndale High has nothing to hide and would be happy to assist the FBI in anyway." I raised an eyebrow at the way she said Lawndale High with such reverence.

"I'm sure," I muttered as I stood up. "Thank you for your cooperation Ms. Li, my agents will be out of your hair as quickly as possible." I left the principal fuming in her office and walked out to the parking lot. Sarah and the rest of the team were lounging around a Bureau Suburban.

"Are we good to go?" Sarah asked.

"Yep, though not exactly with the blessing of the school's administration."

"What did you do this time Steve?"

"Nothing, the principal's a bitch, I had to threaten to get a warrant to get us in there. So keep your eyes peeled people, there's something going on in there."

"Think the principal is involved in the killings?" One Agent Grisman asked.

"No, probably not, but I'd like to know anyway, just for our edification. Ok guys and gals listen up. I want to get through as many students as possible today. You all have the questionnaires. If they say they didn't know the victim and didn't know anything about the victim cut them loose and move onto the next. I know I don't have to remind anyone, but I will anyway, write down everything about each interview, even the duds. By the end of the day I want to know Brian Wiltson better than his mother did. Ok, let's get to it." We entered the school just as the first school busses started to arrive.

Monday, Lawndale High, 10:00am

The first day of school that week went about as badly as I feared. The halls were filled with mock grief and people wearing black armbands. To make things worse a legion of reporters were camped out on the front lawn of the school, and everywhere you looked in the school, police and adults in dark suits were milling about. Notices were posted all over the school reminding me of the "Mandatory Memorial Service," being held the next day in the gym.

"Such love for a guy nobody knew," Jane said.

"It's just two parts guilt over not getting to know the guy while he was alive, and one part playing to the cameras outside." I replied darkly.

"When do you expect you'll have to hang out your shingle?"

"Hopefully never, the PTA passed the hat and brought in some grief counselors to help us through this terrible time."

"Are you going to take advantage of their services?"

"Why?" I asked blandly.

"Well because you certainly have more attachment to this whole mess than most of our classmates."

"Pardon me if I don't trust anyone hired by Ms. Li," I replied as we walked into O'Neill's class.

"You certainly do have a knack for the well-timed remark," Jane commented as we stared at the classroom. A rainbow's funeral was the only way to describe it. O'Neill had covered the room with rainbows that had black ribbons wrapped around them.

"Ah good, Daria and Jane, here are your arm bands," O'Neill said as he handed us a pair of black armbands."

"And just why should I wear this?" I asked as I took the piece of cloth.

"Why, to show your support of your fallen classmate; tragically struck down simply because he was different from the societal norm."

"Come again?" Jane asked.

"Brian Wiltson, the boy killed this weekend, had been hiding his homosexuality from us, and he was killed because of his sexual orientation. Now maybe if we had all been a little more understanding of Brian and everyone like him this senseless tragedy might have been avoided. So the black armbands show our commitment to the cause of equal rights for all gay people."

"I'm sorry I asked," Jane muttered as we took our seats.

"I'm sorry you asked too," I replied.

"Well, aren't you going to do something about it?"

I sighed and raised my hand. "Mr. O'Neill I have a question."

"Yes Daria?"

"How do you know that Brian was gay?"

"What do you mean?"

"Did Brian ever do anything to suggest that he was actually gay?"

"Now Daria, gay people don't look any different from you or I. There's no way to tell who is or isn't gay simply by looking at him or her."

"Then did he ever say anything remotely similar to a declaration of homosexuality?"

"Well, no, not that I know of, but then again, many gays are deeply confused in their teens and try to hide their gayness from the world."

"So in other words, you're basing your assumption on the fact that the media says the person who killed Brian only kills gays."

"What's your problem with the fact that Brian was a homosexual?"

"What bothers me is that it's not a fact, and it seems to me that you're misrepresenting the victim of a horrible crime by saying he was."

"Daria, do you have a problem with gay people?"

"No, and that's not the point," I snapped.

Before O'Neill could reply the door opened and Agent Fraser walked into the room, "Hello, sorry to interrupt but I'm looking for a Daria Morgendorffer, is she in the class?"

I quickly raised my hand, "I'm Daria."

"Ms. Morgendorffer, would you come with me please, I'd like to ask you a few questions."

I hastily gathered up my pack and walked to the door.

"Uh Daria, don't forget your armband," O'Neill said, tapping his arm. I sighed, pulled the stupid thing onto my arm and followed Fraser out of the room.

"Thank-you so much," I told Fraser.

"You're the first person to tell me that today," he replied lightly. "What was the deal back there anyway?"

I shook my head, "That was Mr. O'Neill latching onto another cause, regardless of how applicable to the situation it is. The only good news is that in a week he'll have his sights set on some new crusade. I just wish he could have stopped at wall decorations and left the armbands at home."

"Just so you know, there's a couple of guys outside selling those armbands for fifteen bucks a pop, and the President of the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Alliance is already singling out Lawndale as an exemplary instance of a school uniting behind the cause of gay rights."

"So what you're telling me is that people are using Brian's death to further their own financial and political agendas."

"Well obviously," Fraser said as he opened the door of an empty classroom.

"It's so obnoxious, he's a martyr for a cause he probably never considered in his entire life."

"That it is," Fraser agreed as he offered me a chair.

"Can't you do anything to put a stop to it?" I asked.

"Later today we're giving a press conference. All the networks and CNN will be there. One of the questions going to be asked will be about Brian's sexual orientation. I'll say, once again, that there's no evidence that any of the victims were gay, and that as far as the Bureau is concerned the killings are not motivated by homophobic tendencies."

"Nice speech."

"Thanks we've got some good writers in the PR department."

"But it won't make a difference will it?"

"Not in the slightest."

"Damn, I was afraid of that." I sighed, "So, what do you want to hear from me?"

"I just wanted to talk to you, see how you're taking things."

"Uh, are you sure it's safe to talk in here? The rumor is that Ms. Li's bugged all the classrooms."

Fraser chuckled, "Don't worry, I've taken care of that. I picked up on the surveillance gear right off. You've got a very paranoid principal."

"Tell me about it. Is there anything you can do about her?"

Fraser shook his head, "Sorry, this was the result of an illegal search, wouldn't hold up in court. Besides, I have bigger fish to fry, and you're one of those fish."

I sighed, "And what do you want from me?"

"Like I said, I just want to know how you're doing."

"I'm fine, can I go?" I snapped.

"Sure, if you want to go back to class."

"Alright, we can talk."

"How have you been sleeping?"

"Fine I guess."

"No nightmares? And it's ok if there are, it's perfectly normal and I wouldn't think any less of you."

"Well, I have had one, several times now."

"Tell me about it."

I took a deep breath, "I see Brian's face, like it was when I found him, and it's like he's trying to tell me something, but there's this voice drowning him out."

"What's the voice saying?"

"I don't know, I've never been able to figure that out."

Fraser quirked an eyebrow, "How often have you heard this voice anyway?"

"Uh, just in the dream," I answered quickly.

"Daria, I can tell when someone is bullshitting me. How often have you heard this voice?"

"Why the hell do you care anyway?" I thought you were trying to catch a murderer, not psycho-analyze my dreams."

"I have a small army of federal agents and local police tracking down the killer, I can spare a few moments to make sure you're going to be ok."

I sighed, "If you must know I've heard the this voice whenever I think about what I saw in that clearing."

Fraser nodded, "That's understandable. Let me tell you a little secret. I never looked at Brian's body at the crime scene. In fact I haven't looked at any of the victims, other than photos."

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I'd probably throw up. Same reason I never watch autopsies, I can't stand the sight, and I'm a trained professional."

"And how is this supposed to make me feel better?"

"So you're hearing a voice, big deal, you're just trying to cope with seeing something horrific."

"But I was could feel the madness, it felt like it was creeping up my spine and trying to throttle my brain. It was like the killer was trying to talk to me."

"He was," Fraser said quietly.

"What?"

"Like I told you Saturday night, the killer is trying to send a message with these murders, every facet of the victim and the crime scene is one part of a larger picture. What I have to do is figure out just what that picture means. Now I'm not a trained professional, but I'd have to say that your problem stems from some kind of inability to deal with what you saw."

"What do you mean? I saw Brian Wiltson's mangled corpse. I can accept that fact."

"But you've got this interference between you and your memories of what you saw."

"So what am I supposed to do?"

"I can't answer that, I only know enough psychology to be dangerous, I'd recommend you go see a therapist and just talk, like we're doing now. That's the only way to put this behind you, deal with it now, otherwise..." he trailed off.

"Otherwise what?" I demanded.

"That voice might start to make sense," he said simply.

"I, uh, don't know how much of a help this will be, but my sister Quinn saw Brian the night he died," I said, trying to change the topic.

"She did? When and where?"

"She was a little vague about that part."

Fraser jotted something down on a notebook. "I'll talk to her as soon as the two of us are done."

"Have these interviews been useful at all?"

Fraser shrugged, "It's investigatorial busy work, but we might get lucky and find out something. Like the information your sister might have."

"Do you think you'll catch this guy now, before anyone else dies?"

"I always think that, you can't think otherwise." He closed his notebook. "So, are you going to be ok?"

"Between you, my boyfriend, and my friend Jane, I just might be. Assuming I don't snap and punch out Mr. O'Neill."

Fraser chuckled, "Don't worry about him, or the rest of them Daria, they're just trying to find an explanation for why this happened."

"I guess," I said grudgingly, "Still, it seems wrong."

Fraser clapped me on the shoulder, "You know the truth at least, so do other people I'm sure. Just do your best to keep Brian's memory intact with you and things will work themselves out."

"One can always hope so," I said before walking out of the room and heading back to class.

Monday, Office of Principal Angela Li, 3:30pm

I stretched and tried to work the kinks out of my back. It hadn't been easy but we'd managed to interview the majority of the students at Lawndale High. All that stood between me and a long night of reading was a courtesy call to the principal. As I rounded the corner next to the office the door to the office started to open. I ducked back around the corner and watched as a man in blue coveralls walked out.

"I still say this is highly irregular, and I hope you don't expect to get paid anything extra for this little 'service' of yours." I heard Li say from the other side of the door. Needless to say my interest was piqued and I examined the man a little more closely. He was tall, between six three or six five, weight around two hundred and twenty pounds. His hair was black. In every conventional sense of the word he was a very attractive individual. The name on his coveralls read "Julian."

"Look Ms. Li, like I said before," his voice was curt, but not mean. "This is free, I just want to look at the tapes to make sure there aren't any focus issues with the cameras."

"Tapes," I muttered, I felt a flicker of something in the back of my head, "Hmm, those might be worth checking out. Better find out how new these cameras are." I had noticed the camera's in the classrooms, but it hadn't occurred to me that there might be archived tapes.

"Well, if it's free, ok fine. You still have your key to the control room?"

The man nodded, "Yes, I do. I'll return your tapes within the next couple of days and make any adjustments that need to be made to the cameras."

"But be quick about it, I don't like holes in my archives."

I decided now was as good a time as any to make an entrance. "Oh, sorry Principal Li. I didn't know you were in the middle of something."

Li stared at me nervously, probably wondering just how much I had heard. "Why hello Agent Fraser, it's nothing pressing, just one of those little repair issues that pop up in a school."

The man stared at me, "Agent, huh, are you investigating that murder from over the weekend?"

I nodded, "That I am." It never hurt to talk to people about these cases, mostly to put them at ease and to try to reduce the level of panic.

"Have you learned anything new?"

Of course I have my limits, "Sorry, I can't discuss the details of an ongoing investigation."

"Is there anything you can tell me?"

"That the guy who's doing this is a sick fuck and that unless you're a teenage male between the ages of sixteen and eighteen you don't have a thing to worry about."

"Well that's a relief. If you'll excuse me I have to go do my job. Good luck finding your man Agent Fraser."

"Thanks, although when we catch him it won't be because of luck, but a lot of hard work."

"I'm sure," The repairman walked off. I noted the name of the back of the coveralls, Scheps Video Services, just another tidbit to think about.

"Surveillance cameras?" I asked Li.

"Why yes, we had new parking lot surveillance cameras installed a few weeks ago. Mr. Riggins was just making sure they were working properly."

"I'll need to see all those tapes for the past month."

"Why?"

"To check for anything unusual. I can get a subpoena for them I might add."

Li sighed, "It will take sometime to make the copies."

"That's ok, I can detail a couple of Agents to the job and have some dubbing machines flown in"

"That would be very kind of you."

"My goal is to make sure we both get through this difficult time as smoothly as possible." Actually my job was to find a killer at all costs, but right now playing nice seemed like the better approach.

"I'm sure," Li muttered. "Now what was it you wanted?"

"I just wanted to let you know we're done interviewing your students."

"So you'll be leaving?"

"Why Ms. Li, if I didn't know any better I'd say you were trying to hide something from me." I knew she was actually, the amount of illegal surveillance gear in the school was astounding. But this wasn't the time or the place to get into that.

"No, not at all, it's just we're all trying to put this terrible tragedy behind us and we can't do that with an army of FBI agents reminding everyone of the fate of their classmate. I suppose I can let you make copies of my master tapes, since the backups are already in use, but it has to be done quickly, I don't like being without my master tapes."

I nodded, she did have a point, "I am sorry for that, I'm just doing everything I can to make sure this is the last school to have to go through this ordeal. I'll send a pair of agents by later tonight for those tapes. Have a good afternoon Ms. Li." I said with as much faux courtesy as I could muster. I turned and walked away before Li could offer up a retort. I walked out of the school and found Sarah waiting for me by the car. "The principal keeps an archive of all the surveillance cameras on school grounds." I said bluntly, "Get on the phone to Quantico and have them send down a couple A/V technicians along with whatever gear they need." She nodded and got out her phone. "If we're really lucky the killer is on one of those tapes," I said, stating the obvious. "One more thing," I said suddenly. "Check and see if any of the other schools had security cameras set up and if they kept their tapes." Sarah nodded as she spoke on the phone. As I steered the car out of the parking lot I saw Daria talking to some guy next to an incredibly rusty Jag. "Must be her boyfriend," I mused, "Maybe she will be okay after all." I waved to Daria as I drove past.

----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----

I saw Agent Fraser wave at me as he drove past. I returned the greeting.

"Who was that?" Tom asked.

"The FBI Agent who I talked to last night."

"What's he doing here?"

"Interviewing students about Brian."

"Who?"

"The kid who died."

"Ahh, did you talk to him today?"

I nodded, "Yeah."

"About what?"

I shrugged, "Stuff."

"How illuminating."

"Tom," I growled.

"I know, I know, you don't want to talk about it."

"No, I do just..."

"Not right now, yeah, I understand."

I frowned, "Why is that?"

"Why is what?"

"Why do you have to always be so damn supportive and understanding? You're here to meet me when school's over. You don't get pissed off when I don't talk to you about my day."

"What would you have me do?" Tom asked in a reasonable tone.

"Get pissed off, yell at me. Stop being a punching bag, stand up for yourself," I said angrily. I could feel myself beginning to fly into a rage.

"Would that do any good. If I yelled at you would you be more inclined to talk to me?"

"Well..." I paused, "No, it probably wouldn't," I conceded, the anger draining out of me.

"But let me guess, it's easier to be mad at me than it is to think about all this other shit."

I nodded slowly, "Yeah, it is."

"That's comforting to know," Tom said with a chuckle. In spite of myself I felt a smirk creep onto my face. "Oh ho, a smile, what a rare treat," Tom said warmly.

"You can be a real jackass, you know that right?"

He chuckled, "I try."

I'm not sure if it was love or relief, but I suddenly felt the urge to hug Tom, which I did.

"Oof! What's this for?"

"Complaining?"

"Oh no, most certainly not, just curious."

"It's for being here at this moment," I answered, looking up at him.

"I guess I should be here more often," Tom said wryly.

"If you really want to go above and beyond the call of duty you'll be here tomorrow."

"What happens tomorrow?"

"The Brian Wiltson Memorial Pep Rally. I hear C-SPAN and CNN will both be covering it live."

"Does this have anything to do with that armband you're wearing?"

I glanced down and saw that I did in fact still have on the armband I was given in English. I quickly tore it off. "It's supposed to show our solidarity with the plight of Brain and everyone like him," I recited.

"Dead people?" Tom asked, perplexed.

I shook my head, "Gays who are still in the closet."

"So this Brian guy was gay?"

"No!" I said sharply. "He wasn't, but everyone thinks so because it makes them feel better. 'Oh, I don't have to worry, he's only killing gays, and I'm not gay. Damn shame about that gay kid though.' It's just your typical Lawndale bullshit." I fingered the cheaply embroidered rainbow for a moment before tossing it on the ground.

"Hey, they don't know any better. People see a news story that says all the victims were gay and they believe it."

"Plus it gives the gay community a perfect group of martyrs for their cause. I don't know what's more troubling. The way Brian died or the way people are using him now that he's dead."

"Especially since he can't stand up for himself." Tom paused, "I think I just made a pun in really bad taste."

"Wait, what did you just say?"

"About the pun?"

"No, what did you mean by the pun?"

"Just that he's dead so he can't speak for himself."

"Hmm,"I could feel an idea begin to form.

"What'cha planning?" Tom asked.

"Who says I'm planning anything?" I replied coyly.

"You've got that look on your face. Come on, let me help out. Jane used to tell me all these stories about who the two of you would concoct these schemes to get back at the people who pissed you of. I want in on the fun."

"Well ok, I guess you can give me a hand," I said grudgingly.

"Great!" Tom leaned over and kissed me.

"If you keep that up we wont get much scheming done," I said before kissing him back.

"I can live with that," He said with a grin, sometimes for all his intelligence Tom could be so typically male, as Ms. Barch likes to say.

"Get in the car, we've got a speech to write," I ordered Tom.

"Yes, ma'am." We got into Tom's rust bucket. As we drove out of the parking lot I saw a man in blue coveralls staring at me.

"I wonder who that was?" I thought as Tom swung the car onto the street. "Oh well, must have been a plumber or something." I put the man out of mind and focused on the task in front of me. "Where are we going anyway?" I asked.

"My house, my parents wont be in until much later and Elsie is staying with some friends."

"Sounds to me like an excellent environment to scheme," I commented dryly.

"That's what I thought. I figure we can get in several good hours of scheming before you have to go home."

"Have I mentioned I like the way you think Tom Sloane?" I said as I leaned over to kiss him.

"When you say scheme you do mean make out, right?" Tom asked innocently.

"Tom, just drive the car."

"Yes ma'am."

----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----

Julian Riggins stood and watched as the rusted Jag drove away. He couldn't believe it. That was the girl from the video. She had been standing right there, not a hundred feet away from him. He had very nearly rushed over to talk to her then and there, but then he saw something that had shocked him. A battered car pulled up next to the girl and a boy got out.

"No," he had whispered to himself when he saw the two hug. "She's not supposed to have a boyfriend, especially one who's one of them." He clenched the duffel bag full of tapes and files tightly as he watched her debase herself with that...boy.

"She's been deceived," he told himself. "That must be it. He's pulled the wool over her eyes, but she has to be shown the truth, and when she does she'll understand everything." He watched as the girl drove off. For a brief moment she looked his way and their eyes locked. He felt a shiver run down his spine. "Yes, she's definitely the one I've been looking for. I could follow them now...No, not now, patience. The FBI is still here in force." He took a deep breath and walked to his car.

He walked past a small cluster of FBI agents milling around a black Suburban. His teeth involuntarily bared for a moment, the conversation he'd had with that FBI agent had irked him greatly. It had been a thrill to be that close to the man who was trying to capture him, but still Fraser totally misunderstood him.

"I'm not crazy," he thought to himself. "They just don't understand why I have to do this. But she understands, she can explain it to them, make them understand why." He paused and collected himself again, now was not the time to make a scene. He'd go home, find out who that girl was and go from there. He'd waited a long time to get to this point, it made no sense to blow it now. He got into his car and drove home. He waved to the FBI agents as he drove past.

Monday, Lawndale PD, Conference Room A 6:30pm

This was the part of the job I hated the most, the endless meetings. I'd gone charging tactically blind into hostile buildings with less dread than I felt for these meetings. Mostly because there was rarely anything new to discuss at them, just mind-numbing sessions where we'd spin our wheels. At the moment we were in the middle of a conference call with the crew back at Quantico.

"Steve, good call on the videotape. We checked and all the other schools had camera coverage of school grounds. We have agents going to pick up whatever tapes the schools still have right now."

I shrugged, a futile gesture when talking on the phone. "Just luck, I walked in on the Lawndale principal talking to a service guy." I paused, something didn't seem quite right. "They all had surveillance cameras?"

"Yeah, most of the systems were pretty new as well, installed a couple of weeks before the murders. Only good thing to come out of Columbine I guess."

"Yeah, lucky us," I muttered. I knew we'd just found another piece of the puzzle, but I didn't know where it went.

"What about the ketamine?" Agent Chilton asked. "Can we trace that?"

Sarah shook her head. "Unfortunately no. There's too much loose ketamine floating around. Every vet in the country has a supply of the stuff and if they come up a little short it just gets chalked up to teenagers looking for a buzz. We could run a search on all recent purchases, but I doubt it will amount to much."

"Do it anyway," I said. "Who knows what it will turn up." Heads nodded around the table, if nothing else it was something to do. We could at least pretend we were making headway. "Ok, the girl, how's that going?" I asked.

"There's an agent, right now it's Agent Lews, near her at all times, the phone tap is in place and we're screening their mail at the post office."

"Anything good yet?"

"Depends on what you think good is. We know all about the social life of every eligible bachelor at the high school thanks to the sister, we know that the mother is an ass-kissing work-a-holic, and we know that the father's a head case." Agent Pemberton looked up from a sheet of paper. "Boss, these people never get off the phone."

The table got a chuckle out of the Morgendorffer's idiosyncrasies. "Okay, keep the tap running and send my condolences to the guys listening in on the line."

"I still don't think we have to worry about the girl," A disembodied voice from Quantico said.

"Why is that Ray?" Sarah asked.

"There's nothing to suggest it. We have three additional dead bodies sure, but all of them died from other causes. I think it's just coincidence."

"Then what about the phone call and letters?" I asked, we'd had this debate before but it never hurt to go over the facts again.

"Those are from the killer sure. I think we all agree these killings are messages. He's trying to see if the people who found the bodies got that message. Why that is I don't know, probably from a sense of alienation."

"But it doesn't hurt to be careful so keep up the observation right?" I asked.

"No, it doesn't, and we do know that the killer is interested in her so that might be our avenue to him."

"We won't use the girl as bait," I said forcefully. I did not want to face the parents if that blew up in our face.

"We'll see what you say three weeks from now."

I sighed, "We're not getting anywhere, let's call it quits and reconvene tomorrow. Thanks for your input guys," I said as I killed the line. "Ok people, tomorrow is the memorial service. I'll want a few agents there to keep an eye on things. This weekend we've got the funeral, I'll want a large detail there. Everybody else, keep on doing what you're doing. Alright, get back to it." The agents got up and started to disperse. "Hey Sarah," I called out.

"Yeah?"

"Could you wait up a moment?"

"Sure, what's up Steve?"

"I was just wondering if you'd like to go grab some dinner."

"Sure, I'm starving."

"Great, then maybe afterward we can check out the town some, I still don't have a really good sense of the place."

"Why Steve, are you asking me out on a date? During a case no less."

"Not at all, I just want to clear my head for a while and wanted to know if you'd like to do the same." I replied innocently. Actually I was hoping we'd end up fucking each other senseless because let's face it; Sarah is a damn fine looking woman, and it had been a long time since I'd gotten any action. Of course I wasn't going to say that to her.

"I can read your thoughts Steve," She said coyly.

"Oh really?"

"Yes, I can and you should be ashamed of yourself, we're coworkers!"

Inwardly I winced, never think impure thoughts around a person with a degree in forensic psychology. "Still want to go out?" I asked, going for broke.

"Hell yes, let's go."

I chuckled and offered my arm, "M'lady your carriage awaits."

She took my arm, "Why thank you good sir."

"I'm curious, what tipped you off to my true intentions?"

Sarah laughed, "Years spent studying the human animal, plus you spent the entire meeting staring at my breasts."

"I'll have to work on that won't I?"

"Yes, yes you will," She agreed as we walked out of the conference room.

Monday, Sloane Residence, 8:00pm

"Are you sure all this is necessary?" Tom asked me.

"What?" I replied, looking up from the book I was reading. We were in the Sloane library with lots of books strewn about.

"This whole speech, are you even sure you'll need to give it, not to mention will you be allowed to give it?"

"The assembly will be as bad as I say it will be, probably worse. This will most definitely be a futile gesture, but I want to make it."

"Plus you'll get to tell the school off on national television."

"There is that," I admitted. "But that's not why I want to do this."

"Oh really, so why?"

I paused, then continued, I had to talk to somebody. "It just all seems so wrong to me. They're forgetting the basic fact here in this rush to show tolerance and understanding."

"What's that?"

"This kid is dead, not because he was gay or straight, but just because. And to use him for their political agendas is abusing his memory just as badly as the killer abused his body."

"Wow, you really care about this guy."

I shook my head, "I never knew him, he didn't mean that much to me."

"I know, that's the intro to the speech. I helped you write it."

"Tom, you're being flip again," I said threateningly.

"Sorry, you were saying?"

"It's just that there's nobody for him. All these people around and none of them really care about the victim."

"And you're the person to do that?"

"I found him Tom, none of these other people really know what happened to him."

"And you're the person who does?"

"Not entirely, but I saw what that twisted bastard did to that boy. I could feel the madness required to do such a thing. I'm the one who keeps seeing him in my nightmares."

"You're having nightmares about it?" Tom asked, instantly concerned.

"Wouldn't you?"

"Probably, but tell me about yours."

"Not much to say Brian's in them and he's trying to tell me something but I can't hear it."

"Why not?"

"Because there's this other voice shouting over him."

"So you think this other voice is the crap that's being said about him now that he's dead."

"That's a really good interpretation, I'll use that," I said quickly.

"That wasn't what you thought?"

"No, I thought it was the killer," I mumbled.

"But isn't that the same? The killer is also obscuring the truth about Brian's life by killing him."

"I suppose."

"Why do I get the feeling you think it has nothing to do with Brian?"

"Because I don't, every time I think about the park I hear that voice, and quite frankly I thought I was going insane."

"Are you?"

"Agent Fraser doesn't seem to think so. He said it's just me not being able to deal with what I saw."

"He sounds like a pretty smart guy."

"I guess so, and I will say this, since we've started working on this speech I haven't heard the voice."

"There you go, you're not insane."

"I'm still not one hundred percent sure about that."

"If it helps I don't think you're nuts," Tom said before hugging me. Of course at that moment Tom's mother walked into the library.

"Oh, pardon me, I didn't mean to interrupt anything." Mrs. Sloane said in what sounded like a not quite sincere voice.

"It's ok Mom, what do you need?"

"Actually I was looking for Daria. You're mother called, she wanted to know when you'd be coming home."

I looked over at the clock and saw how late it had gotten. "Oh, right, is she still on the phone?"

"No, she said she had another call." Mrs. Sloane frowned slightly, "Your mother is a very driven woman isn't she?"

"What is this about?" I wondered to myself. "Uh yes, I guess she is."

"I'm the chairwoman of the local chapter of NOW and we're looking for someone to name Businesswoman of the Year. Naturally I thought your mother would be an ideal choice. A committed lawyer with one of the largest law firms in Lawndale, and yet she's still managed to find the time to raise two daughters. Why, we could use her as a poster woman for a national campaign celebrating the working mother." Trust me, on the inside I was laughing my ass off. "Do you think she'd be interested in the nomination?"

I paused, unsure of how to respond. "On one hand an award like this would be great for mom, and a real honor," I told myself. "But it would also probably shove her into one of those overly maternal guilt ridden fits she's prone to. Then again how many times do you get to do something nice for your mother while being critical of her at the same time?" I smirked. "She'd love it Mrs. Sloane."

"Excellent, I'll give her the good news tomorrow, in person, maybe as a lunch date, and take the opportunity to have a good mother to mother chat about our two babies."

"Damn," I swore to myself, "Uh, Mom's usually too busy at the firm for lunch." I said quickly, trying to dissuade Mrs. Sloane.

"Oh nonsense, I'll just call Eric Schrecter tomorrow and tell him to give his star lawyer an uninterrupted hour for lunch." There are times when it can be damn annoying having a boyfriend whose parents are two of the most powerful members of the community.

"I'm sure Mom will appreciate that more than the award," I said dryly.

She laughed, "I'm sure." She looked around the room. "Just what exactly are the two of you working on, if I might ask."

Tom glanced at me before speaking. "We were putting together a little speech for the memorial service for that student who died over the weekend."

"Oh, the gay boy?" I winced when I heard that. "The GLBA has approached the Sloane Foundation about a grant to fund more educational programs in high schools."

"But what if he wasn't gay?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"All this talk is dependent on one fact, that Brain was gay, but what if he wasn't gay?"

"Daria, dear, that changes nothing, the Gay Lesbian and Bisexual Alliance still needs the money, and can put it to good use. If the unfortunate fate of this poor boy makes it easier, then that's a positive to come out of a tragedy.

"So you don't believe he was gay?"

"I didn't say that. The FBI has said the killer stalks then kills these boys, and that he's a homophobe. I can put two and two together. And I must say I'm glad the two of you are dating. Tom does look something like the boy who was killed. I'd hate to see anything happen to my son just because he looks like some psychopath's mental image of a gay person...not that I'd love you any less if you were Tom."

"You might be interested to hear that Brian, the boy who was killed, dated my sister," I said nastily. The cross expression on Mrs. Sloane's face told me my welcome was wearing thin. "I'd better head home, don't want Mom to get too worried, bye Mrs. Sloane." I started to walk out of the room.

"I'll give her a ride home, I'll be back soon," Tom said quickly. He then rushed to catch up with me. "That wasn't a very nice thing to do to my mother." He said when we were out of earshot.

"She has only herself to blame," I said curtly. "She's the one who's buying into a lie to make herself feel better."

"Still you didn't have to cut her down like that."

I sighed, "No, probably not. Would you mind apologizing for me when you get the chance?"

Tom chuckled, "I'll be sure to mention that you've been pretty stressed out lately."

"Thanks, I think."

"Oh hey, I think you'll need this." Tom handed me a small collection of three by five cards.

I took them and briefly scanned the first one. It was the text of my speech. "You're probably right, thanks."

"You're going to go through with this aren't you?"

"I think so, it's something that needs to be done."

"Then go with god Don Quixote."

"Only if you drive me home Sancho," I replied. That's why I liked hanging out with the boy, he can keep up with me.

"Certainly, but we won't be stopping for any windmills will we?"

"Don't worry, the windmills are on the schedule for tomorrow, I'm conserving my energy till then."

Tom frowned, "Hey wait a minute, I'm Sancho?"

"What's wrong with being Sancho?"

"Nothing I just thought that Jane would be a better Sancho."

"And that leaves you as who?"

"Why Dulcinea of course."

"I hate to be the one to break this to you Tom, but you'd look terrible in a dress."

"Like you'd look any better in a battered suit of armor."

"Point taken, well in this version of the story Quixote and Sancho have a different sort of relationship."

"I have no problem with that," Tom replied before leaning over and kissing me.

"Are you sure that's a good idea, we are standing on your front porch after all."

"So?"

"Do you really want to have a little chat with your parents about the virtues of prenuptial agreements?"

"You make a good point. Come on, let's go somewhere a little more secluded."

"I was thinking we go to my house before my mom calls out the National Guard."

"Not to mention the FBI."

"They're already following me," I pointed to a nondescript sedan sitting parked across the street. "Wave to the nice agents."

"How long did you say they'd be hanging around?"

"Another month or so, why?"

"Because I figure that's about how long it'll be before we can find a quiet place to ourselves."

"Think you can wait that long?"

"I don't know, I might have to find somebody new for the interim."

"Tom that was decidedly not funny. You are this close to getting the ever loving shit beaten out of you."

"Oh hell Daria, I'm sorry. That was incredibly stupid of me."

"It was, and I'm not going to let you off easily either." I wasn't going to say so but the jackass had just touched on one of my deeper fears about our relationship, that he'd get bored with me and move on to someone else.

"It was a totally thoughtless thing for me to say. How can I make it up to you?"

I stared at Tom for a long while. It was a little unfair of me to punish him for my neurosis, but on the other hand he did have a disturbing habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I sighed, "For starters you can take me home. Then you can meet me outside school after that assembly."

"And after that?"

"We go from there."

"Now that I can do. Shall we go?"

"No, I want to campout on your front porch."

"Okay, okay it was a dumb question. I was just trying to be polite, sue me."

"Never tell the daughter of Helen Morgendorffer that," I said, smirking.

Tom chuckled, "Yeah, you're right, forget I said anything." We walked to Tom's car. "Oh, what did you think of the award for your mother?" He asked as he helped open my door.

"I think it's deliciously twisted, do I sense your sick brain at work?"

Tom slid into the driver's seat of the car. "Your mother's name might have been casually mentioned at an opportune moment by a certain evil genius. Do you approve?"

"How could I not? Not only does it give her career a boost, but it'll provide for years of guilt over her parenting skills. I couldn't have planned it any better." I leaned over and kissed him.

"So I'm forgiven?"

"Tom you just 'got' my mother better than I have in my entire life, of course I forgive you."

"Even though our moms are going to be having lunch together?"

"Law of unintended consequences. Besides, I'm sure your mother has plenty of juicy stories to share too."

Tom pounded the steering wheel. "Damn!"

Monday, Home of Julian Riggins, 11:21 PM

Riggins closed the file in front of him, "So her, name is Daria Morgendorffer." He ran his hand over the lettering on the folder. "Daria," he said again, letting the name roll off his tongue, "Daria, Daria, Daria, we're going to have quite a talk you and I. I'm going to show you just why I'm doing this so you can tell everyone."

He frowned, he had looked over all the tapes and he still had not found the boy he had seen Daria with that afternoon. "Who was he?" Riggins wondered. "Oh well, it doesn't really matter who he is. I'll use him to show Daria the truth. Once she sees how he's used her she'll agree to help me, no, she'll beg to help me." He stood up and walked into another room, moving past a large picture of a man in a Marine uniform. He had a lot to do to prepare for Daria's arrival. He took a pad and pencil from his bag, but first he was going to check the quality of the picture the surveillance cameras were taking. He had promised Li that he was going to do it, and Julian Riggins was a man of his word, if nothing else.

Tuesday, Lawndale PD Crime Lab, Tuesday, 1:30pm

I rubbed the bridge of my nose in frustration. I'd been helping the video techs look over the surveillance tapes from the various schools in the hopes of spotting the killer, or at least catching a break. So far we'd come up with squat.

"Keep at it guys," I told the techs. "I'm going to get some coffee." I walked out of the lab and headed for the coffee maker. I fished my cell phone from a jacket pocked and dialed a number.

"Pemberton? It's Fraser, has the memorial started yet? Ok, let me know if you see anything out of the ordinary." I broke the connection and dialed another number, "Grisman? It's Fraser, the memorial service is about to start. Is everything set on your end? Yes I know it's a stupid question, I'm the boss remember. Just do your job and let me know if anything comes up." I ended the call and poured three cups of coffee.

"Anything good guys?" I asked as I walked back into the lab.

"Sorry Agent Fraser, nothing yet," Agent Sorenstam, the senior tech told me before helping himself to a cup of coffee.

"I don't think we're going to find the guy on the tapes." The other tech, Agent Kirkdale, said.

"Why is that?" I asked as I handed Kirkdale the other cup of coffee.

"Thanks," Kirkdale took a sip of the coffee then made a face. "Basically if he was staking out the school's in view of these cameras we would have spotted him."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because as we've been watching the tape it's been fed into the computer which looks over the film and catalogs every time someone who fits the killer's physical profile appears. It them runs the person's picture through the DMV database and spits out its findings."

"Wow, that's pretty cool."

"It's not perfect, but it's a major timesaver."

"That's good because you're about to get a lot more tape."

"The network feeds of that school service?"

I nodded, "We're getting copies of everything they tape, and CNN agreed to have a couple cameras trained on the crowd at all time for reaction shots."

"Nice touch."

"That's what I thought, it was Agent Seda's idea. The blind pig theory at work." The two techs chuckled dutifully and got back to work. I toyed with a tape case as they worked. "Hey guys, I've got a question for you. All the Lawndale tapes have been gone over, right?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Were any of those tapes from in the school? Classrooms, bathrooms, that sort of thing?"

"No, it was all exterior shots, why do you ask?" Sorenstam replied.

"Because the school was filled with surveillance gear, and I was curious if any of those tapes were turned over."

"Well no, we didn't see anything like that, isn't that illegal anyway?"

"Honestly, I have no idea, depends on the state I think, but it's definitely bad public relations to admit you're videotaping everything your students are doing."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that these days boss. I'm waiting for schools to have riot cops on standby twenty-four seven," Kirkdale commented.

"Keeps us in business I guess," I offered lamely. "Ok, so the Principal of the school has a clandestine video surveillance system in place, probably paid for with diverted school funds. Do we care?"

Agent Sorenstam shrugged, "I'm just a tech, but I'd say no, the principal doesn't have any obvious ties to the other killings right?"

I nodded, "Nope, she doesn't."

"So hand it off to the local PD or the RICO people and see if they have a case, but what do i know, I'm just a tech. I'm sure you'll talk about it during a strategy session, or whatever it is you profilers do."

"No, you're right, it's not a part of the scope of the case, we don't have to pursue it." I felt like there was something to the cameras but I couldn't think of what. "I'll mention it to Agent Raines when she gets back from canvassing," I promised myself.

My phone rang, "Fraser here."

"Agent Fraser, it's Grisman, are you watching this service?"

"No."

"You should be."

"Why?"

"Just turn it on, you wont like it."

"Great," I reached over an turned on a small TV. As the screen came to life the picture resolved to a shot of Daria Morgendorffer. "Oh shit."

"Yeah."

The phone beeped, telling me there was another call. "Thanks for telling me Grisman, keep sharp." I broke link with Grisman and answered the new call. "Fraser here."

"Fraser, it's Pemberton, we've got a problem."

I watched the TV, "Yeah."

Tuesday, Lawndale High Gym, 1:30 P.M.

Jane and I were sitting towards the back of the bleachers watching the gym fill up. Attendance at this even was of course mandatory. From where I was sitting I could see my sister and the rest of the Fashion Club primping themselves in preparation for their close ups. The football team was sitting in uniform on a garishly decorated stage set at one end of the gym. The TV cameras were positioned on the other end with a couple of cameramen wandering around, filming the crowd. There were also several serious looking men in suits trying to blend in with the television crews. The other section of bleachers and the remaining floor space was filled with people from the town.. Large banners hung from the ceiling and students held signs with such pithy messages as "Brian we'll miss you," or "Brian we'll always love you."

"Ten bucks says the 'non-denominational' benediction turns quite denominational before it's done," Jane commented as she read through the program.

"No deal, that's a suckers bet."

"Damn, ah well, it was worth a shot. Oh look, most of the agenda is dedicated to 'student reflections.' Think it would look bad if a TV camera caught me asleep?"

"Don't worry, I'll make it lively."

"How...you're going to speak aren't you?"

"I was thinking about doing an interpretive dance, but I just didn't have the time to perfect the choreography."

"So, what'cha gonna talk about? And why wasn't I in on it?"

"Wait and see. Tom really wanted a turn at being my partner-in-crime, and who was I do deny him that?"

"Daria, is there anything you wouldn't deny Tom?"

"My toothbrush."

"Attention students!" Ms. Li's voice cut Jane off. "Before we get started, and the cameras turn on, let me remind you all that there will be no inappropriate behavior directed at the cameras, do no even think about bringing that sort of dishonor on Lawndale High at such a glor...er I mean tragic moment." A man in a headset flashed Li a thumbs up. "It seems we will be going live soon." The man started counting down, "So remember, best behavior or you'll get it." The director reached zero before Li finished. "Er, are we live?" She asked, the director nodded. "Ah, welcome everyone to the Brian Wiltson Memorial Service. I'm Angela Li, the principal of Lawndale High. I would like to ask Reverand Ernest Rabb of the United Episcopalian Church to lead us in a non-denominational benediction." Li returned to her seat on the dais, next to several "important" members of the Lawndale community.

A minister stood up from his seat and solemnly walked to the podium. "Let us pray," he intoned. Everyone around me bowed their heads.

Now I admit I've always felt a little awkward in such situations. I don't share these people's beliefs, but I also don't want to appear totally insensitive, especially during something of the assembly's nature. I stole a glance at Jane to try and take a cue from her, but saw that she had assumed the lotus position and appeared to be intently mediating. I decided that was something I didn't want to do while wearing a skirt and settled on a middle ground of staring at my lap. The minister droned on and I took the opportunity to go over my speech one last time.

"...and all blessings flow from you oh Lord, Amen."

"Amen," the crowd murmured.

I nudged Jane, "Hey Jane, wake up."

Jane opened her eyes, "I wasn't asleep."

"Could've fooled me."

"I was practicing my faith, Zen Buddhism."

"Zen Buddhism?"

"Yeah my family lived in a Zen Buddhist temple for several months when I was little. So now whenever anyone asks me what my religion is I say Zen Buddhist."

"Why am I not surprised."

"So I wasn't sleeping I was working on attaining oneness while being distracted like the monks who meditate while being beaten."

"There's a big difference between 'meditating' during a sermon and having your fellow monks beat on you."

"Well, I'm a lapsed Zen Buddhist, I have to work up to the beatings."

"When you do let me know I'll be glad to help with the beatings, and next time you're 'achieving oneness' try not to snore."

"I wasn't snoring!"

"Thank you Reverend Rabb for that moving benediction. Now, if all the students who wish to share their thoughts on Brian's life and the impact he had, please line up next to the stage," Li told the audience.

I stood up, "That's my cue."

"Who's to say Li will let you talk?"

"She has to, the cameras are rolling."

"Good point, god speed Morgendorffer."

"Thanks, I'll call you tonight." I walked down to the gym floor and made my way to a slowly forming line at the foot of the stage. I fell into line behind Jodie.

"Daria? What are you doing here?"

"What, this isn't the line for the re-education center?"

To her credit Jodie failed to rise to the bait. "You're going to say a few words? I'm impressed...wait a minute, just what are you going to say?" She asked suspiciously.

"I'm just going to say that Brian's death was a great tragedy. I figured it would look bad if you were the only person to say something cogent."

"Right, but if it's all the same to you I think I'll let you go after me."

"That's probably for the best."

"Oh great, they're letting Kevin talk," Jodie sighed as we watched Kevin walk up to the podium.

"Of course, we want to put our best foot forward."

"Our best foot?" Jodie asked dubiously.

"Foot, ass, same difference."

"Hey, I'm Kevin Thompson. Brian was my teammate, and he was a really cool guy. He never acted gay around me or any of the other guys. But everyone says he was gay, so I guess he was. So, if Brian was gay, and still a cool guy then..." Kevin was obviously building momentum, "I'm gay too!"

"Kevie, no!" Brittany shrieked.

"It's okay babe, I'll always have time for you..." Kevin said as he walked away from the microphone.

"They sure broke the mold when they made Kevin," Jodie commented.

"Yeah, on purpose," I added. "So, what are you going to say?"

"Oh you know, how Brian's death was a tragedy and illustrates how all minorities have to unify..."

"And overthrow the Imperial Overlords."

"Daria, that's not what I meant."

"I know, what you meant was that the struggle for acceptance is universal among all minorities, regardless of race, creed or sexuality, and by coming together you can make the task of bringing understanding to the majority that much easier."

"You read my notes didn't you."

I shook my head, "No, but it did seem like the sort of thing you'd say in a situation like this."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Jodie asked, her eyes narrowing to slits.

"Just that when push comes to shove you tent to bow to the force of political expediency."

"Daria, that's not true, and that you'd even think that is..."

"Save your righteous indignation for later, you're on."

Jodie turned and saw that the podium was open. "We'll talk about this later."

"Knock 'em dead," I called out as she walked up to the podium. I tuned out most of Jodie's speech. It pretty much went as I thought it would. As she talked I steeled myself for my turn on the dais. "You can do this Morgendorffer. There aren't any cameras, there's no national audience, these people in the theater aren't really here. Just get up there and speak your mind, full speed ahead." I kept repeating that mantra until Jodie walked past.

"Your turn Daria," Jodie said as she walked past me.

"Great, wish me luck."

"That's remarkably unspecific."

"You may or may not like what I'm going to say, so I figured I'd give you some leeway."

"Well, good luck Daria."

"Thanks," I took a deep breath and walked up to the podium. A man wearing a headset and holding a clipboard met me.

"What's your name?" He asked in a bored manner.

"Daria Morgendorffer," I spelled it for him.

"And what are you going to be talking about?"

"The real tragedy of Brian's death," I replied blandly.

"Ok, no profanity or obscene gestures, if you do we yank you, and please keep your comments short. Sign here please." He handed me the clipboard and a pen.

"What's this?"

"A release so we can put your name and image on TV, plus it gives CNN the rights to use your likeness and anything you might say in future programming."

I shrugged, and signed the release, "Whatever, can I go up there now?"

"Sure, oh, one more thing, if you feel the need to cry, go with it."

I stared at the producer darkly, "I'll keep that in mind." I walked up to the podium. I took the index cards holding my speech out of my pocket and placed them in front of me. The microphone was a little too high so I adjusted it. I scanned the audience as I collected myself. I saw Tom sitting in the crowd. Our eyes met and he flashed me a thumbs up. Despite whatever else you might say about the boy, he certainly was supportive. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and began to speak.

"Hello, my name is Daria Morgendorffer, Brian Wiltson didn't mean anything to me while he was alive. He was just another face in my English class. Brian did mean something to other people though. My friend Jane liked to stare at him when our teacher wasn't saying anything important, which was most of the time. My sister Quinn went out on dates with him, as she does with most of the male students in school. She also thought he was a 'really nice guy.' I suspect if given the chance Quinn would have happily pursued a more serious, steady relationship with Brian. And apparently the football team thought he was a cool dude. But now he's dead, and here's the odd thing, he still means different things to different people, only now those meanings are radically different. My sister Quinn is sad because the second person she's ever felt romantically inclined towards is dead, and then everyone else is sad because, guess what, Brian was really gay. So now he's a martyr for the gay right's cause. But none of that really means anything to me either, mostly because Brain Wiltson wasn't gay."

I moved on to the next index card. "Yes, I know what the papers said, but I also pay attention to what the people investigating the case say, which is that none of the victims were gay. However, since it makes us feel better if we think the victims were different from us we made Brian gay. Since it advances one interest group's political agenda they made Brian gay. Since it's a more sensational news story if the victims have hidden lives the media made Brian gay. Brian's actual life isn't important, what's important is that the GLBA gets their grant from the Sloane foundation, what's important is that we all buy those ugly armbands that Ms. Li is selling at a substantial profit. Through these actions we're killing the memory of Brian just as brutally as the madman who killed Brian's body."

I flipped to my third card. "Now as I've said, Brian didn't mean anything to me while he was alive so people might be wondering why I'm speaking up now. The answer is simple, I was the person who found Brian's mangled corpse Saturday. Brian might not have meant anything to me while he was alive, but in death he means a great deal to me."

"I knew it!" Kevin shouted, "She's always been weird and into freaky things, she did it!" Mack reached over and clamped his hand over Kevin's mouth.

"Brian died a horrible, senseless death, and that is the point. Yes, the causes espoused from this dais are noble and worthy, but not at the cost of one poor boy's memory. Thank you, and good day." I gathered my note cards, walked off the stage and headed for the doors of the gym. Tom got up out of his seat and headed towards the exit to meet me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Jane doing the same. They caught up with me outside the gym.

"Damn Daria, you really do know how to bring the house down," Jane said appreciatively.

"You did great Daria," Tom said, hugging me. "But I think we need to beat a hasty retreat before the press descends on you."

"Good point, Jane we'll catch up with you at your house in a little while."

"And where are you going to be?"

"Finishing this, and I need a car to do that, otherwise Tom wouldn't be invited either."

"Ok, but don't take too long you two." Jane waved and took off.

"So where are we going?" Tom asked as I led him through the school.

"The park, I need to pay some respects."

We drove to the park in silence, I didn't want to say anything and Tom didn't seem to know what to say. When the car came to a stop he did manage to find his tongue.

"Mind telling me why we're here?"

"Because I have to tell Brian I did what he was asking me to do."

"So you can see dead people now?"

"Quiet you, this is important."

"Sorry, sorry, so, what was Brian asking you to do?" Tom help up the police tape for me.

"What do you think, tell the truth about him."

"Not exactly a hard task for you."

"It did involve public speaking, cameras, and a national audience."

"True, but that also means you got a bigger soapbox to stand on."

"So you're saying I was just looking for a way to stroke my ego?"

"No, just that your assigned task seems to be something you'd do anyway."

"The dead know me very well, what can I say."

"Helps that you're the one interpreting what the dead are telling you."

"Hey jackass, focus," I said sharply. Tom could piss me off intensely at times, Another reason I liked having him around, he affected me.

"Oh sorry, so we're here so you can pay your last respects?"

"Pretty much, putting it behind me in order to go forward. Also, I feel like I picked up an unwanted weight in that clearing and the only way to put it down is to go back there."

"What about the killer?"

I frowned, "I'm not going to let some chimera rule my life. I have to do what's necessary for me to live my life."

"Would now be a good time to point out that you can't live your life when you're dead?"

"That's why the FBI is here," I countered. We walked into the clearing. I remember it seemed brighter than it had on Saturday. Other than a rust-colored stain on the grass you'd never know what had happened here. "It's so...quiet," I said.

"Well yeah, what did you expect?" Tom asked.

"I don't really know, just not this much normalcy."

Tom shrugged, "Nature at work I guess."

"I guess," I replied. I walked over to the stain and knelt down next to it. "Well Brian, I've done my best for you, and put my own ass on the line. I hope it's enough for you." I stood back up and turned to face Tom. "Ok, that's all I wanted to do."

"Feeling better for doing so?"

I considered the question for a moment. "Yeah, I think I do."

"Great, let's go to Jane's..." Tom started to say. After that all I could remember was a large form appearing suddenly, me falling backwards, then nothing.

----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----

Julian Riggins couldn't believe his luck, for the second time in as many days he saw Daria Morgendorffer leaving the school at the same time he was. He had been at the school to fix the cameras like he had promised. It meant he had to miss watching the assembly on television, but he had two VCR's recording it.

"It must be a sign," he thought. "I'll follow them and show Daria the truth, but take them where to do so?" he wondered as he followed Tom's Jag. "Of course, that would be the perfect spot, it will bring everything full circle," he said to himself as realization hit. He watched as the Jag pulled into the parking lot of High Hills Park.

"I wonder why they came here?" Riggins pondered as he found a parking space for his van. There were only a few other cars in the lot, which suited Riggins just fine. He climbed into the back of the van and readied himself. He filled two syringes with ketamine and tucked his knife into his coveralls. Riggins got out of the van and entered the park, he had a good idea where Daria was going.

Riggins made his way quietly through the park. "No son of Max Riggins is going to go crashing through the forest," he quoted to himself. AS he got closer to the site where he had punished the boy he saw a man in a suit looking the wrong way. Riggins recognized the man from the Lawndale High parking lot the previous day.

"So, one of the FBI agents is keeping an eye on Daria, well we can't have that." Riggins crept up behidn the agent and withdrew his knife. In one swift motion he grabbed the agent and slashed his knife across the other man's throat. Riggins let the man drop as he jumped back to avoid the spray of arterial blood gushing from the agent's neck. Riggins watched, disinterestedly as the other man bled out and became still. He cleaned the knife on the dead man's clothes and continued on.

He stopped short of the clearing and watched Daria and Tom talk, they were speaking in muted tones so he couldn't make out what they were saying. "He's probably trying to convince her she needs to feel bad about the boy's death, but she knows better. From their body language it was obvious the two were having a disagreement.

He decided to move while they were distracted He ran up behind them and hit Tom on the back of the head with the hilt of his knife. Daria turned to see what had happened, Riggins swept her feet out form under her and she fell to the ground hard. Before Daria could recover, Riggins jabbed one of the syringes into her arm. He injected the other dose of ketamine into Tom's arm and dragged the unconscious teens into the bushes. Taking great care not to be seen Riggins carried his captives out to his vane.

For a moment he debated what to do about Tom's car. "Let the thing rot," he concluded. "It'll take too long to ditch it, and by the time anyone realizes these two are missing we'll all be far away." Before starting the van Riggins bound Daria and Tom's hands and feet with sturdy plastic bindings. Satisfied they were both securely tied Riggins started the van and drove away.

Tuesday, Morgendorffer Residence, 4:47 PM

I parked the rental care near the Morgendorffer house, there were already several Lawndale PD patrol cars there, as well as a small cluster of TV vans.

Sarah got out of the car, "First thing to do is get rid of the press."

I nodded, "Yeah, how?"

"We could kill them."

I shook my head, "They're like the hydra, chop one head off and two grow back in its place. Hey, I've got an idea, why don't you go out and put on a sex show, that'll distract them."

"You know, that is considered sexual harassment. I could sue the pants off you for that remark."

"You don't have to sue me to get my pants off."

"Cute, but it doesn't solve the problem of the reporters."

"Get back in the car, we'll drive around the block and approach the house from the rear."

"What is it with you and this sneaky shit?" Sarah asked as we drove around the block.

"I still think I'm a government killer remember."

"You mean you're not? Aren't you the guy who helps trains Hostage Rescue Teams? And you know they are nothing more than death squads for the New World Order."

"Ok, that's it, no more conspiracy newsgroups for you."

"Sure, spoil all my fun, I post to them with my government account you know."

"Figure," I grumbled as I parked the car. "Come on, let's go be sneaky." We walked through the neighbor's yard and made our way to the back of the Morgendorffers' house.

"Now what, we break in?"

I flipped out my cell phone, "Tempting, but no." I dialed the Morgendorffers' number. "Hello Mrs. Morgendorffer, it's Agent Fraser, yes I want to talk to you too. How about you open up your back door? Great." I returned the phone to my pocket. "Problem solved."

"Smart ass."

The back door opened and Helen Morgendorffer's head appeared. "Hello, Agent Fraser?"

"Right here Mrs. Morgendorffer," I said, moving into her field of view.

"Oh good, come in," She opened the door wider to let us in.

"Thank-you Mrs. Morgendorffer. I'd like you to meet my partner, Special Agent Sarah Raines."

"How do you do Agent Raines."

"It's good to meet you Mrs. Morgendorffer," Sarah replied warmly.

"Oh please, call me Helen." She turned to face me again. "Now, Agent Fraser, what happened to my daughter?"

I took a deep breath, this wasn't going to be fun, "Someone, probably our killer, has kidnapped your daughter and the person she was with at the time, her boyfriend we think."

"Tom?"

"Yes, Tom."

"How could you let that happen? When did that happen? How"

I held up my hands, "Why don't I tell you what I know first, and then you can ask questions, or punch my lights out."

She nodded, "Yes, right, fine."

"Why don't we talk about this sitting down?" Sarah offered.

"Of course, we can sit in the living room, Jake and Jane will want to hear this too."

We walked into the living room. There were a couple police officers talking to Mr. Morgendorffer and a girl who looked to be about Daria's age. I motioned for one of the officers to talk to me. "You guys can take off," I told the officer quietly. "And try to take the press with you. Tell them it was a reported break-in or something." The officer nodded and waved to his partner. The two cops left the house.

"Ok, just what the damn hell is going on damnit? Where's my damn daughter damnit!" Mr. Morgendorffer shouted as his face turned a spectacular shade of red.

"Jake, your heart!" His wife scolded.

"Damnit Helen, forget my damn heart. This is Daria we're talking about, now what the hell happened to her damnit!"

I sighed, this was the part of the job that I hated. "Here's what we know Mr. Morgendorffer. At around two o clock Daria left the high school with a boy around her age."

"That was Tom, her boyfriend," the black haired girl said.

"And you are?"

"Jane Lane, friend of Daria."

"Right, nice to finally meet you. They were followed to High Hills Park by one of my agents."

"That's where I figured they were going," the girl, Jane, chimed in.

"How did you know that?" I asked.

"D'uh, she told me. I talked to her right before she and Tom left the school. They were supposed to go to my house when she was done with some errand."

"So why do you think she was headed for the park?" Sarah asked.

Jane shrugged, "She said she was going to finish something. Considering what all has happened the past few days the park seemed a likely place for something to finish."

I nodded, "Astute guess, she did go to the park, and that's the last thing we know for sure. Agent Chilton, the agent keeping an eye on Daria was found dead near the original murder site. There are a few signs of a struggle as well. What I think happened is that our killer murdered Agent Chilton, then subdued Daria and Tom and took them somewhere."

"We also found a syringe that contained traces of the drug ketamine, it's a powerful anesthetic," Sarah added, "We found traces of the same drug in Brian's body which is why we think the same person is behind both acts."

"But why did it take you so long to realize Daria was missing?" Helen demanded.

"Because Agent Chilton had just reported in and wasn't due to call in for another two hours."

"Oh."

"Let me tell you this right now, Daria is not dead and we will do everything we can to make sure she stays that way."

"How can you be so sure?" Jake Morgendorffer shouted.

"Because she doesn't fit the victim profile," Sarah said calmly. "There's some other motive behind kidnapping her, and it's not murder."

"Look I admit, we got caught with our pants down on this one, but we will find her." I pulled a card out of my pocket and handed it to Helen. "Here's my cell phone number, call me whenever you want I'll be sure to give you the latest update."

"Thank-you."

"It's the least I can do. I'm sorry, I should have taken more steps to ensure her safety, we just didn't think he'd do this."

"Just find Daria Agent Fraser," Jane said simply.

I nodded, "You can count on it. Now if you'll excuse us we have an investigation to run. Plus we have to tell Tom's parents that their son is in the hands of a sociopath."

"Do you want their address?" Helen asked me.

I produced a Palm Pilot from another pocket, "Tom Sloane right? We've got the address."

"Okay, I will be calling you every hour for updates."

"I'm sure you will. Don't worry, it might not look like it now, but we are the best at what we do. We'll get her back safe and sound." Sarah and I said our good byes and left the way we came.

"Well that went better than I expected," Sarah commented.

"At least nobody punched me."

"I know, that's what I meant." Sarah smiled briefly, "Now we get to tell the Sloanes, right?"

I nodded somberly, "Yeah." I lashed out and punched a nearby fence. "Damnit! Why didn't we have a full detail covering her?"

"You know the answer to that as well as I do," Sarah said gently.

"Yeah, we didn't think the threat was credible," I grumbled darkly.

"Come on Steve, you know we can't always be right. I want to nail this son of a bitch as much as you do, but you can't beat yourself up over this. Focus you bastard, isn't that what you're always telling me?"

I took a deep breath, "Yeah, you're right, let's go kick some ass."

"After we talk to the Sloanes."

"Yeah."

Tuesday, Unknown, 6:32pm

Consciousness stole back slowly to my head. I groaned and tried to figure out just where the hell I was. I was in what looked like an office ofsome sort. Aside from some fuzziness in my head I felt ok. At least until I tried to stand up. My ankles were tied together and when I tried to free myself I realized my hand were tied behind my back.

"Great, not only do I not know where I am, but I can't move and I don't even remember how I got here." I struggled against the bindings a little before giving up. Not that I was an expert in bindings but it felt like my wrists were bound with plastic ties. I raised my head and saw my feet were tied together in a similar fashion.

"Wonderful, what the fuck happened? Jane, this isn't funny," I shouted hopefully. "Tom? Quinn? Anybody?" There was no response. "Damn."

Shouting didn't seem to be getting me anywhere so I tried to take stock of the situation. The lights were off, but there was enough fading sunlight shining through a window to see by. The room was small and looked like an office of some sort, just not furnished.

"Okay, so I have no clue where this is, and of course there aren't any phones in here."

I sighed and thought back to the last thing I could remember, "Let's see, Tom and I were in the park..." I looked around the empty room and sighed. "So now I guess I've been kidnapped, and assuming I haven't inadvertently offended a Mafia don, the guy who killed Brian is the person who did it." I muttered to myself. "Looks like Agent Fraser was right, damn him."

Just then the door opened and a figure walked into the room. "Ahh good, you're awake. I'm sorry I had to keep you under for so long, but it was necessary to ensure you'd arrive here safe and sound."

"Who the hell are you and where's Tom?" I said angrily. The man looked familiar, but I couldn't remember where I had seen him before.

"My name isn't important right now, as for your...friend. He is resting comfortably, awaiting his punishment."

"You twisted son of a bitch, don't you dare hurt Tom." My mind was racing, I knew I'd seen this guy recently, but I couldn't remember where.

"Oh, I won't touch him, that's your job."

"What?" I shouted, "Why the fuck do you think I'd want to hurt Tom? You're crazier than I thought."

"I'm not crazy!" The man shouted. "That's just a lie the FBI is telling people to hide the truth."

"You slaughter innocent boys, what else could you be but crazy?"

"I'm doing my job!" he raged. "They got what they deserved. No one understands that...except for you."

"Me?" I asked, incredulously.

"Yes, watch." He took a remote out of his pocket and pressed a button. A monitor built into the wall flared to life. I saw myself, looking at Brian's corpse. "You didn't scream, that was how I knew you were special." He pushed another button and the scene changed to a shot of Mr. O'Neill's classroom. I was chastising Kevin for some reason. "You're not fooled by them, just like me we have a baond, and you are going to help me."

"A bond with you?" I said incredulously. "If I have a bond with anyone it's with Brian, the poor boy you killed."

"But you and Brian had nothing in common. He thought you were a loser, an outcast, and undesirable."

"Maybe, but I'd agree with all of that. And I certainly don't understand why you think he had to die." I realized it was incredibly dumb of me to be arguing with a sociopath, but if he was arguing with me he wasn't hurting Tom.

"You're just saying that because one of them has blinded you."

"Who Tom? What are you talking about?"

"He's one of them."

"One of who?" I asked. "Oh god, if he thinks Tom resembles the other people he's killed...this is not good," I thought. The panic and fear were starting to paralyze my mind.

"The pretty boys."

"The what?" I asked, dumbfounded. "What the hell is a pretty boy?" I wondered inwardly.

"The pretty boys, the people who think they can slip through life like a bunch of girls, just because they're popular and think they're good looking. They don't have any dedication, or commitment to the good of the whole, all they care about are themselves, and for that they have to be punished." What scared me the most wasn't what he said, but how he said it. He never raised his voice, it always remained level and rational sounding. What he said was pure insanity, but the way he said it you'd think he was talking about the weather.

"And before you ask, I know who the pretty boys are because I was one myself, at least until my father punished me." He rolled up his sleeves to reveal an ugly series of scars running up and down his forearms. "But father couldn't finish punishing me because mother took me away. She said he was wrong, that he was a bad man, but I knew better. He was just doing what was best for me. Sometimes that's the hardest road to take. Which is why parents today are too scared to discipline the pretty boys properly. So I'm doing it for them."

"By killing them? I don't think that, in fact I think you're insane, and a monster."

He waved a hand, "That...thing who oozed into your life was just feeding you lies, deep down you know the truth, and soon I'll reveal it to you. Until them I have preparations to make so you should just go back to sleep." He pulled a syringe out of his pocket and jabbed me in the arm with it. The world started to spin, then turn gray, then nothing...

Tuesday, Lawndale PD, Conference Room A, 6:42 PM

I tapped a videotape on the table as people spoke around me. A large TV was set up on the other end of the room. On it the a videotape of Lawndale High's student parking lot was playing. I watched Daria and her boyfriend get in a car and drive off. It felt like the hundredth time I'd watched the clip. There was something about it that was important, but I couldn't think of what. I looked at the timeline of events in front of me, something didn't seem right.

"Ok, what was the time of death on Chilton?" I asked the group.

"Chilton checked in shortly after two. He died sometime shortly thereafter," Pemberton answered.

"And Daria left the school when?"

"According to the friend, about the same time."

"What are you getting at Steve?" Sarah asked.

"How did the killer know where to find her? The time between her speech and the abduction is too small for him to have seen it on TV, tracked her down, killed Chilton, and then kidnapped her."

"So the killer was at the assembly, and followed her from the school," Grisman offered.

"Sounds good, did anyone other than Daria Morgendorffer, Tom Sloane, or Jane Lane leave the gym during the assembly?"

Pemberton looked down at his notes, "Uh, nobody unaccounted for, just a couple of reporters who tried to talk to Morgendorffer."

"So it was someone else inside the school," Sarah mused. "Wait a second, so that means the killer didn't hear Daria admit to finding the body, how did he know?"

"Damn," I swore, "I didn't think of that. Are we sure the killer kidnapped them?"

"The evidence suggests it," Grisman said, "Boot impressions taken from around Chilton's body match ones we know are from the killer. Agent Chilton was killed from by a single stab wound to the neck, the wound is consistent with the other victims. The forensics say the person who killed Chilton was the same height and weight as the our offender. It's either an amazing coincidence or the same person."

"So how did he know?" I asked, it was maddening, dead end after dead end.

"We had Quantico make a computer model of the crime scene like you asked to check for potential lines of sight, and we found something." Agent Lewis said.

"What?"

"The model pointed us to a hilltop not too far away from the murder site. From there you have a clear view of the body's position. We checked out the hilltop and found a few things, a few faint boot impressions, some garbage, and this." Lewis took a picture out of a folder and slid it down to me.

I examined the picture, it was a shot of grass with three holed punched into the turf. "What am I looking at?"

"We weren't too sure at first, but when we were measuring the depth of the holes...well actually, it was one of the local's idea."

"What?"

"Extend lines up from the holes, you get a tripod."

"Like for a camera?"

Lewis nodded, "Like for a camera, Quantico is crunching numbers right now to get some dimensions, and they're comparing the holes to as many different brands of tripods as they can."

"Good job, send a commendation to the local, and an invite to the FBI if he wants it, he sounds too bright to languish in suburbia...it is a 'he' right?"

"Well...no," Lewis admitted.

"Even better, the Bureau always needs more women, am I right?" The table chuckled dutifully. "Anything else on the hill, like something to link it to the killer?"

"One partial boot print, a heel actually, but it matches the murder site."

The hairs on the back of my neck started to rise. "It wasn't a still camera, he wanted to record the whole event," I said.

"You think that's his trophy?" Sarah asked.

"It makes sense, he's staging the kills, and then records people's reaction to finding them. A still camera might miss something after all."

"But video catches everything," Sarah agreed.

I glanced over at the TV still playing the surveillance tape. "Video tapes everything...Videotape, that's it! Who installed the surveillance system at the schools?" Papers started shuffling as everyone searched for the information.

"Uh, Scheps Video, Scheps Video, Scheps..." Grisman looked up from his notes. "Boss, it's the same company with all of the schools, Scheps Video Services."

The agents were already scrambling for the door when I started to give orders. "I want all their employee information. Find out who worked on all the installation jobs, and move!"

I stared at the tape case for a moment, "That's how the fucker picked them...the tapes..." An overheard conversation from the previous day flashed through my head. Now I might not have a fancy degree in forensic psychology, but I've spent enough time trying to outguess the guy on the other end of a gun that I can get into people's minds if I try. And I can put to and two together. I stood up and ran for the door.

"Steve? What is it?" Sarah asked.

"I know who the killer is," I replied.

"What, who, how?"

"I talked to him yesterday," I said as evenly as I could.

"You what?"

"There's no time to get into that, we've got to go."

"Where?" Sarah asked, following me out of the room.

"Downstairs, to get an address of course."

"Ah yes, of course," Sarah said as we jogged down the hall towards the stairs.

Tuesday, Elsewhere, 10:13 PM

I returned to consciousness for the second time that night thanks to an incessant poking in my ribs. I groggily opened my eyes and tried to focus on the blur floating above me.

"Let's go Daria," my kidnapper said, "There's work to be done." He reached down to pick me up. I tried to struggle, but my body wasn't listening to my brain. He unceremoniously dumped me over his shoulder and we left the office. He carried me down a hallway into a much larger room. In my altered state I couldn't tell quite what the function of the room was, but it seemed big. I was set down on a table with great care.

"Here, I don't think you need those restraints anymore," I saw a very large knife appear and cut the plastic bindings holding my arms and legs. "Now, are you ready to see the truth Daria?"

"Is there popcorn?" I mumbled.

"Here is your truth," He spun me around and I saw Tom lying bound to a table. His clothes had been removed except for his boxers and a rag stuffed into his mouth. "Let's see what this pretty boy has to say." The man sneered as he walked over to Tom and yanked off the gag. "Wake up pretty boy, time to get your just deserts." He slapped Tom.

Tom's eyes opened and he looked at our kidnapper, "Look, my parents are very rich, whatever you want they'll pay it," he shouted. He turned his head and saw me, "God, Daria, are you ok?"

"M'fine," I mumbled.

"You see Daria, how it is, he only cares about himself, did you hear how he started out begging for his own life, while your first words were about him?" He walked over to me, "You see that," he whispered in my ear, "he doesn't care about you, all he cares about is himself. You understand that now don't you? You see why I did what I did. I know I've done wrong, but what I did needed to be done. You'll help me explain that to everyone else, right?" Even in my drug induced haze I could hear the shift in his voice from supreme confidence to uncertainty. "You will help me do what has to be done won't you Daria?"

I dimly looked at this man, someone I knew had horribly murdered people. Then at Tom, who would surely be the next to die regardless of what I said. If I agreed with the nut I'd probably live at least a little while longer, if I didn't I was dead, that much I could figure out. I shook my head to try and clear the cobwebs out, it was hard to think with all that fuzz in my mind. Still, the answer was clear, "Mister, fuck off. You're insane, a monster, there's no way on earth I'd ever do anything to help someone like you, except to help fill your grave."

He reacted like I had slapped him in the face. "I guess I was wrong about you, you don't understand. He must have poisoned you more deeply than I thought. Very well, if you won't reject him you'll share his fate. It's really only a minor complication." He reached out to grab me.

"You twisted fucker!" Tom shouted, "don't you dare hurt her."

I tried to run, but just like in the park my feet were rooted to the ground. "Oh, that's fear," I thought distractedly, as the killer grabbed me by the shoulder. His knife held high, ready to strike. "Well, this is it," I thought "What a shitty life," I looked over at Tom, "Well, it wasn't all shitty, too bad I couldn't say goodbye to Jane."

Suddenly the world exploded in a blinding flash of light and sound. The killer let me go and I stumbled backwards, tripping over my feet. My head connected with something and I felt the world start to fade away, "Great, just call me the blackout queen," I thought as Tom's shouting faded away to nothingness.

Tuesday, Residence of Julian Riggins, 8:20pm

"Agent Fraser," Detective Secor called out, "We're ready."

"That's great," I muttered to myself, "Next time use your radio, I think there were some people around the block who didn't hear you." I looked over at Sarah and sighed, "I hate doing this shit with locals, they're just asking to get their asses kicked in." We had gotten the home address of Julian Riggins and Sarah and I were about to search the house with the help of Lawndale's finest. Agent Lewis was with another group of Lawndale police searching Scheps Video, while the rest of my agents were still at the police station gathering information on our new suspect.

"Easy Steve, they aren't supposed to be an A-team. Just go do your job," Sarah told me gently.

"Yeah yeah, I know, still working with amateurs is a recipe for trouble." We had traded in our suits for bullet-proof vests and FBI windbreakers, the situation didn't call for the ninja gear, not yet at least. I keyed my radio, "Ok people, let's do this thing. Remember stay low, eyes open." I stood up from behind the hedge I'd been hiding behind and motioned for the police to follow me. I cautiously made my way up to the front door, my Sig Sauer at the ready.

No bullets met me at the door and I signaled to the officer with the battering ram to knock down the door. The burly cop took a deep breath then swung the ram at the door. I dove through the empty space before the door hit the ground. The room was dark, but there was no sign of trouble. I waved the police in and we started to search the house. The remainder of the building was quiet, and empty. I sighed and relaxed a little.

"House is secure, subject is not, I repeat not, in the house. We're clear, send in the evidence team." I switched off the radio and walked out of the house, ripping the ear piece of the radio out in frustration as I went.

Sarah met me on the lawn. "Sorry Steve, he should have been here."

"Hopefully we'll find something in there that tells us where he is."

A cell phone rang, Sarah reached into her jacket pocket, withdrew a phone and answered, "This is Raines, yes, he's right in front of me, ok." She handed me the phone, "It's Grisman."

I took the phone, "Fraser here, talk to me Grisman."

"Some good news, there was only one employee of Scheps Video who worked on all seven of the installs. Care to guess who?"

"Julian Riggins."

"That's the guy. Pemberton is calling the other principals to see if Riggins visited them as well."

I heard a commotion from the house and turned to see what it was. Lawndale cops were hauling boxes out of the house. Detective Secor held something up. "We found tapes Agent Fraser."

"Grisman they found tapes in the house. Riggins is now officially the prime suspect." It felt good to finally have a name and face to work with. "Let Sorenstam know he's going to have some more work to do. What else have you found out about him?"

"Not much yet, just vitals."

"Keep digging, Raines and I are heading back to the station, keep me informed." I closed the line and handed the phone back to Sarah.

"Back to the police station eh?" Sarah asked.

I shrugged, "Not much to do here, he didn't commit the murders in the house, and he's got the murder weapons with him. We can be closer to the flow of information at the station."

"Come on, let's take at least one pass through the house, I want to get the feel of the place." Sarah said. "Might as well since we're here."

I shrugged, "Fine, you win. It beats sitting by the phone I guess." I followed Sarah into the house.

"Hey Detective Secor, need a couple extra pair of hands?" Sarah asked.

"Always, we haven't started on that study over there." The detective pointed down a hallway.

As Sarah and I walked to the room we passed a large picture of a man in Marine dress blues mounted on the wall opposite a door leading into a bedroom. "Think that' sour guy?"

I shook my head, "No looks different, besides that's a Vietnam service ribbon, and Riggins is too young to have one of those."

"Oh, so it's his father then?"

I nodded, "Good bet, quite a prominent picture don't you think? You come out of that bedroom over there and there it is."

"You think there are paternal issues? He's killing trying to get approval?"

I shrugged, "Could be, we'll figure that out eventually, I hope." We continued on to the study.

"Very organized," Sarah commented as she took in the study.

"Let's fix that," I said snapping on my rubber gloves for emphasis.

There are several ways to perform a good search of a room, the neat way and the trash-the-ever-living-shit-out-of-the-room-way. We chose the latter, not so much for expediency's sake, but to simply extract some small measure of vengeance on the fucker who'd already screwed with so many people's lives. Sure, it was petty, but what the hell, he'd never see the house again.

"Hey Steve, take a look at this," Sarah said.

"What is it?" I asked while I turned over another box of documents."

"It's a deed."

"To this place?"

"No, to a small office complex called the McCardell Building in a town called Richmond."

"Bingo, that's where he is, he took them out of town, where we wouldn't expect him to go. He'll probably dump the bodies and make it look like they killed themselves to throw the locals off the scent and buy him some time to disappear."

"Are you sure about all that?"

"Sure enough to know that's where he's headed. Besides, it's a lead isn't it?"

"True so, how do you want to handle it?"

"We do what we do best, investigate," I replied wryly. "Hey, Detective Secor!" I shouted. Secor came into the room shortly thereafter.

"Find something Agent Fraser?"

I nodded, "Agent Raines did actually, a deed to some property in a town called Richmond, know where that is?"

He nodded, "It's about 100 miles away, I can show you on a map if you want."

"Thanks that'd be very helpful." We all walked out to the rental car. I took a map out of the glove compartment and Detective Secor circled the town on the map.

"So you think the killer is in Richmond?" Secor asked.

"It's a safe bet," I replied.

"Think you'll need a hand taking him out?"

"I think Richmond's out of your jurisdiction Detective Secor," I answered lightly. "Besides you can do more good staying here and keeping up the search of the house." I held out my hand, "Thanks for all your assistance Detective Secor."

He shook my outstretched hand, "Thanks for helping us catch the bastard Agent Fraser."

"We haven't caught him yet detective."

"Well, when you do give him a couple pops for me."

"You bet detective," I replied confidently. Secor walked back into the house.

"Police brutality, fun," Sarah said sourly. She had spent the early part of her career investigating dirty cops, and had a low tolerance for police malfeasance because of it.

"Hey, lay off, his heart's in the right place."

"It's just as well the killer ran to a neutral site, it'll make the arrest easier."

"Speaking of which, toss me your phone." Sarah did so and I dialed Grisman's number. "Grisman, it's Fraser, we got a hit, it looks like Riggins bolted to a town called Richmond. I want you to get on the phone to the local police there, explain the situation to them. As soon as I hang up I'll fax over a deed to where we think Riggins is. Have the locals place the building under surveillance, but not to approach the building until Agent Raines and myself get there. Did you get all that?"

"Richmond, deed, local PD, you and Raines, got it," Grisman replied.

"One more thing, call up the Richmond hall of records and get the floor plan of the building, then fax it to me."

"Sure thing boss."

"Thanks a lot Grisman." I closed the phone and gave it back to Sarah. "Mind faxing that deed over to Grisman, he's expecting it."

"Steve, what are you planning?" Sarah asked as she set up the mobile fax.

"We're going to investigate the lead," I replied as I opened the trunk of the car and took a duffel bag out. I opened up the passenger side door and tossed the keys to Sarah. "You drive."

Sarah stared at me, the suspicion evident in her eyes. "Why?"

"Because I need to work the phones," I replied coolly. "Now hand me the fax and get the car going, we are under a bit of a time crunch after all."

Sarah sighed and started the car. As we drove off I opened up the duffel, took my gun cleaning kit out of the bag and started cleaning my pistol.

Tuesday, McCardell Building, 9:47pm

Julian Riggins wiped the sweat from his brow. He'd been working on getting the cafeteria ready for the grand show for the past several hours. All the chairs were now carefully stacked along one wall and the center of the room was clear of any obstacles.

"It's fitting," he thought, "that mother's ultimate betrayal of father ends up helping insure his vision lives on." He chuckled, "Oh you silly bitch, you tried to keep father's pension out of my hands by buying this stupid building, too bad you died before you could change your will." Riggins laughed quietly to himself, that had been fun, not only had the bitch deserved to die, but it had proven to him that he could make his father proud, and punish the pretty boys.

Riggins carefully examined the cafeteria, everything was set, now he just needed to get the other two actors in his little play. "I'll start with the boy," he thought. "There's no reason to wake Daria until after he's been prepared." Riggins walked down the hall to the office he'd placed the boy in.

Riggins opened the door and peeked inside the room. Tom was more or less where he'd left him. Riggins hadn't bothered talking to him so far. He didn't want to lose his temper and do something rash, something that was liable to happen if he did talk to Tom.

Tom heard Riggins enter the room. "Who the hell are you and what do you want with us?" He yelled.

"I'm here to prepare you for your punishment," Riggins answered calmly.

"Punishment? What the fuck are you talking about? And where's Daria? If you've hurt her you'll regret it."

Riggins ignored Tom. Instead he took a pair of scissors out of the utility pouch he wore. He leaned over Tom, who started to squirm. "I'd recommend keeping still, I'd hate to cut your before I have to." Tom stiffened, allowing Riggins to cut off Tom's clothes.

"That wasn't so bad now was it?" Now, to make sure you keep quiet..." Riggins took a strip of cloth from the floor and wrapped it around Tom's mouth. He picked Tom up and carried him into the cafeteria. Riggins dropped Tom onto a table in the center of the room.

"Now I'm going to cut these bands so I can tie you to the table, don't try anything or I'll kill you, then the girl, ok?" He told Tom while waving his knife in front of him. Tom vigorously nodded his understanding. Riggins cut Tom's arms free, then rebound them so they were secured to the table. He repeated the process with Tom's legs.

"There you go, all set. Now all we need is Daria and we can begin." Riggins left Tom on the table and walked out of the cafeteria.

Tuesday, Airborne over State Highway 40, 9:34 PM

Sarah and I were sitting in the back of a borrowed State Police helicopter. We were almost to the Richmond Police's command post outside of the McCardell Building. I was staring at the floor plan handed to me before we'd gotten on the helicopter. Sara was holding onto her seat, helicopter travel, especially high speed, low altitude flights, have never agreed with her. As a veteran of countless nap of the earth flights I didn't even notice.

"Steve why a damn helicopter?" She asked over the intercom.

I looked over at my friend and smiled sadly, "Sorry Sarah, but this is the quickest way to get to Richmond, and you did insist on coming with me."

"That's because you've got that damn ninja bag with you. I'm here to make sure you don't do something stupid.

I keep all my infiltration gear in one duffel which Sarah calls my ninja bag. It's the sort of thing that comes out when the shit hits the fan. "It's very simple, who would you rather have going in there, someone trained in covert ops and infiltration, or a bunch of hick cops who don't even know what covert means?"

"At least you could wait for the HRT to arrive on the scene," she paused, "but that will take too long, wont it?"

I nodded, "Exactly."

The pilot's voice came crackling over the intercom, "We're approaching the landing point thought you'd like to know."

I folded the plans up and placed them in my bag. Memories of other night time helicopter rides into an unknown, hostile situation flashed through my head. "At least nobody will be shooting at me when we land," I muttered as I checked the holstered Colt .45 at my side, a parting gift from the Green Berets.

The pilots must have been ex-military because he executed a perfect "Hot LZ"-style landing. Sarah and I hopped out of the helicopter and started running towards a cluster of police cars. I waved to the pilot who waved back then flew off.

We were met by an officer halfway to the police cars, "Hello, I'm Walter Malloy, chief of police here in Richmond," He looked like your stereotypical Irish cop.

"Nice to meet you chief, I'm Special Agent Steve Fraser and this is my partner, Special Agent Sarah Raines." We all shook hands.

"Your Agent Grisman was a little vague on the details of what's going on, mind filling me in?"

"Sure thing chief, why don't we gather your people and I can tell you all what's going on."

"If you insist, follow me, we've got a little command post set up." He lead us over to the police cars. There they had set up a small table with an electric lamp providing illumination. "Ok guys," the chief called out. "These are the FBI agents who are going to explain to us what we're doing out here."

I stepped towards the center of the little ring. "Hello, I'm Agent Fraser, that's Agent Raines. I'll be brief. You've all heard of the murder over in Lawndale?"

"The serial killer, right?" one of the cops asked.

"Yes, the serial killer. We have reason to believe that he is in that building over there." I pointed at the dim outline of the McCardell building. "And that he is holding two teenagers captive."

"But that's impossible, Mr. Riggins is in there, I'm sure he'd call us if there was someone else in his building," the chief protested. I fixed Malloy with a steady gaze. He caught on quickly, "You don't mean that Mr. Riggins is this serial killer?"

"Chief," Sarah broke in gently, "The evidence overwhelmingly supports that theory. His travel plans match the killings, we've found evidence that he's stalked the victims, and he's a physical match. It's not an airtight case yet, but there are too many coincidences for us to overlook."

Malloy nodded, "I've been there before, still, I have a hard time believe that Mr. Riggins is this monster, he's such a hard working man. He's been renovating that building himself ever since his mother died eight months ago."

My eyebrows raised involuntarily, "Oh really."

"Yes, she died quite suddenly in fact."

"When we're done here I'll want to look at all the information you have on her death."

"You think he killed his own mother?"

I shrugged, "All I know for certain is that there aren't pictures of anyone who might be his mother in his house. Suggests he had issues with her, beyond that it's all speculation." I took the floor plans out of my bag. "Now let's get down to business, shall we? You're saying that Riggins is definitely in the building?"

"Yes," Malloy answered, "His van is in the parking lot."

"Ok, great, now a Hostage Rescue Team is on its way here, they should arrive in another thirty to forty minutes. They'll go into the building and clear it out."

"What do you need us to do?" Malloy asked.

"Deploy your men around the building, discretely, keep anyone from entering or exiting. Can you also get an ambulance or two on site, just in case?"

"Sure, sirens off right?"

"Exactly."

"So what do we do until the rest of you feds show up, just sit here and do nothing?"

"I want you and Agent Raines to get everything ready on this end, I'll going into the building gather intelligence on the situation inside."

"Are you sure that's such a good idea Agent Fraser? I mean shouldn't we be calling Mr. Riggins or something?"

"This isn't a hostage situation Chief, Riggins is a dangerous sociopath, he'll kill the kids as soon as he knows we're here. Agent Raines and myself are positive he intends to kill one of the captives, but we aren't sure what he's planning to do with the other. In fact it's a good bet he's already killed one or both of them. That's what I'm going to find out."

"How?"

"Quite simple really, I'll break into the lobby then climb into this air duct here." I pointed to a spot on the map. "Once in the vent system it should be easy to move through the building without being noticed. I'll sweep the floors, report what I find, then wait for backup. Agent Raines has a radio so we can keep in contact."

On cue Sarah's cell phone began chirping, "Excuse me while I take this call." She walked off a short distance and answered her phone.

"I don't know Agent Fraser, seems like a pretty hare-brained scheme to me.

"It does to me too" I answered wryly, "But we need the intelligence and I can't think of a better way with the tools we have, unless you happen to have some infrared imaging gear."

"It's on the budget for next year," he offered lamely.

Sarah walked back over to us and handed me the phone. "It's AD Schoenweis, he wants to talk to you Steve."

I sighed, "Ok," I took the phone, "Assistant Director Schoenweis, how are you sir?"

"Agent Fraser, what's this I hear about you planning to play commando?" The AD asked in his booming voice.

"Sir, we've tracked the man we believe is responsible for the killings in Lawndale, we know he's got two teens captive, one of whom is the girl who found the body of the initial victim, and we know they're now inside an office building he apparently owns. There's an HRT on the way but we need to know what's going on inside the building. As the ranking agent on scene I feel going into the building for some reconnaissance would best help the HRT do its job."

There was silence on the other end of the line, "How soon until the HRT arrives?"

"About a half-hour sir."

There was another long pause, "Ok Agent Fraser, go in. But Steve, just observe, we don't need you playing hero."

"I wasn't planning on it sir, the only heroes I know are dead ones."

"Good man, and good luck," Schoenweis hung up.

I tossed the phone back to Sarah, "It's a go," I said simply. I opened up my duffel and started taking out my gear, bulletproof vest, a pair of night vision goggles, all the things you'd expect a well equipped commando to have. I pulled on my gear and inserted a fresh clip into my silenced MP-5 sub-machinegun. I adjusted the whisper mic on my radio, "Ok, let's get this show on the road. I'll radio once I'm inside the building."

"Good luck Agent Fraser," Chief Malloy told me.

"Thanks Chief."

"Hey Steve, be careful ok, I've just gotten used to you, I'd hate to have to break in a new partner now."

"You're assuming something bad is going to happen, to me, which isn't going to happen because Riggins will never even know I'm there."

"Still, be careful."

"I always am." I said before dashing towards the McCardell building, keeping low and staying quiet.

When I arrived at the front door I carefully looked for any alarms or cameras. It looked like Riggins hadn't gotten around to wiring the door so I reached for a thermite charge. The door opened easily with the lock burned out and I slipped into the building.

The interior of the building was dark, but that didn't matter to me. I crept towards where the air vent was marked on the map. Fortunately the layout of the building hadn't changed much and the vest was where it was supposed to be. The cover was easily unscrewed and I crawled inside. The interior of the vent was a tight fit, but I'd been in tighter places before.

"Base, this is Point," I whispered into the radio.

"This is Base, go ahead," Sarah replied.

"I'm in the vents, no problems yet, I'll let you know more then there's more to tell, Point out." I switched off the radio and started to crawl through the vents.

It wasn't easy going but I'd managed to work my way up several floors of the building before finding signs of life. Or more specifically, light.

I toggled my radio, "Base, Point, possible contact on the third floor, investigating." I crept towards the source of the faint glow. I peered out of the vent and found myself staring at a dimly lit cafeteria. There was no sign of Daria or Riggins but I did see Tom Sloane lying tied to a table. "Base, Point, contact, I repeat contact. Objective Two is still alive, I repeat Objective Two is still alive. No sign of Objective One or the Subject. I'm going to try and get closer." There hadn't been time to think up fancy codenames, but my military background refused to let me refer to them by their real names.

"Careful Steve," Sarah cautioned me, "You don't know where Riggins is."

"Ok, direct me to a location with a better field of view."

"You're over the cafeteria?"

"Yes."

"There's a kitchen and serving station abutting the cafeteria, you should see it from where you are." I looked and sure enough there it was, a dark recess in the far wall of the cafeteria.

"That'll do nicely, now how do I get there?"

"What do you think doofus. Get out of that shaft and shag ass over there."

"This isn't the time for jokes Base."

"Alright, follow the branch you're on, then turn right, there's a vent in the kitchen."

"Thank-you," I followed the directions Sarah had given me until I came to another vent. Looking out of it I saw a kitchen. The vent grill came off easily and I slipped into the kitchen. I crept towards the opening into the main cafeteria. Crouching behind the counter facing the cafeteria I raised my head to get a good view of the cafeteria. I counted on the dark backdrop of the kitchen to obscure me from anyone looking around the cafeteria. Shortly thereafter the door to the cafeteria banged open. I watched as Riggins carried Daria into the room and dropped her on a table.

"Base, Point," I whispered, "Subject and Objective One just entered the room. She doesn't look hurt, just out of it."

"Steve, do not engage."

"I'm not about to, but tell the cavalry to hurry their asses up."

"Reinforcements are five minutes out Steve, hold tight."

I double-clicked the radio in acknowledgement and watched an obviously disoriented Daria argue with Riggins. "Base, Point, the situation's deteriorating, just thought you'd like to know." Riggins seemed to be growing more agitated as he spoke to Daria.

"Oh shit," I muttered as Riggins grabbed Daria and drew his knife. "Base, Point, the Subject has a knife and is threatening One. I'm engaging."

I grabbed a flash-bang from my belt and tossed it at Riggins. The grenade detonated with a loud bang causing Riggins to let go of Daria. I was on my feet and running towards the center of the room before the sound has dissipated. "This is the FBI, drop the knife and step back!" I shouted.

Riggins ignored me and dove for Tom, knife raise. I squeezed the trigger once, firing a short burst which caught Riggins square in the chest. The impact of the bullets staggered him and he went down. I ran over to the prone killer and kicked the knife away from his hand.

"Base, Point the situation is under control, Subject is neutralized and both objectives are unharmed. I need paramedics for Riggins though. He took three rounds to the chest, so tell them to hurry." I looked down at Riggins, "Julian Riggins you're under arrest for the murder of Agent Emil Crawford, Brian Wiltson and others." I bandaged Riggins's wounds with some field dressing I was carrying, but I didn't hold out much hope he'd ever be prosecuted. Looking around the room I saw Daria lying motionless on the floor. I ran to her side and took a pulse, which was strong to my relief.

"Hey, how's Daria?" Tom Sloane asked.

"She's fine, unconscious, but fine."

"Great, now could you please untie me?"

"Sure thing kid, then we'll find you some pants while we're at it. My name's Agent Fraser by the way," I said calmly as the paramedics came bursting through the door.

Wednesday, Lawndale Memorial Hospital, 9:00AM

What finally got me up was the sunlight shining on my face. I woke with a start thanks to a subconscious memory of the last place I remembered being at. I settled back to sleep when I realized I was lying in a bed, only to get another jolt when I realized it wasn't my bed. I slowly opened my eyes and cautiously looked around, only to see a lot of fuzz, I wasn't wearing my glasses.

"Damn," I said aloud, "Where are my glasses?"

"Here you go Daria," Quinn said from outside my line of sight.

"Quinn? Where the hell am I?" I asked as I looked around.

"You're in the hospital Daria. Agent Fraser had them bring you straight here from Richmond." A fuzzy pink blob came into view and handed me something. I grabbed my glasses and put them on. The blob resolved itself back into my sister.

"Ok, so I'm in the hospital, why, and where's Tom?"

"They brought you in for observation because of all the drugs in your system and because you have a low-grade concussion. Tom's down the hall for observation too."

"Mom and Dad?"

"Getting coffee, Jane's in the lobby by the way."

"And you're here because?"

"It gets me out of school, d'uh."

"Right, of course," What did I expect? That's what I would've said if our roles were reversed.

"And because I was worried about you Daria, for a moment I thought I was going to be an only child, and while that would've helped my popularity, it would've also meant that Mom and Dad would try to spend more time with me and stuff, and that's like the last thing I want right now."

I smirked, "I'm touched, I really am."

"Don't get all mushy on me."

"I was going to say the same to you."

Quinn's retort was cut off my Mom and Dad's arrival. "Daria, you're awake!" Dad shouted.

"Of course she's awake, the doctor said she was just sleeping off the drugs she'd been given, it's not like she was in a coma. But it is good to see you awake sweetie, especially since you've got that bump on your head." They both rushed the bed and hugged me.

"Oxygen fading, loosing consciousness," I said haltingly. It was the second time they'd hugged me in under a week week. I couldn't deal with that much physical contact.

"So, how are you feeling kiddo?" Dad asked hesitantly.

"My head feels like an elephant stepped on it," I answered truthfully. "Where's Jane?" I asked.

"I'll go get her," Quinn replied, picking up on the hint and ducking out of the room.

"Daria, we were so worried about you. When we first heard what happened from the FBI...I thought we'd lost you," Mom said as she sat beside me on the bed, her hand firmly gripping my shoulder.

"I was pretty sure I'd lost myself too." I tried to think back on everything that had happened the previous day. "I'm a little fuzzy on the details after the assembly. But I remember enough to know it wasn't pleasant." Images of Tom lying strapped to a table floated through my head.

"Well look at that, Sleeping Beauty's awake," Jane said as she walked into the room.

"Hey, I didn't get a bit of sleep all night. You should know that Jane, I spent most of the night talking to you...oh, right you were talking to Daria...I'll, uh, be out in the lounge taking a nap." Quinn slunk out the door.

"You spent the night talking to Quinn? About what?"

"How her hair keeps it bouncity-bounce," Jane replied evenly.

"Wow, and I thought I was the one drugged by a homicidal sociopath."

"Yeah, about that, how are you feeling?"

I shrugged, "I'm still alive, so I guess I can't complain. Why do you ask?"

"Beyond friendly concern?"

"Of course,"

"I want to know if the time's right to kill you for standing me up yesterday. I ran all the hell over town looking for you and Tom."

"Sorry Jane, a madman had other plans for Tom and myself."

"So I gathered, it's good to see you in one piece, because otherwise, well, you know."

"Yeah," I agreed. I didn't want to think about how close I'd come to death. "I just wish I knew what the hell happened after I blacked out. I remember him drawing a knife, then there was an explosion, and that's it."

"I can answer that," Agent Fraser said from the doorway. I turned and see him and Agent Raines enter the room.

"How are you feeling Daria?" Agent Raines asked.

"I'd feel better if people stopped asking me that question," I answered drolly.

"No doubt," Agent Fraser commented, chuckling. "The case is effectively closed so I figured you'd like to hear what we we've found out."

"Yeah, I'd like to know what kind of crazy son of a bitch would want to hurt my daughter," Dad said indignantly.

"Well, here's what we know, mixed in with some conjecture. The man's name was Julian Riggins. He was in his mid-thirties. His father was a Marine Gunnery Sergeant who was serving in Vietnam when Riggins was born. His mother seems to have basically been your standard career housewife. We don't know all the details, but when Riggins was twelve his mother divorced the father then married a man named McCardell and moved to Richmond. The divorce papers don't outright say so, but it appears that Gunny Riggins liked to beat on his wife and son."

"That's what he said," I mused.

"What's that?" Agent Raines asked.

"It's one of the things I remember, he came into the room I was in and we talked. He rambled about 'pretty boys' and how his father disciplined him for being one, and that's what he was doing..." I trailed off, I didn't want to mention the rest of the conversation we had.

Fraser nodded, "That makes sense. Among the other things Gunnery Sergeant Riggins came home with was a face full of shrapnel courtesy of the NVA at Khe Sanh. It ended a two year tour of duty in Vietnam for the sergeant. After Vietnam he was a drill sergeant and according to his service record an unholy terror to his boots. It sounds like Sergeant Riggins took his work home with him. Sergeant Riggins died in a training accident shortly after the divorce and the ex-wife received the pension, which she invested in the real estate market, including an office building. Also thanks to some court documents we've found it looks like either the mother or step-father abused the teenaged Riggins."

"Why would they do that?" Mom asked.

"Who knows, but Riggins was placed in the foster care system on several occasions. We'll know more when we get the records opened. But Mrs. McCardell's medical records show that due to complications in Julian Riggins' birth she was infertile. So there was probably resentment on the part of either the mother or the step father that Julian, this reminder of the mother's traumatic past, was their only child."

"Why don't you just ask his mother?" I asked.

"Because she's dead. She died eight months ago. Oddly enough shortly after her husband died. If I had to guess I'd say that Riggins killed her to keep her from changing who inherited her real estate holdings. That's probably what triggered the killings."

"So, you're saying the killer was a psychopath because his father was an abusive, domineering soldier?" Dad asked hesitantly.

"In part yes," Agent Fraser said guardedly, "But that's not an excuse for his actions, just because you've suffered trauma in your youth you can't let it control your life to that extent."

"Yeah, right," Dad said hesitantly.

"Agent Fraser, would you mind explaining to me what that guy wanted with me, and why I'm not dead."

Fraser shrugged, "You probably know the answer to your first question better than I do since you talked to him."

I stared at a random spot on the wall, "He said I understood why he was killing those boys because I didn't scream when I found Brian's body. But that's not true, I didn't scream because I was too shocked to react."

"It's ok Daria," Agent Raines said, "Riggins was trying to reach out to people through the killings, that always has been a component of his pathology. For whatever reason he thought you were a person he could confide in. He probably create an idealized version of you that fit his needs and was divorced from who you really are. There's nothing about you that's abnormal Daria, it was him, you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have happened to anyone, even your sister."

I felt a smirk play across my face. "Well, if you insist."

"I do," Agent Raines said in her soft, yet forceful voice.

"But that doesn't answer my other question, how did I end up here?"

"For that you can thank the commando standing next to me," Agent Rains said, pointing at Agent Fraser.

"Yes, in an attempt to get intelligence on what was going on inside the building Riggins was holding you I infiltrated the structure and located your position. While I was observing events, and waiting for the hostage rescue team to arrive, Riggins threatened your life, something I'm sure you remember. I engaged Riggins and neutralized him. Paramedics arrived on the scene and I ordered you and Tom to be flown back to Lawndale for treatment."

"I remember an explosion, what was that?"

"A flash-bang, a grenade used to distract and disorientate the opposition."

"What happened to Riggins?" Mom asked.

"He died on the operating table," Agent Fraser said flatly. "Which means that Daria doesn't have to worry about any court dates."

"Should I feel good about that?" I asked dubiously.

Agent Fraser shook his head, "You don't have to feel anything, Riggins was about to kill you. If anyone has to worry about the consequences of Riggins' death it's me since I killed him. I can live with trading you and Tom for him. Don't let it worry you."

"So does this mean I have to something special with my life?" I asked.

Agent Fraser laughed, "No, just live your life, don't feel like you have to do something extraordinary on my account."

"That's a relief, I don't think I could handle that sort of pressure."

"Thank you both so much for getting Daria back safe and sound." Mom said. "I don't know what I would have done if something had happened to her."

"We were just doing our jobs Mrs. Morgendorffer."

"Still, thank-you."

"Hey Daria, look who I found roaming the halls," Quinn said as she walked back into the room."

"How many times have I told you Quinn, no strays."

"Think you can make an exception for me?" Tom asked, walking into the room. He was wearing a pair of pants over his hospital gown. There was a nasty looking bruise on the right side of his face.

"Tom! I'd get up to say hi, but you know," I indicated the flimsy hospital gown I was wearing.

"That's ok, you don't have to get up." He walked over to the bed and hugged me. "Damn Daria, it's good to see you again."

"You too, especially since you've found some pants."

Tom chuckled, "Yeah, that was pretty inconvenient."

"No pants?" Mom asked, horrified.

Riggins had Tom stripped down to his boxers when I found him," Agent Fraser said. "Which is curious since he usually killed his victims while they were nude."

"Maybe he didn't want to corrupt my delicate eyes," I offered.

"Could be."

"Say, Agent Fraser, are they still saying that Brian was gay?" I asked.

Agent Fraser sighed, "People are pretty much ignoring the meat of what you said and are focusing on the drama of you finding the body, and subsequent disappearance."

"Oh," I said, disappointed, "So I didn't do any good, and I let that lunatic know who I was."

Raines shook her head. "He already knew who you were Daria. Julian Riggins worked for the company that installed Lawndale High's new video surveillance system. He made copies of the class rosters and the tapes from the class rooms and used those to figure out your name."

"That explains those videos he showed me, but I still didn't accomplish anything with my speech."

"I wouldn't say that," Raines said. "You spoke out against something that bothered you. And there were some people who listened to you, it's just that not everyone did. So what you did wasn't a bad thing, and it wasn't a mistake, just keep that in mind."

"At some point I'm going to want to sit you and Tom down and get statements from both of you. Not right now though. The case is over, but we like to fill in the blanks for the case file," Agent Fraser told us.

"Uh, sure," I replied, not really listening, I'd been exposed to too much information in too short a period of time.

"We'll also do our best to shield you from the press, but you'll probably want to at least temporarily hire some press handlers and maybe give an interview or two just to satiate them. Otherwise things might get a little disruptive."

"You mean more than they already are?" I asked drolly.

"My dad's firm has a few PR people, I'm sure they can help out," Tom offered.

"Speaking of which, where are your parents?" I asked Tom.

"Outside, I said I wanted a few minutes, er, alone with you," Tom looked around the crowded room. "But they do want to say hi."

Jane, it seems, picked up on the hint. "Hey, why don't we give these two a moment alone?"

"That's not really necessary..." I started to say.

"Nonsense Daria, if you want to talk to Tom in private that's certainly your right," Mom said brightly. "Come on Jake, let's go talk to the Sloanes about those interviews." She grabbed Dad by the arm and started to drag him out of the room.

"Don't worry kiddo, you'll be home in no time," Dad said encouragingly before he was hauled out of the room.

"Hey Quinn, let's go see if Elsie wants to form a new all girl version of the Three Musketeers, or failing that an updated Charlie's Angels," Jane told my sister.

"Ooh, who'd be Charlie?" Quinn asked as they walked out of the room.

"Talk to you real soon Daria, and believe me, you owe me big time for this Morgendorffer," Jane said over her shoulder.

"I guess we should be going too," Agent Raines said as she walked over and hugged both Tom and myself. "Take care you two."

"You going to be alright Daria?" Agent Fraser asked me.

I looked over at Tom, then at the door, "Yeah, I will be."

"Great, and Tom, keep an eye on Daria for me. The US Government has invested a lot of money in her continued existence, I'd hate to see it go to waste."

Tom chuckled, "I think Daria can pretty well take care of herself, but I'll do my best."

"Alright then, be good you two and enjoy your lives." Fraser turned to leave.

"Hey, Agent Fraser?" I called out.

"Yeah?"

"Thanks, for everything, saving my life most of all, but the other stuff too."

"No thanks necessary, it's just all part of the job, but you're welcome," he said before the two agents walked out of the room.

"So..." I said, "What did you want to talk to me about?"

"Daria, last night, when Riggins tried to get you to kill me, and let me add thank you for not doing that."

Inwardly I winced, the fact that someone else thought I was capable of that, no matter how deranged he was, disturbed me. "Yeah, what about it?"

"He said I didn't care about you, that I was only interested in saving myself...that's not true. I do care about you, in fact I would've done whatever it took to have gotten your out of there unharmed."

"Good thing for both of us you just had to lie there," I said lightly, trying to break the mood.

"I'm serious Daria, your safety..."

"Was foremost in your mind, yeah, I know." I said cutting him off, "Do you know how silly that sounds?"

He shrugged, "It's still true."

I sighed, "Damn."

"What?" Tom asked.

"Oh, I just don't know how I'm going to pay Jane back, first she's my friend, then there's you, and now she's gotten both our siblings out of our hair."

Tom laughed, "We'll have to thank up something good," he said before leaning over and kissing me, and for the first time since Saturday life started to look up.

----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----xxx----


Sarah and I walked out of the hospital, gave the press there a perfunctory statement and headed for the rental car.

"So, what are you going to do now that you're Mr. Big Hero Guy?" Sarah asked.

"Well first I'm going to head back to DC to give a press conference to tell the news jackals to lay off the Morgendorffers and Sloanes."

"Oh really?"

"Yep, and I'll also be sure to play down my role in the case, like any good FBI agent would."

"But of course."

We got into the car. "After that, I think I'll take a vacation."

"You don't say."

"Yeah, I've got a lot of time saved up and I think I've earned a nice long break."

"Damn straight you have, where are you planning on going?"

"Anywhere but suburbia, I don't know, maybe I'll just drive around in search of the American Dream. Just take a break from serial killers and the like."

"Sounds like fun, want a travel buddy?"

I looked over at Sarah in surprise, "You serious? I'd think seeing me at work would be enough."

Sarah shook her head, "I think we need to get to know each other a little better in a non-professional setting."

Who am I to refuse a hot woman inviting herself along on my trip? "Sure, I don't see a problem with that."

Sarah stared out the window a moment. "You really think that Daria and Tom will be alright?"

I shrugged, "Sure, they're young, they've got their family and friends. They'll be fine."

"I'm glad this one went well," Sarah said after another long pause. "Makes it all worth it."

I nodded, "Yes, it does." It meant we could leave Lawndale with a win, and a bit of good feeling in the bank to help us with the next case waiting for us, the next Riggins just biding his time. I sighed, "The job never ends does it Sarah?"

She shook her head, "No it doesn't but we won this time Steve."

"Yeah, we did," I looked out of the car, at the rows of identical houses, each one a proclamation of normalcy and stability, all of them looking like the house Riggins lived in. "God I hate the suburbs," I said finally as we drove out of town.

Fin

Author's Notes:
So ends The Stone and it's troubled six month development. I wrote the intro sometime in January then put it down to work on some other stuff, and then picked it back up again when I finished Song that Jane Likes, mostly for a change of pace. Little did I know that it would become the most involved work I've ever written. I'd like to say up front that I consider this to be a failed experiment. I was going for a certain mood, and I don't think I accomplished that task fully. However there's something to be said for failure, and at around 90 pages I just was not going to throw this failure out. I'm of the opinion that this is a very good story, just not quite the one I set out to write. I do have just a few brief comments about the development of the piece, and a few other areas, to wrap up any loose ends.

Origins: I'm a fan of the X-Files, and of Thomas Harris. The Stone came about because of my admiration of these sources, in particular two pieces of X-Files fan-fic, Oklahoma and Corpse. The Stone is, in many ways, a stylistic descendent of Corpse, and shares a great many plot elements. I highly recommend checking out both of these fine novels since they are every bit as good as any commercial psychological thriller. And actually, were it not for the brilliant writing of Mr. John Takis and his novel "Stranger than Fiction" I probably would have written The Stone as an X-Files crossover. However, with the bar raised so high I decided not to attempt the jump and instead created the characters of Fraser and Raines.

Veracity: There are elements of this story that are not realistic. This is not a 100% realistic story, obviously. In the creation of the FBI agents I took a few dramatic liberties with how the FBI really would operate in a case like this, however since the story is an homage to stories about the fictional FBI I didn't feel troubled with taking similar liberties in my own work. Besides, Investigative Support Unit sounds much better than National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), or Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center (CASMIRC), the names of the departments the ISU has been rolled into.

The Killer: Yes, Julian Riggins did turn out to be something of a cross between Jake Morgendorffer and Francis Dolarhyde, the killer in Thomas Harris's "Red Dragon." It was not an intentional decision. Instead it simply flowed from the crime. I sat down and tried to determine just how this killer picked his victims and why. The pieces then fell into place from there. I was planning on including a Harris-esque interlude in which the Riggins' childhood was more closely examined, however I decided against the segment since this is still a Daria fan-fic, and not a novel about a serial killer.

The FBI: Yes, this story certainly does spend a lot of time away from the cast of Daria. I was a little hesitant about this decision, however, one of the key elements of the story Corpse, my inspiration for this work, was the concept of the outsider looking in on the characters we all know. In order to achieve that same effect in The Stone I had to break apart the narrator character of Corpse into two, Fraser and Daria. I hope my little indulgence in extreme author-created character development can be forgiven. :)

Thanks for reading this "little" work, it was a lot of fun to write and despite my pessimism I do think it's a good story. Also big thanks to everyone who alpha/beta read for me, it was a big help folks.

-sam 7/21/2001