Person of Interest: Catalyst

Chapter 1: Cold

2011

Cold.

It was the only way Detective Jocelyn Carter could describe what she was seeing. Whoever did this was cold.

It wasn't just the way this dead victim had been posed—because this was definitely a staged tableaux; the marble-pale arms stretched out on either arm of the life-size wooden cross didn't have enough blood on them to account for the woman to have been crucified ante-mortem. The woman's arms had been tied to the cross before the nails were placed, after death and before rigor had set in.

It wasn't just the way she'd been killed, either, although that too had been particularly gruesome. Something—most likely a large knife—had been used to slash the victim's lower belly open, but it was a careful, calculated cut. Whoever the killer was, he'd had some knowledge of female anatomy; Carter could see the cut didn't hit any other internal organs. There was just enough blood here to indicate this had been done post-mortem, but hadn't hit any major arteries or veins. Surgical precision indeed.

Maybe it was the way the victim's head was covered; wrapped in the remnants of what must have been the victim's own jacket, the arms tied around the head and knotted over the eyes. There was a bulge, however, around where the mouth would be—the victim was gagged, then hooded, adding another level of misery to the victim's last moments. She wouldn't have been able to see what her killer was going to do, couldn't anticipate. And the killer wouldn't have had to look at her face while he cut her up, reducing it to a very impersonal killing.

Maybe it was also the way that the victim's clothing had been removed. Everything from the waist down was gone, but from the waist up, the remains of a shirt, cut up the middle, hugged her torso. There was even a knife laceration on her sternum, between milky breasts, where the knife had been used to cut the bra open. That bra still hung off the shoulders, along with the slit shirt, and Carter would bet real money that some of the fibers from the shirt would be found in the belly wound.

It could also be the way that the legs had been positioned. In original, old-Roman style historic crucifixions, the feet were nailed to either side of the main upright. That was what the killer had done, but he'd nailed the foot with the sole flat to the side of the square beam, splaying the legs open like the wings of a butterfly.

But what really did it for Carter was the impact of the entire scene. Although there was no way to know, at the moment, if the woman had been sexually assaulted before death, it was likely; yet everything about the scene and the murder thus far had been calculated but still very impersonal. Her gut instinct—her Detective instinct—was telling Carter that the woman hadn't known her killer, and she might just have been a random person that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Which would also explain why the 'Man-in-the-suit' hadn't intervened.

She crouched next to the body, examining it with critical eyes and scribbling details in her notepad even as she thought about her 'stealth' partners. Well, really, she couldn't even call them partners, but since she'd first crossed paths with John Reese nearly a year ago, she'd developed first a healthy respect for him—and his bespectacled friend, Harold Finch—which had grown to liking after John Reese had helped rescue her son. Now they were erstwhile partners and friends—although that particular appellation didn't really adequately describe the complicated relationship she had with John and Finch.

It had also become a secret source of amusement for her, when talk among the conspiracy theorists at the precinct turned to the urban legend who had been dubbed 'Man-in-the-suit.' She smiled at the near-supernatural powers that were being ascribed to the Man-in-the-suit, and while some might have thought that her smile was one of incredulous disdain, what she really smiled about was what she could imagine John would think at hearing himself thus described. Yes, it was true that he moved very fast, but that wasn't mind-reading, that was simply great reflexes honed by military Special Forces training, coupled with—well, she knew not all of his skills had been developed in the military, but she had no idea where he'd acquired—and honed—some of his other skills.

And honestly, deep down she didn't really want to know.

She supposed that made her somewhat pragmatic; well, then fine, she'd be a pragmatist. She did harbor a little curiosity about who he'd been before she met him, and would have liked to know about his past; but truthfully, knowing who he really was and where he'd come from—and what made him what he was—wouldn't make a bit of difference in the here-and-now. He was here, and he had helped her out on numerous occasions—and she'd helped him—so as far as she was concerned, it was quid-pro-quo. They didn't owe her anything, and she didn't have any right to ask from him and Finch more than they were willing to give.

She stabbed a last period on the end of the sentence she'd just written on her pad and rose, kicking her left leg a bit to work out the slight cramp that had developed in her calf since she'd first crouched to examine the body, and signaled to a uni to come and cover the body with a sheet until the coroner got here, then stood and took stock of the surroundings.

'Here' was the back of an abandoned train depot. Old wooden railroad ties littered the depot yard, which was doubtless where the killer had gotten the wood to make the crucifix. There were old nails littering the ground here too, and on a sudden inspiration, she stepped back to the body and looked at the cross, wondering if the old nails here had been used to make the cross.

And as she bent closer to check the nails and fastenings holding the two pieces at right angles to each other, she noticed something interesting. The woman's arms had been tied in place before being nailed down—yes, she had noticed that already, the ropes were still in place—but what she hadn't noticed on her first inspection was the way the ropes were tied. From her military training, she recognized it as a chain hitch, with rope wrapped around the crosspiece and arm in a classic hitch that was connected to another with a twist of the rope, each hitch 'chained' to the last hitch until it reached the wrist. And then, instead of securing it with a regular knot, it was secured around the woman's wrist with a clove hitch, another knot learned by military recruits during basic training. Except this was no inexpertly-tied knot, whoever had done this was experienced at it and had tied the knot as quickly and efficiently as if they were used to such complicated tying every day.

She noted that on her pad as she examined the cross looking for her original quarry. Yes, the nails were rusted and weathered; the nails had been here, then, and had just been used to create the cross on which the victim was crucified. All 'local materials', then, which argued for the fact that the killer had simply made use of the available materials and this had been neither premeditated nor planned. As she stepped back to let the coroner load the body into a wagon for transport to the morgue, a grim smile curved her lips for a fleeting second. For all John and Finch's uncanny ability to locate someone to whom a crime was about to happen and prevent the crime from happening, there was still no substitute for good old-fashioned detective work when it came to the random imaginative craziness that humans were all too capable of when it came to hurting each other.

"Got what you need?" Fusco wandered over, holding out a cup of hot coffee. She smiled gratefully at him, tucking her pad back into her breast pocket and reaching for the cup; it was almost unseasonably cold, for a late October afternoon. Her fingers tingled with the heat emanating from the flimsy cup, and she paused to take a sip, savoring the warmth as it filled her mouth and slid down her throat. He had one too, and seemed to welcome the warmth even through his gloves.

"I think so." She hadn't liked him, to start with; but with the recent revelation that he knew John and Finch too, their working partnership had thawed from its original frosty temperature to a genuine ability to work with each other, and even a bit of sympathy and common ground. Taylor had recently met Lee, and the boys had found some common ground at discovering that they were both children of working cop single parents, and Carter had reluctantly admitted to herself long since that despite her initial reservations at working with Fusco, he was a solid, good worker and she liked the thought that he had her back. "Man, I tell ya, Fusco, I don't like this. It looks like this killer had it planned, but his use of local materials—the stuff in this railyard—indicates that he didn't really have this thought out at all. And yet, the way he displayed her body after he killed her—that's just cold."

"Cold." Fusco nodded understandingly. "Yeah, that's how I'd describe it too. Cold. It was personal, but not personally against the victims."

"And not premeditated. If it were premeditated it would have come to the attention of our friends—" she stopped speaking as a uniformed officer came up to her. "Hey, Officer…" her eyes flicked to the name tag on the uniform. Brand new, not a scratch on it yet—green rookie, wet behind the ears, "…Officer Robinson. Got the crime scene secured?"

"Uh, sorry, Ma'am. Whoever was at the motorpool today didn't make sure the trunk was equipped before I took the car out on patrol. I don't have any crime tape."

She nodded and smiled at him. "That's okay, I got some." She handed her coffee cup to Fusco, extracted a roll of the black and yellow plastic ribbon from her own trunk, and tossed it at the rookie, who caught it neatly. "There you go, Officer Robinson. Make sure you get a good five foot radius around where the body was lying, okay? We don't want the crowd getting too close and disturbing the crime scene."

"Yes Ma'am! Thank you, Ma'am!" Robinson nodded crisply and moved off toward his patrol car, and she and Fusco watched him go.

"Damn, Fusco. Is it just me, or are they recruitin' these guys younger and younger?" She shook her head wonderingly. "I hate it when they call me 'Ma'am'. Makes me feel old."

"It's not just you," Fusco sighed as he turned back to their car. "All right, come on, let's go, there's going to be lots of paperwork with this one, and I promised Lee I'd take him to a basketball game tonight."

"Yeah, last thing you want to do is disappoint your kid." Fusco started to look up at her with a hurt look, but was stopped by her broad smile. "I was joking, Fusco. Remember I'm a parent too, I know how this goes. Lighten up, will you?" He grinned at her, slightly sheepishly, and reached for the door of the car.

She was sitting at her desk, much later, flipping through crime scene photos as she filled out her report. They'd caught another case just before shift end (big surprise, there) and mindful of Fusco's promise to Lee, she'd practically ordered Fusco to get out of the station and take his son to the promised basketball game. After all, wasn't there an old saying 'If you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans?' The gods weren't going to laugh at Fusco's plans, not if she had anything to say about it. And she did—Taylor had called her to say he was studying for a test at a friend's house, and he wanted her to come pick him up at seven PM, which left her with an hour to finish up the paperwork on both their end-of-shift case and the staged murder victim case from earlier today. And maybe, if Finch and John weren't busy, she could bounce the details of the crucified victim case off John. Having a fresh pair of eyes couldn't hurt, especially not with a murder as gruesome as this one, and maybe she could get a few details closer to finding out how they knew about the premeditated cases but this one slipped under their radar…

Her cellphone rang, and she grabbed it. Speak of the devil… she grinned to herself when she saw 'unknown' on the caller ID. Formerly these 'unknown' callers were telemarketers, or crank calls, but since her working relationship with Finch and John had developed into an easy friendship, she'd suddenly found out the only time her phones (either cell or home) said 'unknown' it was John or Finch. She supposed it was one of those perks that came with working with a technological genius—fine, that was one perk she was only too happy to accept. And it also reinforced her sense of fairness; while yes, it did make her more easily reachable to them, it was a tiny simple gesture by them that was nevertheless enormously appreciated by Carter; and there was that pesky quid-pro-quo again that simply made her hesitate to ask them for any details beyond what they willingly shared with her. "Carter," she said into the phone, and didn't care that her smile came out in her voice.

"Good evening, Carter," and her smile deepened at that husky tenor. John had a very distinctive voice, whether he knew it or not; she had no idea how he could project so much of his emotion into a simple tonal change. He didn't have to shout for her to know he was angry; didn't have to laugh for her to know he was in a good mood; barely had to flatten the cadence of his voice for her to know when he was in one of his 'dangerously angry' moods, the one that didn't bode well for whoever shortly would be on the other end of his fist. Right now she could detect a slightly cheerful tone, but there was also an edge to it that said he had spent his day out doing something strenuous—probably helping someone else, she surmised—and there was still too much adrenaline racing through him for him to be able to settle down.

She took a quick look at her watch. Still half an hour before she had to pick Taylor up. And one of John's favorite 'quiet' bars—a place where he went to wind down from a day, not a dive where he looked for trouble—was right between her and Taylor's friend Rodney's house. "Hey, John."

"You sound tired." Damn the man, how the hell did he do that?

Well, two could play that game. She huffed out a breath in a laugh. "And you sound like you're winding down after a fight."

A pause, just the barest hint, half a heartbeat, but she smiled broadly to herself. Got you, didn't I? That time, at least. "You're getting better, detective."

She couldn't help it; she chuckled, a little laugh at his expense. "Well, you didn't call me 'detective' for nothing."

She heard the smile in his voice. He didn't laugh often; it wasn't in his (dark and brooding) nature. The few times she'd seen him laugh it almost always had a trace of irony, anger, bitterness, or some other emotion in it, so she treasured the times when she could bring a true smile to his face and voice. "Touché," he admitted, and she smiled to herself again, this time fondly. Few men as…intensely masculine…as John Reese was were able to laugh at themselves; somehow this just made him seem even more appealing to her. "So I'm sure, as a detective, you're well aware of what I'm going to ask you."

"Sure. You were about to ask me to meet you at The Tavern in five minutes." It was a guess; it was where she wanted to go, and it also gave John an out; if he wanted to see her tonight, he would acknowledge it; if he'd just been calling to say hi and wanted to go immediately to his…home, wherever it was, and crash, well, he could do so too, and she would neither be hurt nor harmed by it.

"Well, you said it, you aren't a detective for nothing." She let out the breath she'd unconsciously been holding and started to gather her things and load her purse. His tacit acceptance of her subtle invitation was a relief to her; she hadn't realized until just now that she really did want to see him tonight, and she wanted to bounce the details of the crucifixion murder off him, see what he thought. And eventually, Finch too, since she was sure that what one knew, so did the other.

"All right, so I'll see you in five. Not too long, I have to pick Taylor up at his friend's house at seven, but I caught this new case and I'd appreciate a fresh pair of eyes." She didn't really like asking them for help—this was her job, not theirs—but she'd gradually learned to stop feeling guilty about it since they did ask her to help them with their job occasionally. Another of those pesky quid-pro-quo things that was beneficial to all of them.

"I'll be glad to lend you my eyes."

She smiled. "See you in five then." The file with the crucifixion victims photos in it went into her bag, and thus out the door with her.