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Authors: Ed Gorman

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BOOK: New Title 1
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Vic went over and sat back down.
"We're staying in Cedar Rapids," she said. "The Collins Plaza."
"I'll call you tomorrow."
"I'd appreciate that."
She stood up. So did Vic.
She came over and shook my hand and said, "Mike said you were one of the best trackers he'd ever known. He said you could find practically anybody."
"I used to pay him to say that."
She smiled. "You don't take compliments very well, do you?"
"No," I said, "I guess I don't."
I walked them out to the Caddy and stood in the drive as they pulled away, their headlights sweeping over me as Vic turned toward Cedar Rapids thirty-five miles away.
By now it was full night, and my friend the barn owl was calling out from his crook at the top of the hardwood down by the creek.
It was a lonely sound, a perfect complement to the look in Nora Conners's eyes.
I went back inside, fed the cats, fed myself, opened another beer, and started in on Mike Peary's letter.
Dear Nora,
I'm mailing this to you on the night before I go back to New Hope, Iowa, and see which of my three suspects falls into the trap I set. More about this later.
I wanted to review everything with you in case something should happen to me and you need corroboration for the county attorney when you finally turn everything over to him and he in turn brings in the police. I think you're right. From what I know of Haldeman, he's a good and honest public official and I think he'll resist your father's interference.
So, for the record, here's my official statement:
On October 9, 1992, I, Michael John Peary, was hired by Nora Conners to find the murderer of her twelve-year-old daughter Maryanne. She had been killed eight years earlier, in Illinois. No arrests had ever been made. Local police led Nora to believe that no serious suspects had ever been turned up in their investigation. Recent murders here in Iowa suggested that Maryanne's murderer may have left Illinois and come to Iowa.
I was hired because my last five years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation were largely spent working out of the FBI Academy. I helped local law-enforcement agencies do "profiling" of killers, which simply means looking for patterns in crimes and speculating on the nature and characteristics of the offender. This kind of profiling led to the FBI's capture of several infamous serial killers.
I took early retirement because I'd always wanted to write suspense novels and I figured that age 53 was not too early to start.
The novel wasn't going so well when Nora Conners showed up at my apartment in Ames, Iowa, that afternoon. She told me about Maryanne and about her own determination to find the killer.
She said that, given my background, and given the fact that this was the only case I'd be working on, I would likely do a better job than the police had. She offered me a generous amount of money to lead her search.
The first sixty days were spent at various computers. The circumstances of Maryanne's murder suggested that she had possibly met up with a serial killer. I say "suggested." I was operating on hunch and instinct as much as anything. There was always the possibility that a local child molester had grabbed her, become panic-stricken, and killed her, as frequently happens.
I started by going through the national computer files searching for all similar cases. When I had those categorized, I subcategorized them again by—(a) similarities, (b) differences.
I found that four murders with a heavy percentage of similarities had taken place in Iowa over the past three years.
1. Victims were all girls 12-14 years of age.
2. The victims' necks had been broken.
3. The victims' bodies were severely mutilated with some weapon on the order of a butcher knife.
4. The victims' genitalia were cut up and pieces of it placed on their lips.
During the ensuing seven months, I studied the case history of each girl, still looking for similarities.
Because serial killers sometimes tend to murder the same "type" over again—girls with blonde hair, black girls, crippled girls, etc.—I wanted to find one special element that the girls had in common.
One was Jewish, one was Catholic, one was Methodist, one belonged to no particular church. One was involved in sports, one was involved in theater, one was starting her own rock band, one collected dolls. None of them had ever seen the same doctor, dentist, hairdresser. Two wore glasses, two did not. One had been a Dairy Princess contestant, three had not. Three had enjoyed playing video games, one had not.
Then I started making notes on various trips the girls had made over their lives and that was how I learned about New Hope, Iowa.
For different reasons, each girl had visited New Hope shortly before her death.
MONICA KOSTNER had visited there 1-6-90 on an excursion to the Midwestern Pioneer Museum there. She was accompanied by her mother.
SUSAN DOUGHERTY had visited there 11-17-91 to see her aunt, a Mrs. Charles DeWitt. She was accompanied by her father.
MICHELE ROYCE had visited there 7-3-92 and again 8-16-92 to see her grandfather who was dying of throat cancer. She was accompanied by both her parents.
BETTY NOLAN had visited there 8-8-92 to stay overnight with a former classmate, Donna Simpson, who had recently moved there with her parents. Betty took a Greyhound bus from Marion, Iowa, to New Hope. She was unaccompanied both up and back.
After compiling all this data, I spent the next three weeks in New Hope, Iowa looking for a man who fit my profile:
He sounds very organized to me and so I'd say that he is in all likelihood a firstborn son. His father's work would be stable. But his parental discipline has always been unstable and inconsistent. He has an average or above-average intelligence, but he usually works at jobs below his ability. The FBI profile would show that he'd probably be fascinated with news coverage about himself—his "secret other self"—and might keep a scrapbook of clippings or even a photo album showing his mutilated victims. He is probably between 20 and 40 years of age.
There is a lot more, of course, which I'll share with you at a later date.
During the course of my investigation in New Hope, Iowa, I met three men who qualify as serious suspects per the profile. They are:
CAL ROBERTS, 36, Caucasian, married, no children. Heavy travel schedule part of his "mission" for the True Light Church, a TV ministry that is always trying to line up new cable outlets. Roberts travels a six-state area calling on local cable companies.
RICHARD McNALLY, 38, Caucasian, father of one daughter. Sells gourmet honey for local beekeeper. Travels the Midwest mostly talking to upscale restaurants. Has been in Des Moines many times.
SAMUEL LODGE, age 38, Caucasian, married, no children. Used to teach art at the U of Iowa. Now gives private lessons and helps his wife run antique shop. Lectures throughout the Midwest.
This is my report up to date. Tomorrow I'm going to rent a room at the River's Edge Lodge and get into some serious investigation.
I have to say that I don't have any particular reason to suspect any of the three men I've named here. They simply, in broad terms, fit the profile.
As per agreement, I will call you at least twice a week with updates.
Talk to you soon,
Mike Peary
Peary had attached several pages of forms and notes that went into his findings in clinical detail.
What surprises most people about such reports is that they aren't much concerned with the crime scene itself—the way a detective's report would be—but with the mind of the killer itself. Most folks on the behavioral-science unit hold degrees in psychology and psychiatry. They speculate on the killer rather than his deeds.
The profiling was identical: you collected and evaluated data, you reconstructed the murders, and you began interpreting the data to give yourself a rough-draft profile, which you then began refining. You needed not only a good, intuitive police mind, you also needed a strong stomach. You learned a great deal from studying autopsy and crime-scene photos and most of them were tough to deal with, no matter how long you'd been at it. After that, you did your profile of the killer to see how it fit previous patterns.
Peary and I had talked about applying for a Small Business Administration loan and setting up shop sometime. If we could have agreed where to put it—he wanted to stay in Des Moines, I voted for Cedar Rapids—we might even have had a chance.
But no longer. All that remained of Peary was a large stack of papers from his very first, unfinished case.
4
After reading Mike Peary's letter, I sat in my den with Tasha in my lap and the other two cats next to me. Tash was a tabby, the others of very mixed but very cute heritage.
I sensed that this was going to be the same kind of claustrophobic assignment our own friendly government had often given me. Undercover work with people who were either indifferent to my investigation and therefore uncooperative, or who were downright hostile. Small towns were the same the world over. People tended to be suspicious the moment you started asking questions.
I also thought about Mike Peary. He'd won most of the citations and awards the Bureau gave its agents. He belonged on the front of a Wheaties box—a smart, cautious, fair-minded and brave agent who was determined to help rebuild the Agency's reputation following the last sad years of J. Edgar Hoover's time.
Then Mike's life took an unexpected turn. He'd hinted for years that his marriage was less than wonderful, but over our last lunch he told me that his wife had fallen in love with one of the men she worked with. The man was getting a divorce; so was Mike's wife.
I started hearing rumors of Mike spending an undue amount of time in Cedar Rapids bars. I phoned him once late last year to see if he wanted to go to an eggnog party some people we knew were throwing. He declined, saying he was pretty busy. Now I knew why he'd been busy. Working for Nora. I asked him about his novel. He'd said that he was stalled temporarily but would be getting back to it when this job was over. He actually sounded reasonably happy. "It's getting my juices flowing again, Robert. I really may be on to something here."
"You going to tell me about it?" I'd asked.
He laughed. "You know better than that. I can't discuss an ongoing investigation with a guy who won't move to Des Moines. But when it's all over, we'll have a steak dinner and I'll give you every gory detail. And believe me, they really are gory."
So now here I was all these months later, sitting with his letter in my den, a chill rain starting to pummel the roof and windows, Mike dead and me about to get involved in the same case that at least as Nora told it may well have taken his life.
I picked up a Xerox copy of an article I was going to use in my book about Iowa. The article was about granny medicine in the Midwest, granny medicine being a kind of radical folk medicine practiced on the very early frontier. Next time you think that going to the doctor is so bad, consider some granny remedies (true facts) for health problems back in the early 1800s.
Consumption could be cured by eating the fried heart of a rattlesnake.
Lockjaw could be cured by grinding up cockroaches into boiling water and serving the concoction as tea.
Mouth odor could be cured by rinsing one's mouth every morning with one's own urine.
Birthmarks on babies could be made to disappear by rubbing against the marks with the hand of a corpse.
(I will never again complain about the fee I pay to visit my doctor.)
I took the odd nap in the odd place, right there in the den with my head thrown back against the wall, so that my neck would be nice and stiff when I woke up.
To be perfectly honest, I had no idea what the sound was that woke me. Not at first, anyway.
Just glass breaking late in the night.
I clipped off the reading light, set Tasha next to Crystal and Tess on the couch, then groped my way through the darkness to the kitchen.
I'd left my Ruger on the table, which was where I usually cleaned it.
The second noise identified itself exactly. Somebody was firing bullets through my front window.
I got on my hands and knees and crawled through the small dining room.
In the living room I went to the far window and eased my head up an inch or so for a quick look at the gravel road fronting my house.
A lone and lonely street lamp outlined the dark car sitting across from my house. There was a man inside with a long rifle with a long scope on it. He didn't seem to be in any particular hurry. He didn't seem to be especially afraid.
He squeezed off the third shot
He must have seen me because he took the window where I crouched. Breaking glass made a sharp, dramatic sound and then began falling, in jagged bits and pieces, on the top of my head and my shoulders. A few pieces cut me.
Long silent seconds passed. My body was chilled from cold sweat. My breathing came in hot gasps. My hands were shaking. Some people may get used to being shot at, but I'm not one of them.
I was just starting to raise my head again when I heard him gun his motor. And then he was gone.
I stood up and watched him race out of the circle of light the street lamp provided, roaring into the rolling prairie darkness.
Now it wasn't just my hands, it was my whole body shaking.
I went into the den and turned on the light and sat down next to the cats. They didn't look scared at all.
I leaned forward and slid open one of the lower panels on the small bar.
The Jack Daniel's Black Label I took from there filled half a glass just right. I knocked the stuff back and had another one. I wasn't much of a drinker—in fact on a bad night two drinks can make me sleepy—but tonight I needed a little help.
I thought about calling the police, but I didn't want them to look into my background as an investigator. Local police tend to get unfriendly about such folks.
Two hours later, I fell asleep in bed, the cats sprawled out all over the foot, my Robert Louis Stevenson novel now being occupied by Tess.
I had troubled dreams, none of which I could remember when morning came and sang her siren song.
BOOK: New Title 1
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