Authors: Donato Carrisi
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General
ila got off the train. Her face was bright and her eyes swollen from her sleepless night. She walked under the roof of the station. The building consisted of a magnificent nineteenth-century main hall and a huge shopping center. Everything was clean and orderly. And yet, after a few minutes, Mila knew all its dark corners. The places she would look for missing children. Where life is bought and sold, where it nestles or hides.
But that wasn’t why she was there.
Two colleagues were waiting for her in the office of the railway police. A stocky woman of about forty, with an olive complexion and big hips, too big for the jeans she was wearing. And a man of about thirty-eight, very tall and well-built. He made her think of the lads from the village where she had grown up. She’d gone out with a couple of them at middle school. She remembered how clumsy their advances had been.
The man smiled at her, but his colleague merely stared, with one eyebrow raised. Mila stepped over for the introduction ritual. Sarah Rosa mumbled her name and rank. The man, however, held out his hand, saying clearly, “Hello, I’m Special Agent Klaus Boris.” Then he offered to carry her canvas bag: “Let me.”
“No, thanks, I can do it myself,” said Mila.
But he insisted: “It’s not a problem.”
His tone, and the stubborn way he smiled at her, told Mila that Agent Boris must be a bit of a ladies’ man, convinced that he could work his charm on any woman who came within range. She was sure that he’d decided to have a try as soon as he had seen her in the distance.
Boris suggested having a coffee before setting off, but Sarah Rosa glared at him.
“What’s up? What did I say?” he pleaded.
“We don’t have much time, remember?” the woman shot back dismissively.
“Our colleague has had a long journey and I was just thinking that—”
“There’s no need,” Mila cut in. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Mila had no intention of getting on the wrong side of Sarah Rosa, who didn’t seem to appreciate the fact that Mila was there to work with them.
They reached the car in the car park, and Boris sat down in the driver’s seat. Rosa sat next to him. Mila got into the back, along with her canvas bag. They pulled out into the traffic and headed down the road that ran along the river.
Sarah Rosa seemed rather annoyed to have to act as escort to a colleague. Boris didn’t seem to mind.
“Where are we going?” asked Mila shyly.
Boris looked at her in the rearview mirror. “Headquarters. Chief Inspector Roche needs to talk to you. He’s going to be giving you your instructions.”
“I’ve never had anything to do with a serial killer case before,” Mila pointed out.
“You won’t have to catch anyone,” Rosa replied acidly. “We’ll take care of that. Your only task is to discover the name of the sixth child. I hope you’ve been able to study the file…?”
Mila ignored the note of smugness in her colleague’s voice as she thought of the sleepless night she had spent on that envelope. The photographs of the buried arms. The sparse medico-legal data about the age of the victims and the chronology of the deaths.
“What happened in that forest?” she asked.
“It’s the biggest case for ages!” Boris said, taking his hands off the wheel for a moment, excited as a little boy. “Never seen anything like it. If you ask me, the shit’s about to hit the fan at the top level. That’s why Roche is bricking it.”
Boris’s vulgar slang annoyed Sarah Rosa, and Mila too, in fact. She had never met the chief inspector but she already knew that his men didn’t hold him in especially high regard. Certainly, Boris was more direct, but if he took these liberties in front of Rosa it meant that she agreed with him, even if she didn’t let on.
It’s not going well,
Mila thought. She decided to judge Roche and his methods for herself, not be swayed by the comments she might come to hear.
Rosa repeated a question and only then did Mila notice that she was talking to her.
“Is that blood yours?”
Sarah Rosa had turned in her seat and was pointing at a spot at the bottom. Mila looked at her thigh. Her trousers were stained with blood; the scar had opened up. She put a hand on it and hastily came up with an explanation.
“I fell when I was jogging,” she lied.
“Well, try and get that wound healed. We don’t want your blood contaminating any of our samples.”
Mila felt suddenly embarrassed by the rebuke, not least because Boris was staring at her in the mirror. She hoped it would stop there, but Rosa hadn’t finished her lesson.
“Once, a rookie who was supposed to be keeping an eye on the scene of a sexual homicide went and pissed in the victim’s bathroom. We spent six months chasing a ghost, thinking the murderer had forgotten to flush.”
Boris laughed at the memory. Mila, though, tried to change the subject. “Why did you call me? Couldn’t you find the girl by just glancing at the list of disappearances for the past month?”
“Don’t ask us…” said Rosa spicily.
The dirty work,
thought Mila. It was only too obvious that that was why she had been called in. Roche had wanted to give the thing to someone outside the unit, who wasn’t too close to him, to let them take the fall if the sixth corpse were left nameless.
“What about the families of the other five?” asked Mila.
“They’re coming over to headquarters too, for the DNA test.”
Mila thought of those poor parents, forced to subject themselves to the DNA lottery to be certain that the blood of their blood had been barbarously killed. Soon their lives would change forever.
“And what do we know about the monster?” she asked, trying to distract herself from that thought.
“We don’t call him a monster,” Boris observed. “That would depersonalize him.” As he said it, Boris exchanged a meaningful glance with Rosa. “Dr. Gavila doesn’t like that.”
“Dr. Gavila?” Mila repeated.
“You’ll meet him.”
Mila’s unease increased. It was plain that her scant knowledge of the case put her at a disadvantage over her colleagues, who would be able to make fun of her over it. But once again she didn’t say a word to defend herself.
Rosa, on the other hand, had no intention of leaving her in peace and pressed her indulgently: “You see, my dear, you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t understand how things stand. I’m sure you’re good at your work, but this is different, because serial killers have different rules. And that applies to the victims, too. They’ve done nothing to deserve it. Their only crime, most of the time, is that they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or they were wearing one particular color rather than another when they left the house. Or, as in our case, their crime was to be little girls, Caucasian, and to be aged between nine and thirteen…Don’t take this the wrong way, but you can’t know these things. Nothing personal.”
Yeah sure, I believe that,
thought Mila. Since the very moment when they met, Rosa had made everything personal.
“I learn quickly,” Mila replied.
Rosa turned and looked at her, her face hard: “Do you have children?”
Mila was startled for a moment. “No, why? What’s that got to do with it?”
“Because when you find the parents of the sixth little girl, you’ll have to tell them the ‘reason’ why their beautiful daughter was treated like that. But you will know nothing about them, about the sacrifices they made to bring her up and educate her, the sleepless nights when she had a temperature, the savings they’d put aside for her studies, to make sure she had a future, the hours spent playing with her, or helping her with her homework.” Rosa’s tone was getting increasingly angry. “And you will never know why three of those girls wore the same shiny polish on their nails, or that one of them had an old scar on her elbow because maybe she fell off her bike when she was five, or that they were all young and pretty and their dreams and desires of that innocent age have been violated forever! You don’t know these things because you’ve never been a mother.”
“‘Hollie,’” was Mila’s brusque reply.
“What?” Sarah Rosa stared at her without comprehension.
“The brand of nail polish is called Hollie. It’s the shiny kind, coral dust. It was a freebie that was given away a month ago with a teenage magazine. That’s why all three of them had it: it was really successful. Also, one of the victims was wearing a charm bracelet.”
“We haven’t found a bracelet,” said Boris, who was starting to get interested.
Mila took one of the photographs out of the folder. “It’s number two, Anneke. The skin near her wrist is paler. A sign that she was wearing something there. The murderer might have taken it off, perhaps she lost it when she was being kidnapped or during a struggle. They were all right-handed except for one: she had ink stains on the side of her index finger, she was left-handed.”
Boris was impressed, Rosa startled. Mila was a river in full spate. “One last thing: number six, the one whose name we don’t know, knew the one who vanished first, Debby.”
“How the hell do you know that?” asked Rosa.
Mila took the pictures of the arms out of the folder one by one. “There’s a little red dot on the tips of both their index fingers.
They’re blood sisters
The Department of Behavioral Sciences of the Federal Police dealt chiefly with savage crimes. Roche had been head of it for eight years, and he had been able to revolutionize its style and methods. He had been the one, in fact, to open the doors to civilians like Dr. Gavila who, with his writing and research, was unanimously considered the most innovative amongst current criminologists.
In the investigative unit, Agent Stern was the information officer. He was the oldest and the most senior. His job involved collecting data that would then be used to construct profiles and trace parallels with other cases. He was the “memory” of the group.
Sarah Rosa was the logistics officer and computer expert. She spent much of her time studying new technologies, and she had received specific training in the planning of police operations.
Finally there was Boris, the interrogating officer. His responsibility was to question the people involved using the most appropriate method, and to make the possible culprit confess. He was a specialist in all kinds of techniques that would achieve that goal. And usually he reached it.
Roche issued the orders, but he didn’t materially direct the unit: it was Dr. Gavila’s intuitions that guided investigations. The chief inspector was a politician more than anything else, and his choices were often dictated by his career. He liked to appear in public and take the merit for investigations that were going well. In the ones that were unsuccessful, however, he divided responsibility around the whole group or, as he had called it, “the Roche unit.” This method had brought him the dislike and often the contempt of his subordinates.
They were all in the meeting room on the sixth floor of the building that was home to the midtown Department headquarters.
Mila sat down in the back row. In the bathroom she had treated the wound in her leg again, closing it up with two layers of sticking plaster. Then she had changed her jeans for another identical pair.
She looked around, setting her bag on the floor. She immediately recognized a gangling man as Chief Inspector Roche. He was talking animatedly to an unassuming man with a curious aura about him. A gray light. Mila was sure that outside that room, in the real world, the man would have vanished like a ghost. But in here his presence had a meaning. He was plainly the Dr. Gavila that Boris and Rosa had been talking about in the car.
There was something about the man that immediately made you forget his crumpled clothes and untidy hair.
It was his eyes, huge and piercing.
As he went on talking to Roche, he shifted them onto Mila, catching her in flagrante. She looked away, awkwardly, and after a while he did the same, going to sit down not far from her. From that point onwards he ignored her completely, and a few minutes later the meeting officially began.
Roche stepped onto the platform and began to speak with a solemn gesture of his hand, as if talking to an enormous audience rather than an auditorium of five people.
“I have just heard the scientific report: our Albert has left no clues behind. He really knows what he’s doing. Not a trace, not a fingerprint in the little graveyard of arms. He just left us with six little girls to find. Six bodies…and a name.”
Then the inspector invited Goran to speak, but Goran didn’t join him on the platform. Instead he stayed in his place, with his arms crossed and his legs stretched out under the row of chairs in front of him.
“Albert knew from the start how things would go. He predicted them down to the smallest detail. He’s the one running the show. And six is a complete number in the formula of serial murder.”
“Six-six-six, the number of the beast,” Mila interjected impulsively. Everyone turned to look at her with expressions of reproach.
“Let’s not resort to that kind of banality,” said Goran, and Mila felt herself sinking into the floor. “When we talk about a complete number we are referring to the fact that the subject has already completed one series or more.”
Barely noticeably, Mila frowned and Goran guessed that she hadn’t understood, so he explained it better: “We call someone a serial killer if they have killed three times using similar methods.”
“Two corpses only make a multiple murderer,” added Boris.
“That’s why six victims are two series.”
“So it’s a kind of convention?” Mila asked.
“No. It means that if you kill for the third time you don’t stop,” said Rosa, bringing the discussion to an end.
“The inhibitory brakes are relaxed, the sense of guilt is lessened and now you’re killing mechanically,” Goran concluded and turned back to the others. “But why don’t we know anything about corpse number six?”
Roche broke in. “We do know one thing now. From what I have been told, our distinguished colleague has supplied us with a clue that
consider to be important. She has linked the nameless victim to Debby Gordon, our number one.” Roche said it as if Mila’s idea were in fact his own. “Officer Vasquez, if you would be so kind as to tell us the results of your investigative intuition.”