She was apparently on the concrete floor of an old warehouse.
There was the distinct sound of dripping in the distance. The building was dark and smelled of oil and kerosene. Factory smell, like hundreds of factories nearby. Jerking with an excruciating, sharp pain in her right thigh as she tried to move. Warm wetness surrounded her lower extremities—blood.
She was on her left side, fetal position, head facing the ceiling. Struggling to turn her head downward to a view of her thigh, her movements were constricted. Repositioning her head, a cough and an unexpected spray of blood shot from her mouth, some of which spattered back onto her cheeks. Blood trickled out her nose and mouth, down her neck.
Cassie closed her eyes to a feeling of deep coldness, a feeling that increased with each passing second. She was weak—breathing labored. A few more seconds and she would slip back into unconsciousness. Marshaling the strength to open her eyes one last time, she’d somehow moved her head into a position that allowed her to view her thigh.
Her jeans were pulled down below the knees and blood flowed freely from her upper right thigh, inches below the crease, between leg and pelvis. The once-white panties were almost completely soaked red. Blood ran down both thighs and pooled on the cold concrete. The increasing volume scared her and she began to weep.
Cassie was in her second year of medical school at Tidmore College. She was familiar with the human anatomy. As light-headed as she was now, she still understood completely that an unattended incision to the femoral artery was a certain death sentence. She didn’t know it then, but the small cut was actually made to the femoral vein, allowing the blood to flow without the spurting that would have occurred had the artery been cut. Her blood pressure was dropping quickly and for Cassie it didn’t really matter if the artery or vein had been severed, she was near death—and she knew it.
The precision required to target the femoral vein only made a difference to the person inflicting the pain. In terms of bleeding out, the difference meant approximately one to two minutes of additional consciousness at most. In processing the clues, Cassie understood she had only moments before she bled out completely. She tried to move her hands, but couldn’t—they’d gone numb. She could tell by the position of her shoulders that her hands were bound behind her, shackled.
She felt an unexpected hand move gently and slowly along the back of her right thigh. It almost felt like the soft caressing tickle a mother might impart to a child. She could see and feel what appeared to be a belt being placed around her right leg, just above the incision. It appeared to be a man in dark clothing squatting by her side, feeding the belt between her thighs and looping one end through the buckle.
Cassie tried to focus on the man’s face, but the distant light shining from a bank of windows high behind him made it impossible for her to focus on his facial features. But he was real, not imagined.
A deep voice: “This will give you another minute or two. You understand that the only reason I’m applying a tourniquet is because I’m having such a good time watching you suffer.” He yanked the tourniquet tight.
Cassie felt skin getting pinched. It hurt, but she knew it would slow the flow of blood. It did. The restriction reduced the sustained flow to a mere slow drip.
Too weak to respond, she fought even harder to stay awake, forcing her eyes open. She needed to understand what was happening to her and why. When the man stood up from his crouch, she caught a glimpse of his shoes and the lower portion of his trousers. He nicked her on the side with the heel of his left shoe as he stepped over her. They were dress shoes, dark brown with tassels on them. The pants looked to be dark or charcoal, with cuffs. He appeared to be well-dressed in some sort of dark overcoat.
She heard a screeching sound, like torn metal. A folding chair slid in front of her and stopped. As she tilted her head slightly backward, she could see a tripod positioned next to, but slightly behind the chair. A bright light at the top of the tripod washed a broad beam across her and into her eyes, adding to the blinding effect from sunlight streaking through high distant windows.
The man sat down on the chair just above her head and she watched him cross his legs in a relaxed manner. Cassie could only make out a silhouette as he positioned himself between her and one of the light sources. His body blocked most of the light. However, she saw a small flashing red light at the top of the tripod. A camera in record mode.
Slurring from a bloody mouth, Cassie pleaded weakly, “Please, please help me.”
“Help you? I’m not here to help you. I’m here to enjoy your pathetic, agonizing and slow death, you disgusting tramp.”
She closed her eyes. Within a few seconds she was again unconscious. It would only be another ten or fifteen seconds before her heart stopped beating. He noticed too late.
“Shit!” he screamed. “I wanted to enjoy a novel and you gave me a fucking short story, you inconsiderate bitch!”
He leapt from his chair and walked to Cassie’s lifeless body. Getting down on one knee he lifted the lid of her right eye. Squeezing the throat hard, her pupil never moved. He reached down to loosen the belt he had just placed on her leg to slow the bleeding. Rising to his feet, he got up and walked to a duffel bag that rested just below the camera tripod. Reaching inside for a cloth, he walked back to Cassie’s lifeless body, dragging the duffel with him. He slid the belt slowly and methodically through the cloth, wiping it clean, then tossing it into the duffel.
He noticed blood from the med student was now on both of his light blue surgical gloves. He reached into the bag again for some wet wipes and took great care—meticulous care—to scrub the gloves clean. The used wipes were tossed into the front zippered pocket of the duffel. It was at this point that he noticed a smudge of blood on the knee and the pant cuff of his Armani trousers.
He stopped, almost disbelieving.
“SON OF A BITCH!”
He pulled another wipe from the travel size box and dabbed at the new stain in a futile attempt. The blood must have transferred when he knelt next to the body. His mind raced a bit as he selfishly contemplated whether to take the pants to the dry cleaners or destroy them.
But he knew they would have to be destroyed along with the surgical gloves and anything else that came in direct contact with the girl.
He very much liked those pants.
He pulled a Ziploc baggie and a pair of pliers from the duffel’s main compartment. As he turned back to Cassie, her diamond stud earrings caught his eye and he placed the pliers on her face. Admiring the beauty of the diamond setting, he carefully removed one of the butterfly backs and slid the post through the pierced hole. Holding the diamond stud in his left hand, he thought about the meaning they must have held for the young student. The diamond looked to be at least half a carat. He pondered how a med student could afford such expensive jewelry.
“Daddy. It’s a gift from Daddy. How sweet.”
“Oh, I must find out who Daddy is. I think I will send him this little gift to remind him of who was with his baby girl when she took her last breath.” He addressed her directly: “Not only did I have the pleasure of watching you take your last pathetic breath, you skank whore, I will forever enjoy tormenting your dear sweet Daddy until he takes his last breath and I hope Daddy lives a very long life.”
Single earring deposited in another baggie and dropped into the duffel, picked up the pliers and reached into her mouth. Selecting her top right incisor, he carefully wrapped the pliers around it. Bracing himself with his knee against her shoulder he tugged. The pliers slipped from the wet blood and crashed into her lower teeth. A second try was more successful as the tooth ripped from the gum bed with a long and hard sucking sound.
He wiped away the residue and remaining tissue, examined the tooth carefully to make sure he had not damaged it. When he was satisfied with his prize, he systematically placed it into another small baggie. Using a Sharpie from one of the pockets in the duffel, he proceeded to write in masterful penmanship: CASSANDRA TALBERT.
He stepped with care, avoiding the blood pool, over to the camera and loosened the lock that secured it in position atop of the tripod, careful not to shake it too much, as it was still running. Slowly, he approached Cassie, zooming in slightly on her feet and legs. He stopped at the femoral incision and zoomed in tight for a closer look at his handiwork.
The cut was small, clean—and more importantly—straight and precise. He prided himself on a straight incision but was more impressed with his ability to hit only the vein, missing the more ridged and thicker artery that lay alongside by two or three centimeters. Pressing the button, he zoomed out and continued up the torso to the breasts, neck and finally Cassie’s face.
Her mouth was open, her color ashen. Eyes closed, but for the first time, the killer noticed how beautiful she was, even in death. She’d obviously worn braces when she was young. Her teeth had been nearly perfect—except of course, for the missing upper incisor. She’d had high cheek bones, a strong but not overpowering chin and smooth clear skin. Her sculpted hairline of lank blonde tresses tailed inward to her neck at the ends.
Lifting her eyelids, he took care to document the dilated green eyes. He held the camera on her right eye for at least ten seconds. He noticed a small amount of gurgling, which was completely involuntary, as expected. The camera moved back to her mouth and he zoomed in close so the microphone could pick up the faint and distant murmuring sounds. Then he held the camera steady for another few seconds until her prattling stopped.
Now all was quiet in the building. The only sound he could detect was his own heart beating with excitement. He panned back down from her face to the incision again to document the blood flow. It had almost stopped, just a single drip every few seconds or so. He was amazed at how much blood she’d lost yet still had had the ability to communicate with him. He’d become somewhat of an expert when it came to blood loss and he concluded that Cassie had sacrificed more of the precious fluid than his previous victims before she succumbed. She’d been a fighter, right to the very end.
When the man was satisfied, he turned the camera off, placed the cover over the lens and carefully put it back in its case, which he positioned into the main pocket of the duffel. He withdrew a small four-ounce plastic container and a narrow artist paint brush. Popping off the container lid, he held it next to the incision.
Rolling the body a few inches forward allowed gravity to pull blood downward, the slow dripping of blood becoming a small stream once again. The container filled slowly and when he’d obtained a sufficient amount, he used Cassie’s blue flower printed blouse to wipe the smudged blood from the outside of the container.
With several paper towels and a travel-size bottle of cleaner, he sprayed and cleared a two-foot square section on the concrete floor near Cassie’s head. He was fastidious to ensure that neither dirt nor grime was left on the small section of concrete. Waiting for the area to dry completely, he took care to store the soiled paper towels inside the duffel. Once the area was dry to his satisfaction, he placed the partially filled container on the floor in the upper right corner of the cleaned area.
Thoughtfully, the man dipped the artist brush in the container of blood and slowly and meticulously wrote a four-line poem of clues for the police to find later. The time it took to write the poem with such detailed and precise penmanship allowed him time to relax. It was cathartic; he’d had a busy day. He finished the message by centering at the bottom of the poem, the date, 03-18. After all, it was an important date, a meaningful date, something the detectives at the Stansbury Valley Police Department would find useful. Specifically, Miss Tina Patterson of the SVPD, the lead detective on the case.
Though Tina was, as of yet, unknown to him, he couldn’t have asked for a more formidable opponent. It was something of a game, one with the highest stakes imaginable. The deaths were important of course—critical really, but his foe was just as important as the perfect victim.
It was difficult for her male counter-parts, or any other male for that matter, not to crane their necks when she entered the main floor of SVPD. The entrance to the “pit” as officers called it, was a large 10’ x 10’ landing that lead to five, eight-foot wide steps with side and center hand rails that descended to the core of police headquarters. The main counter was located at the bottom of the steps twelve feet back. So, when the heavy glass doors slammed closed behind her, and the sound of her familiar clicking heels tapped the tile, it was as if she were on stage, elegantly descending from one step to the next.
With the exception of her hair color, a dirty blond, Tina Patterson was a ringer for the late, great actress, Natalie Wood. At age forty-two, and still near the same weight as her college days, a pleasing 122 pounds, she had the figure and beauty to turn heads. Today’s color from the arsenal was a navy blue tightly-fitting pantsuit and matching blazer with a white shirt. Designed originally for aging frumps, Tina somehow seemed to always make them look good.
Police headquarters was located on the corner of Main Street and 5th. The lay-out of the pit was large with six cubicles for detectives down the middle surrounded by rows of desks on either side. The offices were located on the west wall while large windows on the east side opened to City Hall across the street.
She sat at her computer reading the data from the first two murders. She dialed Pat McInnis, the county coroner.
“Hi Pat, its Tina. Have a question.”
“I’ll try to have an answer if I can.”
“Our killer on the first two murders, severed the femoral vein, not the larger and thicker femoral artery. How difficult do you think it is to try and hit the vein?”
“It’s difficult, Tina. A person would have to be skilled and have extensive knowledge of the human anatomy.”
“Maybe a coincidence?”
“I doubt it.”
“I do too, Pat. I just thought I’d double-check with the expert—thanks,” she said as she hung up.
Carefully the man gathered his supplies and packed things away in the duffel. The scene was neat and orderly—except of course for Cassie’s lifeless body lying in a pool of blood. Satisfied that this kill was as clean as the previous two, he turned off the light that snapped to the tripod and slid each of the camera stand legs up into the base.
The man slid the tripod beneath the two elastic straps on the exterior of the duffel and secured it. Then he gathered the folding chair and duffle and walked to the open doorway. Turning, he scanned the inside of the old factory to ensure that he had not left any incriminating evidence behind.
As he studied the area, a thought came to him: He would employ something new for the next kill. It would ensure a longer and slower death. It would give him time to converse with the next victim. It entailed a small amount of risk, but he was certain it would work.
Outside, his car was parked in full sunshine. Walking to the back of the car, he pulled his keys out of his front overcoat pocket and pressed the trunk figure on the fob. The trunk popped open and he placed the chair in first, then the duffel. Removing the surgical gloves, he tossed them into the front pocket with the wipes and paper towels. He zipped closed all the pockets and lowered the trunk door down until the automatic locking motor engaged and sucked the door down to a flush position. He walked around to the side, got inside the car and relaxed his head on the leather headrest.
Before he pressed the ignition button, he adjusted the rearview mirror so he could see himself. Noticing his hair slightly askew, he reached inside the glove box for a brush and stroked his hair several times to get it in just the right position. He smiled at himself and laughed under his breath. He felt exhilarated, senses heightened, and he could still feel his heart racing. It was a feeling he’d enjoyed before—not quite as intense as his first time, but that was to be expected. Still, it was a high he couldn’t get enough of.
Sitting in the swish new Mercedes for a moment to savor and reflect on his accomplishment, he deliberated all aspects of the kill to make sure he hadn’t made any mistakes or left any evidence in or around the factory—other than the intentional clue, of course. There were none, he decided. He hit the button. The car purred and he shifted into drive. There were large sections of the parking lot that had eroded and were covered with dirt that had flowed across, the result of many seasons of heavy rains that brought mud. He could hear glass cracking under the tires as he accelerated slightly.
The warehouse and factory had been abandoned for many years. It was in a part of town that had long been forgotten. As expected, the road leading away from the factory was deserted. It was only when he prepared to turn onto the main road, Portsmouth Street, that he saw traffic. He turned on his left turn signal, came to a stop at the sign and slowly pulled out when it was safe to do so.
The town of Stansbury was less than ten miles away. It would be another eight days before Cassie was discovered.