ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-EIGHT. That’s how many concrete blocks shape the ceiling of this cell. I have counted them five times over the past two days. My gaze lingers on a drop of water sweating from the wall. The air is stifling—muggy. Like a boa constrictor wrapping around me, it strangles my lungs, squeezing the life out of me.
On my back, with my arms folded behind my head, I count the concrete blocks again. One. Two. Three… Another bead of water drips down the wall and catches my gaze. My thoughts drift and I recount the events of the last two months. What did I miss? This question fuels and invigorates me. To solve this question means my freedom.
I replay the night I flew home from San Francisco. It started with a call. A call that changed everything.
I avoid day flights. Airports are full of frenzied activities. Demands blasting overhead, hired drivers waving signs, a cacophony of passenger carts parting the crowds, babies crying, and gate areas spilling over with passengers. It’s a sea of pacing and bustling or yawning over the long day’s travel or elation of recognizing your loved one. Emotions in an airport are edgy and impatient. So, I prefer night flights—less noise and congestion. And it’s night.
The airport is calm this evening. I’m standing in line at the security gate, scanning the area. Only a few people are ahead of me. A security officer sitting at the podium doesn’t greet passengers but with his hands outstretched, waits for their ID. He inspects their license, then his screen, and back to the passengers. Dark circles and bloodshot eyes express his fatigue. I hand him my ID. He takes his time reviewing my information, longer than the other passengers, and I wonder if there’s something more, something I don’t know, he’s considering. With a nearly imperceptible shrug of his shoulders, I’m allowed to advance through the gate.
My walk through the terminal is steady and casual. The news is running on several televisions, which I ignore until a bold caption reads, “The City Can Rest Tonight.” I stop and read the closed caption, “Police arrested the San Francisco Strangler.”
I’ve spent the last two days here, comparing the criminal profile I created a year ago for the San Francisco police department to recent evidence—another dead body. Confident they had the right guy; they arrested him this morning. When the criminal in a case is arrested, I breathe easier knowing the families will find justice and can move on with their lives.
Now, I’m on my way home to Seattle.
I walk into my apartment at 2:30 a.m. With a loud meow of indignation, Jasper, my cat, is there to greet me, circling my legs. Angling for me to pet him, I pick him up and give him a good scratching behind the ears, “Hey there buddy, miss me?” Purrs roll through his body. Work often takes me away, but he’s never completely alone because my housekeeper, Maria, cares for him while I’m away.
I’ve gotten little sleep over the past few days and I’m longing to shut out the world for a few hours. My legs drag me to the bedroom closet. I put my shoes away and strip down. Heaviness rests upon my eyelids and I fall into bed saying good night to Jasper and drift off to sleep until a persistent vibration gnaws me to consciousness.
I gasp for air to catch my breath. I sweep the room with my eyes and find my bearings. Home. I reach for the nightstand and pick up the phone. “Calloway.” There’s a familiar, gravelly voice on the other end of the line, Chief John Phipps of the Seattle Police Department, otherwise known as the Seattle PD.
“Jack, Chief John Phipps here. We have a case. We could use your expertise.”
The air in my room has changed, and I can feel heat rising underneath my skin. “What time is it?”
“It’s 7:30 a.m. If I remember right, you like to work at night? Was hoping to catch you before you call it a day… or night.”
I had slept for four hours, but it felt like five minutes. “Yeah, normally. I had a case that didn’t rest.” I swing my legs over the edge of the bed, my slippers waiting. I step into them and walk to the bathroom.
“Homicide, rape, or arson?” I ask as I reach for a towel to wipe the sweat off my face. I was having the same nightmare. The one I’ve been having for years. The one I can’t seem to get beyond.
After a long pause, as if weighing the pros and cons of answering my question, the chief’s reply comes across strained. “You’ll want to see for yourself.” I hear shuffling of paper and a few taps to flesh it out like the matter is settled, a sign he’s satisfied with his answer. Chief John Phipps likes things organized and tidy, his desk, his department, his cases, and his life. I can relate, but I gather from his response; this case is anything but tidy.
I turn, lean on the counter, and run my fingers through my hair. His response irritates me. “I need a little more than that.”
Phipps’s voice is low, like he’s worried someone will overhear. “It’s a strong possibility we’ve got a serial killer.”
“How many bodies?” I ask.
“This makes three.”
“And you’re just bringing me in now?”
There is a long pause before he answers. “Budget issues.”
My thoughts take me to the San Francisco case. The SFPD lost momentum in their investigation because the press leaked information, causing the perp to go underground for the next six months. Any spin the press makes can either help or hurt an investigation. “What does the press know?”
Phipps sighs. “Not a lot. We’re doing our best to contain it, for now.”
“Good. Give me a heads up before you put out a statement.”
There are certain things I prefer to know before I agree to a consultation. If multiple agencies are involved, it’s almost not worth taking on. The red tape is daunting and too many egos get involved. Headaches I don’t want. “Are there other agencies involved?”
“Not yet, we’d like to keep it that way.”
“Where do you need me to go?”
“Seward Park. Detective Halstead and Officer Dunn are at the scene now. Dunn was the first to arrive. His team secured the crime scene and Halstead was called in. The CSI unit should be there.”
The Criminal Scene Investigation, known as the CSI, is the Seattle PD’s division of forensics. I glance again at the mirror and decide shaving can wait. “Carla’s team?” My gaze turns to the counter, and a lump forms in my throat. My thoughts briefly drift to the case Carla Briggs and I worked three years ago.
“Yeah, Detective Halstead called her team in for forensics. Halstead’s lead detective. And you can’t miss the crime scene.”
Crime scenes leave clues. The nature and character of the criminal is determined based on patterns, behaviors, and methods found at the crime scene. That’s where I come in. Jack Calloway–Criminal Profiler and Private Investigator.
Occasionally, I work for police departments by developing criminal profiles. I also provide services to non-law enforcement agencies. Missing persons, infidelity, robbery, vandalism, cases where the police run into dead ends or situations where individuals don’t want to involve the police.
Already, I wasn’t off to a great start. I should’ve asked about the lead detective before agreeing. Ed Halstead and I have a history. “Does Ed know you’re bringing me in?”
The chief pauses long enough for me to know it’s been discussed, and a decision was made. “He knows.”
“Give me an hour.” The call ends and I take a deep breath, exhaling slowly.
I glance at myself in the mirror. My hair is disheveled, caused by the same nightmare and the same fight I always have. My fingers won’t be enough to style my hair. I retrieve a comb from the drawer, reshaping the waves of my black hair.
Dark shadows hold my sunken eyes into place. I don’t tan, but on my better days, my skin is more like white satin. Right now, it’s a flat eggshell white. The fact that I haven’t eaten in a couple of days, or slept, shows. If I had followed my gut, I might’ve gotten more sleep. Not that I need a lot of sleep. I don’t.
I was chasing a dead-end lead before I got called to San Francisco. I was running down a small-time outfit, who had pickpocketed the wrong person. A junkie who I sometimes use for information steered me to Adam Young. And although I could usually trust the information I got on the street, my gut cautioned me this time. At the very least, I should have hired someone else to follow up, rather than spend twenty-four hours following this kid.
I frown at myself in the mirror. I look like I’m wasting away. A shower, nourishment, and donning a high-end outfit will cure all of my afflictions.
I like to take pride in my appearance. I prefer designer clothes, tailored to fit, and the accessories to match. Right now, I look like I had been lost in the woods for a week.
I take a quick shower and get dressed. The first forty-eight hours in a case like this are critical. The chances of solving a homicide are cut in half if a viable lead isn’t found. Sleep takes a backseat. It will be another long day.
I gulp down a breakfast drink, grab my keys, and head into the elevator reaching the main floor.
My office is in the same building as my apartment. I don’t have time to stop and leave a note for Shannon Tieg, my receptionist slash assistant, but I can check in with her later. I enter the garage, jump into my Porsche, and take off toward Seward Park.
Seward Park, located at the Southeast end of Seattle, is on a peninsula. Hundreds of acres of forested land surrounded by Lake Washington. It is an outdoor playground, extremely popular during warmer weather.
As I pull into the entrance, flashing lights draw my attention. A combination of police cars and barricades block the area. I pull forward and bring my window down. A woman in uniform stops me. She squares her shoulders and leans toward my vehicle, and with an authoritative voice states, “Sir, you need to turn around, the park is closed today.”
As if distracted by my presence, she studies me. I naturally draw women in, and I used to take full advantage of their blind attraction. Anymore, I ignore the bait, unless it serves me.
Her posture relaxes, and her gaze softens. She lifts her chin slightly, exposing her neck. The vein, dark and slightly protruding, pulsates, pulling me in. Her badge reads, “Officer Sanders”.
Officer Sanders is plain-looking, not unattractive, but not memorable either. Her frame is stocky. She has short brown hair and soft facial features. The muscles in her jaw are tense and I can tell, by the pulse in her vein, she’s nervous. Her youth and nervousness inform me she is new to law enforcement. No training prepares you for murder.
I clear my throat. She slightly jumps as if coming out of a daze, shaking her head. “I’m a consultant for Seattle PD.” I pull out my ID. She glances at it. Her lips purse. She sighs, steps back, and radios for approval. She watches me as she waits for the answer. With a slight upturn of her lips, she murmurs, “They’re expecting you. Follow Seward Park Road to the second parking lot, you’ll see the command center and check-in there.”
As dawn breaks, the park becomes a silhouette of itself. I drive to the lot and park. It’s cloudy now, but in Seattle, it rains while the sun shines. I reach into my glove box, take out a pair of sunglasses, and stuff them into my jacket pocket. With long, confident strides, I walk toward a white canvas tent—the command center. The central point where decisions get made on how a crime scene is processed, how evidence will be collected and cataloged, and where anyone who enters the crime scene needs to sign-in. Men and women are bustling about. Some in uniforms and others in street clothes. Contentment and delight surges within. I’m in my element.
A tall blonde, blue-eyed woman in a periwinkle-colored pantsuit spots me. A white blouse opens just enough to highlight her cleavage. A holster and badge firmly secured on narrow hips. Hips I know well.
I nod. “Ms. Briggs. “What do we have?”