J. Edgar Hoover Building
11.21 AM, Monday March 4th, 2013
“Hey, Starling!” The voice reverberates around the indoor range, but Penny ignores it anyway, pretending that her earmuffs have blocked out the sound, until her current magazine is emptied. Only when she’s put the gun down and trundled the target toward herself, noting with pleasure the tight clustering of holes at the paper heart, does she look over at the observation room to see who’s seen fit to disturb her at practice.
If it’s Kripke, she’s gonna reload.
It isn’t. Winkle’s waving at her, looking half irritated and half amused. “Come on, girl. Hofstadter’s finalized the psych profile on Valentine. Briefing’s in ten minutes.”
“How long do you think ‘Valentine’ is gonna stick?” Penny asks, hanging up her earmuffs and returning the practice piece. “Once the press get wind of this...”
“It’s worth a try.” Winkle tucks her hand through Penny’s arm and tows her toward the meeting room. “Anyway, it might not last for long. Bevvie’s got the guy pretty well nailed, so far as I can tell from what the SAC was saying, and with her profile we should be able to start narrowing it down.”
“Jesus, Winkle, do you ever call anyone by the name on their badge?”
“No, Clarice,” Winkle says, and sucks her teeth at Penny.
Dr. Hofstadter stands at the front of the room, uncapped whiteboard marker in her hand. VALENTINE is already printed across the top of the whiteboard, with what information they’ve managed to verify so far underneath it. The list is depressingly short. Penny scans the room for Kripke and doesn’t see him, but to her surprise -- thanks a lot for the warning, Winkle, she thinks -- it looks like Wheaton’s the SAC. He’s standing up the front with Dr. Hofstadter, holding a clipboard with a thick sheaf of papers on it. The room is full; some of the agents won’t be in the final group for the case but for something like this everyone needs to be at the big briefings, just in case.
“Can I get everyone’s attention?” he calls out. Yep. Whenever Penny finds out which of the ADs made him king of the hill she’s going to eviscerate and eat them herself. This should be her baby, dammit, and instead of her it’s Wheaton front and center, just because -- she doesn’t even know why, but she feels like it probably has something to do with gender, and which one of them is willing to kiss the most ass to get the really interesting assignments.
It’s not fair. She found the first one herself. Her, not Wheaton, not anyone else. Found the body, dumped by the track that she runs every morning through Poplar Ridge Park. Did the initial (boring, boring, boring) paperwork to file it as a murder. Was the first to hear about the heart thing from the pathologist who did the post-mortem. (And been a little disturbed at just how much Dr. Rostenkowski’s eyes had lit up when she had been describing the careful, nigh-surgical removal of the heart.) This should be her case and she doesn’t know how to keep the anger from showing on her face.
“You could have warned me,” she murmurs to Winkle.
Winkle’s hand tightens on her arm and then falls away. “I didn’t know how to break it to you.”
Wheaton gazes pointedly across the room at them. Penny falls silent and looks at her feet so that she doesn’t have to look into his too familiar eyes. She somehow doesn’t think that their current expression is laden with desire. She folds her arms and surreptitiously pinches the back of her wrist to attempt to shut her brain up.
“Based on the current evidence retrieved from the three crime scenes, suspect Valentine is male, in his thirties, and likely to be Caucasian. No DNA has yet been located, indicating that he’s intelligent enough to cover his tracks; glove marks and powder at two of the scenes were of a readily obtainable brand.” Dr. Hofstadter pushes her glasses up her nose. “The precision of the removal of the hearts suggests someone familiar with anatomy. The autopsy results indicate use of a professional bone saw and spreader as well as various sizes of scalpel, so Valentine has access to surgical equipment.” As she speaks, Wheaton writes the information down in dot points on the whiteboard. “If he’s not a doctor himself he knows someone who is. It’s not exactly the sort of thing one obtains from Craigslist.” She permits herself a thin smile.
“What’s he doing with the hearts?” someone down the front asks.
“That we don’t yet know, although generally speaking, profiling in similar cases indicates the intent to use the body parts obtained for consumption.”
Penny groans internally. She just knows that Winkle’s never going to stop calling her Starling now.
“Why the heart?” someone else asks. “There have to be easier body parts to remove. Couldn’t he just cut himself off a piece of ass?” There’s a spatter of laughter at this, which subsides when both Hofstadter and Wheaton glare.
“There are many nutrients available in the heart,” says a new voice from the side of the podium. Dr. Rostenkowski, blonde hair falling out of its typical tight bun, takes the three steps lightly and turns to face the assembled agents. “Vitamins, especially B vitamins; antioxidants; potentially free radical scavengers, depending on the health of the heart in questions... considering he’s been targeting joggers, they’re probably quite fit. It can be high in cholesterol, but again, that’s probably less of an issue in the young, healthy people he’s been going after.”
And that, right there, is why it should be Penny’s case.
Because it could be her next.
“Cheer up,” says Winkle when they’re out of the briefing and settled at their favorite cafe just off Pennsylvania Avenue. “At least it’s not lady suits.”
“All things considered, I think I’d prefer lady suits. I mean, can you imagine all the puns that can come from ‘heart’? The radio stations will do a My Bloody Valentine revival, and that I don’t need.”
Winkle cocks an eyebrow, stirring sugar into her latte. “Who was the one who thought of calling him ‘Valentine’ in the first place?”
“Me,” Penny admits. “But it wasn’t the heart thing. I didn’t know the, you know, extent of the heart thing at the time.”
“Oh. Why, then?”
“Did I not tell you when I found the first one?”
“Right,” Winkle says when it sinks in. “Oh. Nice gift, huh?”
“I would have preferred chocolates,” Penny says. Thinking about it is putting her off her cappuccino. She remembers the flash of light nearly blinding her, going to see what it was, seeing first the wristwatch face gleaming in the sun and then the slim, feminine arm that it was attached to. A young woman, like her, whose name she’d never known but who she’d occasionally nodded and smiled at as they passed each other on their respective circuits of the track. Inexpertly concealed behind a stand of bushes, she would have been the only one that was found, if not for chance. But three days later a golfer found the second one when he hit his ball into the water near hole three out on the east course at Compass Pointe. That one had been tied and weighted down, but had bobbed up in the reeds. And the third one had been found a week later by an enthusiastic dog that had scratched a hole in one of the horseshoe pits at Fort Smallwood Park.
There’s no way it can be any more on Penny’s turf unless Valentine dumps the next one on her doorstep, and yet Wheaton has it. Wheaton. Damn him.
“It could be worse. At least none of them were raped.”
Penny sighs. “I know I sound like a bitch, Leslie, but I almost wish they were. You know, instead of the heart thing. Sex offenders, they’re predictable and they’re prone to doing stupid shit that gets them caught. Some guy going around eating people? Who knows what the fuck’s going through his brain?”
“Well, Bevvie does, presumably. I thought her profile was pretty good.”
Penny pushes aside her mostly untouched drink. “I’m going home. I need to sleep on this, and those girls aren’t gonna get any deader.”
“He might go for a fourth one,” Winkle points out.
“Well, if he does, it’ll probably be someone on my street, considering the dump site pattern, so I’ll just leave my window open and listen for the screaming.”
It’s one hell of a start to the work week.