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“This is pissing me off!” Grace pushed away from the microscope with a sigh of frustration and let her wheeled chair propel her across the floor.

From the doorway, Nathan eyed her with amusement. “What’s pissed off the Great and Powerful OZ?”

“This PERK from Jack’s latest crime scene. I’ve analyzed it ten ways to Sunday and I keep coming up empty. There’s no DNA. No hairs or fibers of any use. Nothing.”

“How is that possible?” Nathan queried. “Is he cleaning up after himself?”

“Either that or he walks around sheathed in latex. I can’t get anything– not one viable print, fiber, blood drop or skin tag.” She spun in her chair, frustrated. “Well, it won’t be me that cracks this case, that’s for sure.”

“The way this is going I’m not sure that we’re ever going to crack the case. Hell, Grace, some days I’m not even sure there’s a case to crack.””

“What do you mean?”

 

Nathan lowered his voice and leaned in. “Don’t you think it’s a little strange that we’ve been chasing this Jack character as a team for six months and the only one who’s seen, heard, or talked to him is Sam?”

Grace frowned. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

“There’s been no trace of viable DNA at any of the crimes scenes– all eight of them. Isn’t that a little odd to you?”

Grace’s eyes widened in realization. “If you’re going where I think you’re going with this so help me God I will open you up on one of my tables myself!”

“Look, all I’m saying is–“

”What? That Sam made Jack up?”

“I’m saying we have no real proof that he exists.”

Nathan’s statement detonated like a bomb in the middle of the room. Grace leapt to her feet, then, unsure what to do once she got there, began pacing.

“What the hell do you mean no proof? We have a trail of dead bodies scattered across half of the U.S. Unless you want to pin those on Sam, too.”

Nathan rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. “Look, let’s end this conversation, okay? Obviously it cannot go anywhere good.”

“Oh, no you don’t, Nathan Brubaker!” Grace thundered. “You do not accuse my friend and then drop it. Sit!”

Nathan dropped into a chair as Grace continued pacing, her heels clicking across the tile floor with sharp staccato cracks.

“What makes you so sure Jack doesn’t exist? Give me your evidence.”

“Give me your evidence that he does. Give me one irrefutable piece of evidence that will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Jack is out there, stalking Sam. Do it, and I’ll drop this whole thing right now.”

 

We have trace–“ she started, and then stopped, remembering her earlier rant.

“None of which is viable. You said so yourself. There are no matching prints in AFIS, no skin tags, hair, or DNA to run through CODIS.”

“We have blood samples.”

“O negative. The universal donor. Filtered down to pure plasma.”

Grace was starting to look frustrated. “Internet traffic. We have tons of webmail from him, video streams, JPEGS.”

“All of which can be faked.”

“God, Nathan!” Grace exploded. “What do you want? Are you out to make Sam look like a psycho?”

“Not at all. I’m trying to make sure we aren’t chasing smoke.”

“We aren’t!”

“How can you be sure?”

“I trust Sam. Besides, who would make up a story like that?”

“C’mon, Grace, you know that as well as I do. We hear it every day. Lonely needy people who want attention. Pathological liars. People with Munchausens. People with factitious syndrome. Paranoid delusionals.”

“This is Sam Waters we’re talking about, not some Patty Hearst clone with persecution mania!”

“Well, she already lied to us once,” Nathan reminded her. “More than once. About her name, her history, her background.”

“She was protecting herself.”

 

“She still lied.” He ignored the glare Grace was sending him. “How well do you know her?”

“Well enough!”

“Pretend you’re on the stand, Grace. How long have you known her?”

“Six months, maybe.”

“That’s not long at all. And yet you– WE– are all blindly devoted to her. Why is that?”

Grace shook her head defiantly, avoiding the question. “Bailey would never follow up on this if he didn’t think it was crucial.”

Nathan barked a laugh. “Bailey’s so in love with Sam he’d do anything for her.”

If that rocked Grace, she didn’t show it. Instead she shot back, “Including hiding this so-called neurosis of hers? I don’t believe it, Nathan.”

“You want proof that Jack exists? The lack of any definitive proof should be telling you something. It should be screaming something.” Nathan ran a hand over his head. “Grace, you’re a scientist. You deal in hard facts, evidence, tangible proof. Don’t let your loyalty to Sam blind you.”

“I’m not. I just–“ Grace sighed, caught between anger and confusion. “I don’t want to think of it. You don’t handcraft a serial killer just to get attention.”

“He only talks to HER,” Nathan pressed. “The flowers, the notes, the emails, they only come when no one is around to see them.”

Grace shook her head and fell silent.

“Look, I’m sorry if this upsets you. But I just can’t get this idea out of my head! There is something going on with this case, something weird and wrong. Maybe it’s not quite what I suspect but something about Jack doesn’t make sense.”

 

Grace leaned against a counter-top. “So what do you want to do? Tell Sam we’re sorry but we’re not going to hunt for Jack until she can prove he’s real? Inform Bailey that we think his lead profiler has bats in her belfry?”

“I hadn’t figured that part out yet,” Nathan admitted. “I just wanted to voice it to someone who wouldn’t think I was crazy.”

“I don’t know what to think. But you’re right. There is no real proof. And, as a scientist, I can’t discount that. On the other hand, there’s the bodies, the atrocities, the fear in Sam’s eyes. How can I dispute those?” She met Nathan’s eyes. “For that matter, how can you?”

John stuck his head in the door and saved Nathan the trouble of answering. “Grab your gear, guys, and roll out. We’ve got some potential Jack evidence at the train station.”

“Just be a minute,” Grace replied and turned to begin gathering her scene kit.

“Grace–“

”I don’t want to hear it, Nathan. Whatever it is, just leave it.”

Nathan walked forward, placed a hand on her shoulder. “If it makes it easier, just pretend I never said a word.”

Grace shook her head and looked up at him, one quick, hard glance. “You can’t ignore the elephant sitting in the middle of the living room.” She grabbed a scene kit and checked its contents. “Come on. Real or not, I have evidence to collect.”

Nathan nodded and turned to follow. “Just another piece of the puzzle.”

 

End.