The Obsession Page 107

“Not so far,” Sam agreed, “but it adds weight. There are rental houses and cabins around town and more within that distance. We’ve checked with the closer ones, talked to the people in them, to the owner or manager.”

“You might want to expand your area, ask the rangers to canvass cabins and houses inside the national park. It’s not far, and a good area for what he does, a private, quiet place. He’s white, between twenty-five and forty—probably closer to the younger end.”

“Why the younger?”

“More mature would probably be more patient, take more time to stalk the prey. This one jumps on it. And it is likely he wanted the young girl instead of Donna, but he took her because she was there. More mature would be more likely to wait until he gets another chance with his target. Once he has her, it doesn’t matter. She’s whoever he wants her to be.”

“Is she a surrogate? I’ve done some reading,” Sam added. “Does she represent someone?”

“Possibly. It’s too soon for me to commit to that, but I can tell you he’s a sexual sadist, so he enjoys what he does. He’s not impotent, but may only be able to climax through rape, through giving the victim pain, through feeding on that pain and the fear. He kept Roth for two full days, and as you haven’t found a second body, he still has Donna Lanier. While the kill is the ultimate release, he knows when he takes it, it’s over. So he prolongs it as long as he can.”

Mason paused, half wished he had that coffee, and went on.

“Taking two in such a short amount of time indicates he’s found what he believes is a prime location. It’s a small town, but in a very open area. The people in the town and area have routines he can study quickly. In small towns with a low violent-crime rate people feel secure, don’t worry about walking home alone, crossing into a dark area of a parking lot after closing. I suspect many here don’t routinely lock doors and windows, lock their cars. I could walk around town, check visors, and probably find any number of keys.”

“You’re not wrong.”

“He knows places like this and has certainly spent time studying them. He’s killed before.”

Once again Sam angled forward. “Yes. Yeah, that’s what my gut told me. Not his first kill.”

“His method was too efficient for it to have been his first. He dumped the body in the manner he did because he wanted her found. He enjoys the fear, the upheaval. He left her bound and gagged as it maintains his dominance. You found no prints on the tape or body. He’s experienced enough to use gloves—and a condom. There’s control, there’s intelligence.

“He blends in,” Mason continued. “If he isn’t a local, he presents himself as a visitor, friendly but not too much.”

Sam nodded, nodded. “Nobody that causes a ruckus, argues with a shopkeeper, has too much to drink at a bar.”

“Exactly. Nothing about him sticks in anyone’s mind. He most certainly ate in that pizzeria. It’s likely his father was dominant, physically and emotionally, and his mother submissive. She took what was dished out. She did as she was told. This man has no respect for women, but can only dominate by force.

“The unfortunate reality is I will be able to tell you more if and when he dumps the next body.”

Sam blew out a breath. “So unless we get lucky and find him in a rental, nothing you have helps Donna.”

“If he sticks to the same schedule, he could kill her tonight, and leave her body somewhere in the open. I’m sorry.”

“How confident are you in this? Your boss says you’re good—good enough to be on the fast track for the BAU. I know what that is, I know what profiling is.”

Mason considered. “You’ve been married more than twenty years, and you still love your wife. You’ve got two kids who center your world. You played football in high school, and you enjoy the memory of those glory days. But they’re memories, and the now matters more. Your wife’s trying to get you on a healthier diet, and you’re going along with it. For now, anyway. You’ve got an organized and open mind, and this isn’t just your job. This is your town, your people, and protecting and serving aren’t just words. Your men like you. You run a tight ship, but not a constricting one.”

Mildly embarrassed, more than mildly impressed, Sam went back to his mug. “That’s accurate on short acquaintance. How do you get it?”

“You’re wearing a wedding ring, and there are pictures of your wife, your wife and kids, on the windowsill. Your kids are teenagers now, but you’ve got some of them still up from when they were younger. You’ve got a football trophy—MVP—but it’s not front and center. The softball and volleyball trophies—your kids’—are more prominently displayed. You’re drinking green tea, and you want coffee. There’s a yogurt bar in your inbox, and you don’t strike me as the health-bar type.”

“Who wouldn’t rather have a donut?”

“That goes without saying. Your deputy’s annoyed you’re meeting with me, but when you gave him the brushback, he didn’t sulk. He grinned. You agreed to meet with me because you’ll use any source that may help. You ran me and my sister, but you don’t consider us guilty by blood or association. Believe me, some would, some do.”

“Some are fuckheads.”

“Some are. You know the area, you know the people, and you don’t believe anyone from here killed Marla Roth or abducted Donna Lanier. I’m willing to weigh that opinion if you’re willing to weigh mine.”

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