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"Born of the Blade" - Part Six

We had just pulled the Royale into an empty slot in one of BCU's parking lots off 34th when the dark green Nissan-Volvo sedan parked in front of us disgorged its occupants and five familiar faces stepped into view.
   
"If they sing again," said Mouse, "I'm gonna stab them."
   
"No stabbing," I said.
   
We got out of the car and Raya, Revell's niece, gave us a puzzled look. "What are you two doing here?" she said.
   
Martin, still dressed in an untucked red and black flannel shirt, came forward, eyes bright. "Are you guys on a run? On campus?"
   
Natalie came up beside Martin. "Oh wiz!" she said. "Can we help?"
   
"Yeah!" said Russ, rolling up the sleeves of his hooded dark blue sweatshirt. "Like last time."
   
Behind them, I saw blue-haired Tanya shaking her head.
   
My thoughts exactly.
   
I looked at Raya. "We're here to see a Professor McCarthy."
   
Martin, Russ, and Natalie all quirked eyebrows at us and exchanged glances.
   
I caught the looks.
   
"What?" I said.
   
"Minor scandal," said Raya. "She had an affair with one of her students and it went bad."
   
"How bad?"I said.
   
"I heard they had a fight in one of her classes," said Martin.
   
"It was in her office," said Natalie.
   
"She came at McCarthy with a knife," said Russ.
   
"Enough, you guys," said Tanya.
   
"But Kevin told me--" Martin began.
   
"Kevin's an idiot," said Tanya. "I wouldn't trust anything he says."
   
"The trusted story," said Raya, raising her voice slightly and glaring at the trio, "is that McCarthy left her husband when she hooked up with Charlene. That's the student. Charlene Meyer. Got a divorce and everything. Then she and Charlene moved in together."
   
"Condo over in West Park, I heard," said Tanya.
   
"And then she and this Charlene had a fight?" I said.
   
"Charlene left her for another woman," said Raya. "They say the two of them left school. And Bay City."
   
"Charlene was in one of my classes at the beginning of the quarter," said Tanya. "I haven't seen her since the middle of October."
   
"I heard McCarthy's been living out of a coffin hotel near here," said Martin.
   
"She's not," said Natalie. "She's been living out of her office. Amber said one of her sorority sisters saw her bringing a bunch of clothes in one night."
   
"Amber doesn't know squat," said Martin.
   
"Oh and Kevin does?" said Natalie, hands on her hips.
   
"Enough!" said Raya, glaring again at the trio.
   
"I didn't say anything!" said Russ.
   
Tanya shushed him.
   
"If they moved into a condo together," I said, "and this Charlene left, why is McCarthy living out of her office?"
   
The group exchanged looks then shook their heads.
   
"Don't know," said Raya. "Some students have seen her using the showers at the rec center and getting dressed there. Kinda odd for a teacher."
   
"Maybe she's working out?"
   
"Maybe," Raya said with a shrug. "That's the story anyway. So why are you here to see her?"
   
"It's gotta be a run," said Martin. "Am I right?"
   
"We just need information," I said. "And shouldn't you guys be in class or something?"


*   *   *

The faculty offices were in a five-story concrete block with rounded corners. We'd been here three months earlier to see a different professor. That meeting hadn't gone so well at the time.
   
Hopefully this one would be better.
   
The elevator deposited us on the fourth floor and we followed the signs until we reached her office at the far corner of the building. A pebbled-glass door boasted a placard that read: "E. McCarthy."
   
I knocked twice.
   
A voice called out, "Come in."
   
I opened the door.
   
The office was small, half the size of the Red Dog's back office, and barely managed to fit a small black leather couch along one wall. A floor-to-ceiling bookshelf jammed with books and assorted reference materials occupied another wall and a desk sat against the wall next to the door.
   
Professor Elaine McCarthy, fortyish, in a gray pantsuit, her brown-blond hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, looked up as we stepped inside and blinked.
   
"You're not students," she said in a resonant contralto.
   
"No, Professor McCarthy," I said with a smile. I held out an ID case. "Katherine Browning, executive protection agent, Vanguard Security Services." I gestured to Mouse. "My colleague, Emily Remington."
   
McCarthy took my ID case, studied it a moment, then handed it back to me. "Bodyguards."
   
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "We're set to take on a principal but we need some intel."
   
"What would I know about this principal of yours?"
   
"Not so much about them. More about serial killers."
   
"Serial killers," said McCarthy.
   
"We understand you're quite the expert."
   
McCarthy smiled. "I may know a thing or two."
   
"Four books on the subject," I said, going off the infodump from Val. "Featured at numerous talks and panels. Consulted with law enforcement agencies. Even here in Bay City."
   
"You know about me," she said. "I've never heard of Vanguard."
   
I smiled. "Local firm. Protective detail, armed transport, consultations. Not quite the resources of Excalibur or Valhalla but our clients have been pleased."
   
"Like whom?"
   
"I'm afraid we can't say."
   
"I see," said McCarthy. "You know, I usually charge for something like this."
   
"We'd be more than happy to compensate you," I said.
   
"I am on a schedule," she said. "I have a class in forty-five minutes."
   
"Shouldn't take that long," I said.
   
"You're paying," McCarthy said. She swiveled in her chair to face us, hands folded in her lap. "So what kind of information do you need?"
   
I gestured to the couch. "May we?"
   
She nodded.
   
We sat down and the cushions squeaked under our weight.
   
I said, "What can you tell us about serial killers?"
   
McCarthy smiled. "That's a big subject."
   
"Anything general?"
   
"General." She leaned back in her chair. "In general, a serial killer is a person who kills three or more people over a period of more than thirty days with a significant break between killings. Some experts vary the number of deaths between two and four before calling it a serial murder. But most go with three or more."
   
"Is it always one person?"
   
"Sometimes. But not always. NorFed Bureau's definition includes the possibility of more than one person committing the crime."
   
"Why do they do it?"
   
"Usual motive is abnormal psychological gratification," McCarthy said. "There's also anger, seeking attention, financial gain. And, if you can believe it, demons."
   
Mouse snorted a laugh. "Are you serious?"
   
"In the 70s, a killer who called himself the Son of Sam claimed a demon gave instructions through his neighbor's dog to go and commit murder."
   
"Was he crazy?" I said.
   
"No," said McCarthy. "Not according to the mental health exams they gave. Three separate ones. Said he was competent to stand trial. He later said the demon thing was a hoax. He was really out for revenge."
   
"They finally caught him."
   
"Yes. Two years after the first murder."
   
"So serial killers can be caught."
   
"More or less," said McCarthy. "The high profile ones from pre-Collapse were. John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez the Night Stalker, Dennis Rader the BTK Killer. Our own Lakeside Killer, Carl Castle, back in 1987. But some don't get caught. The Zodiac Killer of San Francisco wasn't. Neither was the Axeman of New Orleans from the early 1900s. Countless others who escaped capture. The most famous, of course, was Jack the Ripper."
   
An odd expression flashed across McCarthy's face and vanished before I could catch on fully.
   
But the hairs on my nape saluted and I fought down the immediate reaction to go to boost.
   
"Oh yeah," said Mouse. "Jack the Ripper. He was in that one with the time machine. Travels from Old England to modern day."
   
"Entertaining but fictional," said McCarthy. "The truth was he committed eleven murders between 1888 and 1891. Victims were female prostitutes. Throats slashed. Abdominal and facial mutilation. Internal organs removed. Five were definitely his. The others were linked to him but the circumstances of death varied from those five."
   
My forearms prickled under my black leather jacket as McCarthy spoke and I watched her for a moment.
   
"And he was never caught?" said Mouse.
   
McCarthy shook her head. "At least twenty-eight named suspects. None ever proved to be the Ripper."
   
"Damn," said Mouse.
   
"Can serial killers be women?" I said.
   
"Oh yes," said McCarthy. "The famous Countess Elizabeth Bathory was said to have killed over six hundred young women in a twenty year period. Rumor had it she bathed in the blood of her victims. Another was Aileen Wournos in pre-Collapse Florida..."
   
As McCarthy went on, I did a quick scan of her office without turning my head. A garment bag hung off the corner of the bookcase and below that sat a packed duffle. Next to the duffle sat a tall stack of bound papers--print magazines entitled "Ripperologist." A toiletry kit sat on one of the lower bookshelves, the end of a toothbrush sticking out. Tucked under her desk were at least four pairs of shoes.
   
I turned my attention back to McCarthy.
   
She continued talking, clearly enjoying her subject matter.
   
My arms continued to prickle, nape hairs still saluting.
   
"It didn't work," McCarthy said. "The infants didn't survive the injections."
   
"How do you identify a serial killer?" I said.
   
"That can be hard," McCarthy said. "There isn't one inherent characteristic to look for. Some killers are mentally unstable."
   
"Demon dog guy," said Mouse.
   
"Yes, that's one. Although he later said it was a lie. Some killers are downright charming. Some look too fragile to be a killer. And still others look like your favorite grandparent. Or the quiet guy next door." She shook her head. "You can't exactly pick them out of a crowd. Most of the time, they disappear into the crowd."
   
"And they escape capture," I said.
   
"Correct," said McCarthy.
   
Something about her tone at that moment sent ice slithering up my spine.
   
McCarthy pulled back the sleeve of her suit jacket and looked at the tatclock on her inner forearm. "Time's up," she said.
   
"That's certainly a lot of information, Professor McCarthy," I said.
   
"That's not even the tip of the iceberg," she said, smiling. "If you like I can give you a copy of my book on the subject. In Plain Sight. " She stood from her chair, crossed to the bookshelf, picked out a thick hardcover, and held it out to me. "Very general information, much like what we briefly covered, with a number of selected cases for illustrative purposes. Or would you prefer the datatab edition?"
   
"Print copy's fine," I said, rising from the couch and taking the book.
   
Something clicked in the back of my mind.
   
McCarthy smiled. "Not many your age still take to print."
   
"We're not like many our age," I said.
   
"I can see that."
   
"Thank you for your time," I said and held up the book. "We'll be reading up on the subject. If we have any questions that need a quick answer, can we contact you?"
   
"Yes," she said and gave me her email contact.
   
"Thank you again," I said. "And thank you for the book."
   
"You're welcome, Miss Browning," said McCarthy. "I hope what little I gave you will help out your principal."
   
"You've been extremely helpful, Professor," I said. "Now your fee. Will it be cred'chip or wire transfer?"

(to be continued...)


"Born of the Blade"
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5
Part 7
 


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