4.10 Shock

by Matt P.

The room stayed deathly silent for the space of several heartbeats. Walter thought he could hear those stunned organs pumping blood in the shocked quiet. Even the cameras recording the room seemed quieter, as if solemn.

“Four or five?” Alexander asked in a voice of quiet awe, or perhaps somewhat subdued terror. “Four or five Three Stripes Killers?” He asked again, as if it would make it more manageable if he repeated it. It looked, for a moment, like he wanted to ask a third time on the same theory.

“We’d heard the theory that there were two.” Andre said, shaking his head slowly. “I liked the theory because it explained a lot, and the psychology worked a little better. But four or five…”

Leah shook her head, but it wasn’t in disbelief. It was with dawning realization and agreement. “But the psychology works so much better now!” She said with an excited loudness unusual for the quiet young woman. She blushed and started to quiet, but Alexander and Walter both leaned in.

“Go on.” The Marshal said. They all paused and turned as a thunk and a clink filled the room. Tania Summers had produced a large wooden lock-box that looked like it had come off the set of a pirate movie and set it on the desk. She calmly pulled out files, and laid them out on the table. Leah considered them for a brief moment before she realized what they were, and leaned in to grab specific files.

“Denver, two years ago. Banker, normal Three Stripes injuries. Found in City Park, in a copse, fully clothed.” Leah said, flipping another file open. “Washington, D.C., one year ago. Aide to a lobbyist, normal Three Stripes injuries, but with a black eye. Found outside a burning meth house.”

“Right.” Alexander agreed. “Those two are the reason why people thought there might be two killers. And some believe the aide wasn’t a target, but got in the way, possibly during a drug deal that the killer was engaged in. The Denver murder is controlled, and almost regretful—because of how the body was arranged in a shady spot. The other one very violent and angry.”

“Right.” Leah agreed. She then pulled a third file out of the stack and laid it open. “Los Angeles, 18 months ago. Social worker with the normal injuries. Found naked in a warehouse. Not beat up, but not re-clothed. Fits some of the methodology of both killers. But doesn’t really fit with either one of them. But if its a third person, then we can start to see a consistent pattern.” She pointed to the first file. “Clothed in natural settings, naked and violent, naked in warehouses.” She pointed to the second and third files in time.

Tania gestured. “There’s at least a fourth. There’s been three murders around the country where all they found were pieces.” She paused distastefully. “Chunks, really. But no evidence was found of defensive wounds, and cauterizing consistent with the Three Stripes techniques or weapons. Since they all came back as chunky salsa, however,” she offered macabrely, “no one tied it to the rest of the murders until Arthur did.”

Leah nodded eagerly. “And it explains why we could never figure out how they picked victims. It’s not one person picking the victims. It’s a camel!” She exclaimed.

Tania and Morgan both blinked at that, and Walter leaned in. “It’s an old saying. What’s a camel?” He asked, before answering his own question. “A horse, by committee.” Both women considered this for a moment, before nodding slowly.

“So your theory is that there is a criteria that they are using, but we can’t see what it is because it’s being subjected to the same processes as my granddaughter’s group projects in school?” Alexander asked. His tone was not necessarily one of derision, Walter realized. It was…awe, or maybe bewilderment at the bizarre turnings of the universe.

“Yes, sir.” Leah answered. “And so in order to find the motive, and eventually catch them with anything but dumb luck, we need to try to get our minds around it. We’ve got lots of data points, we just need to think more abstractly about what they mean.”

At this point, Tania leaned forward to pull the papers—her papers—back to herself. “I’m so glad we could be so useful, gentlemen.” Tania paused. “But let’s remember that these data points do belong to me. And I do need to fulfil my journalistic avarice.” At their blank looks, she clarified. “I want to write about it, friends. Mama’s Pulitzer shelf needs some more company.”

“You mean any company.” Morgan said with a hint of acid. “You won one, ten years ago.”

“My papers have won others.” The business woman sniffed. “In any case, I want to write about it, but I’m willing to be flexible.” The Marshal slowly raised an eyebrow at that comment.

“Flexible how?” He asked, and her smile turned positively leonine.

“I want access.” Tania answered bluntly. “Right from the begining. And when it is done I get interviews without any bullshit or stonewalling. I don’t care who you tell, for God’s sake tell the FBI, but at the end the Border PD answers my questions exclusively.” Tania paused. “Deal?”

The Marshal paused for a moment, but only a moment as the answer was written n the eagerrness of his face. “Deal.”

The smile had never left Tania Summers’ face. She knew that he would answer yes before she asked, and Walter figured that she wouldn’t have asked or offered if she hadn’t known what it would be. A formidable woman, to be sure.

“Alright ladies, gentlemen, Morgan.” Tania’s eyes glimmered with amusement and hidden knowledge, as Morgan sniffed. “Let’s catch the Three Stripes Killers.”