The newspaper kiosk out front screams: HOUSTON HEADSMAN STRIKES AGAIN.
Under that, in only slightly smaller type, are the words Sixth Victim Found.
I stare at the headline for a long time, and then ignore it. I have a job to do tonight.
She is beautiful. Maybe 5’4”, light brown hair with blonde streaks, beautiful gray eyes. Always dressed nicely: not flashy, tasteful
earrings and no rings on her hands. Her store badge hangs from a lanyard on her graceful neck. Soft voice, always polite, always
kind. The glasses she wears add something to her face, making her even more attractive.
I’ve come here for about a month now. Walls and walls of books, but it’s one of those giant chain stores. No real soul, no heart.
Few of the clerks read, much less care about the customer…except for Rebecca.
She reads. She reads a lot. Every night for the past two weeks, when she leaves, I follow her; carefully, discreetly. It’s part of the
plan, but that’s beside the point. I follow her to her nice little house in her nice little subdivision. She never sees me. That’s how it
should be. I follow her to her home; make sure she gets there okay. I wait in the darkness until she gets inside and the lights come
on then I leave as quietly as I came.
She’s smart, no doubt. She usually keeps her store badge turned around, but sometimes it flips forward. They’re cautious here,
first names only. No last names, not even an initial. It is easy for me to find out, though. A few minutes at the computer and
everything I need to know is right there.
She walks past me with a stack of books, giving me one of those fleeting, polite smiles you get from people who work in a store. A
delicate whiff of some kind of expensive perfume floats by as she walks past me and I inhale slowly, savoring her scent. She smells
like a beautiful winter morning.
Her skin is flawless, cool and smooth. I want to touch her. Any man alive would want to touch her.
She does not know me, probably wouldn’t want to know me even if she had the chance. The reality is I’m not terribly good
looking: balding, glasses and 5’9”…if I stand straight. Hardly the matinee idol type and I am slightly lacking in what is called ‘social
skills’. Been that way since I was a child; blunt, straight ahead, no time or inclination for niceties. Dressing something up or
choosing one’s words carefully have never held any appeal to me whatsoever.
I’ve accepted it, adjusted to it and to be honest, no longer worry about it. It would take an extremely special woman
to…understand me. I haven’t met one yet who did and at my age I’ve just accepted the fact that this is how it is.
As the kids today say, I’ve got no game when it comes to the ladies.
It’s probably the single, biggest reason I’m so good at what I do. No one sees me, no one notices me. It’s actually an advantage.
The media makes us all out to be handsome and incredibly charming, opening doors and hearts with our smiles, but somehow
those qualities passed me by.
Fate plays some crappy tricks on people.
I have my work.
I don’t discuss it much, if ever. It’s been years since I talked about it with anyone. About what I do, about what I accomplish,
about what I’m…good at.
It just isn’t worth it.
I keep to myself and don’t socialize. Don’t mingle, don’t go out much.
A doctor I had to go to once told me I was ‘insular’ and ‘cut off’… among other things. I didn’t say anything to that. What could I
say? He was telling the truth.
He asked me a lot of questions. He wanted me to tell him about my dreams, for one thing. He didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t
remember them. He got irritated over that, but we kept going. He was being paid to, after all.
He wanted to talk about my family. I glossed right over that, no point in digging all that up. He wanted to talk about a lot of things
and I answered him as honestly as I knew how, but he didn’t ever seem satisfied with my answers. Then he asked some more
personal questions. I told him the truth, but from the look in his eyes he didn’t believe me.
It probably didn’t help much when I sat quietly and looked at him for a long while, then asked, “Are we done?”
He angrily made a mark on some kind of report, staring at me all the while. He got up and left the room. After waiting fifteen
minutes, I realized he wasn’t coming back, so I got up and left, too.
I know Rebecca’s last name, her address, her brother’s name. I know her phone number, I know her employment history. I know
what she does for fun and I know what she didn’t like to do. I know she was divorced a little over two years, still lived alone and
only in the past few weeks had she even thought about dating again. I know she loves dogs, but didn’t have one at the moment. She
likes cats, but didn’t have one of those, either. No children, no one close to her in the city. Her remaining family is all north, up in
and around Dallas. She came here with her former husband and when the marriage crumbled she stayed for whatever reasons
After she walks past me, I turn my head just enough to watch her. Her perfume lingers in the air for a bit and I savor it again. I
stand there with an over-sized book on computers and pretend to flip through it while I watch Rebecca. She puts the books she’d
been carrying on a shelf, putting them in order, making sure they lined up exactly.
Precision; I like that.
As she walks past again she pauses for a moment. Gives me a smile as if she means it, and asks, “May I help you?”
I turn to her, working hard to be friendly, non-threatening.
“No, thank you; just browsing.”
Scaring her would be counter-productive at this point.
She gives me another smile, nods her head and walks on. I choose another book at random and pretend to flip through it, turning
so I watch her walk away.
She has a nice walk…a very nice walk.
It would be a shame if something happens.
Time passes. Closing time comes.
I leave without buying anything, just as I have every night this week and go outside and get into the car. I adjust the rearview
mirror so I can watch the front doors. I know everyone comes out through there when they are done for the night.
It isn’t long before the lights go off inside; a couple are left on, so the people remaining can see what they were doing. Eventually,
the only light on is by the front door. Five people come outside, one of them is Rebecca. They all parked where they could see
each other and no one leaves until everyone is inside their own cars and locked in.
Rebecca starts her engine, pulls out of the parking spot and heads home.
I follow her.
No one sees me. No one notices me. No one pays me the slightest bit of mind.
Except the shadows.
The same thing happens the rest of the week. Nothing will happen until tomorrow night, Friday. I made that decision, but still, I
follow Rebecca home every night.
Just to make sure.
I am back the next night.
I sit in the cafe for hours, watching the people walk by, watching them gather their purchases. Rebecca is there; today she is
wearing a dress. She has legs as nice as I thought they’d be.
I like watching her. She is beautiful. No question of that. Tonight is the night. I can feel these things.
The shadows move outside. Only I can see them.
Time passes. I browse through another book on computer language, then one on old movies, a photography manual. Staying
focused, pretending to look like anyone and everyone else.
Shortly before closing time, he comes in.
I feel the anger building inside myself, but strangle it back down.
He is straight out of GQ; tall, staggeringly handsome, tailored clothing. He comes through the front door as if he owns the place
and heads right for Rebecca.
Her entire face lights up when she sees him. I feel a flash of jealousy, but shove that down, too. I am on a mission tonight, no time
A mission that I have planned and thought out and was locked on to like a heat seeking missile. I didn’t like what I was going to do,
but it was what I had to do, a compulsion inside drove me. I could stop blinking my eyes easier than I could stop this part of things.
They leave shortly after that, Rebecca’s friends giggling and shooing her out the door. They are thrilled for her, excited she is
going out with such a handsome man, cannot wait to hear the details tomorrow.
They were going to be surprised in the morning…
It is far too easy to follow them.
A nearby restaurant, valet parking, some sort of new age fusion nonsense. I drive past them, circling, until I find a spot toward the
back where the valets do not come, but I could see the entrance.
The shadows are out there.
I can feel them out there, but you have to know where to look to spot them.
It is not all that long before Rebecca and her date come out. Cocktails only, I guessed. A blind man can see where the evening was
heading and I am not blind.
They walk to their respective cars, where they kiss, briefly.
He holds her door open, sees her inside the car and bends down for another kiss. He closes her door and goes to his own car.
I know where they are going next.
There is only one possibility.
I get out of the parking lot before they do. The speed limit is no more than a suggestion for me tonight.
One blown red light later and I am ahead of the game.
The night and what happens next belong to me.
I know where Rebecca lives and park two blocks away. It is late enough and dark enough that no one sees me as I approach her
She has no pets and I open the gate and enter the backyard with no trouble at all.
The shadows follow me.
Lights are on in her neighbor’s homes, but it is the kind of neighborhood where people keep to themselves. No one sees me as I
slip around the side of the house and find her bedroom window. I know Rebecca and her date will park and come into her house
from the front door.
The shadows pool around me like smoke.
It takes seconds to unlock her back door. I do not open it because of the alarm system I know she has, but I make sure the
doorknob turns freely.
I can get in easily.
I hear cars pull into the driveway.
My entire body tenses with what is about to happen. Everything goes into a different plane of awareness. I can hear the crickets
chirping, I can feel the grass growing. Everything is heightened.
I cannot stop it now; there is no way to stop it.
Things have to proceed the way they are supposed to.
It is a pattern that is predictable. Car doors slam out front. I close my eyes for a moment, seeing in my mind what was happening:
Rebecca and her date walk to the front door. She gets her keys from her purse, unlocks the door and they go inside. I hear the
beep-beep-beep of her alarm system, then the cut-off as she turns it off.
I stand in a section of brick wall that hides me from the glass in the kitchen door and the windows in the living room. They don’t
know I am there, will never see me unless one of them opens the backdoor and looks outside. Chances are extremely good that
will not happen.
People in their own homes feel safe.
There are venetian blinds covering the windows in the living room, but Rebecca has left them slanting the wrong way and open
just enough so I can see everything. I can almost make out the muffled conversation as she pours them both a glass of wine, then
they sit on the couch.
He kisses her. She responds. Two years without a man in her bed have made her hungry and that hunger has made her careless.
Human nature never surprises me anymore.
The kissing turns into something else, something different, something much more intense and he gathers her in his arms and picks
her up and carries her down the short hallway into the bedroom.
When I see the bedroom door close…that is my cue.
I slide through the darkness to her bedroom window. Edging carefully, I see what I need to see.
It is what I was expecting to see.
He is on top of her and there is a great deal of thrashing and twisting and movement.
Four quick steps across the lawn and I am at her back door again.
It opens at my touch, just as I’d planned.
I force myself to move silently down the hall, not rushing. Rushing now would cause noise and noise can be a problem. I can hear
the carpet fibers under my feet; I can see the air in front of me as I move through it.
Sounds coming from Rebecca’s bedroom are...intense.
The shadows swirl around me in the hallway.
I take half a step closer to the bedroom door, then raise my right foot and slam it just under the doorknob.
She is in the bed...with him.
Her eyes widen when I burst into the room.
He jumps out of the bed and turns towards me.
Which made the next part easy.
I take one giant step into the room, letting momentum take my foot where it wanted. No time to be subtle, I use a good old
American classic; I kick him in the crotch as hard as I can.
As he collapses to the floor, something drops from his hand.
I reach into my pocket and pull out my knife. She starts making noises as I approach the bed.
Watching him vomit on the floor out of the corner of my eye, I flick the blade open and she really starts to shriek.
I bring the blade down…
“FBI, Rebecca,” I said after I had cut the ropes holding her arms above her head. I went to work on the ropes holding her legs
wide. “You’re safe now.”
The shadows that surrounded me outside and down the hallway flowed into the room like warmed oil.
There was no crash-boom-bang-slam like in the movies. The Special Hostage and Defense Ops-Weaponry agents took the place
quick and quiet, grabbing, yanking, flipping, slamming, pinning and cuffing the guy in a little less than two seconds.
To me it looked all in slow motion.
I cut the last ropes that held her and helped her sit up. She tore the gag from her mouth herself and tried to talk while taking in
huge gasps of air. “She’s in shock, guys,” I called. “Get the medic in here!”
I pointed to the knife he’d been holding, where it now lay on the floor, gleaming in the low light with a malevolence all its own.
“Bag and tag that, right now.”
I didn’t want to think how many different blood types the lab would find on it.
She stammered and stuttered and tried to get her breathing under control.
She managed to gasp out, “Who are you?”
When I was sure she could sit up on her own, I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my credentials. “FBI, Rebecca,” I said
again, using her name to anchor her attention on me and not what was happening. “My name is Roger. Roger Pedneau. I’m with
From the look on her face I was speaking Martian. That was to be expected.
“Behavioral Analysis Unit,” I explained. “Quantico.”
She looked from me to her erstwhile ‘date’ on the floor, Starkers, handcuffs on his wrists, craning his neck to glare at me with
unbridled hatred. She gathered the shreds of her dress around her like a talisman as she looked at the black-clad men of the
shadow unit, extensively trained agents from the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team.
I took off my light nylon jacket that had ‘FBI’ on it in huge yellow letters on the back and sleeves and wrapped it around her
I looked over my shoulder and bellowed, “Get that medic in here now!” I turned back to her. “My apologies for the wait.”
She waved it off, strength coming back into her. She paused, taking in the room as if she’d never seen it before.
“Your date for the evening is the Houston Headsman,” I said as gently as I could. “He’s raped and murdered six women we know
of. His favorite way to kill is by decapitation.” I paused. “We’ve been after him for two years now. Tonight, we caught him.”
There was no gain in trying to sugar coat any of it.
The medic arrived. I stepped out of his way as he ministered to her, looking in her eyes, asking her what she had eaten or drank
that night, was she on any medication, checking her pulse and aiming a small flashlight in her eyes.
The guys yanked the Headsman off the floor, not caring he was nude. He groaned from the shot I’d given him but, as far as I
cared, life wasn’t fair sometimes. They held him up on his feet and I took a step over to him.
I stared at him until he looked up.
The hatred in his eyes was balm to my soul.
It was the moment that made it all worth while.
“I did this to you,” I said aloud, leaning forward until we were almost nose to nose. “Remember me. I did this.”
The snarl on his face said all that needed to be said.
The agents goose-stepped him from the room.
I looked and saw the medic was still tending to Rebecca.
She didn’t need me anymore.
It was over.
I walked down the hallway, through the living room and outside through the front door. There were police and Bureau cars all
over the place now, turning the nice suburban block into a sixteen-ring circus.
It was better than what could have happened.
I’d seen the photos of the crime scenes he’d left behind.
Seen them and studied them and looked for some kind of hint, the smallest slightest shred of a clue that would lead us to him.
Local police identified a suspect, but that’s all he was…a suspect. Can’t arrest a guy for trying to pick up women. The more I
studied him, the more I knew.
The suspect had been seen in the bookstore on several occasions, always going out of his way to chat with Rebecca.
All the women in the city and he singled out her.
Unfortunately, a lot of what I do is re-active, not pro-active. He hadn’t committed a crime in any way that we could prove.
Like the rescue team’s entrance, what I do is not like it is in the movies or on TV. Step one, always step one, is profile the victim.
Profile enough victims and you get a sense of the killer. It’s painstaking, soul-searing work and it’s certainly not for everyone.
I was done here.
The special agent in charge of the Houston office came over to me, shaking my hand, telling me I’d done one hell of a job. I forced
myself to smile, made myself say the right things in reply, asked if he could have someone take me back to my hotel, then to the
He looked surprised for a moment, then nodded.
“More work to do?” he asked.
I looked back toward the house, to Rebecca’s house, watching as she was escorted out and into a waiting Bureau car.
She looked around. Our eyes met and she stared at me for a long moment.
For just a second, I wondered what it would be like; a home with a woman like her. A real life, not one spent outthinking and
outguessing the psychotic lunatics who move among us, those who long to swim in blood and butcher other human beings simply
to feed their own sick and twisted fantasies.
She smiled at me. I smiled back.
The gulf between her world and mine was immense and there was no way in the world to bridge it.
Psychopathic killers…and those who catch them. Next! On Oprah.
Yeah, there’s something to be proud of.
Rebecca was gently guided into a car and taken away. I shoved my fantasies back where they belonged.
I said aloud to the SAC, “There’s always more work to do.”