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Gillian kept checking her rearview as she led the way, expecting Brock to turn around at every corner and just leave. But he didn’t. He followed all the way up to a bar half a mile away from the crime scene, parked right after her, and didn’t seem surprised when she stepped out of her car with a file case and her computer.
He held the bar’s door for her, and she smelled the remains of his sober cologne when she walked in by him, mixed with a trace of whiskey.
The man behind the counter smiled at seeing them coming in. “Hey, Gillian! Didn’t you get an office yet?” he greeted her.
She smiled back. “No beer downtown, Josh.”
The place was almost empty, and Gillian led Brock to the last table by the wall. She left her things on it and motioned for him to sit down. “I’ll be right back,” she said, and headed to the counter.
Brock sat down face to the door and looked around, feeling completely out of place. He didn’t like these small bars, but he understood they couldn’t go to her police precinct, nor his hotel. He asked himself for the hundredth time what the hell he was doing here, even though he knew the answer **** well: he just couldn’t fight the temptation. He shouldn’t have gone to the crime scene. He had nothing to do there, or here, or talking to her, let alone discussing a murder case. Then why on God’s green earth had he fallen for it and even left his hotel room in the first place? This was plain foolish. And it could only mean trouble. It was a local case and he was a federal agent. He wasn’t allowed to come anywhere near it without an official invitation. And even then, he wouldn’t be the one assigned to work with the locals, since he was no longer even a field agent.
The bitter twitch in his belly pushed him to stand up and leave, but Gillian was already back. Brock scowled at the whiskey she left before him, as she kept her beer in her hand to sit opposite him.
Without giving him a chance to speak, she slid the folder across the table to him and opened her computer, turning her attention to it. She felt an almost physical relief when he moved his piercing eyes from her to the file case. She stayed focused on her computer way more than she needed to make a simple Skype call.
He didn’t need to stay long on the few reports and notes in the folder, but he did it anyway, as he worked on a mental blockage to stop telling himself how reckless he was being by staying there. All of this would blow up in his face in only a few hours, as soon as he set foot at the fifth floor in the morning and came across stiff, ************ SAC Cooper, head of the Boston field office.
Gillian’s voice startled him. “Anything on the uploader?”
She had turned her computer so he could see the screen. She was talking to a girl in her mid-twenties with glasses and ponytails, lying on her belly on a messy bed.
“Not yet, but closing in. I’m jumping from phone to phone with—” Tanya trailed off when she spotted the stranger sitting with Gillian.
She smiled. “T, meet Agent Brockner, with the FBI,” she said, and glanced up at him. “Agent Brockner, meet Tanya Lawrence, SCU and hacker extraordinaire.” She saw the thousand questions on Tanya’s face and smiled wider. “We’re just brainstorming off the record. Agent Brockner here is one of the best profilers ever. Call me if you find anything.”
“I could use some help, you know.”
Gillian checked her contact list—what a surprise, her son was still online. She nodded, sighing. “Okay, call’im. But don’t keep’im up too late, please.”
Tanya grinned and disconnected. Gillian turned to Brock, who stared at her as to drill a hole right through her skull. Okay, this was going to be harder than she expected. So she geared up with her heavy armor for battle and held his eyes without the hint of a smile, just like him.
His voice was gauged to trigger an ice age. “I’m not a profiler, Lieutenant.”
She arched her eyebrows—yeah, sure.
“Not anymore,” he growled bitterly.
She kept holding his glare in silence.
“What do you expect from me, Lieutenant?” Now he sounded exasperated.
“I already told you, Agent Brockner. I hope you’ll take a look at this and tell me what you think.”
“But you seem to have it already figured out: three girls.”
“You just said it—seem.”
His question made Gillian soften her attitude. He’d moved on from his hurting professional pride and they were actually talking business now.
“Small, cautious, attention to details, careful planning.”
Brock nodded without noticing.
She shrugged, intimidated by his attention. “Boys tend to be sloppy. They wouldn’t have changed weapons: they would’ve kept hitting Johnson with the bat and the pipe, and kicking him. They would’ve run away the easiest way, straight out to the street, and never stop to take that picture.”
Brock nodded again and spoke in a completely different tone, still low and controlled, but not harsh anymore. “Unless they needed proof of what they’d done.”
Gillian narrowed her eyes.
Brock hurried to add, “But I agree about the killers being young females.”
It was so **** odd. Just like that noon at Boloco, a few words from him and her mind stepped on the gas. Of course that was what that picture was all about! The killers had never meant it to go viral, else they would have posted it themselves—and get arrested right away. They’d reported to that **** ghost user, the cunning ******* not even Tanya had been able to track down yet. And the ghost user decided to kindly share it with the world.
Gosh, the man was razor sharp. No wonder he was the best in his field.
“You should check the security footage from the alley’s access after the body was found. The killers may show there. It wouldn’t be unusual that they revisited the place, both to relive the thrill of the killing and to make sure their deed was getting attention.”
She almost gawked and turned to her computer. Tanya took the call right away. “T, get me some TV coverage from this morning,” she said, trying to not sound as excited as she actually was.
“On it.” Tanya went on as she kept working. “By the way, there are at least two secret Facebook groups for Johnson’s haters. Connor was invited to both after beating him up, so now we’re checking them. There you go, call me if you need anything else.”
“And you call Kurt if you need more help.”
“Nah. He had a rough battle scheduled for tonight. Connor and I got it covered. Laters.”
Brock sipped his whiskey, studying her as she opened the files Tanya had just sent her. He could tell she had both intelligence and good police instincts, working along with years of experience. She was the leader of a team of at least a couple of agents and she knew how to handle authority, in order to have that girl willingly working from home when it was past ten. Despite the formal and respectful way in which she’d addressed him at all times, her way to behave with everybody else seemed to be completely informal, to an extent he didn’t quite like. But she didn’t seem to have any problem recognizing other people’s expertise. She’d read the crime scene like an open book, yet his suggestions didn’t bother her at all—that was what she expected from him: pointing out things she was missing.
She played a video, muting the volume. It was the same coverage he’d watched at the hotel. He didn’t need to watch it again, so he kept observing her instead. And he saw her eyes widen with a spark of realization as she paused the video.
“There,” she muttered, fighting hard to not jump on Brock to hug him and kiss him, as she spotted the three girls giggling just a few steps behind the reporter.
Brock only needed a glance at the screen to confirm she was talking about the right persons. Gillian turned to him, trying to find her voice. He just arched his eyebrows—there you go—and she was already calling Tanya again.
“T, the first video,” she said, struggling to keep her awe at bay. “Go to minute two-twenty, the three girls at the reporter’s left. I need names.”
Tanya tried to say something, but Gillian disconnected to face Brock again. He sipped his whiskey, flicking through her folder.
“Thank you,” she breathed, taking him completely aback.
He glanced up at her with one of his curt nods and killed his drink. “Glad to be of help,” he said flatly, closing the folder. He stood up, produced his wallet, ignored her when she tried to stop him, and left a bill under his empty glass. “Good night, Lieutenant.”
And Gillian was left again at a table, watching him stride out and away. This time she reacted fast enough to pick up her stuff and hurry out after him, her mind still a swirl.
“Agent Brockner!” she called, seeing he was already opening his car.
He waited by his open door, his scowl back in place.
As Gillian circled his car, she realized she had nothing to say to him, no reason at all to be calling him out like that, or keeping him from leaving. She felt utterly stupid and puzzled at the same time. So she could only stretch her hand out to him.
Brock was about to ask if she was kidding him. But he read the confusion in her bright blue eyes and shook her hand.
Gillian met his dark, piercing stare, already expecting the chill that ran down her spine at the brief touch of his hand. “Thanks, sir,” she said, almost stuttering. “Thank you so much. And I’m really sorry for any inconvenience I may have caused you.”
She knew she sounded like a stupid fangirl asking for an autograph, and that was exactly how she felt. So she stepped back, spun around and hurried to her car, cursing herself.
Brock watched her drive away, taken aback once more.
Gillian stepped on the gas, still cursing herself and feeling so stupid. The **** man would be laughing so hard at her right now—well, not laughing, since his carved-in-stone face didn’t seem able to, but sure as hell he at least despised her. How could she…?
Her phone buzzing forced her to put her self-contempt on hold to take the call.
“T,” she grunted.
“Reg, I think I found the girls, but…”
“But what? Did you identify them or not?”
“There’s something else here, Reg. The victim? Looks like he assaulted them.”
“What d’you mean, assaulted them?”
“He raped them, Reg.”