Genre: Crime Thriller
Author: Lisa Regan
Publisher: Sapphire Star Publishing
PURCHASE ABERRATION AT AMAZON
FBI analyst Kassidy Bishop is assigned to the “For You” killer’s task force after a series of sadistic murders bearing the same signature arise in different parts of the country.
The homicides are both calculated and savage, occurring in different states, but bearing the same signature: the words “for you” scribbled at each crime scene. The case chills Kassidy, bringing back memories of her own encounter with a violent criminal five years earlier.
Kassidy’s mentor, legendary agent Talia “The Confessor” Crossen knows the task force assignment is Kassidy’s chance to prove to her colleagues that she belongs in the Behavior Analysis Unit. For five years, other FBI agents and profilers scoffed at Kassidy’s appointment to the BAU, believing she was only offered the position in exchange for her silence about the brutal assault that almost killed her.
The stakes rise when the task force links the killer’s signature to Kassidy. As more and more bodies turn up, Kassidy must delve into her past and the mysterious death of her twin sister, which holds the key to uncovering the killer’s identity.
The closer Kassidy comes to finding the killer, the closer she comes to a deadly confrontation that could cost her everything—including her own life.
It was a blitz attack. Cowardly. He hit me over the head with the baseball bat I kept next to my bedroom door. I was asleep. I never even heard him. The next thing I knew, I was tied to a chair in my dimly lit dining room. I woke suddenly to a high-pitched keening. He was shooting me up with something. My left forearm pricked and burned. My head felt heavy, achy. My eyelids weighed a ton each, but I lifted them and looked at him.
He smiled. A cranked-out, toothy smile, his wide lips peeling back from his teeth. He held up an empty syringe.
“Crank, bitch,” he sneered.
I thought,where was that needle before tonight? That was my first thought.Whether or not he just infected me with HIV or hepatitis. I didn’t wonder how he got in, if I had a concussion, how long I’d been unconscious, or if he had raped me while I was out.
I wiggled in my seat, but there was not much give. My hands were bound to the armrests of the chair. My feet were tied in the same fashion to the front legs of the chair. I glanced at my dining room table and saw a knife, a ball of twine and my standard issue Glock nine millimeter.
He paced back and forth in front of me. He was waiting for the crank to kick in. Waiting for me to become fully awake. He wanted me to be fully cognizant during the torture he was about to inflict. My head lolled. I don’t know how long it was before he got impatient and slapped me hard across the face. White hot pain streaked through my jaw.
“Wake the fuck up,” he growled.
I swallowed. “I’m awake.”
He picked up the knife, flipped it open and used the tip of it beneath my chin to hold my head up. I looked into his eyes. Wild eyes.Green and brown. I’d seen them before.
“You thought you had me, didn’t you?” he said.
He needled the knife until I felt a small puncture. A drop of blood slid down, pooling in the hollow of my throat. As I became more alert, the blurred edges of the room turned sharp one by one. My heart thumped furiously in my chest, rattling my rib cage. Soon I’d be fully awake, conscious of every last detail of my death.
It wasn’t how I thought I’d go. I thought—okay, I’d hoped—I’d be shot in the line of duty or killed in a car wreck. Maybe even cancer or simple old age. Too much to hope for.
It had to be this. Torture, rape, death and probably dismemberment at the hands of a violent criminal. I knew I was going to die. It was just a matter of how fast or how slow.
I thought of my parents. Well, mostly I thought of my dad. This would kill him. He’d always been so worried about this sort of thing. I always assured him that these things never happened. Never. They only happened in books, movies or on TV. Real life wasn’t like this. Real FBI agents didn’t have to worry about collars coming after them.
He pulled the knife away with a sound of disgust. He continued to pace. My head felt full. The crank made my spine ramrod straight. I held my head up and looked at him. He wore khakis, loafers and a muted green shirt. The sleeves were rolled up, revealing muscular forearms. His greasy black hair was in disarray. Even so, he didn’t look like a killer.
They never do, Kass.
That’s what my SAC at the Baltimore field office said when I closed my first string of homicides. The FBI didn’t normally handle homicides, but several state and city police departments had asked for our help tracking a particularly malicious serial killer whose work spanned three states. Again, I thought of Ted Bundy.
He had been handsome and a charmer from all I heard.
The man before me was a charmer, but he had the blackened heart of a demon. As if sensing my thoughts, he looked right at me. A sneer slithered across his face. I wondered if this was how he’d looked to his previous eighteen victims.
“Remember me, bitch?”
“NicoSala,” I said. “I wish I didn’t remember you.”
For that, I caught a wild punch to the face. His fist landed close to my left eye. Again I felt sharp pain. This time it seared across my forehead. I could practically hear my eye swelling.
“I told you, you stupid bitch. I told you I’d find you. I’m gonna gut you alive.”
I believed him. I’d talked to lots of victims of violent crime during my career, and many of them said the same thing: there comes a point where you know your attacker is going to kill you.
Well, here I was. NicoSala had broken into my home. He’d shot me up, bound me to a chair, hit me. Fear crept along my body with thin, icy fingertips. I moved my arms and legs, trying to figure out how much room I had to work with to free a hand or foot. There wasn’t any.
“Don’t bother,” Nico said. “You’re not going anywhere.”
I rested and watched him with my good eye. I tried to tamp down the fear bubbling up inside, making my already thundering heart race faster. My ears filled with the sound of it, like a train roaring down the tracks.
My whole body vibrated. I wondered fleetingly if it was possible for my heart to actually burst right out of my chest. It felt like it might. I drew a deep breath.
He gave me a few more slaps for good measure, grunting as he did so.
Stay calm. The fear will only escalate his violent tendencies.
It was the FBI agent in me, a ridiculously calm voice in my head. I tried to hold onto that part of me. In that moment I wanted to be the clinical behavioral analyst, not the terrified woman I was in reality.
“Aren’t you gonna scream?” he asked.
It wouldn’t do any good, I realized, tears gathering behind my eyes. People in this neighborhood screamed all the time. Everyone heard, but nobody listened.
Calm, the voice urged again. Your life depends on it. I managed to force some bravado. “What?” I said.
“And forego hours of torture? Nah.”
Nico grinned and pulled a chair out from the dining room table. He faced it toward him, straddling it so he could fold his arms over its back. “I’m not going to kill you fast,” he said.
“I hate bitches like you. You think you’re so superior. So much better than me.”
There it was—inadequacy. The hallmark of violent criminals.
“Well, I’m not a raping murderer, if that’s what you mean,” I said.
The chair flew. His fists rained down on me. He struck me everywhere with thirty-five years of pent-up rage. I tucked my chin against my chest to avoid more blows to my face. Reflexively, my hands tried to fly upward to block his attack.
Finally he pulled away, breathing heavily. Sweating. “You’re trying to make me do it fast,” he said. “But I won’t.”
Nico picked up the chair and resumed his seat. I recovered from his flying fists as best I could. My head and chest stung. I pushed my feet against the floor to see if there was any slack.
“What’s the point of this again?” I asked, trying to make my tone casual. If I was going down, acting as scared as I felt wouldn’t change that. Blood trickled out of the side of my mouth. I felt like I just got back from the dentist. The left side of my mouth was huge and numb. Soon the slobbering would start.
“The point is you’re a stupid cunt,” he said, the petulance in his voice incongruous with his maniacal appearance.
“I just don’t see the point in killing me,” I said. “You got off.”
He grinned then, his pearly whites as big as the moon. He rubbed his crotch, raised an eyebrow. “Yeah,” he drawled. “I sure did.”
I ignored him. If he had in fact raped me, I was glad I didn’t remember it. Though I doubted he had. NicoSala had made his criminal career as a serial rapist in two states. He had started out in Wilmington, Delaware preying on single women between eighteen and fifty. Neither their age nor their features were particularly important to Sala. Fat, short, tall, thin, brunette, blonde, black, white, Asian—it didn’t matter. He just looked for women who lived alone in first-floor apartments. In Wilmington, he had raped seven women. Then he moved on to Baltimore. He raped eleven women there.
Since local police in both Baltimore and Wilmington believed they were dealing with the same rapist, they had asked for FBI assistance, which my field office gladly lent. I came onto the case after the fifth Baltimore victim. Eventually, I was put undercover, living in a shitty first-floor apartment for almost a month before Sala broke in with the intention of raping me, only to be swarmed and arrested by most of the task force assigned to catch him.
I’d worked the case, seen the files, talked to the victims. NicoSala was what investigators referred to as a sadistic rapist. He couldn’t get it up unless his victims were visibly overcome by fear. Fear that made their eyes wide, their cries strangled. Fear forming a beaded tiara across their foreheads. He liked them fully conscious and very afraid.
My reckoning would come when I was wide awake. “They let you go,” I said.
After months of investigative work and a hard-won arrest, Nico was set free on a legal technicality. The night of the arrest, two of my Bureau coworkers had been on scene, as well as two Baltimore sex crimes detectives and four uniformed Baltimore PD officers. Somehow, in spite of all that law enforcement, no one had read Sala his rights. No one had Mirandized him, which meant that the arrest was illegal. There was nothing the district attorney could do. We had to watch him go free and try to pick up the pieces while our superiors passed blame around like an office memo no one wanted to read. That was two months ago.
Nico spit on the floor. “Yeah, that’s right. They let me go so I could come find you.”
I shook off a fresh wave of pain. My whole body felt like an angry, throbbing vein. “Why?” I asked, my voice the sound of a creaking chair. I had to keep him talking. The more talking he did, the less hitting or possibly stabbing would occur. He obviously had quite a few complaints to lodge against me.
“Because you fucked me,” he said, his face screwing up in twisted lines of indignation.
“Hardly,” I said.
He threw the knife at me. I turned my head and tucked my chin. My amber hair fell across my neck, my only meager defense. The blade punctured the skin just above my right breast but not with enough force to stick.
It clattered to the floor. The noise seemed to reverberate through the entire house. It must have been the crank. Again, tears stung my eyes. I blinked them back and swallowed hard, willing my composure to remain intact.
“Yeah, well I’ll fuck you tonight before I gut you, bitch.”
“You’ve never killed anyone before, Nico,” I pointed out.
“You don’t know I never killed anyone before,” Nico challenged.
With the patience a mother shows her child I said, “Yes, Nico, I do know.”
He was already on his feet again.
“I profiled you, jerk-off. You’re just an angry little boy whose mother was too overbearing”—he drew closer—“you just want to be in control. You get off on making women feel afraid, on overpowering them, humiliating them.”
My jaw broke with a loud crack. Another fist followed. “Shut the fuck up,” he screamed.
Another punch.Skin cracking skin.Lips splitting against teeth.Eyes watering, nose crumpling. His voice was unnaturally high. “You thought you were so clever, you worthless whore. Moving into my territory, leaving your window open.Waiting for me. Yeah, well I got off.”
The room tipped, descending out of sight like two halves of a broken ship sliding into the ocean.
“You fucked me,” he said. “Now I’m gonna fuck you.”
I tried to speak, but my jaw didn’t work. I couldn’t see him anymore. I felt his hands close around my throat.
I tried to tuck my chin, but I was too late. The darkness came from the inside out.
I don’t know how long it was. Each time I went out, I thought it was the last time. But I kept floating back up to consciousness. It was always dark. Both my eyes swelled shut. I don’t remember much of it. He tore at my hair, stabbed me in the thighs, struck me again and again. Then he groped me, licked me, tried to kiss my broken mouth.
The pain was a dull undercurrent. I had gone to another place. A stone fortress in my head. My twin sister, Lexie, was there, hand outstretched, ten years younger as she had been at the time of her death. She smiled at me. A mirror image.
I reached out to take her hand, but I never made it. There was a chime, a familiar ding-dong that brought me back. My doorbell.Silence. I must have been alone then. I felt my hands come loose. They were heavy and weakened by hours of restraint.
I thought I was hallucinating. Maybe this was it. Death.Precious death. I wanted to go to it, rise up to it, and I did, legs suddenly free. I staggered, sinking back onto the chair. Death had a male voice. “You have to stand,” it said. I could feel death’s hushed breath on my ear as it pulled me up.
My gun was in my hands then, as familiar as a hot bath. Death lifted my arms. They trembled with the weight of the firearm. “There’s a round in the chamber,” death whispered. I stumbled backward until my skin touched the chair for feeble support.
“He’s coming,” death said. “You have to do this. Listen for him.”
And I did.
Death was gone. When NicoSala came back for me, I brought the gun up level with my shoulders and aimed straight in front of me. I fired. I heard three footfalls, the crash of wood against wood. I squeezed off two more shots before I heard the thud of his body on the floor.
I sank with him, until the back of my head rested against the chair. I breathed.
In the movies, after the villain is destroyed and the heroine lies battered and spent, the sirens are already sounding in the distance. It doesn’t work that way in real life. The sirens come later, much later.
They told me that a pizza boy called the police. He’d been sent to the wrong address. He rang my doorbell and NicoSala answered, wild-eyed, looking pretty frightening covered in my blood. Nico told the kid in no uncertain terms to get lost.
My face, before it underwent reconstructive surgery to repair the damage NicoSala had done, was splashed all over the media. I was interviewed and interrogated. I met the President. I received a special commendation from the Bureau. After my recovery, I was offered a position as a Criminal Investigative Analyst in the Behavior Analysis Unit at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, which I accepted.
I know what they told me. I know what I remember from that night. I know that someone saved my life that night.
But it wasn’t me.