Man Down, page 1
Also by John Douglas
with Robert K. Ressler and Ann W. Burgess
Crime Classification Manual
with Ann W. Burgess, Allen G. Burgess, and Robert K. Ressler
John Douglas’s Guide to Careers in the FBI
with Mark Olshaker
with Mark Olshaker
Journey into Darkness
with Mark Olshaker
with Mark Olshaker
The Anatomy of Motive
with Mark Olshaker
The Cases That Haunt Us
with Mark Olshaker
with Mark Olshaker
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Copyright © 2002 by Mindhunters, Inc.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Atria Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
Library of Congress Control Number: 2002104347
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To the women in our lives—
when times are good, they’re great
and when times are bad, they’re even better.
I want to thank David Terrenoire, the writer who transformed a good idea into a great story; Jay Acton, not only my agent, but my friend; Lisa Drew, who championed this book; Luke Dempsey, our kind and generous editor; Amy Bagwell, an angel who made this book possible; Gina Gallo, an honest cop and a terrific writer; Josh Grier, attorney to the stars; Kathy Ashton, an ER veteran who helped us survive the GSWs; Col. Chris Reordan (USA Ret.), for his understanding of weapons and their development; and Tom and Ray Magliozzi for their roadside assistance with Jake’s Aston Martin.
From deep in sleep I hear something fall. Something big. It shakes me and I open my eyes to complete darkness. I smell fresh-cut lumber and newly turned earth. Above my face and as far as I can reach, my fingertips touch wood. I’m in a coffin.
An important part of me knows that I am still asleep and that this is a dream. Still, a dark flower of panic blooms inside my chest and I will myself, against my own panicky animal instinct, to breathe slowly and deeply, letting the focus calm me so that I can think of what to do.
There is air enough, brought in by a steel pipe cool to the touch. I don’t see it, but I know it is there. I also know the pipe is threaded on both ends. And as my fingers trace the grooves, I know that the killer will soon come and cap this pipe and I will suffocate, slowly. What is worse, I also know that in the final minutes I will try to claw my way out, no longer able to control my instinct. When I am reduced to an animal, blind to everything but bright fear, that moment is when he wins and achieves release.
We don’t know for certain, we have no hard evidence, but we believe this end moment is what gets him off. In all the children we’ve found, not one has been sexually assaulted or even struck. There are no signs of the control fantasies most predators exhibit except, of course, for the imprisonment itself. But there are those final moments when his victim is stripped of humanity and begs for his life. I sayhis life because all of the victims, fourteen that we know of, have been boys. They have all been blond. They have all been taken from their homes and buried alive.
I think of the boys and repeat their names in a murderer’s rosary. Saying them gives the victims some dignity, I think, and blunts his power over the lives they had before he took them. In the exercise of memory, it also blunts his hold over me as I lie here in this black box. I go over the details of each case, one by one, reciting their mysteries and praying for an insight that has escaped me before. Each time, the boys were taken from their bedroom. There is no sign of struggle. A personal object is taken. It’s never anything of any value except to the victim. A toy, perhaps a photo. It’s the single most important detail we’ve kept from the press. First, because it helps us eliminate the false confessors, and second, we want our killer to hang on to his souvenirs so that when we catch him, he will convict himself with his own sad collection.
No parent had ever heard the scrape of a window or the slide of a dead bolt. No mother had heard her child cry out. No father had heard the floorboards creak under the weight of an intruder. In the morning, all that was found was the killer’s calling card.
It was a literal card, a playing card made by Signet Games, makers of dozens of children’s games as well as traditional bridge and pinochle decks. But the killer’s card was not from a traditional deck. These decks had had a small run and their distribution was limited to Vietnam. The owner, himself a WWII veteran of the OSS, had made them specially for a unit of assassins. There were fifty-two cards in each deck, all with the same design—a single black diamond. When a Vietcong tax collector or political officer was terminated, his killer left one of these black diamonds on the corpse to “spook the gooks.”
This was my first unsolved case as a profiler, when the science was still considered voodoo by most of law enforcement. I didn’t have the political muscle to break open hide-bound bureaucracies. It took nearly a year for the CIA to declassify the personnel list and another eight months for the Bureau to track down all of the squad’s surviving members. Most of them had settled down and started families and were angry when we brought out their dark past into the sunlight and laid it on their swept suburban doorsteps.
Others lived on the fringes, a big part of them still in Vietnam. Some of them were downright scary, alone in the woods, hiding from everyone but themselves. All of them had secrets, to be sure, but every one of them was eventually cleared of being the killer.
Over the time it took us to locate and interrogate all of these veterans, six more boys were taken from their beds, buried in plywood boxes, and kept alive for days, after which the killer would cap the air pipe and listen as the boys cried out. We believe he masturbated as they died. It is a detail that sickens me still, even after interviewing some of the most twisted killers on earth. The press had dubbed him, without much imagination, the Black Diamond Killer.
For these reasons—the abductions, the card, the cruel deaths, and that final act, I pushed myself to find him. The case filled my nights, even though I was working dozens of different cases at the time, interviewing murderers for my first textbook, appearing on television shows at the request of the director, and acting as technical consultant to several motion pictures. It was this last, this continual lunching with stars, that led my rivals in the Bureau to dub me, again without much imagination, Hollywood Donovan.
I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I had come down with a case of viral meningitis that I wrote off as a cold, and I flew out to Oregon, site of the abductions, to assist the local police. It was there that I collapsed and nearly died.
Then, as suddenly as they began, the abductions stopped. We don’t know why. We suspect the killer died or was arrested for another crime. And now, eighteen years after the last boy, Billy Jimeson, was found, I was dreaming inside a box, my fingertips running over rough plywood, searching for answers.
From far away I heard a phone ring. I tried to holler but the sound that came out of my mouth was an unformed animal grunt. The ringing got louder. I heard the cap thread onto the pipe. I hear
The ringing was here, inside the box.
My lungs pulled in what could be my final breath.
Slowly, the darkness fell away and I came up, slick with sweat, twisted in sheets. Katie’s side of the bed was cool. I was alone. I fumbled the phone to my ear. “Donovan.”
“It’s Andrews, Mr. Donovan, from Special Agent Burke’s office.”
“Yeah, right. I remember.”
“I’m outside your door, Mr. Donovan. I’ve been knocking and ringing your bell.”
“What? You’re at the door?”
“On my cell phone, yes.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll be right there.”
I threw my feet to the floor and stumbled to the front door, wrapped in a sheet. In the hall was a young man holding his ID so I could see it. I recognized Vince Andrews, a conscientious hard-charger known in the Bureau as a blue-flamer for the fire that shoots out of his ass.
I know the type because I was a blue-flamer once, too. But that was a long time ago. The Bureau, like all institutions, will throw cold water on a flamer faster than a fireman. Most agents with initiative will either get out or give up and join the ranks of gray plodders. Occasionally, someone like Andrews will sneak through and shine like a battlefield flare in the night, making enemies just by his brilliance.
“Come in.” Normally, Andrews was buttoned up, a recruiting poster of a guy. This morning he looked as if he’d run through a hurricane. His tie was twisted, his hair blown about.
As Andrews came in and took in the details of my living room—the book on the table, the half-filled glass from the night before—my phone rang again. “Damn, I’m popular this morning.”
I held up an index finger. “Let me get this.”
“One minute.” I answered the phone. “Donovan.”
“Jake, have you heard?”
“Katie, where the hell are you?”
“I was at the gym.”
There’s something wrong with Katie’s voice, but I’m not awake enough to figure out what it is.
“You usually wait for me.”
“Sorry, Jake, I woke up early. Have you seen the news?”
Andrews interrupted, “Special Agent Burke wants to see you right away.”
“Hold on a minute, Katie.” I put my hand over the receiver, the full darkness of bad news settling over me. “What’s wrong, Andrews?”
“Special Agent Burke wants to see you right away. The whole building is a madhouse.”
This was bad. I knew Neil Burke, special agent in charge of the Washington office, and he wasn’t someone who would let it turn into anything close to a “madhouse.” A recipient of the Navy Cross for valor in Vietnam, Neil faced each and every crisis with calm determination. Katie had once said that if Neil was on fire, he’d politely ask for a glass of water. Neil set the tone for the entire Bureau, and even when the press was howling at the door and heads were rolling down the aisles of Congress, Neil was relaxed, even icy.
“Katie, Andrews from Neil’s office is here. I’ve got to go.”
“Okay, Jake. I’ve got my cell phone if you need me.”
“Right, good, see you later.”
I wipe the sleep from my face and say, “Okay, Andrews. Do I have time for a shower?”
Andrews shook his head. “I don’t think so, sir.”
“Damn.” I rubbed my beard. “A quick shave?”
“The director asked for you personally.”
That sealed it. Whatever had happened was big. Orlando Ravan, a stickler for chain of command, rarely asked to see me, preferring instead to send assignments through Neil. “What’s going on, Andrews?”
“You haven’t seen the news?”
I glanced at the bedside clock. “I don’t usually watch TV at six in the morning.”
Andrews went to the window and pulled back the curtains. From my balcony I have a terrific view across the Potomac. I can see the Jefferson Memorial, the top of the Lincoln Memorial through the trees, and the Washington Monument standing tall in the center of the Mall.
This morning, the lights of police cars, fire trucks, EMS vans, and Park Service patrols bounced off the Monument’s sides and filled the cherry trees with cheap lightning. Beyond that, a column of black smoke rose in the air and spread flat over the city, adding a pall to an already overcast day.
“There, sir, the smoke,” Andrews said.
I went to the window. “What is it?”
“A plane went down, sir.”
“Oh, no. Do we know if it’s an accident?”
“No, sir. Right now, nobody knows much of anything. But we think the First Lady may have been on board.”
I was dressed and striding toward the elevators within two minutes. Andrews hurried to keep up. Inside, I started to push the button for the parking garage.
“I’ve got it, sir.” Andrews reached past me and hit the button for the roof. “The director sent the Black Hawk. The city’s sealed off. The traffic’s a mess.”
“You mean there’s a helicopter pad up there?” I had never been up on the roof of my building, but a pad up there wouldn’t surprise me. I live in Crystal City, home to some important people, too important to waste their time idling in D.C.’s notorious congestion.
Andrews touched his brow, trying to hide from the news. “Ah, no, sir, there’s no pad.”
“But, how…,” I started, and then knew why Andrews looked as if he’d dressed in a wind tunnel.
“Hope you’ve been keeping up with your PT, sir.”
On the roof, Andrews keyed his radio, and from below the HRT Black Hawk helicopter rose up and floated to just above where we were standing. The wind tore at my jacket and I thought for a moment that we’d be blown over the edge. The door opened and a ladder tumbled down, twisting back and forth in the prop wash. Andrews grabbed the end. “You go, sir,” he shouted. “I’ll hold her steady.”
It had been a long time since I’d run the course at Quantico, and even then rope ladders were not my favorite obstacle. They’re unstable, by nature, and I’ve seen guys get turned upside down and dropped, guys younger and in better shape than I am. “You sure I just can’t meet you there?” I hollered.
Andrews smiled and shook his head. “It’s either this or swim the river,” he hollered.
“Okay.” I grabbed a rung and pulled myself up. The ladder seemed alive and irritated to have a passenger. As I climbed, it bucked and turned. The wind from the prop tore at me, trying to shake me loose, and if Andrews hadn’t been holding the ladder at the bottom, I believe I’d have been whipped off and tossed over the side.
It was only a climb of fifteen feet, but it seemed to take forever to reach the door and the helping hands of the crew chief. “Welcome aboard, sir,” he hollered.
I looked down and watched Andrews scramble up the ladder as easily as climbing into a top bunk.
Once the door was closed against the noise, I strapped myself in.
The crew chief gave the thumbs-up to the pilot, and the chopper lifted off, turned, and banked over the Potomac. As we entered the highly restricted airspace over the Mall, two marine Black Hawks joined us, one on each flank.
Andrews caught the questioning look and said, “Just a precaution, sir. We don’t know why the plane went down.”
Black Hawks had been shot out of the sky in Somalia, and the thought of being in someone’s sights, inside this flying box, didn’t make me feel all that secure.
We flew low over the trees and along the edge of the Mall. Above us, F-16s crisscrossed the sky in close formation. Below us, a pool of people spread across the lawn. All I could think of was how they were trampling my crime scene. In the center of the chaos was the wreckage. The fire was out, but the blackened metal was still smoking.
Four marine and two Metro Police helicopters hovered over the Capitol. Tw
“Looters,” Andrews shouted, “taking advantage of the unadvertised specials.”
“What about casualties on the plane?”
Andrews shook his head. “I don’t know, sir. But it doesn’t look like anyone could have survived that.”
I got that September Eleventh hole in the pit of my stomach, and I tried to focus on how best the Broken Wings could be used in the investigation. Our strength was in our flexibility and our ability to hit quickly before the suspects went to ground or fled the country. Unlike regular units, we were free of the layers of oversight and the constant stream of paperwork. And in a case this big, there would be paperwork thick enough to cover every bureaucratic backside in triplicate. Freedom made the Broken Wings efficient, but it also made us vulnerable, naked to politics and the press.
The year before we had been targeted by a radio talk jock who accused the team, and me in particular, of squandering taxpayer money on personal luxuries. We were innocent, but the charges were easy to make and hard to explain, so by the time we were cleared, the public’s attention had moved on to another manufactured scandal.
Our only shields were competence, the director’s clout, and the inside maneuvering of Mrs. Millicent De Vries. Since the death ofWashington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Mrs. De Vries had become the most powerful woman in Washington, and the Broken Wings belonged to her. Her money made our unit possible, and her influence gave us what slight political cover we had.
There were five of us. Katie McManus and I, besides being romantically involved, were crime scene investigators. Trevor Malone, former Ranger and member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, was our weapons and tactics expert. Our C-130 carried its own forensics lab, including a morgue, and we had our own medical examiner, Dominic Sanchez, a man who’d spoken for the army of the dead in Detroit. After his wife’s death, Dominic had nearly drunk himself onto one of his own slabs, but he was on the wagon and on our team and we were lucky to have him. Jerry Carruthers, our lab specialist and acknowledged genius in the field, I’d plucked from the halls of Harvard.