The Rain Man
Tim powered down the microscope and rubbed his eyes. It had been too much to hope that the blood stained scrap of blue cotton would have yielded up some clue that the FBI had missed. It wasn’t like television, where the intrepid lab geeks could find and identify a forgotten spore found only in one location on earth conveniently near a cabin the suspect had inherited from a great aunt, but he had hoped for something. What he had amounted to dried blood, DNA matched to one Kelly Taylor, the last Keystone City victim, and common Midwest-style dirt. He returned the scrap of cloth to the workbench containing the rest of their pathetic collection of physical evidence. He reached for the second victims cell phone found in a dumpster four blocks from the club where she was abducted, then thought better of it. It was enough. If he hadn’t found something the first two times when he was fresh, looking at it again when he was loopy on red bull and exhaustion wasn’t going to help. He was thinking of making a run up to the kitchen to see if Alfred had any leftovers in the fridge when he heard the Batmobile returning from patrol.
Tim breathed a sigh of relief as the vehicle did not appear to have any new dents or scratches. He was pretty sure Bruce had rigged the driver’s seat not to slide up enough for Cass to reach the pedals so Jean Paul must have driven, but you never knew, Cass could be stubborn about that sort of thing. The cockpit slid back and Azreal climbed out gingerly. He looked back towards the passenger seat.
“Seriously” he asked? “You’re being ridiculous.” He shrugged and walked over to Tim removing his helmet. He was limping just a little. “Just so you know” he said, “Cassie did not fall into a sewer while chasing Killer Croc downtown, and it was not hilarious. On a completely unrelated note, we should walk over to the infirmary for a minute and not look back. “
Jean Paul winced as he released a hidden catch and slid the scarlet and gold breastplate of the Azrael armor off. A painful bruise was beginning to form across his shoulder. Tim tossed him an icepack from the supply cabinet.
“That’s some serious bruising you’ve got going on there”, he said. “Did Croc do that or is Cass just really sensitive about raw sewage?”
“That one’s all Killer Croc; he threw me into a steam pipe before the tranqs put him out. Cassie just swore terrible vengeance” Jean Paul replied.
“And yet you just told me Cassie fell in a sewer”, Tim said drily.
“Yeah but…come on, she’s a teenaged girl; how terrible could her vengeance be” Jean Paul asked?
“I’m pretty sure she has the Jägermeister mixtape Bruce made after Superman’s bachelor party” Tim responded. “Tell me, how does Huntress feel about the iconic 80’s ballads of Canadian Pop Sensation Bryan Adams?”
Jean Paul paled a little. “Now that is a singularly disturbing thought. What about you? Did you pull anything new from the Federal building stuff?”
“A little,” Tim said, heading back towards the crime lab; “Nowhere near enough to get a conviction. I think we have to accept that the evidence isn’t enough to do the job and change our focus to Keller. When you can’t play the cards you’re dealt, you play the table. We just have to treat him like any other rogue. Find out what his Thing is. If we know who he is, we know what he’ll do.”
Jean Paul walked up to the work tables where Tim had carefully arranged the evidence. After studying all the FBI files in the Well, Tim had gone back to the basics. The pictures and files of each victim were pinned on the crime boards Tim had set up by location and then the order of their disappearances. Joseph Keller had his own board off to the side, his mug shot pinned to the center and surrounded by Robins notes. Jean Paul studied that one for a moment, then gestured to the question Tim had circled beneath Keller’s picture.
“What is his type?” he asked. “I thought the thing about serial killers hunting a specific type of victim was a myth; besides, those girls don’t really look all that much alike either.”
“There are different kinds of serial killer,” Tim replied. “You’ve got the Territorial killers who generally kill in a specific area over a long period of time, like that Angel of Mercy nurse who killed all those people at the hospital where she worked in Metropolis. Then you’ve got the Messengers. They’re people who kill because the voices tell them to do it. Think Son of Sam. More often than not they’re caught fairly quickly because they don’t blend. The worst are the power killers. Their murders come from the same impulses that drive serial rapist. It’s about power and control and owning the victim. They’re the ones that take trophies or try to keep the bodies like Dahmer and Bundy. They’re usually the most sadistic. For the others, the focus is the act, they walk up they kill you, and they leave you on the ground, but the power killer focuses on the victim. They get their charge from the amount of suffering and fear they can extract from a victim. Sometimes they’ll hover around the investigation to get a little more from the family begging for the return of their loved ones. It’s because the victim is important that the power killers often have favored types. Keller is definitely a power killer.”
Tim picked up the evidence bag with the bloodstained blue cloth. “This was from the last girl to disappear from Keystone City, Kelly Taylor. The bastard sent one of her fingers to the police station wrapped in her underwear. It’s a message designed to confirm the worst fears of her family. Yes she was sexually assaulted; yes she suffered. She was the lead detective’s oldest daughter.”
“Wow, that’s really twisted. I’m kind of surprised the detective didn’t kill him evidence or not.” Jean Paul said.
“He tried” Tim replied. “Got himself suspended, then transferred out to Seattle. It pretty much destroyed his life though. The point is Keller was watching the investigation. It was an arrogant act, showing them that he could get to anyone. It wasn’t just feeding his compulsion anymore; it was also proving he could beat the police, that he was smarter than them. He volunteered for the lie detector test the first time they brought him in because he knew he could beat it. That’s not unusual among psychopaths, they tend not to display the stress reactions to lying that the test picks up on.”
“Too bad we can’t get him in a room with Cassie,” Jean Paul offered. “I would like to see him try to lie to her. “
“Yeah, wouldn’t that make our lives easier, all she would have to do…?” Tim froze. He looked at Jean Paul, and then he looked back at the Batmobile. He closed his eyes, brow furrowing in concentration as he turned to face the infirmary, muttering to himself; “Cass… sewer… Croc… Jägermeister… Huntress… Cards.” He opened his eyes and a slow smile spread across his face.
“Did you know that Cassie is banned from Vegas?” he asked Jean Paul. Dick and I took her last year for her birthday, and she ran the tables at Cesar’s’ Palace. I mean she crushed them. Anything with a deck of cards and an opponent she just killed. It only got funnier when they tried to kick her out. They finally had to have one of the Jonas Brothers come out and bribe her with backstage passes for their show.”
“Okay, but how do we get them to let Cass question him?” Jean Paul asked.
“Not just Cass, we’ll need you to go in as Agent Whitfield again,” Tim replied. “We’ll get Barbara to put the paperwork into the system for tomorrow and backdate it to look legitimate. Then we can send Cass in with you as a stenographer or maybe an AV intern to handle the camera equipment. She’ll read him and signal you when to hit, just like card counting teams do.”
Tim walked over to the Batcomputer and punched up a satellite map of Keystone City and the surrounding countryside. Cassie came out of the locker room to join them, toweling off her hair. She had changed out of uniform into the featureless grey sweats they kept in the cave for convenience. Tim punched in another few parameters, and a circle appeared around the city.
“Based on the timeline between when the last girl was taken and when Keller was seen the next morning, we know the girls were disposed of somewhere within this perimeter. We can make some basic assumptions from what we know. He was driving a maroon 92 Toyota Camry at the time. That’s front wheel drive and 5 inches of ground clearance, so he didn’t go off road, or at least not very far off road, he couldn’t afford to get stuck somewhere with a girl in his trunk.”
Tim punched in several more keys, and several large areas of the map turned red.
“He returned to his dump site at one point to get Kelly Taylors finger, which was cut off several days post mortem, so the body had to be accessible , which means not buried to deep or sunken in the middle of a lake” Tim continued “so we can eliminate here, here and here. “ The map changed to block out several small lakes surrounding Keystone. “The Thunderbolts were playing the Metropolis Giants that night and the police were doing drunk checks on the 85 after the game let out so it’s very unlikely he left town that way, but you’ll have to check to be sure. He shaded the region to the east of Keystone a light red. Bit by bit they eliminated sections from the map that were heavily populated or covered by cameras. They crossed off impassable terrain and area where construction had torn up the ground after the disappearances, until at last only about a third of the map remained clear.
Tim sighed, saying “I think that’s the best we can do until we get Cass in a room with Keller. We’ll set your laptop up to update the bat computer’s filter in real time. We don’t need him to walk us to the bodies. We just need to get close. Start with whether he kept them in the city, then work your way out. If you can put me within a few miles of the bodies then I may have a card to play. So how about it Cass; are you ready to Rain Man this guy?”
“Definitely” she replied, looking at Tim and Jean Paul’s expectant faces…”What??”
“I look stupid” Cass complained, studying her reflection in the mirror. She was surrounded by bags from several vintage stores they’d made an early morning run on.
“You look perfect “Tim countered; “It took me long enough to figure out what Keller’s Thing was, but this is it.”
“You were saying something about that before,” Jean Paul said, “but you never explained what it was that you found in the files.”
“There wasn’t anything definitive in the files to connect them,” replied Robin, “I’m not surprised the Feds missed it. You were right, other than being young and pretty the girls don’t seem to have a specific look. Their lives didn’t intersect anywhere like schools or churches. It wasn’t until Barbara pulled all the social media around these girls that I saw it. Once I started looking at videos posted to their Facebook accounts or YouTube, the connection became apparent. It was the way they moved. They all had the sort of grace that only comes from a lifetime of practice in certain kinds of movement. On the surface, there’s no reason to connect a ballet dancer to a gymnast or a figure skater, but once you see them move; it’s entirely unconscious on their part, but that’s what’s catching Keller’s eye. I’m sure of it. Everything about Cassie’s outfit is designed to play to that.”
Cassie nodded sagely, “He likes to kill girls that look stupid.”
Tim looked to the heavens as if to pray for strength. “Soon as this is over we’ll get you all the black jeans and sweatshirts that scream off-duty ninja that you can wear, but for now you’re playing a character. The woman Keller will be seeing took ballet from the time she was six and all through high school and wanted to do it for a living until she found out all the parts go to girls that were Caucasian and 5 inches taller. She switched majors and is currently interning at the FBI while she works towards her degree in computer sciences. Of course she can’t say all that, so her clothes have to. The vintage skirt and blouse with the boots and the street vendor jewelry imply a free spirited artistic type. The light material of the skirt will move with her, emphasizing her natural grace. The jacket is a half-hearted concession to her work environment. The hairstyle of the wig is soft and feminine but simple, suggesting innocence and emotional openness, both of which Keller is going to itch to take from her. “
“Are you sure you want to play bait for this guy Cass?” asked Jean Paul. “I’m wearing the three piece suit and I feel dirty.”
“Stephanie was my friend,” Cass replied as if that explained everything, and Jean Paul supposed it did.
“If I could think of another way to get what we need, I’d do it,” Tim said grimly, “I wish we could have her watching the camera feed, but she needs to be in the room. Keller is savvy. He’s been through a dozen interrogations and given them nothing, so we need to push him in a way he hasn’t been pushed before.”
“I’ll bet he hasn’t been interrogated by a guy with a flaming sword,” Jean Paul offered.
“You may still get a chance at that,” Tim replied, “but for now I want you to get in his face. He’s going to try to engage Cass when he sees her. So run interference, be protective like Cass is your little sister and he’s the drummer for Motley Crue. That will make him want to beat you.”
He turned to Cassie. “Your job is easier; when you first come in, acknowledge him. Make eye contact and then dismiss him. Be bored by him. He’s the most dangerous man you’ve ever met, and he’s less interesting to you than the selfie your friend just posted to Facebook. That will piss him off. It will make him think of all the girls just like you that he put in their place. He’ll think of what he did to them and where he did it, and when Jean Paul gets a hit, he won’t be able to stop himself from reacting.”
“Best case scenario, we get a clear idea of where the girls are buried and we find them quickly enough to keep Keller in jail.” Tim said as he put the finishing touches on Cassie’s makeup. “Next best thing is he fixates on Cassie enough that he’ll try to kill her first when he gets out instead of Dufresne’s ex or some other girl in which case we stand aside and golf clap while Cassie puts him in traction.”
“And the worst case?” Jean Paul asked.
“He gets out and leaves Gotham only to pick up again somewhere else and more girls die.”
Tim looked at his watch and said “You guys better head out, the appointments in a little less than two hours and you’re going to want a few minutes to get your game faces on.”
“Are you going to watch from Batcave?” Cassie asked. She fiddled with her wig a little and Tim slapped at her hand and put it back where it was.
“You guys don’t need me playing stage mother over the oracom,” Tim replied, putting on his own mask. “You know what you’re doing and I’d just be a distraction. You guys are going to nail this.”
“Where will you be while we do this, then?” Jean Paul asked.
“Somebodies got to keep the city safe while you guys are playing bad cop, completely disinterested civilian.” Robin called back as he headed for the Redbird.
“Did he just pull a Gandalf on us?” Jean Paul asked.
Cass nodded gravely and gave her wig another tug.
The imposing walls of Blackgate Penitentiary loomed above them as Jean Paul pulled the rental sedan into the visitor’s parking lot.
“So what was up with Tim back there?” he asked. “Since when did he get so intense about everything?”
“Tim is worried about Keller,” Cassie replied. “He is so afraid of messing up and Keller getting away with it that he is thinking too much what Batman would do. Because he thinks Batman would never let a bad guy get away with killing one of us. Just wait, we will win and Batman will come back and Tim will remember why it is better to be Robin.”
They signed in at the front gate and were searched before being led down several long corridors of grey cinderblock and past a number of heavy steel doors until they arrived at interview room deep in the bowels of Blackgate.
Jean Paul set his briefcase on the table and removed a file folder from it. He positioned it off to one side and booted up his laptop. He was linking up with Barbara’s mapping software on the Batcomputer when two burly guards ushered Joseph Keller into the room in shackles and settled him into the seat across from Jean Paul who continued to fiddle with the laptops settings until the guards left. One minute passed, and then another until Keller finally began to show signs of irritation.
“Mr. Keller,” Jean Paul began; “I understand you are getting out of here soon, so I thought we should have a little talk.”
“Who the hell are you supposed to be?” Keller asked. “FBI? You know what, I don’t give a shit. I don’t have to talk to you people without a lawyer.”
“That’s not precisely true Mr. Keller,” Jean Paul responded mildly removing a slip of paper from his folder and sliding it across the table to Keller. “That’s a bank statement showing a wire transfer of $10,000 from one Sheik Khalid al Bashir, known financier to Al Qaeda to an account in your name. That makes you a terror suspect. Under certain provisions of the Patriot Act, we are not required to provide you with access to legal counsel. That may change in a year or two but until then; we can throw you into a hole and forget about you.”
Keller stared at the bank statement in disbelief for a moment then snarled at Jean Paul. “This is bullshit! What you can’t pin those girls on me so you set me up?? You can’t do this to me!”
“Relax Keller” Jean Paul responded coolly; ”I’m sure this is just some sort of clerical error and they’ll clear it up in no time but since you brought it up, let’s talk about those girls.”
The door to the interview room opened, and Cassie strode in carrying a camera bag and a tripod. “Sorry, sorry, I had to run back to the car for a fresh battery,” she began. “You haven’t started yet have you?”
“Don’t worry about it, Amy,” Jean Paul said, using the name of the cover identity they had arranged for her. If things went according to plan and Keller tracked her down after he got out he would find one of Bruce’s safe houses leased to one Amy Lin and roommates. “We’re just getting started. You can set up over there.”
Cassie turned to set up the tripod and tried not to shiver as she felt Keller’s eyes crawling over her. Tim said it was okay if she felt uncomfortable; that it would play into Keller’s fantasies of power and control. This was not her kind of fight, but it was still a fight. By manipulating Keller’s emotions she would control him. Every move he made would be the one she wanted him to make, and once he was in the position of greatest vulnerability she would strike. Even so, next time, Tim was wearing the dress.
“So where were we,” jean Paul continued sliding his file folder to the center of the table between him and Keller, “oh yes; you were about to tell me that there was no evidence linking you to those girls and I was about to show you this.”
Jean Paul removed his first photograph from the folder and rotated it to face Keller. “I read somewhere that more than four million pictures or videos are posted to social media everyday,” he began. “This is the most self-absorbed generation the world has ever seen, and every one of them is walking around with a high definition video camera in their pockets. So while it’s quite possible to avoid the security cameras in a club, there’s really no way to know when someone’s going to catch you in the background when he’s posting his buddy doing Jell-O shots from a waitresses cleavage to Facebook.”
Robin worked the cover loose from his oracom and pried the battery out. With any luck Barbara would think it was just a malfunction and wouldn’t worry too much. They say it’s better to ask forgiveness after the fact than permission beforehand, but Robin didn’t doubt there would be hell to pay either way once all was said and done. Batman would probably be furious at him when he found out. Barbara would just be disappointed in him. She wouldn’t scold him or anything, she just wouldn’t trust him as much which would hurt worse than being fussed at, and then forgiven. But Robin also knew he was right. Keller was going to get out, and he was going to kill again unless someone stopped him permanently. He set the Redbird on autopilot and plotted a route that would mimic a standard patrol but would pass close to where he was going without raising suspicion. He wondered if he’d still be working for Batman by this time next week.
Robin left the Redbird half a mile from his destination and worked his way in on foot. To be fair, the security was actually pretty good. And it took nearly an hour of crawling through air vents and bypassing sensors to bring him to the steel door in front of him.
“Patient 734,” he said, “That’s new. Are they trying that thing where they break down your criminal identities to rebuild you as productive members of society again?”
“Does your daddy know you’ve come to Arkham all alone, little bird?” taunted the man in the cell.
“He’s Batman. I work on the assumption that he knows pretty much everything, but I’m not here to talk about Batman, and frankly I don’t have time for the usual exchange of witty banter, so I’m just going to skip to the end. Two days from now a man is getting out of Blackgate. He kills girls for sport, he kills them because there is an undeniable darkness inside of him that compels him to do it, and he hasn’t had a kill in two years. In a little over 46 hours, he’s going to start making up for lost time, just like Bundy at that sorority house.”
“And how exactly is that my problem?”
“You have a niece, Abigail, Your brother Edwards youngest,” Robin said. “She’s the only one who still visits you in here. I’ve seen the log book. She just started the arts program at Hudson last year right? Jazz and Contemporary dance? This guy Keller, he likes them young, and he likes them pretty, but more than anything he likes the ones who dance. I can’t say that in a city as big as Gotham he’s going to find Abigail, but he’s definitely looking for her. So I’m asking for your help; just this once, because I think you and I are on the same side of this.”
To be continued...