Mystery and Crime Fiction posted November 7, 2022 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4 

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The team pools some knowledge

A chapter in the book The Beast

The Beast Ch.3

by Fleedleflump

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

Bentley allowed the gaggle of voices to wash over him for a while. Their secret new incident room looked like a house that got abandoned half way through a renovation. Rough edges outlines the plasterwork, channels showed in the walls where cabling once ran, and the ceiling showed the yellow scars of nicotine abuse. A relic of different times, it would have played host to a local team of police - probably five officers with a single cell, a reception area, and the one office in which the team now sat.
As far as he could tell, for the last few years, it’d been used as a store room of the ‘file and forget’ variety. There was no working kitchen area, so he'd sent the two constables out with the mother of all coffee orders. It was good for them, he thought to himself - keeping track of that many very specific requests was good character building.
He flicked through pages in his case pack while the others talked, letting the images and snippets of intelligence merge with memories of scenes and conversations from his past. The information was all here, technically everything the team needed to start investigating. But without context and filtered through a lens of memory he’d tried several times to turn off, it was frustratingly fragmented.
Chaplain dusted off a chair nearby and wheeled it over, wincing as she sat down. “This place reminds me of my student days living with a bunch of guys in a crummy old house.”
“Too much testosterone?” said Bentley, smiling.
“Hardly. With the VIP guys stuck out front, all the men in here evaporated years ago.”
He snorted. “You shouldn’t talk about poor Mr Brown like that. I mean, you’re obviously not referring to me, a man in his prime.”
“Prime denial, maybe.” She gestured to the two profilers, who were deep in conversation with Brown from Pathology and the MoJ lady. “I’d actually forgotten about the profiler - is the guy Preston or Rose?”
Bentley shrugged. “We’ll figure them out in a minute. Did you notice something in your pack, or did you just come over to call me old?”
Chaplain elbowed him. “Alright, Mr Grumpy. Allow a girl to do both, will you? The pack’s great, but it doesn’t give me a feel for what’s going on here. Clearly, Shepherd’s worried about inside issues, given where the body was found. Do we really think somebody in the department did this, though? Was there any sense it was one of our own originally?”
“None,” he replied, sighing, “but then we never got a strong sense about much at all. Bear in mind, more civvies than cops access the yard, so it’s a pretty huge suspect pool, and if they're using a stolen ID badge, it could just be a hole in our security system.”
She nodded. “But if it is someone who works for the Met?”
“Then they’re completely off our radar. To get access to the building, you need CTC-level national security vetting clearance at a minimum. You don’t get that if you’ve even been suspected of something, never mind having a record. Not to mention, the balls or detachment it takes to wander through a building full of police having just dismembered somebody.”
“Also, a technical thought.” Chaplain shifted as if in discomfort. “There’s a bucket at every crime scene. Couple that with the complete lack of blood stains and I get the picture, but I have to ask - how?”
“Hold that thought.” Bentley stood up and cleared his throat. “Everyone, gather round. Let’s make some kind of plan.”
Everyone rolled chairs over into a rough circle and Bentley sat back down. “Alright, you’ve seen the contact sheet in the pack for this group. We’re using personal numbers and I assume everyone’s okay with that - yell now if not.” Nobody made a sound. “Sorted. Chaplain here will set up groups and channels using something with end-to-end encryption. That way you’ll also get her number. Let’s make that the only way we communicate if not face to face. Now.”
He closed his pack and looked round the group of faces. All attentive and serious - excellent. “McHale was a good cop. More importantly, she was a friend, so I’m damned sure going to see this through. I don’t know why this killer has resurfaced or what prompted the timing. I don’t even know why McHale was targeted - she may have been the lead investigator, but we never got a sense of purpose or a theme before. The choice of victim seemed irrelevant. So, let’s pool what we know.”
Bentley turned to Harris Brown in his tweed jacket - old enough to retire, perhaps, but there was a fire in his gaze and a lifetime of experience behind it. “Mr Brown, my Sergeant asked how we think the blood gets in the bucket. We had ideas back in the day, but I’d like to hear your thoughts - on the whole process, actually. How does he kill and dismember them?”
Mr Brown nodded. “It’s quite fascinating, actually. I can give you the process as we see it, but it’s hard to imagine an attacker managing it. The victims die from suffocation, leading us to believe they are wrapped in plastic - at least their heads - before anything else. Given the lack of signs of struggle, we believe they are incapacitated first. The most likely agent is isoflurane because it’s delivered through the respiratory system, acts fast, and is still very commonly used in developing countries, which makes it cheap and easy to buy online if you know where to look.”
He winced and shifted in his chair. Bentley heard a hip click and winced himself in sympathy.
“So,” said Jane Johnson from the MoJ, “they could use a cloth over the mouth?”
Mr Brown nodded. “Potentially, or more likely an aerosol to the face. The initial shock would cause an intake of breath, which would lead to disorientation, and then a more substantial dose could be administered.” He cleared his throat. “Once controlled and suffocated, the victim is drained of blood. We found consistent puncture wounds to the neck, opening the jugular. Without the heart pumping, this would be a slow, controllable process. However,” he said, lifting an arm for emphasis, “one would need gravity to assist in the exsanguination. This would take a great deal of strength - holding a body over the bucket for the required time - or perhaps some apparatus.”
“Was there any physical evidence of something like that?” asked Chaplain.
“No,” replied Mr Brown while Bentley nodded his agreement. “However that process is achieved, the body is then portioned and wrapped, and all the extremities and trinkets removed and bagged. At each scene, one piece is missing - a nipple or a finger, usually. In the most recent case, the clitoris was taken. These are presumably trophies.” He placed his hands palms-down on his thighs. “Once we finish here, I will head to the lab and check progress on DI McHale’s remains.”
Jan Johnson cleared her throat. “While Harris is doing that, I can do some digging. I’ll look for prisoners released recently who might fit the bill, and ask some questions around Probation. There might be some cases their psychologists had lingering doubts about, but didn’t have anything actionable to hold them on.”
“Awesome,” said Bentley. “Thanks, both. We have two constables in the team - I'll assign one to each of you, and they can help with notes and collation. Now, what useful information can we glean from our guest profilers? Oh,” he held up a hand. “And before we start, which of you is Rose, and which Preston, and why do we have two of you?”
They grinned, and the female behavioural psychologist spoke first, pushing a thin pair of glasses higher on her narrow nose. “I’m Lilly Preston, Detective, and my colleague is Dan Rose. We come as a pair because our field is as much about interpretation as application. In other words, we’ll disagree with one another lots but that will help us focus in on likely truths and indicators.”
“Are you going to tell us what the killer eats for breakfast?” asked Chaplain. “And regale us with tales of cruel words his uncle said to him when he was little?”
“In some ways, we could,” said Rose, sitting forward. He was chubbier and younger than Preston, but carried a self-assured edge. “Profiling isn’t some mad art you need to be a savant to perform - if I’m honest, it’s not even hugely reliable. It’s a balance of probabilities that might help you narrow down a suspect pool. We are one aspect of this investigation, and our role is to be like human databases.”
Jane Johnson leaned forward over crossed arms, clearly fascinated. “How do you mean?”
“For example,” said Preston, taking over. Bentley suspected this would be one of their things. “The killer dismembers the victims. Statistically, on its own, that tells us he’s most likely a latina gang member. However, we know that’s unlikely here since there's no reason to think these are gang-related killings. So we go to the next most likely demographic, which means a white male, early middle age, middle class - you know, exactly what you’d expect.”
“But then,” said Rose excitedly, “we look at other factors in combination. When we consider location correlations, social trends and historic cases with similar aspects, we can make assumptions. White males of his age would most likely have been raised primarily by their mothers, with a disciplinarian father. They are either Christian or agnostic. There's a forty percent chance of either physical, sexual or emotional abuse in their childhood on some level - yes, that high."
"So," said Preston, "we can assume some signs of stress such as worn teeth, or indicators of rebellion for somebody or that age and demo, such as tattoos, aggressive dressing or an avant garde hair cut. I know - it sounds silly - but that's how we create a baseline. It's important to note that a profile is fluid, changing to meet new factors. We never interpret evidence to meet it - rather, we amend it to account for all the evidence."
Rose held his hands out to his sides. "So, that's basically what we do. And then add to that lots of stating the obvious, because you'd be surprised how often that unlocks something insightful. For example, this is someone who has no trouble appearing normal, or at least normal enough to be unremarkable in a bustling city. That means they're either a world-class compartmentaliser, or - more likely - experiencing a level of dissociation."
Jane Johnson made an excited breathing noise. "Like a psychopath, or is it sociopath?"
The behavioural psychologists laughed in creepy unison and looked at one another.
"Way to start one of those arguments we talked about," said Rose. "But we'll shelve the psycho-socio debate for now. With dissociation, it's more important to know that it's a symptom that could indicate many different conditions. The key is to figure out some other symptoms and look at the combination to arrive at a diagnosis."
Preston held up a finger. "And from our point of view here, we always need to be asking - regardless of any other consideration - will this help us catch them? We’re not here to diagnose an exact medical condition unless it’s going to move us forward."
Bentley clapped his hands together. "In other words, you don't know much and that's actually part of the process." Chaplain chuckled. "That's not a criticism, by the way," added Bentley. "I now understand the point of what you guys do. Many thanks for the update."
"It's mid-afternoon, boss," said Chaplain. "Are we going to look at the crime scene?"
"Once the day staff have gone home - at that point, there shouldn't be anyone else in that part of the building." He looked around the team again. "Let’s reconvene here tomorrow morning. We know what you're doing next, Jane and Harris. So profilers, how do you think your time is best spent?"
They looked at each other and nodded wordlessly. "If it's alright, Inspector," said Preston, "we'd like to accompany you to the crime scene."
Bentley nodded. "Awesome. And just out of interest, what do you think our suspect is doing right now?"
Rose smiled. "Statistically? He's alone somewhere, either enjoying his trophies or arranging his home in meticulous detail somehow. Our prey is someone used to their own company."

This is my NanoWrimo project for 2022. As such, this was written today and may get changed as the story develops later. I am not posting a chapter every day but will aim to post quite frequently.

CTC stands for 'Counter-Terrorism Check' - there are two levels of security clearance above that.

I hope you enjoyed the read.

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