The stealth drone hovered over the backyard of the suburban house, its camera zooming in close to its subject.
A boy, kneeling on the lawn, in one hand a praying mantis, the other a pair of tweezers. Holding the insect close to his expressionless face, he slowly ripped the legs off the mantis, then once that task was completed, immersed the body in a jar of water that lay on the grass in front of him, until the insect stopped struggling and was still. A thin smile played across the boy’s face.
“Hey Dave!” Richie called out across the bustling studio of Hitchcock Media Enterprises, “Come take a look at this, think we have a future winner here!”
Dave looked up from his editing station and walked over to the Richie’s terminal, where the balding heavyset man was reviewing the drone footage.
“Check this,” Richie clicked the play button. “I reckon we got ourselves a classic Type C.”
Dave watched the replay and nodded. “Yep, definitely Type C, he will be moving onto small animals next, I bet.”
Dave grabbed a chair and sat down. “What back story have you got on him so far?”
Richie pulled up a file onto the terminal screen. “Lets see, we got a 14-year-old kid, only child, with single parent mother. Never knew his father.”
He scrolled down. “Mother is a christian fundamentalist, breastfed the kid until he was 2 years old.” Narrowed his eyes. “Oh, and get this, she would hop into the bath with him every night and sponge him clean up until he was 10, when he started getting erections.”
Dave barked a short laugh. “Jesus, where do these people come from?”
He leant back in the chair. In the future, people would look back on this time as the ‘Era of Surveillance’, where nothing could be hidden unless you were the rich elite. Still, it made their job a hell of a lot easier, which was to make a shitload of money off human misery.
Dave liked to think they were performing a necessary evil, like a safety valve on the pressure cooker that was modern society. That made what he did a little easier, and although he still might not sleep well at night, he did sleep in a large mansion in a secure community next to a cosmetically perfect wife.
Richie was talking again. Dave focused his attention on the screen.
“I’ve run the algorithms, and the AI is coming up with a 93 percent chance of activation by the age of 25.”
“Those are good odds,” said Dave, rubbing his chin. “Put a flag on his file and we’ll check back in a few years.” Dave stood up and clapped the other man on the shoulder. “The fans are gonna love this one. Richie, good job as always”
Richie grinned. “Thanks chief”
Dave returned to his desk, where he was currently editing the latest true crime documentary, to be released later that month. This one was a typical Type B case, a nurse who had been stealthily killing cancer patients by injecting air into their IV drips. A pretty mundane ‘Angel of Death’ scenario, but HME had gotten onto her pretty quick so the broadcasting and publishing rights hadn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Dave didn’t think ratings would be that great, but they had managed to get some decent footage from the hospital and the journal the nurse had written, so it would be worth syndicating to make a bit more profit.
HME’s documentaries were some of the highest rating reality shows on DownStream, and let’s face it, that’s all that existed on mass social media these days, but things had been a little lean of late and they needed a big high-profile case.
Dave considered Richie’s latest find. Type C cases were always male, of low to average intelligence, with suppressed trauma from childhood caused by a family member and would exhibit acts of violence around the onset of adolescence. The victims were usually female and involved sexual violence or torture before death.
We need another Ted Bundy or Richard Ramirez, Dave thought. Ah, they don’t make em like they used to.
Dave chuckled. Imagine if we could have got those guys to sign, we would be drowning in royalties!
Still shaking his head in amusement, he wandered over to the publicity department.
A tall, angular looking woman, poring over some glossy printouts at her desk, looked up at his approach. “Hey Dave, how can I help you?”
“Hey Jenny, just wondering if Anthony is around.”
Jenny pursed her lips. “He was on sick leave, I think.” She checked the screen in front of her. “Hmm, he was supposed to be back a few days ago, but I haven’t seen him. Maybe he needed some more time off.”
“Ah, ok, I guess it’s hard to find good help these days, eh?”
Jenny laughed politely.
Dave leaned against the desk. “Look, maybe you can help me. I’m trying to come up with a catchphrase for the latest doco, but I’m stumped.”
Jenny furrowed her brow in concentration. “That’s the nurse one, right?”
“Hmm, and she was an elderly type as well.” Her eyes lit up, and she clicked her fingers.
“How about the ‘Matron of Mercy’?”
Dave contemplated the idea. “You know, that’s great!” He gave Jenny a thumbs up.
“It’ll play well, considering all the victims were terminal patients anyway, make for some nice wholesome family viewing.”
Jenny gave an absentminded smile as she returned to her work.
Dave was just finishing off the credits for the nurse documentary when one of the interns came rushing over, flustered and red faced.
“Sir, I think we have something big!” the young man said breathlessly. “Maybe even a possible Type A!”
Dave pointed. “Juan, isn’t it?” He prided himself on knowing all the names of his staff, even down to the gophers.
“Look, calm down, take a seat and tell me what you’ve got.”
The intern sat down and held out a tablet. “We just received some info from one of our talent scouts out in San Fran. Female, body count of two, high likelihood of Type A.”
Dave glanced at the picture. Pretty blonde, with freckles and all, a real girl next door beauty. He felt a thrill of exhilaration run through him.
A Type A was the rarest of the rare, a serial murderer who was charismatic, highly intelligent and usually politically or ideologically motivated. They were also the most difficult ones to get to sign on the dotted line.
“Ok, I’m gonna need more details here.”
Juan read from the screen in his hand. “Gordon Calloway, the 3rd, CEO of the hedge fund Armada Ltd, was found strangled to death in his penthouse suite at the Regency in LA 6 days ago. Our surveillance picked up this woman leaving the room soon after the time of death. Then she just seemed to disappear.”
The young man licked his lips. “Then 2 days ago, a male body was found in a 4th floor room of the Fairmont in San Francisco. His skin had been totally removed by a surgical device, most likely a scalpel. As a result, the deceased is yet to be identified.”
He paused and looked at Dave. “The same woman was again detected by our surveillance leaving the scene.”
Dave raised his eyebrows. Two different methods of killing? Now that WAS unusual even for a Type A. This was getting better and better.
“Now, you are going to love this,” the intern smiled. “We have ID on the suspect. Her name is Samantha Bronte, 21 years old and currently studying a Master’s degree in Criminology and Comp Science at NYU.”
Dave opened his mouth to speak, but Juan held up his hand. “And this is the clincher. Her parents were the last victims of one Simon Peters.”
Dave felt his jaw drop. Simon Peters, aka the Cuckold Strangler? His doco from four years ago was one of the highest rating of all time. Jesus Christ, this is insane.
“Hey Richie,” he yelled out. “Get over here pronto!”
“What is it?” Richie asked, eyes gleaming. He could tell when something good was going on.
“Simon Peters, give us a recap.”
“Ah, ok, so his MO was prowling the motor inns of West Florida, where he would stalk and choose his victims, always middle-class couples.” Richie scratched his cheek thoughtfully. “He would break into their room early in the morning, tie the couple up at gunpoint, rape and strangle the woman in front of her partner, then slit the guy’s throat with a hunting knife.”
“He did us a big favour as well by recording the last two murders with his phone.”
Richie looked down at his hands. “Of course, we couldn’t use such explicit footage for our feature, but somehow,” he winked at Dave, “somehow the footage made its way to the dark web and the notoriety of that boosted our ratings tenfold.”
Dave let out a breath. “There must be some connection here, but that’s not important right now. We need to track this Samantha down, and fast.” Dave and Richie exchanged knowing looks.
“This is big,” Dave said, “possibly the biggest thing we’ve ever seen.”
A notification pinged on Juan’s tablet, and he gasped out loud.
“What is it?” Dave queried sharply.
The intern looked up. “We have just detected the suspect arriving at North Vegas Airport, and from her credit card records she has booked a room at the MGM Grande for tonight!”
Dave felt the hairs on his arms stand up. “Alright, I’m going to take care of this one personally. We can’t afford to lose this.”
“Gonna pack an overnight bag and take our private Gulfstream to Vegas asap. Should be there in under 2 hours.” He pointed at Richie. “Organize a car for me, and alert everyone that it’s all hands on deck.”
Richie nodded briskly. “Will do, and good luck Dave.”
Dave arrived at the MGM in the early evening, the desert sunset casting an eerie blood like haze across the dusty parking lot.
The hotel lobby was relatively quiet, a few tourist groups checking in and a scattering of people at the bar. He looked down at the picture on his phone and scanned the area.
Nope, not here. Dave fought down a wave of frustration. Ok, gotta stay calm.
He glanced at the bar. I’ll grab a drink and wait.
He ordered a beer, and the gorgeous raven haired woman next to him gave him a tentative smile. He nodded briskly.
Any other time I’d be interested, but it’s all business right now, sweetie.
He took his drink and sat down at a table, which commanded a view of the lobby entrance and the elevators leading to the suites.
This was the crucial moment, the first contact. He found most of the time the killer was flattered, both by the money offered and the chance at infamous immortality, their name remembered long after the victims had been forgotten. Most of the time.
His phone started ringing.
“Hello?” It was Richie. “Dave, we got a problem. We’ve checked the hotel camera and there is no sign of our target, coming or going. Looks like we got scammed.”
Dave sighed bitterly, “Dammit, well, she must be in Vegas somewhere.”
He looked out the entrance. It was dark now, with the first stars appearing in the velvet night.
“Look, I’m gonna stay here for a while, keep your eyes and ears open and let me know if anything develops.”
“Roger that”, Richie replied.
Dave sighed again. Might as well get another beer.
The dark-haired lady was still at the bar, a few whiskeys in by the looks of the glasses in front of her.
She looked at him from under lowered eyelids. “I was watching you. Looks like you’ve been stood up.”
Dave flashed a wry grin, “Yeh, you could say that”
A faint smile. “Me too. I don’t think my date is turning up.” She gave him a sultry glance. “Look, I have a room here and a bottle of sparkling on ice waiting for me. Wanna come up and have a nightcap?”
Dave chuckled. Still got it. “Sure, why not? Maybe we can salvage something outta this shitty situation.”
Her room was on the 12th floor, with an impressive view of the strip. As she was closing the door behind them, Dave asked, “Hey I didn’t catch your name?”
“Oh, how rude of me, it’s Samantha,” she replied breathily, just as he felt a sharp pinprick, and then everything went black.
He awoke groggily, unable to move. After a quick assessment, he realised that was because his hands and feet were restrained with zip ties, and he was lying on a bed with duct tape holding him down.
“Awake now, my little Dave?” The woman was standing beside the bed, gently caressing his arm. He shivered with a frisson of fear.
“You’re Samantha Bronte?” he demanded with wide eyes. “And how do you know my name?”
Samantha smiled sardonically. “Oh, I know everything about you.”
She sat down on the edge of the bed. “You fell into my trap like such a good little boy.”
“But how..?” Dave stammered.
“You’d be surprised at what you can do with a degree in computer science.” She continued stroking him with her fingernails.
“Especially when you have HME’s login details from a loyal employee.”
She took something from the bedside table and plopped it onto his chest with a sickening squelch.
“I don’t think your buddy Anthony is going to be coming back to work anytime soon.”
He gazed at the reddish-coloured object with growing horror. Holy shit, it was his skin! It was Anthony’s skin.
Samantha dug her nails into his arm viciously. Dave cried out in pain.
“Do you know what it’s like to lose your parents in the most hideous way, and then to have their violation watched again and again by your millions of depraved fans?”
Dave gasped, “Look honey, we don’t make these killers, we just make them famous. If not us, then someone else would.”
“I’m not so sure.” Samantha’s voice dripped pure venom. “But you’re going to find out, all of you, what a really dedicated serial killer can do.”
She took something from under the bed. “You and your puerile nicknames. It’s only poetic justice to return the favour.”
“Do you recall one of your first documentaries?” Samantha stood up. “I believe it was called the Boston Bludgeoner.”
The rusty sledgehammer was the last thing Dave saw.