I am neither evil nor deranged. I am not uneducated, I am not poor, and I am not the product of an abusive upbringing. I do what I do for one, and only one, reason.
The man in the beige jacket pulls his SUV into the strip-mall parking lot and kills the engine. He steps out of the car, straightens his jacket, and lightly brushes his hand against the bulge at his side, the concealed handgun.
The setting summer sun casts a dim glow over the strip mall, nearly empty. The laundromat at the end is dark; the catering service is shuttered, a metal grate across the window. The convenience store, displaying ads for cigarettes, beer, two-for-a-dollar hot dogs, Powerball tickets, is the only thing open.
There is one other vehicle in the lot, a Dodge Caravan the color of rust that’s parked nose in about eight spaces away.
A man in a wheelchair is in the middle of the lot. He bends over at the waist, reaches down to the pavement, and struggles to pick up several items that have spilled out of a plastic grocery bag. He also works the joystick on the arm of his wheelchair, but in vain—the motorized chair fails to respond to the command.
A disabled man in a broken wheelchair.
Only moralists or lemmings think that weakness requires compassion and mercy. Any student of history, of science, knows the opposite is true.
We are supposed to extinguish the weak. It always has been and always will be so.
The man in beige calls out, “How ’bout I give you a hand with that, mister?”
The wheelchair guy straightens up with some difficulty. His face is red and shiny with sweat from the effort of trying to retrieve the toiletries rolling around on the pavement. He is wearing a camouflage hat and an army fatigue jacket. Decent upper-body build, to be expected of someone who’s lost the use of his legs. His unshaven face is weathered and dull except for a small, shiny scar in the shape of a crescent moon near his right eye.
“I s’pose I could use a hand,” says the wheelchair guy. “I ’preciate that.”
“No trouble at all.”
Nothing like the gentle facade of manners, of charity, to reel in your prey. Far easier than lying in the weeds and waiting for the wounded animal in the pack to come limping by, unsuspecting.
“Not a problem at all,” the man in beige says again. He scoops up a tube of Crest toothpaste, a stick of deodorant, and a green bottle of Pert shampoo, puts all the items into the man’s plastic grocery bag, and hands the bag back to the wheelchair guy, who is struggling between gratitude and wounded pride, a feeling of helplessness. The guy pushes on the joystick again, but again the wheelchair fails to respond; the wheelchair guy curses under his breath.
“Having some trouble with your wheelchair?” asks the man in beige. “Need help getting in the van?”
Don’t talk to me about cruelty or pity. The thinking man has no affections, no prejudices, only a heart of stone.
I am as I was made. I am a product of the laws of nature, not of laws passed by some inane body of human beings.
The wheelchair guy lets out a sigh. “Well, actually . . . that would be great.”
“Sure, no problem.” The man in beige extends his hand. “I’m Joe,” he says.
“Charlie,” the wheelchair guy says, shaking his hand.
“Nice to meet you, Charlie. Where do you get in the van?”
The man in beige, Joe, takes the handles of the wheelchair and wheels Charlie to the back of the van. He reaches for the door, but Charlie hits a button on his key fob, and the door slides open automatically.
“Cool,” says Joe. “Never seen that on a back door.”
“You probably never been in no wheelchair neither.”
Charlie punches another button on his key fob to activate the hydraulic drop-down ramp.
Joe pushes Charlie up the ramp and into the bed of the van. The ramp rises up and folds back into place. The van’s interior is customized, of course; there is a front passenger seat and a rear one directly behind it, but the other side is a clear path to the steering wheel, which has manual controls to operate the van.
A nice, open space.
This is where I will kill him. But I will not be cruel—that word again. I have no desire to inflict more pain than is necessary to eliminate him.
But first, a little conversation, for distraction and to keep the victim at ease.
Joe looks down at the bed of the van and sees a hardcover book lying there, a tattered bookmark jutting out from the middle of it. The book is titled The Invisible Killer: The Hunt for Graham, the Most Prolific Serial Killer of Our Time.
Joe picks up the book and opens it to a random page. “Hey, I know this person,” he says. “The FBI analyst who caught Graham. Emmy Dockery.”
Charlie works his joystick and rotates in his wheelchair until he’s facing Joe. “You know Emmy Dockery?”
“Well, she e-mailed and called me. I’m a cop, see, and I had a case I thought was an accidental death, but Emmy, she asked me to reopen it as a homicide investigation.” Joe squats down and gently places the book back where he found it as darkness begins to creep over the van’s interior.
The rear door closes with an ominous thunk.
“Ah, so it was Emmy who made you reopen the Laura Berg case,” says Charlie. “I couldn’t be sure.”
In the process of straightening up, Detective Joseph Halsted registers all this in the time it takes his heart to beat once—Laura Berg. The controls on Charlie’s wheelchair suddenly working. The rear door closing—before he feels the electrode darts hit him in the stomach.
The detective jerks at the jolt of electricity seizing his body and immediately loses muscle control. He collapses onto the bed of the van hard, unable to break his fall.
“You immediately discounted me as a threat,” says Charlie. “Even you, an officer of the law.”
One hand still holding the trigger, continuing to deliver the powerful charge to his victim, Charlie reaches down to the bag by his side and removes three pairs of handcuffs, a large plastic bag, a rubber racquetball.
“You feel like a prisoner trapped in your own body,” he says. “You feel vulnerable and helpless.”
Detective Halsted lies on the floor of the van, his body convulsing, his eyes wide, his mouth hanging open like a dropped drawbridge.
“If it’s any consolation, Emmy was right,” says Charlie. “Laura Berg’s death was not an accident. Yours won’t be either.”
I pull up the e-mail with the search results. There are 736 hits.
Talk about a needle in a haystack. The haystack has too much hay. The search is too broad.
You’ve known that for weeks, Emmy. But you’re so afraid of making the search too narrow and missing that one needle.
Okay. Exhale. Let’s do it.
A gas explosion in Gresham, Oregon, claiming the lives of two people, a mother and daughter . . . a man electrocuted in his backyard in Gering, Nebraska . . . a teenager found dead in a pool in Brookhaven, Mississippi . . .
I push up from the desk too fast, get a head rush.
The north wall of this room is papered with more than a hundred letters, all of them copies; the originals are still under forensic analysis.
One day our blood will mix, Miss Emmy. You and I will make a child together and think of the things he will do. But until that day I will not stop killing. I can’t. I will wait for you to catch me. Do you think you can?
Dear Ms Dockery can i call u Emmy? congradulations on catching graham but i hope u know theres others out there like me even worse than him
EMILY WHERE ARE YOU, YOU USED TO LIVE IN URBANNA BUT NOT ANY MORE, WELL I HOPE ALL IS WELL AND I JUS WANTED TO TELL YA THAT I HAVE KILLED 14 PEOPLE!! AND I DON’T PLAN ON STOPPING TILL YOU FIND ME
The room’s east wall has the timeline, the articles cut from newspapers or printed out from websites.
VIENNA, VIRGINIA: ACTIVIST DEAD OF “NATURAL CAUSES” INDIANAPOLIS: FAMILY, FRIENDS STUNNED BY MOM’S SUICIDE ATLANTA: AD EXEC DEAD IN APPARENT DROWNING CHARLESTON: M OTHER’S DEATH RULED OVERDOSE DALLAS: FAULTY WIRING BLAMED IN SOUTHLAKE MAN’S ELECTROCUTION
Beneath each article are the photos, the autopsy reports, and, where they exist, the police investigators’ notes.
A buzzer sounds. My iPhone alarm. A reminder pops up on the screen: Get some sleep, dummy!
It’s 3:00 a.m., so this is probably good advice. Maybe later.
I walk into the kitchen, make a fresh pot of coffee, pace back and forth while the water passes through the cone of ground beans; the pungent aroma helps wake me up, but not enough. I walk into the living room, lie down on the carpet, and do fifty abdominal crunches. I still have the residual pain in my rib cage after all this time, but I use it, anything to keep me alert.
I pour a blazing-hot cup of coffee and head back to my desk, the computer screen.
A man drowns after falling off an embankment into Lake Michigan . . . a young couple missing after renting a kayak in Door County, Wisconsin . . . a father and son killed by a lightning strike . . . No. I’m not looking for couples, only single victims. I need to figure out how to narrow this search to exclude multiple victims. But if I narrow it too much, I might miss the one I’m looking for, so I’m left hopelessly combing through tragedy after tragedy: a grandfather dead after striking a power line while digging in the backyard, a woman in New Orleans found dead in a bathtub, a father—
Wait. Back up.
A New Orleans woman found dead in a bathtub. Click on that one.
Nora Connolley, 58, a senior health-care specialist, was found dead in her bathtub Monday morning after an apparent fall in her shower in her home in the St. Roch neighborhood. New Orleans Police Department spokesman Nigel Flowers told the Times-Picayune that no foul play is suspected at this
I do a quick background check on Nora Connolley. First I do a few things anyone can do, Facebook and Instagram and Google searches. Then I do something only law enforcement can do, searching vital records in Louisiana. Then I go back to things anyone can do, this time looking at Google Earth and residential real estate websites.
When I find what I’m looking for, I slap my hand on the desk, making the coffee spill and the computer monitor shake.
Nora Connolley is one of the victims.
I pull up another website, find the e-mail for the New Orleans PD’s public information bureau, and start typing to Nigel Flowers, the department spokesman, beginning with my customary preface:
My name is Emily Dockery. I am a senior analyst with the FBI. But I must stress that I am not contacting you in my official capacity with the FBI or at the direction of the FBI.
The lawyers came up with that last sentence. I’m not allowed to let my “wild-goose chases” bear the imprimatur of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, not unless the Bureau agrees to open the investigation.
I press the backspace key and hold my finger down, gobbling up word after word like I’m playing Pac-Man, completely erasing that last sentence.
I start typing again. There. That’s better.
My name is Emily Dockery. I am a senior analyst with the FBI. I would be interested in speaking with the detective in charge of investigating the death of Nora Connolley. I have reason to believe that her death was not an accident or due to natural causes. You can contact me at this e-mail or at the number below. Five minutes is all I need.
I hit Send, bounce out of my chair, and experience the vertigo again, as well as pain in my ankle. I really have to stop doing that.
I walk back over to the timeline and scan each article and its accompanying notes, photos, and autopsy findings, especially the various details highlighted: petechial hemorrhages, congestion in the lungs, bloody froth in the pharynx, unexplained puncture wounds . . .
And the first one, the death of Laura Berg in Vienna, Virginia. I’m still waiting for a return call from Detective Joseph Halsted. He was reluctant initially, but he seems to be coming around now.
“Call me, Joe,” I mumble. “Help me find this guy.”
Then I head back into the kitchen for more coffee.
The man who calls himself Charlie when he’s in character finds the PBS video on YouTube. It has gotten over two million hits. He clicks on the red arrow and settles in.
Words appear on the black screen in white block letters—THE REAL EMMY DOCKERY—then dissolve.
Images of front pages of several newspapers fade in and out like whack-a-moles:
FEDS NAB “INVISIBLE KILLER”
FORD FIELD BOMBER DEAD
MANHUNT FOR “GRAHAM” ENDS IN CANNON BEACH
“IT’S OVER” — GRAHAM CAPTURED AND KILLED
The screen goes black again, then opens to an aerial view of a house, orange flames sweeping out of its second-story windows, then the roof collapsing.
“Fires,” says the narrator in a soothing baritone voice. “Homes are engulfed in flames every day due to various accidents—an overturned candle, a cigarette, a frayed wire. Every year, three thousand people die in their homes from fires. A house goes up in flames every ninety seconds in the United States, in neighborhoods big and small, rural and urban. Atlantic Beach, Florida. Monroe, North Carolina. New Britain, Connecticut. Lisle, Illinois.”
The screen shifts to the aftermath of another fire, the structure battered and shrunken to gray ash.
A screenshot of a newspaper, a headline from the Peoria Times:
HOME FIRE KILLS PEORIA WOMAN
“Marta Dockery was killed in that fire in Peoria. Officials said the fire was an accident. Everyone agreed. Everyone but Marta’s twin sister, Emmy.”
A photograph of two girls in their teens, tanned and squinting into the camera, one a bit shorter than the other, with darker hair and fuller cheeks. The twin thing, you could see it, but they were anything but identical, these two. The camera zooms in on the taller and ganglier girl.
“Emmy insisted that it wasn’t an accidental fire. That it was murder.”
The screen goes dark.
Then a shot of the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, DC, headquarters of the FBI.
“Emily Jean Dockery was a data analyst for the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” says the narrator. “Her life was numbers and statistics. She wasn’t a field agent. She wasn’t a fire investigator. So when Emmy Dockery insisted that her sister’s death was murder, nobody believed her.”
Images of excerpts from another newspaper article, enlarged:
Eight months after her sister’s death in a house fire, Emmy Dockery is still on a crusade to convince the Peoria Police Department that Marta Dockery’s death was not an accident, but murder.
“All forensic evidence points to death by an accidental fire.” A middle-aged woman appears on the screen with the caption Nancy Parmaggiore, chief of staff to the director of the FBI. “Emmy was able to convince a very skeptical team of seasoned veteran investigators not only that her sister was murdered but that a serial killer was out there committing some of the most gruesome crimes imaginable.”
Now there’s an elderly man on the screen; the caption identifies him as Dennis Sasser, special agent, FBI (ret.). “Nobody believed Emmy. I didn’t. But we never would have caught Graham if it weren’t for Emmy. In fact, we never would have even known that crimes were being committed in the first—”
Charlie fast-forwards the video. He knows this part. Everyone does. The manhunt across the country. And then the final showdown, Graham dead and Emmy, well . . . alive, at least.
He stops about forty-five minutes into the documentary. The screen has faded to black again.
Then the narrator: “And what has become of the FBI analyst who caught and killed Graham?”
An image of paramedics hauling a woman on a gurney down a driveway toward an ambulance, the entire scene filled with police cars and flashing lights and armed law enforcement. This, Charlie knows, was after Emmy’s face-to-face encounter with Graham.
“According to reports, Emmy Dockery suffered extensive injuries that day: deep scalp lacerations, burns over a large portion of her body, a punctured lung, a broken ankle.”
Dennis Sasser again: “Emmy was horribly injured. She endured terror that is difficult to put into words.”
Then the narrator: “It took half a dozen surgeries and three months before Emmy Dockery was released from the hospital. And then . . .”
The screen goes dark. An ominous sound, a single beat of a soft drum.
And this newspaper headline:
PARAMEDICS CALLED TO GRAHAM-CATCHER HOME IN URBANNA
The screen fades to black again. Then an older woman, her gray hair pulled back, wearing a defiant expression, appears. The caption reads Dorian Dockery. “My daughter wasn’t trying to kill herself,” she says.
Charlie pauses the video and takes a breath. He’s read many of the various reports that came out afterward—that Emmy Dockery had suffered a nervous breakdown, that she’d gone into hiding, that she was receiving both death threats and love letters from purported serial killers.
“You broke into pieces, Emmy,” he whispers. “But you put yourself back together. You survived. Just like me.”
Charlie closes his eyes and does what he always does when he remembers. First he beats back their garbled shrieks, the hot breath of their terror, the smells of scorched flesh and splattering blood and perspiration and pure human fear burning his nostrils even now.
And then he accepts them. Lets their contents settle inside him, mix together, and jell.
His body cools. His pulse slows.
“It is a thinking man’s war,” he reminds himself. A quiet war, Charles Darwin said, lurking just beneath the serene facade of nature.
His eyes open. On the screen, the video is still paused, having just transitioned from the words of Emmy’s mother to a photo of Emmy, her hair in a ponytail, a fierce look on her wounded face. Her eyes on his. His eyes on hers.
Lonely, determined eyes.
“We could do so much together,” Charlie says.