“I’m sorry, Dales!” Vanderhaar read the message on the screen once the conference room door closed. “Can you believe it? That bastard aimed the message right at you, Matt. How did he know?” He roared.
“Who knew that I was on the case?” Matt’s was irritated and anxious.
“With all of your running around and questioning people, I’m surprised the whole colony doesn’t know.” Rishards quipped.
“That’s the reason why I called him in.” The chief defended. “I want you to keep it up.”
“Well, one thing is for sure,” Officer Perry Offered. “Our list just got shorter.”
“How do you figure?” Rishards asked.
“If the killer knows about Dales, then he’s connected with the police department, or was close enough to see him looking over the crime scene,” Perry answered.
“The killer might even be one of the people that we interviewed.” Matt mused.
“I think this new message indicates an escalation.” Doctor Taylor profiled. “Not only has the killer announced that he is playing a game, but the killer has also chosen his opponent.”
“Why me?” Matt asked. “I just got on this case. Rishards has been on it since the start.”
“Either they do not consider her to be a threat, or as detective Rishards said, your investigative methods brought you to their attention.” Doctor Taylor said.
“Do you think the killer might target him?” the chief asked.
“Hard to say, but I don’t think so.” Doctor Taylor mused. “I think that the killer either wants the great detective Matt Dales to stop them, or else they want to prove that he can’t. In either case, I think we will see another killing very soon.”
“If the killer is trying to prove he’s better than me, what will be his next move?” Matt didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t the first time he was threatened by a suspect, but he usually had some idea who they were.
“I believe the next murder will be very visible, something hard for you to hide, or explain away. He’ll want to prove your impotence, and that of the department.” Doctor Taylor offered.
“He’ll want to show off?” Matt said.
“Yes,” Doctor Taylor said. “With this last message, I believe that the killer is showing that intent. He wants us to know how superior he is to us.”
“So that means we can expect the killings to grow more frequent and more public.” Rishards couldn’t keep the anxiety out of her voice.
“How much longer can we keep this quiet?” Matt asked. “After today, I don’t see how we can stop the panic.”
“We keep up the cover stories.” The chief said. “The first murderer was caught, the second was a suicide. The third was an industrial accident and this last one, well the man had a little too much to drink and dove into the shallow end of the pool and cracked his head on the bottom. That’ll explain the blood in the water. No one in this office is to say different. I’ll have the press put out a public service announcement about the dangers of swimming while under the influence.”
“Is it possible that the motives might be changing?” Matt asked.
“It’s possible, “Doctor Taylor thought about it. “The main motivation would be the same. It might, however, change the way it is expressed; not that we know what it was, to begin with. Why?”
“The first two murders seemed to be personal or religious in aspect. Something that the supervisor in the canyon told me keeps coming back in light of the latest killing. It was a terrorist act aimed at our food supply. I was there; I saw the fish eating the man. Now the fish are contaminated?”
“We will, of course, have to have all of the fish tested for human DNA as we harvest. Those fish will have to be taken out of the food supply. Yes, you could call this a terrorist act.”
“How does this get us closer to finding our killer?” Rishards asked.
“Every little piece of the jigsaw helps,” Matt said.
“Get enough, and the image comes together,” Vanderhaar said. “Sounds like something my trainer at the academy used to say.”
“Probably,” Matt said. “I learned it from you.”
“No wonder it sounded reasonable.” The chief tugged on his mustache. “Well let’s get back out there and get me some more pieces.”
“No problem.” Matt pushed himself from the table, his mind spinning. He couldn’t afford this distraction; he needed to push everything else out of his mind and stay focused on the case. He’d fight off the paranoid delusions of being followed. Now, just as his life was turning around, a nebulous sinister force was indeed targeting him. If the killer knew about him, then perhaps he had been following him, stalking him, learning his patterns and weaknesses for some time. They might even be the ones responsible for the notes on his door. The killer has been playing a game with him all along, but at least now, he knew about it.
Matt continued to gape at the city message board as the others shuffled out of the room. The display contained the latest victims name and code and the simple message. “I’m sorry Dales!” His stomach turned. As if his life wasn’t messed up enough. Maybe Rishards was right to believe in God, only a divine being could mess up a person’s life this completely.