Penumbra

 

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Sydney sat at his desk, his lower back aching from hours in the chair without moving. He needed a break, but he was almost finished with the report he had been working on. He said just enough of the right things for the job to pass muster, but there had been a great deal of omission as well. He didn't want them to know everything. As long as he held some of the cards, he was still valuable.

With a sigh, he saved the document to his hard drive, and then a copy on a diskette, for safekeeping elsewhere. Then he leaned back in the chair, stretching to get some of the stiffness out before he stood up. The phone in his jacket pocket vibrated, and he fetched it as he took a step away. "This is Sydney."

He already knew who it would be, at that late hour.

"How is it that some people can be so devoid of guilt that they feel no sense of wrongdoing when they kill?"

"Jarod," Sydney greeted his protégé. "I was beginning to wonder if you had decided to disappear completely."

"I visited some men in prison recently," Jarod returned casually. But the emotional pitch of his voice deepened as he went on. "I can't tell you why they disturbed me so profoundly, other than the fact that they had no guilt. I know sociopaths have that in common, but I was curious what the consensus on the cause might be. Are they genetically incomplete? Is it environmental conditioning? What do you think, Sydney?"

The Belgian sighed. "Psychology isn't an exact science, Jarod. What holds true for one individual is radically different in another. You know that. What's really troubling you about this case?"

"I did a paper on Lung Li, a serial killer put away back in the '70s. Do you know anything about him?"

Sydney sat down in his chair. He bowed his head, closed his eyes and leaned his forehead into the massaging grip of his free hand. "What do you want me to do?"

In his mind's eye, he could see Jarod struggling over this one, the muscle in his jaw tensing and relaxing as he considered what he intended to say, and exactly how to phrase it.

"I want to know if the Centre had any involvement in that case."

Sydney's shoulders drooped. "It isn't likely that the Centre has been involved in creating serial killers, Jarod."

"Maybe not. But there's something about him that's… just so disturbing. I… I can't help feeling that I know him somehow, yet I know we never met until I saw him in prison that day. It's just that, as I was reading over his case record, I had a strong sense of déjà vu…"

A minute passed.

"Sydney?"

The psychiatrist straightened in his chair, letting his free hand drop into his lap, where his fingers clenched into a fist. "I'm here, Jarod," he answered calmly.

"Have I ever done anything with that case? I don't remember anything like it before. It just seems too familiar to be coincidental."

"No, Jarod. You've never worked on a project regarding a serial killer by that name. It's probably just something similar you've read about somewhere. You might have come across a newspaper article in research on another one of your personal projects, and it's that memory that is annoying you. Perhaps you feel you should have switched your focus to that project instead of pursuing the original one that brought you across it."

"I don't think so, Sydney. But I'd appreciate it if you'd check the record there for any mention of his name. Will you do that for me?"

He sighed. "If it will make you feel better, certainly."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, Jarod. But I think this may be one of those loose ends that you should simply tie off and leave alone. It can't lead to anywhere good, and if the man is in prison, I'm sure the case has already been solved to the satisfaction of the authorities."

"You're probably right. But I still want to know."

"I'll look into it," Sydney promised, knowing he would ignore the request.

"Thanks, Sydney."

"Jarod… be careful."

The line clicked off, and he put the phone back into his pocket, knowing he could never forget that particular name.

Lung Li.

He went to his files to put away a couple of folders that had been on his desk, and hesitated before pushing the drawer back in. The label on the file folder stood out from the other "L" listings, and with a sigh he lifted it out and let it fall open on top of the other files in the open drawer. For a moment he leafed through the old newspaper clippings, showing the faces of the women and their accused killer. And then he turned over the last page of notes to frown at a more recent newspaper clipping, one he had taken from Miss Parker after she and Mr. Lyle had arrived at the Centre in a shipping container.

The clipping showed photos of two pretty Asian women, with a large black and white college picture of a clean-cut young man named Bobby, who was suspected and then exonerated in the deaths.

Serial killers, he knew, rarely went outside their ethnic boundaries. They were products of their childhoods, victims of abuse who turned on their abusers, or whoever symbolized that person in their minds.

He would not look through the Centre's files for Lung Li's name. He had known where they were, all along. And he was fairly certain that, once Jarod had some time to think about it, he would choose not to pursue the matter further.

Especially since he already knew the answers to his questions.

Sydney closed the file, slid it back into place, and gripped the drawer to keep from slamming it shut.

"Damn you, Raines!" he ground out hoarsely.

The drawer slid smoothly closed, and locked into place with a soft click.

End of Episode
Penumbra

 
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