Marcus Williams possesses a powerful eidetic memory that allows him to recall details with staggering clarity. But he also has problems knowing when to stop and keep his mouth his shut. This chapter from The Prophet illustrates both of these characteristics as Marcus sets his abilities loose on Victoria Vasques, an FBI agent working the Anarchist case.
The Chicago FBI field office sat off to itself along Roosevelt Road on a lot enclosed by white pillars and a black rod iron fence. It was as long as it was tall, and a grid of mirrored windows covered its entire face. Vasques’s office was on the fourth floor against the south wall overlooking a room full of agents working away at cubicles.
She ushered the three men from the DOJ inside and shut her door. The office had no windows and was fairly private, but she still reminded herself to keep her voice down and remain calm. Gesturing at a pair of beige visitor chairs, she stepped around her desk and sat down. The older man, who had introduced himself as Brubaker, and Williams sat in the chairs. She had only two, so Garrison remained standing. Brubaker and Garrison wore identical black suits, white shirts, and black ties. But Agent Williams wore a gray silk shirt undone to the second button, no tie, with a black t-shirt underneath. She already knew he was the maverick of the group, but even his attire, perhaps subconsciously, suggested some small defiance of authority. She had known rogues like him during her tenure with the bureau, and in her experience, they often got people hurt or killed.
“Okay, gentleman. Why don’t we cut the crap, and you tell me who you really are.”
Brubaker looked to Williams and something passed between them, but she couldn’t be sure what it was. Williams said, “We haven’t lied to you. We’re part of a group within the DOJ that specializes in these types of cases. We’re all on the same team. All we want is to catch this guy and make sure that he doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
Williams looked to Brubaker again, and the older man raised his eyebrows and tilted his head toward her. Williams continued. “I also want to say how sorry I am for what happened in the briefing. If I had known that you prepared the profile, I would have handled it differently.”
She considered this. Thought about letting him off the hook but decided against it. “Why would we want your help? What do you bring to the table?”
His eyes went distant for a second, and his hand reached toward the spot where his tie would have been. He rubbed at the spot on his chest. Finally, he said, “I notice things.”
Silence stretched within the room. “That’s it.” She laughed. “You notice things. I’m afraid you’re going to have to do better than that.”
He closed his eyes and started pointing around the room. “Your trash can is small and black, wire mesh. It’s filled with some papers but mostly junk food wrappers. A half-eaten box of McDonald’s fries, a wrapper from Subway, Snickers bar wrapper, from what I could see. You’ve got a vent in the far right corner of the room, up high. It’s missing a screw and squeaks a little. So does your chair, which is actually a different model than all of the ones we passed on the way in. I assume you brought it from home. It looked like it has better lumbar support. You have fourteen awards and diplomas hanging on the left wall in two rows of seven. The third one in the second row still has part of the price tag showing on the frame where you apparently gave up on scraping it off. There are three gray filing cabinets in the left corner with five drawers each. There are twelve pictures in black frames sitting on top of the cabinets.”
His eyelids opened, and his gaze found hers. His eyes were beautiful and bright, stunning yet piercing. She noticed that the eyes were different colors. Half bluish green and half brown. He said, “Those things are just the obvious, though. All on the surface. They’re not just objects. Each has a story to tell about you.”
Without glancing away from her, he pointed to the pictures in the corner. “Closest one to us is a picture of Belacourt and a man I assume to be your father. It was taken at the same precinct we just came from. Next one to the right is of you at your college graduation with your dad and brother. You’re wearing a cap and gown. Your dad’s wearing a gray suit with a red tie. Your brother, a guess based on resemblance, is wearing a blue sweater and a wool jacket. I can see you went to Duke University from the chapel in the background. It’s pretty distinctive. Also, there are no pictures of your mother anywhere. So I can infer that you were raised by your father and your mother died when you were very young. But then again, that doesn’t quite fit. She didn’t die. If she had, you’d probably still have a photo of her. I’m guessing she abandoned you and your brother. Maybe she couldn’t handle being a mother and having a cop as a husband. You’re single with no kids. Easy to tell that since you have no pictures of family other than your father and brother.”
Her breathing had become shallow and forced. She wanted him to stop but couldn’t find the words.
“You’re on temporary assignment to help with this case, and you had once received training from the Behavioral Analysis Unit. But you dropped out. That’s why the profile contained all of the right terminology, but not the right kind of insight and assessment that you can only gain from working real cases in the field. You’re a workaholic, and you don’t know what to do with yourself when you’re not here. All of the takeout boxes, and there are also tiny stains on your desk blotter. Looks like barbecue sauce or steak sauce maybe. You eat a lot of meals in this office. There’s also a few smudges there that look like make-up and lipstick. You must have fallen asleep and planted your face there on the desk.”
Brubaker said, “I think she’s heard enough, Marcus.”
But he ignored the older agent. “You just quit smoking. You’ve been chewing on your lower lip, and every time I’ve seen you, you have at least two pieces of gum jammed in your mouth. The awards and diplomas also tell me that you’re somewhat insecure about your position in the bureau. You probably have every shooting trophy and commendation you’ve ever received on display. Then there’s your gun. Bureau typically issues Glock 22s or 23s, maybe even a 19 chambered for 9mm since it has a smaller frame and fits a woman’s hand better. Or you could carry a Sig P226 of P220. But you’re packing a custom Sig Sauer 1911 chambered for .45 ACP. It’s the biggest model they make. It’s like you’re trying to prove something to yourself or those around you. Telling everyone that you’re tough enough to handle anything. We’ve come a long way in terms of equality, but I’m sure there are still plenty of hurdles for a woman in the agency.”
“Okay, Marcus. You’ve made your point,” Garrison said from the corner of the room.
“Not sure if I have. There is one more thing. If I had to guess, I’d say that you dropped out of profiling around the same time that your father died. You told everyone that was the reason, but the truth was that you didn’t like trying to get inside the heads of killers. Some people just aren’t built for it. Plus, I can tell you’re a hands-on type of person. You like being in the field. Kicking down doors, taking down bad guys, saving the day. You get to see the faces of the people you help. But a profiler spends most of his or her time in a basement at Quantico living inside the minds of some of the world’s most deranged individuals. Still, it was quite an honor to be selected. There are only around thirty actual profilers out of 13,864 special agents in the bureau. Your dad must have been really proud. Maybe that’s why you only quit after he was gone. Didn’t want to disappoint him. But ultimately, it wasn’t a life you wanted. You were afraid that to admit the truth to anyone would somehow show weakness.”
He continued to stare deep into her eyes, and she felt the odd sensation that he was looking straight into her soul. Her heart throbbed against the walls of her rib cage. She felt naked and helpless. She swallowed hard and said, “I see what you mean about noticing things. I’m sure that will come in handy during the investigation. Garrison mentioned that you wanted to talk to the witness.”
“Okay, meet me downstairs in the lobby in five minutes.”
She stood up quickly, still flustered. Her cheeks were on fire. The air was hot. Her composure was cracked and broken, but she fought to maintain control. She slipped past them and out of her office, leaving the three men to find their own way out. The path to the bathroom wound around the corner past some additional offices and cubicles. She shuffled inside the women’s restroom and found an open stall.
Slamming the stall door and sitting down on the toilet, she tried to breathe deeply and wrestle her emotions under control. But she couldn’t. He had discovered things about her that no other living person knew. He had laid her bare and touched on subjects she never discussed with anyone. She felt as if Williams was the only person in the world that had truly seen who she was. And that made her feel frightened and ashamed.
With her face buried in her hands, Special Agent Victoria Vasques began to cry.
Ethan Cross is The Story Plant’s March Author of the Month, which means we are offering sensational deals on his work – including the digital edition of The Prophet for only $2.99. You can read more about the program here.