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Previous parts: 1-3, 4-6

Part Seven

Unspecified Location, CA, Wednesday, 04.07am PST

Craig O’Laughlin rubbed his sweaty hands down his pants. He was nervous and justifiably so. If there was one thing he understood, it was Red John’s temper and he knew that the serial killer would be distinctly unimpressed by what he had to tell him. Firstly, there was the matter of the killing in England. O’Laughlin knew Red John’s plans; that was why he had been instigated into the CBI. In order to organise a private meeting between his shady superior and Patrick Jane. Red John wanted to retire quietly and this copycat had made it appear that he was being more bombastic than ever. Then, there was the fact the CBI had lost the Red John case. Over time, they would grow more distanced from it and eventually, have nothing to do with it all. That meant it threw a spanner into the works.

Then, on a more personal level, it was at odds with his own professional career. O’Laughlin had always been in a strange position. He’d almost been born into his role. Both of them, that was. His father had been a cop and his grandfather before him. His Mom would always say that the name O’Laughlin meant something. Or that if an O’Laughlin was on the case, it was going to be solved right. As he went through the ranks, it became obvious that he had potential to exceed the expectations of his parents. When the FBI had head-hunted him, his mother almost exploded with pride. He couldn’t reject it, not when he saw just how much it meant to her.

Then, there was Red John. It felt like the serial killer had been an innate part of his life since he was very small. He can remember the man, younger, more energetic, more fun, being his babysitter for a while. Somehow, he had never shook him loose. When O’Laughlin was still a student in the academy, he received a harassed telephone call. Red John, though he wasn’t called that, back then, had just made his first killing. He needed help, disposing of the evidence. For some reason, it never even crossed his mind to sell his friend to the cops. Red John was like the big brother he never had. In doing so, it would have been like perp-walking his own family.

So instead, he had always blotted out the favours Red John had asked of him at work.

In his darker moments, O’Laughlin considered the fact that he had practically been groomed by Red John since birth. Like the serial killer had known that some day, he would require a cop on the inside to work for him. But for some reason, he didn’t mind. O’Laughlin never had done and never would. However, if the FBI was to be lumbered with the Red John case, that meant his two worlds would collide. They would be at odds with one another, for the first time and neither goal would be clear. He had sworn to protect his state and he had vital knowledge on Red John. Yet equally, he had made a private pact to never let his friend down. Silently, he hoped that a solution would jump out at them. As far as he was concerned, he couldn’t see a way out of this one. The case was out of the CBI jurisdiction and the only way they could have a remote chance of getting it back would be if it was proven that the English killer was a mere copycat.

O’Laughlin needed to get rid of the case, somehow. He couldn’t live like this, so torn between his two responsibilities. How would he choose between being a cop and making his family proud or supporting a life-long friend? If he were unsuccessful, that was what he’d have to do. And in a way, it was Red John’s fault that this had happened at all. The only reason he’d been specifically given jurisdiction of the Red John case was simply because he had ties with the CBI. His relationship with Grace Van Pelt supposedly meant they would be less hostile towards him.

He jumped when he heard the door swing ominously open. Instinctively, his hand rested on his holster and slowly, he began to unclip his firearm. Although he was due to meet with a known criminal, some habits died hard.

“You’re nervous, Craig,” Red John spoke softly, moving out of the shadows as he did so. “Why?”

Almost as instantaneously as he had jumped to attention, O’Laughlin relaxed. He knew he had nothing to be afraid of; Red John wouldn’t kill him. They had known each other for far too long and their friendship had lasted longer than Red John’s ‘career’ of sorts. However, he equally knew he wasn’t out of the woods yet. There was a reason he had organised this private meeting, after all.

“There’s been a copycat killer in England. Bristol, to be precise,” O’Laughlin muttered and handed over copies of the case files immediately. “The case has been pulled from CBI jurisdiction and handed to the FBI. My unit, to be precise.”

“That’s too bad,” he muttered, in an all too familiar soft tone. “Stay close to the CBI. I’ll fix this.”

Bristol, UK, Wednesday, 02.43pm GMT

“Should we really be doing this?” Grace muttered nervously to Rich as they sauntered into the library.

“What do you mean?” he replied quietly, keen not to let anyone else overhear.

Silently, he was thrilled that Grace was having second thoughts. He hated lying to her, but really, felt as though he had little choice. If she were to find out that Alo was responsible for Liv’s death, she’d be devastated. He didn’t even want to imagine how she’d feel if she discovered the revelation that her boyfriend had helped his mate cover it up as well. Only a few months ago, he’d almost wedded her. She still wore the engagement ring, occasionally. Rich knew he had pretty deep feelings for her, despite how different they appeared to be on the surface. Then again, maybe those differences went deeper than that? He was ninety nine percent certain that she wouldn’t hide something of this magnitude from him. However, she hadn’t told any of them that she was the daughter of David Blood until she really had to. She had lied to them about her identity for months and they only discovered shortly before the not-wedding. But equally, that wasn’t a criminal offence, nor did it have anything to do with something as serious as murder.

“The police are good at their jobs, it’s what they’re trained to do,” she answered.

“But what about the fuck ups we always hear in the news?”

“What about all the good they do we never hear about?” she shot back, leaving him momentarily stunned. “Besides, we should be at college.”

He bit his lip to stop himself from laughing. Only Grace could spend half the day skiving off college and then start worrying about the fact they weren’t there. Then again, she was the only one seriously considering going to university. The only one with prospects. She had sent off her UCAS application at the earliest possible moment. When she had told Rich, he had half suspected that had something to do with being Blood’s daughter. Rich knew that Nick would have probably applied too, if he hadn’t lost it all because of Matty’s reappearance in his life. It was a shame, just when he appeared to have been getting it all back together, he seemed to have gone completely off the rails again.

The others, with the exception of Nick, who had gone home to sleep off some of the alcohol induced stupor, had already taken to the library’s computers. Rich immediately took to the last one, with Grace positioning herself on his knee. It felt uncomfortable, even more so than it should have. He knew exactly what she was going to search for and exactly what it was going to bring up. Years ago, he had typed ‘smiley faces’ into Google for a school project, only to come across Red John’s MO. That was how he’d gotten hooked on the serial killer. It wasn’t because he was a metal head or subversive or into crap like that. It was simply because something about Red John’s story and the police force after him that had intrigued him.

Quickly, he thought back through his old collection. Said collection was now a pile of ash in the back garden. Kevin would not be impressed, but was probably used to this sort of behaviour by now. But that was besides the point, he wanted to recall the detail. Had Red John ever shot victims before? As Grace loaded up the internet, he racked his brains. Only limited information was leaked to the media and only one known photo of a victim had made it online. There weren‘t any examples of Red John shooting victims that he personally knew of. However, the most recent Red John case came to mind. Two teenagers, murdered by the serial killer for emulating him. For treating him like some kind of cultish demigod.

“So,” Grace said, gently grazing her hand across his cheek. “Should I type in ‘smiley face, murder’?”

“Uh, yeah.”

He shuddered slightly and Grace looked at him quizzically. What had he done? Would Red John himself find out? Did he have the means to get over to England? Would he be able to trace it to Bristol, to him and Alo?

Would they end up being next?

Sacramento, CA, Wednesday, 09.48am PST

Cho stared at the case file for the Hayes murder. He’d been momentarily stunned when Lisbon had informed him and the others of the fact they’d lost the Red John case to the FBI. He was angry, but no doubt not as much as she and Jane were. Lisbon had come straight out with it; there wasn’t an easy way to break the news. It had been bad enough when they had lost the Red John case in-house, but then, at least the CBI was still working it. Now, it was just additional fuel for the rivalry between the CBI and FBI. And possibly, more importantly in his eyes, it made the Serious Crimes Unit look incompetent.

Still, that wasn’t his main concern right now. He had been given the responsibility of leading the Hayes case. It wasn’t the first time Cho had been in charge of a case; he always provided cover for Lisbon’s rare holiday dates and even more scarce sicknesses. And of course, there was also the time when she had been suspended through Jane’s negligence. That was experience that would prove handy. Besides, she wasn’t gone; just focussing on working the Red John case with the FBI. He could report back to her and ask for advice at any time he wanted to. Not that he would, except to give her updates as and when she required them. But still, it was a safety net if things went disastrously wrong. Or rather, if Jane became completely uncontrollable. Then again, Jane was hardly going to pay interest in the murder of an actor, however famous, when there were intriguing developments on the Red John front.

Quickly, he called together Rigsby and Van Pelt. Before Jane had rattled Schaber, he had mentioned something interesting about Hayes' wife. She had apparently been touring with the company, as the director. However, she had taken a significant amount of leave, starting just before the Merced dates and disappeared home, in Nevada, for a while. He knew that Mrs Hayes had been informed of her husband’s death. Lisbon had resorted to breaking the news over the telephone, though that had been the last option available to her. However, he couldn’t help but wonder if she had something more to say. According to his boss, the woman had taken the news surprisingly well and rushed her off the phone as quickly as possible. Therefore, it was highly likely she was hiding something. Not the murder; she was out of state and had a cast-iron alibi, courtesy of her doctor. Just something related. Eventually, he asked Rigsby and Van Pelt to question Schaber again. He wanted to know the real reason the man hadn’t been at the theatre for rehearsals, especially considering Hayes' obvious absence.

That left him to travel to Nevada to question the absent, and apparently unconcerned, wife. This was just another reason to be annoyed at the latest developments. If they hadn’t lost the Red John case, then Lisbon would be making the long distance journey instead.

Lisbon, meanwhile, was pacing around her office, waiting for O’Laughlin to turn up. She hated this whole situation. Still, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, a potential way out of the mess. She had heard from Bertram again that morning. The Red John case could be returned to them if they found conclusive evidence that the case in England was a copycat. And preferably, find the real killer despite being over five thousand miles away from where the crime had been committed. Lisbon’s team had plenty of experience when it came to tough cases, but this was completely outside of her comfort zone. She knew that she had been over reliant on Jane of late, but even he needed more contact than just a few photographs to solve a case.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. Having to deal with the FBI, however, was. Craig O’Laughlin seemed like a nice enough guy and Van Pelt was certainly happy with him, but he was still one of the Feebs. And they all seemed to have superiority complexes. She snorted briefly; this was probably how local Sheriffs felt whenever they rolled up to a crime scene and took over. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t like it with the proverbial shoe on the other foot.

She glanced nervously at Jane. He had made himself comfortable on the couch in her office. It didn’t surprise her that he had decided to hang back with her, instead of helping Cho out with the Hayes murder. At least he seemed calm. Then again, it was Jane. He was a master of manipulation. Therefore, he was probably just masking his feelings. Lisbon felt like this was the calm before the storm; Jane always lost it whenever they dealt with Red John. This was highly unlikely to be any different.

O’Laughlin eventually knocked on her office door, an hour later than she had expected him. He looked shattered and unsurprisingly so. If he had spent the night in a way anything like her, then the case would never have been far from his mind. Quickly, she offered him a seat and coffee, and he accepted both gratefully. Lisbon took the time to observe him and realised just how little she knew about Van Pelt’s boyfriend. He was young, younger even than she was. Did he really have what it took to deal with the Red John case, where many older and far more experienced agents had failed?

He seemed eager. That was a good thing. And he already seemed to have a good grounding. Knew important facts, key moments in the development of the case.

She froze slightly, remembering the meeting from last night. It seemed like he almost knew too much.

No, not almost. He did.

“How did you know about the Salinger Mill case?” she asked quickly. “Those details were never made public.”

Part Eight

Bristol, UK, Wednesday, 07.42pm GMT

Mini was uncharacteristically quiet. Normally, she said enough to keep everyone else in the room entertained and that was what Grace was finding so disconcerting. Then again, it was literally just the two of them. After they had left the library, Franky had disappeared, claiming that she had something to do and neither of them had had the energy to follow her. As for Liv, well, that was still self explanatory. And still far too raw. In reality, they had had enough of talking for a lifetime. Talking to each other, the police, to family. It all just seemed to be a never ending cycle of ‘how are you doings?’ and ‘where were you between the hours of twelve and twos?’

With a heavy sigh, Grace flopped down on the sofa, with Mini sitting beside her. She had fished out a bottle of vodka from somewhere, but neither of them were really in the mood to drink it. Again, vodka was really Liv’s poison of choice and without her, well, it all seemed that little less fun. However, Grace was grateful for the quiet. Mini’s mother was fun, but not really the kind of person she would have wanted to endure at this specific moment in time. Shelley McGuinness would have probably told them to cheer up, have a drink and go find some good looking young men to woo. Remind them that they were in the prime of their life and they didn’t have the time to waste it on moping around. That pining wouldn’t bring Liv back and besides, their friend ‘wouldn’t want to see them so sad’. She would ‘want them to enjoy themselves’. Grace had already heard enough of those clichés to last a lifetime and truth be told, she only heard them twice thus far. Still, it was already two times too many.

“Drink?” Mini eventually asked, if only in attempt to start a conversation.

Grace shook her head. She was worried. Rich was closing off from her; normally he wouldn’t stop talking about the injustices of the world. Whether it was racism, the state of the music charts or politics, he always had something to say on the matter. Whilst she didn’t necessarily agree with all of his opinions, it made for stimulating company. Half of her wished she could persuade him to give university more thought, but he always proclaimed that it was a fucking waste of money these days. That you could get the same experience and more by just going straight into the working environment. However, for the past couple of days, she hadn’t been able to get more than a sentence out of him in any one go. Half of her knew that it was partially down to Liv’s death, but then again, he had never been particularly close to her. Sure she was one of the gang, but they were friends due to their social network rather than having any close emotional bonds.

“Do you think Rich is acting a little strange?”

Once more, Mini didn’t answer and simply shrugged. Grace took it as an agreement. If only they could turn back the clocks and stop all of this from happening. If only Doctor Who was real and they could borrow his TARDIS for five minutes or so and save Liv. If only…

The news reporter on television changed stories and it all sounded horribly familiar. Within seconds, they transferred over to the Malone household, where Agnes and Maude were sitting on their sofa, each clutching tissues in their hands. Agnes was, naturally, begging for news on her daughter’s murder. It was obvious that she was aching for closure and was convinced that it would only come by knowing that her middle daughter’s killer was behind bars.

Angrily, Grace pointed the remote control at the television screen and quickly switched it off. She didn’t know anything; she didn’t have a fucking clue. If she did, she would help out in a heartbeat. All their research online had been completely useless. It just said that the killer had been nicknamed Red John in the USA and he was a psychopath who specialised in hacking women to pieces. It didn’t even give them a shred of idea why he had starting killing over here, in Bristol, of all places.

She placed her head in her hands. Grace could feel the group fracturing because of this and there was nothing she could do about it.

Merced, CA, USA, Wednesday, 12.12pm PST

“So, Mr Schaber…”

“That crackpot psychic isn’t here, is he?”

“Jane?” Van Pelt asked and Schaber nodded in response. “No, he’s… working other leads.”

“Good. I have one more thing to say on the matter: I’ll drop all charges if he apologises.”

Van Pelt glanced quickly at Rigsby. They both knew just how unlikely it was that Jane would do such a thing. If anything, since he started working with the CBI, he had grown even more childish and even more petulant. Persuading him to say sorry was as likely as being able to convince a tabby cat it would be a good idea to take a bath. Still, she nodded, accepting of his demands. Prior experience had told her that in cases like this, it was best to let the person of interest think that they had the upper hand, even if they did not.

“So, why are you here again, anyway?” Schaber asked. “I do have a play to open in two hours, you know. It is a matinee day.”

“We know. And we just have a few follow up questions, that’s all.”

The man glanced at his watch quickly before answering. “Good, just make them quick.”

“Why didn’t you attend rehearsals with the rest of the cast on Monday?”

“I…”

“May I remind you that it is a criminal offence to lie in situations such as these,” Van Pelt stated mildly. It was unlikely that they would press charges, considering they were far more interested in the bigger picture, but it was always handy to rattle the suspect somewhat.

“I had a migraine, that’s all.”

“And why couldn’t you tell us that yesterday?” Rigsby asked.

“For a start, your buffoon was bothering me and secondly, it doesn’t look professional, does it? Taking a day off for something as mundane as a migraine…”

Van Pelt bit her lip. On occasion, she had taken days off for that very reason and nobody at the CBI, not even her boss, seemed to mind. Sickness was sickness and had to be treated accordingly. If somebody wasn’t fit for work, it was best for them to go home and rest. Then again, on any given work day, she could theoretically have been wielding a gun or being held at knifepoint, so slightly different rules applied.

“Thank you for your time.”

“Oh and one more thing,” Rigsby added while standing. “How would you describe your relationship with Miranda Hayes?”

“Excuse me?”

“Miranda Hayes, Harrison’s wife? What was your relationship with her?”

“She was the director. That’s all.”

“And really?”

“That is all,” he said and Van Pelt raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Fine. We slept together once. And that’s all. I swear. Are we done here?”

“Yes, we’re done.”

Sacramento, CA, USA, Wednesday, 12.12pm PST

Lisbon felt like she was banging her head against a brick wall. Admittedly, in the years she had known Jane, that was a fairly common occurrence, but it didn’t stop it from being an irritation. He and O’Laughlin were continually baiting one another and thus, they hadn’t actually gotten anywhere with the case for the entire morning. Dejectedly, she stirred her coffee. She had used her thirst as an excuse simply to get out of there for a brief while, to have some respite from their arguing. She hadn’t known two men to be so antagonistic with one another since… well, since Jane and Bosco. Quickly, she cast those thoughts to one side. There was enough going on without her dwelling on the past.

Really, what they needed was some solid progress. Instead, O’Laughlin and Jane had taken to acting like kids. Both were being as bad as each other; she had heard numerous complaints about the suitability of either of them to work on the Red John case. Realistically, she could see that both of them had a point. Virgil Minelli, ex-Special Agent, had taken the Red John case from them for a reason during his tenure. They - not just Jane, but her whole team - had been getting too close to the case. The only reason they got it back was because Red John had decided to slaughter a whole unit within the CBI, Bosco included. And as for O’Laughlin, well she had been questioning the decision ever since she’d heard of it. Bertram had told them that O’Laughlin had been chosen because he was known with the CBI. It was meant to make the transition fluid. So much for that.

To make matters worse, she still wasn’t entirely satisfied with his reasoning behind knowing unreleased details about the Salinger Mill case at the meeting the night before. It was fair enough him knowing now; they’d spent the morning poring over old case files when he and Jane weren’t arguing. But she knew Van Pelt wouldn’t spill important case details. It didn’t matter that O’Laughlin was another cop; it was still confidential. The youngest member of her team knew the consequences of divulging too much information all too well.

“We’ve decided we need to talk to the family and friends of the deceased,” O’Laughlin told her as she entered her office.

“I agree,” she replied, casting aside her doubts. “How soon can you organise this?”

“I don’t know. If I pull some strings… I’ll get back to you.”

Bristol, UK, Thursday, 01.22am GMT

He’d had enough. Alo wanted answers. Rich had always been a little weird, but he didn’t mind that. After all, he was hardly your normal teenager either. They were like some kind of odd couple, a pair of best mates who got each other into and out of trouble. If he could count on anyone, he could count on Rich. That was the main thing for him, the reason why they had both been good friends since primary school. A pair of outsiders who didn’t need anyone else because they had each other.

However, Rich was doing something he’d never done before. And that was hiding in a shell, trying to protect himself. He had gone quiet on Alo before, but that was because Grace had been eating up more of his time than usual. However, the two of them had hit a steady patch in their relationship and had learned to balance time with one another and time with their mates. On this occasion, it was different. Scarier, even. To make matters worse, Alo needed to talk about it, needed to understand. The only way he felt less guilty about the whole situation was if he actually discussed it with someone who understood. Unfortunately, Rich’s coping mechanisms seemed to have made him do the exact opposite. All Alo really wanted to know was why Red John? How did Rich know about him? Did he have a collection of magazines about gruesome serial killers stashed under his bed like Alo had a collection of porn under his own?

Alo picked up a few stones from the gravel. It was a clichéd method of getting somebody‘s attention, but really he didn’t want to explain to Rich’s parents why it was so vital that he talked to their son at one a.m. All this lying was exhausting him and he didn’t want to add some more white lies to his already very extensive collection. Besides, he had completely avoided going home since… well since the incident, as he had already taken to thinking of it as. The first pebble missed entirely and it was several more before he heard a response.

“Aloysius?”

His heart sank when he saw Kevin Hardbeck poking his head out of the window next to Rich’s bedroom. This was entirely the situation he hadn’t been hoping for. Kevin, however smiled brightly before confirming that he would let Alo in immediately. He waited patiently as he listened to the telltale signs that Rich’s dad was making his way downstairs.

“Sorry for-”

“Don’t mention it,” Kevin interrupted, “but next time you want to see Richard, please just knock on the door.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Alo took the steps two at a time as Kevin closed the door and sauntered into the kitchen. He knew Grace was with Mini, so he didn’t bother to knock. Instead, he just swung the door open to be greeted by a room that was doing a very good impression of world war three. That was unusual in itself; despite his appearance, Rich was always meticulous when it came to his belongings. Rich noticed the interruption immediately and turned to face Alo, unconcerned about the fact he had a bottle of moisturiser in one hand and a pair of pants in the other.

“What are you doing?” Alo stuttered eventually, once his mind had caught up with the rest of his body.

“Packing, what does it look like?” Rich answered back, without bothering to look at Alo. “You should do the same.”

“Why?”

“Because Red John will know. He’ll fly over and…”

“What the fuck?” Alo interrupted, surprised at this latest development.

“Look, if we don’t get away now, Red John will….”

“Hold it, why the fuck are you only thinking of this now? Why did you-”

“You try thinking of a fucking plan to get your mate out of murder in half a fucking second,” Rich hissed back, still angry that the situation had gotten so far out of control. “Why involve me at all? Why the fuck couldn’t you have told the fucking police the truth?”

Alo watched as Rich paced ceaselessly around his bedroom, running his hands through his hair. Nervously, he perched on the edge of Rich’s bed as his mate continued to throw his belongings into a large backpack. Again, he wished Rich would just discuss everything properly. Make him understand why he was so scared, why this Red John psycho had him so on edge. He lived in America, for fucks’ sake. Thousands of miles away, literally. And even though the U.S. police knew that something had happened in England, it didn’t mean Red John would. Surely they had protocol and confidentiality and crap like that?

“Look, you can do whatever the fuck you want, but I’m outta here,” Rich eventually said, whilst hauling the bag onto his back.

“What about Grace?”

“What about her?”

“Are you just going to, you know,” Alo said, pausing for breath. “Leave her?”

“I’m doing this to save her. To save both of us.”

Part Nine

Unspecified Location, CA, USA, Wednesday, 11.37pm PST

It wasn’t the same place as before. Red John never liked to meet up in the same location too many times; having a pattern, a routine would make him traceable and therefore, vulnerable. He knew that in order to maintain his air of mystery, he had to remain as unpredictable as feasibly possible. Besides, if he didn’t, the cops, or indeed, Patrick Jane, could eventually work it out and that would be the end of everything. That was, apart from O’Laughlin himself. Then again, O’Laughlin remained in an enlightened position and that was something that wasn’t going to change any time soon. Red John needed him as much as O’Laughlin needed the serial killer. Though it wasn’t obvious, there was something reassuring about having Red John’s guiding hand in his life. He had turned to him at every major juncture in his life, like he was some kind of guardian angel, or conscience.

O’Laughlin laughed hollowly. Some people would find it bitter and twisted that a serial killer could play such a role in somebody’s life. But they didn’t understand, they just heard the rumours, the media outcry. Saw what the police wanted them to see. They forgot that murderers were still human beings. That they were somebody’s husband or wife, son or daughter, sister or brother. A friend, relative, confidant. That killing was usually just something that had become a part of their life, somehow. They didn’t always mean to do it or set out from the offset, it just happened. Maybe through some kind of misfortune or childhood tragedy, other times triggered by falling into the wrong crowd. People murdered because they were trying to defend themselves, right an injustice, seek revenge. It wasn’t random and brutal; there was a pattern behind it. The key was to see it. But instead, the general public forgot about the stories behind the murderer and instead focussed on the fanciful tales force-fed down their throats. Just because they were responsible for somebody’s death, it didn’t mean that people had to let it define them.

His fingers stroked the packet of cigarettes in his pocket. He’d been trying to quit ‘for Van Pelt,’ or that was what he said to her, anyway. Really, that was just a mask, a way to make the delusional young woman trust him. And thus far, it had been working. It made him appear more interested in the relationship than he ever was. Helped him get into character, almost. Right now, he really needed a cigarette. Something to calm the nerves, to stimulate the senses. Nicotine was a powerful mistress and sometimes, he just needed to succumb. Maybe, if things weren’t quite so stressful, he’d have more of a desire to quit for good. He’d promised his old mum that he would, anyway. But with work stacking up and Red John’s requirements vying for his attention, he needed a little respite in his vice. It didn’t help with Van Pelt constantly clamouring for his attention, either.

When his cell phone buzzed shrilly, he jumped and dropped the cigarette that he had selected. When he saw the text message was indeed from Van Pelt, unsurprisingly, he scowled and put the device away again. He could reply later, after he had updated Red John on today’s meetings. When he looked up, Red John was standing there. As always, he was fashionably late, but O‘Laughlin had learned not to expect anything less from his mentor and friend. Though, of course, he still remained a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma, to some extent.

Quickly, he updated Red John on his dealings with the CBI. Teresa Lisbon was generally a pleasant woman, if a little stubborn and abrasive. She clearly didn’t like having somebody else interfering with what she saw as her case, however. Jane was an ass, but that was common knowledge, even at the FBI. His frustrations with them were swiftly deleted from his recap; Red John simply didn’t care about them. O’Laughlin knew he had spent years monitoring that specific team and Red John probably knew and understood them better than he did after months of dealing with them face to face. Instead, he stuck to their only real progress: the attempt to organise a webcam interview with Olivia Malone’s friends. If they could get lucky, then he might end up with something of use for Red John to deal with. And of course, the CBI could have the Red John case back and it would simplify his working dilemma once more.

“You’ve done well, Craig,” Red John muttered as he went to leave. “I… appreciate the effort you are putting in.”

“Thank you,” Craig answered quickly, before adding, “but what are your plans?”

“I know what I’m doing and it’s safer that you don’t know,” the serial killer assured him. Let me know about the victim’s friends as soon as you can.”

Bristol, UK, Thursday, 06.45am GMT

A car blazed past him, running over the SIM card he had accurately placed in the middle of the road. Rich didn’t want contacting by anyone. Not Grace, not his parents, not Alo. He needed to slip away and disappear, as if he had never existed. Of course they would miss him. His mates would see it as an additional loss, additional heartache, so soon after losing Liv. But they’d got over it. They were young, robust. They had to. Besides, he was going to have to rebuild his life from scratch too. That was going to be interesting, to say the least.

He hadn’t overreacted, of course he hadn’t. He was just taking a sensible precautionary method. If he didn’t, well, who knew what could happen? If there was one thing he understood about Red John, it was the serial killer’s thirst for revenge. Patrick fucking Jane had only badmouthed him on television and that had cost him the life of his wife and daughter. Mr. Jane wasn’t even the worst of it. Some cops at the CBI had just happened to be dealing with the case only to be killed by Red John and his crazed underlings. There was even proof that Red John had killed some kids for doing what he’d just done: copying him.

Rich cursed and punched the seat beside him. Why the fuck did he have to immediately think of Red John when Alo had called him, crying desperately for help? Why the hell hadn’t he told his best mate to grow a pair and go to the fucking police? To tell the truth. Instead, he had gotten himself caught up in a web of lies and deceit which could only end in heartbreak, one way or another. And now, he was running away from home, like a scared little boy. All he had was the money in his pocket and the bag on his back. No plans, no future, no hope. He just hoped that Alo would fucking appreciate this.

Then again, Alo had to get out of this unscathed, too. Just because he was attempting to make himself untraceable, it didn’t mean that Alo was too. Alo didn’t even seem to understand just how potentially real the threat actually was. All he could do was focus on the five thousand miles between Bristol and Sacramento. But in this day and age, distance didn’t mean a fucking thing. For all they knew, Red John could have some acolytes in England, somebody to do the groundwork and research before the serial killer flew over.

And that very thought terrified him.

It took several attempts before the spliff would even light. Rich let out a shaky sigh of relief as it came into contact with his lips and he inhaled the smoke. Eventually, it would calm him down, let him see things on a more level note. Picking up his bag again, he left the bus stop. Buses cost far too much, well for long journeys, anyway; he’d find some other way to leave Bristol. The train would probably suit him better.

Coincidentally, five minutes after he left the bus stop, Franky and Matty arrived and sat down silently beside one another.

As Rich had done shortly before her, Franky pulled a spliff out of her pocket as Matty offered her a light. Silently she accepted it and it wasn’t long until it was ignited and placed between her lips. Slowly and steadily, she breathed in and wordlessly handed it over to him. Unbeknownst to Liv, she and Matty had spent a lot of time alone together since Grace and Rich attempted to marry. Even now, Franky refused to feel guilty. She liked spending time with Matty, trying to crawl under his skin the way he crawled under hers. Mini was fun and provided respite from the world when everything got too much, but Matty? He challenged her in ways that she didn’t think possible.

And right now, he needed her for very different reasons.

When Matty wasn’t comforting his brother or at least, making sure that Nick wasn’t making too much of a mess of the place, she spent time with him. After all, he and Liv had still been technically going out. Sort of, anyway. They seemed to have a strange open relationship where they were free to fuck whoever they chose, but could always return to one another’s arms when needs be. And although Liv had found it unsettling at first, she had slowly accepted Franky’s intrigue into their relationship, almost joining in with the games.

It didn’t matter that it was so early; neither one of them could sleep. All that mattered was that they found a way to seek respite from the proverbial storm. Losing Liv was a shock to the system, naturally. But it wasn’t something that they couldn’t endure. Death was a natural part of life, as was mourning somebody. It was all a part of the bigger picture, but humans were always incapable of seeing that. This was just a shock to the system as nobody could expect death at such a young age, whether it was self-inflicted or indeed, murder as it was in this case. It was simply a matter of picking up the pieces now and moving on. And hoping the fucking police can get their act together and catch the killer. If not, Franky knew she would have to do something more than searching on fucking computers for a serial killer who probably wasn’t even responsible.

Franky ground the cigarette butt into the floor. She glanced at Matty who nodded indistinctly to the left. It was time for them to move on. After all, the sun was rising and it was the start of a new day.

Neither one of them noticed Rich’s destroyed SIM card in the middle of the road.

Sacramento, CA, USA, Thursday, 07.37am PST

Van Pelt yawned and clutched hold of her coffee as if her life depended on it. She had been at the headquarters since six am and still hadn’t woken up properly. Then again, they usually worked cases as a unit, a team and because of the latest developments, they had been temporarily fractured into two. It wasn’t unusual for Van Pelt to not see much of the rest of the team on a case; despite having worked for the CBI for a reasonable amount of time, she was still the youngest. Therefore, she was seen as a bit of a computer whiz and often left behind to do the digging whilst everyone else did the legwork. Admittedly, the situation wasn’t as bad as it was when she had first started, but she still didn’t do as much fieldwork as she liked. At least this case was providing her with that, even if she was beginning to miss Jane and Lisbon a little in the process. There was something disconcerting about not having them hovering over the team’s every footstep.

She smiled briefly when she saw Rigsby had arrived while she had nipped out for her drink. He was already working, probably writing up the progress report from yesterday, about the interview with Schaber. It intrigued her that the man had cheated with the deceased’s wife. Van Pelt had been brought up with a strict moral code and therefore believed that marriage was for life, something that meant more than just a piece of paper. You were agreeing to spend the rest of your life with just that one person. Once upon a time, she had thought that person might have been Rigsby for her, but of course, Hightower had found out. Really, it was an inevitability that she should have seen from the start. But for some reason, she had believed that one day, they would be wed and by then, one of them would be ready to move on from the CBI. Thank goodness she had O’Laughlin in her life now; it made her feel less lonely, more wanted. And he was a dear soul that she was genuinely beginning to fall in love with him. Not in the same passionate, rollercoaster ride as she had with Rigsby, but something slower and steadier.

But her love life wasn’t why she was in work early. It was because Cho wanted to try and close this case quickly. Possibly to impress Hightower, to convince her that he could make an excellent senior agent soon. Van Pelt thought that it was more likely that he simply wanted to keep Lisbon’s stress levels at a minimum. She and Cho had worked together for a long while, Van Pelt knew that. And despite the ludicrous professional boundaries their boss had set up, Lisbon and Cho shared a strange sort of closeness that even she was aware of.

“Hey,” Rigsby said as he saw her take to her desk.

“Hey,” she echoed, smiling slightly. “How’s it going?”

“This? Fine, nearly done. Want to have it on Lisbon’s desk before she arrives this morning.”

“For the Hayes case?”

“Yeah.”

She nodded as she booted up her laptop. It felt like she and Rigsby were never going to strike up that easy friendship they used to share before they started dating. Sometimes, she believed it was something they’d never get back. Van Pelt knew that she wouldn’t be able to share easy conversations about their lives any more and she certainly couldn’t discuss her worries about O’Laughlin with him. He had barely moved on and there she was, worrying because her new boyfriend hadn’t stopped over last night as he said he would. If she were to mention it, it would look ridiculously insensitive. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt Rigsby’s feelings even more than she already had.

Instead, she picked up Cho’s memo from the night before while periodically sipping her coffee. She had already read it earlier, but needed a reminder of what to focus on next. Once again, she read through his brief description of the wife, mentally noting things to question. The case seemed simple enough and it was definitely one Jane would probably classify as ‘boring’. In a way, she was grateful that he did have another distraction; knowing him, he would have overcomplicated things for the sake of it and continued offending people like Schaber. Having seen the play a couple of months ago, when visiting her family, she had automatically developed a great deal of respect for the individuals involved. And having been amazed by Harrison Hayes’ performance in particular, it made her all the more determined to help solve this case.

But that would come later. There was always paperwork to do. Besides, she already knew her task for the day. And yes, it was looking into Hayes’ credentials, trying to see if money troubles could be a link. That was always good fun.



Parts 10-12 Here
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November 2011

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