I Think He Thinks I Think...

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Mitch was working late. Again. He was painfully aware that he was doing a plodding, uninspired kind of investigation; the trail of paperwork and cross-references and files and connections had recently moved again to a bigger filing cabinet. David had started scanning all the old files into his computer and indexing them into a database for full-text searches. Mitch and David both had been interviewing people. David handled the ones that spoke Korean, or Japanese, or Hebrew, or Spanish. Mitch felt inadequate about his linguistic skills and handled the ones that spoke English.

They were tracking down anybody and everybody whose name had been in the police or coroner files attached to the deaths. They'd been cross-indexing physical descriptions and they'd been entering locations and dates into a map that had now grown way too complicated for paper. Both of them had been trying to drown their misgivings and all the stuff that didn't make sense under a sheer mountain of information.

That was the key, when you didn't really have a lot of good clues. You just gather all the facts you can get your hands on, and you index it and you sort it and you database it and you correlate it and you cross-reference it enough. There's nothing and nobody who can fail to leave some kind of pattern that you can find if there's enough information for you to work with.

And there were patterns. The victims, to start with, showed biases that weren't random. Women were in more danger than men. Redheaded men were safer than most people but redheaded women were in more danger than anybody else. White people were in more danger than minorities, but a lot of Hispanics and American Indians and Asians had gone down too. There'd been only three or four Black women, and six black men, making blacks the safest ethnic group against this guy. The victims were all aged between 15 and 50, which was a wide range but kids and seniors wouldn't be safe from random chance.

So, information was mounting up. It definitely wasn't a case of random deaths, because the patterns were too strong. Mitch could look at the information and say for sure that redheaded women were in more danger than black women, for example, and pure chance just doesn't care. But neither was it a normal pattern for a killer, because the patterns weren't strong enough. A typical serial killer is killing the same person over and over, or as close to it as he can get. Usually the physical resemblances were very close. There were patterns, but there wasn't anything that tied them all together.

There was an FBI guy named Dover, from the Investigative Support Unit, who was waiting to talk to Mitch. He'd arrived sometime today, and he'd already talked to Purdy and David. Mitch was getting his ducks in a row; Federal agents' time is precious, and he didn't want to waste it by not having all the information handy.

His phone rang. It was his direct line, so this was somebody he'd given his number to. He picked up. "Homicide, this is Flanagan."

The voice on the other end was Rose, and she sounded unhappy. "Mister Flanagan?" she said, "There was a guy named Wolf Scudder in the store today, and he wanted to ask me about... Well... I guess his wife got killed and he was thinking about it, and I was thinking about him thinking about it, and now he thinks I know something about it, and I think he knows I know he thinks I know something about it, but I don't think he knows I don't really know anything about it except from him, and he wants to talk to me to see what I know about it."

"Uh?" said Mitch, helpfully.

"Well," Rose explained, "I'm not absolutely sure he knows I know he thinks I know something about it, but I think he knows I know he thinks I know something about it."

Mitch thought maybe he'd followed her this time, but still wasn't sure. He was thinking that maybe if she thought he now knew what she was thinking, then he ought to think he was was more tired than he'd thought - than he'd known - crap, now she had him doing it. He cast around for some easier way to have a conversation. "Wolf Scudder came in to talk to you?"

"Yes!" Rose said. "You know who that is?"

"Uh, yeah," said Mitch. "I talked to him about his wife about eight weeks ago, and then talked to his lawyer about three weeks ago. Is he out?"

"He came into the store today, like I said," said Rose. "Where was he in that he's out of now?"

"Uh, he was in jail," said Mitch. "He was convicted for murdering his wife, but..."

"But he didn't kill her," interrupted Rose.

"Okay, wait," said Mitch. "I know why I don't think he killed her, and I know why the judge doesn't think he killed her, but now I want to know why you think he didn't kill her."

"Well, he was thinking about his wife getting killed, and I was thinking about him thinking about it, and I know what he saw so I know he didn't kill her, but somehow he knows I know something about it but he's not one of us freaks so I don't know how he knows I know anything and I'm pretty sure he doesn't know I know what he saw but I think he knows I know he thinks I know something, and I think he even knows that I think so, and it's driving me nuts!"

Mitch closed his eyes, counted to three, and mentally thanked God for tape recorders on police phone lines. He'd have to come back to this conversation in the morning. "Uh, yeah, Rose, you're not the only one who it's making nuts. But just check me on a few facts here. Wolf Scudder came into the store to see you about his wife?"

"Uh, I think he came in for some other reason but that's what he wanted by the time he got to the counter," said Rose.

Mitch had pulled out a new sheet of paper and he was writing this down. "Do you know how he found you?"

"No but..."

"But what, Rose?" Mitch leaned back.

"I think he smelled me. But that's crazy!"

Mitch was concerned. Wolf could scent track someone, that was clear; but why on earth would he be tracking Rose? "Wolf Scudder smelling you is no more crazy than you knowing he's smelling you," he said. "He can track people by scent. It's another freak thing, his nose. It runs in his family."

"Very funny," said Rose.

"Huh?" Mitch said, "No, I mean it. His dad has a real sensitive nose too."

"Oh," said Rose. "Do you think that's how he knows I know he thinks I know something about how his wife died?"

"Uh..." Mitch found himself saying again. He wasn't stupid, but that was more corners than he was used to thinking around at once. "Could be, I guess."

"Oh," said Rose. "Well, that's a load off my mind. Is he, uh, safe to be around?"

"Yeah," said Mitch. "I think so anyway. So are you going to talk to him?"

Rose sighed. "Yes, I guess so. Could, uh, could you be there when I do? I'd feel safer about it if you were."

Mitch stared into the mouthpiece, relieved. He hadn't understood the conversation fully, but he must have managed to say the right thing at the right time somehow anyway. "I wouldn't miss it for the world, Rose. Would you mind if I bring a tape recorder?"

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