"Edrisa?" Gil called out to her, as Malcolm, Dani, and JT slowly entered the lab behind him.
Everyone on the team was exhausted, on edge. In the last ten days, there had been three murders. Well, three instances in which murders were committed. The body count was actually seven, counting the two latest victims.
Malcolm was frustrated. He had the profile: their suspect was a visionary killer. He was exacting revenge on those who had wronged him in some way, by forcing them to play Russian Roulette. One bullet, a spun chamber, and a shot, that was it. The crazy thing was he had been true to the game. If a bullet didn't fire, then the victims were released. He was so sure of the sanctity of his cause, that he even participated in the game himself first, before turning the weapon on anyone else.
None of the nine survivors thus far could identify him. He'd covered his face and, according to them, his voice wasn't anything unique. They'd all met this man before, even hurt him in one way or another, yet somehow none of them could seem to place who he was.
"Edrisa?" Gil repeated.
"Hey, you're here!" she answered, peeking her head out from her office.
"Yes, we are," the lieutenant answered, "You said it was important?"
"It is. This way," she replied, motioning for the team to follow her. On the way she picked up a file on the table next to her.
"Why is it so hot in here?" JT asked, as they exited the lab and went back into the cold storage room.
"The heat has been running on full blast all day. I called maintenance when I got here this morning, they said they're working on it. But, I can't leave the bodies out in that temperature, so here we are." She opened one of the doors, and pulled out the sliding tray. "There's something different this time," Edrisa noted, handing the file in her hand to Malcolm. "Two things actually. First, clothing from both the victims had trace amounts of Remifentanil, a chemical derivative of Fentanyl."
"On the clothing?" the profiler's confusion was audible, as his eyes darted across the pages before him.
"That's the new thing. Prior victims all had Fentanyl in their systems at the time of death, but not enough to be the cause," she directed her comment to the rest of the team, assuming Bright had already gotten to that portion of the file in his hand.
Gil, Dani, and JT nodded and listened, as the two of them continued their discussion.
Malcolm spoke first, "The killer is using it as a way to subdue the victims, to make them pliable to the game he wants them to play. They probably don't even realize what they're doing."
"It's possible, with that much in their systems, that they were fully hallucinating. They could have been living a completely different reality at that moment. That still doesn't explain why these two had it on their clothing though."
Malcolm furrowed his eyebrows, flipping through the pages of the file, clearly looking for something specific. "What areas of the clothing had the trace on them, Edrisa?"
"Mostly, the upper torso: chest, neck, and shoulders, although there were some samples as low as the upper thighs of the pants."
"He's gassing them."
Gil responded to Malcolm's revelation, "He's what?"
"The killer isn't injecting the victims anymore; he's evolving, honing his craft. He's administering the drugs in vapor format now, gassing them. That's why there's traces of it on the clothing. They were seated, he put a mask on them and some of the gas escaped out of the sides of the mask," he turned his attention back to Edrisa, "And the second thing is?"
She picked up the victims right hand, pointing out the area around the thumb, "Both of the latest victims had gunshot residue on their right hands."
Dani responded first, "The victims shot themselves?"
Malcolm nodded his head, "The game is evolving too. He's not the one pulling the trigger anymore, they are."
"Shifting M.O.s does not bode well for our body count," Dani replied, rubbing her eyes.
"No, it does not," Malcolm agreed, checking his watch. It was late and they'd been at it since 4 A.M., when these bodies were found. The entire team was in dire need of rest. His eyes were tired, dry, and burning.
Before he could finish his internal observation, Malcolm's vision blurred. The room started to sway as though they were on a boat in rough waters. He tried to focus on his teammates. From what he could make out, it seemed like they were feeling the same way.
"Gas," he warned.
"Go!" Gil ordered.
Dani stumbled her way to the exit door. When she pulled on the handle, it wouldn't budge. She found the lock and tried to turn the deadbolt. It, too, refused to move. "The lock's jammed."
JT turned and pushed on the door to the lab. Then, he threw his entire body into it. Nothing.
Edrisa was the first to collapse, the gas taking advantage of her size. Thankfully she was next to Gil, who she leaned into on the way down. He managed to help set her down softly.
"What do we do?" Dani asked, her eyes on Malcolm, as she put a hand out to steady herself on the wall.
The profiler leaned back against the cold storage wall. His eyes were heavy. His ability to process information was rapidly diminishing. "Sit," he answered.
"What?" JT looked at him like he was crazy.
Malcolm slid down the wall until he was seated, "There's no time. We can't beat the effects of the gas. It's already in our systems. It's fast acting and we're trapped. If we sit, we at least eliminate the risk of a severe head injury when we collapse." Bright watched as the other three members of his team slowly accepted his logic and did as he suggested.
Dani's head wobbled against the wall. She caught it happening and straightened up, only to immediately do it again. Malcolm eyed her as she kept fighting the inevitable, only to realize he too was losing the ability to fight the overwhelming drowsiness. "We know what his M.O. is," he started, as Dani slumped over onto her side, "when we wake up we…"
"Bright?" Gil's voice sounded a mile away, underwater.
The edges of his vision were going dark. What he could see was foggy at best. His chest felt heavier than even his eyelids, every breath was a battle.
Malcolm's head, leaning against the storage unit behind him, turned just enough to see Gil before everything around him faded into darkness.
When Malcolm awoke his mouth was duct taped shut. He was seated on the floor, leaning up against the wall with his head drooped forward. It took him a moment to realize it wasn't the same wall he had passed out against. They were back in the main room of Edrisa's lab. His hands were zip tied behind his back and his ankles were bound the same way in front of him. To his right, the rest of his team were identically bound and seated in a row. JT and Gil had already woken up, but were clearly as groggy as he was.
"That's three." A man in jeans and a black sweatshirt exited Edrisa's office. He was wearing the type of mask that a biker might wear. The design made it so that everything beneath the man's dark eyes looked like a skeleton. He walked toward them, then took a hard right to grab one of the observation chairs and pull it over the railing. He slammed it down four feet in front of the group; Dani jerked at the noise, as she came to. "And four. One more."
The man nonchalantly pulled a revolver from behind his back, turned the chair around and sat in it backwards, facing the team. "As soon as your pocket-sized medical examiner joins us, we can get started."
No one attempted any type of a response. Duct tape notwithstanding, Bright was still struggling just to comprehend sentences clearly, attempting to communicate was not an ability that had returned at this point.
Malcolm watched the clock across from them. It was 1:12 A.M.. Five minutes had passed, and Edrisa still hadn't stirred, he was starting to worry. She was significantly smaller than the rest of them and Remifentanil was an incredibly potent drug.
Ten minutes later, the man stood angrily, strode over, crouched in front of her, and not-so-gently slapped her face. Next to her, JT grumbled from behind the tape on his mouth and leaned forward. The killer simply pointed the revolver at him and pulled the hammer back with his thumb. JT sat back, in silence.
Even though the method was detestable, Malcolm was grateful to hear his friend groan. At least she was alive. Although, being alive to experience what was about to happen probably wasn't exactly a gift.
"Finally," the man uttered in annoyance while he headed back to his seat in front of them. "I'm assuming you all know how this works." As he spoke, he opened the cylinder of the weapon and removed all six of the cartridges within it. "One bullet. Fate decides the rest." As he spoke the words he reinserted one cartridge, spun the cylinder, and closed it, never looking down. "Just so you understand I'm a fair player," without warning he put the barrel against the side of his head and pulled the trigger.
He smiled and took a deep breath, "It doesn't matter how many times you do it; it's still one hell of a rush." The man stood, stretched his back dramatically, and walked over to the autopsy table nearest him.
He plays the game every time and has never lost. That validates his calling.
Malcolm watched as the killer picked up one of his teammate's guns, cocked it, and held it in his left hand. He laid the revolver in the seat of the chair and walked over to Edrisa. After crouching again, he ripped the duct tape off of her mouth, pulled a pair of wire cutters out of his back pocket, and proceeded to snip the tie around her ankles. He shoved Edrisa forward, clipping the tie around her wrists, before he put an arm around JT in and aimed the extra pistol at his head.
"Just so everyone's clear, if that revolver so much as twitches in my direction, I will not hesitate to pull this trigger. Is that, in any way, unclear?" When no one responded he nudged her forward. "Go. Take a seat in the chair."
Edrisa slowly got up, walked over to the chair, and stared down at the gun.
"Pick it up and sit in the chair," the killer ordered.
She turned toward him, "You didn't reset the spin."
He smiled, "And I'm not going to."
Malcolm bowed his head. Six slots in the cylinder. Six people. He's already taken his turn.
One of us is going to die.
He glanced up at Gil next to him, from the corner of his eye. The lieutenant, too, had his head lowered.
Edrisa reasserted her point, "But that's not how the game works. We know you adhere to the outcome as fate; you release those who don't die. How is this fair?"
"It isn't. But your team is dangerously close to putting me away. I can't allow that to happen."
"Killing one of us isn't going to stop the rest from coming after you. I'm sorry, I just don't understand the logic here."
Malcolm was proud of her. She was doing a spectacular job stalling, while engaging the killer. If she wasn't a brilliant medical examiner she could have made a damn good profiler.
"Those of you who survive will have to live with that for the rest of your lives. That's far worse than anything else I could ever do to you."
He's right. The guilt will torment the survivors, Malcolm thought.
"Now," the man's voice was louder, "sit down and take your shot."
Edrisa reached down and picked up the revolver. Her hand was trembling as she seated herself on the front edge of the chair. She looked down at the weapon in her hand as though it were a foreign object. "I've never fired a gun," her voice was a whisper.
"Pull the hammer back," the man instructed, "Then aim, and pull the trigger."
She clicked the hammer back, and raised the gun to the side of her head. Before she pulled the trigger she spoke, her voice shaking even more than her hands, "If- um- if this goes badly, I just want you all to know how grateful I am to have known you. It's been an honor to work alongside such amazing individuals. I cherish each and every one of you."
Malcolm felt a lump form in his throat, as he watched Edrisa take a deep breath, close her eyes, and pull the trigger.
She exhaled as tears fell down her face, relief and guilt already evident in her expression.
"Stand up slowly, and put the gun back on the chair," the man instructed. She did as he said. "Back over here."
Edrisa obeyed. When she was again on the floor, the killer pulled new ties from his pocket and secured her wrists and ankles just as he had before.
When he skipped JT and went for Dani, Malcolm's pulse quickened. The man put the Glock against her temple and told her to raise up to her knees. With his help she was able to do so, despite her legs still being bound. The killer crouched behind her, hiding himself, as he freed JT's wrists.
"You seem like the kind of guy who might try something stupid," he said to the detective. "I wouldn't recommend it," he wiggled the Glock against Dani's head for emphasis. "Clip the ankle tie and hand me back the cutters."
JT did as he was told.
"Go ahead," the man said, his hand on Dani's shoulder, keeping her in front of him.
Tarmel's hands weren't shaking, but his fear behind his eyes was evident nonetheless. After he sat down, he looked up at them. "Just in case," he didn't finish the sentence, but continued on after, "Can one of you guys tell Tally that I love her. And I'm sorry. And that the last thing I'm going to think about will be her."
Dani sniffed, as JT cleared his throat.
He brought the weapon to his head, stared at the ground, and pulled the trigger.
While JT's response wasn't as audible as Edrisa's had been, the same mixture of pure joy and crippling guilt spread across his face.
33% chance now, Malcolm thought.
He looked down the row at his remaining two teammates. Gil next to him, and Dani who was being lifted the rest of the way to her feet by the killer.
If he was being honest, a part of him, hoped it was him. If he had to watch Dani die... well, honestly he wasn't sure what he would do. She had been the truest friend he'd ever had. No one else accepted him for what he was, but also called him out on the spot if he needed it. He trusted her with his life, and he was pretty confident she would do the same. Sometimes it felt like there might be something more between them, but neither of them had ever acknowledged it. Now there was a good chance that they wouldn't get the opportunity. The thought of seeing her body go limp and fall sent a cold chill through him that could freeze his heart.
And there was Gil, who now had a gun to his head to ensure Dani's compliance.
Realizing that Dr. Whitly was a serial killer, watching him get carted away in handcuffs, all the night terrors, and repressed memories would be nothing compared to watching his real father die in front of him. It would be too much to bear. He would break; a piece of his heart would fracture and disappear, leaving him incomplete for the rest of his life.
Dani sat in the chair, the gun in her right hand. She started with Edrisa and panned her head down the line, looking at each of her teammates individually, but never saying a word. When she finally reached Malcolm, their gaze locked. He felt as though she could see his very soul, every feeling he'd ever felt, every thought he'd ever had. Her eyebrows furrowed and she looked down. "Please tell my mom I love her." Dani's eyes never raised from her lap. "And make sure, if you have to go tell her, that someone stays with her. She's had this news delivered to her once already. I don't know if she can take it a second time."
As soon as she finished the last word, she quickly pointed the gun at her temple and squeezed.
Malcolm exhaled loudly through his nose.
He wasn't sure who he was showing gratitude towards, but he was grateful nonetheless. As the killer retied Dani's hands and ankles, Malcolm turned his head and looked at his mentor. With tape covering their mouths, neither of them could say anything. But one look into Gil's eyes and Malcolm could hear his father's voice, as clear as day, in his head, "I love you, kid."
"Let's go papa bear," the man said, snipping the lieutenant's ties.
Malcolm's heart sank as Gil broke eye contact with him and stood. Their boss seated himself in the chair and Malcolm felt the cold metal of the killer's other gun against the right side of his head.
"Before I do this," Gil began, "I want you all to know how much I- I love you. I know we don't say it out loud, because that's not the 'cop thing' to do. But, I do." He looked at each of them in turn as he spoke. "You're the only family I've got; you're my kids. And I sincerely hope that this thing fires when I pull the trigger. It should be me. All of you have so much more living to do, families to build." He cleared the emotion from his throat, "There's already a spot picked out... by Jackie. Anyone but Bright can have my car."
Everyone, including Malcolm, laughed at the joke that wasn't really a joke.
He would try to lighten the mood.
Dani wiped tears, while Malcolm simply let them fall. They landed on the tape over his mouth, and ran with it, horizontally, across his cheeks before falling the rest of the way down.
His breaths stopped. Time slowed down as he watched Gil raise the revolver to his head. It was too much; he couldn't watch. Malcolm looked away and closed his eyes, his heartbeat thumping in his ears like a kettle drum.
He whipped his head up, eyes wide. Gil's gaze slowly moved to meet his. Terror filled his father's eyes.
It wasn't until Bright turned and saw his other three teammates that the full realization hit him. Each of them was staring, horrified. JT looked like he was going to be ill. Edrisa was shaking her head silently sobbing. And Dani. Her eyes were darting back and forth between Gil and Malcolm in confusion. She was completely stunned.
"No," Gil's voice was full of shock, as he looked at his son, "No. It's supposed to be me."
"Apparently not," the killer responded. He eyed Gil speculatively, "If you think you're going to pull a fast one and squeeze that trigger again, I promise you, I'll shoot him before your body hits the ground."
Tears welled in the lieutenant's eyes.
"Back over here," the man ordered.
Gil sat, unmoving, his eyes fixed on Malcolm, misery pouring from every part of him.
The yell pulled Gil from his trance. He shook his head and stood, slowly making his way back to the floor to be bound again.
Each of his teammates continued to stare at Malcolm. He was facing forward, looking, unfocused, at the door to Edrisa's office.
His brain understood what was about to happen. But his mind, his consciousness, hadn't fully comprehended it yet.
I'm going to die.
The sentence sounded obscure, like it wasn't in any language he'd ever heard before.
The killer ripped the tape off of his mouth. As he started to remove his restraints, Malcolm turned and looked back down the row of people next to him.
Each of them was already grieving. The peculiarity of the moment wasn't lost on Malcolm. Most people don't see the effect their death has on others, on the people they care about the most. Now, as he sat staring at four of them, his heart was oddly full, seeing the evidence of their love for him. Somehow, the thought that they cared that much for him, made the prospect of walking over to that chair, more bearable.
When Malcolm stood, the killer went back to Dani and positioned the gun against her head once more. How did he know that threatening her would affect him the most? Not that he would trade any of his teammate's lives for his own, but Dani was different.
Malcolm looked down at the revolver sitting on the chair. People tend to wonder, from time to time, how they will die. He now knew. Below him, on the maroon plastic of the chair, sat the weapon that would do it. A single remaining bullet would fire, enter his skull, and end his life. There would be no more brunches with his family, however insufferable they were. No more exasperated looks from Gil when he did something dangerous, but it managed to solve the case, so he couldn't be too upset with him. No more, scrunched smiles from Dani, as she bit her cheek to keep it from spreading widely across her face- like it really wanted to. No future. No wife. No children.
In a few short minutes everything would cease to exist.
He picked up the gun and sat in the chair. For a moment, he stared at his hands. Then he looked up at his teammates. "I have been so lucky. Most people who know my past, who know the psychological issues I have, probably wouldn't agree with that statement. But it's true."
Malcolm looked up at Edrisa, the quiet sobs still consuming her as she tried to focus on him. "I'm lucky to call someone so intelligent and free spirited my friend. To have had someone to geek out with over things that no one else understands." His eyes shifted to JT. "To finally have a brother. Or a brother-adjacent-companion," he grinned.
"A brother," JT corrected.
Malcolm took a breath before moving his eyes to Dani. He paused, staring into hers, watching the tears well and spill out onto her cheeks, "I'm lucky one day, not so long ago, a detective was tackled by a man having a night terror in the middle of her precinct. She didn't fight back. She held him in her arms and protected him. You never judged me for my demons. You trusted me enough to confide your own. You were there for me when I needed you. Whenever I couldn't find the right words, you always seemed to understand what I really meant."
Malcolm turned to Gil, who looked every inch the grieving parent: hopeless, lost, tormented beyond comprehension. "I'm lucky because you took a just-fired-from-the-FBI head case under your wing, again, and you gave me a place to belong. You were there for me when I was at my lowest, just like you were twenty years ago. You didn't have to do that. I was no one to you. Just some screwed up kid whose father was a serial killer. But you stayed. You were the one constant I could rely on. You saved me, Dad. And I'm sorry I never said thank you, until now." He took a brief pause before continuing, "Please tell my sister and my mother how much I love them. Take care of her, Gil. This will be hard on her."
Once again, Malcolm looked down at the revolver in his hand. An eerie sense of calm washed over him, a peacefulness he hadn't at all expected.
"Dani, this is probably the most selfish thing I've ever done, but I need to ask you a favor."
"Anything," she replied immediately.
He cleared his throat, "Please don't close your eyes. I want them to be the last thing I see."
A sob burst forth from her. She quickly bottled any additional ones up, trying to be strong for him. "Of course," she agreed.
Malcolm picked up the gun, for once his hands were steady. He pulled back the hammer, and slowly touched it to the side of his head. He took a deep breath, found Dani's eyes, and smiled.
Then, he pulled the trigger.