"Underworld" - by Elizabeth Bear
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
In the summer of 1972, I was nineteen years old. The same age, it turns out, as Michael Dominic Bellamo. But while I was between semesters at Penn State--and soon to leave it for a career change I'm still legally bound not to discuss--Michael Bellamo was embarking on his own education as a serial killer.
He hadn't yet graduated: his first known stranger murder would not be committed until January 15th, 1975. But on June 1st, 1972, he matriculated.
The FBI became involved in the case in 2012, a year and a half after his death.
The governor of the state of Connecticut in June of 1972 was Republican Thomas Meskill. The president of the United States of America was Richard Nixon.
Michael Bellamo's home, at that time, was the family's white frame residence on Wethersfield Avenue in Hartford's South End. The house's flat, treeless yard was surrounded by a three-foot chain link fence so threaded with roses that in summer the heavy, drowsy scent floated halfway down the block. Serafina Bellamo had planted those roses as a young bride. They had been slender, spindling things then. By 1972, they had to be knocked back twice a year with hedge trimmers, and on this particular June day they were in heavy bloom.
When Serafina Bellamo came down the basement steps to find her grandson Michael, a recent graduate of Bulkeley High, doing the laundry, there were three Hartford PD black-and-whites lined up along the curb beside those roses, the strobes on the rear one cycling lazily.
"Michael," she said. "What are you doing?"
(We know what she said, or at least what he said she said, because Michael Bellamo kept extensive--one might even say narcissistic--journals. He transcribed the conversation more or less verbatim, inasmuch as you can trust anything a serial killer writes. Every journalist has an agenda. Bellamo's was to glorify himself.)
"Laundry," Bellamo records that he replied.
Mrs. Bellamo, it must be reported, was no dummy. Family accounts, even adjusted for the rosiness imparted by forty years of hindsight, all agree that the old lady was sharp as a tack until her dying day. They also agree that Michael never lifted a finger around the house.
So why did she merely give Michael--as he records--a gimlet eye, and sniff from her perch on the penultimate step before declaring, "You would pick the day our Celia doesn't come home to do one nice thing for your mother."
As if that were a bad thing, Michael Bellamo wrote in his journal, dated 6/1/72. For a guy to help out his mom. 1
Despite her grandmother's careful euphemism, the problem wasn't merely that Celia Falcone hadn't come home.
It was that the police had just taken her mother and father--Michael's mother's sister and her husband--to identify the body.
Michael Bellamo was tall, handsome, and dark-haired. He was a B student during his high school career. Teachers said he was bright, but didn't apply himself. He told his widowed mother that he was debating college or trade school and wanted to take a year off, which was why he was working part-time as a bagger at a neighborhood grocery and living with his mother and grandmother.
And he had been sexually abusing his female cousins--there were about a dozen in the sprawling Bellamo/Falcone/Tagliabue clan--since he was approximately thirteen years old.
These crimes were never reported and never prosecuted because he kept it in the family. We may wonder, charitably, if the blind eye so turned was a case of unconscious denial. What we cannot wonder about is what his grandmother, the widowed matriarch of the clan, did next.
On the day her granddaughter was murdered and found dumped in Colt Park, on the banks of the Connecticut River, Mrs. Bellamo discovered her grandson performing household cleaning that he otherwise would have disdained. As near as my team were able to determine, she never reported this incident, and went to her grave (in 1991) without ever discussing it.
Michael recorded that when she asked what he was washing and he told her "sheets," she explained to him the proper way in which to add the bleach.
It's not conclusive, of course, but it's suggestive. If she had reported it, it might have been enough to link Michael to what we now believe to have been his first murder, thus saving the lives of at least twenty-seven other young women--not to mention preventing the continuation of his abuse and the extension of its legacy to his cousins, his wife, and eventually his daughters.
Does Serafina Bellamo bear some of the culpability for her grandson's crimes? Maybe not. My years in the FBI have made me loath to assign blame or even particularly complex motives to people I do not know well and have not interviewed. So no, she is not culpable.
But if you asked me if she bore some of the guilt... that's a question I could answer in the simple affirmative. Or at least with a hell of a lot less temporizing.
Whatever the reason for Mrs. Bellamo's choice, it ensured that Celia Falcone was merely the first to die. And Celia Falcone's death--or more precisely the investigation into her death--scared Bellamo into better covering his tracks.
It's a truism of investigations of serial murder that most of the usual tricks don't work. Most murders are solved--if they will be solved--in the first forty-eight hours after they are committed. But serial murders are often cold, cold, cold by the time the authorities become involved. Most murders are crimes of passion; somebody who loves or hates or fears or desires or wishes to be free of somebody else, or who owes them money, or who is owed money by them, realizes that if they just bump the bastard off, they'll never have to try to explain their decisions to him or her again. Serial murders are crimes of opportunity: the right victim in the right place at the right time, with the right level of vulnerability.
Bellamo learned from his near miss. He'd learned that it was safe to rape family members, because they could be effectively silenced--by shame, by social pressure, by his mother's and grandmother's unwillingness to hear the truth. But it was not safe to kill someone and leave the body where it could be discovered. Especially someone who could be linked to him by blood or passion.
He'd learned that he needed to get smart.
When the Anomalous Crimes Task Force "away team" arrived in Hartford in August of 2012, we did not know the case we were about to become involved in would lead us to a forty-year-old series of serial killings. We were riding high off a recent success with the Morrison case in Chicago, and feeling something closer to full strength with the return of Hafidha Gates to field work and the full-time addition of Arthur Tan to the team.
The Hartford PD request that had brought us in was actually in regards to a disappearance that they suspected might be linked to a pair of cold cases--one murder, one missing person--connected because they involved members of the same household. Acting on the advice of SSA Lau, the BAU had recently expanded the remit of cases we were encouraged to investigate to include those that showed a pattern of crimes involving family members or members of a social group.
The recent disappearance was that of Serafina Bellamo. The cold crimes were the murder of Celia Falcone in 1972 and the disappearance of Michael Bellamo in 2010, shortly following his divorce.
Hartford, the capital of the state of Connecticut, is a fairly typical mid-sized Eastern city in post-millennial transition. Situated roughly a third of the way from Boston to New York City, its population is a little over a hundred thousand souls as of this writing--but the population of the metro area is over 1.2 million. As one might surmise from these statistics, its small geographic area and decades of white flight have left it largely a commuter city, with the remaining residents struggling with poverty and lack of services. Hartford has struggled to define itself in the modern era.
Our team arrived at Brainard Airport at 1:15 am on a Friday in August. As we disembarked into the darkest hour of night, more than one of us remarked upon an oppressive stickiness that hung over the tarmac, holding the reek of petrochemicals close to the earth.
We were seven: SSA Brady, SSA Falkner, SA Villette, SSA Gates, SSA Lau, SA Tan, and myself. There had been some discussion of leaving SA Tan behind at the Hoover building to learn the anchor position. He'd served in that capacity for the regular BAU, but the W.T.F.'s needs were--as you might expect--somewhat different. However, in the end he accompanied us into the field.
As desperately as we all missed Daphne Worth--her absence was still the kind of hole where we'd catch ourselves creating the silence in the conversation that her remark should have filled--it was inexpressibly good to have Gates back on the job. We were starting to wear back in around her, to lose our wariness--even Brady. There was every evidence that the treatments had successfully reversed the progress of her disease, at least partially, and every test, every scan, showed positive results. She would always have to be careful--we would always have to be careful--but the evidence was seeming to offer a better and better chance that Gates could live a full and functional life.
We were met at the bottom of the steps from the aircraft by Marina Ruiz, the Hartford P.D. detective who had been in contact with Lau and Falkner. A slight woman with a creamy complexion and impressive forearms, she offered firm handshakes all around. I happen to recall that Gates and Villette were engaged in their usual debate about where to go to get edible takeout at two in the morning.
Ruiz winced, obviously having overheard. "I'm afraid Hartford's options are limited. But... Pietro's delivers pizza until 3 am on Thursdays. If we call ahead--"
"Spoken like a true police officer," Villette replied. "Lead us to the pizza."
"And the car," said Lau. "We're eager to hit the ground running."2
The Hartford Police Headquarters is a squat, sprawling red brick building that resembles a public high school built in the 1970s. It inhabits the bitter end of Jennings Road, in the industrial North Meadows neighborhood where its neighbors include Interstate 91, the city landfill, a strip club, several car dealerships, a school bus parking lot, and the sort of "boutique" where patrons may enjoy some alone time in private booths provided at the back. In the middle of the night, it's an eerie place, especially limned in a police van's headlights.
Detective Ruiz parked our incomparably elegant conveyance behind the cop shop and led us inside. As has become customary, our home away from home was a repurposed conference room--but it had plenty of table space, a plug for Gates' laptop, and its own coffee maker--and, by the time we'd settled in, a pile of pizza boxes that left Ruiz tilting her head like a quizzical doe.
"There's plenty for you," Gates said, as she pulled the box of a large pepperoni with extra cheese and fresh garlic in front of her chair.
"I'll bring friends," Ruiz said, but she did take a slice on a paper plate. 3
As the team ate, we reviewed what we knew against what Ruiz could tell us, as is our standard procedure. While we review case files thoroughly in transit, there are often details that emerge during personal conversation that investigating officers deemed too fiddly, too unsubstantiated, too insignificant, or too weird to be entered into the formal case notes.
In this case, Ruiz confirmed what we had already known. But she did have some further information. She was able to inform us that while Michael Bellamo, the missing person of two years ago, had never been charged, he'd been a person of interest in several investigations over the years--beginning with the murder of his cousin Celia, the older of the two cold cases linked to the current disappearance.
"We all know the son of a bitch was raping underage girls," she said. "I checked with cops that retired as far back as 1982. The investigating officer on Falcone's murder--Bobby Raimen, rest his soul--interviewed Bellamo twice. But he never had enough to hold him, never mind charging him. And nobody else has even gotten that close. He seemed to have a knack for picking girls who'll clam up about it."
"Successful predators often do," Lau said between fork-and-knife mouthfuls of veggie pizza.
Ruiz grimaced at her uneaten pizza. "His wife left him back in 2009, taking a son and a daughter with her. We never could get the ex-wife to help us out, and she's moved to... Brazil, some place. She got uncontested full custody in exchange for an NDA, we're guessing, and a pile of money."
Lau put her fork down, eyes narrowing. I could see her working for compassion.
"God only knows why Grandma Serafina let him move back in. She already had a couple of great-grandkids in residence, and Michael had a pretty good career as a carpenter going." Ruiz pushed the paper plate away with the back of her fingertips, a slow headshake revealing her opinion of Grandma Serafina's custodianship.
I know I wasn't the only one that caught the significant lift of Falkner's chin.
As with Wisconsin's Ed Gein and Georgia's John Wayne Boyer, it's not uncommon for serial offenders--killers, rapists--who can't manage a romantic relationship with a woman to live with a female relative. It provides security, a pose of normalcy, and a sort of smoke screen. And for those who, due to their mental and emotional disturbances, are incapable of earning a livelihood, duping a nurturing woman into caring for them is the best available path to financial security.
We ascertained that Grandma Serafina was the same Serafina Bellamo whose disappearance we were investigating--and that body or no body, Ruiz was pretty certain we were looking at a murder. Bellamo, she said, was the sort of elderly widow who sank deep roots and held her family close around her. She was in her nineties now--if she was still alive--and lived in the same house her husband had bought for her as a blushing bride of nineteen. She'd outlived two of her five children, and several of her grandchildren.
"Not the sort of old lady who just wanders off," Ruiz said, with the assurance of someone who has one or two like that in her own family.
"We'll want to go to the house," Falkner said. "What's its status?"
Ruiz informed us that it was being held as a potential crime scene. Two of Serafina Bellamo's great-granddaughters had still been in residence, one a divorcee with two kids of her own, but the Red Cross had arranged to put them up in a local Red Roof Inn for a couple of days. The great-granddaughters were Aimee Shays and Antonia Fisher4, cousins rather than sisters. The great-great-grandkids were Shays' children David and Cindy Mehta, both under age five.
"The toddler did it," Agent Gates said, starting on her second pizza while Brady reached across her to liberate several slices. "I'll offer even odds."
"My money's on Michael Bellamo," Brady answered.
"He's dead," said Lau.
Villette answered, "Like that stopped anybody."
Ruiz laughed, and I think she began to relax. It must have seemed that the team were clowning for her. I knew they were carrying on an earnest conversation under her nose. "Do you want to go out to the house in the morning?"
I remember Falkner glancing at the last bite of crust in her hand and dropping it on a grease-stained paper plate. "Agent Lau, Agent Brady and I will go now. The rest of you finish and get set up here."
There's no mystery remaining regarding what they found, and it would be precious to pretend otherwise. Certain passages of Bellamo's journals were leaked, and quoted in the press--and other aspects were quoted and paraphrased at the trial. But how they found them is a story that deserves telling.
Agent Brady's knack for reading a scene is no more mysterious, really, than an experienced cook's ability to taste a sauce and understand what ingredients will supply the flavor notes it's missing. He's interviewed hundreds of serial killers and gammas; he has visited thousands of crime scenes. Long-term familiarity, in other words, translates to understanding. He may not be able to put in words exactly how he knows what he knows, but that's because it develops from uncounted associations carried out in his subconscious.
Agent Lau told me later that he walked through the house once, flipping light switches with a plastic glove, and slowly made his way to the bedrooms that had been inhabited by the Bellamos, Shays, Fisher, and the Mehta children. Serafina Bellamo had surrendered the master bedroom to Michael some years before, and taken up residence on the ground floor in deference to her advancing age. Shays and her children had the two larger of the remaining bedrooms and their connecting bath; Fisher, who was fourteen, had a smaller room in the finished attic--little more than a closet with a single window, wide enough for a student bed, a desk, and a chair. Storage was a trunk at the foot of the bed and two tiers of built-in drawers under it.
Michael Bellamo's bedroom had been searched by the police after his disappearance. They had found nothing suspicious then, although Ruiz mentioned that the investigating officers thought it extremely clean--"You could smell the Pine-Sol."
The downstairs bathroom--the one that would have been Serafina's--boasted a large, pink bathtub bristling with grab bars for the safety of infirm persons climbing in and out. Brady found the concealed hatch that allowed access to the pipes serving it--and there, between the bottom of the tub and the basement's drop ceiling, was a large, square bundle wrapped in heavy duty lawn-and-leaf bags and black electrical tape.
Later fingerprint analysis confirmed it likely that it was Serafina who had hidden her grandson's murder journals there.
With some assistance from the rest of us, Agent Villette--the team graphologist--processed the journals while Falkner, Lau, and Tan began interviewing family members. Agent Gates was running down the personal details and identities of Michael Bellamo's victims as Villette found references to each one. Agent Brady and I sat across the table from Gates and Villette, compiling additional interview lists--at least until Villette stumbled across the passage that revealed what Michael Bellamo had done with the bodies of his later victims.
His jaw worked as he glanced up and found Ruiz, bent over a map while Brady explained to her the rudiments of how to run a geographical analysis. When she met his gaze, he asked, "Marina... does Hartford have some kind of an underground river?"
"Crap," Brady said. "You know there was a canoe in the Bellamo's back yard?"
A park and series of walkways run through meadows hugging the western bank of the Connecticut River. In the south part of the city, not far from Serafina Bellamo's home, those trails lie on reclaimed land nearly in the shadow of the Colt Armory, a historic firearms factory, which is a local landmark for its incongruous blue-and-gold onion dome.
Dawn found Marina Ruiz, myself, and the rest of the ACTF's away team wearing helmets and headlamps, dragging rented kayaks to the boat launch at the water's edge. We paddled against the current under shading trees, a scatter of brilliant orange and red and blue crawling along the river bank until we reached the edge of an enormous pair of arched, hollow concrete rectangles--the outflow culvert of the buried Park River. Reflected light dappled the ceiling more than ten feet above, moving with the water, until the depths of the culvert vanished into darkness.
"River's low," Ruiz commented. "If you happen to notice the ceiling getting close... turn around and get out fast." She flipped her headlamp on with a touch, tugged her life vest down, and with a flourish of her paddle arrowed her kayak into the dank-smelling blackness. Agent Villette was right behind her, with Lau and Gates riding his wake. I was not surprised to learn that any of those three knew their way around a paddle: Gates grew up in Hawaii and Lau in California, and if there's an outdoor sport that Villette does not excel at, it's because he has not heard of it yet. Brady, Falkner, Tan, and I brought up the rear, paddling furiously and trying not to blind one another with our lamps.
What I hadn't been prepared for was the noise. The sound of the water, of our voices, of our paddles dipping and rising was caught, and amplified, and echoed. Reflection off the rippled, moving water gave sounds a shimmery quality, like the daylight we rapidly passed away from. I thought about how much it would hurt to fire a gun in here, and hoped everything we were about to discover was as cold and dead and piteous as Michael Bellamo's journals suggested.
Ahead, Gates hesitated. Villette tapped her kayak with his paddle. "Problem?"
"No internet down here," Gates replied. "Reminds me of the burrow."
I wondered what Ruiz made of that, but I could barely make out the words over the echoes. Maybe she hadn't heard them. Either way, she just kept paddling.
Good advice for life.
The current wasn't bad; as long as we paddled steadily we made headway. Our lamps illuminated stained concrete walls and oily water. The Park River was a typical urban waterway, filthy and neglected. It had been buried in 1940 by the Army Corps, and from the smell of it I believed the Wikipedia article that said it sometimes carried sewage overflows.
We passed a bullfrog as big as my hand, swimming steadily downstream, and I resisted the urge to scoop it up into my kayak for a rescue. At least it was headed in the right direction.
Occasionally, we passed a gap in one of the side walls, and one of us would paddle over to examine it. They all proved empty except for trash and slime and black water.
We paddled for what seemed like a long time, through curving concrete vaults that amplified every sound. The walls fell away, replaced by a series of concrete pillars in a vast, vaulted chamber. I knew from my research that this was the confluence chamber, where the North and South branches of the Park River met.
Here there was a slope up to a deep pit--an overflow channel--and several barred gates. And a gravel bar with grooves in it: signs that other people had beached canoes and kayaks there.
It was obvious that the water was not deep enough past this point for the kayaks, and so we followed suit. Graffiti brightened the gray walls wherever our headlamps fell. This was obviously not such a remote destination.
Agent Brady kept his lip from curling, but only just. "You want me to walk into that water?"
Agent Gates made a gesture that would have tossed her braids back, once. "I'm the princess on this team. You get in your hip waders."
Princess or not, she was the first one into the water. It didn't reach over the tops of our hiking boots, a luxury for which we were all grateful as we slogged upstream, keeping to the left. The North channel was dangerous--a plant discharged boiling water into it at unpredictable intervals--and we were hoping to find Michael Bellamo's tragic cache on this side. If not, we'd backtrack and take our chances.
A sinuous gray shape writhed away us, slithering between stones. I thought it was a snake at first, but caught the outline of fins just as Gates murmured, "Mmm. Unagi. Who wants to fire up the hibachi?"
"Damn," Villette said. "I knew we forgot something."
Brady's ostentatious gagging noises echoed just as well as the splashing did.
We walked on gravel, or along the slanted concrete margins of the river, for only a few more hundred yards. It seemed like more in the pitch dark, with the uneven footing.
Agent Tan was the first to find the break in the wall. He called out, and we gathered around. A rusted steel door closed the gap, which was partially concealed behind falling water from an overhead inflow--storm drain or buried tributary.
We had pry bars, but as it turned out, they weren't necessary. Somebody else had broken the rusted hasp--long enough ago that all the bright surfaces had rusted again. Tan glanced over at Falkner--his light flashed across my eyes--but Brady was already moving forward.
When he bent his back and hauled the door and then the grate behind it open with a series of screeching noises not unlike what you might expect from a harpy in a leg-hold trap, we knew we'd found the right place before any of us shone our lamps inside.
The smell of decay is unmistakable.
The badly decomposed body of Michael Bellamo lay beside the fresher corpse of his grandmother, but they were not the most interesting things in the tomb. Once the crime scene techs had come down to process the (wet, miserable, horribly contaminated) scene, we realized that the Bellamos were not alone.
Under them were the bodies of twenty-seven girls between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, more or less lazily entombed in crumbling, hastily mixed concrete that had never cured particularly well in the dense humidity of the underworld.
"Great," Tan said. "So Michael Bellamo killed all the girls. I don't think Serafina killed Michael, and I am positive that a ninety-year-old woman didn't haul a two hundred pound corpse down the riverbank into a boat and paddle him out here, then wrestle him into that hole. And even if she did by some miracle accomplish that... who killed Serafina?"
"That's what we're here to find out," said Falkner, beginning to flip through the first of what would eventually be twenty-nine autopsy reports.
Thirty, once I ventured into the morgues--paper, not people--and recovered Celia Falcone's.
While I was up to my generative organs in file boxes, Falkner rejoined Lau, Brady, and Tan in continuing interviews with various members and collaterals of the Bellamo dynasty. Gates and Villette, the information specialists, had begun the enormous task of digesting the paperwork and computer documentation associated with the case, seeking out patterns and inconsistencies--and patterns in the inconsistencies. It was terrible scutwork, but they were more capable than the rest of the team put together.
When I dragged up the stairs, smeared in gray dust and clutching a battered manila folder triumphantly to my chest, my burst of optimism quailed before the expressions of Gates and Villette. I placed the folder on the table before them and dropped into a chair.
The silence dragged for several moments. "Spill it," I said.
They shared a look. Then Villette pushed himself back from the table on derrick arms, the wheels of his chair skipping on the carpet protector.
"Drew Pennicuik5," he said.
I know I swore. Because I was pretty sure what the rest of that sentence was going to contain.
"Let me guess," I said. "Garrotted?"
"In his bed," Gates confirmed.
"The thing that eats T. rexes strikes again," said Villette. "I hate splitting the team."
I tried to find it in myself to feel grief, and couldn't. Pity was easier. I asked if they had informed Falkner yet and was informed that Lau and Brady were already enroute to Boston--a mere two hours or so by car from Hartford. I think I arose and busied myself with the coffee pot while saying something to the effect that it wasn't the first time we'd had to work two cases at once.
Villette's frown carved lines across his face that looked like the evidence of long-term pain. "Reyes thinks that might have been his doing, too."
"What, Vermont and Minnesota?6"
Villette shrugged. Villette's shrugs could be a stone-wall brushoff, or more eloquent than most people's soliloquys. This one was particularly ornate, using his attenuated frame to best advantage. It sparked a response drawn from all my years of journalistic experience, though.
"The problem with conspiracy theories and Mission: Impossible plots is they assume the greatest truism of military history is incorrect."
"A plan never survives contact with the enemy?" Gates asked. "Or an army travels on its stomach?'"
I recollect that this pleased me enormously.
"So we're postulating a gamma that can--what, control other people's reactions?" I said. "He makes a move and he can make his target make the predetermined counter-move?"
Villette gave Gates a guilty glance, which I could read but did not understand. She did not seem to notice.
He said, "That's a possibility, but there are others."
I opened the Falcone file. "Your apex predator gives me the wiggins."
He snorted and said, "You and me both."
As soon as Martina Ruiz walked Antonia Fisher through the squad room and into Interview 2, my gut filled up with a horrible, sinking prescience I knew entirely too well. I happened to be standing next to Arthur Tan, watching him stir powdered creamer into a cup of oily coffee. We exchanged a glance, and he followed me into the observation room.
Fisher was a slender, forthright girl who wore body-concealing clothing and allowed her dark hair to fall long before her eyes. It's often easier for gammas to hide among the adolescent population--they tend toward skinny and ravenous under any circumstance. But when Marina left her in the interview room with a bag of Cheez-Its and a bottle of pop, the subject was remotely observed licking the inside of the foil snack package. Not indicative, certainly--but suggestive.
"Shit," Tan said, glancing at the file in his hand. "She's just turned seventeen."
Under Connecticut law, while Fisher was still a minor child, that meant that she was no longer considered a juvenile offender. And she was probably going to wind up a ward of the state, as her mother was nowhere to be found, her father unnamed on the birth certificate, and the great-grandmother who had been her legal guardian had been recovered from the sewers under Hartford.
"She's a minor," he said. "Is Shays still here? She needs an adult."
I thought the odds of Shays intervening on Fisher's behalf were slim, but people can surprise you. "I'll check. And if not... I'll get a social worker in."
As I was turning to leave the observation room, Tan cleared his throat. I looked back to find him staring fixedly at a point over my left shoulder. "Would you let Faulkner know I'd like the interview?"
"Sure," I said. "Any reason in particular?"
Tan turned back to the window. "She reminds me of my kid sister."
The door behind us cracked open, admitting a blade of light and Esther Falkner.
"Speak of the devil," I said.
She gave me one of her Mom Looks, subcategory explain yourself. I brought her up on the situation, and she replied that she'd see to it Shays was located, or brought back in if she'd gone home, as Falkner would prefer not to explain Fisher's potential gamma status to a social worker. "If the whole damned family has been keeping Michael's secrets all these years, I'd say she owes it to the kid."
While we were waiting for Faulkner to produce Shays, Villette let himself into the room, holding one of Michael Bellamo's journals. He glanced through the window at Fisher and frowned. "Where's Mom?"
"Bending Shays to her will."
Villette said, "Good." He didn't look away from the subject in custody as he did.
On the other side of the one-way mirror, Fisher was demolishing the large pizza, extra cheese, that Tan had brought in to her as an initial rapport-building offering, and also out of compassion. We were all too intimately familiar with jammer metabolisms to take Fisher's likely caloric requirements lightly.
"She looks good for a gamma," Villette said.
Fisher was scraping the cheese off the cardboard disk with her fingernails.
It seemed like a good time to distract him, so I asked about the journal. Wordlessly, he held it open to a page he seemed to find by feel. Anybody else would have been holding it marked with a thumb; I suspected Villette had just remembered how far into the journal it lay, and opened it to exactly that page by observation.
In a mechanical voice, Villette read.
I won't reproduce Michael Bellamo's words here, but they were obviously about Fisher... and Bellamo was obviously the sort of offender who journaled his crimes for the pleasure of reliving them.
When Villette finished, he looked at me, and I looked at him.
"Good catch," I said eventually, because there was nothing else I could say. "Show that to Artful7."
When Falkner returned, she had a cowed Shays in tow, and news from Boston. Lau and Brady were in agreement that our mysterious vigilante shadow had struck again--and they were left with as few leads as ever. As we had a suspect in custody, Agent Gates switched her efforts to helping the Boston team remotely, while Falkner and Villette rented a car and headed northeast.
Although Agent Gates joined me in the observation room with her laptop so Tan would have immediate access to both of us if he needed backup, Tan and I were left to handle the interview.
Special Agent Arthur Tan is a tall man, fit and broad-shouldered, with astonishing cheekbones. He can seem imposing, especially when he's wearing his Bureau-mandated armor of crisp seriousness. As a coworker, however, he demonstrates an easygoing playfulness that makes it simple to forget what an effective law enforcement officer he is. This time, in interviewing Fisher, he took that playfulness into the room with him.
The Reid Technique would have had two interviewers in the room with her, sitting in such a way that she could not face both of them at once. In dealing with a presumed juvenile gamma of unknown capabilities and a known traumatic past, Tan and I decided that it would be best to offer her a supportive environment.
This was an unusual case for us. Often, the manifestation leads us to the existence of the gamma in the first place. But this time we'd followed a pattern of mysteries to a locus, and as a result we did not know exactly what we were dealing with. We guessed her power did not involve doing injury to others, because by then we knew that both Michael and Serafina Bellamo had died from a series of blows to the head, the first of each delivered from the rear and most likely by surprise.
"She's probably one of the sneaky ones," had been Villette's opinion, before he left. I considered him uniquely qualified to speculate, and I judged it was probably the best for his own emotional well-being that Faulkner needed him in Boston.
When you deal with the sort of crimes that we do, the Bureau has learned that there needs to be no shame in seeking support. While the sort of self-sufficient personalities that wind up in federal law enforcement can be difficult to convince, we are expected to need help, and we are expected to get it. There have been enough emotional and physical breakdowns as a result of exposure to the horrors the BAU and the ACTF deal with that very few people who work there retain the opinion that it's humanly possible just to tough it out--although, of course, we all tend to make exceptions for ourselves, and hold ourselves to unreasonable standards. That's human nature, and it's why we look out for each other.
We'd discussed the possibility that Michael Bellamo had been a gamma as well, that he'd seeded the victims of his abuse with the potential to convert. But there was no indication of the dietary or physiological markers of long-term gammahood, and while we were open to being proven wrong, we were operating under the assumption that Fisher had picked up her inoculation somewhere else, and that Bellamo had merely provided the break that led to full-blown flowering. It wasn't as if a child abandoned by both parents had a lack of opportunity for trauma.
People raised to abuse respond along a spectrum. Some lose the ability to form emotional bonds, or do so only with enormous difficulty. And for others, the boundaries so often trespassed do not reinforce: they collapse.
From the moment Tan walked into the interview room, re-introduced himself, and sat down, I suspected that Fisher was one of the latter. We had moved the table out to prevent Fisher from using it as a weapon if she became stressed during the interview. She had a plastic chair, and Tan had another. He sat down across from her and offered her a paper box of fried chicken--I remember that the smell was driving me crazy, and I could imagine how a jammer would feel--and I noticed that she made a clumsy, adolescent point of brushing his hand and arm with her fingers as she took it.
Although I observed his face closely for any sign that her special abilities might be carried by touch, he registered only mild surprise. Then he leaned back in his chair, making his body language as open and non-threatening as possible, and waited until she was done eating to begin asking questions. What she did not know, of course, was that the interview had commenced when he began building rapport--the instant he walked into the room.
8If Fisher were a little older, she might have invoked her Fifth Amendment rights immediately. But she was too inexperienced to have learned that the only decent strategy for dealing with the police is to invoke immediately, invoke often, and break that silence exactly long enough to lawyer up. So when Tan briefly folded his hands in front of his mouth before lowering them to say, "So we know your cousin Michael was a pretty bad man, Antonia," she responded.
"We found his diary. There's no guessing about it. He was horrible, and what he did to you and to your cousins was horrible."
"Well, he's gone now," Fisher said. "Whatever he did, it doesn't matter anymore, right? He took off."
We had not yet informed the family that we'd recovered his body, and I saw Fisher's eyes flicker to Tan's face as she judged his response to the narrative she was floating. Interviewing is a process of finding the narrative that the subject can accept. By this, we mean not the narrative of what happened, because (ideally, though the system is most definitely subject to abuses) the physical facts are no longer in dispute by the time the subject leaves the interview room, but the narrative of why it happened.
To obtain a confession, in other words, the interviewing officer must figure out what story the subject is telling him or herself about what happened, and use that to elicit a confession.
Tan said, "You know he wasn't just bad to his family, Antonia."
She shrugged and lowered her head. She'd set the empty box full of gnawed chicken bones beside her chair, and now she leaned over to pick it up again. Hiding her face with her hair, she ran her finger around the inside of the box repeatedly, and repeatedly licked it, harvesting any smear of grease or crumb of breading.
"I guess," she said.
"You do know he was worse to some other people. Your cousin Michael killed a lot of women, Antonia."
She shrugged. She dropped the box. A crumpled napkin fell out and she kicked it away with the side of her sneaker.
"I don't care about Michael. He's gone."
"And your great-grandmother? She's gone too?"
"Michael probably got rid of her." She pushed her hair behind her shoulder and smiled up at Tan through her lashes. I guessed she didn't know another way of interacting with a man, and I felt a wave of fury at Michael Bellamo mingled with despair that Fisher might never get a chance to learn other ways of relating. The staff at Idlewood are generally dedicated and conscientious, but Idlewood is not much future for a seventeen-year-old girl.
Tan said, "Antonia, we know that's not so."
He produced a file folder from inside his coat and opened it across his knees. There were autopsy photos inside--not the worst of them, but bad enough. I'd printed them, and they were enough to make you think you could smell something: Michael and Serafina Bellamo laid out on steel tables, awaiting the ministrations of one of our forensic colleagues.
Her attempt at flirtation dissolved as she turned her face away from the photos, lifting her chin in distaste, closing her eyes.
"We know when Michael died," Tan said. "We know when Serafina died. We know you killed them, and that you transported the bodies to Michael's dump site in the canoe. We've got a team doing forensics on the canoe right now, Antonia. Blood doesn't wash out. You can scrub it, you can pour bleach on it. We can still find traces, and tell who they came from9.
"We know what he did to you, Antonia. We know what he did to your mother, and to all the other women. And we know Serafina covered up for him. It was self-defense. What you did was self-defense. We know that. We know how hard it was for you to control these desires you have to hurt people who deserve it. We know how hard you fought. We have ways to help you, if you let us. We know almost everything. We know."
Tan looked at Fisher with total conviction, total commiseration. I couldn't tell if he was saying what he thought or offering a narrative. Come to think of it, I supposed it didn't have to be one or the other.
He held out a hand. She stared at it for seconds, and I thought at first he had pushed her too far, too fast. But she reached out and--wincing--took his hand.
This time, the expression of concerned surprise on his face was evident enough to be comical.
She said, "They needed to die."
"I believe you."
She sighed--relief--and sat back, releasing him. He rubbed his wrist absently. He said, "There's one thing I don't know."
She cocked her head, curious. They were on the same side now. She could do him a favor, reveal a secret.
"How did you know where he hid the bodies?"
Her smile turned to a thing of frost and barbed wire. "He showed me," she said. "So I'd know what would happen to me if I ever told anyone."
When Tan came out of the interview room, he shut the door behind him and leaned against it, as if to use his own weight as a barricade to keep Fisher--or more precisely, the awfulness that Fisher had endured--within. He closed his eyes. I saw his hands curl into fists, though he kept them down at his sides.
Then he opened his eyes again and straightened up with a sigh. "Got her," he said, without satisfaction.
Then, in a conversational tone--either shock, I guessed, or iron self-control--he asked, "You ever run up against one that couldn't touch you before?"
"Luke Eriksen," I answered. "Chicago. I'll pull you the paperwork."
He nodded, barely, his eyes focused past me. I felt like I had to explain. As if that would help. "Some manifestations show up a lot. Invisibility. Transmutation. Mind control. The details vary with mythology."
"It feels like there's a layer of oil all over her. Like you can't quite touch her, and if you closed your hand she'd squirt away like a watermelon seed."
"Damn," Gates said. She'd been so quiet behind her laptop that I'd almost forgotten she was there. Now she was looking up at both Tan and I with bright eyes. "She's a tough little girl."
I pointed to the notebooks. "She only killed the people who deserved it. She held out."
Gates nodded. I noticed the pinch of her cheeks and went to mix her a triple hot cocoa at the coffee station. I added a shot of cream before I handed it to her, but she just warmed her hands against the cup.
"Strength of character," I said. "Maybe she'll be a candidate for rehab, like Susannah." Like you and Eddie Cieslewicz, I thought but did not add.
I wondered how long it would be before other Idlewood inmates would join Cieslewicz and Gates in the pilot program.
Gates stared down at her keyboard. She held her hands in the air to either side of it like a freeze-framed orchestra conductor. She'd always had strategies for holding the rest of us at arm's length; the new one was a doozy.
She said, "Don't kid yourself, sweetie. It's not a cure. Every morning I wake up with Cruella DeVil in my head asking why it's wrong to want a puppyskin coat."
I should have shut up, like Tan did--but Tan's probably smarter than me. Instead I said, "But you tell her something."
Only then did she meet my eyes. "I tell her Chaz wouldn't like it. That's all. I have no idea what he tells his."
The Boston team did not uncover any significant leads in the hunt for our serial vigilante.
1 Significant portions of Bellamo's diaries have been excerpted and may be read in Sex-Related Homicide and Death Investigation: Practical and Clinical Perspectives by Vernon Geberth, 3rd edition, CRC Press, forthcoming 2015 (in press as of this writing)
2 Per recollections of S.A. Charles Villette, as discussed in Ch. 1.
3 From my own notes. Unattributed conversations in this chapter are reconstructed from a combination of sources, and are subject to the usual errors and infelicities of eyewitness testimony.
4 The name of this underage person has been changed to protect her privacy
5 naming the UNSUB from Boston discussed in Chapter 14
6 The alias-Henry-Clark and Guy Nadon cases, respectively in Paine Lake MN and Danville VT, January 2008. Discussed in Chapter 10
7 Arthur Tan's Bureau nickname
8 Eyewitness accounts are what they are, and that means unreliable. While I have reviewed the tapes and transcripts of Tan's interview of Fisher, I can say with certainty that everybody who was present that day--me, Agent Tan, Agent Gates, Detective Ruiz, and Ms. Fisher herself--would give a different version of events. What follows is my own subjective interpretation of events. As, I suppose, is everything within these pages--but somehow in the case of a minor child who had already suffered so much, I find I need to make an even finer distinction than usual.
9 The FBI owes a great burden of gratitude to crime scene forensics television. As with profiling, the science is presented as so infallible in the public media that the mythology itself serves us as a lever in interrogations.