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9

The scheduled meeting place was one of those plasticized restaurants, part of a chain, that always look and smell the same no matter where you find them. Bolan took a corner booth away from the broad front window and sat facing the doors. He was working on his first cup of mediocre coffee when Fran Traynor entered.

She glanced around the cafe, then spotted Bolan and crossed quickly to his booth. She slid in opposite him, and they sat quietly until a waitress delivered Fran's coffee.

She sipped at it and finally spoke.

"I've been thinking about what you said," she told him.

"What did you decide?"

She hesitated. "At first, nothing, but I wanted to keep digging on my own. Now... well... I'm thinking that you may be right."

Bolan was curious. "What changed your mind?"

Bolan noticed the slightest tremble in her hands as she set her cup down.

"After you left," she began, "I put through a call to a friend of mine on the rape squad. She really helped me get the unit started in the first place. She told me that all the eyewitness sketches of our Blancanales rape suspect have been withdrawn."

Bolan's frown was deep with anger.

"You have an idea who's behind this?"

The lady cop was nodding energetically.

"Jack Fawcett," she snapped, "it has to be. But I can't prove it right now. I know it sounds foolish. Women's intuition, and all that..."

"Not necessarily," Bolan said. "How much trouble would it be to have another sketch made?''

"No need," she said, flashing him a conspiratorial smile, and with a flourish she pulled a small rectangular card from her handbag, sliding it across the Formica table top to Bolan.

He examined the sketch closely, taking in the portrait of a long-faced young man, eyes set wide apart on either side of an aquiline nose, the mouth a narrow, almost lipless slit. The entire face was framed by hair worn fashionably long, hiding the ears.

There were no distinguishing marks or scars of any kind. Nothing to set that face apart from any of several thousand others on the streets of St. Paul and neighboring communities.

Bolan stared long and hard at the facsimile face, trying to see inside and behind it, to get a feel of its owner, but there was nothing there. The lifeless face stared blankly back at him.

Fran Traynor seemed to read his secret thoughts.

"Not a lot, is it?" she said.

"Not much."

"Except," she said, lowering her voice almost to a whisper, "I think I may have narrowed it down a bit."

Bolan stared at her.

"I have a friend on the unit who's been trying to call me since about the time you... that we went to the motel. The canvass of local sanitariums was completed last night ahead of schedule."

Bolan felt excitement growing in him.

"We have four possibilities," she revealed, "all of them committed to institutions within the past two years and escaped during the relevant periods."

"I wouldn't have thought that many." Bolan frowned.

"Wait a second," she continued. "We can narrow it further. One of the four is dead, and two others are back inside. That leaves one."

She looked pleased with herself. Fran sat back in the booth and drained her cup.

Bolan kept his tone deliberate and cautious.

"You're assuming the Blancanales rapist and your lady-killer are one and the same," he said. "But if that assumption is wrong, the two survivors still inside stay on the suspect list. Without a positive tie-in, either one could be your murderer."

Fran shook her head in a firm negative.

"No chance, La Mancha," she said stubbornly. "I know this is our man."

"All right, let's have it."

She gave him the recitation without consulting her notebook, holding his eyes with hers as she reeled off the facts from memory, chapter and verse.

"Courtney Gilman, age twenty-three, originally committed by his family two and a half years ago. That's soon after the first murder. He took a walk eleven months later — just before the second and third killings. Within a month he was back inside, for another eighteen months. He escaped again, and we had murders four and five before the family brought him back."

"Where is he now?" Bolan asked, certain he already knew the answer.

"Nobody knows," Fran told him. "He decked an attendant and hit the streets eleven days ago. That's one week before the attack on Toni Blancanales."

"Okay," Bolan said. "This does sound promising. But it's still from a circumstantial viewpoint. What would Fawcett or anyone else have to gain by covering for your suspect?"

The lady cop looked surprised at his question.

"What? Oh, of course, you wouldn't know. Courtney Gilman is the only child of Thomas Gilman."

She waited, expecting some reaction from the Executioner. It was not forthcoming. His blank expression told her that she wasn't making herself understood.

"Tom Gilman is a senior state legislator," she said at last. "Street talk has it he may be our next governor. He's got all the marks."

"So we're talking about some sort of political arrangement," Bolan summarized.

"Possibly," Fran agreed. "Or blackmail — I don't know. At least it's an angle."

"It needs more checking, Fran. Where do I find this Gilman?"

"Gilman senior? Right here in St. Paul. I think he's originally from somewhere upstate, snow country. But we're the state capital here... where the action is, you know?"

"He's worked his way up from councilman to the legislature, and the word is he won't be satisfied short of the statehouse. If his son is our man..."

"If he is," Bolan cautioned.

"Okay, right," the lady said, nodding. "Mr. Gilman could lose everything if the media pegged him as the father of a murdering maniac. He might try to make a deal... something... with Fawcett, or someone higher up."

Bolan thought for a moment.

"We're flying blind now," he said. "I need more than speculation before I hang the mark of the beast on a man."

"We can check it out," Fran insisted. "Confront Gilman."

Bolan shook his head.

"Not we, Fran. This is my game. You don't even know the rules."

She bristled at once. She fought to keep her voice down as she answered.

"I'm a police officer. This town is my territory, not yours. Who do you think..."

Bolan cut her off, quietly but firmly.

"You already suspect Fawcett, and if you're right, he couldn't run a scam like this alone. Who do you turn to?"

This time her response was hesitant, halting.

"I have friends on the rape squad..."

"And if there is a cover-up, highly placed, they can't do any more than you can on your own," he finished for her. "Let it go, Fran."

Her face was set in an expression of grim determination.

"No way, buster. I'm not handing this over to you feds on a silver platter. The department can clean its own skirts."

"It's already been handed over," he said with finality. "I'm sorry, Fran, but you're out. Accept it."

Bolan sympathized with the lady, sure, and he let her know it.

"You've been of help," he offered. "Believe it. You can be of more."

"Name it."

"Teach me about rape," he said simply.

She looked at him, making no reply.

"What makes this headcase tick?" he continued. "I need to be inside his head, to see where he lives."

"Careful," she said, her voice softening, "it's dark in there."

"Why does he rape and kill?" Bolan prodded.

"Why not start fires, say, or rob gas stations? Why the sex angle?"

Fran leaned toward him, raising a slim index finger.

"Rape is a crime of violence, not sexuality," she said, secure, on familiar ground now. "Think of it as a personal assault, no different really from a shooting, or a beating."

Bolan nodded his awareness.

"But what comes before the fact?" he asked.

"Maybe rapists are inferiority complex types," she replied, "driven by the need to assert themselves and exercise control over a captive audience.

"That's one theory, anyway. That they perform not sexually, but emotionally. Each attack reaffirms their identity, makes them somebody to be reckoned with. For those few moments, they exist — they cannot be ignored."

"Do many rapists kill?"

"No. Maybe one in a thousand will deliberately kill his victim. We're dealing with a special breed of cat."

"A woman hater?"

"Possibly, but not necessarily. He probably hates everybody, and most of all himself. He ambushes women at night because he doesn't have the brains to build bombs or the nerve to climb a tower and shoot it out with the police."

"You read a lot from one sketch," Bolan said.

Fran smiled.

"Don't forget the M.O.," she said. "These crimes are not only identical, they carry the killer's personality. With practice, you can read a crime like a signature."

Bolan nodded. He understood that, sure, from the hard-won experience of his wars overseas and against the domestic Mafia cannibals. They left their marks, all right, like some sort of fingerprint.

"Go on," he urged.

"Okay." She paused, collecting her thoughts. "This freak rapes his victims, and then he kills them with a knife. He mutilates them, but never sexually."

"Explain, Fran."

Another pause, and then she continued.

"Ninety-odd years ago, Jack the Ripper tried to shut down London's red light district single-handed. He never raped his victims, but he indulged in extensive mutilation. More often than not, sex organs were removed, and never found. Now, that is a sex fiend."

"And our headcase is no Ripper?" Bolan asked.

Fran shook her head firmly.

"No way. Oh, superficially there's a similarity, sure. But our man stabs and hacks without any real direction, without any sexual aim. He defaces his victims, diminishes them. And, thereby, he somehow enlarges himself."

"Is he insane?"

She shrugged. "Medically? Of course. Legally, who knows?"

"What happens if he's arrested?"

"That depends. Of course, if there is some kind of plot to cover for him, he could be committed quietly — again. And he's already escaped three times."

"What if he goes to trial, Fran?"

"Maybe the same thing. A state hospital instead of some private institution, but those places have revolving doors. He could be 'cured' and released in a few years. Possibly months."

Bolan's voice was cool, determined.

"Okay," he said, "you've helped."

"That's it? End of lesson?"

He smiled. "School's out. And thanks."

"For what?"

"Some insight, some direction," he answered. "I can get inside him now."

When she spoke again, Fran Traynor's voice was almost pleading with him.

"They're not stupid, you know. Psychos, I mean. They get reckless sometimes, but underneath they're frequently as clever as they are vicious."

Bolan nodded. "Okay. I'll be careful."

He didn't need to be told how clever — and dangerous — a maniac with a self-imposed mission could be.

Bolan rested a warm hand on the lady cop's shoulder for a moment, left some change on the table for their coffees, then left her alone. As he hit the street in his rented sedan, the lady was already out of his mind, crowded from his thoughts by the multitude of things that remained to be done before the curtain could ring down on St. Paul's bloody stage.

First, he needed to touch base with the Politician and see what he had learned about the registration of the two crew wagons. He would have to follow that lead wherever it took him, before he could fit all the pieces together in their final mosaic.

And beyond that?

Somewhere out there, in the large city just stirring into life with the warming rays of the morning sun, there was waiting for him a young man with a blank face and a seriously deranged mind.

That young man, and perhaps several more besides, had an unscheduled appointment with the Executioner.

It was one appointment that Mack Bolan was grimly determined to keep.


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