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12 January 2008 @ 23:30
Professional (2/?)  
Title: Professional (2/?)
Warnings: Possible violence, dark themes and sex in later chapters.
Pairing: Crawford x Schuldig.
Summary: A self-professed boy genius invites himself onto a high-profile murder case and is drawn to the darker world he discovers.
Notes: Chapter 1. Thanks to everyone who commented on the last chapter. I hope this one lives up to expectations. ^^

Professional // Chapter Two

"How did you do it?" Wolfe sunk his hands into his pockets and the corners of his mouth twitched upwards.

His smugness hid his fear. Or so he hoped. Just as he had done in the lab, he brushed his mind against the other man's. Everybody's mind had something unique about it, but this man's stood above them all. Instead of the usual dates, faces and fetishes he always found, he saw a barren landscape lit entirely in red and black. He probed further, wondering where knowledge and memories were stored and was forcibly ejected seconds later. He hadn't even learned the other man's name.

"It's Brad Crawford."

The first thing he noticed was that Crawford's accent wasn't English, as he had guessed. In fact, it sounded as if he came from a rural village within Germany. It clashed with his attempt at projecting the image of a city gentleman and Wolfe would have laughed if he wasn't terrified.

"A fine name," Wolfe said with a quick intake of breath that wasn't quite a gasp.

"Thank you, I chose it myself. Would you like a coffee?"

Wolfe nodded, torn between his eagerness to hear what this man had to say and his natural instincts. Really, he feared refusing him as much as he wanted to learn more.

They walked to a nearby café together and he noticed for the first time that it wasn't closed, just empty. Wolfe ordered for them both and kept his eye on the barista the whole time. He had realised too late that it might have been better to choose something other than coffee, a drink whose bitter taste could conceal poison.

It didn't matter. This man had the power to rip a man apart from a distance and simple poison didn't fit his modus operandi. At least, that's what Wolfe told himself as he took his first sip of caramel latte.

"How did you do it?" Wolfe repeated, putting his mug down on the table.

Crawford took a seat opposite and smiled. "How do you know I'm not another investigator?"

Because you scare me, Wolfe thought. "Because I can read your mind," he said, sure this wouldn't be new information to him.

"And what did you see?" asked Crawford, the hint of a smile flickering on his lips.

"All but your method."

Crawford took a sip of his Americano. "A lie," he said, his amusement remaining.

Wolfe drained his mug faster than he intended and wiped the stray drips away with his sleeve. He hated suits anyway and wore them only to improve other's reactions to him. Fewer migraines that way. "This conversation is over." He stood and placed both hands flat on the table in front of Crawford, looming over him. "But I will find out how you did it and I will see you put in jail."

"And how will you explain taking coffee with me? Also, you're in criminal profiling, not investigation. It isn't your job to find out how it was done."

"But I will. I'll do it easily because I'm not limited to what the masses know about the physical world. First, I'll find out what you're capable of and second, I'll hand you over."

Crawford reached into his pocket and produced a business card holder. He held it up with one hand, flicked it open with his thumb, drew out a card and teased it into position between his first and middle fingers. This took just one, smooth motion. "My busi—Oh," he said, feigning surprise. "Wasn't this conversation over?"

"It is now." Wolfe snatched the card away and looked at his prize. "English and... Japanese?" he asked, making a guess at the second language printed on it.

"That's right. I'm going to be transferred over there in a few weeks."

Land of the rising sun and tentacle porn. He was almost jealous. Wolfe looked at the card again, remembering to look at the name and profession this time.

The name on the card was Brad Crawford. If it was a pseudonym, as he had suggested, it was a fairly consistent one.

"'VIP Protection Services'?"

Crawford smiled at if that was some kind of private joke. "It means 'bodyguard'. Weren't you leaving?"

"I am!" he said, pocketing the business card and wondering how to phrase a question that was forming in the back of his mind. "One last thing... Where will 'the killer' strike next?"

The other man took a maddeningly slow sip of coffee before answering. He wasn't even halfway through his drink. "I fancy a trip to the countryside. I suppose he may strike there."

Wolfe made a note of this, not knowing if it was basic misdirection or something more sinister. As he walked away, Crawford called out to him.

"See you soon."

It didn't sound like a threat, but Wolfe interpreted it as such.

***

Wolfe had been too excited to really look at his new desk earlier. Now he could see it had obviously been hastily prepared and didn't match the grain or design of the other desks. The computer was the same spec as the others though and had the latest version of Netscape. He didn't have time to appreciate this, because something deep inside him lurched violently.

The adrenaline he hadn't realised had been flowing through him was wearing off. He heaved himself into his chair as soon as he realised his legs were going to give way.

What had he done?

He couldn't think much beyond that.

What had he done?

If Crawford was the killer, then he was a monster. And Wolfe was just as guilty.

The taste of sweet coffee rose in his throat.

"Are you okay?" asked Monaghan. He crouched beside Wolfe at his desk.

He could already feel the man's thoughts, viscous and patronising inside his skull. Too young, too young, they taunted.

"It's completely normal," Monaghan told him. "You see the case file and you feel fine. Then, somehow, at the scene of the crime it all goes to pieces."

"I think I saw him... the murderer."

Monaghan's face darkened. "What makes you say that?"

"I saw him watching the crime scene. He just... had a bad feeling about him."

"Think very carefully about this, Alexander. What made you feel bad?"

Because he taunted me then forced me to have coffee with him, Wolfe thought. "I don't know... He just seemed to be watching a little too closely." As soon as he said it, he realised Monaghan wasn't trying to gather data on the killer, but Wolfe himself. "I guess he was a reporter," he added quickly. "You tend to get paranoid, huh?"

Monaghan looked serious for a split-second long then ruffled his hair affectionately. "Don't worry about it, kiddo. Meeting in ten, by the way."

"Do I need to bring my notes?"

"Of course," Monaghan said, confused. "Oh, wait. No, they don't need to be a full-blown report. Yet."

"Neat handwriting?" asked Wolfe with a grin.

"Unnecessary in this job. Besides," he said more seriously, "we can type everything here. Ever used a computer before?"

"I've had an Amiga 500 since the 80's."

"Great. So you know how to turn it on?"

Wolfe nodded and pushed the biggest button on the CPU tower.

"You're a real tech wizard, I see. You should talk to Hahn. She's got this amazing program that makes all these black and white dots. You have to make yourself go cross-eyed and then you can see 3D pyramids."

Wolfe was impressed, if a little sceptical, and made a mental note to use it as an icebreaker later.

"Anyway, I'll leave you to it."

As soon as he did so, Wolfe sank down lower in his seat. He tried to hold on to the trivial details Monaghan had told him, about 3D shapes and computers, but his thoughts returned to the murder and Crawford. After a while, there came a whirring sound from the hard drive and Wolfe watched flying toasters whiz across the screen until his mind emptied of everything else.

Exactly nine and a half minutes after he'd been told about the meeting, he dragged his chair across the room to where everyone was already waiting.

Hahn started the meeting.

"The Magic Circle were as helpful as I expected," she said, "albeit in a different way. They said it was a job for a special effects specialist, but they could already see a way that the effect could be achieved. You'd start by having a living person wear a suit with fake skin that peeled away leaving behind what looked like a corpse. Then, you'd have them taken away in a pre-prepared ambulance and would use that time to switch the person with the actual cadaver."

"So you think we're looking for a group of people who work in movies or television?" asked Schmitt.

"It ties in with my impressions of the crime scene," Wolfe told them. "Potsdamer Platz is one of the more famous areas of Berlin and is the perfect place to set a drama like this. But when the scene is over, of course, you switch location."

"I have no idea what you're trying to say," said Wagner.

Wolfe himself was having trouble following his own pretence at reasoning, but he knew what the conclusion was. "I'm saying that this person or group of people thinks in terms of 'scenes' and I think the next murder will take place in the countryside."

Hahn looked thoughtful for a moment and then lowered her voice to a whisper. "I'm sorry, I really can't agree with that. These people crave excitement and attention, so it's natural for them to hit another area of Berlin, or perhaps a different city. I would rule out the countryside."

"I'm not so sure about Mueller being a willing accomplice myself," Schmitt told her. "I talked to his colleagues and they told me that he didn't seem himself at all when he walked out of the building."

"Yesterday they said he wasn't drugged," Hahn said, clearly irritated by Schmitt's tangent. "Are they changing their story?"

"Not exactly. He was the same as always, they said, right up until the time he left the office. Anyone who saw him it the short time it took for him to take the elevator to the ground floor and pass the security guard at the front desk says he seemed out of it—"

"Can anyone say for definite that it was Mueller?"

"They swear to it, just his eyes were different. Glazed over."

"And the ones that say he was acting normally?"

"Are that ones that only saw him up until just before that point."

"Maybe he took something deliberately because he was scared about what he was going to do?"

"Yes, if we assume that he was in a different state of mind and that it was self-inflicted, we could consider some kind of anaesthetic."

"This is getting ridiculous!" said Monaghan when there was a pause in the back-and-forth between Hahn and Schmitt. "There are the facts as we know them and then there's what we know about people. Right now, they're not gelling."

"But we can't make one fit the other! It just doesn't work like that."

"Everyone's assuming it has to be some kind of trick." It was Wolfe's voice speaking with Wolfe's ideas, but he had no idea what he was doing saying them aloud. "Why couldn't the victim really have been peeled in front of everyone?"

"'Why couldn't...'?" Schmitt repeated and rolled his eyes.

"How would you do it?" asked Wolfe. If he couldn't get them to consider that a man might really have been killed in front of all those people and there wasn't some kind of insane body-switching trick going on, then he could at least get them to think of Mueller as a victim rather than collaborator. "If you were a person acting alone and without Mueller's cooperation, how would you do it?"

"An interesting problem." Schmitt was thinking about this very deeply and Wolfe could feel his presence crouching on the edge of his senses. Apparently this was a thought all-too-common for Schmitt. That is, if he were interested in killing someone, how would he do it? "Wires of some sort..." he murmured to himself.

"I definitely feel we're looking at someone at the top of their field and with something to prove," said Wagner.

"But he's not there yet, professionally speaking. Possibly he has a low-paying or low prestige job in the industry, whether engineering or special effects."

"And he wants attention," finished Monaghan.

Wolfe felt like screaming at them.

No, this wasn't done by an industry professional.

No, this wasn't some kind of trick.

No, this wasn't difficult for the murderer.

No, he wasn't looking for attention.

"I disagree. And he will strike in the countryside." Wolfe struggled to keep the hatred and impatience out of his voice. "I want that on record."

"Really?" asked Monaghan, with a touch of tired amusement. "It's only your first day."

"Write it down," insisted Wolfe. "I know what I'm talking about."

"So do we," Hahn told him sharply. "Together, we have a combined total of over one hundred years in the police force versus your one day."

Wolfe wanted to point out that he'd had nineteen years of knowing he could read and influence minds. Of knowing there were supernatural forces in the world. "Write it down," he said again.

Monaghan stood up. "Meeting adjourned." He looked straight into Wolfe's eyes, his irritation and fierce intelligence written in his expression. "My God, Hannibal Lector has a lot to answer for. You are not, I repeat not, Clarice Starling."

"Yeah, you're cute, but you're no Jodie Foster," Hahn told Wolfe, though not unkindly. "Let's have some coffee and cool off for a bit."

The rest of the day was spent writing a report and familiarising himself with procedure through numerous handbooks and bulletins. At the outset Wolfe had believed himself immune to following correct protocol, but this was changing fast. He needed to know the methodology and culture as much as he knew minds. Knowing how people thought wasn't enough.

That wasn't all. At the meeting, he'd felt the mood of his co-workers turn against him. They were moving back to the way they had originally felt about him. He had to admit that it might have been their own decision to make him read the manuals rather than his own.

***

Wolfe spent the next day reading manuals again, this time on the creation of ongoing reports. The ones he was supposed to write required a different style from the essays he did in university and even had their own set headings. He was glad to get home after only his second day.

Finally back in the house that he had shared since his uni days, he got ready for bed. He peeled off his shirt, the act somehow linking in his mind to the peeling of skin as it had the night before.

The mind was a funny place to be sometimes.

He threw the shirt to the floor, the sleeves inside out. He did the same with his trousers, imagining the ripping sound that would surely accompany a human being ripped apart. When he had first accidentally brought the image to mind with his shirt, he'd felt sickened. Now he deliberately took his socks off, imagining the sound precisely. It resembled denim ripping, as he had no other frame of reference.

He removed the last piece and felt stronger, as if he'd faced the most grotesque aspect of the case head on and survived.

Wolfe fell back onto his bed, naked except for his boxers, and shuffled under the quilt.

No. Crawford was the most grotesque aspect.

As he pictured the man's face and body, Wolfe's right hand crept towards his boxers. He pulled away as soon as he realised where he was going. He could do with some relief tonight, especially after such a long day, but he could never... Not to that face.

He thought of Hahn instead, but the mood had left him as quickly as it had begun. He rolled over and tried to sleep.

After what must have been only a few hours, he awoke to the artificial orange glow of the hall light. He could hear the telephone ringing and then the sound of it being answered by his flatmate.

"Berlin Crematorium – you kill 'em, we grill 'em!"

Wolfe groaned and pulled the covers over his head. That line had been hilarious when he was in his first year and only fifteen years old.

"No, I'm his flatmate," came a slightly more confused voice.

Wolfe shot bolt upright in bed and dived out of the door to snatch the receiver from his friend.

"Alexander Wolfe speaking," he said, certain this wouldn't be his parents at this time of the night. Or morning. Whichever it was.

The voice at the other end was an older man's and sounded apologetic in every way possible. Although they had spent barely two days together so far, he recognised it as belonging to Monaghan.

"Wolfe, I'm sorry to bother you at this time, but there's been another incident."

"In the countryside, I presume?" He needn't have asked, since it was self-evident by the man's tone.

There was a short silence before Monaghan confirmed it. "And that's why we need you. You predicted it."

Although the other man wouldn't tell him what the 'incident' involved over the phone, they arranged to meet at Baden-Baden. Travel expenses would be paid in full.

Wolfe rushed to his room and threw on his clothes, ignoring the coffee stain on the sleeve of his jacket. As he did so, he jumped from mind to mind outside, trying to put together a makeshift timetable in his head.

Trains were irregular, he found out, and involved a couple of changes along the way. In total, it would take between eight and nine hours to get there.

On the phone, Monaghan had mused over why the killer would wait two days between kills. The extra day wouldn't make any difference to complex plans which had clearly already been thought out in detail. He said he guessed that the man must have had a family in Berlin, or a job. Something he had to take care of first. He also mentioned Hahn had suggested something about him could having have made an appointment with a would-be suicide victim, but he had dismissed it.

Monaghan would be taking his cues from Wolfe as he was the one who had predicted the killer's next move, while Hahn had rubbished it. Wolfe had little faith this was actually Monaghan talking and not his own programming, though he'd never know for sure.

What Wolfe didn't tell him was that the pattern of events was only too clear. After their conversation yesterday, Crawford had checked out of his hotel immediately and got on a train. He'd delayed his next kill because he'd been waiting at Potsdamer Platz.

He'd been wrong. The killer was looking for attention after all. Wolfe's.
 
 
 
Williamgenkischuldich on 21st January 2008 10:22 (UTC)
Thank you very much!