corbin_icon.gif emily_icon.gif lance_icon.gif liza_icon.gif nicole_icon.gif

Scene Title Dendrolatry
Synopsis “Dendrolatry” (dɛnˈdrɒlətrɪ), NOUN: the worship of trees
Date December 9, 2019

Fort Jay

The meeting room is set up with a big whiteboard with multiple pictures stuck along it, pictures of the victimized women, who all look eerily similar to each other in terms of appearance, and the trees that have been corded off and protected from the elements. They are listed both in the order that they were found, and coincidentally the order in which they had disappeared. Courtney had been missing the longest, and she had been the first one they found, followed by Kelley, followed by Stacy, the newest victim located.

And the only one they could communicate with in any manner without outside help.

Corbin called the Agents to this meeting after spending a day getting what he could out of her, even if it had taken hours and hours before she had been able to speak again. While he often looks rumpled, he really does look as if he didn’t sleep at all once again, curly hair disheveled and a coffee cup in hand that never gets a chance to be empty.

Two of the trees have red leaves (or needles in the case of the Spruce), with a few taped to the board, ones that had fallen off only. He saw no point in hurting them anymore than he had to.

The Elm had already lost all its leaves before they found it, but that one also had, unfortunately, been the one they maimed slightly.

“We were able to identify the young woman in the Black Tulepo thanks to DNA gathered from the blood in the leaves compared with a list of missing persons and against her mother. Her mother has not been informed of the state we’ve found her in yet, but probably will need to be in the next few days.”

He’s not looking forward to that conversation.

“She worked at a coffee bar down in Bay Ridge, where she lived with her widowed mother, Terry Thornton. She’s been missing since July, which was the last time she showed up for her shift. No one had seen her after,” he continues as he paces around in front of the whiteboard, a stack of paperwork in his hands. He stops and glances towards the Agents (and Junior Agents) gathered, as if to wait to see if they have questions or comments.

Emily Epstein has a mug of coffee cupped between both her hands while she looks over the board, her eyes also sunk from a lack of sleep. She'd not been privy to the latest developments until arriving back at work this morning, but other worries robbed her of sleep following the joint Wolfhound/SESA/NYPD operation that took place last Friday. Her nails lightly tap on the mug’s surface, keratin clinking on ceramic repetitively.

They’d found a third.

Who knew how many in total there were, but they’d found a third.

They were dealing with a serial killer now.

“They’ve got a type.” Emily notes evenly as she looks over the board, the three pictures that are posted and the facts posted beneath them. Her brow knits together as she looks over the trees in particular, like somehow, that’s easier. Her nails continue to tap. “Do we have notes on other missing persons reports who match the looks of the three?” The tap halts, fingers curling, nail digging into the side of the mug uncomfortably. “… Specifically, are there any other students reported missing from Brooklyn College?”

Her gaze has slid out of focus, but she gestures to the board with a tip of her head. “The trees— except the spruce, all of them are native to this region, if I’m remembering right. So there’s not any indicators there that could help us more quickly track down victims, possibly. Not like we’re looking for anything as obvious as palm trees in the middle of Park Slope.”

“All blonde, around the same height,” Lance confirms as he looks over the board, “At least we don’t have to guess at the perp’s type.”

There’s no humor to the words, despite his usual attempt to inject humor into things to lighten them up. He slouches back in his chair, legs stretched out beneath the table and one hand raking back through his hair.

“The one outlier is Thornton,” he points out, “But— she works and lives on opposite sides of Sheepshead, so she probably got picked up travelling one way or the other, if the assumptions we’ve made are right.”

Quieter, “I think I might’ve bought coffee from her once.”

“Maybe we should be drawing a map of this. Some intersections might pop up that way… where they all lived, worked, were found…” Liza’s pacing. Not out of nervousness, but she’s got a sort of bottled up energy that needs to go somewhere. So it comes out her feet which leaves her head ready for focusing on the task at hand.

“So I’m wondering about the types of trees. I know that might sound weird, right? Maybe if we can figure out why each girl was attached to each type of tree, it might give us a pattern to look for more potential victims?”

Nicole stares balefully at the list of gathered evidence, a mug of coffee in her left hand. Her right arm is tethered to her body by a sling. It’s got signatures on it in silver Sharpie marker. The most prominent being “PippA” in her daughter’s childish scrawl.

She can’t help but spare a look at Emily. It’s impossible not to note how she falls into the type. And while she’s a little older, Liza does too. “Okay, Messer,” Nicole sighs softly, but without exasperation directed toward the agent. “You think there could be some connection in the meanings of trees?” She darts a quick glance around the room and continues. “My, ah… Ingrid. She owns the local flower shop and talks about the language of flower arrangements. Maybe there’s something to that with trees?”

At Emily’s question of other missing students, Corbin stops to drop his folder down on the table, flipping through a few pages. “I had looked into that, looking at all unsolved missing persons reports in the last two years for Brooklyn College students. I only kept the names of young women. We’ve had an unfortunate increase in missing persons over the last few years.” Such as Providence, and other settlements like that, but he doesn’t say that. Instead, he just passes the list of names to Emily, thankfully under ten names.

Marcella Dixon, 20. Carla James, 24. Kristy Garcia, 19. Ana Ortega, 21. Lucy Rhodes, 22. Flora Rice, 26. Tiffany Strickland, 22. Lorina Vu, 21. Rachel Wright, 19.

“Not all of them fit the… pattern,” his blue eyes shift to the pictures. Because it was certainly a pattern at this point. Two could have been a coincidence, but no— three was a sign of intention. “And because of Miss Thornton, we know that it’s not just college students who are in danger, but perhaps we should look into these cases again anyway.” He hoped none of them turned out to be trees, but…

“It also wouldn’t surprise me if the trees themselves have some significance to at least the murderer— and I’m going to call them a murderer because unless we find a way to reverse this— these girl’s lives are over.” They might still be alive, but in the definition that they might be aware of what’s going on. It wasn’t any life he would consider life.

Just like he doesn’t really consider the woman who lives on inside him to still be alive. She was murdered. She just happens to linger.

Like a dream that one doesn’t want to forget.

“Messer, I’ll put you on researching tree meanings, divination meanings, all that sort of thing.” He wasn’t an expert with serial killers, but the one that happens to live in his head had a thing for tarot cards. It wouldn’t surprise him if one had a thing for trees. “See if there’s a specific pattern to why they might have been chosen if the trees themselves have any connection to our victims. I think there’s a few experts out there, but if not, I’m sure the libraries have a few books on it.”

Setting aside her coffee on the edge of the nearest desk, Emily busies herself with reading the list of names of the missing college students while keeping an ear open to the other conversation going on. She doesn't get far— the very first name is familiar. Paper held delicately between fingers, her expression blanches, face paling.

Her eyes flutter closed as she takes in a steeling breath, looking down at the name again. Marcella didn't fit in with the fair-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed type they'd just established for the murderer, though. But she was still a missing person, still someone Emily remembered from her English class during the spring.

She reads on, brow knitting the further down the list she goes. Because it's not just two or three— there's nearly 10 women on this list.

And the last name also jogs her memory.

"There was a Rachel Wright in my History course this semester," Emily says out loud in the middle of remembering. A frown draws her face back down to the paper, looking at the name again as she tries to recall her face. "We were grouped up during a discussion assignment. I tried to look for her the next time we had to do that— but she'd dropped." A beat. "I-I thought she'd just dropped the course."

"She was blonde," she adds, looking back up to the board, because that's relevant unfortunately. Goddammit. Disturbed, she offers the paper to Lance next for his review.

“Was, uh— was Stacy able to give us any information about what happened to her?” Lance wouldn’t be shocked if she couldn’t— he imagines that thinking straight in this situation must be rather difficult. He looks a bit squeasy as he scans the paper, grimacing, “Sorry, Em. Let’s hope she did just drop the course and run off with some guy…”

Still a possibility.

But somehow he doubts it.

“Do we have a retrocog or psychometrist or anything that we can call in to check the, uh, crime scenes?”

“Have we considered liaising with the NYPD on this one?” Nicole sets down her coffee and leans back in her seat, looking up to Corbin. “Specifically, I mean maybe we reach out to Kaylee Ray. She might have a better chance of connecting with the other victims and helping us establish a pattern.”

Leaning toward Lance, Nicole studies the information about Rachel Wright. “Have we interviewed Stacy Poole’s mother to see if she has some sort of connection to Brooklyn College that isn’t obvious to us? Maybe she used to pick up shifts at the coffee shop on campus? Or maybe she had been touring? Looking into attending?”

"On it. I figure if he's got a type for victims but the trees are all different, there's got to be something to it. Serial killers are weird, they've always got weird clues they're leaving." Liza seems to be content with hunting down the meaning of the trees, but that doesn't stop her from listening in to everything else.

"Maybe they're all in some kind of school activity or club, or maybe they share some classes? They've definitely got to have some other link."

“I definitely think getting Detective Ray on board to question them would be a good idea,” Corbin responds, nodding to Nicole’s suggestion, probably one he had considered himself but wanted someone else to bring it up. He didn’t want to show favoritism toward that particular Scout Detective. Even if part of him definitely did want to have her on speed dial for this case already. “Would you like to handle that fun paperwork, Varlane?” Paperwork would be easier than legwork for her at the moment. He almost sounds as if he’s trying to sound jovial. It doesn’t quite work with the current mood.

“We no longer have a dedicated post-cog on hand who we can easily use, and evidence gathered by them tends to be difficult to use if it comes to trial, but if you can think of someone to take to one of the sites, Mr. Gerken, we can use someone for a consultant and at least see if we can get pointed toward some clues we can still use.” It does make things complicated, still, cause such abilities are not trusted by everyone. Who can say the psychic wasn’t just lying? Or the ability wasn’t all illusion?

As for their schedules… he shifts the paperwork around and pulls out three files and drops them in front of Agent Messer. “You can do the full overview of all their activities. See if there’s some overlap. The two students did have a few overlapping professors, but since there’s some general education requirements and they’d been attending the college for multiple semesters it isn’t really against the odds of probability.” Nor was some students sharing the same classes as them.

A second smaller stack is passed over to Emily, this one detailing the other missing persons at the college that were unsolved in the time frame he looked at. The reference sheet was just the names and ages. This had their full files, along with contact information for who reported them missing and the MP or NYPD officer who had looked into the case.

Three more of these cases had gone to Mann Investigations, same as Courtney’s.

"Jesus Christ," Emily murmurs, looking the stacks over in a moment of bewilderment, dissociating briefly from the moment. It's hesitantly that her fingertips flip open the top of the files that were just passed to her, skimming the first page before letting the manilla slip from her touch and fall shut again.

It's all a bit much, but after that breath of it being too much is over, she's back to boxing it up and plotting the next step of facing and solving this. Her own discomfort could wait— it was life and death for anyone else this transmogrifer might target.

"If we can talk to the victims again, see what they remember, it might help all the other pieces click into place." Emily closes her eyes briefly before letting them open and flit in Nicole's direction before moving on to Liza. "I'll start analyzing these missing persons cases and see if there's anything at all that sticks out as a potential link."

She looks down at the paperwork again, flipping to the second file this time. A small frown purses her lips together when she sees the familiar PI's name appear on the documentation.

“Not off the top of my head, but I’ll keep an eye and ear out,” Lance admits, glancing to Emily, then back to venture, “Have we looked into abilities other than— you know, agrokinesis? I don’t think it matches, really, this is more like… massive biological transformation. Do we have anyone in the registry that matches that?”

Liza peeks over at Emily’s stack of papers, then scoops up her own files. “Right, I’ll organize what activities might have overlapped and poke my nose into weird tree meanings.” She turns her gaze back to Emily’s stack. “Once you’ve gone through those, we’ll confer and see if there’s anything in common in all of that and see if there’s anything worth pursuing.” She looks over as Lance speaks up.

“It’s worth a shot looking through abilities, I think, but it’d be hard to classify something like this. It’s certainly unique. Maybe a blend of abilities, two people working together?” She frowns. That’s not a pleasant thought.

“Not to state the fucking obvious,” Nicole begins, “but this is absolutely fucking horrifying. If this isn’t some kind of variant of agrokinesis, and we have someone who can transmogrify people into things other than just trees?” She shakes her head. “We’re fucked.” How many murders could be covered up this way? It’s a terrifying thought.

Scratching her forehead absently, she shakes off the line of thought. There’s nothing that can be done for it right now. “Yes,” she belatedly answers to Corbin, “I’ll take care of the necessary paperwork to requisition Ray for this case.” It saves her from having to get too deeply involved in it, too. Not that she doesn’t want to dive in and help solve it, but she doesn’t know when she’s going to find a lead on her own case and have to leave this one in the lurch. She’d rather not have to do that.

“I’ve only heard of one ability that did something similar, which we had called Alchemy, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t remain alive after the process,” Corbin responded thoughtfully, having spent many a day thinking about what this could be after they began to suspect it wasn’t agrokinesis after all. He’d narrowed it down to something similar to what Bob Bishop had, with an organic component instead of turning something into gold. It was, however, horrifying, and he’d seen a lot of horrific things in his day. “It’s definitely not like any form of agrokinesis we’ve ever encountered, though, but we’ll act on the assumption that they can only do trees.”

At least until they had evidence to the contrary. “We’re keeping this investigation classified for the moment, so don’t be surprised when the radio or newspaper don’t hear about it. We don’t want the expressive to change up their MO or flee until we’ve caught them. They might be the only one who can undo this transformation.”

Which led to a lot of sensitive topics. “If you’re asked by anyone or approached on it, say it is an active investigation and you can not divulge details until the investigation is finished.”

And with how they were reacting to this horror, he could only imagine how certain citizens would react. He’ll report it as required once the cases were closed, but until then he would keep it close to the chest as long as they could.

“Any questions for now?”

Nicole's foray into colorful language earns a swivel of Emily's attention to be placed firmly on her. Her brow arches not just at her word choice, but also the idea that maybe trees weren't the all of what they needed to be on the lookout for here. Her frown deepens.

"No," she responds to Corbin's question, a tinge of disappointment to it. She wished she had better questions that would help them drive to the heart of this sooner. "Nothing for now."

“Got it covered,” Liza comments, glancing around at the others for a moment. “I’ll check in if there’s anything else and keep you all informed of any new developments on my side of things.” Research is important after all.

“Let me know what comes of the tree lot’s agrokinetic,” Nicole requests. “Other than that,” she says with a shrug and a frown, “no other concerns from me.” There’s already a lot on her plate beyond this case, and much to think about.

“None here,” Lance says with a shake of his head, “If anyone needs my help for anything, you know where us interns are.” It might be said lightly, normally - today, he’s deadly serious.

“Alright.” Corbin looks tired, but that is a usual state with him sometimes. It wasn’t rare to find him asleep at his desk, after all. There’s something anxious about this, though, for various reasons. It’s a difficult case, especially for newbies. He’s not sure that he would have pulled them into it if he’d known they were dealing with what they were. But he had, and he wasn’t going to shut them out now.

“Liza. Look into the trees, see if you can find out anything. I’ll also make sure you get your hands on all the old files that we still have. See if there’s any indication of something similar in the past. Likely this is a recent situation, cause I’m pretty sure someone would have noticed earlier, but it took us over a year…” So maybe it could have even further of a background?

“Emily. I want you to go through the missing persons files. See if you can find out any connections. Hopefully none of those girls are like ours, but if they are, better we figure it out than not.”

For a moment, he seems to consider, then nods to himself, “Lance, if you don’t mind, I’ll send you the Satellite photos we had of the entire safe zone. It’s a lot of busy work, but if you can find a tree that’s suddenly there that wasn’t there a year ago, it could help us find more victims.” And more victims meant, hopefully, more clues.

“Varlane, you just try to get Ray on board. She’s possibly the only way we’ll get to question the victims.”

And what will he be doing?

Well, he has a man to see about a tree…

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