Die for Me
Daniel Vartanian 1, 2007
Dedicated to the memory of Dr. Zoltan J. Kosztolnyik, Professor Emeritus of Medieval History, Texas A &M University.
Although I never had the privilege of knowing him personally, I have had the honor, privilege, and pleasure of knowing the daughter he raised.
And as always, to my precious husband Martin.You touch the lives of your students every day, bringing history to life with the same unique combination of passion, intelligence, and acerbic wit that made me fall in love with you twenty-five years ago.
Whether you’re dressing up like Cleopatra, illustrating the Declaration of Independence using the rock music videos of ’80s hair bands, or explaining the Monroe Doctrine through the “Badger-Badger-Mushroom” Dance, you have assured that no student that passes through your class will ever forget you.
You inspire me. I love you.
So many people contributed to my knowledge base as I wrote this book. To all of you-my sincerest thanks!
Danny Agan for answering all my detective questions and especially for helping my hero locate things underground.
Tim Bechtel of Environscan, Inc. for background and technical details on ground penetrating radar.
Niki Ciccotelli for her description of growing up in Philadelphia that was so real that I felt as if I were physically there myself.
Monty Clark of the Art Institute of Florida in Ft. Lauderdale, for the invaluable and very cool information on video game design and designers.
Marc Conterato for all things medical and Kay Conterato for clipping all those extremely useful newspaper articles on insurance and hackers.
Diana Fox for a great title.
Carleton Hafer for answering all my computer questions in a way I could clearly understand.
Linda Hafer for the wonderful introduction to opera and for opening a world of music I never thought I would like but that I do!
Elaine Kriegh for her vivid descriptions of medieval tomb monuments.
Sonie Lasker, my sempai, for demonstrating weapon technique and teaching me how personally rewarding martial arts can be. Domo arigato.
Deana Seydel Rivera for showing me Philadephia-and three days before her wedding, no less.
Loretta Rogers for her motorcycle expertise. How I wish I had the courage to fly on two wheels!
Sally Schoeneweiss and Mary Pitkin for keeping my Web site organized, functional and beautiful.
My language advisors: Mary C Turner and Anne Crowder-Merci beaucoup, Bob Busch and Barbara Mulrine-Spasiba, Kris Alice Hohls-Danke, Sarah Hafer-Domo arigato.
Friends who answered my catch-all questions here and there-Shari Anton, Terri Bolyard, Kathy Caskie, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Kelley St. John.
My editor, Karen Kosztolnyik, and my agent, Robin Rue, who make this so much fun.
As always, all mistakes are my own.
Philadelphia, Saturday, January 6
The first thing that hit Warren Keyes was the smell. Ammonia, disinfectant… and something else. What else? Open your eyes, Keyes. He could hear his own voice echo inside his head and he struggled to lift his eyelids. Heavy. They were so heavy, but he fought until they stayed open. It was dark. No. There was a little light. Warren blinked once, then again with more force until a flickering light came into focus.
It was a torch, mounted on the wall. His heart started thudding hard in his chest. The wall was rock. I’m in a cave. His heart began to race. What the hell is this? He lunged forward and white-hot pain speared down his arms to his back. Gasping, he fell back against something flat and hard.
He was tied. Oh God. His hands and feet were tied. And he was naked. Trapped. Fear rose from his belly, clawing his insides. He twisted like a wild animal, then fell back again, panting, tasting the disinfectant as he sucked in air. Disinfectant and…
His breath hitched as he recognized the odor under the disinfectant. Something dead. Rotting. Something died here. He closed his eyes, willing himself not to panic. This isn’t happening. This is just a dream, a nightmare. In a minute I’ll wake up.
But he wasn’t dreaming. This, whatever it was, was real. He was stretched out on a board on a slight incline, his wrists tied together and his arms pulled up and behind his head. Why? He tried to think, to remember. There was something… a picture in his mind, just beyond his reach. He strained for the memory and realized his head ached-he winced as the pain sent little black spots dancing across his eyes. God, it was like a really bad hangover. But he hadn’t been drinking. Had he?
Coffee. He remembered drinking coffee, his hands closing around the cup to get warm. He’d been cold. He’d been outside. Running. Why was he running? He rotated his wrists, feeling his raw skin burn, reaching until the tips of his fingers touched rope.
“So you’re finally awake.”
The voice came from behind him and he craned his neck, trying to see. Then he remembered and the pressure on his chest lessened a fraction. It was a movie. I’m an actor and we were making a movie. A history documentary. He’d been running with… with what? He grimaced, focusing. A sword, that’s it. He’d been in medieval costume, a knight with a helmet and shield… even chain mail, for God’s sake. The entire scene came back now. He’d changed his clothes, even his underwear, for some scratchy, shapeless burlap that irritated his crotch. He’d had a sword, and he’d carried it as he ran through the woods outside Munch’s studio, yelling at the top of his lungs. He’d felt like a damn idiot, but he’d done it all because it was in the damn script.
But this-he jerked at the ropes again with no success-this was not in the script.
“Munch.” Warren’s voice was thick, grating on his dry throat. “What the hell is this?”
Ed Munch appeared to his left. “I didn’t think you’d ever wake up.”
Warren blinked as the dim light from the torch flickered across the man’s face. His heart skipped a beat. Munch had changed. Before he’d been old, shoulders stooped. White hair and a trim mustache. Warren swallowed, his breath shallow. Now Munch stood straight. His mustache was gone. So was his hair, his head shaved shiny bald.
Munch wasn’t old. Dread coiled in his gut, seething and roiling. The deal was five hundred for the documentary. Cash if he came that day. Warren had been suspicious-it was a lot of money for a history documentary they’d show on PBS if he was lucky. But he’d agreed. One odd old man was no threat.
But Munch wasn’t old. Bile rose, choking him. What have I done? Close on the heels of that question came the next, more terrifying. What will he do to me?
“Who are you?” Warren croaked out and Munch held a bottle of water to his lips. Warren pulled away, but Munch grabbed his chin with surprising strength. His dark eyes narrowed and fear made Warren freeze.
“It’s just water this time,” Munch ground out. “Drink it.”
Warren spat the mouthful of water back in the man’s face and held himself rigid when Munch raised his fist. But the fist lowered and Munch shrugged.
“You’ll drink eventually. I need your throat moist.”
Warren licked his lips. “Why?”
Munch disappeared behind him again and Warren could hear something rolling. A video camera, Warren saw when Munch rolled it past him, stopping about five feet away. The camera was pointing straight at his face. “Why?” Warren repeated, louder.
Munch peered through the lens and stepped back. “Because I need you to scream.” He lifted a brow, his expression surreally bland. “They all screamed. So will you.”
Horror bubbled up and Warren fought it back. Stay calm. Treat him nice and maybe you can talk your way out of this. He made his lips curve. “Look, Munch, let me go and we’ll call it even. You can keep the sword fight scenes I did already at no charge.”
Munch just looked at him, his expression still bland. “I never planned to pay you anyway.” He disappeared again and reappeared, pushing another video camera.
Warren remembered the coffee, remembered Munch’s insistence that he drink it. Just water this time. Rage geysered inside him, momentarily eclipsing the fear. “You drugged me,” he hissed, and he filled his lungs with air. “Somebody help me!” he yelled as loud as he could, but the hoarse sound from his throat was pathetically useless.
Munch said nothing, just set up a third camera on a boom so that it pointed down. Every movement was methodical, precise. Unhurried. Unconcerned. Unafraid.
And then Warren knew no one could hear him. The hot rage drained away, leaving only fear, cold and absolute. Warren’s voice shook. There had to be something… some way out. Something he could say. Do. Offer. Beg. He’d beg. “Please, Munch, I’ll do anything…” His words trailed away as Munch’s words replayed in his mind.
They all screamed. Ed Munch. Warren’s chest constricted, despair making it difficult to breathe. “Munch isn’t your real name. Edvard Munch, the artist.” The painting of a ghoulish figure clutching its face in agony flashed into his mind. “The Scream.”
“Actually, it’s pronounced ‘Moonk,’ not ‘Munch,’ but nobody ever gets it right. Nobody gets the details right,” he added in a disgusted voice.
Details. The man had been all about details earlier, frowning when Warren argued against the scratchy underwear. The sword had been real, too. I should have used it on the bastard when I had the chance. “Authenticity,” Warren murmured, repeating what he’d thought had been the ramblings of a crazy old man.
Munch nodded. “Now you understand.”
“What will you do?” His own voice was eerily calm.
One corner of Munch’s mouth lifted. “You’ll see soon enough.”
Warren dragged in each breath. “Please. Please, I’ll do anything. Just let me go.”
Munch said nothing. He pushed a cart with a television just beyond the camera at his feet, then checked the focus of each camera with calm precision.
“You won’t get away with this,” Warren said desperately, once again pulling at the ropes, struggling until his wrists burned and his arms strained in their sockets. The ropes were thick, the knots unyielding. He would not break free.
“That’s what all the others said. But I have, and I will continue to do so.”
Others. There had been others. The smell of death was all around, mocking him. Others had died here. He would die here, too. From somewhere deep inside him, courage rallied. He lifted his chin. “My friends will come looking for me. I told my fiancée I was meeting you.”
Finished with the cameras, Munch turned. His eyes held a contempt that said he knew it was a last, desperate bluff. “No, you didn’t. You told your fiancée you were meeting a friend to help him read lines. You told me so when we met this afternoon. You said this money would pay for a surprise for her birthday. You wanted it to stay a secret. That and your tattoo were the reasons I chose you.” He lifted one shoulder. “Plus, you fit the suit. Not everyone can wear chain mail correctly. So no one will be looking for you. And if they do, they’ll never find you. Accept it-you belong to me.”
Everything inside him went deathly still. It was true. He had told Munch the money was for a surprise for Sherry. Nobody knew where he was. Nobody would save him. He thought of Sherry, of his mom and dad, of everyone he cared about. They’d wonder where he was. A sob rose in his throat. “You bastard,” he whispered. “I hate you.”
One side of Munch’s mouth quirked, but his eyes lit up with an amusement that was more terrifying than his smile. “The others said that, too.” He shoved the water bottle at Warren’s mouth again, pinching his nose until he gasped for air. Wildly Warren fought, but Munch forced the water down. “Now, Mr. Keyes, we begin. Don’t forget to scream.”
Philadelphia, Sunday, January 14, 10:25
Detective Vito Ciccotelli got out of his truck, his skin still vibrating. The beat-up old dirt road that led to the crime scene had only served to further rile his already churning stomach. He sucked in a breath and immediately regretted it. After fourteen years on the force, the odor of death still came as a putrid and unwelcome surprise.
“That shot my shocks to holy hell.” Nick Lawrence grimaced, slamming the door of his sensible sedan. “Shit.” His Carolina drawl drew the curse out to four full syllables.
Two uniforms stood staring down into a hole halfway across the snow-covered field. Handkerchiefs covered their faces. A woman was crouched down in the hole, the top of her head barely visible. “I guess CSU’s already uncovered the body,” Vito said dryly.
“Y’think?” Nick bent down and shoved the cuffs of his pants into the cowboy boots he kept polished to a spit shine. “Well, Chick, let’s get this show on the road.”
“In a minute.” Vito reached behind his seat for his snow boots, then flinched when a thorn jabbed deep into his thumb. “Dammit.” For a few seconds he sucked on the tiny wound, then with care moved the bouquet of roses out of the way to get to his boots. From the corner of his eye he could see Nick sober. But his partner said nothing.
“It’s been two years. Today,” Vito added bitterly. “How time flies.”
Nick’s voice was quiet. “It’s supposed to heal, too.”
And Nick was right. Two years had dulled the edge of Vito’s grief. But guilt… that was a different matter entirely. “I’m going out to the cemetery this afternoon.”
“You want me to go with you?”
“Thanks, but no.” Vito shoved his feet into his boots. “Let’s go see what they found.”
Six years as a homicide detective had taught Vito that there were no simple murders, just varying degrees of hard ones. As soon as he stopped at the edge of the grave the crime scene unit had just unearthed in the snow-covered field, he knew this would be one of the harder ones.
Neither Vito nor Nick said a word as they studied the victim, who might have remained hidden forever were it not for an elderly man and his metal detector. The roses, the cemetery, and everything else was pushed aside as Vito focused on the body in the hole. He dragged his gaze from her hands to what was left of her face.
Their Jane Doe had been small, five-two or five-three, and appeared to have been young. Short, dark hair framed a face too decomposed to be easily identifiable and Vito wondered how long she’d been here. He wondered if anyone had missed her. If anyone still waited for her to come home.
He felt the familiar surge of pity and sadness and pushed it to the edge of his mind along with all the other things he wanted to forget. For now he’d focus on the body, the evidence. Later, he and Nick would consider the woman-who she’d been and who she’d known. They’d do so as a means to catch the sick sonofabitch who’d left her nude body to rot in an unmarked grave in an open field, who’d violated her even after death. Pity shifted to outrage as Vito’s gaze returned to the victim’s hands.
“He posed her,” Nick murmured beside him and in the soft words Vito heard the same outrage he felt. “He fucking posed her.”
Indeed he had. Her hands were pressed together between her breasts, her fingertips pointing to her chin. “Permanently folded in prayer,” Vito said grimly.
“Religious murderer?” Nick mused.
“God, I hope not.” A buzz of apprehension tickled his spine. “Religious murderers tend not to stop with just one. There could be more.”
“Maybe.” Nick crouched down to peer into the grave which was about three feet deep. “How did he permanently pose her hands, Jen?”
CSU Sergeant Jen McFain looked up, her eyes covered with goggles, her nose and mouth by a mask. “Wire,” she said. “Looks like steel, but very fine. It’s wound around her fingers. You’ll be able to see it better once the ME cleans her up.”
Vito frowned. “Doesn’t seem like wire that thin would be enough to trip the sensor on a metal detector, especially under a couple feet of dirt.”
“You’re right, the wire wouldn’t have set it off. For that we can thank the rods your perp ran under the victim’s arms.” Jen traced one gloved finger along the underside of her own arm, down to her wrist. “They’re thin and bendable, but have enough mass to set off a metal detector. It’s how he kept her arms fixed in position.”
Vito shook his head. “Why?” he asked and Jen shrugged.
“Maybe we’ll get more from the body. I haven’t gotten much from the hole so far. Except…” She nimbly climbed from the grave. “The old man uncovered one of her arms using his garden spade. Now, he’s in pretty good shape, but even I couldn’t have dug that deep with a garden spade this time of year.”
Nick looked into the grave. “The ground must not have been frozen.”
Jen nodded. “Exactly. When he found the arm he stopped digging and called 911. When we got here, we started moving dirt to see what we had. The fill was easy to move until we got to the grave wall, then it was hard as a rock. Look at the corners. They look like they were cut using a T square. They’re frozen solid.”
Vito felt a sick tug at his gut. “He dug the grave before the ground froze. He planned this pretty far in advance.”
Nick was frowning. “And nobody noticed a gaping hole?”
“Perp might’ve covered it with something,” Jen said. “Also, I don’t think the fill dirt came from this field. I’ll run the tests to tell you for sure. That’s all I got for now. I can’t do anything more until the ME gets here.”
“Thanks, Jen,” Vito said. “Let’s talk to the property owner,” he said to Nick.
Harlan Winchester was about seventy, but his eyes were clear and sharp. He’d been waiting in the back seat of the police cruiser and got out when he saw them coming. “I suppose I’ll have to tell you detectives the same thing I told the officers.”
Vito put a little sympathy into his nod. “I’m afraid so. I’m Detective Ciccotelli and this is my partner, Detective Lawrence. Can you take us through what happened?”
“Hell, I didn’t even want that damn metal detector. It was a present from my wife. She’s worried I don’t get enough exercise since I retired.”
“So you got out this morning and walked?” Vito prompted and Winchester scowled.
“‘Harlan P. Winchester,’” he mimicked in a high, nasal voice, “‘you’ve been in that good-for-nothin’ chair for the last ten years. Get your moldy butt up and walk.’ So I did, ’cause I couldn’t stand to listen to her nag me anymore. I thought I might find something interesting to make Ginny shut up. But… I never dreamed I’d find a person.”
“Was the body the first object your detector picked up?” Nick asked.
“Yeah.” His mouth set grimly. “I took out my garden spade. It was then I thought about how hard the ground would be. I didn’t think I’d be able to break the surface, much less dig deep. I almost put my spade away before I started, but I’d only been gone fifteen minutes and Ginny would have nagged me some more. So I started digging.” He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, his bravado gone like so much mist. “My spade… it hit her arm. So I stopped digging and called 911.”
“Can you tell us a little more about this land?” Vito asked. “Who has access to it?”
“Anybody with an ATV or four-wheel drive, I guess. You can’t see this field from the highway and the little drive that connects to the main road isn’t even paved.”
Vito nodded, grateful he’d driven his truck, leaving his Mustang parked safely in his garage alongside his bike. “It’s definitely a rugged road. How do you get back here?”
“Today I walked.” He pointed to the tree line where a single set of footprints emerged. “But this was the first time I’ve been back here. We only moved in a month ago. This land was my aunt’s,” he explained. “She died and left it to me.”
“So, did your aunt come out to this field often?”
“I wouldn’t think so. She was a recluse, never left the house. That’s all I know.”
“Sir, you’ve been a big help,” Vito said. “Thank you.”
Winchester’s shoulders sagged. “Then I can go home?”
“Sure. The officers will drive you home.”
Winchester got in the cruiser and it headed out, passing a gray Volvo on its way in. The Volvo parked behind Nick’s sedan and a trim woman in her midfifties got out and started across the field. ME Katherine Bauer was here. It was time to face Jane Doe.
Vito started toward the grave, but Nick didn’t move. He was looking at Winchester’s metal detector sitting inside the CSU van. “We should check the rest of the field, Chick.”
“You think there are more.”
“I think we can’t leave until we know there aren’t.”
Another shiver of apprehension raced down Vito’s back. In his heart he already knew what they would find. “You’re right. Let’s see what else is out there.”
Sunday, January 14, 10:30
“Everybody’s eyes closed?” Sophie Johannsen frowned at her graduate students in the darkness. “Bruce, you’re peeking,” she said.
“I’m not peeking,” he grumbled. “Besides, it’s too dark to see anything anyway.”
“Hurry up,” Marta said impatiently. “Turn on the lights.”
Sophie flicked on the lights, savoring the moment. “I give you… the Great Hall.”
For a moment no one said a word. Then Spandan let out a low whistle that echoed off the ceiling, twenty feet above their heads.
Bruce’s face broke into a grin. “You did it. You finally finished it.”
Marta’s jaw squared. “It’s nice.”
Sophie blinked at the younger woman’s terse tone, but before she could say a word she heard the soft whir of John’s wheelchair as he passed her to stare up at the far wall. “You did all this yourself,” he murmured, looking around in his quiet way. “Awesome.”
Sophie shook her head. “Not nearly by myself. You all helped, cleaning swords and armor and helping me plan the sword display. This was definitely a group effort.”
Last fall, all fifteen members of her Weapons and Warfare graduate seminar had been enthusiastic volunteers at the Albright Museum of History, where Sophie spent her days. Now she was down to these faithful four. They’d come every Sunday for months, giving their time. They earned class credit, but more valuable was the opportunity to touch the medieval treasures their classmates could only view through glass.
Sophie understood their fascination. She also knew that holding a fifteenth-century sword in a sterile museum was but a shadow of the thrill of unearthing that sword herself, of brushing away the dirt, exposing a treasure no eyes had seen in five hundred years. Six months ago as a field archeologist in southern France, she’d lived for that rush, waking every morning wondering what buried treasure she’d find at the dig that day. Now, as the Albright Museum’s head curator, she could only touch the treasures unearthed by others. Touching them, caring for them would have to be enough for now.
And as hard as it had been to walk away from the French dig of her dreams, every time she sat at her grandmother’s side as she lay in a nursing-home bed, Sophie knew she’d made the right choice.
Moments like this, seeing the pride on the faces of her students, made her choice easier to bear, too. With pride of her own, Sophie admired what they’d accomplished. Large enough to easily accommodate groups of thirty or more, the new Great Hall was a spectacular sight. Against the far wall, three suits of armor stood at attention under a display of one hundred swords, arranged in a woven lattice pattern. War banners hung on the left wall, and on the right wall she’d mounted the Houarneau tapestry, one of the jewels of the collection amassed by Theodore Albright I during his brilliant archeological career.
Standing in front of the tapestry, Sophie took a moment to enjoy looking at it. The twelfth-century Houarneau tapestry, like all the other treasures in the Albright collection, never failed to steal her breath away. “Wow,” she murmured.
“‘Wow?’” Bruce shook his head with a smile. “Dr. J, you should be able to think of a better word than that, in any one of a dozen languages.”
“Only ten,” she corrected and watched him roll his eyes. For Sophie, the study of language had always been a practical pleasure. Fluency in ancient languages enabled her research, but more, she loved the fluid rhythm and nuance of words themselves. She’d had few opportunities to use her skill since coming home and she missed it.
So, still admiring the tapestry, she indulged herself. “C’est incroyable.” The French flowed through her mind like a welcome melody, which was no surprise. Excepting a few short visits back to Philly, Sophie had made France her home for the last fifteen years. Other languages required more conscious effort, but still her mind skimmed easily. Greek, German, Russian… she picked the words like flowers from a field. “Katapliktikos. Hat was. O moy bog.”
Marta raised a brow. “And all that translated, means?”
Sophie’s lips curved. “Essentially… wow.” She took another satisfied look around. “It’s been a huge hit with tour groups.” Her smile dimmed. Just thinking about the tours, or more specifically the tour guides, was enough to suck the joy right out of her day.
John turned his chair so he could stare up at the swords. “You did this so fast.”
She set the unpleasant tours aside in her mind. “The trick was Bruce’s computer-generated mockup. It showed where to place the supports, and once that was done mounting the swords was easy. It looks as authentic as any display I’ve ever seen in any castle anywhere.” She aimed a smile of appreciation toward Bruce. “Thank you.”
Bruce beamed. “And the paneling? I thought you were going with painted walls.”
Once again her smile dimmed. “I was overruled on that. Ted Albright insisted that the wood would make the place look more like a true hall and not a museum.”
“He was right,” Marta said, her lips pursed tightly. “It looks better.”
“Yeah, well maybe it does, but he also cleaned out my operating budget for this year,” Sophie said, annoyed. “I had a list of new acquisitions that I now can’t afford. We couldn’t even afford to have the damn paneling installed.” She looked at her abused hands, nicked and scraped. “While you all were back home sleeping until noon and pigging out on turkey leftovers, I was here with Ted Albright every day, putting up all this paneling. God, what a nightmare. Do you know how high these walls are?”
The whole paneling debacle had been the source of yet another argument with Ted “the Third” Albright. Ted was the only grandson of the great archeologist, which unfortunately made him the sole owner of the Albright collection. He was also the owner of the museum, which unfortunately made him Sophie’s boss. She rued the day she’d ever heard of Ted Albright and his Barnum and Bailey approach to running a museum, but until a position opened up in one of the other museums, this job was it.
Marta turned to look at her, her eyes cold and… disappointed. “Spending two weeks alone with Ted Albright doesn’t sound like a hardship. He’s an attractive man,” she added, her tone acidic. “I’m surprised you managed to get any work done at all.”
Uncomfortable silence filled the room as Sophie stood, shocked and staring at the woman she’d mentored for four months. This can’t be happening again. But it was.
The men exchanged looks of wary confusion, but Sophie knew exactly what Marta was saying, exactly what she’d heard. The disappointment she’d seen in Marta’s eyes now made sense. Rage and denial screamed through Sophie’s mind, but she decided to address the current insinuation and leave the past covered, for now.
“Ted’s married, Marta. And just so you can set the record straight, we weren’t alone. Ted’s wife, son, and daughter were working with us the whole time.”
Maintaining her icy stare, Marta said nothing. Awkwardly Bruce blew out a breath. “So,” he said. “Last semester we revamped the Great Hall. What’s next, Dr. J?”
Ignoring the churning of her stomach, Sophie led the group to the exhibition area beyond the Great Hall. “The next project is redoing the weapons exhibit.”
“Yes.” Spandan socked the air. “Finally. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
“Then your wait is over.” Sophie stopped at the glass display cabinet that held a half-dozen very rare medieval swords. The Houarneau tapestry was exquisite, but these weapons were her favorite items of the entire Albright collection.
“I always wonder who owned them,” Bruce said softly. “Who fought with them.”
John brought his chair closer. “And how many died at their tip,” he murmured. He looked up, his eyes hidden behind the hair that was always in his face. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Sophie said. “I’ve often wondered the same thing.” Her mouth quirked up at a sudden memory. “My very first day as curator, a kid tried to pull the fifteenth-C Bastardsword off the wall and play Braveheart. Nearly gave me heart failure.”
“They weren’t behind glass?” Bruce gasped, appalled. Both Spandan and John wore similar looks of horror.
Marta hung back, arms crossed and jaw cocked to one side. She said nothing.
Sophie decided to deal with her privately. “No, Ted believes that putting glass between artifacts and museum patrons degrades the ‘entertainment experience.’” It had been their first argument. “He agreed to put these behind glass if we displayed some of the less valuable swords out in the Great Hall.” Sophie sighed. “And if we displayed these rare swords in an ‘entertaining’ way. This display case was a temporary compromise until I could get the Great Hall finished. So this is the next project.”
“What exactly does ‘entertaining’ mean?” Spandan asked.
Sophie frowned. “Think mannequins and costumes,” she said darkly. Costumes were Ted’s passion, and when he’d only wanted to dress up mannequins, she could go with the flow. But two weeks ago he’d unveiled his newest scheme, adding another role to Sophie’s job description. To kick off the new Great Hall, they’d give tours… in period garb. Specifically, Sophie and Ted’s nineteen-year-old son, Theo, would lead the tours and nothing Sophie could say would change Ted’s mind. Finally she’d outright refused-and in a rare fit of serious temper Ted Albright had threatened to fire her.
Sophie had very nearly quit-until she’d gotten home that night and looked through the mail. The nursing home was raising the cost of Anna’s room. So Sophie swallowed her pride, donned the damn costume and did Ted’s damn tours during the day. In the evenings she’d redoubled her search for another job.
“Did the boy damage the sword?” John asked.
“Thankfully, no. When you handle them, be sure you wear your gloves.”
Bruce waved his white gloves like a truce flag. “We always do,” he said cheerfully.
“And I appreciate it.” He was trying to lighten her mood and Sophie appreciated that as well. “Your assignment is the following-each of you will prepare an exhibit proposal, including the space requirements and cost of materials you’ll need to build it. It’s due in three weeks. Keep it simple. I don’t have the budget for anything grand.”
She left the three men to work and walked to where Marta stood motionless and stony-faced. “So now what?” Sophie asked.
A petite woman, Marta craned her neck to meet Sophie’s eyes. “Excuse me?”
“Marta, you obviously heard something. You’ve also obviously chosen not only to believe it but to publicly challenge me on it. Your choices as I see them are to either apologize to me for your disrespect and we go on, or continue this attitude.”
Marta frowned. “And if I continue?”
“Then there’s the door. This is a volunteer experience, on both our parts.” Sophie’s expression softened. “Look, you’re a nice kid and an asset to this museum. I’d miss you if you were gone. I’d really rather you chose door number one.”
Marta swallowed hard. “I was visiting a friend. A grad student at Shelton College.”
Shelton. The memory of the few months she’d been enrolled at Shelton College still made Sophie physically ill, more than ten years later. “It was just a matter of time.”
Marta’s chin trembled. “I was bragging on you to my friend, how you were such a great role model, my mentor, that you’re a woman who made a name for herself in the field using her brain. My friend laughed and said you’d used other parts of your body to get ahead. She said you slept with Dr. Brewster so you could get on his dig team at Avignon, that that’s how you got your start. Then when you went back to France, you slept with Dr. Moraux. That’s why you moved up so fast, why you got your own dig team when you were so young. I told her it wasn’t true, that you wouldn’t do that. Did you?”
Sophie knew she would be well within her rights to tell Marta that this was none of her business. But Marta was obviously disillusioned. And hurt. So Sophie reopened a wound that had never really healed. “Did I sleep with Brewster? Yes.” And she still felt the shame of it. “Did I do it to get on his dig team? No.”
“Then why did you?” Marta whispered. “He’s married.”
“I know that now. I didn’t then. I was young. He was older and… he deceived me. I made a stupid mistake, Marta, one I’m still paying for. I can tell you I got to where I am without Dr. Alan Brewster.” His very name still left a vile taste on her tongue, but she watched Marta’s expression change as she accepted that her mentor was human, too.
“But I never slept with Etienne Moraux,” she went on fiercely. “And I got to where I was by working my ass off. I published more papers than anyone else and did all the grunt work to prove myself. Which is how you should do it, too. And Marta, no more comments about Ted. However we disagree over this museum, Ted’s devoted to his wife. Darla Albright is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Rumors like that can destroy a marriage. Are we clear?”
Marta nodded, relief in her face and respect back in her eyes. “Yes.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “You could have just thrown me out.”
“I could have, but I have a feeling I’m going to need you, especially for this new exhibit.” Sophie looked down at her own ratty jeans. “I have no fashion sense, twenty-first or fifteenth century. You’ll have to dress Ted’s damn mannequins.”
Marta laughed softly. “That I can do. Thanks, Dr. J. For keeping me. And for telling me when you didn’t have to. Next time I see my friend I’ll tell her my original opinion stands.” Her lips turned up charmingly. “I still want to be you when I grow up.”
Embarrassed, Sophie shook her head. “Trust me, you don’t. Now get to work.”
Sunday, January 14, 12:25
Vito had placed a red flag in the snow every place Nick picked up a metal object. Now Nick and Vito stood with Jen, staring in dismay at five red flags.
“Any or all of those could be more Jane Does,” Jen said quietly. “We have to know.”
Nick sighed. “We’re going to have to search this whole field.”
“That’s a lot of manpower,” Vito grumbled. “Does CSU have the resources?”
“No, I’d have to request support. But I don’t want to go up the ladder with that kind of request until I’m damn sure these flags don’t mark arrowheads or buried Coke cans.”
“We could just start digging at one of the flags,” Nick said. “See what we turn up.”
“We could.” Jen frowned. “But I want to know what’s under our feet before we do. I don’t want to lose evidence because we moved too fast or the wrong way.”
“Cadaver dogs?” Vito suggested.
“Maybe, but what I’d really like to have is a scan of the property. I saw it on the History Channel. These archeologists used ground-penetrating radar to locate the ruins of an ancient wall. It was very cool.” Jen sighed. “But I’d never get the funds to pay a contractor. Let’s bring in the dogs and get it done.”
Nick held up a wagging finger. “Not so fast. The show was about archeologists, right? Well, if we had an archeologist, he might be able to do that… radar thing.”
Jen’s eyes sharpened. “Do you know an archeologist?”
“No,” Nick said, “but the city’s chock full of universities. Somebody must know one.”
“They’d have to work for cheap,” Vito said. “And they’d have to be somebody we could trust.” Vito thought about the body, the way the hands were posed. “The press would have a field day with this if it leaked.”
“And our asses would be deep fried,” Nick muttered.
“Who do you need to trust?”
Vito turned to find the ME standing behind him. “Hi, Katherine. Are you done?”
Katherine Bauer nodded wearily, peeling off her gloves. “The body’s in the bus.”
“Cause?” Nick asked.
“Nothing yet. I’m thinking she’s been dead two or three weeks at least. I can’t give you anything more until I get some tissue samples under my microscope. So,” she tilted her head sideways. “Who do you need to be able to trust?”
“I want to get a scan of the property,” Jen said. “I was going to see if anyone knows any of the professors in the archeology departments in the local universities.”
“I do,” Katherine said, and the three of them stared at her.
Jen’s eyes widened. “You do? A real live archeologist?”
“A dead one won’t do us much good,” Nick said dryly and Jen’s cheeks turned red.
Katherine chuckled. “Yes, I know a real live archeologist. She’s home on… a sabbatical of sorts. She’s considered an expert in her field. I know she’d help.”
“And she’s discreet?” Nick insisted and Katherine patted his arm maternally.
“Very discreet. I’ve known her for more than twenty-five years. I can call her now if you want.” She waited, her gray brows lifted.
“At least we’ll know,” Nick said. “I vote yes.”
Vito nodded. “Let’s call her.”
Sunday, January 14, 12:30
“God, it’s incredible.” Spandan held the Bastardsword in his gloved hands with all the care and respect due a treasure that had survived five hundred years. “I bet you wanted to kill that kid for trying to rip this off the wall.”
Sophie looked down at the two-handed longsword she’d taken from the case. The students were taking a “creativity break” to better help them “envision the assignment.” Sophie knew they really just wanted to touch the swords and she couldn’t blame them. There was a fundamental power in holding a weapon this old. And this lethal.
“I was more angry at his mother who was too busy talking on her cell phone to watch her kid.” She chuckled. “Luckily my brain hadn’t fully settled back into English, so when I cussed her out, it was in French. But, uh, some things transcend language.”
“So what did she do?” Marta asked.
“Went crying to Ted. He gave her a refund, then came after me. ‘You can’t frighten the guests, Sophie,’” she mimicked. “I still remember the look on that woman’s face when I dragged her little brat over to her. She wasn’t much bigger than the kid. Nearly broke her neck looking up at me. It was one of the few times being tall was an asset.”
“You need better security in this place,” John commented, his eyes focused on the Viking Age sword he held. “It’s a wonder nobody’s walked off with any artifacts.”
Sophie frowned. “We have an alarm system, but you’re right. Before, hardly anyone knew we were here, but now, with all these tours, we definitely need a guard.” The salary for a guard had been in her operating budget for the coming year. But nooo… Ted wanted paneling. It was enough to make her twitch. “I know of at least two Italian reliquaries that are no longer on their shelf. I keep checking for them on eBay.”
“Makes you wish for medieval justice,” Spandan grumbled.
“What would have been the penalty for theft?” John asked, slanting a look up at her.
Sophie carefully settled the longsword back in the display case. “Depends on what point in the Middle Ages-early, high, or late-and on what was stolen, if it was stolen by force or by stealth, and who the victim was and who the thief was. Felony thieves might be hanged, but most small thefts were settled by recompense.”
“I thought they cut off a hand or gouged out an eye,” Bruce said.
“Not commonly,” Sophie told him, her lips quirking at his obvious disappointment. “It didn’t make sense for the lord to disfigure the people who were working his land. Without a hand or a foot they couldn’t make him as much money.”
“No exceptions?” Bruce asked and Sophie shot him an amused look.
“Bloodthirsty today, aren’t we? Hmm. Exceptions.” She considered it. “Outside Europe, there were cultures that certainly still practiced eye-for-an-eye justice. Thieves lost one hand and the opposite foot. In European culture, go back to the tenth century and you’ll find amputation of ‘the hand with which he did it’ as a punishment in the Anglo-Saxon Dooms. But the culprit had to be caught stealing from a church.”
“Your reliquaries would have been in a church back then,” Spandan pointed out.
Sophie had to chuckle. “Yes, they would have been, so it’s a damn good thing they were stolen from here and now, not there and then. Now your ‘creativity break’ is over. Put the swords away and get back to work.”
Sighing heavily they did as she asked, first Spandan, then Bruce and Marta. Until only John remained. In almost an offertory way, he lifted the sword with both hands and with both hands Sophie took it. Fondly she studied the stylized pommel. “I found one like this once, at a dig in Denmark. Not this nice, and not all in one piece. The blade had corroded completely through, right in the middle. But what a feeling it was, uncovering it for the first time. Like it had been sleeping for all those years and woke up, just for me.” She glanced down at him with an embarrassed laugh. “That sounds crazy, I know.”
His smile was solemn. “No, not crazy. You must miss it, being in the field.”
Sophie arranged the contents of the case and locked it. “Some days more than others. Today I miss it a great deal.” Tomorrow, when she was leading a tour in period garb, she’d miss it a great deal more. “Let’s go-”
Her cell phone rang, surprising her. Even Ted gave her one day of rest. “Hello?”
“Sophie, it’s Katherine. Are you alone?”
Sophie straightened at the urgency in Katherine’s voice. “No. Should I be?”
“Yes. I need to talk to you. It’s important.”
“Hold on. John, I need to take this. Can I meet you and the others in the hall in a few?” He nodded and turned his chair toward the Great Hall and the other students. When he was gone, she shut the door. “Go ahead, Katherine. What’s wrong?”
“I need your help.”
Katherine’s daughter Trisha had been Sophie’s best friend since kindergarten and Katherine had become the mother Sophie had never had. “Name it.”
“We need to excavate a field and we need to know where to dig.”
Sophie’s mind instantly put “medical examiner” and “excavation” together, conjuring a picture of a mass grave. She’d excavated dozens of gravesites over the years and knew exactly what needed to be done. She found her pulse increasing at the thought of doing real fieldwork again. “Where and when do you need me?”
“In a field about a half hour north of town, an hour ago.”
“Katherine, it’ll take me at least two hours to get my equipment up there.”
“Two hours? Why?” In the background Sophie heard several disgruntled voices.
“Because I’m at the museum and I have my bike. I can’t tie all that equipment to the seat. I have to go home first and get Gran’s car. Plus, I was going to sit with her this afternoon. I need to stop by the nursing home and check on her at least.”
“I’ll check on Anna myself. You go to the college and get the equipment. One of the detectives will meet you there and transport you and the equipment to the site.”
“Have him meet me in front of the humanities building at Whitman College. It’s the one with the funky ape sculpture in front. I’ll be out front by 1:30.”
There was more murmuring, more intense. “Okay,” Katherine said, exasperated. “Detective Ciccotelli wants to be sure you understand this is to be kept in the utmost confidence. You must exercise extreme discretion and say nothing to anyone.”
“Understood.” She returned to the Great Hall. “Guys, I need to go now.”
The students immediately began to gather their work. “Is your grandmother okay, Dr. J?” Bruce asked, his forehead creasing in concern.
Sophie hesitated. “She will be.” Not the whole truth and hopefully for Anna, not a lie. “For now, you get a few free hours this afternoon. Don’t have too much fun.”
When they were gone, she locked up, set the alarm, and headed toward Whitman College as fast as she legally dared, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. For months she’d been missing the field. It looked like she was finally about to find one.
Sunday, January 14, 2:00
He sat back in his chair and nodded at his computer screen, his lips curving in a satisfied smile. It was good. Very, very good. If I do say so myself. Which he did.
He raised his eyes to the still photos he’d taken from the video of Warren Keyes. He’d chosen his quarry well-height, weight, musculature. The young man’s tattoo had been Fate sealing the deal. Warren was meant to be his victim. He’d suffered brilliantly. The camera had captured the exquisite agony on his face. But his screams…
He clicked on an audio file and a chilling scream blasted from the speakers with crystal clarity, sending a shiver of pleasure racing down his back. Warren’s screams had been perfect. Perfect pitch, perfect intensity. Perfect inspiration.
His eyes moved to the canvases he’d hung next to the stills. This series of paintings might be his best work yet. He’d titled the series Warren Dies. It was done in oil, of course. He’d found oil the best medium for capturing the intensity of expression, the victim’s mouth stretching open on one of those perfect screams of excruciating pain.
And the eyes. He’d learned there were stages to death by torture. All were most clearly seen through the victim’s eyes. The first stage was fear, followed by defiance, then despair as the victim realized there was truly no escape. The fourth stage, hope, depended entirely on the victim’s tolerance for pain. If the victim persisted through the first wave, he might give them respite, just long enough to allow hope to surface. Warren Keyes had had a remarkable tolerance for pain.
Then, when all hope was gone, there was the fifth stage-the plea, the pitiful appeal for death, for release. Toward the end, there was stage six, the final surge of defiance, a primitive fight for survival that predated modern man.
But the seventh stage was the best and most elusive-the instant of death itself. The burst… the flash of energy as the corporeal yielded its essence. It was a moment so brief that even the camera lens was incapable of complete capture, so fleeting that the human eye would miss it if one weren’t expressly watching. He had been watching.
And he’d been rewarded. His eyes lingered on the seventh painting. Although last in the series, he’d painted it first, rushing to his easel while Warren’s released energy still vibrated along every nerve and Warren’s final, perfect scream still rang in his ears.
He saw it there, in Warren’s eyes. That indefinable something he alone had found in the instant of death. He’d first achieved it with Claire Dies more than a year ago. Had it really been that long? Time did fly when you were having fun. And he was finally having fun. He’d been chasing that indefinable something his entire life. He’d found it now.
Genius. That’s what Jager Van Zandt called it. He’d first gained the entertainment mogul’s attention with Claire, and although he personally considered his Zachary and Jared series to be superior, Claire remained VZ’s favorite.
Of course, Van Zandt had never seen his paintings, only his computer animations in which he’d transformed Claire into “Clothilde,” a World War II Vichy French whore strangled to death by a soldier who’d been betrayed by her treachery. A crowd pleaser wherever the clip was shown, Clothilde had become the star of Behind Enemy Lines, Van Zandt’s latest “entertainment venture.”
Most people called them video games. Van Zandt liked to think he was building an entertainment empire. Before Behind Enemy Lines, VZ’s empire existed only in the man’s dreams. But VZ’s dreams had come true-Behind Enemy Lines had flown off the shelves-a runaway success thanks to Clothilde and the rest of his animations. My art.
Van Zandt understood that as well and had chosen Clothilde, caught in her moment of death, to adorn the Behind Enemy Lines box. It always gave him a rush to see it, to know that the hands gripping “Clothilde’s” throat were his own.
VZ clearly recognized his genius, but he wasn’t sure the man could handle the reality of his art. So he’d go on letting VZ believe what he wanted to-that Clothilde was a fictional character and that his own name was Frasier Lewis. In the end both he and Van Zandt would get what they wanted. VZ would get a best-selling “entertainment venture” and make his millions. And millions will see my art.
Which was the ultimate goal. He had a gift. VZ’s video game was merely the most efficient way to showcase that gift to the most people in the shortest time. Once he was established he wouldn’t need the animations. His paintings would be in demand on their own. But for now, he needed Van Zandt and Van Zandt needed him.
VZ was going to be very pleased with his latest work. He clicked his mouse and once again watched his animation of Warren Keyes. It was perfect. Every muscle and sinew rippled as the man struggled against his bonds, arching and writhing in pain as his bones were slowly pulled from their sockets. The blood looked good, too. Not too red. Very authentic. Careful study of the video had enabled him to duplicate every aspect of Warren’s body, down to the simplest twitch.
He’d done an especially skillful job with Warren’s face, capturing the fear and the defiance as Warren resisted the demands of his captor. Which would be me. The Inquisitor. He’d depicted himself as the old man who’d lured Warren to his dungeon.
Speaking of such, now that Warren Dies was complete it was time to lure his next victim. He opened UCanModel, the delightful little website with which he’d had such success in locating the perfect faces for his work. For a modest fee, actors and models could post their portfolios on UCanModel so that any Hollywood director had only to click on their picture to launch them to instant stardom.
Actors and models made the perfect subjects. They had beauty, the ability to emote, and their faces translated well to film and canvas. They also were so eager for fame and so poor that they’d take just about any job. Luring them with a part in a documentary had worked every time and allowed him to purport himself as the nonthreatening old history professor named Ed Munch. He was getting tired of being Edvard Munch, though. Maybe he’d be Hieronymus Bosch next time. Now, there was artistic genius.
He perused the lineup his current search had produced. He’d identified fifteen prospects, but he’d already eliminated all but five. The others weren’t nearly poor enough to be easily hooked. Of the five, only three were truly destitute. His financial checks had shown them all to be in or on the verge of bankruptcy.
He’d shadowed these three prospects for a week and found only one to be solitary and secretive enough not to be missed afterward. That was an important component. His victims must not have anyone to look for them. They were runaways like pretty Brittany with her folded hands. Or, like Warren and Billy before him, they had to be so secretive that no one would know they’d been contacted.
Of all the current candidates, Gregory Sanders was the perfect choice. Rejected and cast out by his family, Sanders was alone. This he’d found the night before when he’d followed Sanders to his favorite bar. Disguised as an out-of-town businessman, he’d bought Sanders a few drinks and waited until the man blubbered his sad tale. Sanders had no one. So he was perfect.
Clicking Gregory’s contact button, he zipped off his standard e-mail, confident in the steps he’d taken to mask his own identity, both physical and electronic. By tomorrow, Greg would accept his offer. By Tuesday, he’d have a new victim. And a new scream.
He pushed away from his desk and stiffly came to his feet, rubbing his right thigh. Damn these Philly winters. The pain was bad today. Apart from the sheer thrill, his art accomplished another important benefit-while he painted, he could forget about the phantom pains for which there was no treatment. No cure. No goddamn relief.
He’d reached the door of his studio when he remembered. Tuesday. The old man’s bills were due on Tuesday. Paying them was a necessity. As long as the mortgage and utilities were paid on time, no one would wonder where the old man and his wife had gone. No one would look for them, which was the way he wanted it. He walked back to his computer. He’d be busy with his new victim on Tuesday, so he’d pay the bills now.
Dutton, Georgia, Sunday, January 14, 2:15
“I appreciate you coming so quick, Daniel.” Sheriff Frank Loomis threw a glance over his shoulder before turning to unlock the front door. “I wasn’t sure you would.”
Daniel Vartanian knew the observation was fair. “He’s still my father, Frank.”
“Uh-huh.” Frank frowned when the lock didn’t budge. “I was sure that was the one. I’ve had this key since the last time your folks took a long vacation.”
Daniel watched Frank try five different keys, the feeling of apprehension in his gut swelling to dark dread. “I’ve got a key.”
Frank stepped back with a glare. “Then why the hell didn’t you say so, boy?”
Daniel lifted a brow. “Wouldn’t want to go steppin’ on toes,” he said sarcastically. “‘Jurisdictions bein’ what they are.’” The words had been Frank’s own, uttered just last night when he’d called to say Daniel’s parents might be missing.
“Pull that GBI stick outta your ass, Special Agent Vartanian, or I will, and then I’ll whip you with it.” The threat was not an idle one. Frank had tanned Daniel’s hide more than once for one prank or another. But it was because Frank cared, which was more than he could say for his father. Judge Arthur Vartanian had been too busy to care.
“Don’t knock those GBI sticks,” Daniel said mildly, though his heart had begun to pound. “They’re the latest technology, like all our toys. Even you might be impressed.”
“Damn bureaucrats,” Frank muttered. “Offer ‘technology’ and ‘expertise,’ but only if they run the show. Give ’em an inch and pretty soon they’ve descended like locusts.”
That, too, was a fair observation, although Daniel doubted his superiors at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation would see it as such. He’d found the key, but now had to focus on steadying his trembling hand. “I’m one of those locusts, Frank,” he said.
Frank huffed, irritated. “Dammit, Daniel, you know what I meant. Art and Carol are your parents. I called you, not the GBI. I don’t want my county overrun by bureaucrats.”
Daniel’s key didn’t fit the lock either. But it had been a long time, so that in and of itself was not a cause for alarm. “When was the last time you saw them?”
“November. About two weeks before Thanksgivin’. Your mama was headed in to Angie’s and your daddy was down at the courthouse.”
“Then it was a Wednesday,” Daniel said and Frank nodded. Angie’s was the town’s beauty shop where his mother had kept a standing Wednesday appointment since before he was born. “But why was Dad at the courthouse?”
“Retirement was hard on your father. He missed the work. The people.”
Arthur Vartanian missed the power of being the circuit court judge in a little Georgia town, Daniel thought, but kept it to himself. “You said my mother’s doctor called you.”
“Yes. That’s when I realized how long it had been since I’d seen either of them.” Frank sighed. “I’m sorry, son. I assumed she’d at least told you and Susannah.”
That his mother had kept such a thing from her own children had been hard to accept. Breast cancer. She’d had surgery and chemo and had never said a word.
“Yeah, well, things haven’t been so good between any of us for a while.”
“Your mama missed several appointments, so the nurse got worried and called me. I checked around and found your mother told Angie she and your father were going to visit your grandma in Memphis the day she canceled her December hair appointments.”
“But they didn’t go to Memphis.”
“No. Your grandma said that your mother told her that they were spending the holidays with your sister, but when I called Susannah she said she hadn’t heard from your parents in more than a year. That’s when I called you.”
“That’s just too many lies, Frank,” Daniel said. “We’re going in.” He shattered the small windowpane to the side of the door with his elbow, reached in and unlocked the door. The house was quiet as a tomb and smelled musty.
Stepping over the threshold was like stepping back in time. In his mind Daniel saw his father standing at the foot of the stairs, his knuckles battered and bloody. Mama stood at his father’s side, tears running down her face. Susannah stood alone, a desperate plea on her face for him to abandon the confrontation that she didn’t understand. It would be easier on Susannah if she never knew, so he’d never told her.
He’d walked away, planning never to return. The best-laid plans… “You take the upstairs, Frank. I’ll take this level and the basement.”
Daniel’s first look confirmed his parents had gone on a trip. The water was off and every appliance unplugged. His mother had a fear of fire by toaster oven, he recalled.
He cleared the first floor and heart pounding, descended into the basement, visions of bodies he’d found throughout his years as a cop bombarding his mind. But there was no smell of death and the basement was as orderly as it had always been. He climbed the stairs to find Frank waiting in the hall by the front door.
“They took lots of clothes,” Frank said. “Their suitcases are gone.”
“This doesn’t make a lick of sense.” Daniel walked into each room again, pausing in his father’s office. “He was a judge for twenty years, Frank. He made enemies.”
“I considered that. I asked Wanda to pull records of his old cases.”
Surprised and comforted, Daniel gave Frank a weary smile. “Thanks.”
Frank shrugged. “Wanda will be thankful for the overtime. Come on, Daniel. Let’s go back to town, get something to eat and figure out what to do next.”
“In a minute. Let me check his desk.” He pulled on the drawer, surprised when it slid right open. Staring up at him was a brochure for the Grand Canyon and his throat tightened. His mother had always wanted to see the Grand Canyon, but his father was always too busy and they never went. It looked like he’d finally made the time to go.
Suddenly the reality of his mother’s cancer hit him square in the face, becoming more than a secret she’d withheld. My mother’s going to die. He cleared his throat harshly. “Look, Frank.” He moved the brochures to the blotter, fanning them out.
“Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe, Mount Rushmore.” Frank sighed. “I guess your daddy finally took her on that trip he’d been promising all these years.”
“But why not just say that’s where they were going? Why all the lies?”
Frank squeezed his shoulder. “I guess your mama doesn’t want anyone to know she’s sick. For Carol, it’s a pride thing. Let her have her dignity. Let’s go get supper.”
His heart heavy, Daniel started to rise but a noise stopped him. “What was that?”
“What?” Frank asked. “I didn’t hear anything.”
Daniel listened and heard it again. A high whirring sound. “His computer is running.”
“That’s impossible. It’s turned off.”
The monitor was dark. But Daniel laid his hand on the computer and his breath caught. “It’s warm and it’s running. Somebody is using this computer, right now.” He hit the button on the monitor and together they watched an online banking screen appear. The cursor moved with ghostly precision, untouched by either of them.
“Shit, it’s like watching a Ouija board,” Frank murmured.
“It’s Dad’s online bill pay system. Someone just paid Dad’s mortgage.”
“Your daddy?” Frank asked, confusion obvious in his voice.
“I don’t know.” Daniel’s jaw hardened. “But you can be damn sure I’ll find out.”
Philadelphia, Sunday, January 14, 2:15
Vito stared at the “funky ape sculpture” with increasing annoyance. He’d been waiting for more than half an hour but there was no sign of Katherine’s friend. He was frustrated and cold, having rolled down his window for fresh air. The smell of Jane Doe was in his hair and his sinuses and he couldn’t stand himself.
He’d called Katherine a half dozen times with no success. He couldn’t have missed her. He’d been early and the only person he’d seen was a college girl sitting on a bench at the bus stop about fifteen feet behind his truck.
The girl looked about twenty and had long, long blond hair that had to touch her butt when she stood up. A red bandana covered the top of her head and two thin braids hung from her temples, but the rest of her hair fell loose, covering her like a cape. Enormous gold hoops swung from her ears and her face was half-covered by the round frames of her purple sunglasses. And to top it all off, she wore an old army surplus camouflage jacket that looked about four sizes too big.
College kids, he thought, shaking his head. She looked up the street, then down before drawing her knees up under her coat, propping her thick-soled army boots on the bench. She must be freezing. God knew he was and he had the truck’s heater going.
Finally his cell rang. “Dammit, Katherine, where have you been?”
“In the morgue, getting your Jane Doe settled for the night. What do you need?”
“Your friend’s cell number.” He looked up at the knock on the passenger window. It was the college girl. “Hold on, Katherine.” He rolled the far window down. “Yes?”
The girl’s full lips were quivering. “Um… I’m waiting for someone and I think it might be you.”
She was even prettier up close, and asking for trouble approaching men like that. “Hell of a pickup line, but I’m not interested. Go practice on somebody your own age.”
“Wait!” she shouted, but he rolled the window back up.
“Who was that?” Katherine asked, amusement in her voice.
Vito was not amused. “College kid trying for an older guy. Your friend isn’t here.”
“If she said she’d be there, she’s there, Vito. Sophie’s very reliable.”
“And I’m telling you-Goddammit.” It was the girl again, at his window now. “Look here,” he said to the girl, “I said I’m not interested. That means go away.” He started to raise the window, but she slammed her palms on the edge of the glass, curling her fingers into claws as she fought the window’s ascent. The gloves she wore were thin knit and every finger was a different color of the rainbow, clashing with the camouflage.
Vito was reaching for his badge when the girl took off her sunglasses. She rolled eyes that were bright green. “Do you know Katherine?” she demanded and it was then he realized she was no girl. She was at least thirty, maybe a few years older.
He gritted his teeth. “Katherine,” he said slowly. “What does your friend look like?”
“Like the woman standing at your window,” Katherine said, chuckling. “Long hair, blond, thirtyish. Eclectic fashion sense. Sorry, Vito.”
He bit back his smartass retort. “I was looking for someone your age. You said you’d known her for twenty-five years.”
“Twenty-eight, actually. Since I was in kindergarten,” the woman said brusquely and stuck out her multicolored hand. “Sophie Johannsen. Hello, Katherine,” she called into the phone. “You should have given us cell phone numbers,” she added in a tone that was singsong on top, but underneath was taut with impatience.
Katherine sighed. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to go, Vito. I have company coming for dinner and I still have to check on Sophie’s grandmother on my way home.”
Vito closed his phone and met the woman’s narrowed green eyes, feeling like a total and complete idiot. “I’m sorry. I thought you were twenty.”
One side of her full mouth lifted in a wry smile and he was struck with the certainty that he’d been wrong yet again. She wasn’t simply pretty up close. She was absolutely beautiful. Vito found his fingers itching to touch her lips. A woman could do amazing things with that mouth. Abruptly he clenched his jaw, both annoyed and shocked at the vividness of the images stampeding through his mind. Rein it in, Chick. Now.
“I guess I’m flattered. It’s been a long time since somebody mistook me for a college coed.” She pointed an electric blue finger at the building. “The equipment we need is just inside. There’s too much for one trip and I didn’t want to leave it on the curb while I went back for the rest of it. It’s pretty expensive. Can you give me a hand?”
Controlling his thoughts with considerable difficulty, he followed her to the building. “We appreciate your help, Dr. Johannsen,” he said as she unlocked the door.
“It’s my pleasure. Katherine’s been there for me more times than I can count. And please, call me Sophie. Nobody calls me Dr. Johannsen. Even my students call me Dr. J-but I think that’s more of a basketball reference, because I’m tall.”
She offered the last line with a self-deprecating smile and Vito couldn’t take his eyes off her face. Devoid of a speck of makeup, she had a natural, wholesome glow despite the hippie earrings and army surplus clothes and rainbow fingers. He was hit with a rush of yearning so keen it nearly stole his breath. Before… that had been lust. This was something different. He searched for a word, but only one came to mind. Home. Looking at her face was like coming home.
Her cheeks grew pink and Vito realized he’d been staring. For three beats of his heart she stared back, then abruptly turned to tug hard on the heavy door, taking a stumbling step back against him when it flew open. His hands gripped her shoulders to hold her upright, bringing her against him. Let her go. But his hands did not obey. Instead they held on and for one moment she seemed to relax, resting against him.
Then she leaped forward as if stung, lunging to catch the door before it closed again, breaking the contact and ending the moment.
He’d held her for only a few seconds, but it was like touching a live wire, and he took a step back, physically and mentally. Shaken and not liking it, he drew a breath. It’s just because it’s today, he told himself. Get a grip, Chick, before you make a fool of yourself. But he blinked in surprise as the next words tumbled from his mouth.
“Call me Vito.” He usually preferred being called “Detective” when he was working. It kept things nice and separate. But it was too late now.
“Okay.” The single word came out on an exhale, as if she’d been holding her breath. “Here are the things we need to take.”
Four suitcases sat by the door and Vito picked up the two largest. She got the other two and pulled the door closed. “I’ll need to get these back to the university tonight,” she said briskly. “One of the professors has the GPR signed out for a field trip tomorrow.”
It seemed she’d shrugged the moment away and Vito decided to do the same, but his eyes had a mind of their own. He couldn’t stop looking at her face, searching her profile as they walked to his truck. Her lips were still quivering from the cold and he felt a pang of guilt. “Why didn’t you just come up to me earlier?” he asked.
“You said to be discreet,” she said, looking straight ahead. “I wasn’t sure you were Katherine’s cop and you weren’t in a police car. I kept thinking that if you weren’t the right one, you might not appreciate me blabbing your name. Katherine didn’t tell me what you looked like and she didn’t give me the secret handshake. So I waited.”
While she froze, he thought, remembering the way she’d drawn her body up under the coat for warmth. He put the two large suitcases in the bed of his truck and secured them. When he reached for the smaller cases she held, she shook her head. “These are delicate. Given a choice, I’d ride in the bed and buckle these in my seat.”
“I think I can find room for you both.” He stowed the cases in the back floorboard, then opened her door. “After you…” His mind derailed when she moved past him. She smelled like the roses he’d thrown behind his seat in the truck, fragrant and sweet.
He stood motionless, just breathing in her scent. She looked nothing like his Andrea, who’d been dark and petite. Sophie Johannsen was an Amazon, tall, blond, and… alive. She’s alive, Chick. And today, that’s just enough to get you into trouble. By tomorrow, he’d be blessedly numb once more.
“Sophie,” she said warily. “I’m Sophie.”
“I’m sorry.” Focus, Chick. One unidentified body, perhaps more. That was what should be occupying his thoughts, not Sophie Johannsen’s perfume. He gestured to the front seat, determined to pull their interaction back to the professional level. “Please.”
“Thanks.” She climbed in and he heard the clinking of metal coming from her coat.
“What do you have in your pockets?”
“Oh, all kinds of things. This is my field jacket.” From one of the pockets she pulled a handful of garden stakes. “Markers for what we find.”
I sure as hell hope you brought enough, he thought, remembering the red flags Nick would be removing before they got back. They wanted a clean investigation with no prejudicing the expert before she started her scan. “Let’s go.”
Once they were under way, Sophie held her frozen fingers up to the truck’s heater. Without a word, Vito leaned forward and twisted a knob, turning the temperature up.
When her fingers were warm again, she settled into the seat and studied Vito Ciccotelli. His appearance had come as a surprise. With a name like Vito, she’d expected him to be a brawny thug with a face that had gone too many rounds with the champ. She could not have been more mistaken. Which was why she’d stared. She’d been taken off guard. You go right on thinking that.
He was at least six-two. She’d had to look up to meet his eyes, and at five-eleven herself, that didn’t happen very often. His shoulders were broad in his leather jacket, but there was a lean toughness to him that spoke more of a large cat than a scrappy bulldog. He had the kind of rugged, chiseled face that one saw in fashion magazines. Not that she read fashion magazines herself, of course. That was Aunt Freya’s vice.
Sophie imagined most women would consider Vito Ciccotelli swooningly handsome and fall helplessly at his feet. That was probably why he’d been so quick to rebuff her earlier-women probably hit on him all the time. It was a good thing she wasn’t most women, she thought dryly. Falling helplessly at his feet was the last thing on her mind.
Although that’s very nearly what she’d done. How embarrassing. But for that one moment when he’d held her against him she’d felt comfort and the solidity of welcome. As if she could lay her head back against his shoulder and rest. Don’t be ridiculous, Sophie. Men that looked like Vito were too accustomed to getting exactly what they wanted with the bat of an eyelash. But somehow that assessment felt unfair. As if it mattered. He’d come for her GPR. Nothing more. So focus on what you’re here for. A chance to work again. To do something important. Still, her eyes were drawn to his face.
He was wearing sunglasses, but she could just see the corner of his eye where the darkness of his skin was broken by tiny white lines, as if he was quick to smile. He wasn’t smiling now. At this moment, his expression was sober and brooding which made her feel a little guilty for feeling so excited and energized.
For the first time in months she’d be doing something that got her back into the field. That was what had her heart pumping and goosebumps pebbling her skin. The thrill of the hunt, of finding secrets hidden below the surface of the earth, not the memory of his hands gripping her shoulders. He was just keeping you from falling on your ass. It had been way too long since she’d been touched by a man, for any reason. She frowned and focused. “So Vito, tell me about this gravesite.”
“Who said anything about graves?” he asked, his tone casual.
She fought the urge to roll her eyes. “I’m not stupid. An ME and a cop are looking for something under the ground. So how many graves are we talking about?”
He shrugged. “Maybe none.”
“But you’ve found at least one.”
“What makes you say that?”
She wrinkled her nose. “L’odeur de la mort. It’s quite noticeable.”
“You speak French? I took it in high school, but I only learned the swear words.”
Now she did roll her eyes, her temper flaring. “I’m fluent in ten languages, three of them deader than the body you just came from,” she snapped, then instantly wished her words back as he flinched, a muscle twitching in his clenched jaw.
“The body I just came from was somebody’s daughter or wife,” he said quietly.
Her face heated, her annoyance becoming embarrassment and shame. Shoved your foot in your mouth, army boot and all. “I’m sorry,” she said, just as quietly. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. The bodies I come across have been dead several hundred years. But it’s not an excuse. I got a little… jazzed at the prospect of doing something interesting. I let myself get carried away. I apologize. It was insensitive of me.”
He kept his gaze fixed ahead. “It’s all right.”
No, it wasn’t, but she didn’t know what to say to make it right. She pulled off her gloves and began to braid her hair that still hung loose so it would be out of her way when she got to where the detective was taking her. She was almost done when he spoke, startling her.
“So,” he said. “You speak French? I took it in high school, but…”
His mouth turned up in a rueful smile and she smiled back. He’d thrown her a do-over. This time she would keep her feet out of her mouth. “But you only learned the swear words. Yes, I speak French and several other languages. It comes in handy translating old texts and conversing with the locals when I’m working.” She went back to braiding her hair. “I’ll teach you a few swear words in other languages if you want.”
His lips twitched. “It’s a deal. Katherine said you were on sabbatical.”
“Of sorts.” She secured the braid into a tight ball at her nape. “My grandmother had a stroke, so I came back to Philly to help my aunt take care of her.”
“Is she recovering?”
“Some days we think so. Other days…” She sighed. “Other days it’s not so good.”
“I’m sorry.” He sounded very sincere.
“And where did you come back from?”
“Southern France. We were excavating a thirteenth-century castle.”
He looked impressed. “Like, with a dungeon?”
She chuckled. “At one time, most likely. Now we’ll be lucky to find the outer walls and the foundation of the keep. They’ll be lucky,” she corrected. “Listen, Vito… I’m sorry I was out of line, but it really would help me to know a little more about what you need me to do before I begin.”
He shrugged. “There’s really not much to tell. We found one body.”
Back to square one. “But you think there are more.”
Keeping her feet well away from her mouth, she injected a note of lightness into her voice. “If I uncover something, I’ll know your secrets. I hope this isn’t one of those ‘now I’ll have to kill you’ things. That would ruin my day.”
The corners of his mouth quirked. “Killing you would be illegal, Dr. Johannsen.”
They were back to formalities. Too bad. She was still calling him Vito. “Well then, Vito, unless you plan to erase my memory, you’ll have to trust that I won’t blab. You don’t have one of those memory-zapping guns like they used in Men in Black, do you?”
His lips twitched again. “I left it in my other suit.”
“Forewarned is forearmed, they say. Which suit is it? I promise I won’t tell.”
Abruptly he grinned, exposing a deep dimple in his right cheek. Oh, my, she thought. Oh my, oh my. A smile turned Vito Ciccotelli from merely magazine-handsome to movie-star-gorgeous. Aunt Freya’s heart would be going pitter-pat. Just like yours is right now. Then he spoke.
“That information is classified,” he said and Sophie stiffened.
“So much for establishing rapport.”
His grin faded. “Dr. Johannsen, it’s not that I don’t trust you. You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Katherine vouches for you and that was enough for me.”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to give you any information that could bias your findings. Go in with a clean slate and tell us what you see. That’s all we want.”
She considered. “I suppose that makes sense.”
“Thank God,” he muttered and she chuckled.
“Can you at least tell me how big this area is?”
“One, two acres tops.”
She winced. “Oh. That’ll take a while.”
His black brows went up. “How long is a while?”
“Four, five hours. Maybe more. Whitman’s ground-penetrating radar is a small unit. We use it for teaching purposes. The biggest plot we ever scan with students is maybe ten meters square. Sorry,” she added when he scowled. “If you need an area that big scanned I can recommend some geophysical survey companies that are really good. They’ll have bigger units they can drag with a tractor.”
“With big price tags,” he said. “We can’t afford to hire a contractor. Our department budgets have been cut so much… We simply don’t have the funds.” He threw her a cautious glance. “Can you give us four or five hours?”
She checked her watch. Her stomach had already started to rumble. “Can your department budget spring for pizza? I didn’t have lunch.”
“That we can do.”
Philadelphia, Sunday, January 14, 2:30
Vito stopped the truck behind the CSU van. “This is the place.”
“I kind of figured that out for myself,” she murmured. “The yellow police tape and CSU van were my first clues.” Before he could say another word she opened her door and hopped out, flinched, then swallowed hard.
“It’s strong,” he said sympathetically. “Eau de… what did you call it?”
“L’odeur de la mort,” she said quietly. “Is the body still here?”
“No. But removing the body doesn’t always remove all the odor right away. I can get you a mask, but I don’t think it really helps.”
She shook her head and the big hoops at her ears swayed. “I was just surprised. I’ll be fine.” Her jaw set determinedly, she grabbed the two smaller cases. “I’m ready.”
She said it with a hard little nod, more as if to convince herself than anyone else.
Nick climbed from the CSU van and Vito had the satisfaction of seeing his partner’s face go blank. Jen McFain’s reaction was much the same. Of course they weren’t getting the full effect as Johannsen had braided the hair that hung an inch past her butt.
“Jen, Nick, this is Dr. Johannsen.”
Jen hurried forward with a smile, craning her neck to see Johannsen’s face. The difference in the women’s heights was almost comical. “I’m Jennifer McFain, CSU. Thank you so much for coming out to help us on such short notice, Dr. Johannsen.”
“You’re welcome. And please call me Sophie,” she said.
“Then I’m Jen.” Jen eyed the small suitcases. “I’ve always wanted to play with one of these. If you don’t mind, could you take off the earrings?”
Johannsen immediately dropped her earrings into one of the pockets of her jacket. “Sorry. I forgot I had them on.” She glanced over Jen’s shoulder at Nick. “You are?”
“Nick Lawrence,” Nick said. “Vito’s partner. Thanks for coming.”
“My pleasure. If you’d take me to where you’d like me to begin, I’ll get set up.”
They walked across the field, Jen and Johannsen in front, Vito and Nick trailing far enough behind that they wouldn’t be overheard.
“She’s not… what I expected,” Nick murmured.
Vito huffed a chuckle. He was keeping himself calm, cool, and collected. And would continue to do so. “That’s an understatement.”
“You’re sure she’s Katherine’s friend? She seems very young.”
“I did finally get in touch with Katherine. Johannsen’s the real deal all right.”
“And you’re sure she can keep this to herself?”
Vito thought of the memory-zapping gun and had to smile. “Yeah.” Then they came to the grave and he sobered. Now they would know if Jane Doe was a single or one of many.
Johannsen was staring at the grave. Her mouth drooped and he remembered how she’d dropped her eyes, ashamed of the calloused way she’d referred to the body. She hadn’t meant it, he knew. That she was so quick to apologize he could respect. She looked over her shoulder and met his eyes. “You found the woman here?”
“The field is big. Do you have a preference on where you’d like me to start?”
“Dr. Johannsen thinks it will take four or five hours to scan the whole field,” Vito said. “Let’s survey the area to the right and left of the grave and see what we have.”
“That sounds like a plan,” Jen said. “How long will it take you to get ready?”
“Not long.” Sophie dropped to her knees in the snow and began opening the cases they’d brought, demonstrating the assembly for Jen who looked like a kid on Christmas. “The unit sends data to the laptop wirelessly and the laptop will store it.” She set the laptop on one of the cases, powered it up, then stood, the scanning portion in her hand.
Nick leaned forward, studying it. “It looks like a carpet sweeper,” he said.
“A fifteen-thousand-dollar carpet sweeper,” Johannsen said and Vito whistled.
“Fifteen grand for that? You said it was a little one.”
“It is. The big ones start at fifty. Are you all familiar with ground penetrating radar?”
“Jen is,” Vito said. “We were going to call for the cadaver dogs.”
“That works, but GPR gives you an image of what’s under the ground. It’s not a clear image like an x-ray. GPR tells you where and how deep an object is. The colors on the display represent the amplitude of the object. Brighter colors, bigger amplitude.”
Jen nodded. “Brighter the color, bigger the amplitude, bigger the object.”
“Or the stronger the reflection. Metals will have high amplitude. Air pockets reflect even better. The amount of reflection depends on what you’re looking for.”
“What about bone?” Nick asked.
“Not as bright, but visible. Older the bone, the harder it is to see. As bodies decompose, they become like the soil and the reflections don’t stand out as much.”
“How old before you can’t see the bones anymore?” Jen asked.
“One of my colleagues identified the remains of a twenty-five-hundred-year-old Native American in a burial mound in Kentucky.” She glanced up. “I don’t think you need to worry about age.” She stood up and wiped her palms on her jacket. Her jeans were soaking wet, but she didn’t even seem to notice. She’d said she was “jazzed” and Vito could definitely see the energy in her clear green eyes. “Let’s go.”
She got to work, scanning along the height dimension of the first grave, slowly and precisely. Vito could see why scanning the whole field would take so long. But if they found something, they were in for a lot more man-hours than that.
Jen went still. “Sophie,” she said, her voice urgent.
Johannsen stopped for a screen check. “It’s the edge of something. The soil changes here, abruptly. It goes maybe three feet deep. Let me get a few more rows.”
She did, then frowned. “There is something here, but it looks like it’s got metal in it. We tend to see that in cemeteries with older, lead-lined caskets. The shape isn’t right for a casket, but there is definitely metal here.” She looked up, her eyes questioning. “Does that make sense?”
Vito thought about Jane Doe’s hands. “Yeah,” he said grimly. “It does.”
Johannsen nodded, accepting there would be no more answer than that. “Okay.” She marked the corners with her garden stakes. “It’s six and a half feet by three feet.”
“The same size as the first one,” Jen said.
“I didn’t want to be right, Vito.” Nick shook his head. “Fuck.”
Jen stood up. “I’ll get my tools and the camera, then I’ll get the team back and we’ll set up floodlights. Give me a hand with the tools, Nick. Vito, you call Katherine.”
“Will do. And I’ll call Liz.” Lieutenant Liz Sawyer had not been pleased to hear of the first body. Multiple unmarked graves would not be the news she wanted to hear.
Nick followed Jen, leaving Vito alone with Johannsen. “I’m sorry,” she said simply, sadness filling her eyes.
He nodded. “Yeah. Me, too. Let’s check the other side.”
As Johannsen continued on, Vito dialed Liz on his cell. “Liz, it’s Vito. We have the archeologist here. There’s another one.”
“Not good,” Liz said tightly. “One or more?”
“One at least. She’s just getting started and it’s going to take a while. Jen’s calling for her team and we’re going to get as much done as we can tonight.”
“Keep me apprised,” she ordered. “I’ll call the captain and give him the heads-up.”
“Will do.” Vito slid his phone back into his pocket.
Jen and Nick returned with the digging tools and the camera as Johannsen found the edge of the next grave. “Same length, same depth.” Twenty minutes ticked by before she looked up. “And another body. But this one doesn’t have any metal.”
“We didn’t find metal there with the detector,” Nick said.
Vito looked out over the field. “I know. That means there could be even more.”
Jen was laying plastic sheeting around the first new grave. “Take a spade, boys.”
They did, and for a while the four of them worked in silence, Johannsen marking the second plot and moving to the left to begin again, Nick, Vito, and Jen digging. Nick reached the body first. Jen leaned forward and with her small brush, removed the loose dirt from the victim’s face.
It was a man, young and blond. Decomposition was not yet advanced. He’d been handsome. “He hasn’t been dead long,” Nick said. “A week maybe.”
“If that,” Vito said. “Uncover his hands, Jen.” She did, and Vito twisted closer to get a better look at what he didn’t understand. “What the hell?”
“He’s not praying.” Nick frowned. “What is he doing?”
“Whatever he’s doing,” Jen said, “his hands are wired just like Jane Doe’s.”
The victim’s hands were formed into fists, both settled against his naked torso, the right above the left. The right fist was positioned level with the heart and his elbows pointed down. Both fists formed O’s. “He was holding something,” Vito said.
“A sword.” The whispered words came from above them, where Sophie Johannsen stood, her face ghostly pale under the red bandana. Her eyes were wide, horrified, and fixed on the victim. Vito had the sudden urge to pull her face against his chest, shielding her from the decomposing body.
Instead he stood and put his hands on her shoulders. “What did you say?”
She didn’t move, her eyes still fixed on the dead man.
He gave her a gentle little shake and pinched her chin, forcibly turning her face to his. “Dr. Johannsen, what did you say?”
She swallowed, then lifted her eyes, no longer bright. “He looks like an effigy.”
“An effigy,” Vito repeated. “As in ‘hung in effigy’?”
She closed her eyes, visibly steeling herself and Vito remembered that her bodies had been dead for hundreds of years. “No,” she said, her voice shaken. “As in a tomb or crypt. Many times tombs would have images of the dead carved in stone or marble. These statues would lie on their backs on top of the crypt. It’s called an effigy.”
She’d calmed herself, sounding like a teacher giving a lecture now. Vito supposed it was her way of coping. “The women usually had their hands folded like this.” She folded her hands beneath her chin, the pose identical to Jane Doe’s.
Vito glanced sharply at Nick, who nodded.
“Go on, Sophie,” Nick said quietly. “You’re doing fine.”
“But… but sometimes their arms were folded across their breasts.” Again she demonstrated, laying her hands flat. “Sometimes the man’s hands are folded in prayer, but sometimes he’s in full armor, holding a sword. Usually he holds the sword at his side, but sometimes the effigy was carved like this.” She balled her trembling hands into fists and laid them on her chest in exactly the way the victim’s were posed. “He’d hold the hilt of the sword in his hands and the blade would lie flat against his torso, straight down his center. It’s not as common a pose. It means he died in battle. Do you know who he is?”
He shook his head. “Not yet.”
“Someone’s son or husband,” she murmured.
“Why don’t you go sit in my truck? Here are the keys.”
She looked up at him, her eyes bright with unshed tears. “No, I’m all right. I just came to tell you I didn’t find anything to the left of the other plot. I’m going back toward the trees.” She wiped her eyes with her multicolored gloved fingers. “I’ll be fine.”
Nick stood up. “Sophie, now that you’ve told us this, I remember seeing pictures in an old history book. This is a medieval custom, isn’t it? Placing an effigy on the grave?”
She nodded but she was still very pale. “Yes. Earliest known carvings date as far back as 1100 and were common practice through the Renaissance.”
“Guys.” Jen was kneeling on the edge of the grave. “We’ve got bigger problems than this guy’s sword.” She came to her feet, dusting soil from her coveralls.
Vito and Nick looked down into the grave, but Johannsen stayed back. Vito couldn’t say he blamed her. What he saw made him want to turn his face away, but he didn’t. Jen had uncovered the victim down to his groin and there was a huge hole in his abdomen. “Sonofabitch,” he muttered.
“What?” Johannsen asked from five feet away.
Jen sighed. “This man had his intestines removed.”
“Disemboweled,” Johannsen said. “A torture used throughout history, but definitely used in medieval times.”
“Torture,” Nick murmured. “Holy shit, Vito. What kind of sicko would do this?”
Vito’s gaze swept the field. “And how many more did he put here?”
New York City, Sunday, January 14, 5:00
The pop of a champagne cork brought the noise level to a low roar. From the back of the room, Derek Harrington watched Jager Van Zandt hold the fizzing bottle away from his expensive suit amid the cheers of a host of young, eager faces.
“We used to be happy with a six-pack as long as it was cold.”
Derek glanced up at Tony England, his smile rueful. “Ah, the good old days.”
But Tony wasn’t smiling. “I miss those days, Derek. I miss your old basement and working all night and… T-shirts and jeans. When it was just you and me and Jager.”
“I know. Now we’re growing so fast… I don’t know half these kids.” More than that, he missed his friend. Fame and pursuit of the dollar had changed Jager Van Zandt into a man Derek wasn’t sure he knew anymore. “I suppose success does have a price.”
Tony was quiet for a moment. “Derek, is it true we’re going IPO?”
“I’ve heard the rumors.”
Tony frowned. “Rumors? You’re the damn vice president, Derek. Shouldn’t you have a little better information than rumors?”
Derek should, but he didn’t. He was saved a reply by Jager, who’d climbed on a chair and held his champagne flute high. “Gentlemen. And ladies. We’re here to celebrate. I know you all are tired at the end of a long convention, but it’s over and we did well. Every bit of our production of Behind Enemy Lines is committed. We have orders for every video game we can crank out the door. We’re sold out, yet again!”
The young people cheered, but Derek stayed silent.
“He sold out, all right,” Tony muttered.
“Tony,” Derek murmured. “Not here. Not the place or time.”
“When will be the place and time, Derek?” Tony demanded. “When we’re both Jager’s yes-men? Or am I the only one that has to worry about becoming a yes-man?” Shaking his head, Tony made his way through the crowded room and out the door.
Tony had always been dramatic, Derek knew. Passion often came hand in hand with artistic genius. Derek wasn’t sure he had passion anymore. Or genius. Or art.
“Of course you’ll all see a nice hefty reward for all those sales in your bonus checks,” Jager was saying and there were more cheers. “But for now, a sweet reward.” Two waiters rolled in a long rectangular table. On it sat a cake that was easily six feet wide and three feet long and had been decorated with the oRo logo-a golden dragon with a giant R on its chest. The dragon gripped two O’s, one in each claw.
He and Jager had chosen the logo with care. Derek had created the golden dragon, and Jager chose the company name. The letters o-R-o were symbolic, tied to Jager’s native Dutch. It had never bothered Derek the R was five times bigger than either of the O’s. But it bothered him now. Many things bothered Derek now. But, pasting a smile on his face for the benefit of the employees, he accepted a flute of champagne.
“We’re entering a new phase of oRo growth,” Jager said, “and to that end, we have some changes to announce. Derek Harrington is being promoted.”
Stunned, Derek straightened, staring at the smiling Jager. Quickly he re-pasted the smile, unwilling to be seen as out of the loop.
“Derek will now be executive art director.” There were more cheers and Derek nodded, his smile frozen. He now understood what Jager had done, and his expectation was confirmed with Jager’s next words. “And to recognize his incredible contribution to Behind Enemy Lines, Frasier Lewis is promoted to art director.”
The employees applauded as Derek’s heart sank to his toes.
“Frasier couldn’t be here tonight, but he sends his personal regards and good wishes for the next venture. He asked me to make this toast for him, and I quote: ‘Enemy Lines got us into orbit. May The Inquisitor launch oRo to the moon!’” Jager lifted his glass. “To oRo and to success!”
His hand shaking, Derek slipped from the room. There was so much cheering that nobody even noticed he’d gone. In the hall he leaned one shoulder against the wall, his stomach churning. The promotion was a lie. Derek hadn’t been promoted up. He’d been pushed aside. Frasier Lewis had brought riches and success to oRo, but his dark methods left Derek afraid. He’d tried to stop Jager, to keep oRo on the high road.
But now it was too late. He’d just been replaced by Jager’s yes-man.
Philadephia, Sunday, January 14, 5:00
It was worse than she ever could have imagined. What had been excitement for a hunt when she’d first arrived had abruptly become cold dread when she’d looked on the face of the dead man. Her dread became colder as the afternoon waned. She continued to scan and tried to stop thinking about the markers she’d laid. Or the man they’d found. Someone had tortured and killed him. And others. How many others would there be?
Katherine had returned to examine the victim and she and Sophie had exchanged sober nods, but no words. There was an unnatural hush to the site, the small army of cops moving efficiently but quietly as they did their jobs.
Sophie tried to focus on recording the objects under the ground. But they weren’t objects. They were people, and they were dead. She tried not to think about that, taking refuge in the routine of the scan, of the precise placement of each stake.
Until she reached into her pocket and found it empty. She’d grabbed two packs from the equipment room before meeting Vito. A dozen to a pack. Twenty-four stakes. Six graves. She’d located six graves already. The grave the police had located before she got there made seven. And I’m not finished yet. My God. Seven people.
Her vision blurred and angrily she rubbed at the tears with the back of her hand. CSU would have something that she could use to mark more graves. She raised her eyes to look for Jen McFain, but a sound behind her made her body freeze. It was a zipper, amplified in the surreal hush. Slowly she met Katherine Bauer’s eyes over the body bag she’d just zipped shut, and was hurled back sixteen years. Katherine’s hair had been darker then, a little longer.
The body bag she’d zipped had been much smaller.
The hush faded. All Sophie could hear was the drum of her own pulse. Katherine’s eyes widened with horrified understanding. She’d looked just like that back then, too.
Sophie heard her name, but all she could see was the body on the gurney, as it had been that day. So very small. That day she’d been too late and could only stand in shock as they’d rolled her away. A wave of grief surged, powerful and sudden. Anger followed in its wake, bitter and cold. Elle was gone, and nothing could bring her back.
Sophie blinked at the sudden pinch on her chin. She focused on Katherine’s face, on the lines sixteen years had wrought and let out a shuddering breath. Remembering where she was, she closed her eyes, embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
The pressure on her chin intensified until she opened her eyes. Katherine was frowning up at her. “Go to my car, Sophie. You’re white as a sheet.”
Sophie pulled away. “I’m all right.” She glanced up to find Vito Ciccotelli standing next to the very large body bag, his dark eyes narrowed as he watched her. He’d thought her rude and insensitive before. Now he probably thought she was unstable, or even worse, weak. She lifted her chin and straightened her shoulders, meeting his watchful stare with a flash of defiance. She’d rather be considered rude.
But he didn’t look away, just kept those dark eyes fastened to hers. Unsettled, Sophie shifted her gaze away from Vito and took a step back. “I’m all right. Really.”
“No,” Katherine murmured. “You’re not all right. You’ve done enough for today. I’ll have one of the officers drive you home.”
Sophie’s jaw tightened. “I finish what I start.” She bent to retrieve the GPR’s handle which had fallen from her hands as she’d taken her little skip down memory lane. “Unlike some people.” She started to turn, but Katherine grabbed her arm.
“It was an accident,” Katherine whispered, and Sophie knew the woman honestly believed that to be the truth. “I thought after all this time you’d have accepted that.”
Sophie shook her head. Her anger lingered, bubbling inside her and when she spoke, her voice was cold. “You were always too soft on her. I’m afraid I’m not that-”
“Forgiving?” Katherine interrupted sharply.
Sophie huffed a laugh, utterly mirthless. “Blind. I’ll finish the job you asked me to do.” She pulled away from Kath-erine’s grasp and shoved her hand in her empty pocket, then remembered. Stakes. She searched for Jen only to find the small army had gone largely still, watching with blatant curiosity as the scene between her and Katherine unfolded.
She wanted to scream for them to mind their own damn business, but controlled the impulse. She looked for Jen, but it was Vito Ciccotelli’s dark eyes she met once again. He’d never looked away. “I’ve run out of stakes. Do you have any markers?”
“I’ll find something.” He gave her another long look of speculation before turning for the CSU van. When he was no longer watching her, she felt the air leave her lungs in a long sigh and realized she’d been holding her breath for a long time. As the sigh left her body, so did her temper. Now all she felt was weary regret and shame.
“I’m sorry, Katherine. I shouldn’t have lost my temper.” She stopped just short of saying she’d been wrong. She’d never lied to Katherine and wasn’t about to start now.
The corners of Katherine’s mouth lifted in wry acceptance of what Sophie had left unsaid. “I know. Seeing the victim would have been bad enough, but you had a shock on top of that. I never meant for you to see any bodies. I thought you’d do the scan, then go home. I guess I didn’t think that through very well.”
“It’s okay. I’m glad you asked me to help.” Sophie squeezed Katherine’s arm and knew the air was clear between them again. It’s a good thing Katherine’s more forgiving than me, she thought ruefully. Then again, it was easier to forgive when one felt the loss less keenly. Elle had not been Katherine’s child. She was mine. Sophie cleared her throat, and when she spoke, her voice was brusque. “Now let me get to work so all the cops will stop looking at us.”
Katherine looked over her shoulder, as if realizing for the first time they had an audience. With a single lifted brow, the little woman sent everyone back to their business. “Cops are the nosiest,” she whispered. “Worse gossips than girls.”
“Now, that’s just mean.”
Sophie’s eyes flew up to see Vito standing behind them, clutching a handful of colored flags as if they were flowers.
Katherine smiled up at him. “No, that’s just true, and you know it.”
One corner of his mouth lifted. “Replace ‘nosy’ with ‘observant’ and we’re square.” His words were directed to Katherine, but he looked at Sophie, his eyes just as intent as before. He held out the flags. “Your markers,” he said. She hesitated before scooping them from his hand, the thought of touching him making her nervous. Ridiculous. She was a professional and she would do the job she’d been brought here to do.
She took the flags and shoved them in her pocket. “I hope I don’t need this many.”
Vito’s slight smile disappeared as his gaze swept the field. “That makes two of us.”
Katherine sighed. “Amen.”
Dutton, Georgia, Sunday, January 14, 9:40
Daniel Vartanian sat on his hotel bed, rubbing his brow behind which the beginnings of a migraine lurked. “That’s the situation,” he finished and waited for his boss to speak.
Chase Wharton sighed. “You have one fucked-up family. You know that, don’t you?”
“Believe me, I know. Well, can I have the leave?”
“Are you sure they’re really traveling? Why all the lies?”
“My parents keep up appearances, no matter what.” His parents had covered up many family secrets to preserve the family’s “good name.” If people only knew. “That they didn’t want anyone to know about my mother’s illness is par for the course.”
“But it’s cancer, Daniel, not some awful secret like pedophilia or something.”
Or something, Daniel thought. “Cancer would be enough to start tongues wagging. My father wouldn’t tolerate that, especially since he’d just agreed to run for Congress.”
“You never said your father was a politician.”
“My father was a politician from the day he was born,” Daniel said bitterly. “He just did it from the bench. But I didn’t know he was running. Apparently he’d just agreed to run before he went away.” This he’d heard from Tawny Howard who’d taken his and Frank’s dinner order. Tawny had heard it from the secretary of Carl Sargent, the man his father had visited the last time he’d been in town. “I’m sure he views my mother’s cancer as fodder for the opposition. My mother will go along with whatever he says.”
Chase was silent and Daniel could imagine his worried expression.
“Chase, I just want to find my folks. My mother’s sick. I…” Daniel blew out a breath. “I need to see her. I have something to tell her and I don’t want her to die before I can. We had an argument and I said some harsh things.” He’d actually said them to his father, but the feelings of anger and disgust… and shame… they’d extended to include his mother as well.
“Were you wrong?” Chase asked quietly.
“No. But… I shouldn’t have let so many years pass with this between us.”
“Take your leave then. But the minute you suspect anything other than an ordinary vacation, you back off and we’ll set up a proper investigation. I don’t want my ass fried because a retired judge is missing and I didn’t follow procedure.” Chase hesitated. “Be careful, Daniel. And I’m sorry about your mom.”
“Thanks.” Daniel wasn’t sure where to begin, but was certain clues resided in his father’s computer. Tomorrow a pal from the GBI was coming to help him sort through his father’s computer records. Daniel only hoped he could deal with what he found.
New York City, Sunday, January 14, 10:00
From his chair in the darkness of their hotel suite’s sitting room, Derek watched Jager stumble through the door. “You’re drunk,” Derek said with disgust.
Jager jerked upright. “Goddamn it, Derek. You scared the shit out of me.”
“Then we’re even,” Derek said bitterly. “Just what the hell was that all about?”
“What?” The word was uttered with contempt and Derek felt his temper boil higher.
“You know what. Who the hell gave you the right to make Lewis the art director?”
“It’s just a title, Derek.” Jager shot him a scathing look as he yanked his tie from his collar. “If you’d been in the bar celebrating with us instead of up here in the dark, sulking like a little boy, you would have heard the news firsthand. We got a booth at Pinnacle.”
“Pinnacle?” Pinnacle, the game convention of the year. On the planet. This was huge. Pinnacle was to game designers what Cannes was to filmmakers. The premier event to see and be seen. To have your art admired by the entire industry. Gamers would stand in line for days for a ticket. Booths were awarded by invitation only. Pinnacle was… the pinnacle. He let out a slow breath, hardly daring to believe it was true. Only in his wildest dreams… “You’re kidding.”
Jager laughed, but it was an ugly sound. “I would never kid about something like that.” He walked to the sideboard and poured himself another drink.
“Jager, you’ve had enough,” Derek started, but Jager flashed him a furious glare.
“Shut up. Just shut up. I’m so fucking tired of you and your ‘don’t do this’ and ‘don’t do that.’” He tossed back a swallow. “We’re going to Pinnacle because I took a risk. Because I had the balls to push the envelope. Because I have what it takes to succeed.”
Derek cocked his jaw, coldly furious at what had been left unsaid. “And I don’t.”
Jager spread his arms wide. “You said it.” He looked away. “Partner,” he muttered.
“I am, you know,” Derek said quietly.
“Then start acting like one,” Jager said flatly. “And stop acting like some religious fanatic. Frasier Lewis’s art is entertainment, Derek. Period.”
Derek shook his head as Jager headed toward his room. “It’s indecent. Period.”
Jager stopped, his hand on the doorknob. “It’s what sells.”
“It’s not right, Jager.”
“I don’t see you refusing any paychecks. You act morally repulsed by the violence, but you’re in it for the money as much as I am. And if you’re not, you need to get out.”
“Is that a threat?” Derek asked quietly.
“No. It’s reality. Just contact Frasier and tell him to speed up the fight scenes he’s been promising me for a month. I want them by nine Tuesday morning. I need the fight scenes from Inquisitor to show at Pinnacle so he needs to light a fire under his ass.”
Stunned, Derek could only stare. “You already gave him the new game.”
Jager turned, his eyes cold. “It’s an entertainment venture,” he said between his teeth, “and yes, I gave Frasier the design for Inquisitor months ago. If I left it to you, we’d end up with the same sorry washed-out graphics we’ve had for years. He’s been researching and working the design for months while you’ve been sitting on your ass, doodling cartoons.” The last was uttered with contempt. “Face it, Derek, I’ve moved oRo to the next level. Keep up or get out.” He shut the door with a snap.
Derek stood motionless for a long time, staring at the door. Keep up or get out. Get out. He couldn’t just get out. Where would he go? He’d put all his talent, all his heart into oRo. He couldn’t just walk away. He needed his salary. His daughter’s college tuition wasn’t cheap. I am a hypocrite. He’d disagreed so vehemently with using Frasier Lewis’s scenes because the killings were so chillingly real. But Jager was right. I take the money. I like the money.
He needed to make a choice. If he planned to continue at oRo, he needed to come to terms with his distaste for Frasier Lewis’s “art.” Either I’m morally opposed or I’m not.
He sighed. Or he needed to decide if Jager had been telling him the truth, hard as it would be to accept. The same sorry washed-out look. That hurt. Am I jealous? Is Lewis the better artist? If so, could he accept that, and, more important, could he work with him?
Derek got up and paced the length of the room, stopping at the bar. He poured himself a drink, then sat back down in the dark to consider his options.
Philadelphia, Sunday, January 14, 10:30
Vito watched as Katherine wheeled away another body in a bag, the third they’d recovered so far. He’d been male, about the same age as the “Knight” as the first man had been dubbed. The name was inevitable once word had spread among the team that the archeologist said the victim’s hands had been posed to hold a sword. The woman they’d uncovered that morning had become the “Lady.”
He wondered what they would call this last victim. The third victim had lain with his arms at his sides. Well, kind of. One arm lay straight, but the other was mangled at the shoulder, barely attached at the joint and rotated so that the palm faced outward. The man’s head was in worse shape. What little that remained was unrecognizable.
“It’s late,” Vito said. “We’ve got uniforms on guard duty. I say we call it a night.”
“So, we meet back here tomorrow at first light?” Nick asked.
Vito nodded. “Then we begin to ID the victims. Katherine should have the initial exams done by morning. The autopsies could take days.”
Jen looked around. “Where is Sophie?”
Vito pointed to his truck where Johannsen sat sideways on the passenger side, her door wide open. She’d been there for about a half hour. He’d worried she’d freeze, then tried to put her out of his mind, figuring she’d have shut the door if she got too cold. But he’d been unsuccessful in pushing her out of his thoughts or his sight. He’d watched her as they’d worked. Seeing the Knight had rocked her. Still she’d worked steadily.
But something else had happened. When Katherine had zipped the body bag shut, Sophie looked like she’d seen a ghost. Whatever memory the body had triggered, it had been substantial enough to send Katherine to her side. And the two had exchanged angry words, that much had been crystal clear.
From then on, he’d watched her even more closely. It was simple curiosity, he told himself. Or perhaps nosiness was more accurate, as Katherine claimed. He wanted to know what had happened, both today and on whatever day she’d been remembering.
But he probably would never find out. He’d take her back and that would be that. Still, the sight of her sitting in his truck tugged at him. She sat with her knees up under her coat, much as she had earlier in the day. She looked young and very much alone.
“Are we finished with her?” Vito asked.
Jen nodded, looking at the printout of Sophie’s scan. “She did an incredible job.” Stakes and flags were arranged in four rows of four plots, every plot the same exact size, rows and columns spaced with military precision. “We just have to start digging.”
When Vito got close to the truck he noticed she’d loaded and secured the two big cases into the truck bed, all by herself. They’d been heavy when he’d done it earlier. She must have some muscle under her field jacket. He thought about how she’d felt those few seconds she’d leaned against him and wondered what else he’d find under her jacket, but again, he’d probably never find out.
When Vito got close to Sophie, his heart squeezed. Tears slid down her cheeks in a steady flow as she stared at the field with its stakes and flags. She’d seen things that rocked most seasoned cops. But she’d stayed the course. He respected that.
He cleared his throat and she turned her head to look at him. She wiped at her cheeks with her sleeve but made no attempt to hide the tears or apologize for them. Vito respected that, too. “Are you all right?” he asked quietly.
She nodded and drew a shuddering breath. “Yes.”
“You did good today.”
She sniffled. “Jen showed you the scan?”
“Yes. Thank you. It’s very thorough and very well done. But that’s not what I meant. You held up under terribly stressful conditions. Most people wouldn’t have.”
Her lips trembled and her eyes filled anew. She swallowed hard as she turned her back to stare at the field, visibly fighting for composure. Patiently he waited and when she spoke, it was in a hoarse whisper. “When Katherine called me today, I had no idea it would be like this. Nine people. My God. It’s unreal.”
“You marked seven of the plots as empty. Are you sure?”
She nodded, her tears slowing. “The seven empty ones are air pockets. But every one of them is covered with something thick and solid. Probably wood.” She looked at him, her eyes filled with horror and pain. “My God, Vito. He planned to kill seven more.”
“I know.” The scan had given them not only the lay of the land, but insight into the mind of a killer. Vito knew the insight would be valuable when he’d had enough sleep to consider it. “I’m beat,” he said. “You must be, too. Let me take you home.”
She shook her head. “I have to take the equipment back to the university and get my bike. Besides, you must have plans of your own tonight. A family to get home to.”
He thought of the roses, wilted now. He’d buy another bouquet and go to the cemetery next week. It wasn’t like Andrea would care one way or another. The flowers and the visit, he knew, were really for himself. “I don’t have plans.” He hesitated, then let the words come. “Or anyone waiting for me.”
Their eyes held and he could see she’d taken his words the way he’d meant them. He watched her throat work as she tried to swallow. “Well, then I’m ready to go when you are.” She was buckling herself in when he slid behind the wheel, then dug into a pocket and pulled out what, in the shadow of the cab, looked like a cigar. “Want one?”
He started the engine with a frown. “I don’t smoke.”
“I don’t either,” she said glumly. “Anymore, anyway. But you’d have trouble lighting this. It’s beef jerky. Good field food. Doesn’t spoil. And surprisingly, overrides the taste that’s been in my mouth all day.” She shrugged. “Temporarily, anyway.”
He took one of the sticks. “Thanks.”
As he munched, she dug into her pocket again, this time pulling out a drink box, like his nephews packed in their lunchboxes. He glanced over and made a face when the letters on the label registered. “Chocolate milk? With beef jerky?”
She stabbed the box with a little straw. “Calcium’s good for the bones. Want one?”
“No,” he said firmly. “That’s gross, Dr. Johannsen.”
“Don’t knock it till you try it.” She paused deliberately. “Vito.” She stared out the window as she sipped. When she was done, she put the box in a baggie, sealed it, and put it back in her pocket.
“So your field jacket serves as a trash receptacle, too?”
She glanced at him, embarrassed. “Habit. Can’t be leaving litter around the dig.”
“So what other foodstuffs do you keep in your pockets?”
“A couple of Ho Hos, but they’re a little squashed. They still taste good, though.”
“You like chocolate, I take it.”
“Duh.” She looked wary. “Don’t tell me you don’t. I was just starting to like you.”
He laughed and the sound surprised him. He hadn’t thought he had enough energy left to laugh. “I can take it or leave it. But my brother Tino, he’s an addict. Milk, dark, white, chocolate chips to Easter bunnies, Tino inhales it.”
She was smiling at him and once again he found himself mesmerized. Even with eyes red from crying, she drew him. “You have a brother named Tino? Really?”
He forced himself to focus on driving. “I have three brothers, but you have to promise not to laugh.”
Her eyes were laughing even as she firmed her mouth sternly. “I promise.”
“My older brother is Dino and my two younger brothers are Tino and Gino. Our sister is Contessa Maria Teresa, but we just call her Tess. She lives in Chicago.”
Her lips twitched. “I’m not laughing. I’m not even going to make any Mafia jokes.”
“Thank you,” he said dryly. “What about you? Any family in the area?”
She went still and he knew he’d touched a nerve. “Just my grandmother and my uncle Harry. And my aunt Freya, of course.” She’d added her aunt almost in afterthought. “And a few assorted cousins, but we’ve never been close.” She smiled again, but it was wistful. “Sounds like your family is. Close, that is. That’s nice.”
She sounded lost and once again his heart squeezed. “It is nice, although at times it’s very noisy. My family’s in and out of my house like Grand Central Station. Tino actually rents the apartment in my basement, so he’s a permanent fixture. There are some times I pray for silence.“
“I think if you truly had silence, you’d wish for noise,” she murmured.
He stole another look at her. Even in the darkness of the cab he could see the weary loneliness on her face, but before he could say a word she straightened her spine and dug into her pockets for more beef jerky.
“How long before I don’t taste… that anymore?” she asked.
“Hopefully in a few hours. Maybe by tomorrow.”
“You want another one?”
He grimaced. “No thanks. You wouldn’t happen to have a burger or fries in one of those pockets, would you?” he added lightly and was relieved when she smiled at him.
“Nope. But I do have a cell phone, a camera, a compass, a box of paintbrushes, a ruler, two emergency flares, a flashlight, and… a box of matches. I can survive anywhere.”
He found himself chuckling. “It’s a wonder you could walk. Your coat must weigh fifty pounds.”
“Close. I’ve had this coat for a lot of years. I hope I can get it clean.” Her smile faded and the haunted look returned. “L’odeur de la mort,” she said quietly. He wanted to say something to comfort her, but no words came, so he said nothing at all.
Sunday, January 14, 11:15
Vito stopped his truck in front of the funky ape sculpture. “Dr. Johannsen.” He gently shook her shoulder. “Sophie.”
She woke with a jerk and in her eyes he saw an instant of disoriented fear before she realized where she was. “I fell asleep. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t. I wish I could have.”
Shaking herself to full attention, she was out of his truck before he could come around to help her. But her shoulders sagged. He took the two small cases from behind her seat. “You go on up and open the door. I’ll carry these.”
“Normally I carry my own gear, but tonight I’ll say thank you.” He followed her up to the door, remembering earlier this afternoon, the long look they’d shared. Her hands faltered as she unlocked the front door and he hoped she was remembering it, too. But she opened the door without mishap this time and flipped on a light switch. “You can leave the cases there. I can get them downstairs myself.”
“Just show me where to put them, Sophie,” he said. “And I’ll go get the other two.”
There was a fine line between independence and stubbornness, Vito thought as he went back to his truck for the two big cases. It seemed Sophie Johannsen walked the sensible side, although he suspected it was only out of sheer exhaustion. She’d allowed him to take the small cases to a basement storeroom, but was adamant that she had to clean the equipment tonight.
He took the two big cases from the back of the truck and set them on the sidewalk. He had no idea how long cleaning the equipment would take, but the campus was deserted and he sure as hell wasn’t leaving her here alone. Besides, there were way worse fates than watching Sophie Johannsen, so he’d wait as long as he needed to.
He looked down at his muddy boots. If he had to wait, he could at least be comfortable. Reaching behind his seat, he felt for his shoes-and once again came up with the roses. They gave him pause. At least this time they hadn’t pricked him.
He’d bought them for the woman he once thought he could love forever, who died two years ago. Today. He’d waited two years. Surely that was long enough. But…
Vito sighed. He was attracted to Sophie Johannsen. No man with a pulse wouldn’t be. But it wasn’t the attraction that was bothering him. It was the need he’d felt all day, at the field, in the truck. He’d watched her work and weep and she made him want. Maybe all that sudden yearning was because it was today. He didn’t want to think so, but Vito was a careful man. He’d pushed a relationship once before and the results had been disastrous. He didn’t make the same mistake twice.
Vito tossed the roses behind the passenger seat and changed into his shoes. He’d take Sophie home, then come back in a few weeks and he’d see if she still made him want. If she did, and if she felt the same, nothing would hold him back.
“I thought you’d gotten lost,” she said when he put the two big cases down inside the storeroom. She was bent over a worktable, scrubbing one of the pieces with a toothbrush. “This could take a while. Go home, Vito. I’m fine here.”
Vito shook his head. The reason he’d picked her up at the college in the first place was because she didn’t have a car. She rode a bike, Katherine had said. He wasn’t about to let her ride her bicycle home at this time of night after working all day. “No, I’ll see you home safely. It’s the least I can do,” he added when her mouth set stubbornly. He tried a different tack. “Look, I’ve got a sister and I’d want somebody to see her home.” Her green eyes narrowed as she shot a look of annoyed reproach, so he fell back on the tried and true with a sigh. “I’m tired. Don’t argue with me. Please.”
Her frown relaxed and she chuckled. “Now you sound like Katherine.”
He thought about the angry words the two had shared that afternoon, then the way Katherine had smoothed the hair from Sophie’s face before sending her back to finish her scan. Their relationship ran very deep. “You’ve known her since you were a girl.”
“She was the mother I never had. Is,” she corrected herself with a small smile. “She is the mother I never had.”
Her face was dirty and streaked from the tears she’d shed. Her hair was disheveled, a few straggling strands having come loose from the tight ball of braids at her nape. He found himself wanting to smooth the hair from her face, just as Katherine had done.
But not for the same reason. He shoved his hands in his pockets.
Tall and strong, with her green eyes and golden hair, Sophie Johannsen was a beautiful woman with a bright mind and a quick temper. And a soft heart. She intrigued him as no woman had for some time. Two weeks, he warned himself. You wait two weeks, Ciccotelli.
But because his mind had already cut those two weeks down to one, he forced himself to change mental tracks. The sight of the body bag had triggered her extreme reaction. It didn’t take a detective to guess she’d seen one before.
“When did your mother die?” he asked and her hands stilled and her jaw tightened.
“She’s not dead,” she finally said, resuming her task.
Surprised, Vito frowned. “But… I don’t understand.”
Her smile was quick and flat. “That’s okay. Neither do I.”
It was a nice way of telling him to mind his own business. He was wondering how to probe deeper when she stopped working and began unbuttoning her coat. His brain stopped churning and he realized he was holding his breath, waiting to see what her bulky coat concealed. He wasn’t disappointed. She shrugged out of the coat, revealing a soft knit sweater that clung to every curve. He let the breath out as quietly as he could. Sophie Johannsen had a hell of a lot of curves.
She hung her coat on a hook on the back of the door, then turned back to her worktable, rolling her shoulders and he shoved his hands deeper in his pockets to keep from touching her. She glanced up at him before resuming her work. “You know you really can go. I’m fine here alone.”
Irritation scraped at him, obliterating whatever smooth segue he might have come up with. “So where is your mother then, if she’s not dead?”
Again her hands stilled and she turned only her head to look at him with a mixture of cool amusement and incredulity. “Katherine was right. You cops are nosy.” She said no more, concentrating on cleaning the piece as if she performed brain surgery.
Her dismissal irritated him. “Well? Where is she?”
She shot him a warning look and blew out an impatient breath. “So, tell me more about the brother who inhales chocolate. Him I can like.”
He’d pushed too far and for the life of him didn’t know why he’d done so. He wasn’t normally so rude. “Which translates to mind your own business,” he said ruefully.
She flashed a quick grin. “You detectives are so smart.” She lifted a brow as she opened the next cases. “So you and your brother are just bachelors roughing it?”
“You’re nosy, too, just more subtle about it,” he said and her warm chuckle told him he was right. It had been a while since he’d done this tango, but he still remembered the steps. She was establishing boundaries, which meant she was interested, too. “Tino’s kind of in between jobs. He was a commercial artist at this fancy advertising company, but they started taking on clients and projects he couldn’t morally support. So he quit. He couldn’t afford his condo in Center City anymore, so…”
“So you opened your home,” she said quietly. “That was nice of you, Vito.”
Her tone soothed his anger, brushing it away as if it had never been. “He’s my brother. And my friend.” And to Vito, that had always been reason enough.
She considered it for a moment, then nodded. “Then he’s a fortunate man.”
He said no more, warmed by the compliment she’d paid him with such effortless sincerity and a week was suddenly too long. The yearning was far stronger now. He wanted to race, to grab what he needed before it disappeared. One day, Chick. At least sleep on it. That he could try.
For now Vito contented himself in watching her go about her work. Finally, she stood and dusted her hands on her jeans. “I’m done.”
His hands itched to touch so he kept them in his pockets, not even offering to help her with her coat. “Then let’s go get your bike.”
Her brows slightly bent in question as she sensed his shift of mood. But apparently she really wasn’t as nosy as he was. “I’m parked around the back.”
Sunday, January 14, 11:55
Sophie cast a wary glance up at Vito Ciccotelli as she locked the door to the Humanities building and led him to the parking lot. He’d watched her with an intensity that made her so nervous that what should have been a fifteen-minute cleaning had taken twice that long.
He’d watched her as a large cat would watch his prey, cautious and intent. She wondered why. Why he was so cautious, that was. She knew why she was the prey. She was accustomed to that look from men. When they got that look they wanted sex.
Sometimes they got it. But only when she needed it, too.
Which hadn’t been too often and certainly not recently. For the last six months she’d either been working or sitting with Anna, and before… Well, it was hard finding someone on the road and she never dated men on a dig. It was a politically foolish thing to do, career suicide. She ought to know. It only took one foolish, stupid, idiotic…
And years later, there was still talk. Easy, needy… desperate. She’d spent the years since focused on her career, striving to remain as sexless as possible. But she was human. She’d had to find men who’d never come in contact with her colleagues and that took time. So she’d spent the better part of her life alone, damning that one regrettable moment when she’d believed the smooth lies of a man she’d thought was her soul mate.
Not all men were pigs, she knew. Her uncle Harry was a sterling example of a kind, good man. Something inside her wanted to believe Vito Ciccotelli was as well. He obviously cared about people, both living and dead. She respected that.
Pocketing her key, she looked up at him. He was staring straight ahead into the night, his mind clearly elsewhere. Alone, she thought. Right now he looked very alone.
Two alone people might find a way not to be. For a while, anyway. It was something to consider. “Are you all right?” she asked. “You look… grim.”
“I’m sorry. My mind wandered.” He looked around. “Let’s get your bike and put it in the bed of my truck, then I’ll drive you home.”
Sophie lifted her brows. “My bike in your truck? I don’t think so.” She started walking and he followed, his huff of frustration audible.
She stopped next to her bike, and in the light of the streetlamps she saw his face flatten in surprise. “This is yours?”
“It is.” She unhooked her helmet from the seat. “Why?”
Sophie was relieved to see his broodiness had disappeared, replaced by a spark of excitement as he took a slow walk around her motorcycle. “Katherine said you had a bike. I thought she meant a bicycle. This…” He ran a hand over the engine reverently. “This is a real beauty.”
“Yeah. Harley Buell.”
Fast and sleek. “Oooh. Racer.”
He looked up from his inspection and grinned. “Scares my mom to death.”
His delight was infectious so she grinned back. “You bad boy, you.”
He took another walk around the bike, stopping at the front tire so that he faced her. “I’ve never seen this BMW model before.”
“It’s a classic-1974. I got it when I was working in Europe. Zero to a hundred in under ten seconds.” She laughed. “God, it’s a rush.”
He suddenly sobered. “I am a cop, Sophie. You don’t speed, do you?”
Her grin disappeared. She wasn’t sure if he was serious, but decided to err on the side of caution. “Oh, I meant a hundred kilometers an hour. That’s barely sixty.”
He continued to frown for another second, and then his lips began to twitch. “Nice save. I’ll have to remember that one.”
Her chuckle was shaky. “You do that, Vito.” Setting the helmet firmly on her head, she patted her pockets, then frowned. “Oh, shit.” Frantically, she dug in each pocket and came up with everything but what she was looking for. “My keys are gone.”
“You just put it in your pocket.”
“That was the university key. I keep it on a separate ring. I’m only here once a week.” She closed her eyes. “If I lost my keys at the dig, I mean crime scene…”
Vito’s hand closed over her shoulder and gently squeezed. “Calm down, Sophie. If you lost them at the crime scene, they’re in the very safest place. We’ll be covering every inch of that ground with a fine-tooth comb. We’ll find them.”
She made herself breathe. “That’s good, but I kind of need them now. My bike keys, my house keys… and the Albright. Goddammit, Ted the Third’s gonna shit a ring.”
“The museum where I work. Ted the Third’s my boss. We don’t get along very well.”
“He plays at being The Historian,” she said, dropping her voice dramatically. “Makes me do these damn tours.” She scowled. “I have to dress up.”
“And you don’t like to dress up?”
“I am a historian, dammit. I don’t just play at it. At least I didn’t.”
“So why did you take the job?”
She sighed, frustrated. “I needed the money for my gran’s nursing home and Ted the First was an archeological legend.”
“Ted the First is your boss’s grandfather?”
“Yeah. His collection comprises ninety percent of our exhibits.” She shrugged. “I thought working with the Albright Foundation would be good for my career. Now I’m just biding my time until something else is available.” She smiled ruefully. “There aren’t many medieval castles in Philly. And my pride won’t let me flip burgers at McDonald’s.”
“So when was the last time you felt your keys in your hand?” he asked quietly.
She closed her eyes and saw her hand closing over her keys. She looked up to find him watching her with that steady gaze once again. “That’s very good. Redirect my panic and clear my mind. The last time I had my keys was when I first got in your truck. It’s what was jangling against the garden stakes. Maybe I dropped them in your truck.”
He dug his own keys from his pocket, then smiled down at her, sending her heart into a Riverdance. “Let’s go look.”
Sophie’s mouth went dry and every nerve went zinging and she knew if she wasn’t careful she’d give him exactly what he wanted. Because at the moment she more than needed it. For the first time in a long time, she actually wanted it too. She took his keys and stepped back, needing the space. “No, I’ll go. You stay and check out my bike.”
She jogged around the building and past the funky ape to his truck. She patted the passenger seat, the floorboards, but found no keys. She remembered the bumpy access road to the gravesite and stuck her hand under the seat, hoping they’d bounced under. Then she sighed with relief when she felt them. But they were stuck on something.
She reached around behind the seat and winced as thorns pricked her palm. She pulled out a bouquet of wilted roses and frowned. They were obviously for someone, because stuck among the flowers was a white card. Before she could look away, the handwritten words registered.
A-I’ll always love you. V
The roses might have been for his mom, she thought, but men didn’t say I’ll always love you to their mothers, not like that. No men she wanted to know anyway.
So he was taken. Fair enough. But betrayal pricked at her heart. He’d watched her all day and he… He what, Sophie? He’d said he didn’t have anyone at home. But that was not necessarily an invitation. Get a grip. You heard what you wanted to hear, because you were sad and needy. Desperate. She wanted to cover her ears, but the word echoed inside her head. She forced herself to be reasonable. He was nice to me. And in the end, that was all he’d done. He’d made no improper advances. He’d been nothing but a gentleman. So of course he was taken. All the good ones were.
He was straddling her bike when she got back, looking lost in thought again. He blinked when she came close. “Did you find them?”
She held up her key ring and tossed him his. “Under the seat.”
“Okay.” He climbed off her bike. “Sophie, I… Thank you. You were a huge help today. I wish we could pay you for your time. But I did promise a pizza.” He lifted his brows. “I know a place that’s open late if you want to get one now.”
Sophie swallowed. He’s taken. She still wanted him… So what kind of woman am I? She made herself smile. “If your department really wants to pay me back, give me a get-outta-jail-free card for the next time I get pulled over for going too fast on my bike.”
Vito frowned. “I wasn’t talking about the department taking you out to dinner. I was talking about me.” He drew a deep breath. “I’m asking you to go to dinner with me.”
She fastened the strap of her helmet under her chin with a hard yank, her heart sinking. Please don’t be asking me on a date. Please be the nice guy I want to believe you are. “Like… a-a-a date?” God, he had her stammering now.
He nodded, soberly. “Yeah. Like a date.” He stepped forward and lifted her chin with his finger until she was looking into his eyes. “I haven’t met anyone like you in a long time. I don’t want to just walk away.”
She couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, could only stare into those dark eyes, desperately wanting to believe his words, desperately wanting what she knew she couldn’t have. His thumb brushed her lower lip, sending shivers down her spine. “What do you say?” he murmured, his voice smooth and soothing. “I could follow you home, make sure you get home all right. Pick up a pizza on the way. We can talk some more.”
He moved a hair closer and she knew she was about to be kissed. She knew it would probably be one of the most earth-shattering moments of her existence. “So how about it?” he whispered and she could feel the warmth of him on her skin.
Yes, yes. The words were on the tip of her tongue. Then her brain finally kicked in, replaying Alan Brewster’s voice saying almost the exact same words. Sanity returned like a hammer to her head and she took a lurching step back just as he angled his face to kiss her. “No.” Breathing hard, she backed up until the back of her legs touched her bike. She climbed on, furious, but whether she was more furious with him for trying it or for herself for nearly becoming yet another notch in another man’s bedpost she couldn’t say. “No thank you. Now if you’ll excuse me…”
He stepped aside without another word and she stomped on the starter, revving the bike’s hundred and ten horses to life. Before turning into the street she glanced at her side mirror and saw he hadn’t moved. He stood statue still, watching her go.
Sunday, January 14, 11:55
The ringing of his cell woke him from a sound sleep. With a growl he grabbed it and squinted at the caller ID. Harrington. Self-righteous little has-been prick. “What?”
He sat up. “I know. Why the hell are you calling me in the middle of the night?”
“It’s not even midnight. You usually work all night, Lewis.”
That was normally true, but he wasn’t about to let Harrington have the point. He had nothing but contempt for the man and his rainbow-and-Ziggy view of the world. He wanted to strangle the sonofabitch, just like he’d strangled Claire Reynolds. He still did, every time he heard Harrington’s whiny voice.
Harrington had tried to block his art every step of the way, starting with his animation of Claire Dies, a year ago. Too dark, too violent. Too real. But Van Zandt understood business and what sells. The strangulation of “Clothilde” stayed in Behind Enemy Lines even though Harrington bitched and moaned about it. But Harrington wouldn’t bitch and moan much longer.
Van Zandt was systematically shoving Harrington out the door and the idiot didn’t even have a clue. “Goddamn it, Harrington, I was dreaming.” Of Gregory Sanders. His next victim. “Just tell me what’s so important so I can get back to it.”
There was a long pause.
“Hello. You there, man? I swear to God, if you woke me up for nothing-”
“I’m here,” Harrington said. “Jager wants you to speed delivery on the fight scenes.”
So Van Zandt had finally told Harrington he was out. It was about time.
“He wants them by Tuesday,” Harrington added. “Nine
The sweet pleasure vanished like mist. “Tuesday? What the fuck’s he smoking?”
“Jager’s very serious.” And so was Harrington. It sounded like every word was being dragged from his mouth. “He says you’re a month late.”
“You can’t rush genius.”
There was another pause, and he thought he could hear Harrington’s teeth grind. It was always such fun to yank the man’s chain. “He wants a fight scene and a cut scene from Inquisitor to show at Pinnacle.” Another, harder pause. “We have a booth.”
“Pinnacle?” A booth at Pinnacle meant prestige among gamers. Respect. Pragmatically it meant national distribution, which meant his audience had just become millions. Abruptly his eyes narrowed. This changed things. Pinnacle wouldn’t wait. It was a real deadline. “If you’re shittin’ me, Harrington-”
“It’s true.” Harrington sounded almost upset. “Jager got the invitation tonight. He wanted me to tell you to get those scenes completed by Tuesday.”
He’d make it happen, even though he’d barely started on the fight scenes. He’d been busy creating the dungeon scenes. “You’ve told me. Now let me go back to sleep.”
“Will you have the fight scenes for Jager?” Harrington pressed.
“That’s between me and Van Zandt. But you can tell him I’ll be in on Tuesday,” he added in as condescending a voice as he could muster, then hung up. Harrington deserved to be booted out on his ass. He was stagnant and way past passé.
Putting Harrington from his mind, he swung his leg over the side of the bed. Spreading lubricant over his residual, he grabbed his leg and pulled it in place with the unconscious motion brought on by years of practice. Meeting VZ would throw a hitch in his schedule. He’d have to move Greg Sanders from Tuesday morning to late afternoon, but he’d still have his next scream by Tuesday at midnight. He sat down at his computer and composed an e-mail to Gregory Sanders, changing the time and signing it “Kind regards, E. Munch.”
He knew he couldn’t test Van Zandt’s patience when it came to fight scenes for Pinnacle. Van Zandt recognized his genius, but even VZ would sacrifice art for an animated clip completed in time for Pinnacle. He needed something to show VZ on Tuesday, even if it was half-done. VZ would be satisfied, because even half-done creations by “Frasier Lewis” were worlds better than anything Harrington could do.
He considered the video he’d taken of Warren Keyes wielding a sword and that of Bill Melville brandishing the flail. For all his claimed expertise in martial arts, Bill had never really achieved the rhythm of the flail, and in the end he’d had to demonstrate it himself. He’d found that bringing the flail into contact with Bill’s human head felt a good deal different from the pigs’ heads he’d practiced on. The pigs had been long dead, but Bill… He pulled the video from the neatly shelved collection with a smile. The top of Bill’s head had sheared right off. It would make for a great “entertainment venture.”
He’d grab something to eat, turn off his phone and Internet connection to eliminate all distractions, then he’d get to work on a fight sequence that would make VZ happy and would make Harrington look like the two-bit hack he was.
Monday, January 15, 12:35
Bone tired, starving, and still utterly confused by Sophie’s reaction in the parking lot, Vito walked through his front door and into a war zone. For a moment he simply stood and watched as a barrage of wadded paper balls sailed across his living room. A rather expensive vase was perched precariously close to the edge of an end table, knocked askew by the sofa relocation. He needed no other clues to know he’d been invaded.
Then one of the paper balls hit him squarely in the temple and he blinked, stunned. He picked up the offending wad, frowning when he found one of his fishing sinkers inside. The boys had obviously improved their munitions recently. “Guys.” The balls continued to be hurled across the room. “Connor! Dante! Cease and desist. Now.”
“Oh, man.” The words came from the kitchen, quickly followed by his eleven-year-old nephew Connor, who looked both annoyed and mildly alarmed. “You came home.”
“I do that most every night,” Vito returned dryly, then winced as a blur of blue flannel hurled itself at his legs. “Careful.” He leaned over and pried five-year-old Pierce’s arms from around his knees, lifting him with a puzzled squint. “What’s on your face, Pierce?”
“Chocolate frosting,” Pierce said proudly and Vito laughed, a good deal of his weariness dissipated. He swung Pierce to his hip and hugged him hard.
Connor shook his head. “I tried to tell him not to eat it, but you know how kids are.”
Vito nodded. “Yeah, I know how kids are. You have frosting on your chin, Connor.”
Connor’s cheeks darkened. “We made a cake.”
“Did you save any for me?”
Pierce made a face. “Not much.”
“Well, that’s too bad, because I’m so hungry I could eat a cow.” Vito eyed Pierce. “Or maybe a little boy. You look like you’d be pretty tasty.”
Pierce giggled, familiar with the game. “I’m all gristle, but Dante’s got lots of meat.”
Dante popped up from behind the sofa, flexing his biceps. “It’s muscle. Not meat.”
“I think he’s all ham,” Vito whispered loudly, making Pierce giggle again. “Dante, the battle’s over for the night. You guys have to go to bed.”
“Why?” he whined. “We were just having fun.” At nine he was a big boy, nearly bigger than Connor. He rolled over the back of the sofa, and Vito cringed as the movement sent the vase teetering. Dante rolled off the sofa and caught the vase like it was a football. “Ciccotelli makes the touchdown,” he crowed. “And the crowd goes wild.”
“The crowd is going to bed,” Vito said. “And don’t even think about the extra point.”
Dante slid the vase to the middle of the table with a grin, indicating he’d been contemplating exactly that. “Lighten up, Uncle Vito,” he chided. “You’re way too tight.”
Pierce sniffed him. “And you smell really bad. Like the dog when he rolls in something dead. Mom always makes us give him a bath outside when that happens.”
Images of the bodies flashed in his mind and he pushed them away. “I’ll give myself a bath. But inside. It’s cold out there. What are you guys doing here anyway?”
“Dad took Mom to the hospital,” Connor said, suddenly serious. “Tino brought us over here. We brought our sleeping bags.”
“But…” Vito caught Connor’s warning glance at his two brothers and bit back the question. He’d have to get the details later. “Don’t you have school tomorrow?”
“No, ’cause it’s Martin Luther King Day,” Pierce informed him. “Uncle Tino said we can stay up all night.”
“Um, no you can’t.” Vito ruffled the boy’s dark hair. “I have to get up early tomorrow and I gotta sleep. So you gotta sleep.”
“Besides,” Connor said. “Tino didn’t say all night. He said till midnight.”
“Which is already past,” Vito said. “Go brush your teeth and roll out your sleeping bags on the living room floor. Tomorrow clean up all these cannonballs and put my fishing sinkers back in my tackle box. Okay?”
Dante grinned. “Okay, but we got some good heft with those sinkers.”
Vito rubbed his temple which still throbbed. “Yeah, I know. Where’s Tino?”
“Downstairs trying to get Gus to sleep,” Connor said, hustling Pierce back to brush his teeth. “He set up the crib in his living room. And Dominic is downstairs, too, studying for a math test. Dom says he’ll sleep on Tino’s couch, to take care of Gus.”
Dominic was Dino’s eldest and very responsible. Certainly more responsible than Vito had been at the same age. “I’m going to take a shower and when I come out, I want to see three lumps in sleeping bags, and I want to hear snores, okay?”
“We’ll be quiet.” Dante hung his head, a martyr now. “We promise.”
Vito knew they’d try, but he’d played host to his brother’s kids enough times to know their good intentions didn’t last too long. He sniffed his shoulder and grimaced. He did smell awful. He had to take a shower or the stench would keep him awake all night.
And even though he’d no longer be sleeping on the urge to ask Sophie Johannsen to dinner, he did have to sleep. He had to be back at the four-by-four matrix of graves in less than seven hours.
Monday, January 15, 12:45
Sophie let herself into her uncle Harry’s house and quietly closed the door. The television in the living room was on, the volume low, as she’d known it would be.
“Hot chocolate’s on the stove, Soph.”
Smiling as she sat on the arm of the recliner, she leaned down and kissed Harry’s balding head. “How do you always know to do that? I didn’t tell you I was coming.”
She hadn’t planned to. She’d planned to shower, eat, and fall into bed. But Anna’s house was too quiet and the ghosts, both old and new, were too close for comfort.
“I could say I’m psychic,” Harry said, not taking his eyes from the flickering TV. “But the truth is I can hear your bike as soon as you turn onto Mulberry.”
Sophie winced. “I bet Miss Sparks complains.”
“Sure she does. But I think she’d die if she stopped complaining, so consider it your good deed for the day.”
Sophie laughed softly. “I like the way you think, Uncle Harry.”
He huffed a chuckle, then looked up with a frown. “Are you wearing perfume?”
“It’s Gran’s. Too much, huh?” she asked and he nodded.
“Plus you smell like you’re eighty years old. Why are you wearing Anna’s perfume?”
“Let’s just say I came in contact with something really bad. It was in my hair, even after I washed it. Four times, even. I was desperate.” She shrugged. “Sorry. But trust me, it’s better than the alternative.”
He grabbed the mass of hair twisted on the back of her head and squeezed. “Sophie, your hair is still soaking wet. You’ll catch your death of cold.”
She grinned at him. “I might smell like Gran, but you sound like her.”
He looked disgruntled. Then he laughed. “You’re right. I do. So why did you come all the way over here with your hair all wet, Sophie? Having trouble sleeping?”
“Yeah. I was hoping you’d be awake.”
“Me and Bette Davis. Now, Voyager. Hell of a good flick. They just don’t make ’em-”
“Like this anymore,” she finished his sentence fondly, having heard it hundreds of times during her life. Sophie had learned at an early age that her uncle was a chronic insomniac who dozed in his easy chair in front of the television while old movies played. It had been an enormous comfort, knowing that if she ever needed him, he’d be right here in this chair every night, ready to listen and advise. Or sometimes just to be there.
And he had been there for her. Always. “The first time I came down and saw you sitting here you were watching Bette Davis. It was Jezebel that time. Hell of a good flick,” she teased, but his face had changed, sobering.
“I remember,” he said quietly. “You were four years old and you’d had a bad dream. You looked so cute shuffling down the stairs in your footie pajamas.”
She remembered the dream vividly, remembered the terror of waking up in an unfamiliar bed. The beds had always been unfamiliar up to that point in her life. Harry, Gran, and Katherine changed all that. She owed them a great deal.
“I loved those footie pajamas.” They’d been handed down from her cousin Paula, then again from her cousin Nina. The feet had been mended and the flannel washed a hundred times, but to Sophie they were the most luxurious thing she’d ever owned. “They were so soft, and I’d never been so warm.”
Harry’s eyes flickered and his jaw tightened and Sophie knew he was remembering the threadbare cotton pj’s she’d been wearing when she’d been so unceremoniously dumped on his doorstep. It had been a night as cold as this one and Harry had been so angry. Years later, she understood his anger had been fully directed at her mother.
“I didn’t even realize you were crying at first. Not until I saw your face.”
She remembered the night she’d first come down the stairs, terrified and trembling from the dream, but more terrified of making noise. “I was afraid to wake anyone up.” She’d learned never to disturb her mother during the night. “I was afraid you’d get mad and send me away.” She rubbed her thumb over Harry’s forehead to smooth away his frown. “But you didn’t. You just picked me up and sat me on your lap and we watched Jezebel.” And just like that, Sophie had found a safe place for the first time in her life.
“Why the walk down memory lane, Sophie? What happened today?”
Where to start? “I spent the day helping Katherine. I can’t tell you the details, but it was in a ‘professional capacity.’” She quirked her fingers, punctuating the air.
“You saw a dead body.” His tone hardened. “Well, that explains the perfume. That was damn irresponsible of Katherine. No wonder you couldn’t sleep.”
“I’m a big girl now, Uncle Harry. I can handle a body. Besides, Katherine didn’t think I’d actually see one. She felt bad about that.” Turning to meet his eyes, Sophie drew a deep breath. “She felt a lot worse when I saw her zipping the body into the bag.”
Harry’s shoulders sagged and pain filled his eyes. “Oh, honey. I’m sorry.”
She forced a smile. “I’m okay. I just couldn’t stay in that house tonight.”
“So you’ll stay here, in your old room. I’m off tomorrow. I’ll make waffles.”
He sounded like a kid himself and this time her smile was real. “Tempting, Uncle Harry, but I have to leave early tomorrow. I’ve got to go back to Gran’s and let the dogs out, and then I have to work at the museum all day. But how about dinner?”
“You shouldn’t be having dinner with an old man like me. You should have a date, Sophie. You’ve been home six months. Haven’t you found anyone you like?”
Vito Ciccotelli’s handsome face popped into her mind and she scowled. She had liked him, dammit. Worse, she’d respected him. Worse still, she’d wanted him, even after she’d known she couldn’t have him. Now the thought of him left nearly as bad a taste in her mouth as the dead bodies in the field.
“No. Everyone I’ve met is either married, dating, or a rat.” Her eyes narrowed. “And sometimes they even act like they’re decent and get you to share your beef jerky.”
He looked alarmed. “Please tell me beef jerky is not a new euphemism for sex.”
Confused, she glared at him, then she laughed so hard she nearly fell off the arm of the chair. Quickly she covered her mouth so as not to wake Aunt Freya. “No, Uncle Harry. To my knowledge, beef jerky is still beef jerky.”
“You’re the linguist. You should know.”
She stood up. “So what about dinner? I’ll take you to Lou’s.”
“Lou’s?” His mouth bent down as he considered it. “For cheesesteaks?”
“No, for wheat germ.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course for cheesesteaks.”
His eyes gleamed. “With Cheez Whiz?”
She kissed the top of his head. “Always. I’ll meet you at seven. Don’t be late.”
She was halfway up the stairs to her old room when she heard his chair creak. “Sophie.” She turned to find him staring up at her, a sad look on his face. “Not all men are rats. You’ll find someone and he’ll be honorable. You deserve the best.”
Sophie’s throat closed and resolutely she swallowed. “I’m too late, Uncle Harry. Aunt Freya got the best. The rest of us just have to settle. See you tomorrow night.”
Monday, January 15, 12:55
Tino was sitting at the kitchen table when Vito got out of the shower. His brother pointed to a plate piled with linguini and Grandma Chick’s red sauce. “I nuked it.”
Vito slumped in a chair with a sigh. “Thanks. I didn’t have a chance to eat.”
Tino’s eyes narrowed in concern. “You went to the cemetery?”
Besides Nick, Tino was the only other person who knew what today was and how Andrea had died. Nick knew because he’d been there when it happened. Tino knew because Vito had too much to drink a year ago today and spilled his guts. But his secret was as safe with Tino as it was with Nick.
“Yeah, but not the one you mean.” Today’s field was a far cry from the neatly maintained cemetery where two years ago he’d buried Andrea next to her baby brother.
Tino’s brows went up. “What, you found graves today?”
Vito looked around the corner at the boys asleep on the living room floor. “Sshh.”
Tino grimaced. “Sorry. Bad case?”
“Yeah.” He devoured two helpings without speaking, then piled a third on his plate.
Tino watched him with mild astonishment. “When did you last eat, man?”
“Breakfast.” A picture flashed in his mind-Sophie Johannsen, her face streaked with tears, offering to share her chocolate milk, beef jerky, and Ho Hos. “Actually, that’s not true. I had some beef jerky an hour or so ago.”
Tino laughed out loud. “Beef jerky? You? Mr. Picky?”
“I was hungry.” And taking it from Sophie’s hand had made the snack far more palatable than he would have guessed. She’d nagged at his thoughts all the way home, but now more urgent matters pressed. He lowered his voice. “I tried to call Dino, but his cell went right to voice mail. What happened tonight?”
Tino leaned forward. “Dino called at about six,” he murmured. “Molly had been having numbness and she just collapsed. They think it was a mild stroke.”
Stunned, Vito stared. “She’s only thirty-seven.”
“I know.” Tino leaned in a little closer. “Dino sent Dominic to a neighbor’s with the kids so they wouldn’t see the ambulance take her away, then he called here looking for us, to get us to take the kids. He sounded scared to death. I went over to get them.”
Vito pushed his plate aside, no longer hungry. “So how is she?”
“Dad called two hours ago. She’s stable.”
“And Dad?” Michael Ciccotelli had a very bad heart. This kind of stress wasn’t good.
“He was ecstatic that Molly was okay and Mom was nagging him to calm down.” Tino studied him for a moment. “So you didn’t make it to the cemetery.”
“No, but I’m okay. It’s not like last year,” Vito added. “I’m fine. Really.”
“So you’ve paced your bedroom floor every night for the last week because you’re fine.” He lifted a brow when Vito opened his mouth to protest. “Your bedroom’s right over mine, man. I hear every creak of your floorboards.”
“I guess it’s only fair then. I hear every ‘Oh Tino.’”
Tino had the grace to pretend to be embarrassed. “I haven’t had a woman in my bed in weeks, and it doesn’t look like I will again anytime soon. But it’s okay. I had a custom portrait to finish. Thanks to your pacing I’ve finished Mrs. Sorrell’s painting ahead of schedule.” He waggled his brows. “You know the painting I mean.”
“I know,” Vito said dryly. The woman had contracted Tino to paint her portrait from a boudoir photo as a gift for her husband. “The one with the really nice-” He heard a rustle in the living room. “Sweaters,” he finished firmly and Tino grinned.
“Hey, I’m just glad I finished before the boys came over today. That job was decidedly… M for mature. Mr. Sorrell’s a lucky man.”
Vito shook his head, mostly to clear the image of Sophie Johannsen in her snug sweater that had popped up in his mind. “Tino, you’re going to get yourself in trouble one of these days, painting naughty pictures of other men’s wives.”
Tino laughed. “Dante’s right, you really are too tight. Mrs. Sorrell has a sister.”
Vito shook his head again. “No thanks.”
Tino sobered abruptly. “It’s been two years since Andrea died,” he said gently.
Since Andrea died was far too sanitized a phrase, but Vito didn’t have the energy to argue the point tonight. “I know how long it’s been. Down to the minute.”
Tino was quiet for a long moment. “Then you know you’ve paid long enough.”
Vito looked at him. “How long is long enough, Tino?”
“To grieve? I don’t know. But to blame yourself… Five minutes was too long. Let it go, Vito. It happened. It was an accident. But you’re not gonna accept that until you’re ready. I just hope you’re ready soon or you’ll end up a lonely man.”
Vito had nothing to say to that and Tino got up and pulled a plate from the fridge. “I saved you a piece of the boys’ cake. I supervised the baking, so it’s safe to eat.”
Vito frowned at the plate. “It’s all frosting. Where’s the cake?”
Tino’s lips twitched. “Not much of the batter made it into the pan.” He shrugged. “When they got here, they were scared about Molly. I figured what was the harm?”
Startled when his eyes stung, Vito dropped his eyes to the cake, concentrating on peeling off the plastic wrap. He cleared his throat. “That was nice of you, Tino.”
Tino shrugged again, embarrassed by the praise. “They’re our kids. Family.”
Vito thought about Sophie’s praise, sincere and unaffected. He hadn’t felt embarrassed. He’d felt warm and more comfortable than he’d felt in a very long time. From the corner of his eye he saw Tino rise.
“I’m going to bed. Tomorrow will be a better day, all the way around.”
Suddenly the need to speak hit him like a club. Keeping his gaze locked on the frosting-covered plate, he pushed the words out. “I met someone today.”
From the corner of his eye he saw Tino sit back down. “Oh? Another cop?”
No. No more cops. Not in a million years. “No. An archeologist.”
Now Tino blinked. “An archeologist? Like… as in Indiana Jones?”
Vito had to chuckle at the mental picture of Sophie Johannsen slashing through the jungle in a dusty fedora. “No. More like…” He realized a swift comparison was not easily conjured. “She dug up castles in France. She knows ten languages.” Three of them deader than the body you just left. She’d been ashamed at her insensitivity. She’d more than made up for it later. So what had happened in those last few moments?
“So she has a brain. Does she have any other interesting features?”
“She’s nearly six feet tall. Angelina lips. Blond hair down to her butt.”
“I think I’m in love already,” Tino teased. “And her… sweaters?”
A slow smile curved his lips. “Very, very nice.” Then he sobered. “And so is she.”
“Interesting timing,” Tino said blandly. “I mean, you meeting her today of all days.”
Vito looked away. “I was worried I was only interested just because it’s today. I’d convinced myself that today wasn’t the day to make a fast move. That it could be wistfulness or rebound or something.”
“Vito, after two years, it’s not rebound in anybody’s dictionary.”
Vito shrugged. “I told myself I’d come back in a few weeks and see if I felt the same. But then…” He shook his head.
Vito sighed. “But then I walked her to the parking lot. Damn, Tino, she rides a bike. Beemer, zero to a hundred in under ten.”
Tino puckered his lips. “Stacked girl on a fast bike. Now I know I’m in love.”
“It was a stupid reason to jump the gun,” Vito said, disgusted.
Tino’s eyes widened. “So you asked her out? That is interesting.”
Vito frowned. “I tried, but I don’t think I did it very well.”
“Turned you down cold, huh?”
“Yeah. Then took off on her bike like a bat out of hell.”
Tino leaned across the table and sniffed, grimacing. “It could be your unique cologne. That must have been some graveyard.”
“It was. And I get to go back tomorrow for round two.”
Tino put the plates in the sink. “Then you should get some sleep.”
“I will.” But he made no move to rise. “In a bit. I need to chill a little first. Thanks for nuking dinner.”
When Tino was gone, Vito rested his head against the wall behind him, closed his eyes, and in his mind went over those last few moments with Sophie. He wasn’t that rusty at asking a woman to dinner, and frankly he’d never been turned down before. Not like that. He had to admit it had pierced his ego some.
It would be easier to dismiss it as womanly whim, except Sophie didn’t seem like the type to change her mood with the wind. She seemed too sensible for that. So something had changed. Maybe something he did or said… But he was too tired to work through it anymore tonight. Tomorrow he’d just go ask her. That was wiser than trying to guess the mind of a woman, no matter how sensible she seemed.
He’d gotten up to turn out the lights when he heard the noise, little and snuffling, and coming from the lump in Pierce’s sleeping bag. Vito’s heart squeezed. They were just babies, really. And they must have been so scared, seeing their mom collapse like that. He hunkered down by Pierce’s sleeping bag and ran his hand over the boy’s back.
Vito peeled the bag to reveal Pierce’s tear-streaked face. “You scared?”
Pierce shook his head hard, but Vito waited and ten seconds later he was nodding.
Connor sat up. “He’s just a kid. You know how kids are.”
Vito nodded sagely, noticing Connor’s eyes were a little puffy as well. “I know. Is Dante awake, too?” He pulled Dante’s bag back far enough to peek and Dante blinked up at him. “So nobody’s sleeping, huh? What would help? Warm milk?”
Connor made a face. “You’re kidding, right?”
“It’s what they always do on TV.” He sat down on the floor between Pierce and Dante. “So what would help, ’cause I can’t stay awake all night with you. I have to work in a few hours, and I won’t be able to sleep if the three of you are wide awake. Eventually you’d start fighting and wake me up. So how do we resolve this?”
“Mom sings,” Dante mumbled. “To Pierce.”
Pierce gave Vito a yeah-right look. “To all of us.”
Molly had a nice soprano, pure and perfect for lullabies. “What does she sing?”
“The fourteen angels song,” Connor said quietly and Vito knew the song was more than a lullaby-it would be like having Molly here with them.
“From Hansel and Gretel.” It had always been one of his favorite operas, his grandfather’s, too. “Well, I’m not your mom, but everybody get settled and I’ll do my best.” He waited until they were all snuggled. “Grandpa Chick used to sing the fourteen angels song to me and your dad when we were your age,” he murmured, one hand on Dante’s back and one on Pierce’s. And singing it brought back sweet memories of the grandfather he had so loved, who’d fostered his love of all kinds of music from an early age.
When at night I go to sleep, Fourteen angels watch do keep;
Two my head are guarding, Two my feet are guiding;
Two are on my right hand, Two are on my left hand,
Two who warmly cover, Two who o’er me hover,
Two to whom ’tis given To guide my steps to heaven.
“You sing it pretty,” Pierce whispered when he’d sung the first verse.
Vito smiled. “Thank you,” he whispered back.
“He sang at Aunt Tess’s wedding and at your christening,” Connor whispered. He swallowed. “Mom cried.”
“It wasn’t all that bad,” Vito teased and was relieved to see Connor’s lips curve a little. “I bet your mom’s thinking about you right now. She’d want you to sleep.” He sang the second verse more quietly because Dante was already asleep. By the time he finished, Connor was, too. That left Pierce, who looked so little in that big sleeping bag. Vito sighed. “You want to bunk with me?”
Pierce’s nod was quick. “I don’t kick. Or hog the covers. I promise.”
Vito pulled him into his arms, bag and all. “Or wet the bed?”
Pierce hesitated. “Not recently.”
Vito laughed. “Good to know.”
Monday, January 15, 7:45
The ringing of the phone next to his bed yanked Greg Sanders out of a sound whiskey-induced sleep. Groggy, he missed his ear on his first two attempts. “Yeah.”
“Mr. Sanders.” The voice was calmly menacing. “Do you know who this is?”
Greg rolled to his back, suppressing a moan when the room spun wildly. Goddamn hangovers. But he’d avoided this as long as he could. It was time to pay the devil his due. Greg didn’t want to think about what that “due” would be, but he was certain it would involve a great deal of pain. He swallowed, but his mouth was dry. “Yeah.”
“You’ve been avoiding us, Mr. Sanders.”
Greg tried to sit up, leaning his spinning head against the wall. “I’m sorry. I…”
“You what?” The voice now mocked him. “You have our money?”
“No. Not all of it, anyway.”
“That’s not good, Mr. Sanders.”
Greg pressed his fingers to his throbbing temple, desperation making his pulse race faster. “Wait. Look, I have a job. Tomorrow. Pays five hundred. I’ll give it all to you.”
“Please, Mr. Sanders. That would be like pissing into a forest fire. Much too little, much too late. We want our money by this evening at five o’clock. We don’t care what you have to do to get it. All of it. Or you won’t be pissing anywhere because you won’t have, shall we say, the necessary equipment? Do you understand?”
Greg’s stomach roiled. He nodded, nauseated. “Yeah. I mean, yes. Yes, sir.”
“Good. Have a nice day, Mr. Sanders.”
Greg slumped into the pillow, then reared back and hurled the telephone at the wall. Plaster flew and the ringer clanged and glass shattered as a picture fell to the floor.
The bedroom door burst open. “What the hell?”
Greg groaned into his pillow. “Go away.” But he was yanked to his back and flinched when a palm connected with his cheek. Greg’s head felt like it had exploded. By five o’clock today I’ll wish it had, he thought.
“Open your eyes, you bastard.”
Blearily Greg obeyed. Jill was glaring down at him, one hand clutching his T-shirt and the other upraised, palm flat.
“Don’t hit me again.” It came out very nearly a whimper.
“You…” Jill shook her head in bewildered indignation. “I let you stay here against my better judgment and only because I once had the stupidity to love you. But you’re not the man you were. That was him, wasn’t it? The guy with the creepy voice that keeps calling for you. You owe him money, don’t you?”
“Yes.” He hissed out the word. “I owe him money. I owe you money. I owe my parents money.” He closed his eyes. “I owe the credit card companies and the bank.”
“You were somebody.” She released his shirt with a shove of disgust that set the room spinning again. “Now you’re just a dirty drunk. You haven’t worked in a year.”
He covered his eyes with his hands. “So my agent tells me.”
“Don’t you get smart with me. You had a career. Dammit, Greg, your face made it into nearly every living room in this city. But you gambled it all away.”
“And this was your life, Greg Sanders,” he sneered.
Jill exhaled on what sounded like a sob and he opened his eyes to find tears in hers. “They’re going to break your legs, Greg,” she whispered.
“That’s only in the movies. In real life, they do a lot worse than that.”
She took a step back. “Well, I’m not picking up the pieces this time and I don’t want any more damage to my place.” She turned and walked away, pausing at the door. “I want you out of here by Friday, understand?” Then she was gone.
I should be angry, Greg thought. But he wasn’t. She was right. I had it all and pissed it away. I have to get it back. I have to pay that debt and start over. He didn’t have a penny, but he still had his face. It had earned him a decent living once before. It would do so again.
With care he climbed from the bed and slid into the chair in front of his computer. By tomorrow he’d have five hundred dollars. But that was barely a tenth of the principal he owed. When he added in the interest… He needed more money and fast. But how? From whom? Mechanically he clicked on his e-mail, then with a frown opened the message from E. Munch.
At least the job hadn’t been canceled, just moved a few hours. I can hide until then. But why was he even bothering? Five hundred really was like pissing on a forest fire. He’d do better to run to Canada, dye his hair, and change his name.
Or… another idea came to mind. Munch was prepared to pay five bills, cash, and his first e-mail said he had ten roles to fill. Even hung over, Greg could do that math. Munch’s profile said he’d worked in film for more than forty years. He’d be old. Old people hid money all kinds of places. Old people could be dealt with, easily.
No. He couldn’t do that. Then he thought about the threat to his… equipment. Yeah, he could. And if Munch didn’t have all the cash… well, he’d cross that bridge when he got there.
Monday, January 15, 8:15
Lieutenant Liz Sawyer sat at her desk staring at the map of the four-by-four matrix of graves, her brow crunched into frown lines. “This is unbelievable.”
“We know,” Vito said. “But the archeologist says we have nine bodies buried in that field. She’s been right on every one so far.”
Liz looked up. “You’ve confirmed these seven are empty?”
“Empty, but covered with plywood, just like Sophie said,” Nick replied.
“So what’s our status?”
“Three bodies in the morgue,” Vito said. “The Lady, the Knight, and the guy that’s missing half his head. The fourth body is in transit. Jen’s working on the fifth.”
Nick went on. “The fourth body is male, older. The first three look like they may have been in their twenties. This guy might be in his sixties. No obvious anomalies.”
“No posed hands, missing entrails, or dismembered arms?” Liz asked sarcastically.
Vito shook his head. “The fourth body appeared to be a garden-variety victim.”
Liz sat back, her chair creaking. “So what are our next steps?”
“We’re going to the morgue,” Nick said. “Katherine promised to give us priority and we need to identify these people. When we start getting names we might see a pattern.”
“Jen has the lab analyzing the soil,” Vito added. “She’s hoping to find out where it came from. The lab will sift through all the fill dirt to see if they can find anything to point to the perp, but it doesn’t look like he left anything behind.”
Liz looked down at the map. “Why the empty graves? I mean, we could guess he’s not finished yet with whatever this scheme is, but why leave these two empty?” She pointed to the two graves on the far end of the second row. “He’s filled the entire first row, then the first two on the second row. Then he skips down to the third row.”
“We have to believe he had a reason,” Vito said. “He’s planned this down to the nth degree. I don’t think he’d just skip two graves for kicks, but we need to get all the bodies out of there before we start formulating any theories.”
Liz gestured to her office door. “Keep me apprised. I’ll get to work on freeing up another team to work any leads you come up with. Needless to say, the mayor is chomping at the bit. Don’t make me look stupid, guys.”
Vito took the map. “I’ll make you a copy. Try to keep the mayor from going to the press too soon, okay?”
“For now we’ve been lucky,” Liz said. “The reporters haven’t found out about our secret garden, but it’s just a matter of time. Too many bodies showing up to the morgue and too many CSU techs coming in for overtime. One of the reporters is bound to grab the scent. Just stick with ‘no comment’ and leave the rest to me.”
Vito’s laugh was grim. “That’s one order we’ll be glad to follow.”
Monday, January 15, 8:15
The Albright Museum was housed in what had once been a chocolate factory. It had been a definite consideration as Sophie had considered Ted the Third’s job offer six months before. It was fate, she’d thought. The museum boasted one of the greatest private collections of medieval European artifacts in North America and it was in a chocolate factory. How could she possibly go wrong accepting?
That had become one of the questions for the ages, she thought darkly as she let herself in the museum’s front door. Like the secret of life or how many licks to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. The world would never know.
Because she had, of course, gone wrong. Accepting Ted the Third’s job offer had been one of the stupidest things she’d ever done in her life. And I’ve done some really stupid things, she thought, even more darkly. Vito Ciccotelli’s handsome face popped into her mind and she shoved it away. At least she’d found out his cheating ways before she’d done something really stupid, like sleep with him.
“Hello?” she called.
“In the office.” Ted’s wife, Darla, sat behind the big cluttered desk, a pencil stuck in her graying hair. Darla managed the books, which meant the most important function of the museum-her paycheck-was in capable hands. “How was your weekend, dear?”
Sophie shook her head. “You really don’t want to know.”
Darla glanced up, her eyes concerned. “Did your grandmother take a turn?”
It was one of the reasons that Sophie liked Darla. She was a nice person who really cared. And she seemed fairly normal, which made her the odd Albright. With the exception of Darla, Ted’s family was… just plain off.
There was Ted himself with his bizarro-world approach to running a history museum and his son, who Sophie always thought of as Theo Four. Theo was nineteen, a sulky, angry boy who played hooky more than he showed up. That wouldn’t have been such an issue, but Theo’s new job was to run the Knight tour and when he played hooky, the responsibility fell to Sophie who was the only other one big enough to fit the suit. Darla was barely five-two and the Albrights’ daughter, Patty Ann, even smaller.
Patty emerged from the ladies’ room, wearing a very conservative blue suit, and Sophie narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Patty Ann looks nice today. How come?”
Darla smiled without looking up. “I’m just glad it’s not Wednesday.”
Wednesday was Patty Ann’s goth day. Any other day you never knew how she’d show up for work. A struggling actress, Patty Ann hadn’t yet found her persona, so she imitated everyone else’s. Usually not well.
Sophie questioned the wisdom of assigning her to the reception desk and wondered how many visitors took one look at Patty Ann and went on to the Franklin Institute or some other real museum, especially on Wednesdays. But Sophie kept her mouth shut because as much as she hated doing the tours, she hated the thought of cheerily greeting visitors even more. I miss my pile of rocks.
Darla looked up, reluctantly. “Theo’s got a cold.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “And we have a knight tour scheduled. That’s just great. Dammit, Darla… I’m sorry. I really wanted to do some real work today.”
Darla looked distressed. “The tours will bring in a lot of money, Sophie.”
“I know.” And she wondered if she was whoring herself for that money, participating in an enterprise that cheapened history. But as long as Anna was alive, she needed the money. Sophie hoped she needed the money for a long time. “So what time am I on?”
“The knight tour is at twelve-thirty, Viking at three.”
Oh joy, oh rapture. “I’ll be there with bells on.”
Monday, January 15, 8:45
“You got lucky, boys,” Katherine said as she pulled the Knight’s body from cold storage. “This guy has a tattoo. May make identifying him a little easier.” She pulled the sheet away, revealing the man’s shoulder. “Can you guess what it is?”
Vito crouched down and stared at the tattoo through narrowed eyes. “It’s a man.”
“Not just any man. If you look at him as closely as you watched Sophie yesterday, you’ll figure it out.”
Vito’s cheeks heated. He hadn’t realized his scrutiny of Sophie Johannsen had been so obvious. Feeling squirmy, he turned back to the victim’s shoulder, but not before he caught Nick’s look of amusement. It wouldn’t have been so bad had Sophie not turned him down cold. It still stung. “It’s a yellow man,” Vito said flatly.
Nick looked over Vito’s shoulder. “It’s Oscar. You know, the movie award statue.”
Vito squinted. “Not a particularly good rendition, but it could be.” Straightening, he looked at Nick. “Maybe our Knight’s an actor?”
Nick shrugged. “It’s a place to start. It’ll narrow down the missing persons reports.”
Vito took his notebook from his pocket. “Cause of death was the hole in his gut?”
“That seems likely. I’ll start the autopsies today. So far I’ve only done external exams on the three victims from yesterday.” She looked back at the Knight and sighed. “But this one suffered, I can tell that right now.”
“Being disemboweled has got to hurt a little,” Nick said sarcastically.
“I can only hope he was dead at least for part of it, but I don’t think he was. I’m fairly certain he was alive when every major bone in his body was dislocated.”
Vito and Nick flinched. “My God,” Vito murmured. “How would…? He’s a big guy.”
“Six feet three, two hundred twenty-five,” Katherine confirmed. “And he fought hard. There are deep abrasions on his wrists and ankles where he was tied with rope. And yeah, I sent a sample of the rope fiber to the lab, but that’s a long shot, kids. Other than the dislocations and an empty abdominal cavity, he appears to have been in good shape.” She held up a hand. “And yes, I’ve already started a urine tox. I can’t see how he could have been overpowered without being drugged. I don’t see any head trauma.”
Nick blew out a breath. “Anything on the woman?”
“Official cause of death is a broken neck.” She pulled out another drawer, their female victim, the sheet forming a tent over her folded hands.
“You need to see her back.” Katherine lifted the sheet and carefully pushed the woman’s hip so that the back of her thigh was visible. “A pattern of contusions, regularly spaced and very deep.” She looked up, her face grim. “I’m thinking nails.”
Vito’s eyes were already beginning to water. Blinking, he focused on the pattern on the woman’s skin. Each hole was round and small. “Is it only on her legs?”
“No.” Katherine slid the drawer back into the wall. “It’s deepest on the backs of her thighs, but the same pattern is visible on her back, calves and the backs of her arms. From the depth of the thigh punctures, I’d say she was sitting up, all of her body weight driving her down onto the nails.”
Nick’s expression became strangely strained. “A chair of nails?”
“Or something like that. Her gluteus was severely burned. No skin remains.” Katherine cocked her jaw, anger in her eyes. “And she was alive the whole time.”
Vito’s stomach churned as the extent of this killer’s cruelty became clearer. “We’re dealing with a creative sadist here. I mean, how the hell would anybody even conceive of a chair of nails?”
Nick sat down at Katherine’s computer. “Come here, Chick. Look at this.”
Vito frowned at the screen. It was the chair he’d envisioned, covered in spikes. Restraints were attached to the chair’s arms and front legs. “What the hell is that?”
“I couldn’t sleep last night-kept thinking about the way he’d posed their hands. So I got up and Googled medieval effigies. Sophie was right, by the way. The poses of our victims are exactly like the tomb effigies I found online.”
Vito didn’t want to think about Sophie right now. He’d done enough of that during the night while he tossed and turned. “That’s nice,” he scowled, focusing on the screen. “But what about the chair? Please don’t tell me this is available on eBay.”
Nick looked back at the screen, troubled. “It might be. But this site belongs to a museum in Europe that specializes in medieval torture.”
“A torture museum?” It was real, then. That chair existed in a museum. One also existed right here in Philly. “I can’t begin to imagine how she suffered. How both of them suffered. And we haven’t even started on the others.” He pressed his fingers into the back of his skull, a headache forming there. “How did you find this site?”
“I thought about what Sophie said about disembowelment being used as torture during medieval times. I Googled ‘medieval torture’ and this is one of the top results. This chair has over thirteen hundred spikes.”
“That would induce the pattern of injury on the victim,” Katherine agreed tightly.
Vito ran a hand through his hair. “So we have poses like statues on medieval crypts, a chair of spikes, a disembowelment and, what, a stretching on a… rack? This is not normal, people.”
“A killer with a theme,” Nick mused. “Except for the body that’s on its way in. It didn’t appear to have anything funky like this.”
Katherine stepped back from the computer. “I thought I’d seen everything on this job, but I keep being proved wrong.” She squared her shoulders. “I do have two other things so far.” She handed Vito a glass jar containing small white crumbs. “I scraped it from the wire on the male victim’s hands. I found what looks like the same substance on the female victim’s wires.”
Vito held it up to the light, then passed the jar to Nick. “Best guess?”
Katherine frowned. “I sent a sample to the lab, but it looks like something in the silicone family. I’ll let you know when I get the results.”
“What’s the second thing you have for us?” Nick asked.
“All three of these victims were washed thoroughly. Blood should have been caked all over the three of them, but there was none. That tells me that originally the two posed victims had a lot more of whatever’s in that jar all over them.”
“We’ll try Missing Persons to match the Knight’s tat,” Vito said. “Thanks, Katherine.”
“Then let’s call Sophie,” Nick said when they were out in the hall. “I want to follow up on those torture devices. If that’s what he used, he had to get them somewhere and maybe she can give us an idea of where to start looking. We should have gotten her number from Katherine.”
It was a good idea, Vito had to admit. She’d been right about the posed hands. She obviously knew her stuff. And it might give him a chance to find out what he’d done to earn that flash of fury he’d seen in her eyes just before she’d ridden away. More than that, he just wanted to see her again. “She works at the Albright Museum. We can go when we’re done at Missing Persons.”
Dutton, Georgia, Monday, January 15, 10:10
“Thanks for coming down,” Daniel said. “Especially on your day off.”
Luke’s eyes were glued to Daniel’s father’s computer screen. “Anything for a pal.”
“And the fact that there’s a lake down the road with prize bass didn’t hurt,” Daniel said dryly and Luke just grinned. “Did you find anything?”
Luke shrugged. “Depends. Before mid-November, there are no e-mails.”
“What do mean, none? You mean they never existed or they were erased?”
“Erased. Now, since November we’ve got e-mails. Acknowledgments for electronic bill pays, mostly. Aside from the usual spam, most of your dad’s legit e-mails have been replies to a guy named Carl Sargent.”
“Sargent runs the union at the paper mill that employs half the town. Dad met with him before he went away. Yesterday I found out Dad was going to run for Congress.”
Luke read the remaining e-mails. “Sargent keeps asking your father to make his candidacy public, and your father keeps putting him off. This one says he’s tied up. This one says he’ll schedule a press conference when he finishes some urgent business.”
“With my mother,” Daniel murmured. “She has cancer.”
Luke winced. “I’m sorry to hear that, Daniel.”
Once again he was gripped by the need to see her just once more. “Thanks. Do you see any kind of itinerary? Anything that would give me an idea of where they might be?”
“No.” Luke tapped at the keyboard and brought up the online banking screen. “When you find your father, tell him not to save his passwords in a Word file on his hard drive. It’s like leaving your front door key on a silver platter for the thieves.”
“Like I could tell him anything,” Daniel muttered. Luke’s mouth quirked in sympathy.
“My old man’s the same. Doesn’t look like your dad made any major cash withdrawals, not in the last ninety days. That’s all the records they keep online.”
“What I don’t understand is why he’s doing his e-mail and banking remotely. If he has access to a computer wherever he is, why not just do it from there?”
“Maybe he wanted to access documents on his hard drive from the road.” Luke continued to tap keys. “That’s interesting.”
“His Internet history’s been wiped.”
“No. But it’s pretty sophisticated.” He typed for another minute. “This is a surprisingly good wipe. Most computer techs wouldn’t know how to get past this.” He looked up, his eyes serious. “Danny, somebody’s been in your dad’s system.”
A new wave of uneasiness rippled through him. “Maybe, maybe not. My dad’s a computer person from way back. He was also super-paranoid about security. I can see him being worried about leaving a trail.”
Luke frowned. “If he was so concerned with security, he wouldn’t have left his passwords on his hard drive. Besides, I thought your dad was a judge.”
“He was. Electronics is his hobby-ham radios, remote-controlled rockets, but especially computers. He’d take them apart, build his own upgrades. If anyone would know how to keep his system clean, it would be my father.”
Luke turned back to the screen. “Funny how some things get passed on and others don’t. You don’t have a computer bone in your body.”
“No, I don’t,” Daniel murmured. All that expertise had been diverted to another branch of the family tree. But it was unpleasant to remember, so he briskly closed the door on that dark corner of his memory. “So can you get through the wipe?”
Luke looked offended. “Of course. This is interesting. With all those travel brochures, I expected a few travel websites, but there’s nothing like that in his cache.”
“What sites did he go to?”
“The weather forecast for Philadelphia two weeks before Thanksgiving. And… a search for oncologists in the Philadelphia area. Was Philly one of the brochures?”
Daniel leaned in for a closer look at the screen. “No, it wasn’t.”
“Well, that’s where I’d start if I were you. Looks like they wanted to be prepared in case your mother needed a doctor.” He bent his mouth in sympathy. “I’ve got a meeting with a lake and a bass. You want to come?”
“No, but thanks. I think I’m going to look around here a little more. Check out this Philly angle. Thanks for your help, Luke.”
“Any time. Good luck, buddy.”
Philadelphia, Monday, January 15, 10:15
“Oh dear God.” Marilyn Keyes lowered herself to the edge of a faded paisley sofa, every ounce of color drained from her face. “Oh, Warren.” Pressing one arm to her stomach, she raised a shaking hand to her mouth and rocked herself.
“Then this is your son, ma’am?” Vito asked gently. They’d gotten a hit from the Missing Persons file right away. Their knight was Warren Keyes, age twenty-one. He’d been reported missing by his parents and his fiancée, Sherry, eight days before.
“Yes.” She nodded, her breath shallow. “That’s Warren. That’s my son.”
Nick sat next to her. “Is there someone we can call for you, Mrs. Keyes?”
“My husband.” She pressed her fingertips to her temple. “There’s a book… in my purse.” She pointed to the dining room table and Nick went to make the call.
Vito took Nick’s place on the sofa. “Mrs. Keyes, I’m so sorry, but we need to ask you some questions. Do you need a glass of water or something?”
She drew a deep breath. “No. But thank you. Before you ask, Warren has had a drug problem in the past. But he’d been clean and sober for almost two years.”
Vito pulled his notebook from his pocket. It wasn’t the question he’d planned to ask, but he’d learned long ago when to go with the flow. “What kind of drugs, Mrs. Keyes?”
“Cocaine and alcohol mostly. He… fell in with some bad kids in high school. Started using. But he got clean and since he met Sherry, he’s changed.”
“Mrs. Keyes, what did Warren do for a living?”
“He’s an actor.” She swallowed. “Was an actor.”
“A lot of actors have second jobs. Did Warren?”
“He waited tables at a bar in Center City. Sometimes he modeled. I can get you his portfolio, if that would help.”
“It might.” He gently caught her arm when she started to rise. “I have a few more questions. Where did Warren live?”
“Here. He and Sherry…” Vito sat quietly as she dropped her face into her hands and wept. “Who would do this?” she demanded brokenly, her words muffled by her hands. “Who would kill my son?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out, ma’am,” Vito said, still gently. Nick came in from the kitchen, a box of tissues in one hand, a framed photo in the other.
“Mr. Keyes is on his way,” he murmured.
Vito pressed a tissue in the woman’s hand. “Mrs. Keyes? He and Sherry what?”
She wiped her eyes. “They were saving up to get married. She’s a nice girl.”
“Did you get the idea that Warren was worried or afraid of anyone?” Nick asked.
“He was worried about money. He hadn’t had any acting jobs in a long time.” Her lips bent into a painful smile. “His agent told him if he moved to New York, he could find lots of work, but Sherry’s family is here. She wouldn’t leave and he wouldn’t leave her.”
Nick turned the photo so that it faced Mrs. Keyes. “This is Warren with Sherry?”
New tears flooded her eyes. “Yes,” she whispered. “At their engagement party.”
Vito put his notebook back in his pocket. “We need to go through his room,” Vito said. “And we’ll bring in a fingerprinting unit.”
She nodded dully. “Of course. Anything you need to do.”
He stood, aware that he had no words that would bring her comfort. Before Andrea, he’d have asked if she was all right. But this grieving mother was not all right. She was in pain and would be for some time. When he got to the end of the hall, he looked back. Bowed forward, she clutched the photo of her son to her breast, rocking as she wept.
“Chick,” Nick said softly. “Come on.”
Vito exhaled. “I know.” He opened the door to Warren’s room. “Let’s get to work.”
They began going through Warren’s things. “Sports equipment,” Nick said from the closet. “Hockey, baseball.” There was a clunk of metal. “Lifted some serious weights.”
Vito found Warren’s portfolio. “Handsome guy.” He flipped through the pages of photographs and magazine clippings. “Looks like he mostly did magazine ads. I’ve seen this one. It’s for a local gym. Keyes was a big, strong guy. I can’t imagine he would have been easily overpowered.”
“Chick, look.” Nick had powered up Warren’s computer. “Come and look at this.”
Vito stood behind him, staring at the blank screen. “What? I don’t see anything.”
“That’s the point. There’s nothing here. When I open his ‘My Documents,’ nothing. Nothing in his e-mail. Nothing in the recycle bin.” Nick looked up over his shoulder, his brows lifted. “This computer has been wiped clean.”
Monday, January 15, 12:25
“You sure Sophie works here?” Nick asked, frowning. He stood next to the front desk of the museum, looking around impatiently. “I don’t think anybody works here.”
Vito nodded, his attention on the photographs of the museum’s founder on the wall of the lobby. “Yes, she works here. Her bike was parked at the end of the parking lot.”
“That was Sophie’s?”
Vito was a little annoyed at the sudden interest on Nick’s face. “Yeah. So?”
“Just that it’s just a nice bike, Chick.” Nick’s lips twitched. “Easy, boy.”
Vito rolled his eyes, but the ringing of his cell saved him from having to reply.
Nick sobered. “Is that Sherry?” They’d been unsuccessful in contacting Warren Keyes’s fiancée after leaving his parents’ apartment. She wasn’t at her own apartment nor was she due to show up at the factory where she worked until seven.
Vito checked the caller ID and his pulse kicked up a notch. “No, it’s my dad.” He flipped open his phone, praying for good news. “Dad. How’s Molly?”
“Stable. She’s got some strength back in her legs and her tremors are less frequent. The doctor’s trying to figure out what triggered this attack.”
Vito frowned. “I thought he said she had a mini-stroke.”
“He’s changed his mind. They found high levels of mercury in her system.”
“Mercury?” Vito was sure he’d heard wrong. “How did she get exposed to mercury?”
“They don’t know. They’re thinking she was exposed to something in the house.”
His heart skipped a beat. “What about the kids?”
“They didn’t have any symptoms. But he wanted them all to come in for testing, so your mother and Tino brought them in. They were pretty scared, especially Pierce.”
Vito’s heart squeezed. “Poor little guy. How long before we know if they’re okay?”
“By tomorrow morning. But the doctor doesn’t want any of the boys to go home until they know for sure where Molly got exposed. Dino wanted me to ask you if-”
“For God’s sake, Dad,” Vito interrupted. “You know the kids can stay with me as long as they need to.”
“Well, I told him that, but Molly was worried they were causing you trouble.”
“Tell her they’re fine. Last night they made cake and played war in my living room.“
“Tess is coming to help you and Tino take care of them,” his father said and Vito felt a spurt of joy, despite his worry. He hadn’t seen his sister in months. “That way your mother and I can be here for Dino. Tess’s flight gets in at seven. She’s renting a car so she can get around while she’s here, so you don’t need to get her at the airport.”
“Is there anything else we can do?”
“No.” Michael Ciccotelli drew a deep breath. “Except pray, son.”
It had been a long time since he’d done so, but it would hurt his dad to know it. So Vito lied. “You know I will.” He slipped his phone back in his pocket.
“Will Molly be okay?” Nick asked quietly.
“Don’t know. My dad says to pray. In my experience that’s never good.”
“Well, if you need to go… just go, okay?”
“I will. Look.” Grateful for the diversion of work, Vito pointed to the back wall, where a tall door was opening. A woman appeared and walked toward them. She was petite, in her mid-thirties, and wore a sensible blue suit with a skirt that stopped at her knees. Her dark hair was pulled back in a neat twist, making her look professional and… boring, Vito realized. She could use some big hoop earrings and a red bandana. She moved behind the desk, obviously sizing them up.
“Can I help you two gentlemen?” she asked, her accent crisp and British.
Vito showed his badge. “I’m Detective Ciccotelli and this is my partner, Detective Lawrence. We’re here to see Dr. Johannsen.”
The woman’s eyes took on a speculative light. “Has she done something wrong?”
Nick shook his head. “No. May we see her?”
Vito bit his tongue. “Now would be good.” He looked at her nametag. “Miss Albright.” Up close Vito realized she was much younger than he’d thought, probably in her early twenties. Apparently his age-guesser needed a tune-up.
The woman pursed her lips. “She’s giving a tour right now. If you’ll come this way.”
She led them through the tall door into a large room where a small crowd of five or six families had gathered. The walls themselves were dark wood, one covered with a faded tapestry. From the other wall hung large banners. The far wall was the most impressive, however, covered with crisscrossing swords. Below the swords stood three suits of armor, completing a grand effect.
“Sweet,” Vito murmured. “My nephews would love this.” It would certainly keep their minds off Molly. He decided to bring them here as soon as he could.
“Look.” Nick surreptitiously pointed to a fourth suit of armor, standing toward the right side of the hall. A sour-faced boy about Dante’s age stood a foot from the armor, loudly complaining about the wait. He stomped his foot and sneered.
“This is so boring. Crummy suit of armor. I’ve seen better in a junkyard.” He started to kick at the armor when it abruptly bent at the waist in a clatter of metal. Visibly frightened, the boy scrambled back, his eyes wide and his face pale. The crowd went silent and Nick chuckled softly. “I saw it move a second ago. Served the brat right.”
Vito was about to agree when a booming voice thundered from inside the armor. It took him a second to realize the knight was speaking French, but it didn’t take a linguist to understand the meaning. The knight was royally pissed.
The boy shook his head in fear and took two steps back. The knight drew his sword with dramatic flair and matched the kid step for step. He repeated the question more loudly and Vito realized it was the voice of a woman, not a man. A smile tugged at his mouth. “That’s Sophie in there. She said they made her dress up.”
Nick was grinning. “My high school French is rusty, but I think she basically said ‘What is your name, you bad little boy?’”
The boy opened his mouth but no sound emerged.
From a side door a man appeared. The size of a linebacker, he wore a dark blue suit and tie. He was shaking his head. “Whoa, whoa. What seems to be the problem?”
The figure in the armor regally pointed to the boy and uttered something scathing.
The man looked down at the kid. “She says you’re rude and you’re trespassing.”
The kid’s face heated in embarrassment as the other children laughed.
The man shook his head. “Joan, Joan. How many times have I asked you not to scare the children? She’s sorry,” he said to the kid.
The knight shook her head emphatically. “Non.”
The children’s laughter grew louder and all the adults were smiling. The man sighed dramatically. “Yes, you are. Let’s just get on with the tour. S’il vous plaît.”
The knight handed the man her sword and lifted the helm from her head, revealing Sophie with her long hair braided in a golden crown around her head. She stuck the helm under one arm and lifted the other to gesture to the walls.
“Bienvenue au musée d’Albright de l’histoire. Je m’appelle Jeanne d’Arc.”
“Joan,” the man interrupted. “They don’t speak French.”
She blinked and stared down at the children who now stared up, mesmerized. Even the rude boy was listening. “Non?” she asked, disbelieving.
“No,” the man said and she rattled off another question.
“She wants to know what language you speak,” he told them. “Who can tell her?”
A little girl of about five with golden curls raised her hand and Vito saw Sophie’s jaw tighten, so very slightly that he might have missed it had he not been watching. But she quickly smoothed her expression as the child spoke. “English. We speak English.”
Sophie grew comically horrified. This was part of her act, but he was certain her expression a moment ago was not and found his curiosity aroused once again. Along with the rest of him. He hadn’t realized a woman with a sword would be such a turn on.
“Anglais?” Sophie demanded and grabbed her sword in a pretend rage. The little girl’s eyes went even wider and the man sighed again.
“Joan, we’ve been over this before. Don’t frighten the guests. When American children come in, you speak English. And no insults this time, please. Just behave.”
Sophie sighed. “The things I must do,” she said, her words heavily accented. “But… it is a living. Even I, Joan of Arc, must pay my bills.” She looked at the parents. “You understand bills, do you not? There is the rent and the food.” She shrugged. “And the cable TV. Essentials of life, non?”
The parents were nodding and smiling, and once again Vito found himself intrigued.
She looked down at the children. “It’s just that, well, you see, we are at war with the English. You understand this word war, do you not, petits enfants?”
The children nodded. “Why are you at war, Miss Of Arc?” one of the fathers asked.
She shot the father a charming smile. “S’il vous plaît, call me Joan,” she said. “Well, it is like this-” It was at that moment she saw Vito and Nick standing off to the side. The smile stayed pasted to her mouth but disappeared from her eyes and Vito felt the frost from half a room away. She looked to the man in the suit and tie. “Monsieur Albright, we have visitors. Can you help them?”
“What the hell did you do to her, Chick?” Nick muttered.
“I have no idea.” He followed her with his eyes as she rounded the children up and led them to the wall with the banners, starting her tour. “But I plan to find out.”
The man in the suit approached, smiling. “I’m Ted Albright. How can I help you?”
“I’m Detective Lawrence and this is Detective Ciccotelli. We’d like to talk to Dr. Johannsen as soon as it’s possible. When will her tour be completed?”
Albright looked worried. “Is there some kind of trouble?”
“No,” Nick assured him. “Nothing like that at all. We’re working a case and have some questions for her. History-type questions,” he added.
“Oh.” Albright perked up. “I can answer them.”
Vito remembered Sophie saying that Albright just played at historian. “We appreciate it,” he said, “but we’d really prefer to speak with Dr. Johannsen. If the tour will be more than fifteen minutes, we can go have our lunch and come back.”
Albright glanced over to where Sophie was now telling the children about the swords mounted on the wall. “A tour runs an hour. She should be free after that.”
Nick slipped his shield back in his pocket. “Then we’ll be back. Thank you.”
Dutton, Georgia, Monday, January 15, 1:15
Daniel sat on his parents’ bed. For an hour he’d stared at the floor, telling himself to pull back the floorboard he knew concealed his father’s safe. He hadn’t checked it yesterday. He didn’t want Frank to know about the safe, much less its contents.
He wasn’t sure what he’d find inside today. He knew he didn’t want to know. But he’d put it off long enough. This was the safe his father thought no one else in the family knew about. Not his wife, and certainly not any of his children.
But Daniel knew. In a family like his, it had paid to be the one to know where the secrets were hidden. And where the guns were kept. His father had many gun cabinets and many safes, but this was his only gun safe. This is where he kept the weapons Daniel suspected had their serial numbers filed off. Certainly they were unregistered.
Arthur’s unregistered guns had nothing to do with why they might have gone to Philadelphia or where they went when they got there, but Daniel hadn’t been able to find any clues anywhere else he’d looked. So here he sat. Just do it.
He pulled away the wood and looked at the safe. He’d found the combination oh-so-cleverly concealed in his father’s Rolodex as a birthday of a long-dead aunt. Daniel remembered the aunt and her actual birthday, as it had been close to his own.
He dialed the combination and was rewarded with a click. He was in.
But the guns weren’t. The only contents of the safe were a check register and a memory stick for a computer. The check register wasn’t from the bank the Vartanians had used for generations. Even before he opened it, Daniel knew what he’d find.
There were a steady progression of withdrawals, all written in his father’s hand. Every transaction was written “to cash” in the amount of five thousand dollars.
It was most certainly blackmail. But Daniel was un-surprised.
He wondered which part of Arthur’s past had come back to haunt them all. He wondered what was on the memory stick that his father hadn’t wanted anyone else to see. He wondered when the next flight left for Philadelphia.
Monday, January 15, 1:40
Sophie ripped at the Velcro that held the armor together. “Ted, for the third time, I don’t know why they want to talk with me,” she snapped. Ted Albright’s grandfather was an archeological legend, but somehow not one of those brilliant genes had been passed down to Ted. “This is a history museum. Perhaps they have a history question. Can you stop with the third degree and get this off me? It weighs a freaking ton.”
Ted lifted the heavy breastplate over her head. “They could have asked me.”
Like you’d know Napoleon from Lincoln. Outwardly she gathered her composure and calmly replied. “Ted, I’ll talk to them and see what they want, okay?”
“Okay.” He helped her remove the greaves from her shins and she sat down to yank off the boots that covered her own shoes. Vito “The Rat” Ciccotelli was waiting outside. That she wanted to see him less than Ted Albright said it all. That they’d seen her in period garb made it even worse. It was humiliating.
“Next time you schedule a knight tour, make sure Theo is here. That armor really does weigh a ton.” She stood up and stretched. “And it’s hot under there.”
“For someone who claims to love authenticity, you complain a helluva lot,” Ted grumbled. “Some historian you are.”
Sophie bit back what would have been a nasty retort. “I’ll be back after lunch, Ted.”
“Don’t take too long,” he called after her. “You’re a Viking at three.”
“You can take your Viking and…” she muttered, then rolled her eyes when she saw Patty Ann leaning across the front desk, flirting shamelessly with the two detectives.
She had to admit they were two fine-looking men. Both tall and broad shouldered, handsome by anyone’s standards. With his sandy red hair and earnest face, Nick Lawrence had a country-boy kind of appeal, but Vito Ciccotelli was… Admit it, Sophie. You know you’re thinking it. She let out a weary sigh. Fine. He’s hot, okay? He’s hot and he’s a rat, just like all the others.
She stopped next to the desk. “Gentlemen. How can I help you today?”
Nick flashed her a look of relief. “Dr. Johannsen.”
Patty Ann’s look was decidedly more threatening as she arched an overplucked eyebrow. “They’re detectives, Sophie,” she said and Sophie swallowed her sigh. Patty Ann had apparently decided to be British today. The proper blue suit now made more sense. “Homicide detectives,” she added menacingly. “They want to question you.”
Nick shook his head. “We’d just like to talk with you, Dr. Johannsen.”
Because he wasn’t a rat, she gave him a smile. “I was about to get lunch. I can give you thirty minutes.”
Vito held the door open for her. He hadn’t said a word, but that probing gaze of his hadn’t left her face either. She gave him a glance that she hoped was as menacing as Patty Ann’s had been to her. He frowned, so she considered herself successful.
The air outside felt wonderful against her skin. “If we could make this quick, I’d appreciate it. Ted has another tour scheduled and I have to get dressed.” She stopped at the end of the sidewalk. “So shoot.”
Vito looked up and down the street. It was midday, and both car and foot traffic was heavy. “Can we go someplace a bit more private?” The frown on his face had made it into his voice. “We don’t want to be overheard.”
“How about my car?” Nick asked smoothly and led the way, then held open the front passenger door. “Wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea by making you sit in the back,” he said with an easy smile, then quickly slid in the back seat. She watched Vito aim a dirty glare Nick’s way before taking the driver’s seat next to her. Nick simply raised a brow in response and Sophie knew she was being manipulated.
Annoyed, she grabbed the door handle. “Gentlemen, I don’t have time for games.”
Vito clasped her shoulder, his hand gentle but firm as he held her in place. “This is no game,” he said grimly. “Please, Sophie.”
Reluctantly she let go of the handle and Vito let go of her. “What’s this about?”
“First of all, we wanted to thank you for your help yesterday,” Nick said. “But studying the bodies we’ve recovered so far has raised more questions.” He leaned one shoulder against the back of the driver’s seat and dropped his voice. “We found a strange pattern of punctures on one of our victims. Katherine believes they were caused by nails or some kind of sharp spikes. The punctures start at the neck and stretch down the back of her body to the middle of her calf. There are similar punctures down the back of her arms. We think the victim was forced to sit on a chair of nails.”
She shook her head in reflexive denial. “You’re joking, right? Please say you’re joking.” But the memory of the dead man’s face, posed hands, and disemboweled body pushed the denial from her mind. “You’re serious.”
Vito nodded once. “Very.”
A shiver shook her. “The inquisitional chair,” she said quietly.
“Nick found a photo on a museum website,” Vito said. “So the chairs did exist.”
She nodded, her imagination painting horrific pictures. “Oh yes, they existed.”
“Tell us about them,” Vito said. “Please.”
She drew a deep breath, hoping her stomach would calm. “Let’s see… Well, first, the chair was one of many tools used by inquisitors.”
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” Nick murmured grimly.
“The Spanish Inquisition is the one that most people are familiar with, but there were several inquisitions.” It was easier to lecture than to think about the victims. “The first was the Medieval Inquisition. The chair existed during the later Spanish period and may have existed in the Medieval, but its use is a topic of debate among historians. If it was used, it wasn’t used as often as most of the other torture methods or devices.”
Nick looked up from the notes he’d been scratching in his notebook. “Why not?”
“According to original accounts, the inquisitors got a lot of benefit just by showing the chair to the accused. It’s a terrifying sight, more terrifying in person than the picture.”
“You’ve seen one?” Nick asked.
“Where?” Vito added when she nodded.
“In museums. There are several in Europe with good examples.”
“So, where would someone get an inquisitional chair today?” Vito pressed.
“It wouldn’t be that hard to make a simple one, if someone really wanted to. Of course there were more sophisticated models, even in the Middle Ages. Most of the chairs had simple restraints, but some had cranks that could tighten the restraints, forcing the nails deeper. And…” She sighed. “Some had metal sheeting that could be heated, burning the accused’s skin as well as puncturing it.” Vito and Nick exchanged a look and she lifted her hand to her mouth, horrified. “No.”
“Where would someone get such a chair?” Vito repeated. “Please, Sophie.”
The reality of their request began to sink in and a sense of panic began to crowd the horror. They were depending on her knowledge to find a killer and suddenly she felt totally inadequate. “Look, guys, my specialty is medieval fortifications and strategic warfare. My knowledge of inquisitional hardware is very basic at best. Why don’t I call an expert? Dr. Fournier at the Sorbonne is world renowned.”
Both men shook their heads. “Maybe,” Vito said, “if we absolutely have to, but we want to keep this limited to as few people as possible. Your basic knowledge may be enough for now.” He fixed his eyes on hers, and the tumult inside her began to calm. “Just tell us what you know.”
She nodded, forcing her brain to think beyond the rote knowledge they could get off any website. She pressed her fingers to her temples. “Okay. Let me think. He either made his instruments, or he obtained them already made. If they were already made, they could be crude copies all the way up to original artifacts. What are you thinking?”
“We don’t know,” Nick said. “Keep talking.”
“How even was the pattern of nail punctures?”
“Damn even,” Vito said grimly.
“So he’s careful. If he made them, he’d pay attention to detail. Maybe he’d want drawings or even blueprints.”
Nick looked as revolted as she felt. “There are blueprints?”
Vito leaned forward, his brows crunched. “Where would he get these blueprints?”
He was so close that the scent of his aftershave tickled her nose and she could see the thick black lashes that rimmed his eyes. Then his eyes narrowed, his gaze growing more intense and she realized she’d leaned toward him, drawn like a moth to a flame. Embarrassed and disgusted with herself, she jerked backward, putting more space between them. “You said to keep talking. I never promised to say anything worthwhile.”
“I’m sorry,” Vito murmured, leaning back. “Where would he find blueprints?”
Sophie made herself breathe. “On the Internet, maybe. I’ve never looked. The museums with the chairs might have documented the design somehow. Or… I suppose he could have used the old texts. There are a few journals kept by inquisitors. They might have drawings. He’d need access to the old texts, though.”
“And he’d get this access how?” Nick asked.
“Rare book collections. And he’d have to be able to read them. Most were written in medieval Latin. A few in Old French or Occitan.”
Nick noted them on his pad. “You can read these languages?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Of course,” Nick muttered.
Vito still watched her, more intensely than before. “And if he bought them?”
“If he bought them, he either bought copies or real artifacts. You see copies of armor and other weapons for sale on re-creationist websites all the time. Medieval festivals often have booths where weapons of varying quality are sold. Some are handmade and others are mass manufactured, but all are copies.”
“What kind of weapons?” Nick asked.
“Daggers, swords. Flails and axes. But I’ve never seen torture weapons sold. Now if they were authentic artifacts…” She shrugged. “You’d be talking private collectors.”
Nick nodded. “What do you know about them?”
“Like with everything else there are good and bad ones. Legitimate collectors purchase their artifacts privately from other collectors or from auction houses like Christie’s. Sometimes ‘new’ old stuff appears on the legitimate market, but that’s rare.”
“Like?” Nick prompted.
“Like the Dordogne swords. In 1977, six fifteenth-century swords that had been previously unknown came up for auction at Christie’s. Turns out they came from a rare find-eighty fifteenth-century swords were discovered at the bottom of the Dordogne River in France in the mid-1970s. They’d been on a barge headed for troops fighting the Hundred Years’ War. The barge sank and the swords lay buried for five hundred years. But that kind of find is very rare. Normally, catalogued artifacts change hands. Most of our exhibits come from the private collection of Theodore Albright the First.”
Nick frowned. “The father of the guy we talked to in there?”
“Grandfather. Ted the First was one of the more famous archeologists of the twentieth century. He got a lot of his items from other collectors, but…” She lifted a shoulder. “Ted the First was digging in the teens and early twenties. Nobody knows for sure, but I’d bet some of the items in his collection are artifacts he uncovered on his digs. If it could be proven, the Albrights might be forced to give them back.”
Nick nodded again. “So he wasn’t always a legitimate collector.”
“No, Albright the First was a good guy. See, that’s how it was done back then. You came, you saw, you dug, you carted home your loot. Reality is, museums have artifacts because someone brought them home… back then.”
“And now?” Nick prodded.
“Today, most governments have seriously cracked down on artifacts being removed from their countries. It’s considered theft and they prosecute.”
“So now they go through the black market,” Vito said.
“There’s always been a black market. It’s just that the prices have been going up since the crackdowns started. I’ve heard of private collectors buying art and pottery and documents. Roman mosaic floors, even. But not instruments of torture.”
“But it could be happening,” Vito pushed.
“Of course it could. I don’t travel in those circles, so I wouldn’t know.” She thought about some of the shadier archeologists she’d known. “But I could ask around.”
Vito shook his head. “We’ll ask the questions,” he said firmly, then lifted his hand when she lifted her chin with a jerk. “It’s procedure, Sophie,” he sighed wearily, “just like not telling you about the graves yesterday before you found them.”
“But that was to prevent bias,” she pointed out. “I know the details now.”
“This is to prevent harm,” Vito returned. “To you. This isn’t some academic project for a thesis. This is a multiple homicide in which the killer dug seven extra graves. I don’t want to see you in one of them.”
Sophie shuddered out a breath. “Good point. I’ll make you a list.”
One corner of Vito’s mouth lifted and his dark eyes warmed. “Thank you.”
She found herself smiling back before she realized that once again he’d reeled her in like a fish on a hook. I’m as gullible as a trout. Wiping the smile from her face, she dropped her eyes to her watch. “I really need to go.”
She got out of the car, then stuck her head in the open door. Vito was watching her again, his eyes slightly narrowed and… hurt. Her heart pricked, but she hardened it. Deliberately she turned to Nick. “I’ll e-mail you a list of any sources I can come up with. Good luck.” She was halfway to the museum’s front door when she heard a car door slam, then Vito calling her name. She kept walking, hoping he’d take the hint and leave her alone, but his footsteps grew louder as he closed the distance between them.
“Sophie. Wait.” He gripped her arm and pulled until she stopped.
“What more do you want, Detective?”
He tugged on her arm. “I want you to turn around and look at me.”
She complied. His face was inches away, his brows furrowed in a confused frown. From the corner of her eye she saw Nick leaning against his car wearing a similar look of confusion and she felt a spurt of indecision, but the words on the card she’d found with the roses echoed in her mind. A-I’ll always love you. V. “Let go of my arm.” He released her but didn’t move back, so she did. “What do you want from me, Detective?”
“What happened? Last night we were talking and you were smiling, then I asked if you wanted to get a pizza and you got mad. I want to understand why.”
“Maybe I just didn’t want to have dinner with you.”
“No. If looks could have killed, I would have dropped dead on the spot. I’d like to know why. And I’d like to know why I’m Detective now when I was Vito last night.”
She huffed a flat laugh. He sounded so victimized. “You guys really are all the same, aren’t you? Look, Vito, I’m sorry your ego got bruised, but it’s time you learned that not all women are going to fall at your feet. I’ll get you the information, as quickly as I can. But not because of you, so get that straight now.” She took a step, then stopped. He was still standing there, his dark eyes snapping with anger and suddenly the questions she’d asked herself too many times demanded answers.
“Tell me, Vito. When you’re on the make, do you think about the woman at home?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, each word deliberately spaced.
“Then I guess the answer is no. What about the target? Do you think she’s stupid, that she’ll never find out that she’s only a conquest? Do you think the woman at home will never find out that she’s being betrayed?”
“I don’t know where you get your information, but I have no woman at home.”
She stomped her foot. “The ‘woman at home’ is a metaphor. It means you’re taken.”
His expression didn’t change. “I have no one, Sophie.”
She held his gaze. “So those roses in your truck… weren’t yours?”
His eyes flickered. He opened his mouth, but this time no words emerged.
She smiled, but not nicely. Turning on her heel, she walked the rest of the way to the museum without interruption. But when she got to the door she saw his reflection in the window. He stood where she’d left him, watching her go. Just like the night before.
Monday, January 15, 2:15
Vito slumped in the passenger seat, ignoring Nick’s curious stare. “Just drive.”
Nick pulled away from the curb into traffic. “Where to?”
“Let’s go to the morgue. Jen should have sent a few more in by now.”
“Happy, happy, joy, joy,” Nick muttered. He was silent for several minutes as Vito stared out the window, thinking about knights and torture… and roses.
“We could contact another professor,” Nick finally said quietly. “Other universities have archeology programs. I checked it out on the Web last night.”
“You checked lots of stuff on the Web last night,” Vito returned, and even he could hear the animosity in his voice. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay. The house is too quiet,” Nick murmured. “I always hated the way Josie would stay up all night with her music blaring, but now that she’s gone… I miss it.”
Vito turned only his head to study his partner. “Do you miss her?”
“I know she cheated, and I know it makes me a fool. But yeah. I miss her.”
It was an open door, Vito knew. Nick didn’t like talking about his private life. That he’d been duped by his ex-wife for so long was an especially sore spot. But he’d opened the door so that Vito could talk.
“She saw the roses.”
Nick winced. “Sheee-it.”
“Yeah. That about sums it up.”
“Did you tell her who the roses were for?”
“That would have been too logical.” Vito huffed a disgusted sigh. “No, I didn’t. I couldn’t. So she thought the worst. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“What a crock of bullshit. Vito, do you like her?”
“Well, yeah, of course. Even if she does speak Occitan, whatever the hell that is. She’s funny and cute and…” He shrugged with a rueful grin.
“Hot,” Vito supplied morosely.
“That ’bout sums it up. But more importantly, she might be able to help us with this case.” He glanced over, serious again. “So even if you don’t want to explore her personally, tell her the truth so we can use her ‘basic knowledge.’”
“I don’t want to tell her the truth.” I don’t want to tell anybody the truth.
“Then make up a damn good lie, because if we end up having to pay another expert, Liz’ll want to know why. And I’m not taking your whoopin’, Chick.”
Vito gritted his teeth. Of course Nick was right. A free resource was too valuable to let get away for personal reasons. “Fine. I’ll stop by the museum tomorrow.”
“Better do it tonight. I’ve got to go to court tomorrow, so you’ll be on your own.”
Vito blinked in surprise. “Did I know about this?”
“I told you twice and sent you a memo. You’ve been distracted this week.”
By Andrea. Vito blew out a breath. “I’m sorry. So why are you in court?”
Nick’s jaw tightened. “Diane Siever.”
Vito winced. Diane had been a thirteen-year-old Delaware girl who’d gone missing three years before. Nick had been the unlucky cop to stumble across her body during a raid on a heroin ring when he’d still been Vice. “Do you still get cards from her folks?”
Nick swallowed hard. “Every damn Christmas. I wish they weren’t so grateful.”
“You gave her parents closure. At least they know. I can’t imagine not knowing.”
“I can’t imagine sitting in a courtroom watching the sorry asshole that murdered your daughter strutting up to the stand like a damn peacock.” Nick’s knuckles whitened as he gripped the wheel. “Damn DA deals. Every time I think they’re on our side, they go and deal a murderer. Makes me sick.”
The “sorry asshole,” a junkie with track marks on his track marks had rolled on his partner, an up-and-coming local drug lord. The DA had wanted the drug lord more than the junkie and had dealt him down. “Which DA made the deal?”
“Lopez.” Nick nearly spat the name.
Vito frowned. “Maggy Lopez? Our Maggy Lopez?”
“One and the same.”
Maggy Lopez was a recent addition to Liz Sawyer’s homicide team, but every time she drew one of their cases, Nick had let Vito handle the communications. Now that made sense. “You never said word one about her before.”
Nick just shrugged angrily. “I shouldn’t have this time. Call the lab and see if they got anything on Keyes’s computer.”
“Okay.” Vito’s call was answered by Jeff Rosenburg. “You guys have a chance to look at that computer we took from Warren Keyes’s residence this morning?”
“Dream on, Chick. We’ve got a line out the door.” Jeff always said that.
“Can you look? It’s important.”
“Important,” Jeff finished with him sarcastically. “What isn’t? Hold on…” A minute later he was back. “You lucked out, Chick.” Jeff always said that, too. “We got to it, but only because one of the techs is working on a special drive-wiping project.”
“So you’re saying Keyes’s drive was wiped?”
“Not totally. It takes a lot to totally wipe a drive, but enough is gone to make it a challenge. The method was very elegant.” Jeff sounded impressed. “It was a virus, delivered through your vic’s e-mail. But it was timed.”
“Like a sleeper?”
“Just like. The tech is still trying to piece together the code to find out how long the virus stayed hidden before leaping to life and gobbling your vic’s files. We’ll call you if we come up with anything more.”
Vito snapped his phone shut thoughtfully. “Wiped,” he said. “But elegantly.” He told Nick what Jeff had said. “So we have a sadistic OCD killer who digs graves with military precision, who has a sick medieval obsession, and who is a computer wizard.”
“Or who has access to a computer wizard,” Nick countered. “Or maybe we’re dealing with more than one killer.”
“Could be. Let’s see what else Jen’s dug up.”
Monday, January 15, 3:00
They found Katherine studying x-rays. Vito stood behind her, easily able to see over her head. Andrea had been small like that. There had been times Vito was afraid he’d break her. Sophie Johannsen on the other hand… she was just a few inches shorter than he was. When she’d confronted him about the roses, those full lips of hers had been about even with his chin. Physically, it would take a lot to break her, but inside was a vulnerability that touched him. You really are like all the others. Someone had hurt her. Deeply. And she thinks I’m just like them.
That bothered Vito. Deeply. He needed her to know he wasn’t like all the others. Even if only for his own peace of mind.
“Who is this guy?” Nick asked with a frown, snapping Vito’s attention back to the x-rays at which he’d been blindly staring. “Did he push our bodies to the back of the line?”
Vito scanned the skull illuminated on the light board. “He’s not one of ours. No evidence of medieval torture. This guy took a bullet right between the eyes.”
“No medieval wounds and he took a bullet,” Katherine agreed, “but this is one of your victims, boys.” She extended one hand. “Meet victim number one-dash-three.”
“What?” Vito said.
“He’s ours?” Nick said at the same time.
“What does one-dash-three mean?” Vito added.
“Yes, he’s yours. One-three means he comes from the third grave in the first row. He was young, late teens, early twenties maybe. Cause of death was that bullet to his skull. He’s been dead perhaps a year. I’ll know more after I run some tests.”
She walked to the counter and grabbed a sheet of paper. On it she’d drawn a four-by-four matrix of rectangles and had made notes in all but three of them. “This is what you have so far. Seven empty graves, nine occupied ones. Jen’s recovered six of the nine bodies. She’s in the process of excavating the seventh body in row one, grave four, aka one-four.”
“The fourth row is empty,” Nick murmured. “Three-one, Caucasian male, midtwenties, blunt trauma to head and torso. Trauma with a jagged object to head and right arm. Right arm nearly severed. Time of death, at least two months ago. Contusions on torso and upper arms, circular in shape, approximately one quarter inch in diameter.” He looked up. “This is the third body we pulled out last night.”
“Exactly. Three-two is the woman with the folded hands.”
“Sophie told us about the Inquisitional Chair,” Nick said, his voice heavy with disgust. “Our boy has the deluxe model. Spikes and metal plates for heating.”
Katherine sighed. “This just gets better all the time. Three-three is your Knight.”
“Warren Keyes,” Vito said. “He was an actor.”
“I thought so. I finished his autopsy, by the way.” She handed Vito the report. “Cause of death was heart failure brought on by blood loss. His abdominal cavity was empty. There were no injuries to his head, but the bones in his arms and legs were all dislocated. The force was shear, not radial.”
“Meaning they were pulled, not twisted,” Vito said, scanning the report.
“He was stretched on a rack,” Nick murmured.
“I’d say that’s a good guess. He was definitely drugged.”
“His mother said he was clean and sober. He’d been in rehab,” Vito said.
“That’s entirely plausible. There was damage to his nasal membranes from the coke. I found a lot more of that white mixture up in his nasal cavity.”
“So was the stuff you found silicone grease?” Nick asked.
“Silicone lubricant, yes. The lab’s going to try to narrow it to a brand for you. But there was something mixed with the silicone. Plaster. It had filled his sinus cavity.”
Nick frowned. “Plaster and lubricant? Why?”
But a memory was poking at the edge of Vito’s mind. “One Halloween when we were kids, our boy scout troop made masks by taking plaster casts of our faces. We used cold cream to make the plaster lift off better. He made death masks of Warren Keyes and the woman with the hands.”
“Then he took the cast over most of their body,” Katherine said. “But why?”
“It has something to do with medieval effigies.” Vito shook his head. “He made a tomb, maybe? I don’t know. None of this makes sense yet.”
Nick had turned back to Katherine’s diagram of the graveyard. “So what about the elderly male they brought in this morning?”
“Ah. Him.” Katherine tapped the second row from the top. “The second row had two bodies and two empty graves. The bodies were both elderly, one male, one female.” She lifted a brow. “The female was bald.”
Vito blinked. “He shaved her head?” he asked but Katherine shook her head.
“She’d had a mastectomy.”
“He killed a woman with breast cancer?” Nick shook his head. “Good God almighty. What kind of sick bastard kills an old woman with cancer?”
“The same kind that would torture and mutilate his other victims,” Katherine said. “But he didn’t torture her. She had a broken neck, but no additional injuries. Now the old man, he’s a very different story.”
“Of course he would be,” Vito muttered as she put up three new x-rays.
“The old man in plot two-two has a broken jaw, massive trauma to his face and torso. He was beaten badly, by a fist, I’m guessing. The jaw is dislocated and the cheekbones are crushed. This was a vicious attack with lots of power behind it.”
“A big fist,” Vito murmured. “He’s a big guy, our killer. He had to have been to haul Warren Keyes’s body around, even if he drugged him.”
“I agree. The man has six broken ribs. These femur injuries were made with something bigger and harder. Both femurs were broken.” She turned around, both brows lifted. “But the pièce de résistance…”
“Shit.” Nick sighed. “What?”
“His fingertips are gone. Sliced clean off.”
Vito and Nick looked at each other. “Somebody wanted the old man to stay incognito,” Vito said and Nick nodded.
“So he’s probably in the system. Were they sliced before or after death, Katherine?”
“Of course,” Vito muttered. “Time of death?”
“I’d say two months or more. The bodies of the elderly couple were in a similar stage of decomposition to three-one, the man whose right arm is nearly severed.”
“The one with the circular bruises,” Vito murmured. “Any idea of what they are?”
“Not yet, but I haven’t really looked too hard. One of my techs found the bruises and recorded it in the log.”
Nick rubbed the back of his neck wearily. “And now we have one-three with a bullet in his head. Decidedly postmodern era.”
“Dead for a year, not a few weeks to a few months like the others,” Vito added. “This doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“Not yet,” Nick agreed. “We won’t be able to make any sense of it until we identify more of the victims. We got lucky on Warren Keyes. Was there anything you could readily see that might identify the others?”
Katherine shook her head.
“Shit,” Nick muttered. “So, we’ve got six bodies so far, one identified. Four of the six are young, two old. One actor, one cancer patient, one who might be identified if we’d been able to run his prints.”
“Who the killer really hated,” Vito added. “And that breaks with his profile.”
Nick lifted a brow. “Keep talkin’.”
“He dug all those graves perfectly, all exactly the same. He’s obsessive-compulsive. The third-row vics were tortured, but with tools, not his bare hands. The new guy with the bullet-another tool. The old man’s injuries say he really let loose. Rage and passion aren’t the MOs of an OCD perp.”
“Personal,” Nick agreed thoughtfully. “If he knew the old man, chances are good that he knew the old woman, too. But he used his hands on her. Broke her neck.”
“But he didn’t beat her up.”
Katherine cleared her throat. “Boys, this is all fascinating, but I’ve been on my feet all day and I’d like to get out of here before midnight. So leave.”
“Gee, Ma, we like the morgue,” Nick whined and chuckling, she shooed him out.
“If you want autopsies-then go. I’ll call you later. Now go.”
Monday, January 15, 4:05
Scowling in the mirror, Sophie scrubbed at the last of the theatrical makeup that stubbornly clung to her cheeks. “Damn Viking tour,” she muttered. “Paint me up like ten-dollar hooker.” The employee washroom door opened and Darla appeared, her face a frown of affectionate exasperation.
“You don’t have to scrub so hard, Sophie. You’re going to take your skin off.” She retrieved a jar from the vanity under the sink. “How many times have I told you to use cold cream?” She spread a thick layer on Sophie’s face and began to dab gently.
“About a million,” Sophie grumbled, flinching at the slimy coldness on her skin.
“Then why don’t you use it?”
“I forget.” It was a childish grouse and Darla smiled.
“Well, stop forgetting. It’s almost like you think if you take off your skin that Ted’s going to stop telling you to use the makeup. I can tell you right now, he’s not going to let it go.” She dabbed while she talked. “You might know history, Sophie, but Ted knows what sells. Without the tours, this museum might close.”
“And your point would be what, exactly?”
“Sophie.” Darla grabbed her chin and pulled her forward until her back hunched. “Hold still. Close your eyes.” Sophie did so until Darla let her go. “You’re done.”
Sophie touched her skin. “Now I’m greasy.”
“What you are is impossible, and you have been all day. What’s wrong with you?”
A sadistic medieval killer and a handsome cop who makes me drool even though he’s a cheating rat. “Vikings and Joan of Arc,” she said instead. “Ted hired me to be a curator, but I don’t have time to work on exhibits. I’m always doing these damn tours.”
Behind them a toilet flushed and Patty Ann emerged from one of the stalls. “I think it’s a guilty conscience,” she said ominously as she bent down to wash her hands. “Sophie was questioned by two cops this afternoon. One of them nearly dragged her off to the police car.” She glanced slyly at Sophie from the corner of her eye. “You must have done some slick talking to make him let you go.”
Darla looked alarmed. “What’s this about the police? Here? At the Albright?”
“They had some history questions, Darla. That was all.”
“What about the dark one?” Patty Ann needled and Sophie wanted to throttle her. “He chased you back to the museum.”
“He did not chase me,” Sophie said firmly, loosening the ties of her bodice. But Vito had done exactly that and her heart beat harder every time she thought about it. There was something about Vito Ciccotelli that drew her, tempted her, which was shameful in and of itself. She needed to get him the information he’d asked for so that she wouldn’t have to see him again. Temptation removed. Case closed.
She changed her clothes and escaped to the little storeroom Ted had given her for an office. It was tiny and filled with boxes, but it had a desk and a computer and a phone. A window would have been nice, but at this stage she was choosing her battles.
She sank down in her old chair and closed her eyes. She was tired. Tossing and turning all night had that effect, she supposed. Focus, Sophie. She needed to think about shady archeologists and collectors so she could make that list for Ciccotelli.
She considered the people she’d worked with over the years. Most were ethical scientists who handled artifacts as carefully as Jen McFain had handled the evidence at the crime scene. But inevitably her thoughts wandered to him. Alan Brewster. The bane of my life. She’d never paid attention to the rich donors who subsidized their digs, but Alan knew everyone. He would be a good contact for the detectives. Except…
Except Alan would ask Vito how he’d gotten his name. Vito would say, “From Sophie,” and Alan would smile like the lying cheating rat he was. She could hear his voice now, smooth, cultured. “Sophie,” he’d say. “A most able assistant.” That’s what he’d say when they’d… finished. She’d actually thought he’d meant it affectionately, that she’d been special to him.
Her cheeks heated as shame and humiliation reasserted themselves, as they did every time she remembered. Little had she known, then. She knew a hell of a lot more now.
But guilt sidled up to join the shame. “You’re a coward,” she murmured. Nine people were dead and Alan might be able to help, and she was letting her ego get in the way. She wrote his name on her notepad, but just seeing it in black and white left her cold. He’d tell. He always told. It was part of his fun. He’d tell Nick and Vito and then they’d know, too. What do you care what they think about you? But she did. She always did.
“Think of somebody else,” she told herself. “Somebody just as good.” She thought hard until another face came to mind, but not the man’s name. He’d been a fellow grad student working that same dig with Alan Brewster. While she’d been “assisting” Alan, this guy had been researching stolen antiquities for his dissertation. She ran a search, but found no such dissertation. But the guy had a friend… Hell.
His name Sophie remembered. Clint Shafer. With a sigh, she searched the white pages and got a number. Before she could change her mind, Sophie dialed. “Clint, this is Sophie Johannsen. You might not remember me, but-”
He cut her off with a wolf whistle. “Sophie. Well, well, how are you?”
“Just fine,” she said. Nine graves, Sophie. “Clint, do you remember that friend of yours who was researching stolen antiquities?”
“You mean Lombard?”
Lombard. Now she remembered. Kyle Lombard. “Yeah, that’s him. Did he ever finish his dissertation?”
“No, Lombard dropped out.” There was a pause, then slyly, “That was after you left the project. Alan was just devastated.”
There was laughter in his voice and Sophie’s cheeks heated as she bit back what she really wanted to say. “Have you heard from him?”
“Who? Alan? Sure. We chat often. You come up a lot.”
She bit down harder on her tongue. “No, I meant Kyle. Where is he now?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t heard from Kyle since Avignon. He dropped out of the program and I signed up to join Alan’s team on that Siberian dig. So, you’re in Philly?”
Sophie cursed caller ID. “Family emergency.”
“Well, I’m up in Long Island, but you knew that already. We could… get together.”
One stupid mistake and I’m still paying. She forced a brightness into her voice as she baldly lied. “I’m sorry, Clint. I’m married now.”
He laughed. “So? So am I. That never stopped you before.”
Sophie exhaled slowly. Then stopped biting her tongue and let it fly. “Foutre.”
Clint laughed again. “Name the time and the place, sweetheart. Alan still calls you one of his most able assistants. I’ve waited a long time to evaluate you myself.”
Her hand shaking, Sophie carefully hung up the phone. Then she took the sheet of paper on which she’d written Alan Brewster’s name and crumpled it into a tight ball in her tighter fist. There had to be someone else the police could contact.
Monday, January 15, 4:45
“Here. Don’t say I never give you anything.”
Vito looked up when a bag of corn chips landed on the missing persons printout he’d been scanning. Liz Sawyer was leaning against the side of his desk, opening her own bag. He looked over to Nick’s empty desk where she’d thrown a second bag of chips. “Nick got barbeque flavor. I wanted barbeque flavor.”
Liz leaned over and switched the bags. “God, you’re worse than my kids.”
Vito grinned and opened the bag of barbeque chips. “But you love us anyway.”
She snorted. “Yeah, right. Where’s Nick?”
Vito sobered. “With the DA. He got called down to be prepped for tomorrow.”
Liz sighed. “We’ve all had our Siever cases, unfortunately.” Her eyes narrowed. “You had one, too. A couple of years ago. Right about this time.”
Vito crunched on his chips, keeping his expression bland, even though his gut clenched. Liz was fishing. He knew she’d known something wasn’t right about Andrea’s death, but she’d never come out and asked. “Right about.”
She watched him for another few seconds, then shrugged. “So bring me up to speed on our mass-grave situation. The story broke on the noon news and the phones down in PR have been ringing off the hooks ever since. Right now we’re ‘no commenting’ like there’s no tomorrow, but that won’t hold water too much longer.”
Vito told her everything they knew, finishing with their visit to the morgue. “Now I’m combing through missing persons reports trying to match vics.”
“The girl with the folded hands… If Keyes was an actor/model, maybe she is, too.”
“Nick and I thought the same thing. When we’re through looking through missing persons, we’ll canvas the bars where the actors hang out down by the theater district. Trouble is, the vic’s face is too decomposed to show her pictures.”
“Get an artist down to the morgue. Have them look at bone structure and do the best they can.”
Vito munched glumly. “Tried that. Both artists are with live victims. It’ll be days before they’re freed up enough to sketch a dead victim.”
“Goddamn budget cuts,” Liz muttered. “Can you draw?”
He laughed. “Stick figures with a ruler.” Then sobered, thinking. “My brother does.”
“I thought your brother was a shrink.”
“That’s my sister Tess. Tino’s the artist. He specializes in faces.”
“Is he cheap?”
“Yeah, but don’t tell my mom. She thinks we’re all, you know, saints.” He lifted his brows cagily. “Candidates for the priesthood even.”
Liz laughed. “Your secret’s safe with me. Has your brother done anything like this?”
His mind came back to Tino. “No. But he’s a good guy. He’ll want to help.”
“Then call him. If he’s willing, bring him down and sign a release. You’re getting pretty good at finding free help these days, Chick. Archeologists, artists…”
Vito made himself grin carelessly. “So what do I get for my trouble?”
Liz reached over and snagged Nick’s chips and threw them at him. “Like I said, don’t say I never gave you anything.”
New York City, Monday, January 15, 4:55
“Derek, I need to talk to you.”
Derek looked up from his laptop screen. Tony England stood in the open door of his office, his jaw clenched and sullen fire in his eyes. Derek leaned back in his chair. “I was wondering when you’d come. Come in. Close the door.”
“I started for your office at least twenty times today. But I was too angry.” Tony lifted a shoulder. “I’m too angry now.”
Derek sighed. “What do you want me to do, Tony?”
“Be a man and tell Jager no for once,” he exploded, then looked away. “I’m sorry.”
“No you’re not. You’ve been with oRo since the beginning. You supervised the fight scenes in the last three games. You expected to take my place someday, not be demoted to work for a newcomer.”
“All that’s true. Derek, you and I made a great team. Tell Jager no.”
Tony’s lip curled. “Because you’re afraid he’ll fire you?”
Derek let him have that shot. “No. Because he’s right.”
Tony’s spine went ramrod straight. “What?”
“He’s right.” He waved at his laptop. “I’ve been studying Enemy Lines next to everything we did before. Enemy Lines is stunning. The work we did on the last project is barely mediocre by comparison. If Frasier Lewis can do it-”
“You sold out,” Tony said dully. “I never believed you…” He lifted his chin. “I quit.”
It was what Derek expected. “I understand. If you sleep on it and decide to change your mind, it will be like we never had this conversation.”
“I won’t change my mind. And I won’t work for Frasier Lewis.”
“Then contact me for a recommendation. For whatever it’s worth.”
“Once it would have been worth a great deal,” Tony said bitterly. “Now… I’ll take my chances on my own. Enjoy the money, Derek, because once Jager forces you out, it’ll be all you have left.”
Derek stared at the door Tony quietly closed behind him. Tony was right. Jager was forcing him out. The signs had been there for weeks, but Derek hadn’t wanted to see.
“Derek?” his secretary called through the intercom. “Lloyd Webber is on line two.”
He was not in the mood to speak to any more reporters. “Tell him no comment.”
“He’s not a reporter. He’s a parent and wants to talk to you about Enemy Lines.”
Nor was Derek in the mood to listen to any more irate parents who found Enemy Lines disturbing and violent. “Take a message. I’ll call him back tomorrow.”
Monday, January 15, 6:00
His timing had been good, Vito thought as he watched Sophie exit the Albright Museum. She looks tired, he thought as she got closer to her bike.
He stepped around his truck as she unhooked her helmet from her seat. “Sophie.”
She gasped. “You scared the hell out of me,” she hissed. “What are you doing here?”
Vito hesitated, now unsure of the words to say. From behind his back he whisked out a single white rose and watched her eyes narrow.
“Is this a joke?” she said, her voice gone low and hard. “Because it’s not funny.”
“Not a joke. It bothered me that you thought I was just like ‘all the others.’ I wanted you to know that I’m not.”
For a moment she said nothing, then shook her head and bungeed her backpack to her seat. “Okay. Fine. You’re a prince,” she said sardonically. “A really nice guy.” She straddled her bike and tucked her braid under her jacket before pulling the helmet onto her head. “I would have gotten you the list anyway.”
Vito spun the rose between his fingers nervously. She wore a black leather jacket tonight, and she’d exchanged the rainbow-fingered gloves for leather gloves similar to his own. With her forbidding expression and all that black leather, she looked like a dangerous biker chick, not like the eclectically dressed academic he’d met the day before. She tugged the strap under her chin and stood up to start the bike. She was leaving and he had not accomplished his mission.
She paused, poised to kick the engine into gear. “What?”
“The flowers were for someone else.” Her eyes flickered. She obviously hadn’t expected him to own up to it. “They were for someone I cared for who died. I was going to put them on her grave yesterday, but got tied up in the case. And that’s the truth.” As much as he was willing to divulge, anyway.
She frowned slightly. “Most people put carnations on graves in the winter.”
He shrugged. “Roses were her favorite.” His throat thickened as a picture of Andrea flashed through his mind, burying her face in a bouquet of roses. Blood red, they’d stood out in marked contrast to her olive skin and black hair. The colors mocked him. Her black hair soaking up her red blood as it flowed from the bullet hole in the side of her head-the hole he’d put there.
Abruptly he cleared his throat. “Anyway, I was getting flowers for my sister-in-law who’s in the hospital and I saw the white roses. They made me think of you.”
She was studying him warily. “Either you’re really good or you’re telling the truth.”
“I’m not that good. But I’ve never cheated in my life, and I didn’t want you to think I had.” He laid the rose across her handlebars. “Thanks for listening.”
She stared down at the flower for a long, long moment, then her shoulders sagged. Tugging off one glove, she pulled a folded sheet of paper and a pen from the pocket of her coat. Unfolding the paper, she wrote something at the bottom, then with a hard swallow handed it to him. “Here’s your list. It’s not much.”
There was a defeated look in her eyes that startled him even as it squeezed his heart. There were twenty typed names, some with websites. She’d written one more name at the bottom. “This seems like more than not much,” he said.
She shrugged. “The top eighteen keep booths at the Medieval Festival that takes place every fall. They sell swords and chain mail and such. Most also sell their goods on the ’Net. If anyone’s been asking questions about torture devices, they might have tried one of these guys first.”
“And the others?”
“Etienne Moraux is my old professor at the university in Paris. I did my graduate research under him. He’s a good man, well connected in the archeological world. If someone’s found a chair recently, he’ll know. If one’s been sold or gone missing from any museums or legitimate private collections, he’ll know that, too. As for his knowledge of the black market, I doubt it, but you never know if he’s heard rumors.”
“And Kyle Lombard?”
“He’s a long shot. I don’t even know where he is. But ten years ago he was working on his dissertation while we were on a dig in southern France. He was investigating stolen artifacts. He never finished his dissertation, and I couldn’t find him in any of the alumni lists, but you have your spy-guy ways.”
“And our memory-zapping guns,” he said, hoping to coax a smile to her lips. Instead, her eyes filled with a sadness that shook him. But she didn’t look away.
“Sometimes I think that would be a very useful thing to have,” she murmured.
“I agree. What about this last name? Alan Brewster.”
For a moment her eyes flashed with a rage so intense he nearly stepped back. But it was gone as suddenly as it had come, her anger seeming to fizzle, leaving her looking weary and defeated once again. “Alan’s one of the top archeologists in the Northeast,” she said quietly, “well connected with wealthy donors that make a lot of digs possible, here and in Europe. If somebody’s been buying, he might know.”
“Do you know where I can find him?”
She broke the stem off the rose, then with care pocketed the bloom. “He’s the chair of medieval studies at Shelton College. It’s in New Jersey, not too far from Princeton.” She stared at the ground, hesitating. When she looked back up, her eyes were filled with despair and grim acceptance. “If you could not mention my name, I’d appreciate it.”
So she and Brewster had some bad history. “How do you know him, Sophie?”
Her cheeks reddened and Vito felt a spurt of jealousy, irrational but undeniable. “He was my graduate advisor.”
He swallowed the jealousy back. Whatever had happened, it still caused her pain. He made his voice gentle. “I thought you did your graduate degree under Moraux.”
“I did, later.” The despair in her eyes give way to a quiet yearning that made him ache. “You have what you came for, Detective. Now I need to go.”
He had what he’d come for, but not everything he needed. From the look in her eyes, she needed it, too. Quickly he folded the paper and shoved it in his pocket as she tugged her glove back on. “Sophie, wait. There is one more thing.” Before he could change his mind he straddled her front tire, slipped his hands around her helmet, and covered her mouth with his.
She stiffened, then her hands came up to circle his wrists. But she didn’t pull his hands away and for a few precious moments they both took what they needed. She was sweet, her lips soft under his and the scent of her lit a fire in his blood. He needed more. He fumbled with the strap under her chin and managed to jerk it free. Without breaking contact, he pushed the helmet from her head, dropped it on the ground behind him, then tunneled his fingers through the hair at her nape. He’d pulled her closer, perfecting the fit of his lips on hers when she surged into motion and the kiss suddenly changed from slow and sweet to reckless and urgent.
Bracing her hands on his shoulders, she lifted on her toes and ate at his mouth with hot, greedy little bites, a hungry whimper rising from her throat. He’d been right. The thought pushed through the heat as he urged her lips apart and took the kiss deeper. She’d needed this as much as he had. Maybe more.
Her fingers were clenched in the shoulders of his coat and his heart was pounding so hard it was all he could hear. Vito knew this hadn’t begun to satisfy what he needed. What he really needed wasn’t going to happen standing over her bike in a parking lot. He left the warmth of her mouth, brushing his lips along her jaw, pressing against the underside where her pulse beat hard and fast.
Vito pulled away just far enough to search her face. Her eyes were wide, and in them he saw hunger and need and uncertainty, but no regret. Slowly she lowered to her heels, running her hands along his arms until she reached his wrists. She pulled his hands from her hair, then closed her eyes as she clutched his hands in hers for several beats of his heart. Then carefully she released him and opened her eyes. The look of despair had returned, stronger now, and he knew she’d walk away from him.
“Sophie,” he started, his voice harsh and gravelly. She put her fingers over his lips.
“I need to go,” she whispered, then cleared her throat. “Please.”
He reached for the helmet he’d dropped on the ground and watched as she strapped it under her chin once again. He didn’t want her to leave like this. He didn’t want her to leave at all. “Sophie, wait. I still owe you a pizza.”
She flashed him a forced smile. “Can’t. I’ve got to visit my grandmother.”
“Tomorrow, then?” and she shook her head.
“I teach a graduate seminar at Whitman on Tuesdays.” She lifted her hand, stopping him before he pressed further. “Please don’t. Vito, yesterday when I met you I was hoping you’d be decent and I was so upset when I thought you weren’t. I’m truly glad you are. So…” She shook her head, regret now in her eyes. “So good luck.”
She stood up, kicked the bike into gear and was out of the lot in a roar. As he watched her go, he realized it was the third time in two days he’d done so.
Monday, January 15, 6:45
Sophie sat back with a frustrated sigh. “Gran, you have to eat. The doctor says you’ll never get out of here if you don’t get your strength back.”
Her grandmother glared at the plate. “I wouldn’t feed that to my dogs.”
“You feed filet to your dogs, Gran,” Sophie said. “I wish I ate as well.”
“They only get filet once a year.” Her chin lifted. “On their birthday.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “Oh, well, as long as it’s a special occasion.” She sighed again. “Gran, please eat. I want you strong enough to come home.”
The defiant spark faded from Anna’s eyes, her thin shoulders slumping back against her pillow. “I’m never going home, Sophie. Maybe it’s time we both accepted that.”
Sophie’s chest hurt. Her grandmother had always been the picture of health, but the stroke had left her frail and unable to use the right side of her body, and her speech was still too slurred to be understood by strangers. A recent bout of pneumonia had robbed her of even more strength and made every breath she drew painful.
The world had once been Anna’s stage-Paris, London, Milan. Opera fans flocked to hear her Orfeo. Now Anna’s world was this small room in a nursing home.
Still, the last thing Anna needed was pity so Sophie hardened her voice. “Bullshit.”
Anna’s eyes flew open. “Sophie!”
“Like you haven’t said that word a hundred times.” A day, she added to herself.
Twin spots of color darkened Anna’s pale cheeks. “Still,” she grumbled, then dropped her eyes back to the plate. “Sophie, this food is vile. It’s worse than usual.” She lifted her left brow, the only one she could lift anymore. “Try it yourself.”
Sophie did, then grimaced. “You’re right. Wait here.” She went to the door and saw one of the nurses at the station. “Nurse Marco? Did you get a new dietitian?”
The nurse looked up from her clipboard, her expression guarded. “Yes. Why?”
Most of the nursing home staff were wonderful. Nurse Marco, however, was a grouch. To say that she and Anna did not get along was putting it mildly, so Sophie tried to ensure her visits coincided with Marco’s shifts. Just to keep things civilized. “Because this food tastes really bad. Could you possibly get Anna something else?”
Marco pursed her lips. “She’s on a controlled diet, Dr. Johannsen.”
“Which she will follow, I promise.” Sophie smiled as engagingly as she could. “I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t really bad. Please?”
Marco’s sigh was long-suffering. “Very well. It will be a half hour or so.”
Sophie came back to sit at Anna’s bedside. “Marco will bring you a new dinner.”
“She’s mean,” Anna murmured, closing her eyes.
Sophie frowned. Her grandmother said things like that increasingly often these days and Sophie was never completely sure what she should believe. Likely it was petulance brought on by the frustration of being helpless and in pain, but she always worried there could be something more.
Sophie seemed worried most of the time these days-about Anna, about bills, about the career she hoped she could someday reclaim. And today she’d added a new worry-what Vito Ciccotelli would think about her once he met Alan Brewster.
She touched her lips with her fingertips and let herself remember that kiss. Her heart started pounding all over again. She’d wanted more, so much more. And for just a moment, she’d let herself hope that just this once, she could have it.
What a fool you are. She’d finally met a really nice man who might have been everything she wanted-and she’d sent him to the one man who was most likely to paint her as a cheap sex-crazed slut with no moral compass. Maybe he won’t believe Alan. Hah. Men always believed Alan, because on some level they wanted to believe she was cheap, that she’d fall into bed with anyone who asked.
Nine graves, Sophie. You did the right thing. But why did the right thing always suck so much? With a sigh she settled in her chair and watched Anna sleep.
Monday, January 15, 6:50
“So how did your prep with the DA go?” Vito asked as he got into Nick’s sedan. They’d met outside the factory where Warren Keyes’s fiancée Sherry worked.
“Okay.” Nick tossed him a sub. “Lopez thinks she can nail the drug dealer.”
“Then there’ll be some justice,” Vito said, unwrapping the sandwich. The aroma of meatballs filled the car. “Some justice is a hell of a lot better than none.”
Nick’s shrug said he didn’t agree, but wouldn’t argue. “What’d I miss?”
“I went through the missing-persons printouts. Highlighted anyone vaguely matching our vics. Got approval from Liz to bring in an artist to give us something to show.”
Nick whistled. “She gave you money?”
“Hell, no. I got Tino.”
Nick looked impressed. “Good thinking.”
“He should be meeting Katherine at the morgue any time now. Then I stopped by the hospital to see Molly. She’s doing better.”
“You have been busy. They figure out where Molly got the mercury?”
“Yeah. The state’s environmental people found their gas meter had been broken.”
“They still make meters with mercury?”
“No, but Dino’s house is old and the meter’s the old style. Pop said they told him the utility companies have been replacing them, but they hadn’t gotten to Dino’s neighborhood yet. They found mercury in the mud under the meter.”
“But meters don’t just break.”
“They think it was hit by a ball or a rock or something. Pop asked the boys, but none of them knew anything about it. Molly said last Friday the dog came in covered in mud. She bathed him and that’s how she came into contact with the mercury. The vet tested the dog and found low levels, but not enough to hurt him. But after she bathed the dog, Molly vacuumed, which sent mercury through the house. They’ve got to replace all the carpet before they can live there again, so I’ll have company for quite a while.”
“Well, I’m glad she’s all right. That’s the important thing.”
Vito drew Sophie’s list from his pocket. “And…” He sighed. “I went to see Sophie.”
“You really were busy.” He scanned the sheet. “Sellers of medieval novelties, chain mail…” He looked up, a light in his eyes. “The circular bruises on the guy missing half his head. He could have been wearing chain mail.”
Vito nodded. “You’re right. The bruises would be just about that size. Good job.”
“Professor in France,” Nick continued. “Long-shot Lombard, whereabouts unknown. And Alan Brewster. Why is his name handwritten in?”
“She gave me that one at the last minute. I think there’s some bad history there.”
Nick glanced up briefly. “No pun intended.”
Vito rolled his eyes. “No. I considered phoning him at home, but thought we might want to visit him in person.”
Nick considered it. “This guy hurt Sophie, huh?”
“Seems like it. She didn’t want me to mention her name.”
“What made her change her mind?”
“I told her the truth. Some of it anyway,” he clarified when Nick’s brow went up. He thought about the way she’d so carefully pocketed the rose, and remembered the kiss, which still filled his mind. “She believed me. Then she gave me the list and added Brewster’s name.”
“You’re gonna go tomorrow?”
Vito nodded. “I told Tino to focus on the woman with the folded hands. I want to take whatever he comes up with to the actors that hang around the theaters, but they won’t start gathering until late afternoon. I’ll have time to visit Brewster in the morning. He may be able to point us in the right direction. If we can find where they’re getting the devices, we can follow the money trail.”
“Well, when we’re done here I’ll go back to the office and run a list of Kyle Lombards. I might as well try to track him down tomorrow while I’m waiting to testify.” Nick straightened abruptly. “There she is. Sherry Devlin.” He pointed to a young woman getting out of a rusted Chevette. “She looks beat. I wonder where she’s been.”
Vito took Sophie’s list back, folded and pocketed it. “Let’s go find out,” he said and the two of them got out of Nick’s car and approached Sherry Devlin. “Miss Devlin?”
She spun to face them, her face freezing in fear.
“Relax,” Vito said. “We’re detectives, Philly PD. We’re not going to hurt you.”
She looked from Vito to Nick, her eyes still a little wild. “Is this about Warren?”
“Where have you been all day, Miss Devlin?” Nick asked, in lieu of an answer.
Sherry’s chin lifted. “In New York. I thought maybe Warren had gone up there to look for work. I figured if the police wouldn’t help me look, I’d search for him myself.”
“And did you find anything?” Vito asked gently and she shook her head.
“No. None of the agencies he’d worked for in the past had heard from him in a long time.” There was a tension to her posture that told Vito she knew why they’d come.
“Miss Devlin, I’m Detective Ciccotelli. This is my partner, Detective Lawrence. We have some bad news for you.”
The color drained from her face. “No.”
“We found Warren’s body, Miss Devlin,” Nick said gently. “We’re so sorry.”
“I knew something terrible had happened to him.” She lifted her eyes, numb with grief. “They said he’d run away, but I knew he’d never leave me. Not voluntarily.”
“Leave your car here. We’ll take you home.” He helped her sit in the back seat, then crouched next to her. “How did you know where to look in New York?”
She blinked slowly. “From Warren’s portfolio.”
“We looked at his portfolio, Miss Devlin,” Nick said, “We didn’t see a list of modeling agencies, just photos.”
“That’s his photofolio,” she murmured. “His résumé is online.”
Vito felt an electric current zip down his spine. “Where online?”
“At UCanModel dotcom. He had an account there.”
“What kind of account?” Nick asked.
She looked confused. “For models. They upload their photos and credits, and people who want to hire them can contact them through the site.”
Vito glanced over at Nick. Bingo. “Did Warren ever use your computer?”
“Sure. He was at my place more than he was at his folks’.”
Vito squeezed her hand. “We’re going to want to take your computer into our lab.”
“Of course,” she murmured. “Anything you need.”
Monday, January 15, 8:15
“Sophie, wake up.”
Sophie blinked and focused on Harry’s face. She’d fallen asleep in the chair next to Anna’s bed. “What are you doing here?” Then she winced when she remembered. “Lou’s for cheesesteak. I forgot. Dang, and I’m hungry, too.”
“I brought you one. It’s out in my car.”
“I’m sorry I stood you up. I had a long day.” She studied Anna’s sleeping face. “Marco must have given her her meds. She’s out for the night, so I might as well go.”
“Then come eat your sandwich and tell me about your long day.”
In his car, Sophie stared up at the nursing home while she ate. “Gran keeps saying that this one nurse is mean to her. Does she say that to Freya?”
“Freya hasn’t mentioned it.” Harry frowned. “Do you think Anna’s being abused?”
“Don’t know. I hate having to leave her here at night.”
“We have to, unless we get a private nurse and that’s expensive. I checked into it.”
“I did, too. But I can barely afford this place, and Alex’s money will be gone soon.”
Harry’s jaw tightened. “You shouldn’t be using your inheritance for Anna’s care.”
She smiled at him. “Why not? What else would I use it on? Harry, everything I own fits in this backpack.” She nudged it with her toe. “That’s the way I like it.”
“I think that’s what you tell yourself. Alex should have provided for you better.”
“Alex provided for me just fine.” Harry always thought her biological father should have done more. “He paid for my university so that I could provide for myself. Not that I seem to be doing very well with that.” She scowled. “S’il vous plaît.”
“Let me guess. You were Joan again today.”
“Yeah,” she said glumly. “And the only thing worse than being Joan is having somebody I know see me that way.” She’d felt embarrassed when Vito and Nick had seen her in her costume. Of course, she’d be more embarrassed when Vito found out what kind of person she’d been. Alan would be sure to give him an earful.
“I think you make a cute Joan,” Harry said. “But who saw you?”
“Just this guy. It’s nothing.” No, it hadn’t been nothing. It had been incredible. She shrugged. “I thought he was a cheater, but it turns out he’s a really nice guy.”
“Then what’s the problem, Sophie?” Harry asked gently.
“The problem is that he’s about to meet Alan Brewster.”
Harry’s eyes flashed dark. “I’d hoped I’d never hear that name again.”
“Me, too. But we don’t get everything we want, do we? I have no doubt that within an hour after talking to Alan that Vito will think I’m trashy, and worse, hypocritical trash because I yelled at him for cheating on a girlfriend he doesn’t even have.”
“If he’s really a nice man he won’t listen to the vile gossip of a snake like Brewster.”
“I hear you, Uncle Harry. I just know better. Men hear about Brewster and I become a different person. I can’t seem to make people back here forget.”
Harry looked sad. “You’ll go back to Europe when Anna dies, won’t you?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. But I don’t think I can stay around Philly. Funny thing is, it happened over there, but it’s here that the story won’t die. Alan and his wife won’t let it because I had to be a freakin’ hero and try to do the right thing. Confess to the wife. Merde. Freakin’ idiot is more like it,” she muttered. “Confession is not good for the soul and there’s a damn good reason the wife’s always the last to know.”
“Sophie, that’s the first time you didn’t tell me Anna wasn’t going to die.”
Sophie went still. “I’m sorry. Of course she’ll-”
“Sophie.” His admonishment held affection. “Anna’s led one hell of a life. Don’t feel guilty because you believe she won’t hold on. Or that you’ll get your life back once she passes. You gave up a lot to come home. She appreciates that. So do I.”
She swallowed hard. “How could I have done anything else, Harry?”
“You couldn’t have.” He patted her knee. “You done with your sandwich? Because I have to get rid of the evidence. Freya can’t know I went to Lou’s. It’s not on my diet.”
“She’ll smell the onions. I’m sorry, Harry. You’re busted.”
“Well, it was worth it. I’ll just drive with the windows open on the way home.” He rolled down his window as Sophie gathered her backpack and the trash and got out.
“I’ll dispose of the evidence,” she said in a loud whisper. “See you around, Harry.”
“Sophie, wait.” She turned around and leaned in his window. His face was serious. “If this Vito is a good man, nothing Brewster says would make him disrespect you.”
She kissed his cheek. “You’re so sweet. Naïve, but sweet.”
He frowned. “I’m just afraid the right man will come along and you’ll be so sure he’s going to think the worst that you don’t give him an opportunity. I don’t want to see you miss your chance, Sophie. I’m not sure how many we get to waste.”
Monday, January 15, 9:00
There he is.” Vito studied the photo of Warren Keyes on UCanModel dotcom. He’d logged onto Warren’s account from his own PPD computer using the user name and password supplied by Sherry Devlin. Sherry’s computer sat in a box on Nick’s desk. One of Jeff’s computer techs would be coming in to check it out within the hour.
“Spotty résumé,” Nick said, standing behind him. “He didn’t get a lot of work.”
Vito clicked around the statistics section of Warren’s account page. “Looks like he hasn’t had a lot of hits lately. Six in the last three months. But look at the last date.”
“January 3. That’s the day before the last day Sherry saw him alive. Coincidence?”
“I don’t think so.” Vito went to the photo section and clicked through the thumbnails that comprised Warren Keyes’s career. “Look at this one.” It was two photos spliced together, both close-ups of Warren’s bicep. One half showed the Oscar tattoo in reasonable detail, on the other half the tattoo had been rendered invisible with makeup. “There’s something about that tattoo that’s been bothering me.”
“Oscar? Doesn’t seem too uncommon for a young guy who wanted to be an actor.”
“No, that’s not it.” Vito shook his head. “I went to visit Tess in Chicago a while back and she took me to a museum where they were exhibiting the Oscar statues that were going to be given at the Academy Awards that year.” He looked up over his shoulder. “The company that makes the statues is in Chicago.”
“Okay,” Nick said slowly. “And?”
Vito visualized the statue and the memory clicked. “Oscar is a knight.”
“Yeah, he’s a knight.” Excited now, Vito did a Google search and pulled up a close-up of the Oscar statue itself. “Look at his hands. Just like Warren’s were posed.”
Nick whistled softly. “Hell’s bells. Look at that. He’s holding a freaking sword. If Oscar were lyin’ down, he’d be the spittin’ image of the boy in the morgue.”
“Not a coincidence,” Vito said firmly. “He picked Warren because of the tattoo.”
“Or he posed Warren because of the tattoo.”
“No, he planned this. He’d posed the woman’s hands weeks before. God, Nick. Warren got picked because of his damn tattoo.”
“Shit.” Nick sat down. “I wonder if the girl’s picture is in here too.”
“And the guy without half his head. And the boy with the bullet between his eyes.” Vito checked his watch. “Tino’s been at the morgue since seven. Maybe he’s got something we can use.”
As if on cue, the elevator dinged and Tino walked into the bullpen. Vito winced. His younger brother’s face was haggard and drawn, his dark eyes stark. “I shouldn’t have asked him to do this.”
“He’ll live,” Nick insisted, then stood up. “Hey, Tino.” He pulled up a chair. “Sit.”
Tino sat, heavily. “How do you do it, Vito? Look at those people, every day?”
“It’s an acquired skill,” Nick answered for him. “What d’ya got for us?”
Tino held out an envelope. “I have no idea if this is anywhere close. I did my best.”
“It’s better than we had before,” Vito told him. “I’m sorry, Tino. I shouldn’t have-”
“Stop,” Tino interrupted. “I’m okay and yes, you should have. It was just more intense than I’d expected.” He made his mouth smile. “I’ll live.”
“That’s what I told him.” Nick slid the drawing from the envelope. From the page stared a serious female face and Vito could see his brother had captured the girl’s facial structure. But more than that was a poignant sadness that Vito suspected was Tino’s own feelings coming through as he’d sketched. It was beautifully done.
Nick hummed his approval. “Wow. How come you can’t draw like this, Vito?”
“Because he sings,” Tino answered wearily. “And Dino teaches, Gino builds, and Tess cooks like a goddess.” He blew out a sigh. “And on that note, I’m going home, Vito. Tess should be there with the boys and I’m going to see if she’ll make me supper.” He licked his lips with distaste. “Anything to get this taste out of my mouth.”
Vito remembered Sophie’s beef jerky. “Tell Tess to make it spicy, and save me some. Oh, and tell her to take my room. I’ll bunk on the sofa.”
Tino stood up. “Your ME showed me the other bodies, Vito. I don’t think I can do anything for the guy…” He grimaced. “You know. Without a head. And the kid with the bullet is too far gone. Same for the kid with the shrapnel. You’ll need-”
“Whoa.” Vito stopped him with a raised hand. “What shrapnel?”
“Your ME called him one-four.”
Nick frowned. “Shrapnel? What the hell?”
“Sounds like we have some catching up to do in the morgue,” Vito said grimly. “I’m sorry, Tino. Go on. We’ll need what?”
“I was just going to say you’ll need a forensic anthropologist to reconstruct their faces. But the two old people I might be able to do. I can come back tomorrow and try.”
Vito felt a stirring of pride. “We’d appreciate it.”
Zipping up his coat, Tino shot them a lopsided grin. “I expect a recommendation. Who knows, I might have found a new career. God knows art doesn’t pay anything.”
“Where’s that stack of missing persons reports?” Nick asked when Tino was gone. “We can search this UCanModel site using the missing-persons names that fit the girl’s profile, then compare the photos to Tino’s drawing.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Monday, January 15, 9:55
Nick tossed the missing persons printout to Vito’s desk in disgust. “That was the last one.” He glared at the UCanModel site on the computer screen. “She’s not in there.”
“Or she’s not in there.” Vito pointed to the printout. “Maybe she wasn’t declared a missing person. Or maybe she’s not local. Just because Warren was from Philly doesn’t mean she was. I’m not ready to give up yet.”
“Fuck,” Nick grumbled. “It would have been so sweet to find her fast.”
“Go home,” Vito said. “I’ll keep searching while I wait for Jeff’s computer tech to comb Sherry’s hard drive. I’ll check each model face by face if I have to.”
“There have to be five thousand names in there. You’ll be here all damn night.”
“Maybe not.” Vito ran the cursor over all the drop-down menus. “I can’t imagine that photographers looking for models are gonna scroll one picture at a time. They’d want to be able to look at all the blondes or brunettes, short or tall. Whatever.”
Nick sat up a little straighter. “So you could narrow the field. You know she was a brunette, five-foot-two, with short hair and blue eyes.”
“The eyes and hair are changeable. She could always wear contacts or a wig. But the height doesn’t change.” Vito squinted at the screen. “You can search, then sort by physical characteristics. So we search for five-foot-two and sort by hair color, then eye color.” He filled in the fields and clicked search. “You go home, I’ll stay here.”
“Hell, no. It’s just getting interesting again. Besides, you could find some cute girls on this site. They even list their bra size. What more do you want?”
“Nick.” Rolling his eyes, Vito shook his head.
“Hey, I’m single again and I don’t have time for bars.” His expression went sly. “Nor do I have the likes of Sophie Johannsen interested in me.”
She was interested. Vito swallowed hard. If she’d been any more interested he would have needed CPR. But she didn’t want to be. She’d turned him down, yet again. Last night it had been a misunderstanding. Tonight he suspected she understood all too well, even if he didn’t. So he ignored Nick and stared at the screen. “Only a hundred results. Her being short was good. Most of the models are tall.”
“Nick,” Vito gritted. “Shut up.”
Nick gave him a puzzled look. “You’re serious, aren’t you? I just assumed-”
“Well, you assumed wrong. And I’m not going to push this time.”
Nick seemed to chew on that for a minute. “Okay. Then let’s work.”
Vito clicked through each model’s portfolio, then stopped and blinked. “God, Tino is good.” The face staring out at them was the exact image of Tino’s drawing.
“I’ll say.” Nick leaned in for a closer look, very sober now. “Brittany Bellamy. Hell, Chick. She wasn’t even twenty. Click ‘contact.’”
Vito did, but it was an e-mail form. “They don’t give phone numbers or even geographical info, and I don’t want to send an e-mail. If we’re right, she won’t answer.”
“’Cause she’s dead,” Nick muttered. “And if we’re wrong, we’ve given out potentially valuable details on the killer’s MO. But you can check with her former clients in the morning.” He stood up. “I’m going home. I’ll call you when I’m outta court tomorrow.”
“Good luck,” Vito said, then dialed Liz Sawyer’s home number. “Hey, it’s Vito.”
“What do you have?”
“Possible ID on the girl with the hands.” He filled her in. “I’ll confirm tomorrow.”
“Very nicely done, Vito. I mean it. And thank your brother for me.”
Liz didn’t give out praise often. When she did, it felt good. “Thanks. And I will.”
“I rearranged some schedules and freed up Riker and Jenkins. They’ll be available to help you chase leads and IDs as of tomorrow morning.”
Liz had done well. Tim Riker and Beverly Jenkins were good cops. “Full time?”
“For a few days. It was the best I could do.”
“Appreciate it. I’ll ask them to track Brittany Bellamy through her modeling clients tomorrow. I got some names from the archeologist that I want to run down. One of them might be able to help us trace the equipment this guy is using. I want a money trail.”
“Always follow the money,” Liz agreed. “Schedule a briefing for oh-eight tomorrow.”
“Will do. Hey, I gotta go. Looks like the IT guy is here.”
A young guy carrying a laptop was approaching his desk. “You Ciccotelli?”
“Yeah. You Jeff’s guy?”
One side of his mouth lifted. “I prefer Brent.” He shook Vito’s hand. “Brent Yelton. And just so you know, calling us ‘Jeff’s guy’ won’t make you a lot of friends on our floor.”
Vito grinned. “I’ll remember that. The computer’s in the box. Thanks for coming out.”
Brent nodded. “I was the one who checked out the computer you took from Keyes’s room. I told Jeff to call me if anything else came up on this case, that I’d be there.”
Vito scowled. “I used up a favor to get you here. Jeff’s an asshole.”
Brent laughed as he hooked Sherry’s computer to his laptop. “One more reason not to be associated with him.” He sat in Nick’s chair and for five minutes worked in silence. Finally he looked up. “Well, this machine hasn’t been wiped. No trace of the virus that took out the victim’s computer. Somebody has been fooling with the history, though.”
Vito walked around to stand behind him. “What do you mean?”
“The wipe on the vic’s machine was a virus. This here is totally an amateur effort. Somebody didn’t want anybody knowing he visited certain sites and deleted them from the history. But that doesn’t delete them from the hard drive.” He glanced up. “Big mistake people make when they use company computers to surf for porn. They delete the history, but it’s still on the drive and any IT person worth a nickel can find it.”
“Good to know,” Vito said wryly. “So which sites were deleted by our amateur?”
Brent did a little doubletake. “This is a first for me. Somebody’s hiding visits to medievalworld.com, medievalhistory.com, fencing.com… here’s one for clothing of the Middle Ages, more of the same, yada yada, and… Hmm. A site for Caribbean cruises.”
Vito sighed. “Their honeymoon. Warren and Sherry were getting married. She said he’d dropped some hints about cruises, to see if that’s where she wanted to go.”
“And the medieval stuff?”
Vito stared at the list broodingly. “It all fits. I’m just not sure how.”
“Call me if you come up with any more wiped machines. Gotta say I’m intrigued. That virus had one of the sneakiest codes I’ve ever seen. Here’s my card with my cell.” He grinned as he packed up his laptop. “That way you don’t have to go through Jeff.”
“Thanks, man.” Vito pocketed Brent’s card, then dialed Jen McFain’s cell.
“McFain.” The connection was bad, but Jen’s fatigue came through loud and clear.
“Jen, it’s Vito. What’s happening?”
“Just sent the eighth body to the morgue, another elderly woman. Nothing funky.”
“Meaning no bullets, no shrapnel, no cancer, no weird bruises or folded hands.”
“Pretty much. We’re on the final grave now. First row, first grave.”
“Well we’ve ID’d the Knight for sure and maybe the Lady.”
“Wow.” She sounded impressed. “That’s fast work.”
“Thanks. You didn’t do too badly yourself. Six bodies excavated in one day.”
“We couldn’t have without Sophie’s map. The real work starts tomorrow when we start sifting through the dirt we took away.”
“Speaking of tomorrow, we’re having a briefing at oh-eight. Can you be here?”
“If you bring coffee and crullers from that bakery at the end of your street, then I’m there. Hold on. The team’s calling me.” A minute later she was back. “Last one’s uncovered.” Her voice held new energy. “Young female. And Vito, she’s missing a leg.”
Vito grimaced. “You mean he cut off her leg?”
“No, she’s an amputee. And oh, my goodness. If I’m not mistaken… Oh, Vito, this is good. Really good. She’s got a plate in her skull. Oh man, this is gold.”
Vito blinked hard. “She has a gold plate in her skull? Jen, that doesn’t make sense.”
She huffed in frustration. “Dammit, Vito, stick with the program here.”
“Sorry. I’m just tired. Try again.”
“Well, it’s not like this has been a garden party for me either. Pay attention. Her skull has decomposed, revealing a metal plate. She obviously had it implanted after an injury or surgery at some point in her life. Now that she’s decomposing, it’s visible.”
“Oh.” He frowned. “I’m still missing why this is so good.”
“Vito, an implantable metal plate is a class-three medical device. All class-three medical devices have unique, traceable serial numbers.”
Cognition clicked and he stood up straighter. “By which we can identify her.”
“And the prize goes to the man who just woke up.”
Vito grinned, almost giddy over this lucky turn. “I’ll call Katherine and have her start with the amputee first thing tomorrow morning. See you at oh-eight.”
Monday, January 15, 10:15
Daniel was staring mindlessly at CNN on the hotel television when his cell phone rang. “Luke? Where have you been?”
“Catching fish,” Luke said dryly. “That’s what usually happens on a fishing trip. I didn’t get your message till now. So what’s up? Where are you?”
“In Philadelphia. Listen, I found a memory stick after you left this morning. I plugged it into my laptop and all I could see was a list of files with PST at the end.”
“Those are e-mail files. That’s probably your dad’s backup file since he wiped everything before November.”
Daniel pulled the memory stick from his pocket. “How can I see what’s on here?”
“Plug the stick into your PC. I’ll walk you through. It’s not hard.”
Daniel did what Luke said to do and was soon looking at his father’s e-mails. “I’ve got ’em.” Several years’ worth, in fact. But Daniel didn’t think he wanted Luke to know what had been on the memory stick any more than he wanted Frank Loomis to know about his father’s secret safe. “Let me check it out. Thanks, Luke.”
It took Daniel only minutes to get to the message that stopped his heart. It was from “RunnerGirl” and was dated July, eighteen months before. It said only, “I know what your son did.”
Daniel forced himself to breathe, to think. This was not going to be pretty at all.
Tuesday, January 16, 12:45
It was damn good. On his computer screen the Inquisitor battled his opponent, the Good Knight. Both characters fought sword in one hand, flail in the other. Each step was smooth, each jab of a sword or arc of the flail a realistic combination of muscular movement. It was a masterpiece.
Van Zandt would be pleased. Soon hundreds of thousands across the world would flock to experience this. Van Zandt considered him an animation genius, but he never forgot that the computer animations were merely a means to an end. The end was having his paintings displayed in the best galleries, the very galleries that had rejected him before.
He lifted his eyes to the seventh painting of Warren Dies. To the moment Warren Keyes ceased to be. Perhaps those galleries had been right. His work before Claire and Warren and all the others had been generic. Familiar. But these-Warren, Claire, Brittany, Bill Melville as the flail sheared his head away-these were genius.
He stood up and stretched. He needed to sleep. He had a long drive ahead of him tomorrow morning. He wanted to be in Van Zandt’s office by nine and out by noon. That would allow him ample time to meet Mr. Gregory Sanders at three. By midnight he’d have Gregory Dies on canvas and a whole new scream.
He took a few stiff steps, rubbing his right thigh. This old house was too drafty. He’d picked it for its remote location and ease of… appropriation, but every gust of winter wind found its way inside. Philadelphia in the winter was hell. Made him long for magnolias and peach blossoms. He clenched his jaw. He’d been exiled from home far too long, but that would soon change. The old man’s hold over him was broken.
He chuckled. So was the old man. Broken. He walked to his bed on the far side of his studio. Sitting on the mattress, he focused on the poster board that he’d mounted on the wall next to his bed, positioned so that he could see it every time he woke. The poster board on which he’d drawn the matrix. Four by four.
Sixteen blocks, nine of them filled with still shots of the victim at that crucial moment of death. Well, one was a photo of a painting. He hadn’t filmed his strangulation of Claire Reynolds, but in the moments after her death, he had created Claire Dies and knew his life had irrevocably changed. In the days thereafter he’d relived the moment he’d ended Claire’s life over and over.
In those days, he’d dreamed of doing it again and again. And in those days he’d formulated the plan which was progressing well. Some might attribute his success to luck, but only fools believed in luck. Luck was for the lazy, the undeserving. He believed in intellect, and in skill. And fate.
He hadn’t always believed in fate, in the inevitable overlap of one person’s destiny with another’s. He believed now. How else could he explain walking into Jager Van Zandt’s favorite bar a year ago, just hours after the man had received a crushing review on his last game? “Less exciting than Pong,” the reviewer had proclaimed and Van Zandt had been just drunk enough to pour out every last detail, from his frustration with Derek Harrington to the fear that the game he was ready to launch, Behind Enemy Lines, would be equally disastrous.
How else could he explain the sudden appearance of Claire Reynolds with her bold but poorly executed attempt at blackmail the very next day? Those had been fate.
Intellect was being able to combine Claire’s unfortunate end and Van Zandt’s unfortunate present into a new destiny that would meet his own needs. But none of it could have happened without skill. He had been uniquely gifted to give Van Zandt exactly what he wanted in exactly the form he needed. Few others could create images, worlds, with both pixels and paint. Few others had the computer expertise to imbue them with life.
But I can. He’d created the virtual world of the evil Inquisitor, a fourteenth-century cleric who saw the elimination of heretics as more of a hostile takeover opportunity and the elimination of witches to be the door to great power. The more wealthy heretics and true witches the Inquisitor found and eliminated, the more powerful he would become, until he becomes the king.
A fanciful tale, but gamers would enjoy the political scheming and lies required to get ahead. Points would be scored by how clever the deceit and how diabolically complex the torture. He’d filled most of the primary roles-the powerful Witch who’d suffered the torture of the chair before revealing the source of her great power, the Good Knight who is vanquished with the flail, the king himself who suffers a most ignominious and… gutless end.
Of course all of these subjects had played supporting roles as well. He’d been careful to plan the tortures to get the most use out of each subject, both audio and video. With a few small changes, these additional tortures would be converted to at least twenty additional minor characters that gamers could add to their collection.
Gregory Sanders would play the role of an honest cleric attempting to stop the evil Inquisitor. Of course the cleric would not prevail and Gregory Sanders would meet a most bitter and painful end, after which he would be buried in the final plot on the third row. The third row would be complete.
The first row was already complete, filled with casualties of Behind Enemy Lines-Claire and Jared and Zachary. And poor Mrs. Crane. Crane was… collateral damage, an unfortunate victim of his real-estate acquisition. Regrettable, but unavoidable.
The fourth row was currently empty, reserved for cleanup when Inquisitor was complete. The fourth row would hold his resources, the only people capable of proving the images in his medieval fantasy world were more than the product of an active imagination. They were the only people who knew the instruments of torture were indeed real, who knew of his intense interest in the weapons and warfare of the Middle Ages. They would pose a distinct threat when Inquisitor hit store shelves, so they would have to be dealt with before that time.
The three vendors of illegal antiquities would give him no pause. They were pompous asses who’d overcharged him too many times. Simply put, he disliked all three. But the historian… She would be another regrettable loss. He had nothing against her, per se. On some level he even… liked her. She was intelligent and skilled. A loner. Just like me.
Still, she’d interacted with him on too many occasions. He could not allow her to live. Like the two old women, he’d make it as painless as possible. Nothing personal. But the historian would die and would be laid to rest in the last block on the fourth row.
He lifted his gaze and stared at the second row of blocks with cold resolve. Two blocks were filled. Two remained. Unlike any of the others, this row, these blocks were very, very personal indeed.
Tuesday, January 16, 1:15
Daniel had been staring at the ceiling for hours, putting off what he knew he had to do. It was probably too late, in more ways than one. But she had a right to know, and he had a responsibility to tell her.
She’d be angry. She was entitled. With a sigh Daniel sat up and reached for the phone, dialing the number he’d committed to memory long ago but had never called.
She answered on the first ring. “Hello?” She sounded awake and alert.
“Susannah? It’s… me. Daniel.”
There was a long moment of silence. “What do you want, Daniel?” There was an edge to her voice that made him cringe. But he supposed he deserved it.
“I’m in Philadelphia. Looking for them.”
“In Philadephia? Why would they go there?”
“Susannah, when was the last time you talked to them?”
“I called Mom on Christmas Day, a year ago. I haven’t talked to Dad in five years. Why?”
“Frank called me, told me they might be missing, but it looked like they were only on vacation. Then I found e-mails on Dad’s computer. They say ‘I know what your son did.’”
Once again he was treated to a moment of silence. “So what did his son do?”
Daniel closed his eyes. “I don’t know. The only things I know is that one of them did an Internet search for Philadelphia oncologists and that the last person to actually talk to them was Grandma. I’m here looking for them, and I’m prepared to go to every hotel in this city, but it would help to know what number they called Grandma from.”
“Why don’t you ask someone from GBI to run it for you?” she asked.
Daniel hesitated. “I’d rather not. My boss wanted me to initiate a missing-person case. I told him I would when I had evidence that this was more than a simple vacation.”
“Your boss is right,” she said coldly. “You should do this by the book.”
“I will, once I’m convinced they are missing, and not on vacation. So can you run Grandma’s LUDs?”
“I’ll do my best. Don’t call me again. I’ll call you if and when I find something.”
Daniel winced when the phone clicked in his ear. It had actually gone far better than he’d anticipated.
Tuesday, January 16, 1:15
The occupants of the second row were completely personal. The old man and his wife were already buried there. Soon the empty plots would hold the old man’s spawn. How fitting that the family would spend eternity together… in my graveyard. His mouth curved. How fitting that the only one buried in the family plot behind the little Baptist church in Dutton, Georgia… is me.
He hadn’t asked for the confrontation now. Artie and his wife had brought it to him, right to his doorstep. He’d always planned to wage this war, but after he’d made his mark. After his goals were met. When he had true success to shove down the old man’s throat. When he could say, You said I’d never be anything. You were wrong.
It was too late for that. He’d never be able to say, “You were wrong.” Artie started it, but now that he was engaged in battle, he’d finish it, once and for all. The old man had paid dearly for his crimes. His offspring would soon follow.
Artie’s daughter would play the final major role in his game-she would become the Queen, the only character standing between the Inquisitor and the throne. She would be, of course, destroyed. Painfully.
Artie’s son would play a mere peasant poaching the king’s land. A minor role in the game. He stood abruptly. But his death will close a significant chapter in my life. He crossed the floor of his studio with a purposeful stride, no longer tired. Opening a cabinet, he carefully drew out the tool that would deliver his vengeance. He’d saved it for years, just waiting for this time. Setting it on his desk, he pried open the jagged steel jaws and set the trap. Hands steady, he lowered a pencil between the jaws and tapped the release. The jaws snapped shut and the shattered pencil flew from his hand.
He gave a hard nod of approval. Artie’s son would know pain-intense, excruciating, unimaginable pain. Artie’s son would scream for help, for release, and finally for death. But no one would hear him. No one would save him. I killed them all.
Tuesday, January 16, 6:00
Vito stumbled into the kitchen, lured by the smells of coffee and sizzling bacon. Then smiled at the sight of his sister Tess sitting at the kitchen table, feeding baby Gus in his high chair. Or trying to.
Gus pushed his bowl of oatmeal away. “Want cake,” Gus said, very distinctly.
“Don’t we all?” Tess asked the baby wryly. “But we don’t always get what we want, and I know your mama does not give you cake for breakfast.”
Gus tilted his head, measuring her slyly. “Tino cake.”
Vito’s lips twitched. Cake had been Tino’s answer to every child-care calamity since the boys had arrived. “I guess we’re busted.”
She wheeled around, eyes wide. But the startled look quickly gave way to her gorgeous smile as she quickly crossed the small kitchen into his open arms. “Vito.”
“Hey, kid.” Something was wrong. Her smile had been genuine, but her body was tense as she hugged him. “What’s wrong? Is it Molly?”
“No, she’s better this morning. You worry too much, Vito. Sit. I’ll get your plate.”
Still wary, he sat. “I found the snack you left in the fridge last night. Thanks.”
She threw a look over her shoulder as she heaped eggs and bacon on his plate. “That was an entire ravioli, not a snack. But you’re welcome.” She put the plate on the table before him and took the other chair. “What time did you get home last night?”
“Almost one.” On the way home he’d stopped at the bar where Warren Keyes had waited tables. Interviews with Warren’s boss and coworkers had turned up nothing new. No one had noticed anything or anyone out of the ordinary. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“You didn’t. The boys wore me out last night.” She tickled Gus’s feet through his socks. “This one moves fast on these chubby little legs and you’ve got too many things lying around that he can break. Once I got Gus and the others asleep, I crashed.”
Vito frowned. “Dante was awake when I got home, crying out on the back porch.”
Tess’s eyes widened. “The back porch? It’s freezing cold out there.”
Vito’s back porch was enclosed with glass, but it wasn’t heated and it had been freezing cold. “I know. He was wrapped up in his sleeping bag, but still. I was scared shitless when I came in and saw he wasn’t asleep on the living room floor. I think I scared him shitless when I found him out there. He said he just wanted to be alone.”
“He was upset about Molly,” Tess said. “That’s understandable.”
Vito had his doubts, but hadn’t pressed the boy. “Maybe. I made him come back in, but keep an eye on him.” He regarded Tess over his cup. “So what’s wrong?”
Her chuckle was wry. “You’re nosy, you know that?”
Sophie came to mind and he felt a sharp stab in his heart. “So I’ve been told.”
Tess lifted her brows. “I’ll tell if you tell.”
“I should know better than to probe a shrink. Okay, but you first.”
She shrugged. “Being around the kids is hard. Aidan and I have been trying to…” She looked down. “Both of us are one of five kids, and we can’t even have one.”
“Maybe you just need to give it some time.”
She looked up and his heart wanted to break at the sadness in her eyes. “It’s been eighteen months. We’re starting to talk doctors and treatment and adoption.”
He reached over and squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry, kid.”
Her lips curved, still sadly. “Me, too. So now it’s your turn. What’s her name?”
He huffed a laugh. “Sophie. And she’s very pretty, very smart and I like her, but she doesn’t want to like me. She pretty much asked me to leave her alone and I will.”
“Advisable from the standpoint of not becoming a stalker, but utterly uncharacteristic for you. I don’t think I’ve ever known you to not pursue a female that caught your eye.”
That had been true until Andrea. She’d said no at first, but he’d been infatuated. He’d pursued and she’d eventually changed her mind. It ended up being the worst thing that could have happened to either of them. “Maybe I’ve just grown up.”
“Uh-huh.” She nodded, clearly unconvinced. “Right.”
He stood up. “Well, right or wrong I have to get out of here. I have to stop at the bakery and the morgue before work.”
Tess made a face. “Bakery and morgue are two words that should not be used together, Vito. Will you be home for dinner?”
“I don’t know.” He dropped a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll call you either way.”
“I’ve got to get the boys off to school.” She looked around the kitchen. “Then I think Gus and I will go shopping for curtains. Your windows look sad.”
It was Tess that looked sad, but there wasn’t anything Vito could do to fix it any more than he could fix the look of sadness he’d seen on Sophie’s face the night before.
Tuesday, January 16, 8:01
“Mmmm.” Jen McFain sank her teeth into a sugary cruller. “Have one.” She pushed the box toward Beverly Jenkins, one of the detectives Liz had assigned to Vito’s case.
Beverly cast a baleful eye at the box. “How do you stay so skinny, McFain?”
“Metabolism.” Jen grinned. “But if it’s any consolation, my mom says my metabolism will come to a screeching halt when I’m forty and every bite I take will land on my ass.”
Beverly’s lips twitched. “Then there is a God.”
Liz came in with Katherine and Tim Riker, Beverly’s partner. “Where are we, Vito?” Liz asked when they’d taken their seats and passed the donut box down the table.
“Liz gave you most of the details yesterday,” Vito said to Riker and Jenkins. “We have one firm ID yesterday and two more tentative IDs last night,” Vito said. He walked to the whiteboard where he’d recreated Katherine’s sketch of the four by four matrix. In each rectangle he’d written in a short description of each victim and their cause and approximate time of death.
“We’ve ID’d Warren Keyes, and our tentative IDs are on these females.” He pointed to plots three-two and one-one. “The one with the folded hands could be Brittany Bellamy.” He taped her picture on the side of the board. “Brittany was a model. Her picture and a list of her clients is in the packet of info I made for each of you. We don’t know where she lives. Her name isn’t in our missing persons files or in the DMV files. She might not be local.”
“What about the other female?” Liz asked.
“Her name is Claire Reynolds,” Katherine said. “She’s got a metal plate in her head and she’s an amputee, right leg, above the knee. I came in at six and contacted the manufacturer of the metal plate. They were able to match the serial number on the plate to Claire Reynolds. The plate was put into Claire’s head after a car accident. Claire was living in Georgia at the time and the surgery was done in Atlanta. I assume her leg was damaged in the same accident. I’ll know when I get her medical history.”
Vito took up the tale. “Claire moved to Philly about four years ago. Her last known employment was with one of the branches of the library. Her parents reported her missing about fourteen months ago. Their description matches the body we found.”
“And the timing is consistent with the level of decomposition,” Katherine added. “I haven’t started her autopsy yet, but I did x-ray her while I was waiting for the guy to check his records for her name. Her neck was broken. No other obvious injuries.”
Vito taped her picture to the whiteboard next to the rectangle marking her grave. “I got this photo from the DMV records. Her parents need to be notified.”
Beverly was taking notes. “We can take that. We’ll also see if we can get a hair sample or anything we can use for a positive DNA ID.”
“You found the woman with the folded hands in the same modeling site that Warren Keyes used,” Tim said. “Was Claire a model too, and is there any possibility we could find any of these others there?”
“I didn’t check to see if Claire was a model. She doesn’t really have the look, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t. It’s worth a check.”
“I doubt the three elderly people were models,” Liz said. “It’s more likely you’ll find the three younger men there, the head-wound, gunshot, and shrapnel vics.”
Vito frowned. “Tino said there wasn’t enough of the other young men left for a sketch, and the forensic anthropologist is at a conference until next week.”
Beverly lifted her brows. “Tino?”
“My brother, aka free consultant sketch artist. He did this sketch of the girl with the folded hands. We used it to locate Brittany Bellamy on the modeling site.” Vito pulled Tino’s sketch from his folder and slid it to the middle of the table. “He thinks he can do sketches of the older couple, but none of the others.”
“He’s good,” Tim said, comparing the sketch to Brittany’s picture. “But if he can’t get us sketches, we can try to match their physical characteristics to missing persons.”
“It’s worth a try,” Vito agreed. “But first we need to confirm our victim really is Brittany Bellamy. After you notify Claire Reynolds’s parents, can you two also call Brittany’s clients and see if you can track down an address?”
Jen raised a brow. “And you’ll be doing…?”
“I’ll be tracking down the equipment he used on the most recent torture-murders. I want to establish a money trail. Sophie Johannsen gave me a list of people who either sell reproductions or may know of the sale of authentic artifacts. I’m looking for a chair, a rack, a sword, and mail.” He looked at Katherine. “Nick thinks the circular bruises you saw were from chain mail.”
“He could be right. Someone would have had to hit him with a lot of force to cause that kind of bruising,” she said thoughtfully. “Like maybe with a hammer.”
“But that doesn’t explain the other injuries,” Liz said. She pulled the photos of victim three-one closer. “Whatever hit his head and arm was heavy and sharp. Jagged, even.”
“The blow to his head came from a horizontal angle,” Katherine added. “It was enough to rip the top of his head off. The blow to his arm was delivered vertically.”
“Warren had held a sword at some point,” Jen suggested. “Maybe he used that.”
Katherine shook her head. “We’re looking for something blunt, but also sharp.”
“And medieval.” Jen grimaced. “What about that spiked ball on a chain? If it got whipped around hard enough, it could deliver a blow with that kind of force.”
“A flail,” Tim said and winced. “God.”
“I’ll add a flail to my list,” Vito said. “Okay. We know Warren got a hit on his résumé the day before he disappeared. The modeling site allows prospective employers to contact the models via e-mail. We don’t know who e-mailed him because they sent a virus to wipe his hard drive.”
“Maybe we can get something from Brittany’s computer,” Liz said. “Get it to IT for testing. Also get into her account and see if she got any hits in the last month.”
Beverly nodded. “Will do. You know, Vito, there’s one thing that bothers me.”
“Only one?” Vito asked and she shot him a dry smile.
“The fingertips on the old man. Your report says you think it was the only crime of real passion out of all of these, and that makes sense. But why take his fingertips? Seems like the killer must have known the man could be identified by his prints, but it would have been a threat only if the body were found. He obviously didn’t think any of his other victims would be found. He made no effort to disguise any of them.”
“It was part of the assault,” Katherine said. “The fingerpads were cut off while the old man was still alive. Whoever this guy is, the killer really hated him.”
“Let’s let Tino sketch their faces,” Vito suggested, “then we’ll see if anything pops. What about the old lady buried in the first row?”
“Haven’t even peeked at her yet. I’ll do the autopsy today.” Katherine looked at Jen. “Did you get anything on the bullet I took from one-three?”
“Yes. The bullet’s from a German Luger,” Jen said with a satisfied nod. “The ballistics guy thinks it’s vintage 1940s. He’s going to do some checking today.”
Liz shrugged. “It’s a common enough gun, even the vintage ones. It most likely won’t be traceable.”
But Tim was nodding. “Yeah, but it’s significant considering he’s buried next to a guy with shrapnel in his gut. It’s going to be interesting to get a read on the grenade that was used on him. And if the gun is vintage, it’s just more data to show that this guy goes for authenticity wherever possible.” Tim looked over at Vito. “You got two historical themes going on, both warfare related.”
“You’re right. We just need to figure out why. Jen, what do we know about the field?”
“Nothing yet. We start sifting dirt today. I sent samples of the fill dirt from each grave along with a sample of the dirt from the field off to the lab. They should have an analysis in a few days. We can at least see if the fill dirt came from the field.”
“I’d like to know why that field,” Liz mused. “What led him to that field?”
“Good point.” Vito jotted it down. “We’ll check out Har-lan P. Winchester’s aunt. She’s deceased, but she owned the land when the first grave was dug. What else?”
“I’m expecting a lab report on the silicon lubricant this afternoon,” Katherine said.
“Good.” Vito rose. “We’re done for now. We all have our list of to-do items. Let’s meet back here to debrief at five o’clock. Stay in touch and stay safe.”
Tuesday, January 16, 8:35
Patty Ann wasn’t at the front desk when Sophie let herself into the museum. Theo Four was, and Sophie was glad to see him. “You’re back. Now you can wear the armor.”
He shook his head. “Not today. I won’t be here for the first tour.”
“Theo. You have to stay. That knight tour is a pain.”
“For which my father pays you well,” Theo said stonily.
Sophie wanted to hit him, but Theo was a very large young man, built like a rock. “I got news for you, kid. Your dad pays-” She broke it off. Her meager salary wasn’t an appropriate topic to share with the owner’s son. She turned, headed for her office.
“Sophie, you have a package.” Theo gestured to a small box on the desk.
Annoyed with herself for getting angry at the boy, Sophie grabbed the small box from the desk and took it into her office, shutting her door behind her. With short rips she tore the paper from the box and flipped off the lid.
Then dropped the box, muffling her scream with her hand.
A dead mouse rolled out of the box. Its head didn’t follow. At the bottom of the box was the mousetrap that had been the mouse’s execution device.
Breathing hard, she sank blindly into her chair, her hand still clamped hard over her mouth. Bile rose and she choked it back. She knew exactly who had sent the mouse and why, because she’d received a similar one ten years before.
From Alan Brewster’s wife. Amanda Brewster did not like other women sleeping with her husband, even women who’d been tricked into doing so. Clint Shafer must have wasted no time calling Alan to say that Sophie had called last night. Amanda must have been listening.
I should call the police. But she wouldn’t today any more than she had the last time, because down deep she knew Amanda Brewster had a right to her anger. So she scooped up the mouse and put the lid back on the box. For a brief second she considered tossing it in the Dumpster, but knew she couldn’t any more than she could keep Alan’s name to herself last night. She’d bury it later.
Tuesday, January 16, 9:15
Daniel Vartanian had ripped the listings of hotels from the phone book he’d found in his hotel nightstand drawer. Armed with pictures of his parents, he planned to hit the hotel chains in which they normally stayed first, then work his way down.
He was tying his tie when his cell rang. It was Susannah. “Hello.”
“It was an Atlanta area code,” Susannah said without greeting. “A cell phone, registered to Mom.”
It should have made him feel better. “So she called Grandma on her own phone to say she was coming to see you. Do you know where the phone was physically located when the call was placed?”
Susannah was quiet for a long moment. “No, but I’ll try to find out. Good-bye.”
He hesitated, then sighed. “Suze… I’m sorry.”
He heard Susannah’s careful exhale. “I’m sure you are, Daniel. But you’re about eleven years too late. Keep me apprised.” And with that she was gone.
She was right of course. He’d made so many mistakes. He went back to tying his tie, his hands unsteady. Maybe this time he could get something right.
Tuesday, January 16, 9:30
Dr. Alan Brewster’s office was a mini-museum, Vito thought as Brewster’s assistant showed him in. Brewster’s assistant, on the other hand… well there was nothing mini about her. She was tall, blonde, with Barbie-doll proportions, and Vito instantly thought of Sophie. Obviously, Brewster liked them young, tall, blonde, and beautiful.
This year’s model was Stephanie, who oozed sex with every step. “Alan’s coming. He said to make yourself comfortable,” she added with a knowing smile that invited Vito to make himself very comfortable indeed. “Can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea?” An amused confidence in her eyes left the Me unsaid, but strongly implied.
Vito kept his distance. “No thanks. I’m fine.”
“Well if you change your mind, I’m just outside.”
Semi-alone, Vito took in the understated opulence. Brewster’s mahogany desk was about an acre wide and neat as a pin, with only a single framed picture of a woman with two teenaged boys to clutter its glossy surface. Mrs. Brewster and the kids.
One wall was lined with shelves filled with knickknacks from all over the world. Another wall was covered with photos. On closer inspection Vito could see that nearly every one contained the same man. Dr. Brewster, I presume. The pictures spanned twenty years, but Brewster always looked trim, tanned, and sophisticated.
Many of the photos were taken on digs, labeled with the place and date. Russia, Wales, England. In every photo Brewster stood next to a tall, blonde, beautiful girl. Then Vito stopped at the photo labeled “France,” because Sophie was the girl. Ten years younger, she stood next to Brewster, wearing her army camouflage field coat and red bandana. And a smile that went far beyond joy of the job. She’d been in love.
And Brewster had been married. Vito wondered if she’d known, then dismissed the thought. Of course she hadn’t and now her words from the day before made perfect sense. A slight noise behind him made him glance up and in the reflection of the glass covering the photo he saw Brewster standing behind him, watching silently.
Vito looked at the France photo for another few seconds, then went on to give equal time to photos from Italy and Greece as if he still believed himself to be alone. Finally Brewster cleared his throat and Vito turned, widening his eyes. “Dr. Brewster?”
Brewster closed the door behind him. “I’m Alan Brewster. Please sit down.” He gestured to a chair, then took his place behind the massive desk. “How can I help you?”
“First, I have to request that you keep what I’m about to ask in confidence.”
Brewster spread his hands, then steepled his fingers. “Of course, Detective.”
“Thank you. We have a case in which we suspect that stolen goods have changed hands,” Vito began and Brewster’s brows rose.
“And you suspect one of my students? Are we talking TVs, stereos? Term papers?”
“No. The objects we’ve recovered appear to be artifacts. Medieval, actually. We Googled history and archeology professors and yours is one of the names that came up as an expert in this field. I’m here to get your professional opinion.”
“I see. Then let’s proceed. What kind of objects are you talking about?”
Vito weighed his options. He didn’t like Brewster, but then he hadn’t liked him before he walked in the door. Just because the man cheated on his wife didn’t mean he wouldn’t be a good resource. “We have various weapons. Swords, flails, for example.”
“Easily copied, of course. I’d be happy to authenticate anything you’ve found. Weaponry and warfare are my areas of expertise.”
“Thank you. We may take you up on that.” Vito hesitated, considering. He had to ask about the chair sometime. Might as well be now. “We also found a chair.”
“A chair,” Brewster repeated with a hint of disdain. “What kind of chair?”
“One with spikes. Lots of spikes,” Vito said and watched Brewster’s face flatten in what might have been genuine shock before the color rose in his tanned cheeks.
The man quickly recovered his poise. “You think you’ve found an inquisitional chair? You have it in your possession?”
“Yes,” Vito lied. “We were wondering how someone might have come by it.”
“Artifacts like that are very rare. What you have is most certainly a copy. We’d have to authenticate. If you brought it to me, I’d be happy to help.”
On a cold day in hell, Vito thought. “But if it is authentic, where would it come from?”
“Europe, originally, but few survive. Rarely do they come up for sale or auction.”
“Dr. Brewster, let’s cut through the bull, shall we? I’m talking about the black market. If someone wanted to buy an artifact like a chair, where would he go?”
Brewster’s eyes flashed. “I haven’t the faintest idea. I don’t know anyone who deals in illegal merchandise, and if I did, I would report them immediately to the authorities.”
“I’m sorry,” Vito said and watched the fire in Brewster’s eyes bank. If he was an actor, he was very good. Vito thought of Sophie. Brewster must be one hell of an actor. “I didn’t mean to imply you’d be involved in anything illegal. But if one of these chairs were to suddenly surface, would you hear about it?”
“Most assuredly, Detective. But I have not.”
“Do you know of any private collectors who might have interest in such items, were they to come up for legal auction?”
Opening his desk drawer, Brewster took out a pad and jotted down a few names. “These men are of the highest ethics. I’m sure they will be as unable to help you as I.”
Vito slipped the paper into his pocket. “I’m sure you’re right. Thank you for your time, Dr. Brewster. If you do hear anything, please call me. Here’s my card.”
Brewster swept the card into the drawer with his notepad. “Stephanie will see you out.” Vito was at the door when Brewster added, “Please tell Sophie I said hello.”
Controlling his surprise, Vito turned, forcing confusion to his face. “I’m sorry?”
“Please, Detective. We all have our sources. I have mine and you have… Sophie Johannsen.” He smiled, a sly gleam in his eye that made Vito want to poke the man’s eyes out. “You’re in for a real treat. Sophie was one of my most able assistants.”
Vito lifted a shoulder, barely controlling the pagan urge to leap across that mahogany desk and rip Brewster’s face off. Instead he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dr. Brewster. You really do have me at a loss. Maybe this Sophie Johnson-”
“Johannsen,” Brewster corrected smoothly.
“Whatever. Maybe she talked to my boss, but…” Vito shrugged. “Not to me.” He made himself smile conspiratorially. “Although it appears I missed something special.”
Brewster’s eyes narrowed slightly. “That you did, Detective. That you did.”
Tuesday, January 16, 10:30
It had been, Vito conceded, a professionally unproductive trip. Brewster hadn’t provided anything of real use and Vito didn’t believe the names he’d been given would be of any use either. He’d pursue the leads though, and see what more he could learn.
His cell buzzed, Riker’s number on the caller ID. “Vito, it’s Tim. We just left Claire Reynolds’s parents’ place. Her parents had all of Claire’s things boxed in their basement. Bev got some hair from Claire’s old brush so we can get DNA. Her parents said they went to her apartment just before Thanksgiving a year ago when she hadn’t returned their calls, but she hadn’t been there in a long time. Then they checked her job and found the library where she’d worked received a letter of resignation fifteen months ago. The mother insists the signature isn’t Claire’s. We’ll bring the letter in, too.”
“Huh. Somebody didn’t want anyone to investigate her as missing.”
“That’s what we thought. But that’s not the best part. In the box with all her belongings were two prosthetic legs, one for running and one for water sports. And…” he paused dramatically, “one bottle of silicone lubricant.”
Vito sat up straighter at that. “Really? Isn’t that interesting?”
“Yeah.” There was a triumphant smile in Riker’s voice. “This one had never been opened. Claire’s mother said she used the lubricant to put on her leg and that she kept bottles in her apartment, her car, and her gym bag. The family didn’t find the car or the gym bag, so Claire may have had a few bottles on her when she was killed.”
“A very practical souvenir for our killer.”
“Yeah. We’ll have the lab match it to the samples Katherine took from the two vics.”
“Excellent. What about Claire’s computer?”
“Her parents say she didn’t have one. When we’re done at the lab we’ll get on the phones and see if we can find Brittany Bellamy.”
“Then we’ll be three down, six to go. I got a few names of personal collectors from the professor I visited this morning and I’ll run those down. After hearing the Luger was vintage, I’m more convinced our guy is going for the most authentic weapons he can find. But just in case, I’m going to visit a few of the dealers that sell reproductions at the medieval festivals. We’ll see what shakes out. Keep in touch.”
Vito closed his phone and sat with it clenched in his fist, staring at the little shop in front of which he’d parked. Andy’s Attic was the only seller on Sophie’s list that had a physical shop. All of the others sold through Internet sites. For now, Vito wanted to confine his interviews to people he could see so that he could watch their reactions.
Like he’d watched Brewster. Slimy little sonofabitch. But how had Brewster known Sophie was his source? She wasn’t supposed to have made any calls, just given him names. Frowning, he dialed Sophie’s cell.
She answered, her tone guarded. “This is Sophie.”
“Sophie, it’s Vito Ciccotelli. I’m sorry to bother you again, but…”
She sighed. “But you just talked to Alan Brewster. Did he give you anything?”
“The names of three collectors he insists are ethical and legitimate. But Sophie, he knew you’d given me his name. I tried to evade my way out of it, but someone had told him before I got there. Who else did you talk to?”
She was quiet for a moment. “A guy who was a grad student with me the summer I worked for Brewster. His name is Clint Shafer. I didn’t want to call any of them, but I couldn’t remember Kyle Lombard’s name and back then Kyle and Clint were friends.”
“Did you call anyone else?”
“Only my old graduate advisor, the one I put on the list. I called Etienne before I saw you last night and left him a voice mail saying he should talk to you when you called. He called me back late last night.”
She’d changed graduate programs after she left Brewster, he thought. Her tone had become defensive, as if she expected him to be angry, so he kept his voice gentle. “Did your old advisor say anything useful?”
“Yeah.” Some of the tightness in her tone eased. “I sent it to you in an e-mail.”
So she wouldn’t have to talk to him again. She’d known what Brewster would tell him and still she’d given his name. “I haven’t checked my mail yet. What did he say?”
“It’s all rumor, Vito. Etienne heard it at a cocktail party.”
He took out his notepad. “Sometimes rumor is true. I’m ready.”
“He said that he heard one of their donors, Alberto Berretti, had died. This guy lived in Italy and had a big collection of swords and armor, but it had been whispered for years that he also collected torture items. His family put his collection up for auction recently, but less than half of the swords and none of the rumored torture items were offered up for sale. Etienne said he’d heard a few people discreetly inquired, but the family denied finding anything other than what they auctioned.”
“Did your teacher believe the family?”
“He said he didn’t know them, and wouldn’t speculate. But the important thing is, there are some artifacts out there, somewhere. They may or may not relate to your case. Sorry, Vito, that’s all I know.”
“You’ve helped a great deal,” he said. “Sophie, about Brewster.”
“I need to go now,” she said tightly. “I have work to do. Good-bye, Vito.”
Vito looked at his phone for a full minute after she hung up. He should listen to her. The last time he’d pursued a woman, it had gone so wrong. It could go wrong again.
Or it could go right and he’d get the only thing he’d ever wanted. Someone who waited for only him at the end of a long day. Someone to come home to. Maybe that would be Sophie Johannsen and maybe it wouldn’t. But he’d never know unless he tried. And this time he’d have to make sure it went right. Into his cell he punched in a number with single-minded intent. “Hey, Tess, it’s Vito. I need a favor.”
New York City, Tuesday, January 16, 10:45
“Wow.” Van Zandt’s eyes never left the computer screen as his character battled the Good Knight, sword in one hand, flail in the other. Van Zandt’s knuckles were white as he gripped his game controller, his face a study in concentration. “My God, Frasier, this is amazing. This will put oRo right up there with Sony.”
He smiled. Sony was the company to catch. Sony games were present in millions of households. Millions. “I thought you’d like it. This is the final fight. By this point, the Inquisitor has become all-powerful and has stolen the queen herself for his own. The knight will die trying to win her freedom. Because he’s… you know, a knight.”
“The wonderful myth of chivalry.” A muscle in VZ’s jaw twitched as he struggled. “Artificial intelligence is superb. This knight is damned hard to kill. So die already,” he said through clenched teeth. “Come on. Die already. Die for me. Yes.” The knight collapsed to his knees, then onto his chest as VZ dealt the killing blow with the flail.
VZ frowned. “But it’s… so… anticlimactic. I was hoping for a little more…” He gestured broadly. “Pah.”
Expecting just such a reaction, he pulled a folded sheet of paper from his pocket and tossed it across Van Zandt’s desk. “Here. Try it this way.”
His eyes sparkling like a kid’s, Van Zandt entered the code, opening the alternate gameplay he’d created. “Yes,” he hissed when the Good Knight’s head sheared away, sending bone and brain flying. “This is what I was hoping for.” He glanced from the corner of his eye. “Pretty smart, making it an Easter egg. If the gamers haven’t guessed the code within six months after release, we’ll let it ‘slip.’ Within two hours it will be all over the ’net and we will have ourselves some very effective, cheap publicity.”
“Then mothers and preachers and teachers will get whipped into an uproar, objecting to the senseless violence pervasive in our society.” He smiled. “Which just makes their kids go out and buy more copies.”
Van Zandt grinned. “Exactly. You could throw a few nude scenes in, too. If the violence does not whip them into frenzy, a little nudity will. Explicit sex is even better.”
He considered the scenes he’d constructed using Brittany Bellamy. She was fully nude. There was no sex, but the violence was so raw, he knew VZ would be pleased. He hadn’t planned to show the dungeon to Van Zandt today, but the time seemed right. He pulled a CD from his laptop case. “You want a peek at the dungeon?”
Van Zandt stuck his hand out, greedy anticipation all over his face. “Give it to me.”
He leaned forward with the CD and VZ snatched it from his hand. “This is the way the dungeon will look by the end,” he explained as VZ inserted the CD. “The Inquisitor starts out small, accusing landowners of witchcraft, then taking their assets once he’s arrested them and killed them with conventional weapons, his sword, dagger, et cetera. With the money, he buys bigger and better torture toys.”
As the sequence started, the camera wound through mist, coming to the cemetery on the grounds of a church, a perfect copy of a French abbey outside Nice.
Van Zandt shot him a surprised look. “You put the dungeon in a church?”
“Under it. A medieval ‘up-yours’ to the establishment. Which was the Church.”
Van Zandt’s lips twitched. “I do not want to stand next to you in a lightning storm.” The camera entered the church and passed through the crypt. Van Zandt whistled softly. “Very nice, Frasier. I especially like the tomb effigies. Very authentic.”
“Thanks.” The plaster casts had given him a nice model to work from. Except now he needed to order more lubricant for his leg. He’d gone through Claire’s stash and had to use some of his own. The camera descended the stairs into the cave where Brittany Bellamy awaited her fate. “This woman is Brianna. She’s an accused witch. But the Inquisitor knows she really is a witch and wants her to share her secrets. She will be a most stubborn captive.”
“Be quiet. Let me watch.” And he did, his expression changing from amusement to horror as the Inquisitor placed the screaming woman on the inquisitional chair. “My God,” he whispered as Brianna’s screams tore the air. “My God.” Like Warren, Brittany Bellamy had suffered well, her screams a beautiful thing to hear. He’d simply imported the sound file of her screams into his computer-generated animation.
When the Inquisitor put a flame to the chair, Brittany shrieked in pain. Van Zandt actually paled. When the scene ended on a close-up of Brianna’s eyes at that moment of death, Van Zandt collapsed back in his chair, sweat beading on his forehead. He stared at the screen which had faded to the oRo dragon.
When a full minute of silence had passed, he drew a breath, prepared to defend his art. “I’m not going to change it, VZ.”
Van Zandt held up his hand. “Quiet. I’m thinking.”
Five full minutes passed before Van Zandt swiveled to face him. “Split the scenes.”
He could feel his temper start to boil. “I’m not cutting up my scenes, VZ.”
Van Zandt rolled his eyes. “Have you no patience? We will include the chair scene with the main release, but keep it hidden. We will release the code for the more gruesome knight scene as free publicity. We will follow that free publicity by announcing the availability of the execution code for the chair… but at a price. Unlocking this part of the dungeon will cost our customer another $29.99.”
The base release was priced at $49.99. Van Zandt’s plan would add more revenue with no extra cost, increasing profits by four hundred percent. “You capitalist, you,” he murmured and Van Zandt lifted his eyes, his gaze piercing.
“Of course. That is why the R is the biggest letter in oRo.”
He remembered the small print on the logo below the dragon’s claws. “Rijkdom?”
Van Zandt’s smile was razor sharp. “It is Dutch for ‘wealth.’ It is why I am here. It should be why you are here as well.” He stretched out his hand. “Give me the rest.”
He shook his head, suddenly hesitant. “I gave you enough for the Pinnacle show.”
“So Derek told you about our Pinnacle opportunity?”
His lip curled. “Yeah.”
Van Zandt’s brow lifted. “You do not like Pinnacle?”
“I do not like Derek.” He spaced each word, mimicking Van Zandt’s heavy speech.
“Derek has served his purpose, but he will not move with us to the next level. You, Frasier, I have high hopes for.” He hadn’t moved his hand. “Give me the rest. Now.”
Cocking his jaw, he slapped another CD into Van Zandt’s hand. “This is King William. When the good knight is defeated, William attempts a final rescue of his queen. But by this point the Inquisitor is a very strong sorcerer. Even the king himself cannot defeat his dark magic and is captured.”
Van Zandt’s smile grew sharp. “And what does the Inquisitor do to King William?”
He thought about Warren Keyes, the way he’d screamed. It still sent shivers down his spine. “He stretches him on the rack, then disembowels him.”
Van Zandt laughed softly. “Remind me never to make you angry, Frasier Lewis.”
Philadephia, Tuesday, January 16, 11:30
This still isn’t right,” Vito muttered as he ran his finger over the chain mail Andy had spread out on his counter. It was way too big. Andy’s Attic was an all-purpose costume store. Vito imagined their killer would sneer at such poor re-creations.
“I’ve shown you all the mail I have,” Andy said stiffly. “What are you looking for?”
“Something smaller. About a quarter inch in diameter.”
“You should have said so when you first came in,” Andy grumbled. “I don’t keep that quality here in the store, but I can order it for you.” He thumbed through a catalog. “What you’re talking about is much better quality, but pricier.” He found a picture of a man wearing a mail hood and shirt. “This hauberk-and-coif set runs eighteen hundred.”
Vito blinked. “Dollars?”
Andy looked offended. “Well, yeah. It’s SCA approved. You know, Society for Creative Anachronism. You don’t know anything about this stuff, do you? Is this a gift?”
Vito coughed. “Yeah. So this set is eighteen hundred. How much for just the shirt?”
“The hauberk is twelve-fifty.”
“Do you ever sell these out of your store?”
“Not usually. Usually I sell ’em off my website.”
“Have you sold any recently? Like before Christmas?”
“Yeah. I sold nine hauberks before Christmas. But I sold twenty-five last summer, about a month before the Medieval Festival. Serious jousters like to get the feel of the mail before the event.” Andy closed the catalog and handed it to Vito. “Detective.”
Vito winced. Busted. “I’m sorry.”
Andy’s smile was rueful. “I won’t say anything. I kind of figured it when you first walked in. My uncle was PPD, thirty years. What else are you looking for, Detective…?”
“Ciccotelli. A sword, about this long, with a hilt this big.” Vito gestured. “And a flail.”
Andy’s eyes widened. “Holy shit. Well, let’s see what we can find out.”
Tuesday, January 16, 11:45
Van Zandt locked the CDs in his desk drawer. “This is good work, Frasier.”
He stood up. “Since you’re set for Pinnacle, I’ll be leaving. I’ve still got lots to do.”
Van Zandt shook his head. “I have a few more things to discuss. Please sit.”
With a frown, he complied. “Like what?”
“You must learn patience, Frasier. You’re still young. You have lots of time.”
Why did old people always equate youth with the need for patience? Just because he had lots of time didn’t mean he wanted to wait lots of time. “Like what?” he repeated, this time through his teeth. He had Gregory Sanders to meet at three o’clock.
Van Zandt sighed. “Like the queen. Have you designed her face?”
He thought of the old man’s daughter. “Yes.”
“And? What will she look like?”
Her face flashed in his mind. “Pretty. Petite. Brunette. Similar to Bri-Brianna.” Shit. He’d very nearly said Brittany. Focus.
“No, I don’t think that type of character has a dramatic enough beauty. Your queen should be stately. Bigger. Your Brianna looks little more than one and a half meters.”
Brittany Bellamy had been five-two. He’d chosen her because of her small stature. His chair was on the small side and he wanted it to look larger with respect to the woman sitting in it. “You want a different queen?”
“Yes.” Van Zandt had lifted his brows, as if expecting dissent.
He considered it. Van Zandt had an eye for what worked. What sold. He could be right. This was going to be messy. He’d be filling the third row in the field with Gregory Sanders, and the fourth with his resources, and the old man’s spawn still had to die. If he used any more models for this game, he’d need to start another row. Well, the field was big. “I’ll think about it.”
“You’ll do it,” Van Zandt corrected mildly, and although challenge burned his tongue he didn’t oppose him. For now, he still needed him. “Next, the flail scene.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What about it? It’s done.”
“No, it’s not. The scene you have in there is so sedate. He just… falls. It’s anticlimactic. Why not make the basic scene the head-coming-apart scene, then for the hidden scene make it even more exciting? Maybe his head could completely explode, or he could be decapitated entirely. It’s-”
“No. That’s not how it happens. The skull doesn’t explode and the entire head doesn’t come off.” He’d been very disappointed to discover this truth.
Van Zandt’s eyes had narrowed. “How do you know?”
Be careful. “I’ve researched it. Talked to doctors. That’s what they say.”
Van Zandt shrugged. “So what? What does it matter what really happens? It’s all fantasy anyway. Make the base injury more exciting.”
He counted to ten inside his head. Remember, this is a means to an end. It is not forever. Soon you can walk away and not have to think about Van Zandt or oRo Entertainment ever again. “Okay. I’ll spice it up.” He stood up but VZ stopped him.
“Wait. One more thing. I’m thinking about your dungeon. Something’s missing.”
“An iron maiden.”
Oh, for God’s sake. How amateurishly trite. His opinion of Van Zandt was rapidly deescalating. “No.”
“For God’s sake, Frasier, why not?” Van Zandt asked, exasperated.
“Because that is not period. Maidens didn’t even appear until the fifteen hundreds. I’m not putting an iron maiden in my dungeon.”
“Every one of our gamers will expect to see a maiden in his dungeon.”
“Do you know how long it’ll take to-” He drew a breath. He’d nearly said ‘build.’ There were no iron maidens to be had. If he wanted one, he’d have to build it himself and there was no way he’d do that. “Jager, I’ll find a new queen. I’ll spice up the flail scene, but I won’t put a fraudulent piece in my dungeon.”
His eyes darkening, Van Zandt leaned to one side and picked a sheet of letterhead out of his inbox. “I see my name on this letterhead as president. I do not see your name, Frasier. Anywhere.” He tossed the sheet back in the inbox. “So just do it.”
Gritting his teeth, he snatched his laptop case from the floor. “Fine.”
Tuesday, January 16, 11:55
Derek paused on the steps that led from the street to oRo’s office building, a bag lunch from the deli in his hand. A man was getting out of a taxi with a small suitcase. Although he was well dressed, it looked like he hadn’t slept in days. “Yes?”
“Are you Derek Harrington?”
The man started for the steps, weary desperation on his face. “I just need to talk to you. Please. It’s about my son and your game.”
“If you’re upset your son’s playing Behind Enemy Lines, that’s out of my hands.”
“No, you don’t understand. My son isn’t playing your game. I think my son is in your game.” He pulled a wallet-sized photo from his pocket. “My name is Lloyd Webber. I’m from Richmond, Virginia. My son Zachary ran away a little more than a year ago. His note said he was going to New York. We never heard from him again.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Webber, but I don’t understand what that has to do with me.”
“Your game has a scene where a young German soldier gets shot in the head. That boy looks exactly like my Zachary. I thought he’d modeled for your artists, so I looked up your company. Please. If you have a record of the models you’ve used, please see if he was one of them. Maybe he’s right here, in New York.”
“We don’t employ models, Mr. Webber. I’m sorry.” Derek started to move away, but Webber sidestepped him, blocking his path.
“Just look at his picture. Please. I tried to call you but you wouldn’t accept my calls. So I got up this morning and bought a plane ticket. Please.” He held out the photo and with a sigh for the man’s pain, Derek took it.
And felt every breath of air seep from his lungs. It was the same boy. The exact same face. “He’s… he’s a handsome boy, Mr. Webber.” He looked up to find Webber’s eyes filled with tears.
“Are you sure you haven’t had him in your studio?” he whispered.
Derek felt light-headed. He’d known from the minute he’d laid eyes on Frasier Lewis’s work that it possessed an element of realism that crossed the lines of decency, but the thoughts that were running through his mind right now… “Can I take your son’s photo, Mr. Webber? I can show it around to the staff. We don’t employ models, but maybe one of them saw him somewhere. In a restaurant or maybe on a bus. We get our ideas for characters from so many places.”
“Please. Keep the picture-it’s a copy and I can get you more. Show it to anyone you think can help.” He extended a business card in a trembling hand and, his own hand shaking, Derek took it. “My cell phone number is on there. Please call me at any time, day or night. I’ll stay in town for a few days, just until you know one way or the other.”
Derek stared down at the photo and the business card. Frasier Lewis was still here, inside, talking to Jager. He could ask him point-blank. But he wasn’t sure he wanted the answer. Be a man, Derek. Take a goddamn stand for something.
He looked up and nodded. “I’ll call you one way or the other. I promise.”
Gratitude and hope shone in Webber’s eyes. “Thank you.”
Tuesday, January 16, 12:05
His simmering fury came to a full boil when he saw Derek Harrington waiting for him by the building exit. His fist clenched around the handle of his laptop case. He’d much rather his fist be engaged in more satisfying pursuits, such as breaking Harrington’s face. But there was a time and place. Not here, not yet. Without a word of greeting or acknowledgment of any kind, he walked past Harrington and out the door.
“Lewis, wait.” Harrington followed him out. “I need to talk to you.”
“I’m late,” he gritted out and started down the steps to the street. “Later.”
“No, now.” Harrington grabbed his shoulder and he teetered dangerously, nearly losing his balance and falling down the steps. He caught himself, leaning against the iron handrail. Fury erupted and he shoved Harrington’s hand out of the way.
“Get your hands off me,” he said, his roar barely contained.
Derek took a step back so that he was two steps higher. They now stood eye to eye. There was something new in Harrington’s eyes, something defiant.
“Or what?” Derek asked quietly. “What would you do to me, Frasier?”
Not here. Not yet. But the time would come. “I’m late. I have to go.”
He turned to go, but Derek followed, passing him on the steps so that he waited at the bottom. “What would you do to me?” he repeated, with more force. “Hit me?” He climbed one step and looked up out of the corner of his eye. “Kill me?” he murmured.
“You’re crazy.” He started down the stairs again, but Harrington grabbed his arm. This time he was prepared and stood steady, his good leg taking his weight.
“Would you kill me, Frasier?” Harrington asked in that same low voice. “Like you killed Zachary Webber?” He took a photo from his coat pocket. “The resemblance to your German soldier is amazing, wouldn’t you agree?”
He looked at the photo and kept his expression impassive, even as his heart began to beat more rapidly. For staring back from the photo was Zachary Webber’s face as it had been the day he’d picked him up off I-95 outside of Philly, hitchhiking. Zachary had been on his way to New York, to be an actor. His father had told him he was too young, that he should finish high school. Zachary had scorned his father. I’ll show him, he’d said. When I’m famous, he’ll eat every damn word.
The words had echoed in his mind that day. They had been his own, at Zachary’s age. Meeting Zachary was fate, just like Warren Keyes’s tattoo.
“I don’t see it,” he said carelessly. He got to the street and turned to look Derek in the eye once again, as the older man still stood on the steps. “You should be careful before making accusations of that nature, Harrington. It could come back to haunt you.”
Tuesday, January 16, 1:15
Ted Albright was frowning. “You were flat today, Joan.”
Sophie glared at Ted Albright as she pulled the armored boots from her feet. “I told you to get Theo to do the knight tour. My back is killing me.” So was her head. And her pride. “I’m going to get some lunch.”
Ted grasped her arm as she walked away, his grip surprisingly gentle. “Wait.”
Slowly she turned, prepared for another argument. “What?” she snapped, but stopped when she saw the look on his face. Marta was right, Ted Albright was a very handsome man, but right now his broad shoulders were slumped and his face was haggard. “What?” she said, much more softly than she had the first time.
“Sophie, I know what you think of me.” One corner of his mouth lifted when she said nothing. “And believe it or not, I respect that you’re not denying it right now. You never actually met my grandfather. He died before you were born.”
“I read all about his archeological career.”
“But none of the books tell what he was really like. He wasn’t a dry historian.” His voice dropped low on the word. Then he smiled. “My grandfather was… fun. He died when I was a kid, but I still remember that he loved cartoons. Bugs Bunny was his favorite. He gave me pony rides on his back and he was a huge Stooges fan. He loved to laugh. He also loved the theater and so do I.” He sighed. “I’m trying to make this a place children can come and… experience, Sophie. I’m trying to make this a place my grandfather would have loved to visit.”
Sophie stood there a moment, uncertain of what to say. “Ted, I think I have a better idea of what you’re trying to do, but… hell. I am a dry historian. Asking me to dress up. It’s humiliating.”
He shook his head. “You’re not dry, Sophie. You don’t see the faces of the kids when you start to talk. They love to listen to you.” He let out a breath. “I have tours scheduled every day for weeks. We need that income. Desperately,” he added quietly. “I have everything I own invested in this building. If this museum fails, I have to sell the collection. I don’t want to do that. It’s all I have left of him. It’s his legacy.”
Sophie closed her eyes. “Let me think about it,” she murmured. “I’m going to lunch.”
“Don’t forget you’re leading the Viking tour at three,” Ted called after her.
“I won’t,” she muttered, torn between guilt and what she still considered justified ire.
“Yo, Soph. Over here.”
The greeting came from Patty Ann who stood at the lobby desk smacking gum, loudly.
Sophie crossed the lobby with a sigh. Patty Ann was trying to be from Brooklyn today, but she sounded more like Stallone’s Rocky. Sophie leaned against the desk and said, “Don’t tell me. You’re going out for Guys and Dolls.”
“I got the part locked, and you got a package.” Patty Ann nudged it to the edge of the counter. “That’s two packages in one day. You’re getting mighty popular.”
Sophie went instantly on edge. “Did you see who left the package?”
Patty Ann’s smile was coy. “Sure I did. It was a dame.”
Sophie bit back the urge to strangle the girl. “Did this dame have a name?”
“Sure she did.” Patty Ann blew a bubble. “A really long one. Ciccotelli-Reagan.”
Relieved and stunned at once, Sophie blinked. “No kidding?”
“Cross my heart.” Patty Ann’s smile went sly. “I asked if she was any relation to a big hunky cop and she said he was her brother. Then she asked if I was Sophie.”
Sophie cringed. “Please tell me you said no.”
“Of course I said no,” Patty Ann huffed, indignant. “I want to play interestin’ roles. No offense, Sophie, but you ain’t that interestin’.”
“Ah… thank you, Patty Ann. You’ve made my day.”
The girl tilted her head thoughtfully. “Funny. That’s what she said, too. The dame.”
Sophie liked Vito’s sister already. “Thanks, Patty Ann.” When she got to her dark little office, she closed the door and chuckled. Patty Ann wasn’t a bad kid. Too bad she didn’t fit the armor. She’d make a great Joan. Still smiling, she sat at her desk and opened the package. Then stared. What the hell? It was a pen. No, it wasn’t.
The smile on her face faded as she realized exactly what she was looking at. She took the silver cylinder out of the box and hit a tiny button on its side with her thumb. The top sprang up, a blue light strobed, and a tinny little siren screeched.
It was a toy reproduction of the Men in Black memory zapper, and her eyes stung as she realized exactly what it meant. Vito Ciccotelli had once again offered her a do-over.
A note was tucked in the box. The handwriting was feminine, but the words were not. Brewster’s an ass. Forget him and go on. V. Sophie had to smile at the PS. Don’t forget to take off your purple sunglasses before you zap yourself or it won’t work. A squiggly arrow pointed to the other side of the paper so she turned it over. I still owe you a pizza. The place two blocks from your building at Whitman College makes a good one. If you still want to collect, I’ll be there after your class tonight.
Sophie put the note and the toy back in the box, then sat, thinking hard. She’d collect on the pizza. But she owed Vito Ciccotelli a great deal more. She checked her watch. Between the Viking tour and the evening seminar she taught she didn’t have a lot of time, but she’d do what she could.
Vito hadn’t gotten anything out of Alan Brewster. Sophie had known he wouldn’t. Giving his name was more to soothe her own conscience than for any real benefit Alan would be to Vito’s investigation. But Etienne Moraux had given her a good lead. Missing artifacts were floating around the world somewhere. They were probably still in Europe. But what if they weren’t? What if they were right here?
Etienne hadn’t known the man who died or any of the other main players in the European world of arts patronage. He wasn’t the type to notice wealth and influence any more than she was. But she knew people who did.
Sophie thought about her biological father. Alex had been well connected on a number of social and political levels, although she’d always been nervous about using his position and influence. Some of her reticence stemmed from her stepmother’s obvious dislike of her husband’s bastard American child. But most of her hesitation was wrapped up in the whole bizarre tangle of Anna and Alex and the rest of her family tree, and so she only called on the family when it was vital.
But this was vital. This was justice. So she’d use her father’s influence once again. She’d like to think he would have approved. Alex’s friends might know the man who’d died, whose collection was now AWOL. They might know the man’s family, his connections. If there was one thing she’d learned the hard way over her life-never underestimate gossip. Good or bad.
She opened her phone book to the page where Alex Arnaud had written his friends’ numbers so that Sophie would not “be alone” in Europe when he was gone. By that point in his illness, his handwriting had become spidery and weak, but she could still make out the names and numbers. She’d known all of these people since she was a child, and all had offered their assistance countless times. Today she’d accept.
Tuesday, January 16, 1:30
His heart was still pounding as he drove south toward Philly, along the same stretch of I-95 where he’d met Zachary Webber the year before. He was rattled and that made him angry. This day had not gone the way he’d planned.
First Van Zandt’s unreasonable demands. Iron maidens, new queens, and exploding heads. He’d thought Van Zandt understood the value of authenticity. In the end, the man was just like everyone else.
Then Harrington. Where the hell had he gotten that picture? Ultimately it didn’t matter. No one could prove he’d ever met Zachary Webber, much less held a 1943 German Luger to the boy’s head and pulled the trigger. Harrington had taken a lucky guess, but he was shooting blanks.
Nevertheless, the whiny bastard was probably in VZ’s office this very moment, trying to convince him… To do what? Fire me? Report me to the cops? Van Zandt would never do either. He had a Pinnacle invitation and he couldn’t show up empty-handed. He needs me. Unfortunately, he also needed Van Zandt. For now.
Harrington, on the other hand, needed to be dealt with, and soon. He’d whine to Van Zandt but would eventually take his story elsewhere, to someone who actually might listen. Van Zandt had said that Harrington had outlived his usefulness.
He chuckled. Van Zandt had no idea how prophetic his words would become. He’d deal with Harrington, but for now he had an appointment to keep.
Tuesday, January 16, 1:30
An hour and a half had passed before Derek had been summoned to Jager’s office and he’d used that time to plan how he would confront his partner with his suspicions about Frasier Lewis without sounding like a lunatic. When he’d finished, Jager’s forehead bunched in a frown. But in his eyes Derek saw bored indifference.
“What you are suggesting, Derek, is very serious indeed.”
“Of course it’s serious, Jager. You can’t sit there and tell me you don’t see any resemblance between that missing boy and the character in Lewis’s animation.”
“I don’t deny a resemblance. But that’s a far cry from accusing an employee of cold-blooded murder.”
“Lewis didn’t even acknowledge the resemblance. He’s a cold bastard.”
“What did you expect him to say? You’d just accused him of murder. Perhaps you expected him to say, ‘You are correct. I kidnapped Zachary Webber, held a gun to his head, blew out his brains, then made him a character in a video game.’” He tilted his head, bemused. “Does that sound sane to you?”
It didn’t, not when explicitly spelled out like that. But there was something wrong. Derek could feel it in his gut. “Then how do you account for this?” He tapped the photo. “This kid is missing, then just happens to show up in Behind Enemy Lines.”
“He saw him somewhere. Hell, Derek, where did you get your inspiration?”
Did. Past tense. Something desperate rose in Derek’s chest. “You don’t even know anything about Lewis. What were his production credits before you hired him at oRo?”
“I know what I need to know.” Jager tossed a paper across his desk.
Derek stared at the picture of a confident Jager with the headline: oRo SCORES A COUP-Up and comer earns a seat at Pinnacle.
“So you’ve arrived,” Derek said dully.
“Yes, I have.”
The personal pronoun had been carefully enunciated. “You want me to quit.”
Jager lifted his brows, maddeningly calm. “I never said that.”
Suddenly the desperation eased and Derek knew what he needed to do. Slowly he stood. “Well, I just did.” He stopped at the door and looked back at the man who he’d once called his closest friend. “Did I ever really know you?”
Jager was calm. “Security will walk you to your desk. You can pack your things.”
“I should say good luck, but I wouldn’t mean it. I hope you get what you deserve.”
Jager’s eyes went cold. “Now that you’re no longer with the company, any move to discredit any of my employees will be considered slander and prosecuted with zeal.”
“In other words, stay away from Frasier Lewis,” Derek said bitterly.
Jager’s smile was a terrible thing to see. “You do know me after all.”
New Jersey, Tuesday, January 16, 2:30
Vito drove through the quiet little neighborhood in Jersey, following Tim Riker’s directions. He’d left Andy from Andy’s Attic sorting through receipts of sales of swords and flails to join Tim and Beverly who were waiting for him on the sidewalk.
“Brittany Bellamy’s house?” he asked when he got out and Beverly nodded.
“Her parents live here. The only address Brittany listed with all her jobs was a PO box in Philly. If she doesn’t live here, hopefully her parents can tell us where.”
“Have you talked to her parents?”
“No,” Tim said. “We were waiting for you. One of the photographers on her résumé said he’d hired Brittany to do an ad for a local jewelry store last spring.”
“The ad was for rings.” Beverly’s eyes grew dark. “Only her hands were in the shot.”
“Nick and I think the killer chose Warren for his tattoo. That Brittany was a hand model could have drawn him, since he posed her hands. Was she reported missing?”
“No,” Tim said with a frown. “So this might not be our vic.”
“Then let’s go find out.” Vito led the way to the door and knocked. A minute later a girl opened the front door. She was perhaps fourteen and about the same size as their victim, her hair the same dark brown. In her hand was a box of tissues.
“Yes?” she asked, her nose stuffy, her voice muffled through the storm door glass.
Vito showed her his shield. “I’m Detective Ciccotelli. Are your parents home?”
“No.” She sniffled. “They’re both at work.” Her heavy eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“We’re looking for Brittany Bellamy.”
The girl’s chin came up and she sniffled again. “My sister. What’s she done?”
“Nothing. We’d just like to talk to her. Can you tell us where she lives?”
“Not here. Not anymore.”
Beverly stepped forward. “Can you tell us where she does live then?”
“I don’t know. Look, you should talk to my parents. They’ll be home after six.”
“Then can you give us your parents’ phone number at work?” Beverly pressed.
The sleepy look in her eyes was replaced by fear. “What’s happened to Brittany?”
“We’re not sure,” Vito said. “We really need to talk to your parents.”
“Wait here.” She closed the door and Vito could hear the deadbolt clicking. Two minutes later the door opened again and the girl reappeared with a cordless phone. She handed the phone to Vito. “My mom is on the phone.”
“Is this Mrs. Bellamy?”
“Yes.” The woman’s voice was both frantic and angry. “What’s this about the police? What’s Brittany done?”
“This is Detective Ciccotelli, Philly PD. When was the last time you saw Brittany?”
There was a moment of tense silence. “Oh my God. Is she dead?”
“When was the last time you saw her, Mrs. Bellamy?”
“Oh, God. She is dead.” The woman’s voice was becoming hysterical. “Oh God.”
“Mrs. Bellamy, please. When-?” But the woman was weeping too loudly to hear him. The young girl’s eyes filled with tears and she took the phone from Vito’s hand.
“Ma, come home. I’ll call Pop.” She disconnected and held the phone against her chest with both fists, much like Warren Keyes had held the sword. “It was after Thanksgiving. She and my dad had a big fight because she dropped out of dental school to be an actress.” She blinked, sending the tears down her face. “She left home, said she’d make it on her own. That’s the last time I saw her. She’s dead, isn’t she?”
Vito sighed. “Do you have a computer?”
She frowned. “Yeah, it’s brand-new.”
“How new, honey?” Vito asked.
“A month or so.” She faltered. “Right after Brittany left the old one crashed. My dad was so mad. He didn’t have a backup.”
“We’re going to need to get your parents’ permission to search her room.”
She looked away, lips quivering. “I’ll call my pop.”
Vito turned to Beverly and Tim. “I’ll stay here,” he murmured. “Go back to the precinct and start searching for the third victim in that row on UCanModel dotcom.”
“Flail guy,” Tim said grimly. “But we can’t count on his name being in the missing person reports. Even if Brittany had been reported missing, she might not have ended up in the Philly reports, being way down here in Jersey.”
“The database allows you to search by physical attribute. If you can’t figure it out, call Brent Yelton in IT. Tell him I sent you. Also, see if he can get a listing of everyone who got hits the same days Warren and Brittany’s résumés were viewed. I’m betting this guy didn’t just get lucky with the first model he contacted. Maybe we can find somebody who talked to him that’s still alive and still has their computer intact.”
Bev and Tim nodded. “Will do.”
The girl had come back to the storm door. “My pop’s on his way.”
A Catholic shrine rested against the house. “Do you have a priest?” Vito asked.
She nodded, dully. “I’ll call him, too.”
Tuesday, January 16, 3:20
Munch was late. Gregory Sanders glanced at his watch for the tenth time in as many minutes, feeling way too visible sitting in the bar where Munch had promised to meet him. He knew only to look for an older man who’d be walking with a cane.
The waitress stopped at his table. “You can’t stay here if you don’t order nothin’.”
“I’m waiting for someone. But bring me a G &T.”
She tilted her head, studying him closer. “I’ve seen you before. I know I have.” She snapped her fingers. “Sanders Sewer Service.” She grinned. “I loved that ad.”
He held a polite smile firmly in place as she walked away. He’d done sophisticated ads for national campaigns, but everybody who’d grown up in Philly remembered him in that stupid commercial that his father had forced his six sons to do. He would never be taken seriously by anyone who knew about that commercial. And he needed to be taken seriously. He needed Ed Munch to hire him for this job.
Greg fingered the switchblade he’d slid up his sleeve. What he really needed was to catch the old man unaware so he could rob him blind. But he couldn’t sit out here in the open for much longer. Those guys wanted their money, and they wanted it now.
His cell buzzed in his pocket and he quickly looked around, wondering if he’d been discovered. But his cell was a throwaway and only Jill had his number. “Yeah?” Jill was crying and he sat up straighter. “What?”
“Damn you,” she sobbed into the phone. “They were here, in my place. They trashed everything, looking for you. They put their hands on me.”
She was hysterical, screeching so high it hurt his ears. “What did they do?” he asked, dread clutching at his gut. “Dammit, Jill, what did those sonsofbitches do?”
“They hit me. Broke two of my teeth.” She quieted suddenly. “And they said tomorrow they’d do worse, so now I have to find a place to hide. So help me God, you’d sure as hell better hope they find you, ’cause if I find you first, I’m gonna kill you myself.”
“Jill, I’m sorry.”
She laughed harshly. “Yes, you are. Sorry. Just like my father always said. And yours.” She hung up and Greg exhaled, long and heavy. If they found him, they’d beat him, too. And if by some miracle he survived, his face would be so messed up that he wouldn’t be able to work for weeks. He had to get some money. Today.
Munch was nearly a half hour late. The old man wasn’t coming. Greg stood up and walked out of the restaurant, not sure where he’d go next, only sure that he had to get that money. Thinking about knocking off convenience stores, he walked to the curb to catch the next bus. Where he’d go, he had no clue. Away from Philly, most certainly.
Greg spun, his heart in full throttle. But it was just an old man with a cane. “Munch?”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Sanders. I ran late. Are you still interested in my documentary?”
Greg sized the old man up. At one time he’d been a good-sized guy, but now he was stooped and brittle. “Are you still paying cash?”
“Of course. Do you have a car?”
He’d sold it long ago. “No.”
“Then we’ll take my truck. I’m parked on the next block.”
Once he got his money, he could steal the old man’s truck and fly. “Then let’s go.”
Tuesday, January 16, 4:05
Sophie’s office phone was ringing when she got back after the Viking tour. She ran to answer it. It was after ten in Europe. The men she’d called would just be finishing their dinner about now. “Hello?”
“Dr. Johannsen.” It was a haughty, cultured voice that she’d heard before.
Sophie drew a breath. Not Europe. It was Amanda Brewster. “Yes.”
“Do you know who this is?”
She glanced at the box with the mouse and new rage hit her like a wave. She planned to give the poor animal a decent burial after her shift. “You are a sick bitch.”
“And you have a poor memory. I told you once to stay away from my husband.”
“And you have poor hearing. I told you that I don’t want your husband. I don’t ever want to see him again. You do not need to worry about me, Amanda. In fact if I were you, I’d be more worried about your husband’s new blonde assistant du jour.”
“If you were me, you’d have Alan,” she said smugly and Sophie rolled her eyes.
“You need to get some professional help.”
“What I need,” Amanda gritted through clenched teeth, “is for every little whore to keep their hands off my husband. I told you the last time I caught you that-”
“You didn’t catch me,” Sophie said in exasperation. “I came to you.” Which, after trusting that Alan Brewster had really loved her, was Sophie’s second big mistake. She stupidly had thought the wife of a philanderer should know, but Amanda Brewster hadn’t listened then and she wasn’t going to listen now.
“-that I’d ruin you,” Amanda continued as if Sophie had not said a word.
The woman hadn’t needed to ruin her then. Alan and his posse had accomplished that on their own, with their sexual innuendo. And they’d started it again.
Which really pissed her off. She picked up the toy Vito had sent her, wishing it would work through the phone, wishing she could wipe the entire incident off the face of the planet. But that wasn’t going to happen and it was time she dealt with it. She’d run from Alan ten years ago, ashamed of what she’d done and scared of Amanda’s threats to her career. She was still ashamed, but she wasn’t running anymore.
“Get some help, Amanda. I’m not afraid of you anymore.”
“You’d better be. Look at you now,” Amanda screeched. “You’re working in a third-rate museum for an idiot. You think your career’s in the toilet now.” She laughed, not a little hysterically. “You’ll be digging sewer trenches by the time I’m done with you.”
Sophie huffed a surprised chuckle. “Digging sewer trenches” were the same exact words Amanda had used ten years before. At twenty-two, Sophie had believed her. At thirty-two, she recognized the ranting of a mentally imbalanced woman. She probably should pity Amanda Brewster. Maybe in another ten years she would.
“You’re not going to believe anything I say about Alan, but you can believe this. Send me another package like you did this morning and I will call the police.”
She hung up and looked around her tiny windowless office. Amanda was right about one thing. Sophie did work in a third-rate museum.
But it didn’t have to be. Amanda was wrong about one other thing. Ted wasn’t an idiot. Sophie had watched the faces of the tour group this afternoon. They’d had fun, and they’d learned something. Ted was right. He was keeping his grandfather’s legacy alive the best way he knew how. And he hired me to help him do that. So far she hadn’t been a lot of help.
Because she’d spent the last six months feeling sorry for herself. Big important archeologist forced to leave the dig of a lifetime. “When did I become such a snob?” she wondered out loud. Just because she wasn’t digging in France didn’t mean she couldn’t do something important here.
She looked at the boxes that filled her office, stacked floor to ceiling. Most of them were filled with pieces of Ted the First’s collections that Ted and Darla hadn’t been able to find room for in the main museum. She’d find a place for them.
She looked at her hand and realized she still clenched Vito’s memory zapper. Carefully she returned it to its box. She’d put her personal life back on track when she met Vito for dinner. She’d start putting her professional life back on track right now.
She found Ted in his office. “Ted, I need some space.”
His eyes narrowed. “What kind of space? Sophie, are you leaving us?”
Her eyes widened. “No, I’m not leaving. I want more exhibit space. I’ve got some ideas for new exhibits.” She smiled. “Fun ones. Where can I put them?”
Ted smiled back. “I have the perfect place. Well, it’s not perfect yet, but I have every confidence you’ll whip it into shape.”
Tuesday, January 16, 4:10
Munch had spent the first half hour of their drive telling Greg Sanders about the documentary he was making. It was a fresh look at daily life in medieval Europe.
God, Greg thought. What a yawner. This would have been worse for his career than Sanders Sewer Service. “How about the other actors?”
“I begin shooting them next week.”
Then they’d be alone. And Munch hadn’t paid anyone else yet. He should have a lot of cash in his house. “How much farther out is your studio?” Greg demanded. “We must have gone fifty miles.”
“Not much farther,” Munch replied. He smiled and Greg felt a cold shiver burn down his back. “I don’t like to bother my neighbors, so I live out where no one can hear me.”
“How would you bother them?” Greg asked, not so sure he wanted the answer.
“Oh, I host medieval reenacting groups.”
“You mean like jousting and shit?”
Munch smiled again. “And shit.” He turned off the highway. “That’s my house.”
“Nice place,” Greg murmured. “Classic Victorian.”
“I’m glad you approve.” He pulled into the driveway. “Come in.”
Greg followed Munch, impatient that the old man took so long walking with the damn cane. Inside he looked around, wondering where the old man kept his money.
“This way,” Munch said and led him into a room filled with costumes. Some were on hangers, while others were worn by faceless mannequins. It looked like a medieval department store. “You’ll wear this.” Munch pointed to a friar’s robe.
“Pay me first.”
Munch looked annoyed. “You’ll be paid when I am satisfied. Get dressed.” He turned to go and Greg knew it was now or never.
Do it. Quickly he flipped out his blade, moved in behind the old man and hooked his arm around Munch’s neck, pressing the sharp edge against his throat. “You’ll pay me now, old man. Walk slowly to wherever you keep your money and you won’t get hurt.”
Munch went still. Then in an explosion of movement he grasped Greg’s thumb and twisted. Greg yelped with pain and his knife clattered to the floor. His arm was whipped behind his back and a second later he was on the ground, Munch’s knee in his back.
“You slimy little sonofabitch,” Munch said and it was not the voice of an old man.
Greg could barely hear him over the pounding in his head. The pain was excruciating. His arm, his hand. They were burning. Pop. Greg screamed as his wrist snapped. Then moaned when his elbow did the same.
“That was for trying to rob me,” Munch said, grabbed a handful of Greg’s hair and smashed his head into the floor. “That was for calling me old.”
Nausea rolled through him when Munch stood up and pocketed his blade. Get help. He slipped his hand into his pocket and fumbled his cell open with his left hand. He had time only to push one button before Munch’s boot came crashing against his kidneys.
“Hands out of your pockets.” He shoved his boot into Greg’s stomach and flipped him to his back. Greg could only stare in horror as Munch pulled off his gray wig. Munch wasn’t old. He wasn’t gray. He was totally bald. Munch pulled off his goatee and put it next to the wig. The eyebrows were last and Greg’s stomach clenched as panic gave way to cold hard fear. Munch had no eyebrows. He had no hair of any kind.
He’s going to kill me. Greg coughed and tasted blood. “What are you going to do?”
Munch smiled down at him. “Terrible things, Greg. Terrible, terrible things.”
Scream. But when he tried, all that came out was a pathetic croak.
Munch threw his arms wide. “Scream all you want. No one can hear you. No one will save you. I’ve killed them all.” He bent down until all Greg could see were his eyes, cold and furious. “They all thought they suffered, but their suffering was nothing compared to what I’m going to do to you.”
Tuesday, January 16, 5:00
Sober-faced, they’d reassembled to debrief. Vito sat at the head of the table, Liz on his right, Jen on his left. Next to Jen were Bev and Tim. Katherine sat next to Liz, her expression drawn. Vito thought about her having to do autopsies on all those bodies. She probably had the worst job of them all.
Although informing a family that their nineteen-year-old daughter was dead had been no picnic either. “Nick’s on his way from court,” he told Liz. “They just adjourned.”
“Did he testify?”
“Not yet. ADA Lopez thinks it’ll be tomorrow.”
“Let’s hope so. Well, bring me up to speed so we can get out of here.”
Vito checked his watch. “I’m also expecting Thomas Scarborough.”
Jen McFain’s brows went up. “Nice. Scarborough’s a great profiler. But how did you get him so quickly? Last I heard he had a client list months long.”
“You can thank Nick Lawrence for that.” A tall man with linebacker’s shoulders and wavy chestnut hair came into the room and from the corner of his eye Vito saw both Beverly and Jen sit a little straighter. Dr. Thomas Scarborough wasn’t what Vito thought most women called movie-star handsome, but he had a presence that filled the room. He leaned over and shook Vito’s hand. “You must be Chick. I’m Scarborough.”
Vito shook his hand. “Thanks for coming, Dr. Scarborough.”
“Thomas,” he said and took a seat. “ADA Lopez introduced me to your partner outside court this morning. We were waiting to testify. Nick asked me about perps who use torture, and I was intrigued.”
Vito introduced everyone, then went to the whiteboard where he’d drawn the grave matrix that morning. “We’ve confirmed that the woman with the folded hands is Brittany Bellamy. We compared prints from her bedroom to the vic’s. They’re hers.”
“So we’ve identified three of the nine,” Liz said. “What do they have in common?”
Vito shook his head. “We don’t know. Warren and Brittany were on the modeling website, but Claire was not. Warren and Brittany were tortured. The killer broke Claire’s neck, but did no more. There was at least a year between their murders.”
“The one thing they do have in common is that they were all buried in that field,” Jen said. “I didn’t think the fill dirt was from the field and I was right. The field is mostly clay. The fill dirt used in all the graves is sandier. It probably came from a quarry.”
Tim Riker sighed. “And Pennsylvania is full of quarries.”
Liz frowned. “But why use fill dirt from somewhere else? Why not use the dirt he dug from the hole in the first place?”
“That’s actually an easy question to answer,” Jen said. “The soil from the field gets clumpy when it gets wet. The quarry soil is sandy, so it doesn’t absorb water the same way. It flows. It would be easier to pack a body in sand rather than clumpy clay.”
“Can we identify where exactly the soil came from?” Beverly asked her.
“I’ve called in a geologist. His team is looking at the breakdown of the minerals to give us an idea of where that soil naturally occurs. But it’s going to take a few days.”
“Can we get them to move any faster?” Liz asked. “Get them to up their resources?”
Jen lifted her hands. “I tried to push it, but so far everyone is telling me that is the fastest they can work, and that is with the maximum resources. But I can try again.”
Liz nodded. “Then do. The nature of his burial pattern indicates he’s not finished. He could be working on a new victim right now. Two days could make a big difference.”
“Especially since we’ve disrupted his routine,” Thomas said quietly. “This killer is incredibly obsessive-compulsive. He’s left one open space at the end of the third row, and if his current pattern holds, he’ll be looking for a new victim any time now. When he finds you’ve discovered his carefully planned burial site… It’s going to throw him. He’s going to be angry, maybe disoriented.”
“Maybe he’ll make a mistake,” Beverly said.
Thomas nodded. “It’s possible. It’s also possible that he’ll retreat, go under and regroup. He went almost a year between the first murders and these recent ones. He could wait another year. Or more.”
“Or he could find another field and dig another matrix of graves,” Jen said flatly.
“That, too,” Thomas acknowledged. “What he does next may depend on why he’s doing this at all. Why he kills. What got him started? And why a year between sprees?”
“We were kind of hoping you could help us with that,” Vito said dryly.
Thomas’s smile was equally dry. “I’ll do my best. One of the things we need to establish is how he chooses his victims. The last two came from the modeling website.”
“Maybe the last three,” Tim Riker said. “I ran a search on all the male models at UCanModel that have the same height and weight as Flail Guy.”
“Stop calling him that,” Katherine snapped, then pursed her lips hard. “Please.”
There was a raw desperation in her voice that made everyone turn to look at her.
“I’m sorry, Katherine,” Tim said. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful.”
She nodded unsteadily. “It’s okay. Let’s just call him three-one, for his grave. I just finished that man’s autopsy. Brittany Bellamy and Warren Keyes suffered horribly, but there’s every indication their ordeal was no longer than a few hours. Three-one was tortured over a period of days. His fingers and thumbs were broken. His legs and arms were broken, his back flayed open.” She swallowed. “And his feet were burned.”
“The soles of his feet?” Liz asked gently.
“No, his whole foot. The scarring is total and has a clear delineation. Like a sock.”
“Or a boot,” Nick said grimly, coming in the door. He squeezed Katherine’s shoulder reassuringly before taking the seat next to Scarborough. “It was one of the torture devices on the websites I found. The inquisitors would pour hot oil down into a boot, usually one foot at a time. It was a very effective method of getting people to say anything they wanted them to say.”
“But what could our killer have possibly wanted these people to say?” Beverly asked, frustration in her voice. “They were models, actors.”
“Maybe he didn’t want them to say anything. Maybe he just wanted to see them suffer,” Tim said quietly.
“Well, they suffered,” Katherine said bitterly.
Vito closed his eyes and forced himself to visualize the scene, horrible as it was. “But Katherine, something doesn’t make sense. The way his head had sheared off, he had to have been sitting up. If he’d been lying down, I would think the skull would crush, not shear. If this guy was in such horrible shape before he was hit with a flail-or whatever-how did he even sit up to receive the blow?”
Katherine’s lips thinned. “I found rope fibers in the skin of his torso. I think he was tied so that he was vertical. The pattern of circular bruising was on top of the fibers.”
There was a moment of silence as everyone digested this latest horror. Vito cleared his throat. “What did you find when you searched the UCanModel database, Tim?”
“A hundred names, roughly, but knowing about his feet being burned helps. Brittany Bellamy had been a hand model and the killer posed her hands. Warren had the tattoo of Oscar holding the sword and his hands were posed the same way.” Tim pulled a sheaf of papers from his folder and began scanning the list. “There are three that were foot models.” He looked up at Katherine. “What size were the victim’s feet?”
“Ten and a half.”
Rapidly Tim thumbed through the pages, then stopped and focused. “Yes.” He looked up again, triumphant. “But only one has size-ten-and-a-half feet. William Melville. Goes by Bill. He did a shoot for a foot spray ad last year.”
Vito’s pulse picked up some speed. “Good work, Tim. Really good work.”
Tim nodded soberly, then looked at Katherine. “Now he has a name.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. “That means a lot.”
“When we break, we’ll need to confirm it,” Vito said briskly. “Nick and I will take finding an address for Bill Melville and checking him out. Tim, I’d like you and Beverly to keep working that database. I still want to know who our killer attempted to hire and couldn’t. I also want to know who he’s contacted lately. We need to find him and stop him before he finishes out that row.”
“We’re meeting Brent Yelton from IT when we’re done here,” Beverly said. “He said he’d try working through the user side but that he’ll probably need help from the website hosts themselves.” She grimaced. “And for that we’ll need a warrant.”
“You get me the details,” Liz said, “and I’ll get a warrant.”
“So each of the last three victims was chosen based on a physical attribute,” Thomas said, musingly. “Using the modeling database, he could search for the attributes he wanted. There’s also a certain drama about posing hands, et cetera. Models are accustomed to playing roles in front of a camera.”
Nick frowned. “Could this guy be filming all this?”
“It’s a thought.” Vito jotted it on the whiteboard. “Let’s leave it as a thought for now and go on. Computers. Warren’s hard drive was fried. The Bellamy family’s was also fried. But Claire didn’t have a computer.”
“So he didn’t meet her through the website.” Tim said. “Unless she used a public computer. She did work at a library.”
Vito sighed. “An Internet session on a public computer fifteen months ago will be hard to trace. That could be a dead end.”
“What did you find out about where he could have gotten his tools?” Nick asked. “Were Sophie’s contacts any help?”
“Not much.” Vito sat back down. “The chain mail was high quality. A mail shirt with links that small runs over a thousand bucks.”
“Whoa,” Nick said. “So our boy has some funds.”
“But the mail is available through a number of Web stores.” Vito shrugged. “As were the sword or the flail. It’ll be hard to trace a single purchase, but that’s what we’ll need to do. Sophie did tell me that one of her professors heard that a collection of torture artifacts had gone missing. I’ll follow up on that tomorrow. It was in Europe, so I’ll have to involve Interpol.”
“Which will add time,” Liz grumbled. “Can’t your archeologist dig some more?”
Jen winced. “No pun intended.”
“I’ll ask her,” Vito said. If she meets me tonight. If she didn’t… He supposed he’d have to walk away, but he wasn’t sure he could. She drew him in a way no woman had in a very long time. Maybe ever. Please, Sophie. Please come. “Jen, what more have you found at the crime scene?”
“Nothing.” She lifted a brow. “But that’s something, in a way. We’re still sifting fill dirt and will be for days, but something is missing from the site.”
“The dirt he took from the graves initially,” Beverly said and Jen touched her nose.
“We’ve combed those woods and haven’t found any evidence of dirt he removed.”
“He could have spread it out,” Tim said doubtfully.
“Could have, and he might have, but that would have required a lot of work. Sixteen graves is a lot of dirt. It would have been easier for him to just pile it off to one side.”
“Or remove it. He has to have a truck,” Vito said.
“Or access to one. We might be able to tell what kind. We got a tire print from the access road leading to the field. It’s at the lab.” Jen bent her lips down as she thought. “That resignation letter Claire’s parents gave Bev and Tim was just a copy. We need to get the original. Who has it?”
A cell phone rang and everyone instantly checked their own phones. Katherine held hers up. “Mine,” she said. “Excuse me.” She got up and moved to the window.
“The library where Claire worked had the letter,” Tim said. “We requested it today, but they said they had to ‘go through channels.’ They hoped to have it tomorrow.”
Jen’s smile was sharp. “Good. Let’s see if we can get some decent prints.”
Katherine slapped her phone shut, then turned to the group, her eyes bright again. “That silicone lubricant you found with Claire’s things?”
“The lubricant for her prosthetic leg,” Vito said warily. “What about it?”
“It matches the sample I took from the wire on Brittany’s hands.”
Vito pounded his hand on the table. “Excellent.”
“But,” Katherine nearly sang, “it doesn’t match the sample we took from Warren. The lubricant found on Warren’s hands was close in formula, but not exact. The lab called the manufacturer, and they said they had two main formulas but often create custom blends for clients with allergies.”
Vito looked at the table, processing. “So the sample found on Warren’s hands is a custom blend.” He looked up. “Did Claire buy a custom blend, too?”
Katherine lifted her brows. “Not in the manufacturer’s records.”
“So it belonged to somebody else?” Beverly asked.
“She could have bought it somewhere else, or somebody may have bought it for her,” Liz cautioned. “Don’t assume until you know.”
Katherine nodded. “True. The manufacturer said her orders came through a Dr. Pfeiffer. You can ask him if she bought anything special. But if she didn’t, either she got it from somebody else or the killer did.”
Vito rubbed his hands together. “We’re starting to get somewhere. Thomas, after all you’ve heard, what are your thoughts on this killer?”
“And are we talking just one?” Nick added.
“Very good point.” Thomas leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his chest. “But my gut says he works alone. He’s younger, almost certainly male. Intelligent. He has a dispassionate capacity for cruelty. It’s… mechanical. He is obsessive, obviously. This would spill into other areas of his life-occupation, relationships. His knack with creating computer viruses is consistent. He’d be more comfortable with a machine than with people. I’d bet he lives alone. He will have some record of violence in his adolescence, anything from being a schoolyard bully to abusing animals. He’s… process oriented. And he’s efficient. He could have just killed two people to use for his effigies, but he combined them with whatever torture experiments he needed to do first.”
“So an anal, obsessed, cold loner who measures twice and cuts once,” Jen said sourly and Thomas chuckled.
“Nicely summarized, Sergeant. Add dramatic to it and you’ve got it covered.”
Vito stood up. “Well, Nick and I and Bev and Tim have things to do. Thomas, can we bring you in as needed?”
“Then we reconvene tomorrow at eight,” Vito said. “Be careful and stay safe.”
Tuesday, January 16, 5:45
Nick sank into his chair and propped his feet on his desk. “I swear, waiting outside court makes me more ragged-out than if I’d worked a whole damn day.”
“Did you make any progress finding Kyle Lombard?”
“No. I must’ve called seventy-five Kyle Lombards while I was waiting outside the courtroom today. I got nothin’ but a dead cell phone battery. No dice.”
“You can try again tomorrow.” Vito picked a note on his desk. “Tino was here. He went to the morgue to sketch the old couple from the second row.”
“Hopefully he can work another miracle,” Nick said.
“He sure hit the nail on the head with Brittany Bellamy.” Vito sat down at his computer and pulled up the UCanModel website and found Bill Melville’s résumé and photo. “Come over here and meet Mr. Melville.”
Nick came around their desks to stand behind him. “Big, brawny guy like Warren.”
“But other than size, no resemblance.” Warren had been fair, while Bill was dark and forbidding looking. “He has martial arts experience.” Vito looked up at Nick. “Why the hell would the killer purposely choose a victim that could beat the shit out him?”
“Doesn’t seem too smart,” Nick agreed. “Unless he thought he’d need those skills. Warren searched fencing sites and was posed with a sword. Bill was killed with a flail.” Nick sat on the edge of Vito’s desk. “I didn’t get lunch. Let’s grab some chow before we check out Melville’s last known address.”
Vito checked his watch. “I have dinner plans.” I hope.
Nick face broke into a slow grin. “Dinner plans?”
He felt his cheeks heat. “Shut up, Nick.”
Nick’s grin just broadened. “No way. I want details.”
Vito glared up at him. “There are no details.” Not yet, anyway.
“This is even better than I thought.” He snorted a laugh when Vito rolled his eyes. “You’re no fun, Chick. Okay then, what did you find out from that Brewster guy?”
“That he’s an asshole who likes tall blonde girls and cheats on his wife.”
“Oh. Well, now Sophie’s reactions to the flowers make sense. You said he gave you some names of potential collectors.”
“All pillars of society and every one of them over sixty years old. Hardly able to dig sixteen graves and move around big men like Keyes and Melville. I checked financials as much as I could without a warrant and came up with nothing suspicious.”
“What about Brewster himself?”
“Young enough, I guess. His office looks like a museum, but it’s all out in the open.”
“He could have a stash.”
“He could, but he was out of the country the week Warren went missing.” Vito shot Nick a rueful look. “I Googled him when I got back from the Bellamys’. The first thing that popped up was a conference he’d spoken at in Amsterdam on January 4. Airline records show Dr. and Mrs. Alan Brewster flew first class from Philly to Amsterdam.”
“First class is pricey. Professors don’t make that much. He could be dealing.”
“Wife’s loaded,” Vito grumbled. “Gramps was a coal baron. I checked that, too.”
Nick’s lips twitched in sympathy. “You really wanted it to be him.”
“A whole hell of a lot. But unless he’s an accomplice, Brewster’s only guilty of being an asshole.” Vito brought up the DMV database on his computer. “Melville was twenty-two years old, last known address was up in North Philly. I’ll drive.”
Tuesday, January 16, 5:30
Sophie was up to her butt in sawdust in the old warehouse that sat at the back of the factory area they’d converted to the museum’s main hall. Ted was right, the warehouse wasn’t perfect, but Sophie could see the potential. And, there were still some places she could smell chocolate if she sniffed hard enough. It had to be fate.
She looked around the future site of her hands-on “dig.” She hadn’t been so content in a long time. Well, maybe content was the wrong word. She was energized and aware, thinking of all the wonderful things she could do with this huge empty space with its thirty-foot ceilings. Her brain was firing like a machine gun.
And her nerve endings were firing, too. She was meeting Vito Ciccotelli tonight. She was keyed. Needy. And feeling the edge of her self-imposed sexual suppression all too keenly. She’d never allowed another relationship with a colleague, which meant finding a man outside the dig, in the city. By nature those relationships were surface only, really no more than a way to scratch her itch when it got too hard to handle. But “one night stand” always came to her mind afterward and she hated herself. Vito would be different. She just had a feeling. Maybe the drought would soon end.
All in good time. For now, she was anxious to explore the contents of the crates she’d dragged from her office. She’d already uncovered some incredible treasures.
Working in her dark little office, she’d been surrounded by medieval reliquaries and hadn’t even known it. Using a crowbar, she opened a crate and scooped more sawdust onto the floor until she got down to the smaller box inside.
She heard footsteps behind her a heartbeat before the voice. “You can’t have it.”
With a gasp she whirled, swinging the crowbar high above her head. Then she exhaled. “Theo, I swear to God, I’m going to hurt you one of these days.”
Theodore Albright the Fourth stood looking at her from the shadows, his jaw stern. Stiffly he crossed his arms over his broad chest. “You can’t have these things. Children will come in here. They’ll break them.”
“I don’t plan to put anything valuable out in the open. I’m going to have plastic copies made, and break the copies in pieces-to hide in the dirt for people to find. The way we’d find broken pottery in a dig.”
Theo looked around the room. “You’re going to make it look like an authentic dig?”
“That’s my plan. I know your grandfather’s treasures are precious. I won’t let anything happen to them.”
His wide shoulders relaxed. “I’m sorry I scared you.” His eyes dropped to her hand and she realized she still held the crowbar. Bending at the knees, she laid it on the floor.
“It’s okay.” Amanda Brewster’s little gift and phone call had left her shakier than she’d thought. “So… did you need something?”
He nodded. “You have a phone call. It’s some old guy from Paris.”
Maurice. “Paris?” She was already taking him by the arm and guiding him out the door. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded as she locked the room behind them.
In her office, she shut the door, grabbed the phone and let her mind relax back into French. “Maurice? It’s Sophie.”
“Sophie, my dear. Your grandmother. How is she?”
She heard the fear in his voice and realized he thought she was calling with bad news about Anna. “She’s holding her own. That’s actually not why I called. I’m sorry, I should have told you so you didn’t worry.”
He let out a breath. “Yes, you should have, but I can’t be angry that you’re not calling with bad news, I suppose. So why did you call?”
“I’m doing some research and was hoping you could give me information.”
“Ah.” His voice perked up and Sophie smiled. Maurice had always been one of the biggest gossips of her father’s crowd. “What kind of information?”
“Well, it’s like this…”
Tuesday, January 16, 8:10
“So the victim is Bill Melville?” Liz asked on the phone as Vito turned his truck onto his street.
“His prints match the ones Latent lifted from his apartment. Nobody had seen him since Halloween. Kids in his building said he always dressed up and handed out candy.”
“Sounds like a nice guy.”
“I don’t know about that. He dressed like a ninja. The kids thought he did it to let them know he could handle weapons. Nunchucks, staffs. It was his way of maintaining security. But he did give out good candy, so everybody seemed happy.”
“Why hadn’t someone gone in his apartment before?”
“Melville’s landlord did but didn’t find anything. We got lucky. The landlord already filed an eviction notice. Another two days and all of Melville’s stuff would have been in the Dumpster.”
“Was his computer fried?”
“Yep. But,” Vito smiled grimly. “Bill printed out a few of the e-mails. Left them on the printer. He was contacted by a guy named Munch to do a history documentary.”
“Did you get his e-mail address?”
“No. The printed e-mail only said ‘E. Munch.’ If we had the actual e-mail on his machine we could have clicked on the name to get his e-mail address, but the files are wiped. The good thing is, we have a name to use when we question all the models on the UCanModel website who got hits on their résumés the days around our victims.”
“So Beverly and Tim were able to get into the website’s records?”
“Yeah. The owners of the site are cooperating fully. They don’t want all their clients pulling off the site because of a killer. They haven’t handed over any blanket lists, but they will work with Bev and Tim on a person-by-person basis. Bev and Tim are going to start contacting the models who were contacted by Munch tomorrow.”
“Although it’s not likely to be his real name. Are you headed back to the office?”
“No, I’m home.” He’d parked behind Tess’s rental and beside a car he’d never seen before. “My nephews are staying with me and I’ve hardly spent five minutes with them. I’m going to help my sister get everyone tucked in, then go grab some dinner.” And if he was lucky… His mind wandered to that single kiss. It had tormented him all day, distracting him, derailing his thoughts. What if she didn’t come? What if he had to walk away? What if he never got to taste her full lips again? Sophie, please come.
Vito got out of his truck and looked in the window of the strange car and saw the back floorboards strewn with McDonald’s trash and ratty old sneakers. Teenager, he guessed. When he opened his front door, he saw he was partially right.
Multiple teens were gathered around a computer someone had set up in his living room. One kid sat in Vito’s easy chair, feet up as he faced the monitor, a keyboard on his lap. Dominic stood behind the chair, a frown on his handsome face as he looked on.
“Hey,” Vito called as he closed his front door. “What’s all this?”
Dominic’s eyes flickered. “We were working on a school project, but took a break.”
“What kind of project?” he asked.
“Science,” Dominic said. “Earth-space,” he clarified.
The kid with the keyboard looked up with a cynical sneer. “We had to create life,” he said drolly and the others snickered.
Except for Dom, who frowned. “Jesse, cut it out. Let’s get back to work.”
“In a minute, choir boy,” Jesse drawled.
Dom’s cheeks flushed a dark red and Vito realized his oldest nephew had been taking ribbing for his clean-cut ways. He moved to Dom’s side. “What’s the game?”
“Behind Enemy Lines,” Dom told him. “It’s a World War II fighting game.”
The screen was filled with the interior of an ammunitions bunker, in which eleven soldiers with swastikas on their armbands already lay dead. The camera looked out over the barrel of a rifle. “This guy is an American soldier,” Dom explained. “You can choose your character’s nationality and your weapon. It’s the newest rage.”
Vito studied the screen. “Really? The graphics look two or three years old.”
One of the boys eyed him warily. “You play?”
“Some.” He’d held the community record for Galaga when he was fifteen, but didn’t think divulging that fact would do more than make him look like a dinosaur. He lifted a brow. “Maybe I’ll learn a few things about taking out the bad guys or fast car chases.”
The boy who’d just spoken grinned good-naturedly. “Well, you won’t learn anything from this game. It’s just average.”
“That’s Ray,” Dom said. “He’s a gamer. So is Jesse.”
“So what’s the big deal with this game?” Vito asked.
Ray shrugged. “Everything in the game part’s a rehash from this company’s last five games. Game physics, environments, AI…”
“Artificial intelligence,” Dom murmured.
“I know,” Vito murmured back. “So I repeat, what’s the big deal? The characters are flat and the AI really sucks. I mean, Jesse here just took out a dozen bad boys with armbands and not one of them winged him. What’s the challenge in that?”
“We’re not playing it for the game,” Jesse said, apparently unoffended. “We’re playing it for the cut scenes.” He laughed softly. “Fuckin’ unbelievable, man.”
Dom looked around, frowning. “Jesse. My little brothers are here.”
“Like they don’t hear it from your old man,” Jesse said, bored.
Dom gritted his teeth. “They don’t. Look, let’s get back to work.”
“Just a minute,” Vito said softly, his eyes on the screen. He’d let this play out because he was curious, both about Dom’s classmates and what kids were playing these days. He never knew when knowing current kid-speak would come in handy in the interview room. He’d caught many a teen off guard pretending to share their interests. But as soon as Vito’s curiosity was sated, Jesse would be out on his ass.
On the screen, the American soldier reloaded his weapon and muttered, “This was a trap. She betrayed me, the whore.” He cocked the rifle. “She’ll come to regret that move.” The scene changed and the soldier was at the door of a small French cottage.
“So what’s the story here?” Vito asked Ray.
“This is… the cut scene.” He said it like it was the Sistine Chapel or something. When Vito frowned, Ray looked disappointed. “A cut scene is-”
“I know what a cut scene is,” Vito interrupted. The cut scene was the animated movie clip where the main character talked to people, learned secrets, or simply got free stuff. “Most of the ones I’ve seen have been boring and just kept you from the game. What I was asking was, what’s special about this one?”
Ray grinned. “You’ll see. This is Clothilde’s house. She claimed to be French Resistance, but she gave our soldier up. That’s why he was ambushed back there at the bunker. It’s payback time. Jesse’s right. This really is unbelievable.”
On the screen, the door opened to the inside of the cottage as the game flowed into the cut scene. The graphics abruptly changed. Gone were the grainy characters and choppy motion. When the American soldier walked through the door and began to search the cottage, it looked real. The solder finally found Clothilde hiding in a closet. He yanked her out of the closet and up against a wall. “You bitch,” he snarled. “You told them where to find me. What did they give you? Chocolate? Silk stockings?”
The busty Clothilde sneered up at him, although her eyes were wide with fear.
“Watch her eyes,” Ray whispered.
“Tell me.” The soldier shook the woman’s shoulders violently.
“My life,” Clothilde spat. “They said they would not kill me if I told. So I told.”
“Five of my buddies died back there. Because of you.” The American put his hands around her throat and Clothilde’s eyes grew wider. “You should have let those German bastards kill you. Now I will.”
“No. Please no!” As she struggled the screen filled with her face and his hands. The fear in her eyes…
“Amazing,” Ray whispered beside him. “The artist is truly amazing. It’s like watching a movie. It’s hard to believe somebody created this.”
But someone had. Disturbed, Vito felt his jaw tighten. Somebody had drawn this. And kids were watching it. He nudged Dom aside. “Go check on your brothers.”
From the corner of his eye, Vito could see Dom’s face relax in relief. “Okay.”
On the screen, Clothilde was sobbing and begging for her life. “Are you ready to die, Clothilde?” the soldier mocked and she screamed, loud and long. Desperate. Too real. Vito winced and looked at the kids’ faces as they watched transfixed. Eyes wide, mouths slightly open. Waiting.
The scream ended and there was a long moment of silence. Then the soldier laughed softly. “Go ahead and scream, Clothilde. No one can hear you. No one will save you. I killed them all.” His hands tightened, his thumbs moving to the hollow of her throat. “And now I’ll kill you.” His hands tightened further and Clothilde began to writhe.
Vito had seen enough. “That’s it.” He leaned forward and hit the power button on the monitor and the screen went dark. “Show’s over, kids.”
Jesse whipped the recliner down and stood up. “Hey. You can’t do that.”
Vito pulled the computer’s power cord from the wall. “Hey. Watch me. You can play that crap in your parents’ house, but you’re not playin’ it here. Pack it up, buddy.”
Jesse weighed his options. Finally he turned away in disgust. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Dude.” One of the boys winced. “Without Dom’s science project, we got nothin’.”
“We don’t need him.” Jesse tucked the computer under his arm. “Noel, get the monitor. Ray, get the CDs.”
Noel shook his head. “I can’t fail again. You might not need Dom’s project, but I do.”
Jesse’s eyes narrowed. “Fine.” The others followed, leaving Ray and Noel.
Ray grinned at Vito. “His parents wouldn’t let him play the game at home either.”
Vito looked over his shoulder. “Will Jesse cause any problems for Dominic?”
“Nah. Jesse’s no match for Dom. Dom’s the captain of the JV wrestling team.”
Vito bent his mouth, impressed. “Wow. He never told me that.”
“Dominic can take care of himself,” Ray said. “Sometimes he’s just too nice.”
Dominic came back down the hall, Pierce riding on his back. The five-year-old had just gotten out of the bath and his hair was wet, and his pj’s were Spiderman. Vito was glad he’d turned off that filth before the little ones had seen it.
Dom looked at the remaining two teenagers. “Jesse’s gone?”
Ray grinned again. “Sheriff here ran him out of town on a rail.”
“Thanks, Vito,” Dom said quietly. “I didn’t want him watching that stuff here.”
Vito presented his back to Pierce, who took a flying, screeching leap. “Next time, just tell him to leave.”
“I did tell him to leave.”
“Well, then… toss him out on his ass, if you have to.”
“Awwww,” Pierce said. “Uncle Vitoooooo. You said the donkey word, Uncle Vito.”
Vito winced. He’d forgotten “ass” was on the swear-word list. “Sorry, pal. You think Aunt Tess’ll wash my mouth out with soap?”
Pierce bounced. “Yes, yes!”
“Yes, yes,” Tess said from the hall. Her hair hung in damp waves. Obviously as much water had landed on her as on Pierce. “Vito, watch your mouth.”
“Okay, okay.” He gave a final nod to Dom. “You did fine, kid. Next time you’ll do even better.” He jogged back to Tess, giving Pierce a ride.
“Well? Did she get it?” She was referring to the present she’d left for Sophie.
“Don’t know. She gets out of class soon. I guess I’ll find out then. But thanks for picking it up. Where did you find a memory neutralizer toy anyway?”
“Party store on Broad Street. Guy advertises he’s got every Happy Meal toy ever sold. The neutralizer was a pretty popular one when the movie came out.” She lifted a brow. “You owe me two hundred bucks for the toy and the curtains.”
Vito nearly dropped Pierce. “What? What kind of curtains did you buy? Gold?”
She shrugged. “The curtains were only thirty bucks.”
“You paid a hundred and seventy dollars for a Happy Meal toy?”
“The toy was in its original wrapper.” Her lips twitched. “I hope she’s worth it.”
Vito blew out a breath. “Me, too.”
Tuesday, January 16, 9:55
Is something wrong, Dr. J?”
Sophie looked up to see Marta walking across the parking lot behind the Whitman humanities building. “My bike won’t start.” She got off and huffed a weary sigh. “It was running just fine right before class. Now it tries to start and just sputters.”
“Bummer.” Marta bit her lip. “You do have gas in the tank, don’t you? The last time my car wouldn’t start I got all upset till I realized I’d forgotten to get gas.”
Sophie bit back her impatience. Marta was trying to help. “I filled up this morning.”
“What’s wrong?” Spandan had joined them, along with most of the other students in her Tuesday night graduate seminar. This semester she was teaching Fundamentals of the Dig to a packed classroom, and while she normally would have hung around to answer questions, she’d bolted right after class tonight. Vito was waiting for her at Peppi’s Pizza and all she’d been able to think about during class was that kiss.
“My bike won’t start and now I’m late.”
Marta looked interested. “For a date?”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “If I don’t get there soon, no.”
The door behind them opened again and John came down the wheelchair ramp. “What’s wrong?”
“Dr. J’s bike’s busted and she’s late for her date,” Bruce said.
John steered his chair around the crowd and leaned forward to peer at her engine. “Sugar.” He tapped her gas tank with one gloved finger.
“What?” Sophie leaned forward to immediately see that he was right. A dusting of sugar crystals around the gas tank sparkled in the light of the street lamps. “Dammit,” she hissed. “I swear to God that woman’s going to pay this time.”
“You know who did this?” Marta asked, wide-eyed.
That the saboteur had been Amanda Brewster was almost certain. “I have an idea.”
Bruce had his cell phone in his hand. “I’m calling campus security.”
“Not now. I will report this. Don’t worry,” she added when Spandan tried to protest. She unbungeed her backpack from the seat. “But I’m not going to wait around for them to come right now. I’m really late. It’s a good fifteen-minute walk to the restaurant.”
“I’ll drive you.” John asked. “I’ve got my van.”
“Um…” Sophie shook her head. “Thanks, but I’ll walk.”
John’s chin went up. “It’s equipped with hand controls. I’m a good driver.”
She’d offended him. “It’s not that, John,” she said hastily. “It’s just… I’m your teacher. I don’t want to appear improper.”
He angled her a look up through his ever-shaggy hair. “It’s a ride, Dr. J. Not marriage.” One side of his mouth lifted. “Besides, you’re not my type.”
She laughed. “Okay. Thanks. I’m going to Peppi’s Pizza.” She waved to the others. “See you Sunday.” She walked alongside his chair until they came to the white van he drove. He opened her door, then activated the lift for his chair. Capably, he swung his body out of the chair and behind the driver’s seat.
He saw her watching and his jaw tightened. “I’ve had lots of practice.”
“How long have you been in the chair?”
“Since I was kid.” His tone was clipped. She’d offended him again. Saying no more, he pulled the van out of the parking lot.
Unsure of what to say next, Sophie went for something she hoped was more neutral. “You missed the first part of class tonight. I hope nothing was wrong.”
“I got tied up at the library. I was so late that I almost didn’t come at all, but I needed to ask you about something. I tried to catch you after class, but you rushed out.”
“So you had an ulterior motive for offering me a ride.” She smiled. “What’s up?”
He didn’t smile back, but then John rarely smiled. “I have a paper due tomorrow for another class. It’s almost done, but I was having trouble finding primary references for one piece of it.”
“What’s the topic?”
“Comparison of modern and medieval theories on crime and punishment.”
Sophie nodded. “You must be taking Dr. Jackson’s medieval law class. So what’s the question?”
“I wanted to include a comparison of the medieval practice of branding with contemporary use of sex offender registration. But I couldn’t find any consistent information on branding.”
“Interesting topic. I can think of a few references that might help.” She dug in her backpack for her notebook and started writing. “When is your paper due?”
She grimaced. “Then you’ll need to use the online references unless the librarians work later than they used to. I know some of these are available online. The others might only be available through old-fashioned books. Oh, Peppi’s is right around the corner.” She ripped out the page and handed it to him as he pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. “Thanks, John. Good luck on your paper.”
He took the sheet with a sober nod. “See you on Sunday.”
Sophie stood still as he drove away, then held her breath as she scanned the lot for Vito’s truck. Slowly she let the breath out. He was still here.
This was it. She’d walk into that restaurant and… change her life. And suddenly she was scared to death.
Tuesday, January 16, 10:00
Daniel sat on the edge of his hotel bed, exhausted. He’d been to more than fifteen hotels since breakfast and he was no closer to finding his parents. His parents were creatures of habit, so he’d started with their favorite hotels, the expensive ones. He’d gone on to the big chains. No one had seen them, or remembered them if they had.
Wearily he toed off his shoes and fell back against the mat-tress. He was tired enough to fall asleep like this, his tie still knotted and his feet still on the floor. Maybe his parents hadn’t come to Philadelphia after all. Maybe this had been a wild goose chase. Maybe they were already dead.
He closed his eyes, trying to think past the pounding in his temples. Maybe he should call the local police and check the morgues.
Or the doctors. Perhaps they’d been to one of the oncologists on the list he’d printed from his father’s computer. But no doctor would tell him anything. Patient confidentiality, they’d say.
The ringing of his cell phone startled him out of a near doze. Susannah.
“You haven’t found them.” It was more a statement than a question.
“No, and I’ve walked all over town today. I’m beginning to wonder if this is really where they came.”
“They were there,” Susannah said, little inflection in her tone. “The call from Mom’s cell phone to Grandma’s was placed from Philadelphia.”
Daniel sat up. “How do you know that?”
“I called in a marker, had it traced. I thought you should know. Call me if you find them. Otherwise, don’t. Good-bye, Daniel.”
She was going to hang up. “Suze, wait.”
He heard her sigh. “What?”
“I was wrong. Not to leave. I had to leave. But I was wrong not to tell you why.”
“And you’re going to tell me now?” Her voice was hard and it pricked his heart.
“No. Because you’re safer if you don’t know. That was my only reason for not telling you then… and now. Especially now.”
“Daniel, it’s late. You’re talking in riddles and I don’t want to listen.”
“Suze… You trusted me once.”
“Once.” The single word rang with finality.
“Then trust me again, please, just on this. If you knew, you’d be compromised. Your career would be compromised. You’ve worked too hard to get where you are for me to drag you down for the simple purpose of unloading my guilty conscience.”
She was quiet so long he had to check to see if they were still connected. They were. Finally she murmured. “I know what your son did. Do you know, Daniel?”
“And you want me to forgive you?”
“No. I don’t expect that. I don’t know what I want. Maybe to hear you call me Danny again.”
“You were my big brother, and I needed your protection then. But I learned how to take care of myself. I don’t need your protection now, Daniel, and I don’t need you. Call me if you find them.”
She hung up and Daniel sat on the edge of a strange hotel bed, staring at his phone and wondering how he’d allowed everything to become so completely fucked up.
Tuesday, January 16, 10:15
“Honey, if you’re not going to order, you have to leave. Kitchen closes in fifteen.”
Vito checked his watch before looking up at the waitress. “How about a large with everything?” he said. “And just bring it in a box. I’ll take it with me.”
“She’s not coming, huh?” the waitress said sympathetically, taking his menu.
Sophie should have been there a half hour ago easily. “Doesn’t appear so.”
“Well, a man like you should have no trouble finding somebody better.” Clucking, she went back to the kitchen to place his order, and Vito leaned his head against the wall behind his booth and closed his eyes. Tried not to think about the fact that Sophie hadn’t come. Tried to focus on the things he could really change.
They’d identified four of the nine victims. Five more to go.
Roses. He smelled roses and felt the booth shake as someone slid into the other side. She’d come after all. But he stayed where he was, eyes closed.
“Excuse me,” she said and he opened his eyes. She was sitting across from him wearing her black leather jacket. Huge gold hoops hung from her ears and she’d pulled her hair over one shoulder. “I’m waiting for somebody, and I think you might be him.”
Vito chuckled. She’d taken them back to the moment they’d met. “That memory zapper works better than I thought. Maybe I should try it.”
She smiled at him and he felt some of his stress ease. “Hard day?” she asked.
“You could say that. But I don’t want to talk about my day. You came.”
She lifted a shoulder. “It’s hard to resist movie swag. Thank you.”
Her hands were grasping each other so tightly that her knuckles were white. Taking a breath, he reached across the table and pulled her hands apart, then held each one. “It was hard for you to give his name, but you did it anyway, to help us.”
Her hands tensed as her eyes skittered away from his. “And all those mothers, wives, husbands, and sons. I didn’t want you to talk to Alan because I was ashamed. But I was more ashamed at not telling you.”
“I meant what I said in the note. Brewster is an ass. You should forget him.”
She swallowed. “I didn’t know he was married, Vito. I was young and very stupid.”
“Everything made sense when I met him. I think you knew it would.”
“Maybe.” She looked up, resolutely, he thought. “I brought you something.” She pulled a folded sheet of paper from her pocket and handed it to him.
Vito unfolded it and laughed. She’d drawn a four-by-four matrix. Across the top she’d written French, German, Greek, and Japanese. Down the side were damn, shit, hell, and fuck. In the boxes she’d filled in what he assumed were translations. “I like this four-by-four matrix a lot better than the one I’ve been staring at for two days.”
She was grinning at him and he felt even more weight roll from his shoulders. “I promised to teach you some new swear words. I wrote the phonetic spelling, too. I wouldn’t want you pronouncing them wrong. It spoils the effect.”
“It’s great. But you’re missing ‘ass.’ I got busted by my nephew for that one tonight.”
Brows lifted, she took the paper from his hands and pulled a pen from yet another pocket, then wrote the offending word and all its translations. She handed it back and he folded the paper and slipped it in his pocket. “Thank you.” Then he took her hands in his again and was relieved to find her relaxed. “I wasn’t sure you were coming.”
“I had trouble with my bike. I had to catch a ride with one of my students.”
He frowned. “What kind of trouble with your bike?”
“It wouldn’t start. Somebody put sugar in my tank.”
“Who would do that?” His eyes narrowed when her lips pursed. “Who’s been bothering you, Sophie?”
“Oh, Brewster’s wife. She’s a nut case. Sent me a threatening… note. Kind of.”
“Sophie,” he warned.
She rolled her eyes. “She sent me a dead mouse, then called to tell me to keep my hands to myself. She must have heard Alan talking to Clint. The woman’s certifiably crazy. She thinks all the women are throwing themselves at Alan.”
“His current assistant probably is.” He sighed. “But I’m sorry she thinks you did.”
“It’s okay. Really. I’ve been tiptoeing about dealing with Alan for a long time, and this forced me to deal. It’s all good.” She scowled. “Except my bike. That pisses me off.”
It was an opening he couldn’t pass up. “I can take you home.”
His words came out deeper and more suggestive than he’d planned. Her cheeks heated and she looked down, but not before he saw her eyes darken with desire, sending a wave of lust singing through his system.
“I’d appreciate it,” she said quietly. “Oh, I almost forgot.” She tugged her hand free and pulled out another folded sheet from her pocket. “I got a little more information for you on that guy who died in Europe. Alberto Berretti.”
This sheet listed the names of Berretti’s children and their attorneys. It also listed names of the man’s household and business staff and his key debtors. It would be a very good start when he talked to Interpol the next day. “Where did you get this?”
“Etienne-you know, my old professor? He didn’t even know any more than Berretti’s name and the rumor. But my father’s old friend knows lots of rich people, and if not personally, he knows someone who does. I called him, and he got the information.”
Vito pushed back his irritation. “I thought you agreed not to call anyone else.”
“I didn’t call anyone I thought was dealing or buying.” She was irritated and didn’t bother pushing it back. “I’ve known Maurice since I was a little girl. He’s a fine man.”
“Sophie, I’m grateful. I just don’t want you hurt. If you know him, he should be fine.”
“He is,” she said stubbornly. But she didn’t pull the hand he held away and Vito saw that as a good sign. He took her free hand again and once again she relaxed.
“So… your father. Is he still alive?”
She shook her head sadly. “No, he died about two years ago.”
She’d liked her father, then. Unlike her mother. “It must have been hard on him, having you so far away in Europe for so long.”
“No, he lived in France. I was able to see him more at the end of his life than when I was growing up.” She looked at him sideways. “My father’s name was Alex Arnaud.”
Vito crunched his brows. “I know I’ve heard that name before. No, don’t tell me.”
She looked amused. “I’d be very surprised if you knew him.”
“I’ve seen his name fairly recently.” The memory clicked and he stared at her. “Your father was Alexandre Arnaud the actor?”
She blinked. “I’m impressed. Not many Americans know his name.”
“My brother-in-law is a film buff. Last time I was visiting them, he was on a French film kick and a few of them weren’t too bad. No offense.”
“None taken. So which one did you see?”
“Do I get a bonus prize for getting the movie title, too?” Again her cheeks heated, and he realized there was as much shyness as desire in her eyes. This was new for her, flirting, like this, and that was an even bigger turn-on than anything else. Almost anything, he amended. He knew what lay under the black jacket was more than enough of a turn-on on its own. “I’m glad I have a good memory,” he teased, then reluctantly released her hands when the waitress set the pizza on the table with a knowing grin.
“You still want this to go?” the waitress asked. “I can bring the box.”
“I’m starving,” Sophie confessed. “Are you closing soon?”
The waitress patted her hand and gave Vito a wink. “When you’re done, honey.”
Vito snapped his fingers. “Soft Rain,” he said. “Your father’s movie.”
Sophie stopped chewing, her eyes wide. “Wow. You’re good.”
Vito put a slice on his plate. “So what’s my bonus prize?”
Her eyes shifted, changed, nerves giving way to anticipation. He could see her pulse flutter at the hollow of her throat as she caught that full bottom lip between her teeth. “I don’t know yet.”
Vito swallowed hard, his own pulse kicking into overdrive. He barely restrained the urge to drag her away from the table and bite her lip himself. “Don’t worry. I’m sure I can think of something. Just do me a favor and eat fast, okay?”
Tuesday, January 16, 11:25
It was good. Damn good. Not as good as Warren Dies, but still better than ninety-nine point nine percent of the drivel that made it into galleries.
He looked back at the stills, then at his own painting of the moment of Gregory Sanders’s death. There was something about Sanders’s face. Even in death it looked better on film than in reality. His lips quirked. The boy probably could have been a star.
Well, if he had anything to say about it, Gregory would. For now, he had a bit of cleaning up to do. He’d hose off the body in the studio below ground. His dungeon. Gregory had been suitably impressed. Suitably terrified.
As well he should have been. “Try to steal from me,” he muttered. The young man had begged forgiveness. For mercy. There had been none.
He’d be able to get several good scenes from the Gregory footage. Thievery had been a common crime in the Middle Ages, with a variety of punishments. It hadn’t been the torture he’d planned, but it had worked, all in all.
He’d head out to bury the body at first light, then get back here to work on the game. By morning he should have some responses to the e-mail he’d sent to the tall blonde from UCanModel before meeting Gregory this afternoon. He’d devise an end fit for a stately queen to please Van Zandt. Then he’d make the knight’s damn head explode. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d accomplish it, but he’d figure it out.
Tuesday, January 16, 11:30
Sophie’s hands shook as she tried to get her key in the lock in Anna’s front door. They’d said nothing as he’d driven her home, save her clipped directions. Through it all he’d held her hand, at times so hard she nearly winced. But it was welcome pain, if there was such a thing. For the first time in a long time, Sophie felt alive. And clumsy. She cursed softly when the key bounced off the lock for the third time.
“Give me the keys,” he ordered quietly. He managed the door on the first try, bringing the dogs, barking shrilly. The look on his face would have been comical had she not been so impatient. He was staring down at Lotte and Birgit with mild horror.
“What the hell are those?”
“My grandmother’s dogs. My aunt Freya lets them out at noon, so they’re impatient by now. Come on, girls.”
“They’re… colored. Like your rainbow gloves.”
Sophie looked at the dogs with a wince. “It was an experiment. I need to let them out. I’ll be right back.” She took the dogs out through the kitchen and stood on the back porch, arms wrapped around herself, toes tapping, while they sniffed the grass and each other. “Hurry up,” she hissed at them. “Or you’re both getting dry dogfood for a month.”
The threat seemed to work, or maybe they just got cold, because they finally hurried. Sophie scooped them up and nuzzled each fuzzy head against her cheek before putting them down in the kitchen. She locked the deadbolt, then turned and sucked in a breath. Vito had materialized inches away, his eyes dark and reckless and her knees went weak. He’d shed his coat and gloves and made quick work of hers.
His gaze dropped to her breasts, still covered by layers of clothing. He lingered there for a few beats of her heart before lifting his eyes to hers and for a few more hard beats it was as if she couldn’t breathe. Her breasts were tight, her nipples almost painfully sensitive and the throbbing between her legs had her wishing he would hurry.
But he didn’t. With maddening care, he traced her lower lip with his fingertips until she shuddered. His lips curved, his smile sharp. Predatory. “I want you,” he whispered. “I’d be lying if I said anything different.”
She lifted her chin, wishing he’d touch her. Nervous that he didn’t. “Then don’t.”
His eyes flashed and for another long moment he stared, as if he waited for her to say something more. Then in a blur of motion his hands were in her hair and his mouth was on hers and she moaned because it felt so good. His kiss was reckless and hot and demanding and she wanted more of it. She wanted more of him.
She flattened her hands against his chest, feeling his rock-hard muscles through his shirt, nearly moaning again when those muscles flexed against her palms. She curled her fingers into his shirt, pulling him closer. Needing to feel that hard chest pressed against her aching breasts. She wound her arms around his neck and lifted herself the few inches she needed to align their bodies, needing to feel his hardness all over.
He didn’t disappoint, and in seconds he’d pressed her back against the door, the hard ridge in his jeans thrusting where it felt the very best. The door against her back was ice cold, but Vito burned hot against her front as she strained against him. His hands finally took her breasts, his fingers plucking and teasing until she moaned again.
His hips and hands came to an abrupt halt and he ripped his mouth from hers.
“No.” It was a whimper, but she was too turned on to care.
“Sophie. Look at me.” She opened her eyes. He was so close she could see every eyelash. “I told you what I wanted. I need you to do the same. Tell me what you want.”
He would make her say it. “You.” The single syllable emerged rusty. “I want you.”
He shuddered out a breath. “It’s been a long time for me. I can’t go slow this time.”
This time. “Then don’t.”
He nodded slowly, then dropped his hands to the hem of her sweater and yanked, pulling it over her head. Then he laughed breathlessly when it got tangled in her hair. Together they freed her, and he sobered, staring at the wispy white lace of her bra.
He swallowed hard. “God, you’re pretty.” He skimmed his fingertips down the scalloped edges and under the fullness of her breasts, narrowly, but purposely missing her nipples which now strained against the lace. But his hands were shaking.
Her heart was going to pound right out of her chest. “Touch me, Vito. Please.”
Again his eyes flashed and in another blur of movement he’d dispensed with the lace by ripping the front clasp. She had only a moment to feel the cold air against her skin before he’d covered one breast with his warm palm, the other with his even warmer mouth. She threaded her fingers through his wavy dark hair and held him close, then closed her eyes and let herself feel. And it felt so good. So necessary.
Too soon he straightened. “Sophie, look at me.”
She opened her eyes. His mouth was wet, his eyes live coals. “Where’s your bed?”
Another shudder shook her and she lifted her eyes to the ceiling. “Up.”
His grin was quick and wicked. “Up it is.” He leaned in to kiss her again and her fingers stumbled over the buttons on his shirt, his over the zipper on her slacks. They backed out of the kitchen, frantically dropping clothes as they made their way to the stairs. He stopped at the first step and pressed her into the wall. She was naked, but he still wore his boxers. His eyes took an appreciative ride from her face down her body. His chest rose and fell, as if he jerked each breath from his lungs. “You’re beautiful.”
She’d heard the words before. She so wanted to believe them now. But words were just that. Words. It was the action that counted. A little desperately she pulled his head down and kissed him hard. With a deep growl he took control of the kiss, deepening it, running his hands down her back. He kneaded her butt, pulling her against him. She felt his erection pulse against her and she gyrated her hips, rubbing closer, but she needed more. “Vito, please. Now.”
A shiver wracked his body, even though his skin burned against her hands and she knew he was as close as she was. He backed away and took her hand to lead her up the stairs but she slipped her hands beneath the elastic of his boxers and pushed them down his hips. Once again he did not disappoint and she wrapped her hand around him and squeezed, dragging a ragged groan from his lungs.
“No. Here. Now.” She leaned against him and bit at his lip, her hand in the center of his chest, pushing at the rock hard wall of muscle. She held his gaze, on solid ground. This was sex. This she knew. “Now.”
She pushed him, straddling his hips as he sank to the steps.
“Sophie, not like-”
She cut off his words by covering his mouth with hers and lowered herself, taking him into her body. He was hot and hard and huge and she closed her eyes against the sensation of being filled. “You want me.”
“Yes.” His hands gripped her hips, his fingers dug deep.
“Then take me.” She arched her back, forcing him deeper, opening her eyes to watch his slowly close, his dark stubbled jaw clench, his beautiful body go completely rigid. Then she began to move, slowly at first, then hard and fast as she felt her own climax coming.
With a cry she came and slumped forward, catching her hands on the step above him. She kissed him hard and he groaned into her mouth as his hips jerked wildly. Then his back went rigid and he thrust with staccato beats of motion as he found his own peak.
Breathing like he’d run a race, he collapsed back against his elbows and let his head fall back against the stairs. For a few seconds neither of them said anything, then Sophie rolled away to sit on the step below him, feeling relaxed and… damn good. She lightly patted his thigh, but he stiffened, drawing away. Twisting to look at him, she found him staring at her, not with sated pleasure, but raw anger.
“What,” he said harshly, “the hell was that?”
Wednesday, January 17, 12:05
Sophie’s mouth fell open. “What?”
“You heard me.” He twisted to his feet, leaving her sitting naked on the step staring up at him. He grabbed his boxers and pulled them on, then disappeared into the kitchen. When he came back he was wearing his pants and carrying her clothes. He tossed them to her but she made no move to catch them.
Her whole body was numb, but no longer with pleasure. “Why are you so mad?”
He stared down at her, fists on his hips. “You’re kidding.”
“You wanted me. You had me.“ A wave of fury made it past the numbness and she lurched to her feet. “What is your problem anyway? Wasn’t it good enough for you?” The last she added with a sneer, because hurt was moving in, pushing her anger aside.
“It was damn good. But that-” he pointed to the steps, “wasn’t what I wanted. That was…” His mouth flattened and so did his voice. “That was fucking.”
The crudity hit her hard. “And you feel so used? You got what you came here for, Vito. If the delivery wasn’t to your liking, well, at least it was free.”
He faltered. “Sophie, I didn’t come here for… I came here to…” He shrugged, uncomfortable. “To make love to you.”
The very words mocked her. “You don’t love me,” she said bitterly.
He swallowed hard and seemed to be choosing his words. “No. No, I don’t. Not now. But someday… Someday I could. Sophie, have you never made love?”
She lifted her chin, tears dangerously close. “Don’t you dare make fun of me.”
He exhaled. Then leaned over and picked up her underwear. “Put them on.”
She swallowed the lump that had taken over her throat. “No. I want you to leave.”
“And I’m not going to until we talk.” He was gentle again. “Sophie.” He shook his head and held out her underwear. “Put them on, or I’ll put them on you myself.”
She had no doubt that he would so she snatched them from his hand. She jerked them up around her hips and held out her hands, still nude except for the panties. “Satisfied?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Not even close.” He pulled the sweater over her head like she was five years old. She elbowed his hands away.
“I can do it,” she gritted. She pushed her arms through the sleeves and pulled on her pants. “I’m all dressed now. Now get the hell out of my house.”
He pulled her across the living room. “Stop fighting me.” He pushed her to the sofa.
“Stop being an asshole,” she shot back. Then she crumpled and the floodgates crashed, letting the tears come. “What the hell did you want from me?”
“Obviously not what you know how to give. Not yet anyway.”
Furiously she wiped her cheeks. “I haven’t been with a lot of men. Surprised?”
He still stood, fists back on his hips. He was still angry, but now his anger no longer seemed directed at her. Big fucking deal. Hers was still directed at him.
“No,” he murmured. “I’m not surprised.”
“But no customer has ever been dissatisfied with the sex. Until you.”
He winced at that. “I’m sorry. I wanted you and it had been a long time and… Sophie, what we just did was incredible. But it was… just sex.”
She drew a deliberate breath. “And you expected what? Moonlight? Music? To hold me afterward and murmur promises you don’t intend to keep? No, thank you.”
His eyes flashed. “I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep.”
“How gallant of you.” Then she dropped her head against the sofa, suddenly so weary. “You said you wanted it fast, so I did it fast. I’m sorry if you were disappointed.”
He sat beside her and she flinched when his thumb caressed her cheek. “I said I couldn’t go slow.” He slid his fingers through the hair at her nape and tugged her to face him. The smooth timbre of his voice had her heart pounding again, but she refused to open her eyes. “That’s different from racing to the end because that’s all there is.” He kissed her eyelids, then both corners of her mouth. “There were so many things I wanted to do with you. For you.” His mouth covered hers, sweet. Patient. “To you.” She shuddered and felt him smile against her lips. “Don’t you want to know what all those things are?” he teased and every nerve ending buzzed.
“Maybe,” she whispered and he chuckled, rich and deep.
“Sophie, any two people can just have sex. I like you. A lot. I wanted more.”
She swallowed hard. “Maybe I can’t give you any more.”
“I think you can,” he whispered. “Sophie, look at me.” She forced herself to look up, dreading what she’d see. Sarcasm and scorn she could take. This she knew. Pity would be harder to swallow. But her breath caught in her throat because what she saw in his eyes was desire, tempered with tenderness and even a little self-deprecating humor. “Let me teach you the difference between fucking like minks and making love.”
Deep down she’d known there had to be something more, that she’d never really shared what people in real relationships had. Deep down she’d always known she’d only… she winced. Fucked like a mink. Somehow it had always been simpler to keep it to that. But deep down, she’d always wanted to know the difference.
He nibbled at her lower lip. “Come on, Sophie, you’ll like it better.”
Sophie eyed the stairs. “Better than that?”
He smiled, sensing victory. “I guarantee it.” He stood and held out his hand.
She eyed his hand. “What if I’m not completely satisfied?”
“I don’t make promises I don’t intend to keep.” He pulled her to her feet. “If you’re not satisfied, then I guess I’ll have to keep working until you are.” He cupped her jaw, his lips grazing hers. “Come to bed with me, Sophie. I have places to take you.”
The breath she drew was unsteady. “Okay.”
Wednesday, January 17, 5:00
Vito crept from Sophie’s bed, where she slept curled up like a kitten. A very beautiful, teachable kitten. He moved his shoulders. With claws. Which she’d dug into his back that last time, when he’d taken her so high… The memory made him shudder. He’d like nothing better than to feel those sharp claws once more. But he had to get home and change and get on with his day.
Another day of identifying bodies. Of notifying grieving families. Of trying to stop a killer, before there were any more bodies or grieving families. Vito pulled on his clothes, then pressed a kiss against Sophie’s temple. At least he’d satisfied one customer.
He looked around for something to write on. He didn’t want to leave without saying good-bye. He got the impression she’d gotten enough of that over the years, from men who’d taken what they’d wanted and gone on, leaving her to believe that’s all there was.
She had no paper on her nightstand, unless he counted the candy wrappers, which he did not. But a framed picture caught his eye. He carried it to the window and held it to the light from the streetlamps. It was a young woman with long dark hair and big eyes, taken sometime in the fifties. She sat sideways, looking over the back of a chair, in front of what looked like a dressing room mirror. Vito thought about Sophie’s father, a French film star with whom she hadn’t spent much time until the end of his life. He wondered if this was her mother, but doubted she’d keep her picture next to her bed.
“My gran.” He looked over to see her sitting up in bed, knees pulled to her chest.
“She was an actress, too?”
“Of a fashion.” She lifted a brow. “Double bonus prize if you know who she is.”
“I liked the bonus prize from before. Are you going to give me a hint?”
“Nope. But I will make you breakfast.” She grinned. “I figure it’s the least I can do.”
He grinned back, then picked up another photo, turning on a lamp. It was the same woman, with a man he did recognize. “Your grandmother knew Luis Albarossa?”
Sophie poked her head out of a sweatshirt, her face stunned. “What is it with you? You know French actors and Italian tenors, too?”
“My grandfather was an opera fan.” He hesitated. “So am I.”
She’d bent at the waist to pull on a pair of sweats and paused, her hair a curtain over her face. She parted it with one hand and glared out. “What’s wrong with opera?”
“Nothing. It’s just that some people don’t think it’s very…”
“Manly? That’s just macho bullshit inherent in a patriarchal society.” She yanked at the sweats and pushed her hair from her face. “Opera or Guns-N-Roses, neither makes you less of a man. Besides, I’m the last person you need to prove your manhood to.”
“Tell that to my brothers and my dad.”
She looked amused. “What, that you give great sex?”
Startled, he laughed. “No, that opera is manly.”
“Ohhh. It’s always good to be clear. So gramps was an opera aficionado?”
“Every time it came to town he’d get tickets, but nobody would go to the concerts except me. We heard Albarossa do Don Giovanni when I was ten. Unforgettable.” He narrowed his eyes. “Give me a hint. What was your grandmother’s last name?”
“Johannsen,” she said with a smirk. “Lotte, Birgit! Time to go out.” The dogs scrambled from one of the bedrooms, yapping. She headed down the stairs and he followed.
“Just a hint, Sophie.”
She just smirked again and went out the back door with the two ridiculously colored dogs. “You know too much already. You should have to work for a double bonus.”
Chuckling, Vito wandered into the living room and investigated there. A double bonus prize was nothing to sneeze at. Plus, he admitted to himself, he was nosy. Sophie Johannsen was a damn interesting woman on her own, but it appeared her family tree had some unique knots and forks.
He found what he was looking for and carried it to the kitchen. She was back from outside and pulling pots and pans from the cupboard.
“You cook?” he said, surprised again.
“Of course. Woman cannot live by beef jerky and Ho Hos alone. I’m a good cook.” She looked at the framed program he held and sighed dramatically. “So who is she?”
Vito leaned against the refrigerator, both smug in the knowledge that the double bonus was now his and awed. “Your grandmother is Anna Shubert. My God, Sophie, my grandfather and I heard her sing Orfeo at the Academy downtown. Her Che faro…” He sobered, remembering the tears on his grandfather’s face. In his own eyes. “After her aria there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. She was remarkable.”
Sophie’s lips curved sadly. “Yeah, she was. Orfeo here in Philly was her last performance. I’ll tell her you knew who she was. It’ll make her day.” She nudged him out of the way, taking eggs and a carton of cream from the fridge and setting them on the counter. Then her shoulders sagged. “It’s so hard to watch her die, Vito.”
“I’m sorry. My dad’s got heart disease. We’re grateful for every day he’s with us.”
“Then you understand.” She blew a sigh up her forehead. “If you want, there are a few photo albums in the living room. If you like opera, it’ll be a treat.”
Eagerly he brought them to the table. “These albums have to be worth a mint.”
“To Gran, yeah. And to me.” She set a cup of coffee next to his elbow. “That’s the Paris Opera House. The man standing next to Gran is Maurice. He’s the one who gave me the information about the dead collector,” she added before going back to the stove.
Vito frowned. “I thought you said Maurice was your father’s friend.”
She winced. “He was Alex’s friend, too. It’s kind of complicated. Sordid, really.”
She called her father by his first name. Interesting. “Sophie, stop teasing me.”
She chuckled. “Maurice and Alex went to university together. Both were wealthy playboys. Anna was in her forties and at the peak of her career, touring Europe. She’d been a widow a long time by then. I guess she was lonely. Alex had had a few small movie roles. Maurice worked for the opera house in Paris which is where he met Anna. The opera threw a party and Maurice invited my father, introduced them, and”-she lifted a shoulder-“I’m told the infatuation was instantaneous.”
Vito grimaced. “Your grandmother and your father? That’s… ew.”
She whipped the eggs with a wire whisk. “Technically she wasn’t my grandmother and he wasn’t my father. Not yet anyway. I wasn’t in the picture yet.”
“I told you it was sordid. Well, they had a grand affair.” She frowned into the pan as she poured the eggs in. “Then she found out he was married. She tossed him aside.”
Vito was beginning to see a pattern here. “I see.”
She shot him a wry look. “Alex didn’t. Anna was born in Hamburg, but she was raised in Pittsburgh. I’m told he was quite devastated when Anna left.”
“Who told you all this?”
“Maurice. He’s quite the gossip. That’s why I knew he’d be able to get all the good stuff on Alberto Berretti.”
“So how did you… come into the picture?”
“Ah. It gets even more sordid. Anna has two daughters. Freya the Good and Lena.”
Sophie just shrugged. “Suffice it to say Lena and Anna didn’t get along. Freya was older and already married to my uncle Harry. Lena was seventeen, headstrong and rebellious. She wanted a singing career of her own. She got mad when Anna wouldn’t give her entrée. They had quite a falling-out. Then Anna broke up with my father.”
She dished eggs onto two plates and put them on the table. “Like I said, Alex was devastated and he spent a lot of time drunk. Not an excuse, but… One night he got approached in a bar by a young woman who seduced him. Lena.”
“Lena seduced him just to get back at her mother? She really was Lena the Bad.”
“It gets worse. Lena and Anna had it out. Lena ran away, and Anna came home to Pittsburgh to lick her wounds. I think Anna really loved Alex and expected to marry him.” She toyed with the food on her plate. “Nine months later, Lena came home with a bundle of joy.” She twirled her fork. “Voilà. And that’s how I came into the picture.”
“A child of an illicit affair conducted because of another illicit affair,” Vito said quietly. “Then you met Brewster and unwittingly did what your mother and Anna had done.”
“I’m not that hard to figure out. But I am a good cook. Your food’s getting cold.”
She’d closed the door on her life again, but each time it stayed open a little longer. He still didn’t know what happened to her mother or how Katherine Bauer had come to be the ‘mother she’d never known’ or the significance of the body bag, but Vito could be patient. He pushed his clean plate aside. “What will you do about your bike?”
“I’ll get it towed. Can you give me the name of your mechanic?”
“Sure, but you should report it to the police, along with the dead mouse. Brewster’s wife can’t just get away with terrorizing you like that.”
She made a scoffing noise. “You can bet your double bonus I’ll report it. That woman bullied me once, but I’m done with her.”
“Good girl. How will you get to work this morning?”
“I can use Gran’s car until my bike is fixed.” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s an okay car, it just smells like Lotte and Birgit.”
At their names, the dogs came running, wagging their rainbow butts as they begged for handouts. Vito laughed softly. “Lotte Lehman and Birgit Nilsson. Opera legends.”
“Gran’s idols. Naming these girls after them was the biggest honor she could think of. These dogs are like Gran’s children. She spoils them rotten.”
“Did she color them?”
Sophie put their plates in the sink. “No, that was my mistake. I brought Gran home from rehab after her stroke-before she got pneumonia and had to go to the nursing home. She’d sit at the window and watch the dogs play outside, but her eyes were bad. Then it snowed and they were white and she couldn’t see them at all.” She trailed off. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. It was just food coloring. It’s actually faded a lot.”
Vito laughed. “Sophie, you’re incredible.” He walked to the sink, pushed her hair aside and ran his lips down the back of her neck. “I’ll see you tonight.”
She shivered. “I’m going to sit with Gran tonight. It’s Freya’s bingo night.”
“Then I’ll go with you. How often can I meet a legend?”
Wednesday, January 17, 6:00
Something was different. Wrong. He drove the highway to his field, Gregory Sanders’s body in a plastic bag under the tarp in the bed of his truck. Normally he never passed another car on this road. But he’d passed two cars already. Sheer instinct had him driving past the access road without slowing down, and what he saw as he passed stopped his heart. There should have been untouched snow where the access road met the highway, but instead he saw the crisscross of tire ruts, indicating repeated access by multiple vehicles.
Bile rose in his throat, choking him. They’d found his graveyard.
Somehow, someone had found his graveyard. But how? And who? The police?
He made himself breathe. Most certainly the police.
They’ll find me. They’ll catch me. He made himself breathe again. Relax. How can they catch you? There’s no way they can identify any of those bodies.
And even if they did, there was no way to link any of the bodies to him. His heart was pounding hard and he wiped a shaky hand across his mouth. He needed to get out of here. He had Gregory Sanders’s body in a plastic bag in his truck. If for any reason he was stopped… Even he couldn’t explain a dead body away.
So breathe. Just breathe. Think. You have to be smart about this.
He’d been so very careful. He’d worn gloves, ensured none of his own body came in contact with the victims. Not even a hair. So even if they identified every damn one of the victims, they couldn’t link them to him. He was safe.
So he breathed. And thought. His first step was to get rid of Gregory. Next, he had to find out what the cops knew and how they’d found out. If they were close, he’d bolt.
He knew how to disappear. He’d done it before.
He drove for five miles. No one followed him. He pulled off the road, behind some trees. And waited, holding his breath. No police cars drove by. No cars of any kind.
He got out of the truck, for the first time grateful for the chill of a Philadephia morning on his heated skin. The land beyond the edge of the road sloped sharply down into a gulley. This was as good a place as any to dump Sanders.
Quickly he lowered the tailgate, pulled away the tarp and grabbed the plastic bag in his gloved hands. He heaved the bag into the snow, shoving with his foot until it started to slide. The bag hit a tree, then rolled the rest of the way down. There was a visible path in the snow marking its descent, but if he was lucky it would snow again tonight and the cops wouldn’t find Gregory Sanders before the spring thaw.
He’d be long gone by then. He got back behind the wheel and turned in the direction he’d come, wondering if he’d done the right thing.
Then he knew that he had. Two police cruisers sat at the entrance to his access road where none had been before, one pointed in, one out. Shift change, he thought. He’d slipped through their shift change by the skin of his teeth. An officer got out of one of the cruisers as he approached.
His first inclination was to hit the accelerator and take the cop out, but that would be foolish. Satisfying, but ultimately foolish. He slowed to a stop. Made himself frown in polite puzzlement as he rolled his window down.
“Where are you headed, sir?” the officer asked with no smile.
“To work. I live down this road.” He squinted, pretending to try to see past the cruiser. “What’s going on over there? I seen cars comin’ and goin’.”
“This is a restricted area, sir. If you can take another route, then do.”
“Ain’t no other route,” he said. “But I reckon I can keep my eyes to myself.”
The officer took his notepad from his pocket. “Can I get your name, sir?”
This was where long-term planning paid off, and he settled into his seat, confident now. “Jason Kinney.” It would be the name registered to his license plate, because he’d filed the change in title with the DMV himself a year ago. Jason Kinney was just one of the driver’s licenses he had in his wallet. It always paid to be thorough.
The officer made a big show of walking to the rear of the truck and writing down the license plate. He checked under the tarp before coming back and touching the tip of his hat. “Now that we know you’re a resident of the area, we won’t need to stop you again.”
He nodded. Like he’d ever come this way again. Not. “I appreciate it, Officer. Have a nice day.”
Wednesday, January 17, 8:05
Jen McFain frowned. “We seem to have a problem, Vito.”
Vito slid into his seat at the head of the table, still a little breathless from his mad morning dash. After leaving Sophie’s he’d raced home, showered, and apologized profusely to Tess about staying out all night without calling. Then he’d headed in to work, only to be accosted at the precinct door by a horde of reporters with flashing cameras.
“I’ve had all kinds of problems this morning, Jen. What seems to be yours?”
“No crullers. What kind of meeting are you trying to run anyway?’
“Yeah, Vito,” Liz said. “What kind of meeting starts out without crullers?”
“You never brought food,” Vito said to Liz and she grinned.
“Yeah, but you did, on the first day. First rule of team leadership-never set a precedent you don’t intend to keep.”
Vito looked around the table. “Anybody else have nuisance demands?”
Liz looked amused, Katherine impatient. Bev and Tim looked tired. Jen just scowled at him. “Cheapskate,” she muttered, and Vito rolled his eyes.
“We now have one more victim ID confirmed. Bill Melville is victim three-one. I’ve noted him on the chart. We also have a name. E. Munch. Nick came back from Melville’s apartment last night and ran it through the system, but came up with nothing.”
“It’s not like he’d use his real name anyway,” Jen said. “But I’ll bet you dollars to donuts”-she glared at him meaningfully-“that the name means something.”
“You could be right. Any ideas, besides the obvious Munch connection to food?”
Jen’s lips twitched. “Very funny, Chick. I’ll give it some thought.”
“Thank you.” He turned to Katherine. “What’s new on your end?”
“We autopsied the old couple from the second row last night. We didn’t find anything new that would help you ID them. But Tino did some sketches. My assistant said he didn’t leave the morgue until after midnight.”
Vito felt a sharp spear of gratitude for his brother who’d jumped in with both feet to help. When this was all over he’d find a way to thank him. “Yes, and we’ll compare his sketches to missing-persons files.” From his folder Vito pulled copies of the sketches he’d found on his desk that morning. He passed them to Liz. “This is what Tino came up with. He made a few of the woman with different hairstyles. It’s hard to picture what she might have looked like without seeing some hair.”
“Me next,” Jen said. “We got two new pieces of news last night. First, an ID on the tire tread print we took from the scene that first day. Our boy drives a Ford F150, just like yours, Vito.”
“Terrific,” Vito muttered. “So nice to have something in common with a psycho killer. Let’s get the description out there. It’s a long shot, but at least we can be keeping our eyes open. Did you get any footprints with that tire tread?”
“None that were usable. Sorry. Now the second thing is the grenade we took out of the gut of the last victim on the first row. It’s a vintage MK2 pineapple grenade, made sometime before 1945. Tracing it would be nearly impossible, but it’s one more piece of the puzzle. This guy uses the real thing.”
“And speaking of the real thing.” Vito told them about Sophie’s inquiries the day before. “So we have one possible source for his medieval weapons. I was going to call Interpol before I checked out Claire Reynolds’s doctor and the library where she worked. And I still need to locate Bill Melville’s parents. They don’t know he’s dead.”
“Give me Interpol,” Liz said. “You take the doctor and the parents.”
“Thanks.” Vito looked over at Bev and Tim. “You guys are quiet.”
“We’re tired,” Tim said. “We were up most of the night going through records with the owners of UCanModel. Then the attorneys got involved.”
“Shit,” Vito murmured.