Prologue

 

Twelve miles from Ar Rutbah, Iraq

Sunday, March 14

 

The bandages reeked.  The tang of infection touched Mitch Sheridan's nostrils even from several feet away.  The old man-inured to the stench of his ancient wound-crouched still as a heron, robes pooling around his ankles and rocket-propelled grenade propped against his good shoulder.  Behind him, the sky glared so bright it crinkled the eyes, the sun pulling ripples of heat from the sand.  Row upon row of tents sagged in the distance, like soldiers too weary to stand.

K-chhr-k-chhr.  The shutter on Mitch's Leica whirred.  The old man made a good shot:  gut-wrenching and austere at the same time.  K-chhr.  Mitch cranked the focus ring clockwise, zooming in, letting the sky and tents go fuzzy in the background.  Not too small; keep the stump of the shoulder in the frame, the bandages filthy and yellowed and oozing.  Don't ask the man's name or wonder how it happened.  Don't think about the pain.  Just get the pictures, tell the story.  K-chhr.  K-chhr. 

Mitch rose and the man gave a nod, then squinted back across the horizon, sentry to the northwestern portion of the camp.  Life as a Kurdish refugee. 

"Hey.  Mister!" 

Mitch turned.  The kid.  He was a hundred yards away, waving a spindly arm, kicking up tufts of sand as he ran.  Three days ago, Mitch had found him digging through a mountain of garbage with a mongrel dog, both of them rooting for treasures.  Mitch shot the two of them for ten minutes, got maybe thirty pictures before the child had dared to approach him.

The boy called out again and Mitch dropped his Leica inside his loose linen shirt, letting it hang from the strap around his neck.  He started toward the kid, but stopped when the old man rose from his crouch.

"Firoke," the man whispered, almost to himself. 

His eyes locked on the horizon and Mitch followed with his gaze.  Nothing, but the hairs on Mitch's arms stood up.  And a heartbeat later:  Thwp-thwp-thwp-thwp.

Firoke.  Helicopter, in Sorani.

Ah, no.  The old man began to run, shouting as he headed for camp.   Mitch looked up.  It was coming in fast.  Thwp-thwp-thwp-thwp...

"Hey!" 

Jesus, the kid.  He was eighty yards away. 

"Get down," Mitch yelled, though the sound of the chopper drowned him out.  The boy stopped and gaped into the sky.  "Get down!" Mitch called again.

The chopper swooped in, a giant bee, whipping sand into windstorms.  In the distance, the camp scattered, the old man still fifty yards out, but men grabbing weapons and women clinging to each other or screeching for their children, seeking cover.  The helicopter stopped in mid-air, hovering, the doors opening like gaping jaws.  Terror poured out.  Bombs.  Explosions. Gunfire.

The boy froze, gawking at the sky.  The camp behind him had erupted, a cacophony of screams and gunfire and the unrelenting hacking of the chopper blades overhead.  Mortars exploded and tents collapsed; voices rose into the air only to be churned by the rotors into a raging cloud of panic.  Thwp-thwp-thwp.

"Here!" Mitch shouted, but the boy didn't move.  Mitch covered his head and ran toward him, geysers of sand exploding all around him.  Something hit him and his legs buckled; he screamed at the child from the ground.  He struggled to get up, smoke filling his nostrils and distant cries in his ears; his leg was sticky and hot, and when he moved, it was like dragging his limbs through quicksand.  He kept his eyes on the boy, shouting, but the kid was a statue-the eye of the hurricane whirling all around him. 

Hurry.  Get to the boy, find cover.  Mitch dragged closer.  Sixty yards away, fifty.  "Come here!"

The boy snapped out of his daze.  He saw Mitch, and for a fraction of a second, relief opened Mitch's lungs.  The kid started toward him, running, his little arms covering his head.  Mitch staggered toward him-forty yards away, thirty.  Get there.  Help him.

The ground exploded.  Sand shot into the air and reflex closed Mitch's eyes.  When he opened them again, the sky rained down shrapnel and debris and maybe blood, and the boy was nowhere and Mitch squinted and shouted and ran, stumbling, disbelieving. 

He almost tripped on him.  A child in a heap.  Mangled.  One arm gone. 

Mitch heard his own voice rise into the air.  He dropped and covered the open shoulder with his hands, blood and ripped tissue squeezing between his fingers.  Hard, press hard.  Stop the bleeding.  The child's eyes mooned up at him, his lips moving with no sound.  Press hard.  Stop the bleeding.  You can do it.

Then sky flashed.  For one fraction of time, the world froze in an instant of blinding white light. 

Then it went black for a long, long time. 

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

Camden Park, Lancaster, MD

Sunday, September 22

 

Whoops and giggles, canned music, the screech of balloons being bullied into bubble-necked poodles.  The air smelled of soft pretzels and Belgian waffles, the sidewalks teeming with fathers talking into Bluetooth earpieces and mothers juggling sippy-cups and strollers stuffed with toddlers who had dozed off by late afternoon.  Slightly older siblings orbited their parents like forgotten moons in the sinking evening-lagging behind, straying from the paths, lured from reach by the remnants of popped poodles on the ground or the call of a snow cone vendor. 

Bait, if you were a child molester or kidnapper.  Easy pickings.

The killer was neither.  No need to risk grabbing a child from a weekend carnival, as simple as that would be.  Not when women sold newborns outright on the black market.  A baby broker could stake out any abortion clinic, talk to any pimp.  Women with unwanted pregnancies were a dime a dozen. 

One such woman now lurked behind a magician's kiosk with a camera, secretly shooting pictures of the Kinney family-Robert, Alana, and their four-year-old son, Austin.  A floppy hat hung over her brow and she'd let her hair grow out in the years she'd been gone, but there was no doubt who she was or why she'd been stalking the Kinneys.  Four years after the fact, her conscience had apparently kicked in. 

Fury knotted in the killer's throat.  She was a worthless, no good slut, just like the others.  But she'd slipped through the cracks-cozied up to some cop with a Mother Theresa-complex.  The cop steered her to a women's shelter and by the time the killer realized she wasn't hooking anymore, she'd skipped town, quit the life.  Left a gaping hole in the killer's work.

Tonight, that hole would be filled.  And after that, it was only a few more days until everything would be ready.  One week from tonight, amidst the glitz and glamour of Maryland's elite upper crust, the killer's new life would begin.  The life that always should have been.

First things first:  the woman.  She followed the Kinneys through the park exit and ducked into the woods along the far edge of cars.  The killer tagged a good distance behind, though there was little chance of recognition:  baseball cap, sunglasses, boots.  Loose nylon jacket with deep, square pockets.  Anonymous.

The Kinneys dragged through the parking lot, Austin straddling his father's neck with his face stuck in a blue cloud of cotton candy.  His mother aimed a key fob at a row of cars, and a silver Jaguar gave a toot.

The woman's camera came out again.

Damn her, she was getting the license plate, and the killer knew the time had come.  If anyone found the pictures of Austin Kinney, if the woman had spoken to anyone about him, the entire brokerage would go under.  The Foundation that housed it would crumble. 

This weekend's debut would be lost. 

Be calm, now, stay sane.  By her own design, the woman with the camera was making things easy.  She stayed behind the shrubs, out of sight.  By her own design, easy pickings.

Now. 

A pair of gloves came from the jacket's pocket first, then an set of shears.  The blades were old and stained with a touch of rust, but sharp enough to do the job.  They'd done it a half dozen times before and had one more to go after this. 

The killer came in fast, from behind, the long blades heading for the woman's throat like a missile.  She must have heard it coming; she whirled and opened her mouth to scream, but the shears caught her in the larynx and the sound came out Unkh.  She dropped and the killer was right there, jabbing deep into cartilage and tissue-in and out, in and out-over and over again, into the throat.  BitchWorthless, no good slut...

It was over in seconds.  The killer backed off, fighting for breath, and glanced around.  No one, not back here in the woods.  The woman lay on the ground, her legs angled like the letter Z, her hat askew and hair falling over her face.  Geysers of blood from her throat fizzled to tiny gurgles. 

That's it.  Settle down.  She's finished.  Just one more to go.  And she was already holed up in Virginia awaiting her turn with the scissors. 

The killer stepped back.  Now, keep your head, take care of business.  Boots, phone call, camera.  For god's sake, don't forget the camera.  The killer slipped it into a pocket, purposely stepped in some of the woman's blood, then used a gloved finger to punch a number into the dead woman's cell phone.  You've reached the office of Russell Sanders...  An answering service:  fine.  There was no need to talk to Sanders, only to let the whore's phone records confirm their acquaintance so his suicide would make sense.

Now, just one more thing.  The killer bent and grabbed a handful of the hair draping the woman's cheek, lifted it, sawed it off with the shears.  The locks dangled in a haphazard ponytail, curling and twisting around the glove as if alive. 

Finally, after all these years, the first woman was dead. 

 

#

Zürich, Switzerland

Monday, September 23

 

A beep sounded and Mitch cringed, pulled a pillow over his head.  If he ignored it, maybe it would stop.  He pressed an arm tighter over the pillow but three seconds later, the cosmic little beep came again.  The satellite phone.

He rolled to the edge of the bed and sat up, his head in a haze.  Only one person would be calling him on the sat phone:  Russell Sanders.  And he wasn't going to stop calling until Mitch answered. 

He dug the phone from its case.  Grunted.

"Mitch, it's Russ.  Are you there?  Can you hear me?"

Mitch laid his head against the phone.  It was the size of a brick, like the walkie-talkies he and his brother Neil used to play with, except that what used to be static halfway down the block now allowed conversation halfway around the world.  "I can hear you." 

"Good.  Christ, I was afraid you wouldn't answer."

"No, Russ.  You can't have the Ar Rutbah photos so stop asking.  The exhibition is full enough without those pict-"

"I'm not calling about the exhibition.  Not this time."

 "I called because-"  Russ paused, maybe still catching his breath.  The silence made the hairs on Mitch's arms stand up.  Something going on.  "I'm in trouble, Mitch.  It's about the Foundation.  Come home."

"I'll be there in time for the opening Saturday."

"No, now.  We need to talk."

"About what?"

"There was this woman-"  A scrape, then, "No."

 "Russ?"  Another strange sound.  Grunts, shuffling.  Maybe a piece of furniture dragging across the floor.  "Russ, what's going on?"  Mitch stood, wide awake now, his leg screaming at him.  He heard Russ's voice, muffled, and gripped the phone tighter.  "Russ." 

More scrapes and scruffs.  Panic trickled in.  Mitch strained to interpret sounds from the other damn side of the planet.  Dread congealed in his veins, then, as suddenly as the commotion had started, silence streamed in.  No more voice, no more scuffle. 

"Russ."  But all he could hear was the thundering in his chest.  The connection went dead.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Tuesday, September 24

Lancaster, MD

 

Danielle Cole honked her way through traffic to a murder scene in Camden Park.  Murder scene.  It pissed her off just thinking about it.  She wasn't some pussyfoot homicide detective; she'd told Tifton a dozen times she didn't want to do that kind of work.  She didn't want to spend her days at a computer or in a courtroom or morgue, or on the phone or in a cramped interview room.  She didn't want to become the kind of cop who had to be reminded to pull her gun from her desk drawer before leaving the building. 

Dani liked the streets.  Vice-that's where the action was.  It was where her dad had spent his career and where she spent hers.  She didn't have the sort of bust record her dad had prided himself on, still:  no freaking desk job for the daughter of Artie Cole.

The squad sergeant didn't give a damn about Dani's likes and dislikes.  "Tifton caught a murder this morning at Camden Park," he'd said into the phone thirty minutes ago, dragging her from a short night of dreams.  "He wants you on it."

"Tell Tifton to call Scarpio."  She sat up, scrubbing the sleep from her eyes, and blinked the clock into focus.  Seven-oh-eight.  Tuesday. 

Ah, shit, Tuesday.  She popped out of bed, wide awake in an instant.  Damn it.  Today was the deadline. 

A stone dropped on her chest.  No way could she get tied up with a murder investigation today.  She had an appointment.  And it wasn't the kind of appointment you could change.

"Hold on, Sarge," she said, thinking fast.  The appointment was at eleven.  She staggered to the kitchen pulled a chopped spinach box from the freezer, struggling to open it one-handed.  Pretty damned cliché, she'd thought when she threw the spinach away and re-glued the box to use as a hiding place.  But she hadn't been able to think of anything better. 

She got it open and saw the wad of cash tucked safe inside.  The stone eased up on her chest a little. 

Back to the Sergeant.  "Look, I've gotta hit the club on East Fulton Street today.  I got a tip the owner's putting out underage dancers."

"I'll send Simmons to the club.  You go meet Tifton.  You're his until further notice."

"Aw, jeez..."

"Nails," he'd said, using her departmental nickname.  "Is that a whine in your voice?"

Her jaw snapped shut.  Dani Cole didn't whine.  She also couldn't buck the shift sergeant.

Which is why, thirty minutes later, she knocked back her last swig of coffee and rolled onto a murder scene at Camden Park.  God willing, she could bail in time to make the meeting at eleven.

A uniform waved her through the park gate and into a television-perfect crime scene:  yellow ribbon strung around the perimeter of a parking lot and disappearing in the woods, half a dozen black-and-whites parked at various angles, a couple more gray Chevrolets belonging to investigators.  An ambulance sat square to the curb, the back open and two EMTs sitting on the bumper talking football-no one to save.  The media were roped off at a respectable distance, as if distance mattered with the kinds of magnifying lenses they used these days, and a handful of detectives in coats and ties stood in the parking lot.  

Reginald Tifton was one.  He spoke with two of the uniforms, pointing in an arc behind them.  Dani walked up as the officers turned and jogged off in the direction Tifton had pointed. 

"About time, Nails," he said dropping from the curb and meeting her in an empty parking slot.  "Your beauty routine hold you up this morning?"

Dani scowled.  There wasn't an Avon lady in the world who would call her efforts a beauty routine:  three swipes of mascara per eye and a smear of tinted chapstick.  Her hair had major control issues, so she kept it shoulder-length, pulled back as often as not, and let it have its way. 

"You oughta try it sometime," she shot, pointing at his clean-shaven head.  "Learn the wonders of hair products."

Tifton tried for a smile, but didn't quite get there.  He was a big man pushing forty, black, going for wife Number Three, and had a bowling-ball head perched on a neck like a log.
He spoke like a Yale graduate, except when he decided to turn on the street charm and make a suspect believe he was from the hood.  He was actually from the old-money area of Cheshire Lake, a well-to-do suburb much like most of Lancaster.  Secretly, Dani suspected he had gone to Yale. 

His eyes homed in on hers.  "I haven't seen you since your dad's funeral.  You hanging in there?"

Dani shot him a glare. 

He showed his palms and jerked his chin toward the bushes.  "Clean-up crew from the carnival found a dead woman in her twenties.  Shot sometime during the clown-fest this weekend." 

Dani started toward the site.  "And where's your partner?  You drive him to early retirement already?"

"Thought you might know something on this one the rest of us don't."

She frowned.  "Why?"

"The vic was one of your snitches."

Dani stopped, the news hitting like ice water.  Her collection of snitches was comprised of a few low-level drug dealers, a bookie, a couple of hookers, a guy who sold tickets at the dollar-theater on Barker Street.  And Jed, a bum who'd lived under a bridge in Reading.  That was the extent of the list, and she couldn't make any of them work at a Camden Park carnival. 

She beat a path toward the bushes, Tifton trailing after her.  "Dani, hold on.  It's ugly back there.  It's-"

The smell hit her and Dani hesitated, slowing as she approached the body.  She couldn't see the face, but it was a woman with long dark hair, her legs crooked as if she had simply crumpled, like an accordion losing air, or as if she had folded them toward her body while dying.  Dani stepped around to look at the face. 

Her heart stopped.  "Ah, no," she said, emotion clogging her throat.  She turned her back.  "No, no, no."

Tifton said, "It's her, right?  Rosie?"

Dani couldn't breathe.  She braced her hands on her knees and tried to get her lungs to function, her stomach churning her morning coffee.  "Rose McNamara."

"Okay," Tifton said, then called to another investigator over Dani's back:  "I was right, Wilson, it's Rose McNamara.  She was a hooker for Ty Craig out of Reading."

"No," Dani said.  "She hasn't hooked for a couple years.  Or snitched."

Tifton blinked, then ran a hand over her scalp.  "Ah, jeez, Nails.  Was she another one of your charity cases?"

"Shh," Dani said, and lowered her voice.  "She was going through some emotional crap, that's all.  I got her to go away for a while.  She called me about three months ago to tell me she was back."  Dani closed her eyes, then looked at Tifton.  "She wasn't back with Craig.  She had a job at the Big Lots on Grimby Street.  She was going to counseling, paying rent on her own apartment."  Making it.

The grief came in a flood.  Tough it out.  Don't be a baby.  Dani swallowed the lump in her throat and walked back to the body, summoning the cool detachment the job required.  The victim's eyes were frozen in a moment of shock and pain, her throat a mishmash of blood and torn tissue.  The bugs had gotten to her:  maggots speckled the ragged flesh like grains of rice, flies battling the medical examiner for access.  A cell phone sat in her right hand.  Her fingers were lax; rigor mortis come and gone.  She was fully clothed, and her hair-Dani crouched closer to get a better look-appeared to have been hacked.

"Bad hair day," the ME said, noticing Dani's regard.  "Someone took a chunk."    

"Here?  You mean post mortem?"

"Post mortem, I can't say.  Here?  I can say.  There's a few cut-off strands, and blood in the hair.  Maybe used the same object he used to turn her throat into hamburger."

"Object."

He shrugged.  "Thick blade of some sort.  That's all I've got for you so far."

Dani swallowed.  She moved slowly around the body, trying to feel the killer, then sank in a crouch next to Rosie's face.

Tifton bent down beside her.  "So, what's the theory?  You're the shrink."

"I'm not a shrink."

"You've got that degree in psychology.  It makes you more of a shrink than the rest of us."

"It's not anonymous, that's all," she said.  "It's personal.  Or maybe sexual.  You don't get this kind of overkill for nothing."

"You're saying she knew him, or at least he knew her.  That might explain why she came back here in the woods, anyway."

"Got some footprints here," the ME said.  "Boots, probably."

Tifton walked over and looked.  "Boo-yah," he said.  Prints were good.

The dance got under way, the steps rehearsed a couple of dozen times a year in bedroom communities like Lancaster, three or four hundred times a year in bigger cities like Baltimore or D.C. or Philadelphia.  Techies, uniforms, and detectives-all wearing booties and gloves-went about their jobs:  studying the body, canvassing for witnesses, searching the woods and parking lot with rubber gloves and plastic bags, collecting items that would ultimately prove there had been a carnival.  Dani hung with Tifton, keeping on eye on her watch and trying not to think about the fact that Rosie was dead.  Finally, those all-important words came from the ME:  "We're ready to flip her," he called out.

Dani worked her way over and stood next to Tifton.  The ME and one of his assistants flanked the body.  

"Let me have her phone," Dani said. 

The ME slid it from Rosie's fingers.  Wearing fresh latex gloves, Dani took it, then watched while Rosie's body was ceremoniously flipped.  No new wounds on her back side.  No murder weapon underneath.  No chewing gum wrappers or matchbooks. 

Dani walked to the parking lot, bent over the hood of Tifton's car like a desk, and pressed POWER on the phone.  She copied down numbers from recent calls, incoming calls, missed calls, then dropped Rosie's phone into an evidence bag and took out her own.  Climbing onto Tifton's hood, she propped her feet on the bumper and dialed the precinct.  Spelled each name and number to a desk officer.

Twenty minutes later, the guy called back and recited the names and addresses of people matching the phone numbers.  Dani recognized a few of them-Rosie's sister, her landlord, her mom.  No one identifiable as a boyfriend or lover.  No one unusual at all, at least not that Dani could tell, until the last name on the list:  JMS Foundation for Photography Art. 

She frowned and checked the time of the call.  Sunday, eight-oh-seven p.m.  It had lasted just eighteen seconds.

"Careful, your brow is gonna stay that way."  Tifton had stepped over to her, pressing his thumb into the frown line above her nose. 

She brushed his hand away, already dialing that last number from Rosie's phone.  Voice mail picked up.  "You've reached Russell Sanders, managing director at the JMS Foundation for Photography Art.  Please leave a message..." 

She disconnected and looked up at Tifton.  "What would a hooker-turned-Big-Lots-cashier have to do with an upscale art guild like the Sheridan Foundation?"

"Developing an interest in photography, maybe?"

She ignored the pun.  "The last call Rosie made was to Russell Sanders."

"Who's Russell Sanders?"

"The director of the J. M. Sheridan Foundation."

"Open eyes, open hearts.  That Sheridan?"

Like there was another. 

"Pretty posh circle of friends," Tifton speculated.  He arched one brow.  "Which begs the question, how do you know about him?  You got a love for photography you've kept hidden all these years?"

She fished her keys from her pocket.  "I met him a couple of times-Sheridan.  Back when we were kids."

"Oh, yeah?"

"It was no big deal," she lied, and jumped off the hood of the car.  "I used to see him and his brother at the pool sometimes, that's all."  And he'd pulled her out of the deep end once after she got kicked in the head.  A strong, lanky teenager with dark hair and sparkling blue eyes.  He'd handed her off to her brother and forgotten all about it.

Dani hadn't.

"So that's it," Tifton said.  The coroner's wagon pulled away with Rosie's body; the crime scene unit was packing it in.  "We're done here.  I guess we oughta make Sanders our first stop.  The Sheridan Foundation is on Franklin Avenue, right?"

"Yeah.  But..."  Dani looked at her watch again.  The Gemini was across town, a good twenty minutes away.  "I'll meet you there.  I've got something I gotta do first." 

"Whoa, Dani, you're on a murder case.  Nothing comes first."

She gritted her teeth.  "It'll only take a few minutes.  I'll be right behind you."  She got into her car.  "You going, Ace, or are you gonna go sit behind your desk and wait for forensics to figure out who dunnit?"

Tifton gave in, slapping the last of the CSI guys on the shoulder as he passed.  "When did forensics ever solve a case?"

"Last night," the guy answered, "on CBS."

 

#

 

Dani gunned into traffic, with Tifton tailing her in his own car.  Hurry, hurry.  Jesus, she couldn't be late.  Eighteen thousand dollars in cash burned through the fabric of her pocket.  Eighteen thousand dollars it had taken two weeks to compile.  She'd emptied her savings account, cashed in CDs for a loss, and withdrawn from her graduate classes at U of Maryland for a partial refund.  She'd sold Dad's car and spoken with the mortgage broker about her house for the last twelve hundred:  a month's reprieve, but that month had only three weeks left.

She weaved into the left lane, missed her turn and did a U-turn across bed of flowers in a median.  Tifton laid on his horn behind her-Tifton liked flowers-and her phone rang ten seconds later.

"Shut up," she said, before Tifton could speak.  "They'll grow back."

"They won't, but that's not why I'm calling.  The squad sergeant just called.  Russell Sanders's son is at the precinct."

"Why?"

"He's filing a missing persons report.  Russell Sanders disappeared."

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

Dani banged through the double glass doors of Homicide in front of Tifton, then stopped to let a uniform fill them in.

"Brad Harper says his father hasn't been around since early last night," the cop said.

"Harper?" Tifton asked.  "Why don't they have the same name?"

"Harper is his mother's name.  He was fourteen or fifteen when he first met his dad.  Harper was a big-wig corporate lawyer for a while, then left the big bucks to do pro-bono work at the Foundation for his dad.  He and Sanders share the house next door to the museum."

"Does he look good for anything to you?" Dani asked. 

"He's not all broken up about his dad being gone, if that's that you mean."  The cop shrugged.  "Then again, there's not really anything that looks like foul play."

Except that he was the last person Rosie called, Dani thought.

They went down the hall to an interview room, an eight-by-eight cement square equipped with a table, three wooden chairs, and a video camera.  Tifton paused to straighten his tie.  This wasn't the crowd to play thug.

"Mr. Harper," he said, entering and offering a hand.  "I'm Detective Reginald Tifton and this is Sergeant Dani Cole.  We'll be looking into your father's whereabouts."

Harper stood.  He was a slender man, an inch or two shy of six feet, wearing a pin-striped suit and burgundy tie with paisley whorls.  His face was sleek, not unattractive, but his features were sharp and his eyes could have belonged to a gerbil.  Or a lawyer.

"Tell us why you're worried," Tifton said. 

"We're premiering an exhibition at the Foundation this Saturday night," Harper said.  "This morning, my father was supposed to meet with the set-up crew but didn't show."

"He couldn't have forgotten?" Dani asked.

"It's the most hyped exhibit in years.  The New York Times, People Magazine, Photography in Review, and a dozen other reviewers are expected at Friday's preview.  These are the pictures of a camp that was attacked, where Mitch almost died."

"Mitch..." Tifton prompted, and Dani found her throat going dry.  She'd heard about the attack, held her breath and searched the internet for updates for weeks afterward.

"James Mitchell Sheridan," Harper said, a little chill in his voice.  "He's the Foundation's namesake.  The photographer of the exhibition.  He's been an asshole about it, but Dad called him last night in Switzerland, around eight-thirty our time, and Mitch heard some noises then the line disconnected.  He called me right afterward, convinced something happened to him."

"Like what?" Dani asked.

"He doesn't know.  He says he heard bumps, and Dad saying he was in trouble and 'No,' and then he was gone."

"What did you do after Sheridan's call?"

"I was in Philadelphia.  I called Dad, but there was no answer.  But he'd mentioned that he was meeting someone last night-a woman.  So at the time, I didn't think anything about it."

Dani straightened.  "Who was he meeting?  And where?"

"I don't know."

"Could her name have been Rose McNamara?"

Harper opened his mouth then did a classic double-take.  "Who?" he asked, but his eyes slid left.  Rosie's name had rung a bell. 

Dani felt a throb.  "You know her."  Not a question.

"No, no."  He changed gears.  "Look, my father doesn't do much confiding in me.  If you want to know his secrets, or what women he knows, talk to Mitch."

"In Switzerland?" Tifton asked.  He hadn't missed Harper's sudden interest in shifting their scrutiny to a man half a world away.

"He's on his way home.  His plane's due at BWI this afternoon."

"What?"  Dani's pulse skittered.  Tifton frowned at her and she reined in her shock.  "I mean, I didn't hear you.  Did you say Sheridan's coming here?"

Harper nodded. 

Oh, god.

"What do you mean, he's being an asshole?" Tifton asked.  "He and your dad don't get along?"

"They get along.  Mitch just doesn't want to do the show.  Or any more shows.  Says he's retiring his camera."

Dani blinked.  Mitch, without a camera? 

Tifton said, "I understand you and your dad live together.  Can you let us look around?" 

"No," Harper said.  "I mean, yes, you can look around, but we don't live together.  The Foundation owns the house next to headquarters.  The first two floors are split into our two apartments, and the third floor is another one.  My father and I just share an entrance hall."

"Who lives on the third-floor?" Dani asked.  "Someone who may have seen him?"  

"It's empty.  We use it for guests, clinicians, VIPs.  Sometimes Mitch stays there." 

Dani tried not to think about that.  "Did your father happen to mention where he was going to meet the woman?  A restaurant, an apartment..."

"No."

"A park, maybe?"

"I told you, I don't know."  Harper stood, frowning.  He was finished.  Didn't like talking about the woman, Dani thought.  She started to open the door for him, then cocked her head.  "Do you or your father hunt?" 

Harper frowned at her.  "No.  Why?"

"What about cook?" she asked.

He was confused.  "Dad cooks.  He's quite the chef, in fact."

"Huh," she said, and stepped from the door.  Harper left and Dani waited until he was down the hall before turning to Tifton.  "I think we ought to go see what kind of knives Russell Sanders's keeps handy."  

#

 

The shears hung on a hook over a work table, old and dull, with rust eating tiny notches in the blades.  They'd always had the rust.  Even twenty years ago when they'd hung from a hook on the side of a kitchen cupboard-a constant warning-the rust had been there.  Mother had called them antique but they weren't.  They were just old.  So old and rusty they hurt, the blades tugging and ripping at hair.

Shorter, Mother would say, hacking at handfuls almost too short to grasp.  Spittle sprayed from her mouth, her teeth clenched in rage as she sawed away.  You know better.  Keep it short...

The killer chilled with the memories and flipped on a small space heater.  The room was cool, a third story dormer designed as storage not a work space, and if anyone chose to climb the steep, narrow staircase to get here that's what they'd see:  boxes of long-forgotten Christmas decorations, a couple of outcast lamps, a few pieces of exiled furniture. 

Go deeper, though, past the dusty collection of life's excesses, and the true purpose of the dormer was revealed:  six easels standing in an arc, each displaying a photo of one woman on the list.  Four of the portraits, now including Rose McNamara, bore faces sizzled and burned.  Two were yet unscathed. 

But not for long.  Sunday.  It was finally happening-after all these years and heartbreak almost too intense to endure-retribution was at hand.  Absolution.

So, get busy.  The wig was time-consuming, though a labor of love... Hook, poke-through, twist, hook, poke-through, twist, over and over again, one thin strand at a time until sometimes it seemed there was no feeling left in the fingers.  The work went faster now than it had with the first couple of women-practice makes perfect-but it would still take hours to get Rosie's dark tresses woven in.  

They were ready now, washed free of the blood, conditioned, and dried.  The comb slid through the hair with barely a catch, an overhead light reflecting off the dark tail.  Beautiful locks.  Not permed or damaged, and not too short, either.  Short hair was a nightmare.  So much waste.

But Rosie's would be ideal. 

 The killer hit a button on a small TV and settled onto a work stool.  Pulled out the hackle with its five hundred thin nails and began slapping the black tail of hair onto it.  Slap and pull, slap and pull, letting the weak strands break away, combing through the rest until every strand was straight and not a tangle remained.  The TV anchor droned through the noon news in the background.  So far, there'd been no mention of McNamara-not last night, not today.  So far, her sudden absence from the world hadn't drawn any attention after all.

Still, let the news play, just in case.  And slip the tail of Rosie's hair between the holding cards.  Ready.  Bring the wig block close and decide on placement...A swatch of Rosie's dark length, right along the cheek?  Or would it be more beautiful to spread it out, working it into the shades of red and gold and light brown so the differences in color weren't so pronounced?  What would Kristina like?

 "...a carnival at a park over the weekend.

The anchor's voice slipped in.  Oh, god.

"The woman, whose name is not yet being released, was brutally stabbed in the throat..." 

What?  Rosie's hair dropped to the table.  On the TV screen, a camera panned a parking lot filled with emergency workers.  It cut to a group of detectives and then pulled back from the scene and scanned the parking lot along the woods. 

No, it couldn't be.  But it was.  That was Camden Park. 

Body?  Panic bubbled up, tainted with fury.  Body.  How? 

Fulton.  Damn him. 

He answered the phone right away, defending himself from the get-go.

"I couldn't get to her," he said.  The bastard.  "I went there after I picked up Sanders and found a bunch of vendors and performers and shit.  You didn't tell me you were sending me into a fucking carnival."

"You could've gone back later."

"I did.  But they were breaking down the rides and cleaning up.  A guy noticed my truck, talked to me.  I couldn't hang around." 

Rage seeped in, like an icicle dripping poison.  So, so close-and now Fulton might have risked everything.  Sonofabitch.

But he couldn't be cut loose.  He knew where the bodies were buried-literally.  He'd put them there.  And Fulton's type wasn't easy to find.  A misdiagnosed schizophrenic who was really a sociopath, Fulton had been born without that quirk of chemistry that allowed for emotion.  There were no therapies or medications for men like him; modern psychiatry hadn't yet learned how to manufacture a conscience.

He also had reason not to risk being discovered.  The next time Ron Fulton went behind bars, he'd never come out again. 

A reminder worth repeating:  "I could ruin you."

"You're not that self-destructive," Fulton answered, a thread of arrogance woven in.  "You knew this girl had a family.  You knew there would be police this time."

"I thought she'd be reported missing, not found dead at a crime scene a forensics team could tear apart."

"What will they find?"

What would they find?  Nothing.  A footprint or two, which would lead them no farther than a man with size eleven feet, wearing boots.  Rosie's own hair and blood.  No camera.  No connection.  

"Nothing.  They won't find anything."

"Then relax," Fulton said.  "They'll probably find out she'd been talking to Sanders, but we both know he's a dead end.  No pun intended."

"I just don't want another situation like Jill Donnelly."

In the dormer, Jill Donnelly's eyes seemed to glow from her easel.  A tall, stringy redhead, after years of estrangement, she'd made a call to her family the very day she died.  They went to police, but with no body and no reason to suspect foul play, nothing had come of it.  Hookers come and go:  Jill Donnelly, they concluded, was just another who'd gone.

Still, it had been too close.  The fact that anyone had noticed Jill's absence at all had served as a wake-up call. 

"It's not like they'll find Donnelly," Fulton said, "or any of the others.  Thanks to me."

All right, breathe.  Fulton was a necessary evil, and there was nothing to be done now.  And all the more reason to hurry, mark the last two off the list before the discovery of McNamara's body kicks over too many stones.  "I'll need you tonight."

Fulton chuckled.  "I'm impressed."

"Fuck you.  Don't mess it up this time.  Take the body to Virginia, to the mine shafts."

"I know where the mine shafts are.  Where will you leave her?"

"Near the old railroad depot, north of Reading.  You know it?"

"I know it.  A helluva lot better choice than a fucking carnival."

They hung up, the television still rolling, the anchor gleefully returning with a segment called "more details." 

It was bullshit and more bullshit, just the news team creating hype.  The camera followed a body bag on a gurney, interviewed bystanders and carnival officials and police, but they clearly had no leads, no ideas. 

So relax.  Fulton was right, there was nothing to worry about.

A detective's face filled the screen giving an interview, a name appearing at the bottom in capital letters:  SGT. DANI COLE, LCPD.  Something familiar about her.  Cole.  Who was she?  She spoke with the reporter:

"...what kind of monster would do something like this... doing everything we can..."

The memory kicked in.  Cole.  This was in Rose McNamara's file.  This was the bitch-cop who'd cozied up to Rose McNamara two years ago.  Arrested her then cut her loose and pulled her off the streets.

"...working to protect other young women like the victim, who appears to be innocent of any wrongdoing..."

Innocent.  Wild, sharp-edged fury cut through surprise.  Rose McNamara, innocent?  

The word turned hot, rage swelling like a cancer.  Sergeant Dani Fucking Cole, defending Rose McNamara-for a second time-saying she couldn't imagine what kind of monster would do this to an innocent woman...

The news went on to the next story but Dani Cole's face stuck in mind, like a tick.  Stupid, arrogant, misguided.  Promising to punish the wrongdoer and avenge an innocent girl.

I think not, Detective Cole.  You've done enough in Rose McNamara's life.  There'll be no avenging her now, nor stopping the rest from dying.  You say you can't imagine what kind of monster would do this? 

Hold on, bitch.  I'll show you.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Rosie's mother had a touch of the Irish in her-pale skin, dark hair, a little lilt in her speech.  She was built lean and strong, an outdoorsy woman in her forties.  Had a temper lurking beneath her grief.

"She came back thinkin' everything was fine," Mary McNamara said, her voice breaking.  "Like she'd not already sent her father to his grave for worryin' about her.  And now-"

"Momma, stop."  Rosie's older sister, Janet.  She was as fair as Rosie had been dark, as plain as Rosie had been striking.  She juggled an infant on her hip.  Two years ago when Dani had looked them up, Janet told her that Rosie was dead to them, a shame to the family.  Today, she looked stricken.

            Dani turned to her.  "When Rosie called me a few weeks ago, she said you two were back on good terms."

"We were working on it," Janet said, cupping her hand over the baby's head and doing the continuous bounce that mothers do.  "She wanted to be with Kyle."  She touched her cheek to the baby boy-Kyle-and a tear slid down her face into the baby-fine curls.  "She was good with him."

"God forgive her," Mary McNamara muttered, crossing herself. 

Maybe, Dani thought, but wasn't sure her mother would.  Dani tried to be sensitive but found herself more sympathetic to Rosie than her family.  She'd pulled herself off the streets and out of Ty Craig's stable.  Had come back to get to know her nephew and make amends with her family, and been greeted with a cool reception at best.  So much for the unconditional love and support of a parent.

Dani set her feelings aside and pushed through the routine:  Who had Rosie been seeing?  Was there a man in her life?  What was her mood the last time they spoke?  Mary McNamara confirmed what Dani already knew-there were no more men, pimps, or drugs.  Rosie had gotten her life together.  Now she was just trying to earn her family's forgiveness.

Janet helped with lists:  Rosie's coworkers, friends, favorite haunts.  Russell Sanders?  The name didn't ring any bells for them. 

Thirty minutes into the interview, the calls started coming.  Family, friends, neighbors.  A funeral home.  Dani watched Mary and Janet trying to field the calls, everyone offering condolences but making things worse.  Question after question, and each one catapulted Dani back to her own hell, just two weeks ago:  When do you want to hold the service, Ms. Cole?  Cremation or burial?  Is there any special music the deceased would have wanted?  Where shall flowers be sent?

I don't know, she thought, her chest squeezing.  He wasn't supposed to die yet...

She smothered the thought and left Mary McNamara with her remaining daughter and grandson, then called and found Tifton at the Foundation with Brad Harper.  Ten minutes later, with no sign of IA's gray sedan on her tail, she cruised past an enormous stone structure that resembled a castle.  A sign tucked into a bed of red bushes and yellow pansies proclaimed it the JMS FOUNDATION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY ART. 

Dani slowed to look at it, not for the first time.  This was Mitch's legacy, his vehicle for trying to fix the misery of the world, for doing overseas what he hadn't been able to do in his own home.  With his rugged good looks and hometown roots, Mitch Sheridan was a local hero.  Revealer of injustices and fixer of world tragedies. 

Whirlwind summer lover.

Forget it, Dani told herself.  He probably had. 

She rolled on down the street.  The castle itself shared the block with a few other huge Victorian homes:  a private residence, an interior decorating business, a law office.  The one next door must be the one shared by Russ Sanders and Brad Harper.

She got out of her car, found an officer posted at the front of the castle.  "Detective Tifton?" she asked.

The guy pointed.  "Next door, in the apartment building with Brad Harper."

"Thanks." 

Dani walked halfway down the block and entered the lobby of the apartment building.  An elevator and stairwell straight ahead, and two apartments-one to the right and another to the left.  The door to the right was slightly ajar:  Sanders's place. 

She went in, allowed herself to be awed by the size and splendor for ten seconds, then heard Tift's voice upstairs.  She found him in a hallway with Brad Harper, one hand on a doorknob.

"Hey," Tifton said.  "I talked to the employees next door.  No one's seen Sanders.  And everything downstairs looks normal."  He meant:  No bloody knife in the kitchen.

Dani nodded.  "What's this?" she asked, pointing to the room he was about to enter. 

"Mr. Harper agreed to let us look around.  This is his dad's bedroom."

Dad's bedroom.  The thought nearly knocked Dani back a step, but she nudged past Harper and Tifton and entered the room in spite of it.  Everything about Sanders's bedroom appeared normal.  There was no body sprawled between the bed and the dresser, no smudges on the wall, no bloodstains creeping through the fibers of the bedspread...

"As I told you," Harper said, following them into the room, "I came in here and looked around right after Mitch called me.  I didn't see anything unusual."

The bedroom had the earmarks of comfort:  an Oriental rug over polished cherry floors, classic furniture, a king-sized bed with the comforter yanked partway down and decorative pillows strewn on the floor beside.  A newspaper, its sections pulled out and re-stacked with sports on top lay on a blanket chest at the foot of the bed.  A jacket had been tossed on the back of a desk chair and a wallet and spare change sat on the surface 

"You didn't consider it unusual that he left his wallet here?" Dani asked Harper.

He flinched, and his eyes darted to the desk.  "I didn't notice."

Huh.  Dani went to the newspaper:  Sunday, Oct. 3.  "When does the maid come in?"  Clearly, there was one.

"Once a week, on Fridays.  She works at the Foundation building next door two nights a week.  On Fridays, she comes over here and does our apartments."

It fit.  On Fridays, the pillows would all be lined up across the head of the bed, the wrinkles tugged from the comforter and jacket hung in the closet.  Anything lying out now had been left since the maid's last visit. 

Tifton strolled into the master bath, came out, and headed for the walk-in closet.  Dani went to the bed and lifted the comforter.  The sheets were rumpled but bright clean-no signs that Sanders had a girlfriend.  Harper tensed but didn't say anything:  Calling off a search now would be hard to explain.  

She moved to the nightstand.  A roll of half-gone Tums, a pair of reading glasses, the rest of the sports section.  A phone and blank notepad and pen-one of those wood-and-gold pens that probably cost a hundred bucks.  Dani flipped on the light on the nightstand, and it was only when the wash of warm yellow hit the notepad that her pulse kicked up. 

"Tift," she called, torn between a rush of adrenaline and a wave of sadness.  This was going to turn out to be the sonofabitch who butchered Rosie.  Mitch Sheridan's dearest friend.

Tifton came out of the closet.  Dani held up the notepad, then peeled back the top page and let the light shine through.  The indentation of two words appeared. 

"Does that say what I think it says?" Tifton asked.

"Do you think it says, 'Camden Park?'"

He nodded, scratching his head.  "Guess we better call an Evidence Response Team.  And pick up Sheridan.  We're gonna need to hear about that phone call he got in Switzerland."

#

Dani-Fucking-Mother-Theresa-Cole of the LCPD stepped out of Russ Sanders's house, unaware of the eyes that followed her.  Those eyes had picked her up at the police station after the noon news and followed her to Rosie's mother's house, and now, two hours later, they watched through a Canon 360 from a Saab parked a block away.  A magnifying lens picking up the details:  dark slacks and a blazer, a light knit shirt underneath.  When she moved, the flare of her blazer revealed a police shield on her belt, a gun at her waist.  She was slender and leggy, a little long in the torso-probably five-six or seven.  Her hair was the color of black coffee and pulled behind her head in a plain rubber band.  Nothing fancy, but good genes had made her one of the lucky ones:  high cheekbones and pale eyes, a tomboy who was nonetheless innately feminine, who would turn a man's head without even trying.  

And, she was wired.  Her hands were balled into fists, her movements agitated.  When she stepped onto the front porch she let the screen door go, hitting the big cop as he came through behind her.  The two of them talked for a moment.  About Rose McNamara and Russ Sanders, no doubt.  About monsters.  "What kind of monster would do this to an innocent woman?" Cole had asked.

Look this way, Detective.  Snap.  Snap.  Look behind the camera and you'll see.  Snap.

Cole's partner held out his fist.  They each pulled something from his hand then Cole put her hands on her hips.  She said something that was probably obscene, wagging a finger at him until he took her by the shoulders and gave her a gentle shove.  She dropped down the stairs and headed for her car. 

That's it.  The camera came down.  Cole was off and running, angry about something.  Anxious to avenge Rose McNamara, no doubt.

Stupid bitch.  Won't she be surprised when she learns that tonight, while she's out there trying to find Rosie's killer, another one just like her was going to die?  Number Five, Alicia Woodruff.  Everything was ready.  Fulton was ready.  No mistakes this time. 

The dashboard clock moved:  three-forty-two.  Alicia, given her chosen profession, would just be getting going for the evening. 

Plenty of time to deliver a message to Sergeant Cole first.  Make sure she understands. 

#

Dani drew the short straw-toothpick, rather-and got drafted to meet Sheridan at the airport.  Nerves fraying, she pulled away from the Foundation, took a deep breath, and ordered herself to buck up.  For god's sake, eighteen years had gone by.  A man like Mitch Sheridan had probably filled every one of them with a different woman.  Dani was just one of many.

Besides, this was business. 

Halfway to the airport, she called her next-door neighbor.  "Becky, hey.  It's Dani.  Say, could Seth get Runt for a while?  I can't get home yet."

"Sure," Becky said.  She was a forty-something single mom with a twelve-year-old son who was Runt's favorite person.  Not that Runt was particular; Dani had always marveled at that.  The bait dog for countless fighters-in-training, by the time Dani came across her, her canine teeth had been yanked out by the trainers and both ears ripped off in the ring.  She bore numerous scars of a dog that had spent her entire life getting beat up yet she was infinitely sweet and docile. 

Go figure. 

"I'll send him over," Becky said.  "You wanna come get her when you get home?"

"Nah, I'll probably be late.  Just have Seth put her back in the house when he's had enough slobbery kisses."

Becky chuckled.  "Will do."

Dani hung up.  She turned her flashers on and pushed through traffic to BWI, bullied her way to the curb outside baggage claim, and used her shield to get through security to Concourse E.  The flight was just arriving at a British Airways gate, no one yet off the plane.

She stood across the aisle against the far wall, letting curiosity about Sheridan momentarily run its course.  Would she recognize him?  Of course she would.  Like anyone in Lancaster, she'd seen his publicity photo:  a shot capturing his height and breadth and the classic hard edge, with a perennial three-day beard and light blue eyes brooding beneath dark brows.  In most photographs, the crook of a once-broken nose could be seen, but Dani had chosen to believe that was just the camera angle-a savvy publicist going for a rugged air.  Fans no-doubt would chalk the bent nose up to rough living.

Dani knew better, shifting with the memory... A hard-muscled eighteen-year-old, with compassion she'd never known, ardor she'd never fathomed, and a burning need to fix what was wrong in the world.  With her

Only she'd been too afraid to let him that close.  So she'd elbowed him away instead.  Literally.

She cursed, realized her arms were clutched around her midriff, and dropped them.  Relax.  Even if he did recognize her, a summer fling when you're just out of high school isn't something a man hangs onto for two decades.  Dani certainly hadn't:  She was long past it.  That swirling in her gut right now was a demanding day with too much coffee and no food, that's all.

She paced a few steps, then stopped when an airline attendant propped the gate's door wide.  People began streaming through-parents with sleeping children, an elderly couple, a couple of businessmen hurrying to catch their connections.  Dani held her breath and a moment later, in a sea of moving humanity, Mitch Sheridan appeared. 

Her mouth went dry, an illogical spread of goose bumps rising on her skin.  Dani watched him stride into the terminal.  He towered a few inches taller than most other passengers, but there, the resemblance to the handsome publicity shot-and the images in her memory-ended.  His hair stuck out, his cheeks were drawn, his eyes hooded and bloodshot.  Worry had chiseled lines into his face-crow's feet at the corners of his eyes and deep grooves bracketing his mouth, darkened by a few days of beard.  He wore faded jeans and a ragged polo shirt, and he looked rangy and long-boned, leaner than she'd expected.  His gait was stiff.  Hours on a plane?  By her calculations, he'd been traveling for the past nineteen hours, seven of which were lost in the time change.  Maybe.  Or maybe the stiff limbs were the legacy of the attack at a refugee camp a few months ago, the one Brad Harper had referred to. 

He walked with a cell phone to his ear, coming within five feet.  Dani blinked:  The aristocratic nose had a decided crook to it.  Well, shit.  Maybe it wasn't just a trick of the camera angle. 

He walked right past her.

Dani kicked into gear and followed.  Mit- Mister Sherid- Suddenly, she didn't know what to call him. 

"Sheridan," she said, and he snapped the cell phone closed.  Kept going.  "I need to talk to you."

"I can't right now," he said.

She pulled her shield from her belt and came around to cut him off.  "You have to," she said, holding it up.

He glanced at the police ID and opened his mouth, then stopped cold.  His eyes locked on hers.  "Jesus Christ," he said.