The number-one New York Times-bestselling author returns with another pulse-pounding thriller.
A serial killer is on the loose, and it's up to FBI agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock to bring him down. They soon discover that the killer has blood ties to the infamous and now long-dead monster Ted Bundy. Savich and Sherlock are joined by agents Lucy Carlyle and Cooper McKnight, and the chase is on.
At the same time, Agent Carlyle learns from her dying father that her grandfather didn't simply walk away from his family twenty-two years ago: he was, in fact, murdered by his wife, Lucy's grandmother. Determined to find the truth, Lucy moves into her grandmother's Chevy Chase mansion. What she finds, however, is a nightmare. Not only does she discover the truth of what happened all those years ago, but she faces a new mystery as well, a strange ring that holds powers beyond her ken.
As the hunt for the serial killer escalates, Savich realizes he's become the killer's focus, and perhaps the next victim. It's up to Lucy to stop this madness before it's too late.
Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Tuesday night
Nonfat milk, Fritos, and bananas, Savich repeated to himself as he pulled into the parking lot of Mr. Patil’s Shop ’n Go. It was after eight o’clock, and Savich was on his way home from a hard workout at the gym. He felt good, his muscles relaxed and warm, and he looked forward to playing with Sean, maybe with his new video game, Wonky Wizards. He breathed in deeply, enjoying the bite of fall in the air. He looked up at the low-lying clouds that promised to bring a shower in the next couple of hours. Nonfat milk and Fritos and—what else?
There was only one car in the parking lot, which wasn’t unusual at this time of the evening. A strange play of rapid movement behind the store’s large glass window caught his eye. He pulled the Porsche to the far side of the parking lot, out of the line of sight, got out, quietly closed the car door, and walked to the edge of the window. He could see a man inside, his face flattened in a leg of panty hose, standing in front of the counter, pointing a Saturday night special at Mr. Patil’s chest. Mr. Patil, who wasn’t more than five-five with lifts in his shoes and was at least seventy-five years old, looked petrified. Savich watched his hands shoot into the air above his head. He could hear the man yelling at him, but couldn’t make out what he was saying. Then he saw a customer. At the end of the counter stood a man about his own age, wearing a bright red Red-skins sweatshirt, jeans, and glasses.
Savich felt his heart seize.
Pressed against the man’s legs were two small children, a boy and a girl. His hands were wrapped around their shoulders, hugging them tightly against him. Each child held an ice-cream bar, now forgotten.
Keep it together. He couldn’t call 911, and take the chance of sirens freaking the guy out, not with the kids still in the line of fire. He quickly ran around to the back of the Shop ’n Go and heard the engine running before he saw the Chevy Impala, tucked in the shadows off the parking asphalt. He saw a woman in the driver’s seat, leaning in toward the passenger’s side to get a partial view inside the store. Since she wasn’t wearing panty hose on her head, she obviously wasn’t slated to join the actual robbery; she was just there to drive the man in the store out of here. Savich couldn’t see the license plate. No matter. She hadn’t seen him. Good.
Forget her, let her get away. He crouched down and ran back around to the front of the store. He held his SIG at his side and began whistling. He opened the door and called out, “Good evening, Mr. Patil,” and the man in the panty hose whirled around, his gun leading, as the little girl yelled, “He’ll hurt you!”
The man froze for the longest instant of time in Savich’s memory. Savich saw the father grab the children and hurl them to the floor, and then he fell over them while Mr. Patil hefted a six-pack of beer the man had brought to the counter. Then Savich’s SIG was up, and he fired. The rule was always to fire only when you intended to kill, but the bullet didn’t go into the man’s chest, it went into his shoulder. The man screamed, fell hard to his knees, clutching his shoulder, and the .22 went flying.
Savich listened for the Impala’s engine to rev, for the car to roar out of there, but he didn’t hear anything except a car door slamming shut. He yelled, “Mr. Patil, get down!” Savich dropped to the floor and was rolling when the door burst open and a submachine gun started blasting bullets. He heard Mr. Patil scream from behind the counter, knew he hadn’t been fast enough and she’d hit him. He heard the kids screaming, heard the father’s deep voice, hazed over with fear, saying, “It’s all right, it will be all right.” He came up and fired, hit the woman square between the eyes as she swung the gun around toward him. The submachine gun hit the linoleum floor and fetched hard against the counter.
Savich saw Mr. Patil leaning heavily on the counter, a bloom of red on his right arm. He jumped up and quickly checked the gunman, pulled the stocking off his face. He was white, about forty, heavyset, his light brown hair seriously thinning. He moaned, holding his shoulder, the bullet still in him. He was lucky the bullet hadn’t hit an artery. He’d survive. Savich picked up the .22 and said, “Keep pressing down on that,” and then he went down on his knees beside the woman. Like the man, she was white, fortyish, but she was dead. Her dark eyes were open. A dribble of blood came out of her mouth, and the hole between her eyes was a perfect red dot. Blood haloed her head.
Please keep their eyes covered.
He quickly pulled off his leather jacket and covered the woman’s face. He ran back to Mr. Patil and examined the bullet wound. Through and through, thank God. “You did great, sir. You’re going to be okay.” Savich grabbed a wad of paper towels from next to the coffee machine and pressed them against Mr. Patil’s arm. “Press as hard as you can, sir.”
He called 911 and asked for two ambulances and the police. He looked over at the father, still covering his children on the floor. Both children were quiet now, their father murmuring against their heads, “It’s okay, kids, everything’s okay now—”
Savich looked back at the wounded man, saw he wasn’t moving or making a sound. He came down on his haunches, laid his hand lightly on the man’s shoulder. He was a big guy, pretty fit, his face less ashen now that he realized they’d all survived. “Don’t worry, I’m FBI. You did great; you kept your kids safe. Everything’s under control now. The police will be here soon. You’re a very brave man; it’s a pleasure to meet you,” and Savich stuck out his hand. “I’m Dillon Savich.”
The man slowly stood, bringing the children with him, still pressed against his legs. He straightened his glasses and gave Savich a shaky grin. He started to say something, then lost the words, the wild adrenaline rush choking them off. He took Savich’s hand, shook it really hard, and at last he managed to say, “I can hear my own heart beating so heavy, it’s like it’s going to fly out of my chest.”
“It’s the adrenaline. Believe me, in a couple of minutes you’re going to crash.”
“No, I can’t do that, not with the kids here. Hey, I’m Dave Raditch. Thank you for coming in like that, so sharp and fast. I don’t know what the guy was going to do; he might have shot all of us. It sure looked like he was going to kill Mr. Patil. Hush, Michael, everything’s okay. Hold Crissy’s hand, okay?”
Savich prayed Dave wouldn’t bottom out completely after the adrenaline snapped out of him and fall over. He’d seen it before. He looked closely at Dave Raditch, saw he was occupied with stroking those small shuddering bodies, keeping them very close. Savich smiled at him. “You’ll do fine,” he said, and smiled down at Michael. Then, because it could have been Sean, Savich hugged him. As Savich pressed Michael’s face against him, he thought, how would he deal with this violent terror? With the shock of sudden bloody death? As he rubbed his big hands up and down Michael’s back, he said, “Michael, I really need your help. The police will be here soon, and I’ll have to speak with them. I want you to hunker down with your dad and sister and talk about what happened, because the police will want to speak with you, too. Do you think you can keep them calm? Can you do that for me?”
Michael hiccuped, wiped the back of his hand over his running nose, and slowly pulled back in Savich’s arms. He looked over at the man moaning on the floor, holding his shoulder, his blood everywhere. Then Michael looked at the woman Mr. Savich had covered with his leather jacket. Michael knew she was dead, knew dead meant she wouldn’t wake up. And there was Mr. Patil, and he was hurt, too, that woman had shot him, but because he’d heard Mr. Savich tell Mr. Patil he was going to be okay, Michael didn’t think he’d have to worry about him. He tried to straighten his shoulders and said, “I can do that, sir,” in the most convincing imitation adult voice Savich had ever heard. What was he? Five years old? Sean’s age. Thank God Sean hadn’t been with him.
“Crissy, it’s okay now,” Michael said as he patted his sister’s back. “Dad, Mr. Savich said the police are coming and we’ve got to get our stories straight.”
Well, close enough. Savich smiled.
Dave Raditch’s left eyebrow shot up above his glasses. He didn’t know where it came from, but when he met Savich’s eyes, he grinned, nodded, but only for an instant, because Crissy’s face was leached of color and she was shuddering like she had a fever. He cleared his throat. “Okay, Crissy, Michael’s right, we’ve gotta tell the police exactly what happened before Mr. Savich came in. How about the three of us go over there by the potato chips and talk about how this went down, okay?”
Crissy Raditch turned to stare at the woman, and then licked her lips. “Did Mr. Savich shoot her dead?”
This is the big one. Savich said, “Yes, I had to, Crissy. I couldn’t take the chance she would hurt any of us. Now go with your dad and Michael and work this all out.”
Savich watched Dave Raditch herd his children behind the chip stand, out of sight of the devastation.
He looked at the dead woman, at the trail of blood seeping from beneath his leather jacket. Had she ever considered she might die at
8:27 on a Tuesday night? He heard sirens. He looked over at the kids’ two ice-cream bars melting on the
floor, and then at the big round clock behind Mr. Patil’s counter. He watched the minute hand reach 8:28. Only a couple of minutes had passed, a couple of minutes that determined who would live and who would die.
Cleveland, Ohio Nielson’s Bar & Grill Tuesday night
He said his name was Thaddeus, and he was sort of shy when he asked her if he could buy her a Burning River Pale Ale. He really liked it, he said, and it was brewed by Great Lakes Brewing Co., so she would be helping the local economy. While they sipped their ale, they ate the really salty peanuts set in bowls on the length of the bar. Alana Rafferty thought he was pretty cool with that white face of his and longish black hair topped with a black beret. She’d swear he even used a black eyebrow pencil. His clothes looked arty—black T-shirt and baggy black jeans—and hung on him, since he was so thin. Turned out he was also really nice and funny, one-liners popping out of his mouth. He was a nice change from her younger brother, the jerk, who’d stolen two hundred dollars from her wallet that morning when she’d visited her mother, then laughed at her when she accused him of it, because, the fact was, she always let him off the hook, just like her mother who always excused her loser father.
Thaddeus asked her questions about her job, and she opened up to him, even told him how she wanted to write a movie script for a new superhero she’d created. They drank two more Burning Rivers, and then he asked her if she’d like to drop in and see what was going on at Club Mephisto on Bradley Street, only two blocks over. Alana looked at his fine-boned face and long, thin fingers, those darkened eyebrows, the clever smile of his mouth. He seemed okay. She said yes, but she couldn’t stay for long, she had to work tomorrow.
He helped her into her lightweight corduroy jacket, a gift from her mother on her birthday two weeks ago. She gave the bartender a big smile and a little half wave, and they walked out into the cool evening. It was clear, a half-moon overhead. She had a slight buzz going. Club Mephisto—it was a good place for dancing the calories off, but she really shouldn’t go since it was a work night. She smiled at him and tried out his name. “Okay, Thaddeus, who stuck you with that name? Your mom or your dad?”
“My dad. He loved Thaddeus Klondike, you know, that old Wild West hero from Charles Haver’s books?”
“Sorry, I’ve never heard of this Klondike or Haver. I remember eating Klondike bars. They’re yummy. What else did Haver write?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never read him.”
“So here you are, stuck with Thaddeus and no context. No nickname? Like Thad or maybe Deus?” She was feeling more buzzed now than before, and that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Buzzed on three bottles of Burning River Pale Ale she’d nursed for more than two hours?
“Nope, it’s always been Thaddeus.” He stuck out his hand to wave down the taxi cruising by. “I kind of like it that way. With me, Alana, what you see is what you get.”
The cabbie pulled to a stop and lowered the window a bit. “Sorry, buddy, I’m off duty for the night.”
Thaddeus jumped forward and kicked his front tire. “Yeah, right, you morons are always off duty.”
“Hey, dude!” The cabbie gave him the finger and peeled out.
Alana frowned at him. “Why’d you kick the tire?”
“Guy’s a moron. I mean, look, you’ve got on high heels, and now we’ll have to walk over to Club Mephisto.”
“Nah, I think he’s right. I’m feeling like going off duty myself, too. It’s getting late. I think I should be getting on home now. Maybe we can go this weekend? You free?”
He lightly touched a long, thin white finger to her cheek. “I’ll walk you home. You live close, right? That’s what the bartender told me.”
She nodded, smiling, and she stumbled. “Whoa, what’s this? I only had three ales, and they weren’t that strong.”
“Maybe it was all those peanuts.” He laughed, told her not to worry about it, pulled her closer, and walked her to her building on Hudson Avenue. He walked her up two flights of stairs, down a long, well-lit corridor. “Give me your key.”
She knew you didn’t give a guy your key, not a guy you’d just met, even though he was funny and really nice. It just wasn’t smart. But wasn’t he about her size? Didn’t that make him safe enough? Alana was feeling really sick now, nausea churning in her stomach, sneaking up in her throat, and she swallowed, but it didn’t help. She knew she was going to throw up, and she hated that. She tried to focus on getting inside and popping two Alka-Seltzer tablets in a glass of water from her bathroom sink, watching them dissolve. She gave him her key.
When he helped her inside her apartment, she knew she wasn’t going to make it to the Alka-Seltzer, she was going to throw up now.
She pulled away from him, fell to her knees, and vomited on the highly polished oak floor of her small entry hall. She felt like her insides were churning backward, spewing out bile that would choke her. She huddled there, her knees drawn up to her chest.
He knelt down beside her, laid his palm on her forehead. His hand felt warm and soft. She whispered, “I’m sorry, Thaddeus, I’m feeling really sick.”
He stroked her forehead. “That’s all right, Alana. I’m the one who made you sick, and now it’s time to end it.”
“You made me sick? But how? Why?” She saw him twist a loop of wire in his hands, saw him reach down over her as she vomited again, beer and peanuts all over the front of him. She heard him curse as the wire went around her neck.
Washington, D.C. Hoover Building, Criminal Apprehension Unit Thursday morning, two days later
Lucy Carlyle addressed the group of five agents seated with her around the CAU conference table. “Her name was Alana Rafferty, age thirty-one, divorced, no children. She was a graphic artist for Bloomfield Designs in Cleveland, Ohio. She was outgoing, loaded with talent, and just plain old nice, according to her coworkers and friends, and she met the wrong person at Nielson’s Bar and Grill on West Blake Street Tuesday night. The bartender, who’s also the owner, said she left with a guy all duded up in black, even a black beret, said he looked sort of gay, at about nine o’clock Tuesday night. Another couple saw the guy wave down a taxi, but the cabbie was off duty. Then the guy yelled out an insult, even kicked the tire. The couple said Alana looked a bit tipsy, and when they walked away, the guy was holding her arm because she wasn’t all that steady on her feet. They walked west, toward her apartment, two blocks farther on, at the corner of Hudson Avenue.” She nodded a bit unwillingly at Agent Cooper McKnight, wanting to continue and not turn it over to him, but she said, “Coop.”
Coop said, “Her body was found in her apartment at noon yesterday by the manager and a coworker from Bloomfield Designs. The Cleveland PD put a rush on the autopsy since the murder bore some similarities to four recent murders, two in San Francisco and two in Chicago. This was the first victim in Cleveland.
“The bartenders in all three cities describe the guy as looking arty, maybe gay, in his late twenties, early thirties, with longish black hair under a black beret, tall, thin to gaunt. Two of the bartenders said he looked like he’d dusted his face with white powder, and he had long white hands that he seemed to like to show off, you know, picking out individual pretzels or nuts from a bowl.
“The bartenders told police none of the women seemed to know him, but they all appeared to hit it off with him quickly. He always bought them beer or wine or whatever, and after about an hour or two, they all left with him.
“In each instance, the women were murdered in their apartments. Each had ketamine and Rohypnol in her bloodstream, probably due to spiked drinks. As you know, ketamine is an anesthetic and now a street drug known as Black Hole or Special K that’s become popular at raves. Rohypnol is your classic roofie, the date-rape drug. Together, they’re a potent cocktail. One Chicago detective said it looks like the guy uses a roll of common wire, impossible to trace, and he unrolls the length he wants and snips it off before strangling them.”
Lucy said, “There’s more information in the folders I handed out, photos of the crime scenes, copies of all the interviews, autopsy results, but those are the high points.” She nodded to Savich.
Savich said to the group, “Mr. Maitland wants us to handle the case now that this guy’s crossed state lines several times and is killing every few days.
“Look through the packets and familiarize yourselves with the cases in San Francisco and Chicago. All major police departments across the country have been alerted about this guy and are already on the lookout.
“Cleveland Police Chief Aaron Handler has moved fast. He compared the sketch their own police artist made from the bartender’s description to the other police sketches made in San Francisco and Chicago.” He held up the sketch. “This is a composite sketch, based on the descriptions provided by the three bartenders. Chief Handler had the sketches posted prominently in every neighborhood bar in Cleveland, and they’re running the sketch on local television channels. You can see the guy has a distinct look—dressed all in black, with his black beret and black jeans, boots, T-shirt, and leather jacket—and he’s kept to his initial pattern—always a neighborhood bar, always choosing a young woman who’s alone. He drugs her, and garrotes her in her own home or apartment, which means all of the women let him take them home.”
Ruth Warnecki-Noble said, “Well, if they were all feeling ill from the drug he fed them, I guess it makes some sense they would accept some help. Plus, if they think the guy is gay, they probably wouldn’t see him as a sexual threat.”
Lacey Sherlock said, “I guess he drugs the women so they won’t be able to fight him, either.”
Lucy nodded. “The bartenders all said the guy looks like a stereotypical artist type, white as a vampire with the white face powder, and bone thin, which means he does indeed need the drugs to make sure he can handle his victims. He looks harmless as a puppy, soft-spoken, real polite, attentive, a good listener. Another thing—Alana Rafferty didn’t look dizzy or shaky on her feet when she left the bar, so he probably put the drug in her last—” Lucy looked down. “In her last Burning River Pale Ale.”
There were a few more questions and comments, and then Savich brought things to a close. “Okay, Coop and Lucy are the leads on this case. Any of your specific input should go through them. I’d like each of you to think about this guy, about what makes him tick, and give all your ideas in writing to Lucy and Coop. Steve in Behavioral Analysis will get us a profile shortly.
“This police sketch and the local TV coverage might make the guy cut his losses and head out of Cleveland, or maybe he’ll change his outfit and ditch the beret. We’ll see.
“No matter what, this case is top priority. Whoever the guy is, we want to stop him before anyone else dies.”
Lucy said, “This is really ugly, guys, and really sick. Dillon wonders if he’ll realize he’s a sitting duck and change his routine or his clothes—and that’s my biggest worry. If he does change his routine and ditch the black, we’ll lose any edge we have.”
Sherlock said, “Whatever he decides to wear, I’ve got the weirdest feeling he’s not afraid of the cops and he’s not going to stop. He’s arrogant.”
Lucy nodded slowly. She agreed with Sherlock.
As Lucy and Coop walked back to their workstations, talking quietly, Sherlock said to Savich, “Why’d you put Lucy and Coop together? They don’t care much for each other. You can tell that by their body language. Look at the distance between them.”
“That’s why I put them together,” Savich said matter-of-factly. “They need to learn to get along. They’re both excellent agents, and I wouldn’t want to lose either of them. They’ve got to learn to respect each other, protect each other, or else one of them will have to go.”
“I’d hate to lose either of them. I wonder why they don’t get along well? They’re the new guys in the unit; you’d think they’d have bonded simply because they’re the rookies.”
Savich said, “I asked Ruth what was going on between them, and she said she’d heard Lucy call Coop a dickhead—quote/unquote— because he dangles too many women on his string.”
“Hmm, I hadn’t heard that. Do you think it’s true? You think he’s some sort of idiot playboy?”
Savich shrugged, opened his office door, and ushered her in. “I’ve never seen anything in Coop’s behavior that’d make me think so. He’s got a good brain, he’s committed, a good team player, and I can usually kick his butt at the gym.” He grinned at her, flicked a finger over her cheek. “So, what’s not to like?”
Sherlock laughed, hugged him a moment. She leaned back in his arms, studied his face. “It’s only been two days since the shooting at Mr. Patil’s Shop ’n Go. Are you all right, Dillon?”
“Mr. Patil will make a full recovery, Dave Raditch and his kids are dealing okay with the shock, and yes, I’m fine as well. Look, Sherlock, I’m handling things, okay?”
Mr. Hardnose. She looked at him for a long time, and finally she nodded slowly. “Yes. All right, then.” She kissed him fast, then left his office to discuss with Ollie Hamish his bizarre case in Biloxi, Mississippi, where some shrimp fishermen seemed to be on a rampage, killing off their competition.
Lucy and Coop were studying the composite sketch of their murderer, tossing ideas back and forth, when Lucy’s cell phone rang. It was a Dr. Antonio Pellotti at Washington Memorial Hospital. Her father had suffered a massive heart attack and wasn’t expected to live.
The books that Catherine Coulter is reading this summer:
Do you know, I really can’t think of what else is on my desk right now. Okay, there’s a philosophy book that’s gathering dust, good intentions or not. I’ll probably stick it back on the shelf come the fall. Oh yes, a fan sent me a book he self-published, asking me to read it and give it a quote, with the hope that someone will pick him up. Although the cover (which he designed) is very nice, I haven’t even opened it, because I’ve only a couple more weeks to reread all the Harry Potter books before the Deathly Hallows movie and good triumphs over evil. You can’t beat that, can you?
Have a great summer and READ.
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