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Five New York Times bestselling authors-five superlative stories.
From J.D. Robb: Eve and Rourke return to investigate a series of murders connected to a brilliant young surgeon in Chaos in Death.
From Mary Blayney: A shopkeeper's solitude is complicated by a magic coin, a daring rogue, and dreams of her late husband, who whispers but one word...wish.
From Patricia Gaffney: A lonely woman and a hotline psychic turn their astonishing connection to the other side into an unexpected romance.
From Ruth Ryan Langan: The shattered soul of an angry spirit imprisoned in a Scottish manor house could be a young widow's only salvation.
From Mary Kay McComas: A young ghost eases his brother's pain and guilt by inviting him into the dreams of an imaginative author of children's books.
He found life in death. And delight in the whirlwind of fear and fright. To hunt, to steal the light, the life, the blood, the soul. Well, he’d been born for it.
It made him laugh to dance around the madness of his creating, cape swirling—and wasn’t that a wonderful touch—legs kicking in a joyful jig.
Even the sound of his own laughter, deep and rich and free, thrilled him, made him laugh all the harder.
He was alive.
“And you’re not!”
He hopped, skipped, leaped over the three bodies he’d arranged on the floor. Tilting his head, he grinned at his handiwork. He’d laid them out so they sat—well, slumped, but that was dead for you—in a line against the wall.
Pitiful specimens, really, this trio of junkies who’d barely had the wit or the will to put up a fight. But God knew a man had to start somewhere. Still, their fear was his now, and their tears, their cries and pleas—all his.
It tasted so delicious.
He needed more, of course, so many more. But he’d made a most excellent start. No more playing by the rules, no sir! No more Mr. Good Guy.
He patted his own chest. “I feel like a whole new man.”
Chuckling, he stowed the bloody scalpel, the vials, all the lovely specimens in his kit. And inspiration struck.
Clichéd? he asked himself, his head tipping from side to side, his gleaming red eyes bulging with glee and madness as he scanned the room, the bodies, the walls. Maybe, maybe, but irresistible!
After dipping a gloved finger into a pool of congealing blood, he composed his message on the dingy wall. He had to dip back into the well—ha-ha-ha—several times, but the time was well worth it.
To whom it may concern:
Please take out the trash. Don’t forget to recycle properly!
Oh, his belly hurt from laughing. He pressed a hand to it, nearly snagging one of the long, pointed nails that stabbed through the glove. Then found himself hesitating before signing his name. He knew his name. Of course, of course he did. For a moment his glee teetered toward fury, his laughter toward guttural grunts.
Then all righted again. He did another quick jig, dipped his finger again.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Perfect. Absently, he sucked the blood and grime from his finger and read the message over twice.
Time to go, he decided. Things to do. And he was absolutely famished.
He picked up his kit, lifted an arm in salute.
“Adieu, mes amis!”
On a last cackle of laughter, he turned, swirling the cape—he just loved doing that—as he skipped to the back room and climbed out the window.
He couldn’t remember ever having more fun.
And couldn’t wait to do it all again.
Lieutenant Eve Dallas studied the scene. Cops saw it all, but there was always something new, some fresh brutality even in the dying summer of 2060 to stretch the boundaries of all.
The room stank of blood—so much blood—and death, of fresh puke and piss. Blood soaked into one of the board-thin mattresses shoved into a corner. One of the three victims had died there, she thought. The middle one, she concluded, the black male, age as yet undetermined, with multiple stab wounds and a missing left ear.
Beside Eve, her partner breathed slowly in and out through her teeth.
“If you’re going to hurl, Peabody, do it outside.”
“I’m not going to hurl.” But it came out as a plea rather than a statement.
Eve shifted her gaze, studied Peabody. The short, jaunty, flippy tail she’d pulled her dark hair into looked distinctly out of place now that her skin held a faint green cast. Peabody’s dark eyes, slightly unfocused, held their line of sight a few inches above the bodies.
“I just need a minute for everything to settle.”
“What was this place?” Eve asked.
“It used to be retail space.” Peabody still held her PPC, and her hand was steady enough. “Apartments above, three levels. Slated for rehab.” Peabody shut her eyes for a moment.
“Find out who owns it, how long it’s been shut down. Take it outside. We need the data,” Eve said before Peabody could object. “Get the data.”
With a nod, Peabody slipped out the door to where the uniforms responding to the nine-one-one had cordoned off the sidewalk.
With her hands and feet already sealed, her recorder engaged, Eve stepped around and over the debris of shattered bottles, scattered clothes, trash, a broken chair to the bodies.
Her golden brown eyes weren’t unfocused, but cop flat. “Three victims, two male, one female, carefully arranged to sit, backs against the front wall. Black male, center, multiple stab wounds, torso, shoulders, arms, legs, neck, and face. Left ear removed. Caucasian female on the left appears to have been strangled. Mixed-race male, right of center, bludgeoned. Left eye removed.”
Hell of a party, she thought, and let out a breath that fluttered the bangs on her short cap of brown hair.
“Three mattresses, some bedding, clothes, mini friggie, battery lamp, two chairs, two tables. It appears all three vics flopped here. Money scattered around, what shows looks to be about a grand. So robbery’s out. First on scene ascertained forced window, rear of building, street level. Probable point of entry.”
She took the female first, hunkered down on her long legs, opened her field kit. “Female also suffered blows to the face, knees. Hard blow to the knees,” she murmured. “Pipe, bat, board—take her down—a couple punches. Manual strangulation.”
She ran the victim’s prints.
“Female is identified as Jennifer Darnell, age twenty-four. Current address listed on West Sixteenth. Got a sheet, including juvie. Primarily illegals busts.”
Peabody came back in. “The Whitwood Group bought the property about seven months ago,” she said. “From what I can tell, the building was condemned a little over a year ago. Permits for rehab pending.”
“Okay. So the killer or killers took his ear, his eye. Isn’t there a saying—what is it? Hear no evil, see no evil...” Carefully, Eve opened Jennifer Darnell’s mouth. “Yeah, speak no evil. He cut out her tongue.”
“Work see-no guy, Peabody. I need ID, TOD.” Eve fit on microgoggles, engaged their light to peer into the victim’s mouth. “Clean cut, neat and tidy. She was either already dead or unconscious when he took her tongue, and he had a good, steady hand.”
Struggling to find her own good, steady hand, Peabody opened her kit. “Taking the body parts, those particular body parts, do you think ritual?”
“Possibly.” She looked up at the message on the wall. “Mostly, I think he likes to joke. Real funny guy. He did what he wanted, took what he wanted, now he’s telling us to clean up the mess. Dr. Chaos.”
Eve looked around the room. “That’s what this is. The middle guy? The killer took him out where he lay. Uses a knife, or a scalpel. But he doesn’t use it on the others, except for the removal. He switches to bludgeoning for the other male.”
“Coby Vix, age twenty-six,” Peabody told her. “There had to be two killers, maybe three. One for each vic?”
“Maybe. It’s a lot of work for one man. But only one takes credit?”
As Eve had, Peabody studied the bloody message. “Dr. Chaos. It could be the name of a group.”
Eve considered it while she used the gauges. “Yeah, it could. TOD on Darnell, two hundred thirty-eight.”
“If there was only one, why didn’t she run like hell when he’s stabbing the bejesus out of that guy or beating the crap out of Vix?”
“Took her out, blows to the knees. Shattered kneecaps. But yeah, it could be more than one. Three distinct methods of killing.”
“Vix, TOD two hundred twenty.”
“So, he took some time with Darnell. Enough for rape.” Eve lifted the hem of the short nightshirt. “No bruising, bleeding, tearing I can see, but the ME will determine sexual assault.” Eve lifted the cheap, thin chain around Darnell’s bruised neck. “She’s wearing a ninety-day chip from Get Straight.”
“Vix has sixty.” Peabody held up the chip.
With a nod, Eve rose and moved to the middle victim. “Hear-no has thirty. Wilson Bickford,” she said when she’d run his prints. “Age twenty-two. That same precision, surgical removal on the ear. Dr. Chaos may just be a doctor, or at least have medical training. Hmm, TOD two hundred thirty. Didn’t die first.”
She sat back on her heels, tried to see it.
“He’s the biggest of the three. The killer went at him first,” she continued. “I bet your ass he did.”
“Hey, bet your own ass.”
“Defensive wounds, hands, arms. Bickford put up a fight. Take it a couple ways. Say three killers, one for each vic. Teamwork. One stabs, one beats, one strangles. But this doesn’t look like teamwork,” Eve said, scanning the room again. “It looks like...” She gestured to the message on the wall.
“Yeah. Could be the team just went to town on the place. But I’m only seeing one type of bloody footprint, and it’s too much to swallow they all wore the same size and type of shoe.”
“Missed that,” Peabody muttered.
“Maybe there’s more, and I’ve missed them. Or maybe the others were more careful.”
“But you don’t think so.”
“I think that’s an interesting gap of time between TODs. I think the same hand did the removals, an experienced hand, steady. We’ve got serious overkill on the two males, and manual strangulation—which is personal and intimate—on the female. The destruction of the scene is over the top, and that reads rage. But the message is jokey, which reads control and intellect. It could be more than one. One with a cool head, one just batshit crazy.
“Let’s get them bagged, tagged, and transported. I want to talk to the nine-one-one caller.”
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