Read Haunted Destiny Online

Authors: Heather Graham

Haunted Destiny

BOOK: Haunted Destiny
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Between the evil and the deep blue sea…

A historic cruise ship, a
haunted
ship, the Celtic American Line's
Destiny
, sets sail from the Port of New Orleans—with a killer on board. He's known as the Archangel Killer because of the way he displays his victims in churches. And how he places a different saint's medallion on each body. No one knows exactly
who
he is or
why
he's doing this.

Jackson Crow—head of the FBI's Krewe of Hunters, a special unit of paranormal investigators—is assigned to the case, along with local agent Jude McCoy. Then Alexi Cromwell, who works in the ship's piano bar, is drawn into the situation when a victim's ghost appears to her—and to Jude. She and Jude share an attraction, and not just because of their mutual talent.

There are many suspects, but one by one they're ruled out… Or are they? In the end, Jude and Alexi have to rely on each other to catch the killer and escape his evil plans for Alexi.

Praise for
New York Times
bestselling author
Heather Graham

“With an astonishing ease and facility, this talented and hard-working writer can cast her stories in any genre.”

—Charlaine Harris, #1
New York Times
bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels

“Once again, Heather Graham has outdone herself.
The Betrayed
took me on a fantastic trip to Sleepy Hollow and I'd travel with Graham anywhere… This chilling novel has everything: suspense, romance, intrigue and an ending that takes your breath away.”

—
Suspense Magazine

“[
Waking the Dead
] is not to be missed.”

—
BookTalk

“Dark, dangerous and deadly! Graham has the uncanny ability to bring her books to life, using exceptionally vivid details to add depth to all the people and places.”

—
RT Book Reviews
on
Waking the Dead
, Top Pick

“Murder, intrigue…a fast-paced read. You may never know in advance what harrowing situations Graham will place her characters in, but…rest assured that the end result will be satisfying.”

—
Suspense Magazine
on
Let the Dead Sleep

“Graham deftly weaves elements of mystery, the paranormal and romance into a tight plot that will keep the reader guessing at the true nature of the killer's evil.”

—
Publishers Weekly
on
The Unseen

“Suspenseful and dark.… The transitions between past and present flow seamlessly, and the main characters are interesting and their connection to one another is believable.”

—
RT Book Reviews
on
The Unseen

Also by HEATHER GRAHAM

FLAWLESS
THE HIDDEN
THE FORGOTTEN
THE SILENCED
THE DEAD PLAY ON
THE BETRAYED
THE HEXED
THE CURSED
WAKING THE DEAD
THE NIGHT IS FOREVER
THE NIGHT IS ALIVE
THE NIGHT IS WATCHING
LET THE DEAD SLEEP
THE UNINVITED
THE UNSPOKEN
THE UNHOLY
THE UNSEEN
AN ANGEL FOR CHRISTMAS
THE EVIL INSIDE
SACRED EVIL
HEART OF EVIL
PHANTOM EVIL
NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRES
THE KEEPERS
GHOST MOON
GHOST NIGHT
GHOST SHADOW
THE KILLING EDGE
NIGHT OF THE WOLVES
HOME IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS
UNHALLOWED GROUND
DUST TO DUST
NIGHTWALKER
DEADLY GIFT
DEADLY HARVEST
DEADLY NIGHT
THE DEATH DEALER
THE LAST NOEL
THE SÉANCE
BLOOD RED
THE DEAD ROOM
KISS OF DARKNESS
THE VISION
THE ISLAND
GHOST WALK
KILLING KELLY
THE PRESENCE
DEAD ON THE DANCE FLOOR
PICTURE ME DEAD
HAUNTED
HURRICANE BAY
A SEASON OF MIRACLES
NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD
NEVER SLEEP WITH STRANGERS
EYES OF FIRE
SLOW BURN
NIGHT HEAT

* * * * *

Look for Heather Graham's next novel
DEADLY FATE
available soon from MIRA Books

HEATHER GRAHAM

Haunted Destiny

For David Curtis Mutter, the best piano man out there. (Sorry, David! Yes, I turned you into a young woman—quite beautiful, though—for the purposes of this story!)

And for FRW, surely one of the best writing groups out there!

CAST OF CHARACTERS

FBI Agents:

Jackson Crow (Head of the Krewe of Hunters)
Angela Hawkins (Special Agent and Jackson's wife)
Jude McCoy (Special Agent in the New Orleans field office)

Celtic American Cruise Line (on the
Destiny
)
In the Entertainment Division:

Alexi Cromwell, piano bar hostess
Bradley Wilcox, head of entertainment
Clara Avery, soprano, in the ship's presentation of
Les Miz
Ralph Martini, mature actor
Simon Green, chorus
Larry Hepburn, young heartthrob actor

Key Personnel on the Ship:

Xavier Thorne, Captain of the
Destiny
Larry Beach, Head of Security
Johnny Morgan, Security Guard
Jensen Hardy, Cruise Director
Nolan Perkins, Crew Steward

Among the Passengers:

Hank Osprey, brilliant young computer magnate
Roger Antrim, retired executive, and Lorna, his wife
Flora Winters, widow
Ginny Monk, dating Hank Osprey

1

T
hey'd started out on foot that morning—not long after the murder was reported.

The murder that would soon bring the Big Easy to its knees; the eleventh attributed to the man the media had dubbed the “Archangel.”

And who had now, apparently, moved into New Orleans.

The perpetrator had already left his mark on other cities. The first two killings had taken place in Charleston, South Carolina, where two women were murdered, their bodies found in churches; the actual crime scenes had never been discovered. That was eight months ago.

After that there'd been a lull. At that time the Archangel hadn't been given his moniker yet and he hadn't been on the nation's radar as a serial killer.

Some people wanted to believe that the killer himself was dead, or that he'd been incarcerated on other charges, the true extent of his crimes never known.

But those first two murders had held a strange signature—both victims displayed in churches with a saint's medallion around their necks. And most investigators expected the killer to strike again.

Which he did, four months later.

The killer had come farther south, taking two lives in Miami, Florida, and quickly followed by two more, just up the coast in Fort Lauderdale.

Then, for another four months, nothing.

Law enforcement worked day and night, certain that he'd strike again—but not knowing where.

He did.

He'd traveled on to Mobile, Alabama. There, he'd killed three young women and a young man—the boyfriend of one of them, by all accounts. He'd arrived too late to save the last female Mobile victim, and was not at all prepared for the homicidal knife-wielder he'd come to meet. An actor returning home after his show, he'd obviously put up a fight. The young woman had been left on church steps, the boyfriend dumped in an alley. They knew this time, however—from various cell phone calls and messages—that the couple had been attacked at the young woman's home, a small bungalow in a wooded area of the city.

But despite the disarray and the traces of blood in the bathtub, the killer had left behind no fingerprints, no fibers—no hint of his identity.

The last four had died in a period of three days, all while local law and the FBI scrambled after the Archangel like ants, certain they were getting close. They'd called out the National Guard in Mobile—only for the killer to refuse to strike again.

The one male victim had been dumped in an alley with no ceremony, while the young women's bodies had been discovered at a church, sometimes on the outside steps, sometimes by the altar. The Archangel had left each female victim laid out as if prepared for burial—arms folded over her chest, a silver saint's medal around her neck, almost covering the ribbon of red where he'd slit her throat.

Jude McCoy had seen the pictures; practically every agent in every city in the country had seen the crime scene photos of the victims.

And they'd all looked just like this young woman he gazed down at now. She lay before the altar of a church on the outskirts of the French Quarter, arms folded over her chest, a medallion of St. Luke around her throat.

Her name was Jean Wilson. She lay there, in front of the altar, a choir robe draped over her naked body, the telltale blood line around her neck—as if it was a chain for the medallion on her chest. She'd been young and beautiful with long, luxurious dark hair and coffee-colored skin.

Seeing her, Jude McCoy felt a mixture of horror, pity, rage—and helplessness.

He knew that no one in law enforcement was to blame. Not the bureau, Homeland Security or any branch of the local police. There were, according to the FBI specialists and scholars at various universities, anywhere between twenty and several hundred serial killers operating in the United States at any given time. This one, however, had been making headlines and had the entire nation on edge.

No one had known where he'd strike next.

Before this morning, Jude and the other members of his division had already been alerted. They'd sat through lectures by the bureau's behavioral sciences professionals. What they learned was that this killer was organized, and he was smart. He was either independently wealthy or had a job that allowed travel. He was aware of the need to wear gloves and leave nothing behind. He also had the ability, in a short span of time, to choose and stalk his victims and silence them quickly, although he never sexually assaulted them. They'd all been found in or near churches; murdered elsewhere, their bodies weren't dumped there, but
displayed
. They hadn't been killed in the churches; two, at least, were murdered in the victim's own home. Under most circumstances, Jude McCoy would have remained with the police and other FBI officers on the scene, since it was apparent that the victim had been moved from the crime scene and that the killer was long gone. He would have walked the church over and over again, making note of any little detail. He would have studied the street and determined just how the killer had traveled there with the body, how he'd brought it into a locked church and displayed it—without being seen.

But not that day.

After the medical examiner had arrived and Jude and Jackson Crow listened to his on-site findings, Jude moved back to the steps of the two-hundred-plus-year-old church to survey the sidewalk and the street.

Not surprisingly, nothing was
usual
that day. Everything felt different. The murder, of course. And maybe it was because he'd been abruptly paired with a stranger. And maybe because he'd heard things about Jackson Crow and his elite Krewe of Hunters unit. The Krewe had been formed right here in NOLA several years ago. Jude had received directions that morning. He would be on special assignment with an agent who knew the area well and had followed the trail of victims from Miami to New Orleans—Assistant Director Jackson Crow. When the body of Jean Wilson had been discovered, Crow had already been on his way in from Mobile, Alabama; he'd made an educated guess that the killer's next strike might well be the city of New Orleans. He'd been on the case for some time, or so Jude understood, and in this situation FBI involvement was expected. Jackson Crow headed up a
paranormal
sector of the FBI—that was the rumor, anyway. They were unofficially known as the Krewe of Hunters—ghostbusters, some people said. Whether that was true or not, Jude didn't know. He'd looked up their records out of curiosity; they did have an uncanny success rate hovering at almost 100 percent.

For Jude, the change of partners was not only an abrupt change, it was also one he wasn't sure he felt comfortable with. His usual partner, Gary Firestone, was at the scene, as well. In fact, with all the law enforcement agencies involved, the greatest danger was that evidence might get lost because of the number of people messing around.

But Crow seemed aware of the danger and quickly organized staff into work units. Somehow, he seemed to manage it all without incurring resentment. He was spare with words, determined, efficient in movement.

Working with him, so far, anyway, was all right; they had an easy rapport, probably since they were both focused on one thing—finding the demon responsible for such heinous deaths.

However...Jackson Crow was Krewe of Hunters. And thinking about his own past, particularly a strange event that had haunted him since he'd been in the military, he was a little wary of Jackson Crow. He was intrigued that Crow had sought him out, yet slightly troubled because of it.

He quashed the feeling. He didn't have time for that kind of emotion; they were in pursuit of a killer.

While the medical examiner worked inside the church, he and Crow had stepped outside. Uniformed police were cordoning off the area with yellow tape. A crowd of onlookers had gathered.

“Look,” Jude said quietly to Crow.

There was a man lurking on the outskirts of the crowd.

Summer in New Orleans. Hotter than the devil's own seat in hell. And the guy was dressed in a sweatshirt, holding his head down, shuffling his feet, watching. There was something odd about his manner—and his appearance. His face was almost gruesome, and his nose was huge.

“I see him,” Crow muttered.

The man might have been a voyeur, the kind who slowed down at the scene of a car accident.

And yet his behavior made him typical of killers who returned to see the aftermath of their work, getting their kicks all over again by seeing the police run around, the crowd gawk—and the relatives break down in tears and denial. Jude carefully started moving toward him.

Just then the man looked up. Jude froze behind one of the columns. It was important, he thought, that the man not see him.

His face was...unnatural. Not as if he was wearing a mask, but makeup. Prosthetic makeup, perhaps, giving him a larger nose, a bulbous chin, harder cheek bones. The man turned to run, as if he'd sniffed out the fact that he'd been noticed. Jude shouted to Crow and began to run in pursuit.

Jackson Crow was already beside him.

Running.

They tore across Rampart Street and into the Quarter...down, all the way down to Bourbon. And there they lost him. By then, of course, there were dozens of officers around.

“Every bar, every damn bar!” Jackson ordered. “The guy in the gray sweatshirt. Black hair.”

It was still daytime, around three o'clock, but a summer festival was in full swing. Music of all kinds was blaring, tourists were crowding around and beads were being flung from balconies. There were hawkers on the street, and the sheer flow of people, from the slightly inebriated to the out-and-out drunk did not make for easy movement. Jude thought he saw the man head into a place called Piccolo's.
He followed.

A four-piece band was playing a Journey number, and the crowd was gathered by the stage, singing along. Waiters and waitresses worked their way through the revelers.

Police and other agents were bearing down on the bar, as well.

Jude quickly scanned the bar and the people inside it.

Crow was still right behind him.

“There!” Crow called out.

Their prey had leaped on top of the bar; a girl giggled and started toward him, ready to stuff some dollar bills in his pocket, or so it appeared. But the man jumped down from the bar, a stool crashed over and she went flying back, sending others onto the floor as she did. Chaos erupted to the refrain of “Don't Stop Believing.”

“Lost him!” Crow said, swearing under his breath.

Jude was already climbing over the bar himself, past the stunned bartender—standing with his mixer in hand—and through the dingy kitchen to the side street. They were on St. Ann.

From there he saw the man step into the passenger seat of an old Chevy around the corner from the club—and even as Jude raced after him, the car pulled out into the street.

“Hey!” he roared to Crow. His new partner as of the morning was already outside.

“This way!” Crow shouted.

They moved down St. Ann at a run until they reached a bureau sedan. The driver stepped out.

“Assistant Director Crow,” the man began, ready to leap into action as driver.

“We'll take it, Hicks,” Crow said, accepting the keys and tossing them to Jude. “Drive. You know the streets better than I do.”

Jude was surprised but pleased that Crow had the sense to realize that. And it was true. He knew the one-ways and he knew the cutoffs that happened so often when New Orleans was in festival mode.

The man driving the Chevy should have been stopped by the sheer volume of pedestrian traffic. So far, he'd banged on his horn and plowed through. Jude hopped into the driver's seat while Crow got into the passenger side.

Streets were closed; there was no way to traverse them.

Jude shot across to a side street, but the suspect was nowhere to be seen. Moving on instinct, he sped toward Canal, hoping to cut him off.

“Where are you going?” Crow asked.

“We'll catch him on the border of the Vieux Carre,” Jude said.

And they did.

There they saw the Chevy surging ahead, and Jude did his best to follow without running over a pedestrian. Even on Canal, people were wandering on and off the road.

“Where's he going? What the hell?” Crow asked, shaking his head. “And who's driving? Are we dealing with a pair of killers?”

The man in the Chevy didn't seem to have a destination. He was driving erratically, avoiding the dozens of cop cars now on the road.

“Airport...train station...” Crow mused. “Hey! That was him, down Tchoupitoulas!”

“Might be going to the port,” Jude said, still trying to follow the Chevy. He wasn't sure, but he thought that the driver was now maneuvering around a one-way street toward the Riverwalk area—and the massive cruise port.

Yes.

The car
was
going to the port!

As Jude drove hard, the siren blasting, Jackson Crow got on the radio, advising all law enforcement in the area to watch out for the car and the two men, giving a description of their suspect's clothing and appearance.

So many ships, so many cruise lines.

“There! Up ahead. The Celtic American line,” Crow said. “I see the car.”

The Chevy was in front of the entry to the Celtic American line. More chaos was breaking out as last-minute cruisers competed for positions to park or drop off passengers.

Jude jerked the sedan off to the side of the road. Crow was out of the sedan before it was in Park. Seconds later he had the driver standing on the sidewalk beside the old Chevy.

He looked like a man in a trance. He was fifty-five or sixty, a slightly pudgy and balding businessman who seemed completely bewildered—as if he didn't know who he was or why he was there.

“Who were you driving? Why didn't you stop?” Crow demanded.

“I'm Walter Bean. I was supposed to pick up my daughter after her shift at the Red Garter... She's a hostess there.”

BOOK: Haunted Destiny
6.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Fall for a SEAL by Zoe York
The Soother by Elle J Rossi
Natural Reaction by Reid, Terri
El general en su laberinto by Gabriel García Márquez
Shadowboxer by Cari Quinn
Rivals by Felicia Jedlicka
Hell Bound (Seventh Level Book 2) by Charity Parkerson, Regina Puckett
Killing Secrets by Docter, K.L