Authors: Karen Rose
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense
|Kill for Me|
|Daniel Vartanian |
|Hachette Book Group USA (2008)|
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Karen Rose Hafer
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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Have You Seen Her?
I’m Watching You
Nothing to Fear
You Can’t Hide
Count to Ten
Die for Me
Scream for Me
To Martin, for always believing in me even when I don’t. I love you.
To Sarah, for achieving your dreams despite all the obstacles. You inspire me. Life, Prosperity, Health.
Danny Agan for answering all my questions about police procedure.
Shannon Aviles for all her support and wonderful ideas.
Doug Byron for his help in DNA procedure.
Kay Conterato for going above and beyond the call of duty when she researched radio ID badges while hospitalized!
Marc Conterato for all of his medical expertise—my drugged, shot, stabbed, and poisoned characters thank you, too.
Myke Landers for sharing his experience as a survivor of a POW camp in Vietnam. I was honored and forever changed. Thank you.
Angela Maples for her guidance in the tracking of pharmaceuticals.
Shirley McCarroll, Tommy Gianides, Suzanne Verikios, and Jan Sarver for all their priceless information on Greek families and customs.
Frank Ouellette for answering my questions on the Chattahoochee River.
Nate VanNess for his help on tracking ISPs.
Terri Bolyard, Kay Conterato, and Sonie Lasker for helping me get unstuck. You all are awesome.
Karen Kosztolnyik, Vicki Mellor, and Robin Rue for all you do to make my dreams come true.
As always, all mistakes are my own.
Port Union, South Carolina, August, six months earlier
onica Cassidy felt a flutter in her stomach.
Today would be the day.
She’d waited for sixteen long years, but today the wait would be over. Today she’d be a woman. Finally. And wasn’t it about time?
She realized she was twisting her fingers together and forced herself to stop.
Calm down, Monica. There’s nothing to be nervous about. This is, like, natural
her friends had done it. Some of them a lot more than once.
Today, it’s my turn.
Monica sat on the hotel bed and brushed the dirt off the keycard, which had been hidden exactly where Jason said it would be. She shivered, her lips curving in a small smile. She’d met him in a chat room and they’d clicked right way. She’d meet him in person soon.
In the flesh.
He’d teach her things. He’d promised. He was a college guy, so he’d be a lot better at it than the gross boys that tried to cop a feel every time there was a crush in the hallway between classes.
Finally she’d be treated like an adult. Not like her mom did. Monica rolled her eyes. She’d be a forty-year-old virgin if her mother had her way.
Good thing I’m smarter
She grinned to herself, thinking of all the steps she’d taken to cover her tracks that morning. No one friend knew where she was, so they couldn’t blab if they wanted to. She’d be back home, well and truly fucked, before her mother made it home from work.
How was your day, honey
? Mom would ask.
Same old, same old,
Monica would answer. And as soon as she was able, she’d come back. Because she was sixteen years old for God’s sake and nobody was going to tell her what to do ever again. Bells trilled and Monica dug furiously in her purse for her cell. She drew a breath. It was him.
Her thumbs were actually trembling.
W8ing 4 U. WAU.
“I’m waiting for you. Where are you?” she murmured as she entered her reply.
POS. PITA. SYS. ILY,
he answered. His parents were watching him over his shoulder, she thought, rolling her eyes again. His folks were as big a pain in the ass as hers. But he’d see her soon. She smiled.
He loves me.
This would be so worth it.
she typed and snapped her phone shut. It was an old phone. It didn’t even have a camera. She was the only one in her crowd without a damn camera on her phone. Her mom had one. But did Monica?
Mom was such a control freak.
You’ll get a phone when you bring up your grades
. Monica sneered.
If you only knew where I am. You’d shut up.
She stood up, suddenly restless. “Treat
like a fucking kid,” she muttered, taking her purse to the dresser and staring in the mirror. She looked fine, every hair in place. She looked pretty, even. She wanted to be pretty for him.
No, she wanted to be
for him. Monica rummaged in her purse, pulling out the condoms she’d pilfered from her mother’s ancient, never-used supply. But they hadn’t hit their ex-date, yet, so they’d still be good. She looked at her watch.
Where was he?
She was going to be late getting home if he didn’t get here soon.
The door creaked open and she turned, the feline smile she’d practiced firmly in place. “Hello there.” Then she froze. “You’re not Jason.”
It was a cop and he was shaking his head. “No, I’m not. Are you Monica?”
Monica lifted her chin, her heart pounding. “What’s it to you?”
“You don’t know how lucky you are. I’m Deputy Mansfield. We’ve been tracking your ‘boyfriend’ Jason for weeks. Your ‘boyfriend’ is really a fifty-nine-year-old pervert.”
Monica shook her head. “No way. I don’t believe you.” She rushed for the door. “Jason! Run, it’s a trap! They’re
He caught her shoulder. “We arrested him already.”
Monica shook her head again, slower this time. “But he just IM’d me.”
“That was me using his phone. I wanted to be sure you were in here and that you were unhurt.” His face gentled. “Monica, you really are a lucky girl. So many predators out there are trolling for girls just like you, pretending to be boys your age.”
“He said he was nineteen. A college boy.”
The deputy shrugged. “He lied. Come on, get your things. I’ll take you home.”
She closed her eyes. She’d seen stories like this on TV and every time her mom would wag her finger.
Perverts out there everywhere
. Monica sighed.
This can’t be happening to me
. “My mom is going to kill me.”
“Better your mom than that perv,” he said evenly. “He’s killed before.”
Monica felt the blood drain from her face. “He has?”
“At least twice. Come on. Moms never really kill you.”
“Shows what you know,” she muttered. She grabbed her purse, furiously.
I am so dead
. She’d thought her mother was crazy protective before.
She’ll lock me up and throw away the key
. “Oh God,” she moaned. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
She followed the deputy to an unmarked car. She could see the light on the dash when he opened the passenger door. “Get in and buckle up,” he said.
Grimly she obeyed. “You can just take me back to the bus station,” she said. “You don’t have to tell my mom.”
He just gave her an amused look before slamming her door shut. He got behind the wheel and reached behind the seat, grabbing a bottle of water. “Here. Try to relax. What’s the worst your mom can do?”
“Kill me,” Monica muttered, twisting the top off the bottle. She drank a third of it in great gulps. She hadn’t realized she was so thirsty. Her stomach growled. And hungry. “Can you stop at MickeyD’s at the exit? I haven’t eaten today. I have my own money.”
“Sure.” He started the car and pulled onto the stretch of highway that went back to the interstate. In a few minutes he’d covered what had taken her an hour to walk that morning after the last ride she’d hitched let her off at a gas station at the exit.
Monica frowned when the world went spinning. “Whoa. I must be hungrier than I thought. There’s a . . .” She watched the golden arches disappear behind them as he got back on the interstate. “I need to eat.”
“You’ll eat later,” he said coldly. “For now, just shut up.”
Monica stared at him. “Stop. Let me out.”
He laughed. “I’ll stop when I get to where you’re going.”
Monica tried to grab the door handle, but her hand didn’t move. Her body didn’t move.
She couldn’t move
“You can’t move,” he said. “Don’t worry. The drug’s only temporary.”
She couldn’t see him anymore. She’d closed her eyes and now couldn’t open them.
Oh God. Oh God. What’s happening?
She tried to scream, but couldn’t.
“Hey, it’s me,” he said. He’d made a call on his phone. “I have her.” He laughed softly. “Oh, she’s very pretty. And she just might be a virgin like she claimed all along. I’m bringing her in. Have my money ready. Cash, like always.”
She heard a sound, a terrified keening, and knew it came from her own throat.
“You shoulda listened to your mama,” he said mockingly. “Now you’re mine.”
Ridgefield House, Georgia, Friday, February 2, 1:30 p.m.
he ringing of Bobby’s cell phone brought an abrupt halt to their chess game.
Charles paused, his forefinger hovering over his queen. “Do you need to get that?”
Bobby checked the caller ID and frowned. It was Rocky, calling from her private phone. “Yes, I do. Excuse me, please.”
Charles gestured his assent. “By all means. Should I leave the room?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bobby said, then into the phone asked, “Why are you calling?”
“Because Granville called
,” Rocky said tensely, road noise in the background. She was in her car. “Mansfield’s with him at the river place. Mansfield got a text from Granville saying Daniel Vartanian knew about the product, that he’s coming with the state police. Granville says he didn’t send the message. I don’t think he’s lying.”
Bobby said nothing. This was far worse an outcome than expected.
After a moment of silence, Rocky hesitantly added, “Vartanian wouldn’t have warned them. He would have just shown up with a SWAT team. I . . . I think we were too late.”
were too late?” Bobby asked scathingly and there was silence.
“All right,” Rocky said quietly. “I was too late. But it’s done now. We have to assume the river place has been compromised.”
“Fuck,” Bobby muttered, then winced when Charles lifted his brows admonishingly. “Clear out by the river, not the road. The last thing you want is to meet the cops coming in as you’re driving out. Call Jersey. He’s moved shipments for me before.”
“Granville called him and he’s on his way. Trouble is, we can only fit six in the boat.”
Bobby scowled. “Jersey’s boat is big enough to fit twelve in the cargo hold, easily.”
“That boat’s elsewhere. This is the only vehicle he had available.”
Bobby glanced at Charles, who listened avidly. “Eliminate what you can’t carry. Make sure you leave nothing behind. Understand?
Nothing can remain
. Use the river if you don’t have time to make other arrangements. There are some sandbags behind the generator. Bring them here. I’ll meet you at the dock.”
“Will do. I’m on my way down there to make sure those two don’t fuck it up.”
“Good. And watch Granville. He’s . . .” Bobby glanced at Charles again, saw he now appeared amused. “He’s not stable.”
“I know. One more thing. I hear Daniel Vartanian went to the bank today.”
This was far better news. “And? What did you hear that he came out with?”
“Nothing. The safe-deposit box was empty.”
Of course it was. Because I emptied it myself years ago
. “That’s interesting. We’ll discuss it later. Now move. Call me when the job is done.” Bobby hung up and met Charles’s curious gaze. “You know, you could have told me Toby Granville was unraveling before I took him on as a business partner. Freaking crazy SOB.”
Charles’s mouth curled up in a self-satisfied smile. “And miss all the fun? I don’t think so. How is your new assistant working out?”
“Smart. Still gets a little green around the gills when she has to process orders, but never lets the men see it. And it’s never stopped her from getting the job done.”
“Excellent. Glad to hear it.” He tilted his head. “So is everything else all right?”
Bobby sat back, brows lifted. “Your business is fine. Nothing else is your business.”
“As long as my investment continues to pay dividends, you may have your secrets.”
“Oh, you’ll get your dividends. This has been a very good year. Base business profits are up forty percent and the new premium line is just flying out the door.”
“But you’re about to ‘eliminate’ stock.”
“That stock was at the end of its useful life anyway. Now, where were we?”
Charles moved his queen. “Checkmate, I believe.”
Bobby swore lightly, then sighed. “So it is. I should have seen that coming, but I never do. You’ve always been the master of the chessboard.”
“I’ve always been the master,” Charles corrected, and pure reflex had Bobby sitting up a little straighter. Charles nodded, and Bobby swallowed back the annoyance that rose every time Charles tugged the reins. “Of course, I didn’t drop by simply to beat you at chess,” he said. “I have some news. A plane landed in Atlanta this morning.”
An uneasy shiver skittered up Bobby’s spine. “So? Hundreds of planes land in Atlanta every day. Thousands even.”
“True.” Charles began putting the chess pieces in the ivory case he carried with him everywhere. “But this plane carried a traveler in whom you have a vested interest.”
Charles met Bobby’s narrowed eyes with another satisfied smile. “Susannah Vartanian is back in town,” he said, holding up the white ivory queen. “Again.”
Bobby took the queen from Charles’s hand, trying to appear blasé, when inside a geyser exploded. “Well, well.”
“Well, well, indeed. You missed last time.”
“I didn’t try last time,” Bobby snapped defensively. “She was only here a day when the judge and his wife were buried last week.” Susannah had stood at her brother’s side at their parents’ grave, her face expressionless even though turbulence had churned in her gray eyes. Just seeing her again after all this time. . . . The turbulence in Susannah’s eyes was nothing compared to the seething rage Bobby had been forced to swallow.
“Don’t you snap the head off my queen, Bobby,” Charles drawled. “She was hand-carved by a master craftsman outside Saigon. She’s worth more than you are.”
Bobby placed the queen on Charles’s palm, ignoring that last jab.
Calm down. You make mistakes when you’re riled.
“She went back to New York too quickly last week. I didn’t have time to adequately prepare.” It sounded whiny, which made Bobby angrier.
“Planes fly both ways, Bobby. You didn’t have to wait for her to return.” Charles snuggled the queen into her velvet slot within his ivory case. “But, it would appear you now have a second chance. I hope you plan more effectively this time.”
“On that you can depend.”
Charles’s smile was cagey. “Just promise me a ringside seat when the fireworks begin. I’m partial to the red fireworks myself.”
Bobby’s smile was grim. “I can guarantee lots of red. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some pressing business to attend to.”
Charles stood. “I have to be going anyway. I have a funeral to attend.”
“Who’s getting buried today?”
“Well, Jim and Marianne Woolf better enjoy it. At least they won’t have to fight the other reporters. They’ll have a ringside seat, right on the family pew.”
“Bobby.” Charles shook his head in mock outrage. “Such a thing to say.”
“You know I’m right. Jim Woolf would sell his own sister for a byline.”
Charles settled his hat on his head and picked up his walking stick, his ivory box tucked under his arm. “And someday, you may be able to say the same.”
Bobby thought, watching Charles drive away,
not for something as insignificant as a byline.
Now for a birthright . . . that was an entirely different matter. But there would be time for dreams later. Now there was work to be done.
“Tanner! Come here. I need you.”
The old man appeared, seemingly from nowhere, as was his way. “Yes?”
“Unexpected guests are on the way. Please prepare accommodations for six more.”
Tanner gave a single nod. “Of course. While you were in with Mr. Charles, Mr. Haynes called. He’ll be coming by tonight to secure a companion for the weekend.”
Bobby smiled. Haynes was a premium client, a rich man with depraved tastes. And he paid cash. “Excellent. We’ll be ready.”
Charles stopped his car at the end of the street. From here the turrets of Ridgefield House were still visible. The house had stood in that place for nearly a hundred years. It was a strong house, built the way they used to be. Charles had an appreciation for good architecture, having lived in many places a rat wouldn’t call home.
Bobby used Ridgefield to house “inventory,” and the location was ideal for this purpose. Situated far off the main road, most people didn’t even know the house still stood. It was close enough to the river for convenience, but far enough away that it was safe if the river swelled. It wasn’t large enough or beautiful enough or even old enough to be on any conservator’s list, which made it simply perfect.
For years Bobby had spurned this house as old and ugly and beneath consideration, until maturity had revealed what Charles had learned long ago.
Flashy packages draw attention. The mark of true success is invisibility.
Being able to hide in plain sight had enabled him to pull the strings of the flashy, the pompous.
Now, they are nothing but my puppets. They dance to my tune
It made them angry, powerless, but they didn’t know the true meaning of powerlessness. They lived in fear of losing the possessions they’d accumulated, so they surrendered their pride, their decency. Their
, which was merely a religious man’s farce. Some surrendered with barely a nudge. Those people Charles viewed with contempt. They had no idea what it meant to lose everything.
To be stripped bare of physical pleasure, to be deprived of the most basic of human needs.
The weak feared losing their stuff. But Charles did not. Once a man was stripped to the bone of his humanity . . . then he had no fear. Charles had no fear.
But he did have plans, plans that included Bobby and Susannah Vartanian.
Bobby was a level higher than all the others. Charles had molded Bobby’s quick mind when it was young and molten and full of fury. Full of questions and hate. He’d convinced Bobby the time would come for revenge, for claiming the birthright that circumstances—and certain people—had denied. But Bobby still danced to Charles’s tune. Charles simply allowed Bobby to believe the tune was original.
He opened the top of his ivory box, lifted the queen from her slot, and pressed the hidden spring that had a lower drawer sliding out. His journal was on top of the belongings he never left home without. Thoughtfully he thumbed to the first blank page and began to write.
Now is the time for my protégé’s revenge, because I wish it to be. I planted the seed years ago. I’ve only watered it today. When Bobby sits down at the computer to work, the photograph of Susannah Vartanian will be waiting.
Bobby hates Susannah, because I wish it. But Bobby was indeed correct on one score: Toby Granville is becoming more unstable every year. Sometimes absolute power—or the illusion thereof—does corrupt absolutely. When Toby becomes too big a danger, I’ll have him killed, just like I had Toby Granville kill others.
Taking a life is a powerful thing. Sticking your knife into a man’s gut and watching the life seep from his eyes . . . a powerful thing indeed. But forcing another to kill . . . that is the ultimate power. Kill for me. It’s playing God.
Yes, Toby would soon need to be killed. But there would be another Toby Granville. In time, there would be another Bobby.
And I will go on
. He closed his journal, replaced it and the queen in their proper places as he’d done countless times before.
Dutton, Georgia, Friday, February 2, 2:00 p.m.
She hurt. All over. They’d beaten her head this time, and kicked her ribs. Monica firmed her lips in grim satisfaction. But it had been worth it. She’d get away or die trying. She’d force them to kill her before she let them use her anymore.
Then they’d lose a
. That’s what they’d called her. She’d heard them, talking on the other side of the wall.
They can kiss my depreciable asset.
Anything, even death, was better than the life she had lived for . . . how long had it been?
She’d lost track of how many months had passed. Five, maybe six. Monica had never truly believed in a hell before. She sure as hell did now.
For a while she’d lost her will to live, but thanks to Becky, she’d gotten it back. It was Becky who’d tried to escape so many times. They’d tried to stop her, to break her. They’d broken Becky’s body, but not her spirit. In the short time they’d whispered through the wall that separated them, Monica had drawn strength from the girl she’d never seen. The girl whose death had rekindled her own desire to live.
Or die trying.
She drew what she’d wanted to be a deep breath, wincing before her lungs fully inflated. Her rib was probably broken. Maybe more than one. She wondered where they’d taken Becky’s body after they’d beaten her to death. She could still hear the crunching blows, because they’d meant for her to. They’d opened all their doors so they could hear every punch, every kick, and every one of Becky’s moans. They’d meant for them all to hear. To be afraid. To learn a lesson.
Every girl in the place. There were at least ten of them, in varying degrees of
. Some were newly initiated, others old hands at the oldest profession in the world.
Like me. I just want to go home
Monica gave her arm a weak shake and heard the resulting clink of the chain that held her to the wall. Just like every girl in the place.
I’m never going to escape. I’m going to die. Please, God, just let it be soon.
“Hurry, you idiots. We don’t have time to fuck around.”
Someone was out there, in the hall outside her cell.
Monica’s jaw clenched. She hated the woman.
“Hurry,” the woman said. “Move. Mansfield, put these boxes on the boat.”
Monica didn’t know the woman’s name, but she was bad. Worse than the men—the deputy and the doctor. Mansfield was the deputy, the one who’d kidnapped her and brought her here. For a long time she hadn’t believed he was a real deputy, had thought that his uniform was just a costume, but he was for real. It was when she’d realized he was a real cop that she’d given up hope.