Authors: P.J. Parrish
The body lay faceup at the waterline, the skin dusted with sand that glistened in the slanting early morning sun. The waves crept up, gently rocking the body and then recoiling, as if in horror at the gruesome discovery.
There was no face.
And what little skin remained was speckled with black paint.
Louis wet his lips, his stomach queasy. Tatum and Quick had been beaten, but this one . . . This time the face was gone. He steadied himself by taking a few steps away and looking out over the gulf. He concentrated on a lone sailboat, on its shapeâa crisp white triangle against the brilliant blue of the sky.
Wainwright walked up to him. “We're dealing with a serial killer, Louis.”
Wainwright pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face as he looked back down at Mobley and the others.
“Dan,” Louis said, “did you notice the face on this one? He's getting madder.”
“But you're wrong about the pattern,” Wainwright said. “He still killed on a Tuesday. That gives us six days to find the bastard.”
He stuffed the handkerchief back into his pocket and trudged up the beach.
After he left, Louis stood there, not quite ready to leave, and not wanting to go back down to where the faceless body lay baking in the sand. . . .
Books by P.J. Parrish
DARK OF THE MOON
DEAD OF WINTER
PAINT IT BLACK
Published by Pinnacle Books
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
To our good bud, Bacchus, for all
You won't find Sereno Key on any map of Florida; it is a place of the imagination. But the area that inspired itâthe southwest coast of Floridaâis very real. In setting PAINT IT BLACK there, we have taken a few liberties with geography, but most of the places in the story are real, and we have tried to stay true to the distinct ambiance of our setting.
We were helped by some fine people along the way. A huge thank-you goes to:
Dave Jensen and Vanessa Viglione, who know where all the bodies are buried on Captiva and beyond.
George Lynch of the “Miss Barnegat Light” at Fisherman's Wharf; John Derickson of “Robin's Song” at Bahia Mar; and fishing guide Greg Rhodes, who educated us on the ways of boats, bloody fish, and the backbay.
Dr. Dave Donson of New York Methodist Hospital, in Brooklyn, NY, who inspired the original germ of the story and led us through its medical thicket.
Kara Winton, public information officer; Officer Kim Lindsay; and Major Kevin B. Anderson, all of the Fort Myers Police Department. Thanks for your insights and enthusiasm.
And last but not least, to Sam Johnson, chief investigator, Office of the Medical Examiner, in Fort Myers, for being so generous with his time and expertise.
We would also like to acknowledge some source material. The following books are excellent guides to those wishing to learn more about the early days of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and criminal profiling:
The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide
by Athan G. Theoharis, Tony G. Poveda, Susan Rosenfeld, and Richard Gid Powers;
by Ronald Kessler; and, of course, the seminal works of FBI investigator John Douglas, especially
Journey Into Darkness
(with Mark Olshaker).
The car was just sitting there, its hazard lights blinking like beacons in the darkness. In a flash of lightning, he could see someone walking around the car, in and out of the shadows.
Stop here? No, no, not right. Rain. Too . . . too . . . It wasn't supposed to happen here. Stop. Stop!
He slowed the truck, pulling onto the shoulder about thirty feet behind the stalled car. A man came around the car and looked back at him, shielding his eyes in the glare of the truck's headlights.
The wipers beat with the thick pounding of his heart. He could see the man's face. And his eyes, hopeful, as they squinted back at his rescuer.
Yes . . . oh, yes.
He eased the truck forward, closing in on the car. He left the truck idling and got out. The man seemed to relax slightly as he walked toward him. That was funny. He had to struggle to keep from laughing.
“Hey, man, thanks for stopping,” the man said. “Shit, ain't nobody gonna stop to help on a night like this.”
The man was talking, talking . . . about his dead battery, about the rain, about his wife being mad, his lips flapping on and on about stupid shit.
The noise hurt his head and he thought about letting the man go but he knew it would be days before he could get another. There was no reason to waste tonight.
He stared at the man's face. Something started pounding in his head, like the mad rush of waves on the beach, muffled, endless, pounding water. The face was there in front of him, the face. He put his hands over his ears and shut his eyes.
“Hey, something the matter with you?”
He opened his eyes. The man's face glistened in the headlights and his mouth was moving, but he couldn't hear anything but the rushing water in his head.
He forced himself to focus, to listen. The man was asking him something, he could hear him now, faint, like he was talking underwater. Jumper cables, the man was asking him if he had jumper cables.
The man's face was rain-slick, the color of wet leaves. It had looked different back in the parking lot. He hadn't been sure but now . . .
Yes . . . oh, yes. Perfect.
He walked back to his truck. Reaching under the seat, he pulled out a dirty rag. He could feel the outline of the knife beneath it. Carefully, he stuck it inside his jacket. Closing the truck door, he reached back into the flatbed and pulled out a long metal pole. He started back toward the car.
No! Stop! Not right . . . it's not right!
He turned back to the truck bed. He rummaged through the debris, his heart pumping faster, his hands groping for it. Where the hell was it? If it wasn't there, he would have to let him go.
Finally, his fingers closed around the wet aluminum. He pulled out the can of spray paint. He let out a breath.
Yes. Okay . . . oh, yes. It's okay now.
He walked back toward the car, the pole held at his side, the can and knife secure in his jacket. The pounding echoed inside his heading, hitting the spot behind his eyes.
The man was peering into the open hood of his car. He looked up, his eyes searching for the jumper cables. He frowned when he saw the pole.
“What you gonna do with that, hang curtains?” The man started to laugh. He laughed, falling against the car, reeling from booze and the hilarity of his own joke.
The laughter floated on the thick, wet air, like a low rumble of thunder. It rumbled inside his skull, Ping-Ponging there like a half-forgotten childhood chant.
The rain pelted on the metal hood, the blood pounded in his head, like waves hard on the beach. It hurt his ears, this noise. He didn't like it, the noise. And the man's smell, booze and sweat. He didn't like that either. He stared at the laughing face until it started to melt, the features falling away with the rain until he could see nothing left but the color of his skin.
Slowly, he raised the metal pole. He touched it to the man's leg.
A sharp bang. The man reeled back against the car and fell to the ground. The man lay there, twitching, his eyes rolled back, his mouth moving, like a fish on a dock.
He waited, standing over the man, waited for him to come to. The gaping wound in the man's leg was wet and black. The rain was coming down harder now. It was taking too long. He scanned the dark causeway road for headlights.
Do it . . . finish it.
He set the pole against the car. Lifting the man under his arms, he dragged him down the slope away from the road toward the shore. The man was limp, like a corpse, but he was still alive on the inside. He could smell the pumping blood, hear his heart still beating.
He dumped him near the rocks under a sea grape tree. A flash of lightning revealed the man's face. He was conscious, his eyes wide with terror now, his lips moving with silent questions.
What? What does he want? Why? He wants to know why? The bastard wants to know why?
He reached in his jacket and pulled out the knife. It was dark here away from the road and he couldn't see the man below him. But he could smell him. He plunged the knife blindly down but it met sand. He raised it again and this time felt the satisfying thud as it met flesh. Again, again, again, and the man was still trying to move. His moans drifted up in the darkness mixing with his own frenzied grunts. Blade against sand, blade against flesh, over and over. Finally, quiet.
He stood up, panting, his arm quivering. The lightning illuminated the man below him for a moment, just long enough for him to see that the face was still there. The man was gone but the face was still there. And the waves in his head, they were still there, too.
No! Fucker! Goddamn you to hell! You piece of shit. You should have been scraped from your mother's womb with a spoon!
With a cry, he dropped to the knees and began to pound at the face. He kept pounding, right, left, right, left in a raging rhythm, over and over, the head flopping from side to side in the wet sand.
He stopped. He tilted his head back, closing his eyes, letting the rain wash over him, letting his breathing return. The air was thick and metallic with blood and lightning. A shudder of ecstasy rolled through him. The waves had stopped.
Picking up his knife, he struggled to his feet, spent. There was just one thing left now. He reached into his jacket for the can of spray paint. It was gone. Had he forgotten it? No, he had put it in his jacket back at the truck. It must have fallen out. He scanned the darkness of the rocks. There was a lot of trash. It could be anywhere now. He felt a wave of panic closing and he knew he had to stop it because the waves would come back.
A headlight beam washed across the tree branches. He froze, waiting for the car to pass.
No . . . no. Forget the paint. Fuck it. There will be another.
Slipping the knife in his jacket, he trudged back up to the road. Picking up the metal pole, he went back to the truck.
He was putting the pole in the flatbed when another flash of approaching headlights made him look up. The car was slowing and he stood tensed, ready. But the car sped past, tires hissing on the wet road.
Like the dumb fucker said, ain't nobody stopping to help on a night like this.
He got in the truck and drove slowly away, leaving the empty car's red hazard lights pulsing weakly in the darkness.