Authors: Virna DePaul
Tags: #Romance, #Suspense, #Fiction
his bathroom sink, Brad washed his hands. Unlike last night, the water ran
clear, but his imagination filled in the color that was now missing. The woman’s
blood and his shaking hands had combined with the water to create ribbons of
pink liquid and splashes of crimson against the dingy white bowl.
As soon as he’d killed her, he’d been flooded by a sensation so
foreign he almost didn’t recognize it.
Emotional and physical. So much so that he’d barely had to
touch himself before he’d had the most powerful orgasm of his life.
Hours had passed. Hours to dispose of her body. Smartly.
But the rush of power still ran gloriously through his veins.
Raising a steady hand, he ran his fingers over his neck and face, feeling the
cobbled texture underneath the dark purple stains. Still there, but definitely
He’d done that. Simply by killing her. A prostitute. A
He’d made her see his power. His strength.
And he had Dr. Bowers to thank for it. After all the bumbling
and unsuccessful treatments he’d put Brad through, Bowers had finally earned his
salary by leading Brad onto the right path.
No amount of power the other man had experienced as a doctor,
even one with the ability to save others’ lives, could compare to the feeling of
so ruthlessly ending one. It was a heady rush unlike any other. One that
couldn’t be duplicated by alcohol or drugs, and God knew Brad had tried both at
various points in his life to numb his pain.
He’d always felt slightly foolish afterward. Guilty. As if he’d
been weak to rely on a foreign substance rather than his inner strength.
But what he was feeling now was all him. Nothing artificial.
Nothing meant to stifle or disguise, but rather expose. Clarify. Magnify.
It wasn’t the violence or actual killing responsible for the
change in him. He’d killed animals when he was a kid. Raped that one girl two
states away before he’d graduated high school. And last year, he’d killed a
girl. Not on purpose. By accident. After she’d laughed at him. Mocked him. But
those acts hadn’t made him feel like this. Because he hadn’t been focused.
Hadn’t realized the extent of his power and what he could gain from it.
It was selecting the right victim for the right reason that was
The one last night had simply been a small taste of what he
Just imagine what he could accomplish if he actually killed
someone who mattered.
Maybe then Nora would notice him. Maybe then she’d desire him.
Maybe then she’d finally see him for who he truly was. Imperfect by birth but
not by will.
I’ll prove myself worthy of her. Prove I
* * *
her government car around a skeletal-like screen of trees
surrounded by the tall marsh grasses of the Marin County Reservoir. Pulling to a
stop next to a county ambulance, an old pickup truck and a city squad car, she
noted the vehicles were positioned just fifty feet from the concrete pillars of
the causeway. Traffic whizzed steadily above her as commuters rushed to get
home, oblivious to the fact that a woman’s body parts lay strewn beneath
Uniformed officers identified by dispatch as Tracy Fitzpatrick
and John Gordon approached as she opened the door. The unusually warm weather
immediately prickled Carrie’s skin, rushing into the car and clinging to her
before she completely exited it. Her feet sank a little into the damp dirt.
The paramedics talked to a heavyset man and a teenage boy,
presumably the two hikers who’d found the body. Carrie turned to Gordon, the
senior officer. Gordon had kinky black hair and weighed about three hundred
pounds, a perfect foil to his young partner who probably didn’t weigh one
hundred pounds sopping wet. “Was one of the witnesses hurt?”
Gordon shook his head. “Precautionary measures. Special Agent
Tyler called. His ETA is about five minutes.”
Carrie nodded, keeping her face blank even though her stomach
tightened. When they’d been talking to Commander Stevens, Carrie had clung to
her self-control by a thread. She was still reeling from the knowledge that Jase
had talked about her with the commander, not to mention the escalation of
murders in this case.
Once Stevens had given her the pertinent information on the
latest call, Carrie had gotten ready to go. To her surprise, Jase had said he
had other things to discuss with the commander. She’d known those things would
have something to do with her. With the case. And she hadn’t liked it. But she’d
simply said, “See you at the scene,” and left. As soon as she’d closed the door,
she’d heard him arguing with Stevens. Jase’s words still echoed around her.
“If she’s not good enough to handle the case alone then she’s
not good enough to handle it at all. Give it to me and let her work on another
case. Our backlog is getting too big as it is.”
Bastard, she’d thought, then and now. He knew how long she’d
been waiting to head up her first serial case, and he wanted to take over? No
way. If she had to work with him, fine. Maybe the more time she spent in his
company the faster she’d get rid of the ridiculous feelings she’d been harboring
for him for far too long.
“Special Agent Tyler asked that you wait for him before viewing
the body,” Gordon continued, jerking her out of her thoughts. He swiped an arm
across his slick forehead, his breathing slow but labored. “Hope we didn’t
interrupt anything exciting to get you out here.”
Carrie, who’d turned to study the surrounding area, froze at
his words. Slowly, she faced him again. His comment might have meant nothing but
for the way his gaze dropped to her chest. Carrie narrowed her eyes and stared
the officer down until his grin disappeared. “What were the witnesses doing
Gordon shrugged. “Tim Larson and his son Ronald were searching
for plants for some kind of school assignment. The kid saw a woman’s foot
sticking out of a mound of dirt behind some bushes. The, uh, foot wasn’t
connected to a body. Then he saw the woman’s head, propped on a tree stump,
facing the trail. Freaked him out. His father came running, stumbled across the
body just a few feet away. Literally.”
“And they probably trampled all over the crime scene.” Carrie
didn’t blame them, but it would still wreak havoc with the recovery team’s
ability to process the scene. “Have you seen the body yet?”
The officers glanced at one another, guilt and relief in their
eyes. For a split second, Carrie saw a look pass between them—a look of
encouragement and comfort—that shocked her. Gordon’s lasciviousness obviously
didn’t negate a genuine respect and caring for his partner.
“No, ma’am.” Fitzpatrick answered, all bravado. Her posture was
so erect and her speech so precise Carrie half expected her to salute. “We knew
you and Special Agent Tyler were on your way. We figured we’d wait and make sure
we didn’t contaminate the scene any further.”
“Good thinking.” Carrie looked around again and noted the road
she’d taken to get here. The only way in. “Block the access road at the turn
from the main highway,” she told the officers. “Try to keep the press out as
long as possible.”
“But that’s almost a mile from here,” Gordon said, his voice
perilously close to a whine. “That’s a pretty large area to contain. Shouldn’t
we just focus on the immediate area where the body was found? Perhaps Special
“Special Agent Tyler would agree with my assessment.” And he
would. Because unlike Gordon, Jase knew his stuff. Carrie shook her head, trying
not to show her impatience. Ignorance or laziness? Neither was acceptable. And
besides, whether Jase agreed with her or not, she was the detective in charge of
this case. “From the limited information we have, it’s possible this murder is
connected to another recent one, as well as two that occurred almost a year ago.
I’m here to confirm or dispel that possibility. To do that I need a clean crime
scene. The crime scene includes not only the burial plot and adjacent areas but
any area the victim and perp moved through to get to the burial sight.” She held
up her hand to stop Gordon from interrupting her. “If he transported the body in
a vehicle, the only way he could have gotten here was on that one mile of road.
We need to contain as much of the area as possible.”
She glanced up at the darkening sky, and both officers’ gazes
followed hers. Despite the warm weather, Marin County was known for fog and
rain. “The recovery team’s going to have to work fast. The weather could change
at any moment.” She looked at her watch. “Damn it. What’s keeping Jase?”
Gordon’s eyes narrowed when she used Jase’s first name, but she
ignored him. It had been a slip. One she wouldn’t make again.
She studied the dense foliage separated by pits of mud and
residual water. Would the recovery team use a helicopter to take a full
panoramic picture of the scene? More likely they’d rely on current GPS
technology to establish a blueprint to mark down whatever evidence they found.
And preserve exact measurements. Problem was, with the body having been exposed
to the elements for an unknown amount of time, chances were its condition, even
its placement, had already been compromised.
Carrie turned to Gordon. “Where’s the body?”
“They said it’s through those trees right there. Just to the
edge of the water and under the causeway. Back and to the left.” He hesitated.
“You want me to come with you?”
“No,” she murmured, wondering if he was trying to be gallant or
insulting. “Thank you, Officer Gordon.”
As she edged into the shadows cast by the hulking highway
overhang, the vibration of rush-hour traffic shook the saturated, fetid ground
sticking to the soles of her Rockports. Nervously, she eyed the dark crevices
between cement blocks and knew she wasn’t imagining the flutter of movement she
saw inside. Automatically, her right hand hovered near her weapon.
Within the cavernous hollows of this highway lived thousands
upon thousands of bats. Each fall, students were brought here to observe their
twilight exit pattern, the group migration painting the sky in a massive shadow
reminiscent of eels slithering in low water.
Carrie swallowed hard and looked over her shoulder. Twilight
was hours away. She took a deep breath, trying to prepare herself.
But nothing could have prepared her for the sight of the
woman’s bloody remains. The first thing she thought when she saw the tilting
dirt-stained head resting atop a tree stump was—she’d been beautiful. With long
brown hair other women would envy. The victim’s eyes stared garishly back at
her, completely devoid of eyelids. Carrie’s chest tightened and she instantly
visualized the autopsy photos of The Embalmer’s three victims. They’d stared
back at her from the photos, as well.
Even if she hadn’t been able to save them, Carrie could help
solve their murders. Find their killer, whether it was the same man or not.
Bring their families—maybe even their spirits—some semblance of peace.
Moving closer, Carrie saw hundreds of maggots and other insects
feasting on the woman’s remains—her ears, her mouth, her wounds. Flies flew
around her, landing periodically as if to direct the baser wingless insects from
one spot to another. The department’s forensic lab would collect specimens.
Classify the insects and even dissect them to determine the time of the woman’s
One thing Carrie did know, however. The woman had been killed
someplace else and her body transported here later. Otherwise there would be
more blood. Signs of struggle. And except for several vehicle tracks and some
muddy footprints, there was no other indication of recent human activity.
Carrie took several shallow breaths before returning her gaze
to the woman’s unnatural one. Somehow, she felt looking away would be
disrespectful. This woman deserved to be recognized as more than the individual
body parts she’d been reduced to. Given the state of her body, even once they
identified her, her family wouldn’t get the chance to see her again before she
was buried. The monster who’d killed her shouldn’t be the last person to truly
When she couldn’t stand it anymore, she scanned the adjacent
area. The woman’s torso lay about ten feet away, still clothed in a sleeveless
lace top. The ragged cloth covering the woman’s lower half, or at least what was
left of it, was dark and crusted over with dirt and blood. Her limbs were gone
and, based on the discovery of her foot, would likely be found nearby.
The dismemberment hadn’t been done by an animal. At least, not
the kind with four legs. Carrie could only pray she’d already been dead when the
guy had mutilated her.
The sounds of footsteps made Carrie turn. The recovery team was
carefully working its way toward her. Joe Mansfield, one of DOJ’s forensic
examiners, met her first. Walking beside him was Jase.
“Hey, Carrie,” Mansfield said.
Carrie nodded but Mansfield kept talking.
“I haven’t seen you at McGill’s in a while. Did you get a
jealous boyfriend or something?”
Carrie forced herself to respond in the same casual tone
Mansfield used. “Something like that. But hopefully I’ll see you guys soon.
“She’s pregnant again.” He raked a hand through his thinning
auburn hair. “We’re having a boy this time.”
“That’s great. A little brother is just what Lucy needs.”
Carrie thought of Mansfield’s little girl, whom she’d met at a department
barbecue only once. The spitting image of his petite, dark-haired wife, right
down to matching dimples. Did Mansfield know how lucky he was? The light in his
eyes said he did. “Congratulations.”