Authors: Faye Kellerman
A PETER DECKER/RINA LAZARUS NOVEL
To Jonathan, my #1 guy
To Barney, my #1 agent
To Carrie, editor par excellence,
who is always there for me
It should have
happened at night, in a secluded corner of a dimly lit parking lot. Instead, it occurred at one twenty-five in the afternoon. Farin knew the time because she had peeked through the car window, glancing at the clock in her Volvo—purportedly one of the safest cars on the road. Farin was a bug on safety. A fat lot of good that was doing her now.
It wasn’t fair because she had done everything right. She had parked in an open area across the street from the playground, for God’s sakes! There were people in plain view. For instance, there was a man walking a brown pit bull on a leash, the duo strolling down one of the sunlit paths that led up into the mountains. And over to the left, there was a lady in a denim jacket reading the paper. There were kids on the play equipment: a gaggle of toddlers climbing the jungle gym, preschoolers on the slides and wobbly walk-bridge, babies in the infant swings. Mothers were with them, keeping a watchful eye over their charges. Not watching
, of course. Scads of people, but none who could help because at the moment, she had a gun in her back.
Farin said, “Just please don’t hurt my bab—”
“You shut up! You say one more word, you are dead!” The voice was male. “Look straight ahead!”
The disembodied voice went on. “You turn around, you are dead. You do not look at me. Understand?”
Farin nodded yes, keeping her eyes down. His voice was in the medium to high range. Slightly clipped, perhaps accented.
Immediately, Tara started crying. With shaking hands, Farin clutched her daughter to her chest, and cooed into her seashell ear. Instinctively, she brought her purse over Tara’s back, drawing her coat over handbag and child. Farin hoped that if the man did shoot, she and the purse would be the protective bread in the Tara sandwich, the bullet having to penetrate another surface before it could—
The gun’s nozzle dug into her backbone. She bit her lip to prevent herself from crying out.
“Drop your purse!” the voice commanded.
Immediately, Farin did as ordered. She heard him rooting through her handbag, doing this single-handedly because the gun was still pressing into her kidneys.
Please let this be a simple purse snatching! She heard a jangle of metal. Her keys? Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the passenger door to her station wagon had been opened. Again, she felt the press of the gun.
“Go in. From passenger’s side! You do it or I shoot your baby!”
At the mention of her baby, Farin lost all resolve. Tears poured down from her eyes. Hugging her child, she walked around the front of the car, thoughts of escape cut short by the metal at her tailbone. She paused at the sight of the open door.
“Go on!” he barked. “Do it now!”
With Tara at her bosom, she bent down until she found her footing. Then she slid into her passenger’s seat.
“Move across!” he snapped.
Farin tried to figure out how to do this. The car had bucket seats and there was a console between them. With clumsy, halted motions, and still holding Tara, she lifted her butt over the leather-cushioned wall, and into the driver’s seat, both now scrunched behind the wheel. Again, Tara started to cry.
“You shut her up!” he barked.
She’s a baby
! Farin wanted to shout. She’s scared!
Instead, she began to rock her, singing softly into her ear. He was right beside her, the gun now in her rib cage.
Don’t look at him
, Farin reminded herself.
Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look
Staring straight ahead. But she could tell that the gun had shifted to Tara’s head.
Think, Farin! Think!
But nothing came into her hapless brain, not a thought, not a clue. Fear had penetrated every pore of her being as her heart banged hard against her breastbone. Her chest was tight; her breathing was labored. Within seconds, Farin felt her head go light, along with that ominous darkening of her vision. Sparkles popped through her brain…that awful sensation of floating to nothingness.
No, she hadn’t been shot. She was going to pass out!
Don’t pass out, you fool. You can’t afford
His voice brought her back to reality.
“You give me the girl! Then you drive!”
Tara was still on her lap, little hands grabbing Farin’s blouse. Once Tara was out of her grip, Farin knew they both were helpless unless she
Farin knew she had to
. Without warning, she pivoted around, using the solid weight of her shoulder bone to slam it against his gun-toting hand. Although the sudden move didn’t dislodge the gun from his grip, it did push his hand away, giving Farin about a second to spring into action.
This time, the console was her friend. Because now he had to get over it to do something to
. She jerked down on the door handle, then kicked open the metal barrier to the max. Still holding Tara, Farin bolted from her seat, and attempted to run away.
But her shoe caught and she tripped, falling toward the pebbly road.
What a klutz!
Thinking as she plunged downward:
Break the fall with your hip, cover Tara, then kick
She contorted, managing to land on her hip and shoulder, scraping her right cheek on the unforgiving, rocky
asphalt. Immediately, she rolled on top of Tara. Finding her vocal cords, she let out a scream worthy of the best B horror movies.
A deep male voice shouting, “
What’s going on over there
Even from her poor vantage point, Farin thought that the shout might belong to the man with the brown pit bull.
Several popping sounds.
, she thought,
he’s shooting at me
Farin prepared for the worst—the sting, the pain, the writhing and horror, or whatever was to come…because she’d never been shot.
But nothing penetrated her body.
Instead, the popping turned out to be her car’s engine. Within moments, the Volvo’s tires screeched as they peeled rubber. One of the back radials smashed over her left foot and ankle as the car blasted from its launch pad.
Now came the pain! It burst into her head and made her sob. Loud, but it didn’t drown out Tara’s piercing cries.
Oh God! My baby is hurt
! She called out, “Somebody
!” Her foot and ankle were pulverized, but agony also stabbed her entire lower body—specifically legs and hips. Her stomach was a bucking storm, her face felt as if attacked by a raging hive of bees. She could hardly breathe. She felt as if she were having a heart attack. At least, she could wiggle the toes on her right foot so she knew she wasn’t paralyzed.
While moaning back excruciating sobs of anguish, she could see the man with the brown pit bull running toward her. He was yelling for help, that Farin could tell. The pit bull was barking wildly…menacingly. It was pulling against the restraints. Suddenly, the dog broke loose from its owner, galloping toward them at full speed!
Lunging toward them!
A huge leap into the air!
The final touch
! She was going to be eaten alive!
The dog was within inches of her face.
She passed out just as the pit bull started to lick her tearstained cheek.
The husband was pissed, trying to make Decker go away by throwing him dirty looks. Not that Decker blamed the guy. Nor did Decker, or his twenty-five years of experience, take it personally. Part of the job with a capital J.
“Look at her!” he exclaimed. “She’s in pain—”
“Jason, I’m okay—”
“No, you’re not okay!” Jason interrupted. “You’re a wreck. You and Tara have gone through hell!” Anger had made him red-faced. Suddenly, his lower lip quivered. “You need your rest, Farin!”
He was about an inch away from breaking down. Decker understood the feeling firsthand, the helplessness that clouded and infuriated. Men were supposed to protect their families. When they couldn’t, the guilt washed over them like a tidal wave.
Truth be told, Farin Henley was a mess. The woman had deep lacerations on her left cheek, probably down her entire body as well. Her left leg was in a thigh-high cast. Not that the leg was broken, the docs had told Decker. But her ankle had sustained multiple fractures. The more the leg was immobilized, the better the ankle would heal.
Even through the scrapes and scratches, Decker could tell that Farin was a “cute” woman. She had a round, pixie face framed with clipped, honey-colored hair. Big blue eyes, which were red-rimmed at the moment. She appeared to be in her late twenties. Husband Jason was probably around the same age. Light skin surrounding dark brown eyes. He had a head of thick brown hair that had been blow-dried. His black eyebrows were shaped in a perfect arch. His teeth gleamed white, although he had yet to smile. Medium height, but well built. Jason worked out.
Rather than a direct hit, Decker used the sideswipe approach. He looked down at the crib abutting Mom’s hospital bed, peering at the sleeping form. Tara’s porcelain complexion was marred with scratches, but the wounds appeared superficial. The baby was sucking in her slumber.
Decker said, “What is she? About eighteen months?”
Farin wiped her tears. “Exactly.”
Jason remained hostile. “What is this? A pathetic attempt to gain rapport?”
“Jason!” Farin scolded.
“Are you going to catch this monster?” Jason rolled his eyes. “Probably not. You have no idea—”
“We have an idea.”
The room fell silent.
“And?” Jason asked expectantly.
Decker turned his attention to Farin. “Did you see your assailant’s face, Mrs. Henley?”
Farin licked her cracked lips, and shook her head no. “He told me not to look.” A hard swallow. “He said he’d shoot me if I did.”
Jason said, “You don’t look surprised, Lieutenant.”
“We’ve had other reported carjackings,” Decker said. “Most of them have been in daylight involving women with small children. The jacker—or jackers because we think it’s a ring—tells you not to look or he’ll shoot the kid.”
“That’s right!” Farin exclaimed. “He said he’d shoot…” She lowered the volume to a whisper. “He said he’d shoot…” She pointed to Tara’s crib. “What happened to the other women? Are they okay?”
“Well, thank God for that.” Farin was quiet. “Did I do the right thing, Lieutenant? By trying to escape?”
“You survived, Mrs. Henley. That means you did the right thing.”
“Did the other women escape like I did?”
Decker ran his hands through his graying ginger locks. More silver than red at this point. What the hell! Rina loved him, and people rarely mistook Hannah for his granddaughter. Decker supposed he looked okay. Not
, but decent for a rugged,
guy. “They’re alive,” he answered. “They’re ongoing cases. I can’t tell you the specifics.”
The specifics being the home invasions, the robberies, the beatings, and the rapes. The jackings had started two months ago, and had escalated in their violence. If the
crimes continued unbridled, murder would be next. He had ten full-time Dees working the area—a joint effort between sex-crimes, CAPS, and GTA. With some luck, the crimes would stay in those three details, and leave Homicide out of the picture.
Jason squirmed. “This asshole has my wife’s purse. I already changed the locks and canceled the credit cards.”
“That’s good thinking.”
“Has…” Jason closed his eyes for just a second, then opened them. “In the other cases, did any of these…these people come back to the house?”
“No,” Decker said.
, he thought.
Relief passed through Jason’s eyes. He regarded his wife. “See, I
you this guy is a
. Crooks who prey on women are cowards. Just
him come to me. He isn’t going to come back, Farin. And if he does, I’m
for the SOB!”
Prepared meaning a gun
idea unless Jason knew how to handle a firearm under pressure. Few gun owners did. There was nothing Decker could do to stop this man from buying protection. And he understood the motivation. He just hoped Henley was smart enough to stow the gun away from the kid. He’d have to get Henley alone and mention a few gun safety rules.
Farin said, “I keep thinking there was something I should have done…something I should have noticed.”
Decker shook his head. “These guys are pros, Mrs. Henley. You did really well.”
“So what are you doing to catch them?” Jason demanded to know.
“Talking to people like your wife…hoping they can furnish us with some important details.”
“You just said the creeps ordered the women not to look.”
“Maybe one of them managed to sneak a glance.”
“So you have nothing. Basically, you’re sitting on your derriere until someone does your work for you.”
“Jason!” Farin scolded. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant—”
“You don’t have to apologize for my behavior,” Jason interrupted. He turned to Decker. “What are you doing about it?”
Five women working undercover
, Decker thought.
And it ain’t easy, bud, because we can’t use babies as decoys. We’ve got to use dolls or dogs or other undercovers dressed up like elderly. Something to make these motherfuckers think they’ve got a mark
“I wish I could tell you more, Mr. Henley.” Decker spoke calmly. “But I can’t.”
“Probably doing nothing.”
Decker didn’t answer him. To Farin, he said, “Are you up for walking me through the ordeal?”
“Are you sure?” Jason asked.
Decker looked at Jason. “Do you want to hear this?”
“Of course, I want to hear it.”
“It’ll make you mad.”
!” Jason snapped. “I’m furious! I’m…I’m…” He stopped talking and rubbed his forehead. “Do you have an aspirin on you? I’d ask the nurse, but the hospital charges five bucks per tablet.”