Authors: Heather Graham
Where is Lara Mayhew?
Lara, a congressman’s media assistant, suddenly quits her
job—and disappears on the way to her Washington, DC, apartment.
Novice FBI agent Meg Murray, a childhood friend of Lara’s,
gets a message from her that same night, a message that says she’s disillusioned
and “going home.” To Richmond, Virginia. Meg discovers that she never got there.
And bodies fitting Lara’s description are showing up in nearby rivers… Could she
be the victim of a serial killer?
Meg is assigned to work with special agent Matt Bosworth, a
hard-nosed pro in the FBI’s unit of paranormal investigators—the Krewe of
Hunters. They trace the route Meg and Lara took more than once in the past,
visiting battlefields and graveyards from Harpers Ferry to Gettysburg. Places
where the dead share their secrets with those who can hear… As Meg and Matt
pursue the possibility of a serial killer, they find themselves in the middle of
a political conspiracy. Is there a connection? If so, has Lara been silenced for
good? And whom—besides each other—can they
Praise for the novels of
New York Times
bestselling author Heather Graham
Waking the Dead
is] not to be missed.”
“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
Waking the Dead
“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.”
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.”
“I’ve long admired Heather Graham’s storytelling ability and this book hit the mark. I couldn’t put
“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
“Graham does a great job of blending just a bit of paranormal with real, human evil.”
Also by HEATHER GRAHAM
THE DEAD PLAY ON
WAKING THE DEAD
THE NIGHT IS FOREVER
THE NIGHT IS ALIVE
THE NIGHT IS WATCHING
LET THE DEAD SLEEP
AN ANGEL FOR CHRISTMAS
THE EVIL INSIDE
HEART OF EVIL
NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRES
THE KILLING EDGE
NIGHT OF THE WOLVES
HOME IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS
DUST TO DUST
THE DEATH DEALER
THE LAST NOEL
THE DEAD ROOM
KISS OF DARKNESS
DEAD ON THE DANCE FLOOR
PICTURE ME DEAD
A SEASON OF MIRACLES
NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD
NEVER SLEEP WITH STRANGERS
EYES OF FIRE
* * * * *
Look for Heather Graham’s next novel
available soon from MIRA Books
Dedicated with love and appreciation to Cindy Kremple, Sharon Murphy, Patty Harrison, Janice and Thomas Jones, Pat Walker, Ginger and Larry McSween, Molly Bolden and Kay Levine, Susan and Kevin Cella, and Rebecca Barrett for all the behind-the-scenes help you give so often at Writers for New Orleans.
And with very special thanks to Sheila Vincent and the Hotel Monteleone.
ara Mayhew held her cell phone to her ear, trying to reach her friend Meg as she hurried along the length of the National Mall. She moved as quickly as she could; she’d never intended to be out so late—or so early, whichever it might be. The buildings she loved by day seemed like massive living creatures at night, staring at her with a strange malevolence. She loved the White House, the Capitol building, the Mall and, maybe more than any of them, the Castle building of the Smithsonian with its red facade and turrets.
They suddenly seemed to be looming hulks of evil. It was the hour, of course.
She told herself she was being ridiculous.
The ringing finally stopped and Lara got her friend’s voice mail. Of course. Why would Meg be up at 2:30 a.m.?
But Lara could at least leave a message that might save her friend from worry when she disappeared.
“Meg, it’s me, Lara. I wanted to let you know I’m going home. Home, as in getting out of DC and heading for Richmond. I’m going as soon as it’s daylight. I’ll talk to you when I can. Love you. Don’t say anything to anyone else, okay? I have to get out of here. Talk soon.”
She clicked the end button and slipped the phone into her bag. Meg was her best friend. They’d both been only children—and they’d both wanted siblings. They’d decided once that they’d be just like sisters. And they were.
She wished she’d managed to get ahold of Meg, that she could’ve heard her voice.
She walked briskly along the dark and empty sidewalk and yet she was certain she could hear all kinds of noises. Furtive noises.
Get a grip,
she warned herself. She wasn’t prone to being afraid—not without good reason.
Yet the night...scared her. And for
Maybe because what she suspected was bone-chilling?
She considered calling 9-1-1.
And saying what?
She didn’t have an emergency. She was stupidly walking around on dark city streets, suddenly afraid of trying to make her way home in the early-morning hour.
She reminded herself that she was near the White House, for God’s sake, the Capitol, the Smithsonian buildings—and the Washington Monument. Despite the darkness and the shadows, she was fine.
She’d just never been in the area so late. Then again, there’d never been a night quite like this one. She was so upset about what she suspected that she hadn’t thought about the time when she’d made her indignant retreat. She hadn’t had the sense to be afraid as she dashed out.
She hadn’t thought to call a cab, either, and there weren’t many of them on the streets right now.
She mulled over her fears about what was going on, the situation that had caused her to stay so late, spend so many hours talking. Of course, she and Congressman Walker had often stayed at the office late. Not this late, though. Well, maybe, but he always saw that she got home safely. And most of the time, she’d left feeling exhilarated.
She had adored him. She worked on media and communications, but she was also an adviser, a problem-solver.
It was about a month ago that she’d first begun to feel uneasy. She’d wanted to call Meg then, but hadn’t. Meg had been in the middle of her FBI training. So she’d gone home to Aunt Nancy’s for a day and then done a quick circuit of the things she and Meg had done as children and during their breaks at college. She’d followed what they called their trail. All places that were cheap and historic and wonderful. And she’d left a message in the hollow of the broken marker in the Harpers Ferry graveyard, as they’d done when they were kids. One day—who knew?—she might go back to pick up the message. If her suspicions proved groundless.
She was angry with herself. She wasn’t naive. She’d just wholeheartedly believed in what she was doing. Then she’d begun to realize that there were little erosions in those beliefs—which had become big erosions.
She thought about her friend again, wishing Meg had answered her phone.
They’d been such dreamers. Meg had always focused on law enforcement, she on law and governance. Her love of history and the story of America had made her understand and value the importance of good government, and she still believed in the passion for justice and freedom that had forged her country. There had been painful lessons along the way; among them, a bloody Civil War, which had taught Americans some of those lessons.
Longing to work in DC—to fight for justice and equality herself—she’d found Congressman Ian Walker, who was a dreamer, too.
And an idealist. One who did, however, recognize that in a country where different people had different ideals, compromise was often necessary.
What to do, oh, Lord, what to do...
Today, she’d been shocked, absolutely shocked. Before that, she’d thought she had simply been imagining things. And then today, she was faced with all the talk about Walker’s Gettysburg speech, what he should say—now that Congressman Hubbard was dead.
She should’ve been more careful. She shouldn’t have suggested that she was worried about the fact that such a decent man had so conveniently died.
Leave. Go home. That made the most sense. Get the hell out as soon as possible. Go home to Richmond, figure out the proper thing to do about the situation here, decide what she really wanted to do with her future.
It was crazy, she told herself angrily, to give up her passion because of
But she hadn’t given up. She just needed a change for a while; there was still goodness in the world, and lots more opportunity, and she needed to sample some of it. Then, one day, perhaps she’d come back, using her skill with words to champion the right man or woman again.
Once she found safety, should she tell the world her suspicions? She had no proof. She’d be laughed out of court; no lawyer would take her on.
She could always approach her media contacts. Throwing the hint of suspicion out there could change everything.
There was also the possibility of being sued for slander, since she had no proof.
There was Meg, but she had to reach Meg first.
And the faster she walked, the more afraid she felt.
Get out of Washington! It’s a nest of vipers!
She still believed in the dream. In men and women who couldn’t be bought.
But there were other things she could do.
Take a job with a media company or PR firm in Richmond. What about Harpers Ferry? Tourism there grew every year. Then again, Harpers Ferry was small. Maybe Richmond would be best. And she loved Pennsylvania—especially Gettysburg! They’d gone there so often, she and Meg, and made interesting friends.
No! Not Gettysburg. Not after tonight!
She needed somewhere far, far away from DC.
She did love the Blue Ridge Mountains. There were smaller towns out that way, towns that flourished because of tourism. She could find work with a tour company or something. Anything except this.
Maybe she needed to go much farther afield than the states of Virginia, Maryland or West Virginia.
She looked around the shadowed streets, walking as swiftly as she could. She’d worked very late before now—well, till one in the morning, anyway. She hadn’t been nervous those other nights, not at all. Congressman Walker was a good man; it just seemed now that he was a man who could be swayed, who could be fooled and manipulated into changing his views and his policies—into working with others to undermine what he had once believed in.
But she still felt that he was, at heart, a good man.
No matter what she’d learned today. No matter what she’d expected. No matter how disappointed she was. She
to believe he was a good man.
Was he really innocent of any knowledge of a man’s death?
She could be wrong; she probably was. But she couldn’t help suspecting that someone in his political camp had wanted Congressman Hubbard out of the picture. It was just a suspicion, she told herself again, and it could be unfounded!
Her fear tonight was simply a result of the shadows and the darkness. By day, tourists and lawmakers crowded these streets. Children laughed and ran around on the grass. The Smithsonian’s Castle stood as a bastion to the past and the country’s rich history—as the USA became a full-fledged country, one that had withstood the rigors of war and knew how to create the arts and sciences crucial to a nation of dreamers.
She could see the Washington Monument ahead of her in the night, shining in the moonlight that beamed down. Yes, she loved Washington, DC, but it was time to leave.
Her heels clicked on the sidewalk, echoing loudly in her ears. She prayed for a taxi to go by.
A beat-up van drew near and seemed to slow down as it passed her. She walked onto the grass verge, suddenly even more afraid. With her luck, she’d be worrying about the fate of the nation—and get mugged by a common thief.
Not long ago, a young woman had been found on the shore of the Potomac River. Naked, her throat and body ripped open. Police and forensic scientists were having a problem because river creatures had played havoc with her body. No “persons of interest” were being questioned in the death; the police feared they were dealing with someone suffering from a “mental disorder.”
Lord, she was stupid, taking off in the middle of the night like this! It was just that...
She’d been so upset, so indignant, so...perplexed that personal danger hadn’t even occurred to her!
She hardly dared to breathe. Why had she stood up and said she no longer wanted any part of it? Why had she taken off the way she had?
Get a grip,
she told herself again. The hard-core politicians she knew wouldn’t be stalking her; they weren’t suffering from any mental disorders. Wait—not true.
in politics was suffering from a mental disorder!
She tried to laugh at her own joke. No sound came.
She quickened her pace; her feet, legs and lungs hurt. She kept her phone in one hand, trying to look fierce, as if she was ready to press 9-1-1 at a second’s notice.
Her heart was pounding.
It was a van.
Everyone who watched TV knew that evil men in vans caught victims on the street and
them in by a side door and then...
The van drove on.
She felt giddy with relief and smiled at her unjustified panic.
A moment later, she saw a sedan in the street. It slowed and she squinted, looking toward it.
“Lara!” The car slid to a halt, and a deep male voice called her name from the driver’s seat. “Come on. I’ll give you a lift!”
to know him; she should’ve recognized the voice. It must be muffled by the night air. She was being offered a ride by someone who was obviously official. Someone she knew, someone who knew her.
Maybe Ian had sent a driver out after her. Maybe he’d realized what time it was and that the streets might not be safe.
Her relief made her feel weak.
She dropped her phone into her purse and ran across the street, grateful and shaky.
But the man didn’t get out of the car. And for some reason—perhaps the warning voice inside her that reminded her she now knew too much—she grew suspicious.
Ian’s people would have gotten out of the car, opened the door for her!
She turned to run.
Where? Where should she run? The streets were empty, the Mall was empty...
Lara prayed the beat-up van would come back.
She nearly stumbled.
She paused briefly. She would
trip and fall and look back screaming the way idiots did in horror movies when giant reptiles were coming for them. She took the seconds required to kick off her heels while digging in her bag for her cell phone.
She did nothing stupid.
But that didn’t save her.
He was fast. Surprisingly fast.
He slammed into her and down on her like a tackle in a football game. She opened her mouth to scream.
Who the hell was it? She still couldn’t see him! Did it matter? Escape!
She couldn’t turn her head; he was behind her, forcing her down. And then...she felt his hand coming around her head. He was holding a rag. She smelled something sickly sweet and she began to see black dots. The smell gagged her. She had to keep fighting; she was going to die if she didn’t.
So she fought...
But as the scent overwhelmed her, she thought,
Oh, God, no, I really am going to disappear
The blackness took her.
* * *
He’d studied the information available on serial killers with the same concentrated attention he’d always given textbooks; what had to be done had to be done, and he had to do it the right way. He knew FBI men, behavioral scientists. He was careful never to talk too much, but he was an excellent listener. He never undertook any task lightly.
He’d invented an alter ego for himself, a man he called Slash McNeil. Slash McNeil was now fully part of his personality. Slash? Well, it made sense. McNeil? Why not? It seemed to go well with Slash. Not that he needed a name to sign to confessions or letters to the editors or police. He just liked it.
McNeil had been born
, as anyone who knew this manufactured alter ego would say. Even when he was a toddler, he’d enjoyed smashing bugs. As he’d aged, the bugs became small reptiles; McNeil liked to set snakes on fire. Once he grew older, the animals he tortured became kittens and puppies and then cats and dogs.
When he was sixteen, he committed his first murder. It hadn’t been particularly good, well planned or satisfying. He’d teased ugly Sarah Rockway, letting her think he wanted a make-out session with her, and lured her to a bridge. He’d kissed Sarah—and then tossed her over the bridge. In McNeil’s mind, at least, the girl had died happy.
But he hadn’t wanted Sarah Rockway—nor had he wanted the murder to be so swift. He’d wanted to slash her, cut her, as he had the kittens and puppies.
And he’d really wanted Celia Hampton. Celia, the cheerleader, the leggy beauty who would barely give him the time of day. He wanted her naked, doing anything he asked, begging him for her life.