Authors: Lynette Eason
Tags: #FIC042060, #FIC042040, #FIC027110
Her mouth formed a silent “Oh.” He wanted her there because he wanted to spend time with her? The thought made her stomach dip and swirl. She snapped her lips shut. “Well, I suppose I could lend a hand.” She smiled. “Could put my FBI clearance to good use again.”
He lifted a brow. “FBI clearance?”
“I handled a pretty sensitive murder. As a result, I was going to
be exposed to a lot of information about this particular victim in trying to figure out how he died. He was in the witness protection program and died right before the trial. The US Marshals were fit to be tiedâas well as the FBI agents working the protection detail.”
Dominic's brow furrowed and she could almost see the wheels turning. Then he let out a low whistle. “The Sandino case.”
“Yes. The FBI wanted everything I did on the case to be top secret. I had to pass all kinds of background checks and basically go through everything you guys do when you first apply to become agents. Anyway, I passed. So now, when the FBI needs something pertaining to a case and they need it top secret, they come to me. I'm an FBI consultant.”
Admiration glowed. “You're amazing.”
Serena let out a self-conscious laugh. “Not really. It's just the way things worked out.”
“Then you really could help me out here. I won't have to be too careful what I say around you.”
“I can help.”
“Great. You want to follow me?”
“Back to my office. I'll pull everything I can find on Drake Lindell and we'll go through it.”
Serena bit her lip. She would love the excuse to spend more time with him, but she had two more autopsies to do before she went home. “I said I can help. And I can, but I really need to get back to work. How about you pull the info and call me. I'll meet you somewhere.”
He placed a hand on his door handle, then turned back. Serena waited, wondering at the frown he wore.
“Be careful,” he said. “There's no proof that the message was for you or anyone else associated with the crime scene, but I do find it odd that someone broke into your house last week and now
you're a victim of a purse snatching gone wrong. And you're the ME for this death?” He shook his head. “That's just too many things in a short period of time to be a coincidence. And I'm not a big believer in coincidences.”
“I know. I'm not either.” She paused. “Although, I have to say that the more I think about it, the more I think the purse snatching
just a purse snatching gone wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“I remember I felt the tug on my purse, but I had a good grip and reacted reflexively by pulling against the tugâ” she licked her lips and saidâ “and then I was in front of the bus, so now I'm doubting whether the person was really trying to hurt me. I think he was just trying to grab my purse and when I resisted, he let go and I ended up falling in front of the bus.”
Dominic frowned. “That's a reasonable argument, but we don't know that for sure, and I have to admit I'm still a little hesitant to leave you alone.”
A puff of air escaped her in a humorless laugh. “Well, there's not much we can do about that. We both need to work.”
Still, his hand hovered above the handle of his car door. “Just .Â .Â . be on your guard.”
He was truly worried about her.
“I will be, I promise.” A shiver shuddered through her. The doll's oval face and pink jogging suit danced at the forefront of her mind. She would definitely be careful. And she wouldn't be jogging through the park again anytime soon.
“You have my number,” he reminded her. “Promise you'll call if you need anything at all?”
He gave her a warm smile, his eyes lingered on hers a moment longer, then he was in the driver's seat and backing out of the parking space.
Serena climbed into her Suburban and cranked it.
On the drive back to the morgue, she considered everything that had happened to her in the last week. Receiving the package, the break-in, the dead classmate, the attempted purse snatchingâand now a possible serial killer copycat with a victim who was found on her watch. Something was going on in this town and it seemed to be revolving around her.
She still didn't understand how the man had managed to get into her house without setting off her alarm.
And Yoda hadn't barked, but she wasn't exactly a watchdog. If someone paid her the slightest attention, she was a friend for life. All her intruder had to do was bring her a treat, and if she could have, Yoda would have thrown the door open with a welcoming lick.
Chewie, her cat, would have found a place to hide.
No, getting past her animals wouldn't have been an issue.
Before she had a chance to think about it further, she arrived back at the hospital. She pulled around to the back and parked in her reserved spot.
She thought of spending more time with Dominic, and liked the thought. The man had gotten under her skin before she was old enough to realize what the phrase meant. Now, as an adult, she got it. She was attracted to him. And she wanted to explore that attraction.
As she walked into the morgue, she waved to Dorie. “What time do you get off today?”
“I leave at five.” Today Dorie's hair was a light brown, and she had it pulled back with two pins on either side of her temples.
“Meant to tell you this morning, nice hair color.”
“Thanks. I was ready for a change.”
“You're ready for a change about once a week, aren't you?”
Dorie laughed and shrugged in agreement, then rolled her cart toward the office at the end of the hall.
Serena stuck her head in her boss's office. “Hey, Daniel, I'm back.”
“What's up with the girl you brought in?” He consulted his notes. “Leslie Stanton?”
Serena filled him in on the murder and the doll. She didn't bother to mention the doll's resemblance to herself. “Now I've got that cardiac patient, Gary Hanson. The family still insists someone at the hospital was responsible for his death.”
“Any chance of that?”
She shrugged. “He had a history of heart problems. He had his first attack at the age of thirty-eight. I'd say he was probably lucky he made it to sixty years old.”
Daniel grunted. “Well, glad it's you doing the job. At least I know it'll be done right.”
Serena lifted a brow. “Something wrong?”
“Naw.” He grimaced and waved her away. “Go do your thing. I'm just ticked about the funding issues that are popping up everywhere I turn.”
“Oh.” Serena wrinkled her nose. “More cutbacks?”
“Looks like it.”
“I'm sorry. Anything I can do?”
He shrugged and sighed. “Nope. Get outta here.”
She did, but she couldn't help the ping of anxiety that ran through her. She felt pretty sure her job was secure. But there were those she worked withâthe tech, the cleaning staff, and othersâwhose jobs could be on the line. She prayed as she walked to her office and slipped into a gown.
Just as she released the brakes on Mr. Hanson's gurney, her phone rang. Pausing, she pulled it out and looked at the number.
Camille. One of the girls with Adopt-a-Sis, a program Serena tried to volunteer with at least once a week. Camille had wiggled her way into Serena's heart. Unfortunately, she lived with a father Serena felt sure was emotionally and verbally, if not physically, abusive.
She pressed the button to answer. “Hello?”
“Camille? Are you all right?”
“Darling, what's wrong?”
A long sigh filtered to her. Then Camille cleared her throat. “My dad kicked me out of the house.”
Serena flinched. “I thought you two had kind of worked out your differences in counseling.”
“Well .Â .Â . um .Â .Â . yeah .Â .Â . we did. Sort of. But .Â .Â . ”
“That was before he found out that I'm .Â .Â . p-pregnant.” Loud sobs came from the girl.
“Yes.” Camille's sobs faded to a whisper and Serena had to strain to hear her.
“You need a place to stay?” Serena asked.
“No, butÂ .Â .Â .”
“You need some money?”
Weeping once again filled Serena's ear. “Okay, honey, it's going to be all right. I have to do an autopsy. It's going to take me about an hour, but I want you to go to the address I'm going to give you and wait for me there. Can you do that?”
More sniffling, a long sigh, then, “Yes.”
Serena closed her eyes and gave her the address. “See you there.” After Camille hung up, Serena stayed still a moment longer, praying for the girl.
She continued praying even as she rolled Mr. Hanson under the light.
MONDAY, 4:32 P.M.
Dominic sat at his desk and dialed a number he knew by heart. The office hummed with busy agents, but Dominic tuned them out.
Hunter Graham picked up on the third ring. “Hello?”
“Any luck on finding my father?” Dominic didn't bother with a formal greeting.
“Nope. The man's gone. If it was himâand we think it wasâhe left about three hours before we got here.”
Dominic could hear the weariness in his friend's voice. “So what are you going to do?”
“Head home. We've both got work to do.” He paused. “You hear anything about Jillian?”
“No. I've got Terry O'Donnell working on it. I should hear something soon. One way or another.”
Hunter grunted. “The woman has disappeared from the face of the earth.”
“So it appears.” Dominic pushed a paper across his desk searching for his pen that had gone missing. “How does Alexia like work
ing with the Columbia Fire Department? We haven't really talked a lot about it since she got the job.” He found the pen under the next set of papers.
“She loves it. Thrilled to be back working fires. I'm not crazy about it. Scares me to death. I live for our days off together so I know she's safe.”
“Yeah.” Dominic worried about his little sister fighting fires too, but that was what she'd chosen to do, and there wasn't a thing he or Hunter could do about it. Except pray.
Which he found himself doing on a regular basis. For a lot of people. “Bet you can think of better ways of spending those days off than tracking down a deadbeat dad.” Silence on the other end. Dominic said, “I'm sorry, shouldn't have said that.”
“Dom, you knowâ”
“I'm working the case now.”
The abrupt change of topic didn't faze Hunter. “Which case?”
“The one you talked me into checking out.”
“The dead girl in the park? My take-pity-on-Dominic case?”
Dominic allowed himself a small smile. It was more the other way aroundâHunter had his hands full to overflowing with all of his cases. “That would be the one. It's now an official FBI case. I think we've got a serial killer running around our city and I aim to catch him before he kills again.”
“Fill me in.”
Dominic did, and when he finished, Hunter said, “We'll be back before lunch tomorrow. We'll catch up then.”
“Count on it.” Dominic hung up and turned to his computer. Before he could type the first letter, his phone rang.
He smiled when he saw the caller. “Hi, Serena.”
“Hi, Dominic.” Her husky voice jangled his senses. In a good way. “I'm finished for the day here, but I have to run an errand. How much longer are you going to be in your office?”
“At least another couple hours. Why?”
“I thought I'd offer to help and join you in your research. That is, if that's what you're still planning on doing.”
“It is. I'll have to get you clearance to get back to my office. It'll just take a few minutes,” Dominic told her.
“Great. I'll call you when I get there.”
His brow lifted and he couldn't help the smile that spread across his face. “I'll be waiting.”
Serena flashed her ID to the security guard and walked into Covenant House, a shelter for homeless teensâor for teens whose home wasn't worth living in. Like Camille's. It gave the girls a place to regroup, decide what they wanted to do and a way to develop a plan. Serena became interested in the place after she did the autopsy on one of the residents who had been killed by an abusive uncle. The man had broken in, kidnapped the teen, slit her throat, and tossed her in a dumpster. She'd been found a couple of days later. She'd had Covenant House's card in her pocket.
Serena scanned the occupants and spotted Camille curled in the corner of the couch, sound asleep.
Biting her lip, she hesitated, hating to wake the girl, but she'd promised. She walked over and lightly touched Camille's shoulder.
Camille blinked and got her bearings. When she saw Serena, her eyes filled again, but the tears didn't fall. Surprise flickered in her gaze for a moment. “Hey. You really came.”
“I said I would.”
“I know, but .Â .Â . never mind.”
The people in Camille's life didn't keep promises. Serena dropped to the couch beside her and looked the girl in the eyes, studying them. Even pupils, direct gaze. She wasn't using. But then that wasn't Camille's way, thank goodness. “What are you going to do?”
“I don't know. I .Â .Â . I'm seventeen years old. I can't believe I was
so stupid.” A tear managed to escape and slid down her cheek. She lifted a hand to give it an angry swipe.
“Who's the father?”
Shame filled Camille's eyes before she lowered them. “Bobby. My boyfriend.” She scoffed. “I guess I should say ex-boyfriend now.”
“He dumped you?”
“As soon as I told him.” Bitterness flashed, taking the place of the shame. “I should have known.”
“All right, here's what we're going to do if you want to do it. Mrs. Bea Lamb is the director here. If you're willing to stay, you're welcome to do so. But, there are rules.”
Camille's upper lip began to curl. Serena lifted a brow and the lip settled.
Camille gave a slow nod. “I met her when I first got here. She was really nice and didn't ask any questions. Just told me to have a seat on the couch and to wait for you.” A low sigh filtered out. “I don't have any other options, Serena. I .Â .Â . want to stay if she'll let me.”
“She will, but I'll be honest with you. If you mess up and don't follow her rules, the rules of the house, then you're out. You understand?”
Camille seemed to think it over, then nodded. “Yeah.”
Would the girl follow through? Did she believe it when Serena said the director would tell her to leave if she didn't comply?
Only one way to find out. “All right, let's go get you settled in your room. Did you bring a bag?”
Camille pointed to the bag on the table behind the couch.
Serena snagged it and pulled the girl to her feet.
“What if my dad shows up?” The fear in Camille's voice and eyes was unmistakable.
“They have security here. They won't let him in.”
“And the guard will call the cops if necessary.”
Camille swallowed hard. “He would be so mad about that. You can't do that. Promise me, you won't call the cops on him.”
Serena bit back the things she'd like to say about Camille's father. Bashing the man wouldn't do Camille any good. “I can't make that promise if he shows up here causing problems. But let's not worry about that right now. Let's just take it one day at a time, all right?”
Another slow nod from Camille. Serena motioned for the girl to follow her and together they walked down the hall to one of the empty bedrooms. Serena stepped inside, then turned to watch her young friend's reaction.
Camille's eyes went wide as she took in the soft pastels and thick comforter on the twin bed. “It's nice.” She looked at Serena and gave her a tremulous smile. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome, honey.” She gave Camille a hug and let the girl cling to her for a few moments.
Finally Camille let go and drew in a deep breath. “Okay. I can do this.”
Serena gripped Camille's hand. “We'll do this. Together.”
An hour later, after making sure Camille had what she needed and with promises to return soon, Serena headed back toward Dominic's office, her mind back on the case and the information she and Dominic might learn.
Once inside the building, she rubbed her bare arms in the air-conditioned office. As she waited, she let her eyes scan the walls. Plaques, awards, honors .Â . . fallen heroes.
“Ready?” Dominic's voice rumbled in her ear from behind her.
“Sure.” She followed him through security and through a weave of desks. Feeling eyes on her, she smiled at those she passed, then found herself in a corner in the back. A desk, a computer, and a stack of files greeted her.
Dominic smiled. “It's temporary but it's home base for now.”
He grabbed a spare chair and pulled it up to the desk next to him. Serena slipped into the seat and leaned in. She drew in a
deep breath, his woodsy-smelling cologne drawing her like a fly to honey. The man smelled good. He turned and met her gaze. She was helpless to stop the flush she could feel forming on her cheeks. He gave a slow smile as though he knew exactly what was going through her mind. Then he let her off the hook.
“All right,” he said. “Let's see what we have on Drake Lindell.”
A few clicks of the keyboard brought forth a man's picture.
Serena stared. “He looks so .Â .Â . normal. Approachable. Like my next-door neighbor.”
“Yeah. Scary, isn't it?”
A few more clicks brought up the man's entire history, transcripts of the trial, and everything else they could possibly want.
“What about his family?” she asked.
More taps on the keyboard. “Hmm,” Dominic said, “he's left a lovely legacy. He's fathered four children all with the same mother. He's got a son who's in jail for murder.” She watched his eyes scan the screen. “Looks like Trey Lindell got in a bar fight that went really wrong. He ended up killing a guy not long after his dad's trial. Two more sons, Pete and Nate. Pete's location is presently unknown.” He glanced at her. “Which can mean dead, but not necessarily. Nate, who is the oldest at forty-two, is a lawyer here in town. Interesting.” Back to the screen. “And finally, we have a daughter. Gwendolyn Lindell, age thirty-nine. Location also unknown.”
A young woman's face appeared. Serena sighed. “She's pretty even without makeup. Very natural looking.” Slender, with hair so blond it looked almost white, blue eyes, clear skin. “She has sad eyes.”
“This was taken at her dad's trial. Apparently she was the only family member in attendance.”
“Then I guess she has a reason to look sad.”
“After the guilty verdict, she said she never wanted to have any
thing to do with him again. Here's her quote. âI can't believe this. He's betrayed me and I hope he rots in prison.'” Dominic shook his head. “Pretty bitter.”
“Do you blame her? Poor thing. I can't imagine.”
A few more clicks brought up the photos of the shed containing the evidence. He said, “The shed was soundproofed as was the room below it.”
“Guess that explains why no one in the neighborhood heard anything out of the ordinary.” As he scrolled through the photos, she narrowed her eyes. Blood spatter covered the wall behind a poker table. Cards littered the table and the floor next to the table. A roulette table backed up against a wall.
A length of chain with handcuffs attached to the end lay on the floor beneath a steel chair. Serena could see the bolts holding it in place.
“What's that?” she pointed.
“I don't know.” A piece of steel that looked to be about fifteen inches long lay on the poker table. “Says they didn't know what it was for. But some of the victims' DNA was found on it.”
“Poker. So, he was a gambler.”
He pressed print, then leaned over and grabbed a manila folder from the bottom drawer.
Placing the stack of papers inside, he said, “One more thing.” A few more clicks of the keyboard. “Okay, the case agent on the Doll Maker's case was Howard Bell.”
“Then we need to talk to Mr. Bell.”
“He retired four years ago, but I bet he's the perfect place to start.” Dominic sent the man's contact information to his phone.
Serena said, “I wonder how Chad and Katie are coming with Leslie's investigation.”
“I'm sure they've notified the family by now. I guess the next step will be releasing the body to them.”
She nodded. “Yes. And I'm not ready to do that yet.”
He frowned. “I thought you were finished with the autopsy.”
“With the preliminary stuff. I want to go over a few more details before I let her go.”
“The Doll Maker Killer's victims. I want to look at their autopsies.”
“And compare them to Leslie?”