Authors: Lynette Eason
Tags: #FIC042060, #FIC042040, #FIC027110
“Are you any closer to finding my father?”
Frustration stamped Hunter's features. “No. You don't have any more ideas, do you?”
“Nope. I even had Terry try and track him down, but when someone doesn't have a job, uses cash, and travels from shelter to shelter, it's like looking for a needle in a haystack. Last time I saw the man, he was behind bars. He told me what happened with Alexia and his intention to kill Mom, Karen, and Alexia the day of the fire.” He swallowed hard, annoyed that thinking about his father's words still left a bitter taste on his tongue. “I went back undercover for a long time after that and wasn't even aware when he was released from prison until just recently.”
“When you came home into the middle of Alexia's troubles.”
“Alexia's becoming obsessed with this.” Worry coated Hunter's voice. “She still thinks it's possible he had something to do with that week of terror we lived through.”
It was hard to believe it had only been four weeks ago that Alexia had been kidnapped. “The man who questioned her and escapedâ” Dominic rubbed his jawâ“I know she was blindfolded most of the time, but is she sure it wasn't our father?”
Hunter went silent for a moment. “She says it wasn't, but sometimes she second-guesses herself. It's been a long time since she's seen the man, Dominic.” He lifted a shoulder in a helpless shrug.
“Wow, that's helpful.”
Serena came up to them, pulling her gloves off and stashing them in the hazardous materials bag on the curb. “What now?”
“Now, we search the house and see if we can find a file .Â .Â . or whatever we're supposed to look at.”
In the living room of Howard's house, Serena looked at the area where she'd sat less than an hour before. Her heart twisted at the sudden demise of a man she hadn't known, but might have liked to had she been given the chance.
Dominic and Hunter began searching, sifting through Howard's life. Dominic took the den area while Hunter headed down the hall. Serena watched from a distance, listening, absorbing the details. Soon, she would need to leave and get back to the morgue. But she didn't want to miss a word of the discussion about this case.
The Doll Maker Killer's accomplice or his copycat had killed Leslie, a woman who'd graduated with Serena and one she'd called friend ten years ago. Serena was going to be an active participant in figuring out why Leslie was targeted. And someone had killed Howard because of what the man knew about the Doll Maker Killer and didn't want him talking to law enforcement.
She pictured Howard trying to get their attention as they were leaving the house. He'd had something else to say.
Dominic walked over to her. “He was going to tell us something.”
“I know, I was just thinking about that.”
“Hey, Dominic.” Hunter stuck his head out of a room off the hall. “Come here. I think I found your fileâor one of them.”
Serena followed Dominic as he stepped into the room to find Hunter in front of an open closet, staring at a stack of files as tall as Serena.
“Wow,” she said.
Dominic walked over and picked up the top file. His gloved hand flipped through it. He looked up and said, “It's a case from twelve years ago.”
Hunter shook his head. “I've been going through these for the past twenty minutes trying to see if he's got them organized a certain way. But as far as I can tell, they're random. No sense of order that I can find.”
Dominic pulled another one, then another. “I want these in the office. I think we need to go through these one by one.”
With a muffled groan, Hunter said, “That's a lot of reading.”
“I'll help,” Serena offered. “Poor Howard didn't deserve to be cut down like that.”
“I agree. And I want justice for him. One way to get that is to find the person who shot him.” Dominic raised a hand to his head and looked back at the files. “So,” he said, “my place, six o'clock? I'll provide the pizza.”
Serena barely managed to suppress a shudder. “Takeout pizza? I'll bring my own dinner, thanks.”
Dominic looked at her. “You don't like pizza?”
“Only when I make it.”
He lifted a brow. “You're a food snob.”
“Of the worst kind,” she drawled. She shrugged, unapologetic.
Hunter looked at Dominic and asked, “You want to bring Katie in on this?”
“Sure. Another set of eyes is great.”
Serena wasn't sure how she felt about that idea but kept her mouth shut. She refused to be jealous.
Hunter went to find Katie and let her in on the plan while Dominic still stared at the stack of files. “There was something he was going to tell us.” He spoke low, almost as though talking to himself.
“And you think the file he was talking about is in that stack?”
“I think there's a good chance. I think we're looking for anything that has to do with the Doll Maker Killer's case. If we find that fileâ”
“You mean the needle in a haystack?” Hunter asked from the door.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean every closet in the house has files and folders in it. This is going to take forever to dig through.”
Dominic blew out a sigh. “Then I guess we need to get started.”
TUESDAY, 4:45 P.M.
Senator Frank Hoffman leaned back in his leather chair and looked at the guns hanging on his wall. Each one had a story behind it. Some stories were more interesting than others.
His eyes focused in on the antique revolvers. His collection. His pride and joy. Guns like the 1894 Colt Bisley. Or the .44 caliber Wild Bill Hickok's “Dead Man's Hand” 1851 “Aces & Eights” Black Powder Revolver. Thirty-four different weapons in all. He'd invested a small fortune in them.
He looked at his desk, clear of everything except the piece of paper with the words.
IT'S NOT OVER.
Frank jumped and looked up to find Ian, a faithful employee of two decades, standing in the door. “What is it, Ian?”
“You asked for the car. It's ready.”
“Oh, right. Thank you.”
“Do you wish me to drive you somewhere?”
Ian, always ready, always available. “No thank you, not today.”
Ian inclined his head in acknowledgment, turned on his heel, and left.
Frank reached out and picked up the note one more time. Simple block letters. A simple message that he more than understood.
Time was of the essence as the election crept closer.
As he slipped the note into his drawer, he stood and grabbed his suit coat from the back of his chair. When his phone rang, he paused, debated whether to answer it or not, then sat back down and grabbed the handset. “Well?”
“The plan is in motion.”
Frank paused. “What is the plan, exactly?”
A low chuckle reached his ear. “I don't think I'll share that. I'm not sure you would approve.”
“Will this plan find Jillian?”
“Of course. That's the goal, is it not?”
“Then I approve.”
TUESDAY, 6:04 P.M.
Serena juggled the grocery bag into the crook of her left elbow, reached up with her right hand, and knocked on Dominic's door. Her eyes scanned the surroundings behind her.
Driving over here, she could have sworn someone had been following her. But now, with the sun still shining and children playing catch in the yard across the street, she felt silly, paranoid. Still jumpy after what had happened to Howard. Sadness invaded her. She wished she could have saved him.
The door opened and Dominic grinned down at her. “Welcome.”
Shoving the sadness away, she smiled. “Thanks.”
Dominic took the bag from her and motioned her in. “What's all this?”
“We're going to have a little contest.” She followed him into the kitchen.
He started pulling items out of the bag and Serena suppressed a smile. “A pizza contest.”
“Ah,” he said as realization dawned. “You're going to make a pizza and we're going to see what's bestâtakeout or Pizza Ã la Serena, right?”
He chuckled. “There's about an hour backup on pizza delivery tonight. You get yours ready and I'll set the oven to heat up when you need it.”
“Good. That'll be a fair and square win.” She grinned as she gathered the supplies and got to work. She'd already prepared the dough, so it only took a few minutes to spread the sauce, cheese, and toppings and then pop the concoction in his oven.
Dominic set the oven to turn on in half an hour, then cast a sideways glance at her. “You're crazy.”
She smirked. “We'll see who's crazy when you taste my pizza.”
Still laughing, Dominic herded her into the den area.
Surprise hit her as she entered. Comfortable and bright, thanks to the large window on the opposite wall, it wasn't the typical bachelor home.
Tasteful curtains, classy oriental rugs, and comfortable navy blue furniture filled the room. The flat screen television mounted on the wall opposite the couch told Serena how he spent some of his downtime. But the thing that caught her attention was the train circling the perimeter of the room just above her head.
The scent of fresh mint filled the air. “Alexia helped you do this, didn't she?”
He laughed. “A little. It's not fancy, but the rent was right and the air-conditioning works great.”
“It's really nice,” Serena said. “Love the train.” She watched a few seconds and said, “The detail is incredible. Even down to the little puff of smoke from the engine. Amazing.”
He smiled, a gleam of pride in his eyes. “Thanks.”
She could see Katie sitting on the couch, her nose buried in a file. At Serena's entrance, she looked up and said, “Hey.”
Hunter had the recliner and Alexia had made herself at home on the floor in front of the fireplace.
Serena looked around her and lifted a brow. “It looks like a dozen filing cabinets exploded in here.”
Dominic returned to the den area and nodded. “I got permission to bring this home. I have more room to spread out and it's more convenient if I want to work on it in the middle of the night.”
Serena wondered what that last comment meant. Did he have trouble sleeping? It wouldn't surprise her considering his line of work. Sometimes her job kept her up nights too.
“And this is only about half of the files,” he was saying. “The task force is working on the other half.”
“Howard didn't believe in keeping stuff on the computer?”
“Our IT guy is going over the desktop we found, so we'll see if he comes up with anything. In the meantimeÂ .Â .Â .”
Alexia rose and gave Serena a hug. “Good to see you.”
Footsteps sounded from the hallway and Serena looked up to see Colton Brady enter the den. He offered her a small smile that didn't quite dispel the shadows in his eyes. “How are you?”
“Hanging in there. You?”
He shrugged. “The same.”
“So,” Dominic rubbed his hands together as he took a seat on the couch, “the task force is assembled. They're going through the other half of the files and doing everything they can to find this guy before he kills again.” He looked at Serena, who grabbed a handful of files and took a seat on the floor beside Alexia. “I've already filled everyone in on what we learned about him. Now, we just need to figure out what it was Howard was going to tell us before he was shot. I don't know if the answer's in here or not, but it looks like a good place to start, based on what he said before he died.”
He reached over and pulled a handful of envelopes from a file. “But before we keep going on the files, these are the letters Drake received while in prison. I've gone over all of them and can't see anything that jumps out at me.” He flapped them back and forth. “Drake was not happy about giving these up, but if there's something incriminating in them, it's in a code I can't decipher. The
letters are repetitive. The writer just talks about admiring Drake. Wanting to know how he thinks. What it felt like to kidnap and kill his victims.” He looked up. “A lot of questions about how he felt when the victims died. Our handwriting analyst came up with an interesting analysis of the fifty letters written by the same person. He first identified the writer as a woman.” Dominic pulled those from the top of the stack. “Then he says, âThe writing is small, which indicates a detailed, technical personality. In conjunction with that, we have tight upright strokes which says the person is motivated by factors other than people.' He also says this person is childlike and self-centered, wants attention and will do anything to get it.”
“Including writing to a serial killer,” Colton said. “But it doesn't mean she wants to copy him and start killing people.”
“Maybe not, but it might be a really good way to get his attention, don't you think?”
Dominic said, “So, I'd like to track this woman down and just check her out.”
“What's her name?”
“Allison Kingston. I've got our computer specialist tracking her down as we speak. And ballistics is working on the guns we pulled from Howard's house.” He pulled a file from the stack beside him. “But for now, we concentrate on these.”
As Serena opened the first one, Dominic said, “When you're finished, just make a stack of the ones you've been through. We're looking for any reference at all to the Doll Maker Killer.”
For the next half hour, they worked, mostly in silence, occasionally making small chitchat. They were all intent on finding something before the killer struck again. The amount of information was nearly overwhelming, but they were making steady progress.
Katie broke the silence. “Hey, what's the name of the oldest son? Nate, right?”
Dominic looked up. “Yeah, he's the lawyer here in town. What do you have?”
“Maybe nothing, but this file is different than the rest.” She held it up. Inside was a photograph of a young man sitting at an outdoor cafÃ©, staring off into the distance. “He looks to be in his late thirties or early forties.”
“Looks pretty recent,” Dominic mused. “How old are all the kids again?”
Serena sat down and looked at the notes she'd made when she and Dominic had gone through Drake's information. “Nate's forty-two. Then Gwendolyn is the next in line at thirty-nine. Trey, the one in jail, is thirty-five, and Pete, the missing son, is the youngest at thirty.”
“Anything else in there?” Hunter asked.
“Yeah, phone records, banking information, a schedule of places Nate likes to go to,” Katie said. “And a note saying, âIt's only a matter of time before she contacts him.'”
Colton asked, “âShe' who?”
“It doesn't say.”
Dominic held out a hand. “Give me the phone records and I'll have the numbers checked out.”
Katie handed him the papers. “There's a yellow sticky note on it that says, âDead end.'”
“Looks like Howard already traced the numbers and they didn't lead him to the person he was looking for.”
Colton let out a low whistle. “Check this out.” He held up a picture of a dead cop. “Shot in the middle of his forehead.”
“What's his name?”
“Wait a minute,” Katie said. “I know that name. He was Howard's partner. I came across a newspaper article about his death and set it aside because I couldn't figure out why Howard kept it.” She pushed aside some files and came up with the yellowed piece of paper. “It's about his death. He went missing for a few days
right after Drake Lindell's trial started and was found murdered the same day Mrs. Lindell committed suicide.”
Dominic stood and began to pace. “I don't understand how all of this seems to have been swept under a rug. Why didn't any of this come up when I put Drake's name through the system?”
Hunter shook his head. “Weird. Let's keep looking.”
Alexia said, “I may have something.” She held up a folder. “A stack of pictures of women. With dates on them and DMK written in the corner.”
“DMK,” Colton mused. “Doll Maker Killer?”
Alexia nodded and Hunter asked, “But who are they and how are they related to the Doll Maker Killer case?”
Dominic frowned and asked, “How many are there?”
“Nine,” Dominic muttered. “The same number of women he killed, but
the ones found.” He looked at Alexia. “Does it say whether these women are dead or alive?”
“No. Just missing.”
Serena saw Hunter, Dominic, and Katie exchange a look. Katie grunted. “After all these years? Probably means they're dead.”
“Probably,” Dominic agreed, “but let's see if there's anything that connects these nine to the Doll Maker Killer. Keep your eyes open to the possibility.”
Silence reigned as they went back to their reading. Dominic took the file folder from Alexia and started making notes from it.
A buzzer sounded from the kitchen. Serena stood. “I'm going to check on the pizza.” Her stomach growled at the tantalizing aromas coming from the kitchen.
As she headed in that direction, the doorbell rang. “I'll get it.”
Dominic hopped up to join her.
When she reached for the knob, he laid a hand on hers and pulled her to the side. He pushed the curtain slightly to the right, then nodded.
Serena opened the door to find the delivery guy there, four large pizzas in hand. Dominic paid the man and Serena turned her nose up at the boxes as she left him and entered the kitchen.
His low laughter reached her ears as she grabbed potholders and opened the oven. She couldn't help the smile that curved her lips. Cheese bubbled and the meat sizzled.
She breathed in. “Perfect.”
Dominic leaned over her shoulder. “Wow. I have to say that looks awesome.”
“Tastes even better, I promise.” Sliding the pizza from the round stone onto the platter Dominic handed her, she set it on the counter to cool.
He leaned over to inhale. “Ahhh. I think you're going to convert me.”
Serena smiled. “Do you have a pizza cutter?”
“Um .Â .Â . no. My pizzas always come sliced.”
She smirked. “Right.” Wiping her hands on her shorts, she said, “That's all right, I can use a knife.”
“Hey, guys,” Hunter called. “We're starving. Bring the food in here, will ya?”
Dominic grinned and grabbed two pizzas in the cardboard boxes from the counter. Serena quickly sliced hers with a knife and together they returned to the den.
Katie stood and tossed her file to the side. “I'll get the drinks.”
“Cans are in the fridge,” Dominic said.
“I know where they are.” Katie moved toward the kitchen, tossing an unreadable look in Serena's and Dominic's direction. Dominic missed it, but Serena didn't.
Katie was jealous. Great. Pushing aside the unsettling knowledge, Serena set the pizza in the middle of the quickly cleared coffee table. Dominic handed out paper plates and napkins while Katie returned with sodas and bottled water.
Serena snagged a bottle of water, a plate, and two slices of the homemade pizza.
“Hey, this is good stuff,” Colton exclaimed.
Serena flushed as Dominic agreed.
“Where'd you learn to cook like this?” Dominic asked.
Serena gave a shrug. “Mostly trial and error.” She grinned at Alexia. “Alexia and I used to cook a lot at my house on the weekends. She was my guinea pig.”
Alexia, mouth full of pizza, nodded and swallowed. “I gained fifteen pounds that summer between our junior and senior year when Serena went on a cooking frenzy.”
Serena laughed, then sobered as she slid another file in front of her. But even while she joined in with the others' laughter and much-needed lighthearted conversation, she found her thoughts drifting.
Her mind had been subconsciously working on a problem all week, and Serena allowed herself to let it surface while everyone became absorbed in the food and files. Conversation eventually stalled.
Her phone buzzed. Frowning, she pulled it out, praying there were no dead bodies to call her back to the morgue.
No dead bodies, just a text message from Camille. DO I HAVE TO STAY HERE? CAN I STAY AT YOUR PLACE?
Serena closed her eyes and said a prayer. Then texted back, I'M SORRY, HON, U HAVE TO STAY THERE FOR NOW. I'M NOT HOME RIGHT NOW. I'LL TRY TO COME SEE U TOMORROW.
I'M GOING TO LOOK FOR A JOB TOMORROW.
I'LL TEXT YOU OR CALL. WE'LL WORK SOMETHING OUT. JUST STAY THERE FOR TONIGHT AT LEAST, OK? PROMISE?
At least two minutes passed before Camille's response came through.
She set her phone aside and sighed. Camille had found a special spot in Serena's heart, but she refused to let the girl manipulate her. Covenant House was a great place and Camille would learn to adjust. She would.