Death was his art. She would be his masterpiece.
They called him Leonardo—a master skilled in the art of murder. One year ago, Cincinnati was his canvas. A scalpel was his tool. And women were his works-in-progress. FBI profiler Casey McKinley was one of them, a victim of Leonardo's twisted genius. She has the scars—and the nightmares—to prove it.
For Casey, a new city means a life far from the one she left behind in Cincinnati. In San Francisco she finally feels safe. Until a series of eerily familiar slayings plunges her back into Leonardo's game. Now she must catch this clever killer before he can unveil his ultimate masterpiece. Only this time she'll play by a different set of rules—hers.
Release date: March 25, 2015
Publisher: Saddle Peak Entertainment
Print pages: 436
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Crouched in the closet, he waited for the sounds of her arrival. Sweat pooled beneath the black gloves, but his face and neck were cool. The red light on the bedside clock read 11:47. She was never earlier than 11:36 and never later than 12:04. She would arrive momentarily. Anticipation ran like a blade across his skin, arousing each part of his anatomy.
From his pocket, he found the patch of pink satin he had cut from the first one's panties, and rubbed it across his lips. Nearly three months had passed since that first time. Almost five years since his mother and sister, but he didn't count them with the others.
For nearly five years, he'd been content, working in the morgue. Late at night, when he was there alone, he would do a bit of dissection, practice his skills. He was always sure to work on a victim who was headed out to a closed-casket funeral or to the crematorium so no one would wonder about his handiwork. It had been a satisfying experience.
And then the idiot manager had caught him with one of the cadavers, a young woman, and had fired him. He'd felt himself explode at that moment, the trigger firing. He'd gotten into his car and driven it so fast, he'd gone right off the road. It had been a momentary release, to be free and flying.
The doctors had told him that he was fortunate to be alive, but he knew it was more than that. He was chosen. Once he had healed, with a new face thanks to the accident, he'd found himself hunting for another patient.
That was three months ago. He could still see the first one's body writhing for him, with him, against him. The satin caressed his neck, then his chest. He felt himself grow harder at the thought of her.
Lucy, she had called herself. Lucy was a whore just like his mother. “Lucy,” he whispered, pressing the cloth against himself.
He smelled the satin, the scent of his own sweat and her blood and tears. The small triangle was the only thing he had allowed himself to keep. Soon, he would need to be rid of it, too. He gathered himself and returned the satin to his pocket.
He let his body cool, using his mind to control its fierce desire, concentrating on his next work. For the one he'd just finished, he had fixated on the face, the center of pain. She had been a model. The face had seemed appropriate for her.
As long as he could remember, he had dreamt of pulling the body apart, of cutting the skin from the organs, of seeing the body in pieces. Originally, he had also dreamed of putting it back together.
But fixing was his sister Karen's job. You're not good enough—not smart enough, not motivated, not clever. He'd heard that often from their mother—the man-hating bitch. Not clever—he had shown them who was the most clever.
Being a doctor was just like being an artist, and he had shown he was a wonderful artist. It took skill, and practice. And each time, he only got better. Soon, he would make the perfect doctor. They wouldn't deny him again.
The metal tink of the key in the lock renewed his arousal. His fingers tingled with the closeness of her. FBI Agent Casey McKinley. No victim would be more enticing than she.
Cincinnati rarely captured such high-profile visitors. She had come because of him. His art had drawn her. How he had longed to share his next work with her. Now he would. McKinley would be the next piece, perhaps his first masterpiece.
The light shifted in the front hall as the rented apartment door swung open. The muscles in his stomach tightened, adrenaline rushing like hot oil in his veins. His ears alert, he waited for the sounds of voices. None came. She was alone. It couldn't be more perfect.
Rising slowly, he watched through the crack of the closet door as she staggered inside. Her shoulders slightly hunched, her step heavier than usual, he could tell she was tired. He would change that. Within moments, she would quicken with energy.
He watched her drop her bag to the floor, knowing that her gun was secured in a holster under her left arm. He would have to wait until she put it down. The gun would ruin his plans. Pressing his back to the wall of the closet, he hid himself behind the clothes. He trained his ear to the door. She might pick up the phone or turn on the TV. But eventually, she would come to bed.
Within minutes, he saw her shadow cast against the bedroom wall. The overhead light went on, and Casey took her jacket off and dropped it on a chair. He was so close. He held himself from leaning forward to watch her. It was too risky. Any movement at all was too risky. He needed to catch her completely by surprise.
Still wearing her gun, Casey passed the closet and went into the bathroom. With slow even breaths, he made no sound. He could hear the water running as he imagined what she was doing. Washing her face, trying to rinse the dirt of a serial killer from under her nails? He was anxious to see her expression when she found out the serial killer she had been out chasing was here, in her own closet. The thought held him silent. He could wait.
It didn't take long. Casey came out of the bathroom. She wore an FBI T-shirt and plaid boxer shorts. Her thin, muscular legs strode across the room. Perhaps he would start with her legs. She was a good runner, strong and fast. He'd watched her many times. Setting her gun on the bedside table, she reached over and started to turn the light off. Halting, she turned toward where he was crouched.
His heart pounded as she approached him without her gun. The gun still sat on the bedside table. Her hands were bunched in fists. She liked to box in her spare time. He had seen her a few times in the local gym. She was quite good. She opened and closed her fists as he had seen her do when she was thinking. No, not her legs. He would have to sculpt her hands.
Within a foot of him, Casey stopped and turned back as though she was looking for something. He felt himself tighten as she moved toward the gun. He couldn't risk letting her reach it. Without pausing, he attacked, pushing through the pant suits hanging in her closet and knocking the door open. With a swift arc, he landed the cattle prod on her shoulder.
She screamed, but the shock dropped her easily, giving him a chance to gag her. He took the first handkerchief and balled it, stuffing it in her mouth.
Her fight returning, she landed an elbow to his midriff.
He had prepared for that. His muscles were tight and strong. He took her hand and twisted it back, pushing her to the floor. She tried to look up at him, but he held her face to the ground. Never let them see your face. It made them too powerful. He drew the needle from the holster on his leg and jammed it into her arm.
She fought against him, but he held her down. Within minutes, she would be silent, complacent. It would give him time to prepare his work. He wouldn't let her go unconscious.
“Hello, Mac,” he said as her fight started to weaken. He drew a blindfold from his pocket and tied it across her eyes.
She tried to make a noise but couldn't.
He would give the drug another minute and then he would remove the gag.
Pulling her to her feet, he pushed her toward the chair.
With a quick turn, she swung her leg, connecting with a hard blow to his chin. She reached for the blindfold, but he caught her arm and hit her hard with the cattle prod until he almost felt the burning flesh.
She tried to scream as she fell over, collapsing from the shock. From his medical studies, he knew that the stun gun drove the muscles to work at a pace that outstripped the metabolism, forcing the body to convert sugars to lactic acid and making the muscles nonfunctional. Basically, it caused a transient yet polarizing acidosis. It had worked perfectly.
Rubbing his face, he could feel the tenderness in his jaw. Her kick would leave a mark, he knew.
At the small desk chair, he pushed her down. He drew a roll of duct tape from his pocket and taped her body against the chair, leaving her arms free. Next, he taped each wrist to an arm of the chair.
As he finished, she started to talk again. Pulling down the handkerchief he had made into a gag, he leaned down and whispered in her ear. “I'll let you talk, Agent McKinley, but only if you behave.”
“The Cincinnati Butcher.”
He cackled. “I'm disappointed in you, Mac. I thought we understood each other. This isn't butchering—this is art.”
“Art?” she scoffed, trying to sound strong and brave. But he could hear the vibration of fear in her voice. “You're a basic killer—abused as a child. There's nothing special about you,” she added, her voice steadier.
He tightened his jaw, forcing himself to control his anger. She wanted him to react. He was in control here, not her. “Oh, but there is. I'm going to show you how special. The great masters didn't do the kind of work I do. Leonardo da Vinci wasn't as good.”
“You're going to compare yourself to da Vinci? And here I hoped you might be one of the brighter ones. But it sounds like you're just crazy.”
He tensed his jaw. “I am not crazy.”
“Your mother told you that, didn't she? Called you crazy? And stupid, too, I bet. That wasn't very nice of her, was it? Did you become a killer to get back at your mother, Mr. Butcher? That would certainly make sense. Sometimes even parents do hurtful things. I'd like to hear what she did. I'd like to know how she hurt you.”
She took a breath, her spine straightening, and he knew she was stalling. It was all a bluff. She knew nothing about him.
“I'm guessing your father wasn't around much,” she continued when he still didn't answer. “He left when you were little, didn't he? Did your mother blame you? Let me guess, you've never had a normal relationship with a woman, have you? Women scare you a little, don't they? Your mother certainly did. She was tough, wasn't she? You thought she didn't love you. So, now you can't relate to anyone, am I right? Pretty much a loner?”
He shook his head, fighting to keep her words from penetrating. “No,” he whispered to himself, his hands pressed against his ears. She was trying to fuck with him, just like they were always trying to fuck with him. He wasn't listening.
“Did you light fires to get back at her? How many things did you light on fire? Lots of things? Did you ever burn down anything big?”
He felt his arms shake against his head. “No,” he said, more strongly. Keep the words out. “No fire.”
“How about animals? How many animals did you kill? Did you chop them up, too? Did you wet your bed, Mr. Butcher?”
“I told you, I am not a butcher,” he spat.
“Right, you're da Vinci,” she said, her voice skeptical. He noticed her response came more slowly, and he could sense the drug taking control. “Did you wet your bed, Mr. da Vinci?”
“You've said enough. Shut up.” He moved the point of his knife to her neck.
Her jaw shook, and he saw her fear in the motion of her lip. The pendulum of his emotion swung from anger to anticipation as he roped in his control, pulling the brimming fury back inside. He would have plenty of time to be angry later, but he couldn't let it affect his work.
“Oh, Mac, it isn't about killing. It's so much more. But, let's not argue. I'm going to show you.”
He watched the panic in her brow and lips as she fought against the constraints. Smiling to himself, he opened his bag and pulled out surgical gloves. With his black gloves off, he put on the surgical gloves and drew his scalpel.
He ran his fingers across the warmth of her skin.
She shivered and squirmed, but there was nowhere to go.
“Did you know the tendons in your hands are like a musical instrument?” He drew the scalpel across the back of her right hand, splitting the skin.
She screamed, and he grabbed her shoulder hard. “I would prefer not to be violent with you, Mac. I'd like to do this with finesse. It's art—not violence. But if you make another sound, I'm going to have to put the gag back and be rough,” he warned.
Tears soaked the blindfold as sobs choked her. Still, she remained silent.
He watched for a moment before continuing. Removing the thin skin layer from her hand, he ran his gloved fingers across the structure that lay beneath. “I really wish I could let you see this, Mac. It's quite fascinating.”
Casey didn't move.
“Did you know that as the tendons pass under the transverse carpal ligament, they are enclosed in two specialized synovial sacs?” he continued. “The larger of the two holds the tendons for the Flexores digitorum sublimis and profundus—it's called the ulnar bursa. Those are your flexor tendons—the ones that allow you to extend your fingers out, say to shoot a gun perhaps.”
Finding the outer edge of the ulnar bursa, he held it between his fingers then slipped his scalpel beneath it. The sound of her screaming in pain was heaven to him.
Inspector Jordan Gray reached for the ringing phone, careful not to wake his wife. Shaking himself awake, he sat up in bed.
“Gray,” he mumbled into the receiver. He glanced over at his wife's empty side of the bed and ran a hand over his unshaven face.
Every time he woke up, he expected her to be lying there next to him like nothing had happened. But something had happened. A lot of somethings. She'd left two weeks ago—taken Will and Ryan and gone back to L.A. “Home” she called it. She had even enrolled the boys in school there for the rest of the year. Shit.
“You there, Gray?” repeated the patrol officer.
“We got another one—a puppet.”
Jordan swallowed hard and shook his head, fighting to retain his objectivity. “Caucasian female?”
“This one's black.”
Jordan raised an eyebrow. It didn't sound like the same killer. “Age?”
“Same as the white girl—maybe ten or eleven.”
“Can you identify her?”
“No, sir. You'd better come down.”
Blood flowing hot and angry like lava, Jordan took down the address. “Don't let anyone touch her until I get there.”
He dropped the receiver and flipped the bedside light on, staring past the empty side of the bed as he reached for his pants. “When it rains, it fucking pours,” he mumbled.
He was out the door in four minutes.
As he pulled his '93 Explorer down Fifty-second and onto 580 toward San Francisco, he glanced at his cellular phone. It was three a.m. His sons, Will and Ryan, were in L.A. They were safe. Still, Jordan couldn't stop his fingers from dialing to make sure.
“Hello,” came his mother-in-law's voice, like a snappy crow.
Jordan cringed and started to hang up when he heard Angela on another extension.
“It's Jordan, baby.”
His mother-in-law quipped something he didn't hear and dropped the receiver. Bitch.
“You know what time it is?” Angela said, her voice filled with the sleepy tone Jordan loved.
“I know. I'm sorry. I had to check. The boys okay?”
“They're fine. They're asleep, Jordan. We're all asleep.”
“I know.” Why had he called? Because he needed to hear that his sons were okay. Was there something so wrong with that? “You okay?”
She stifled a yawn. “Fine. Are you in the car?”
She sighed, and Jordan knew she was thinking she'd been right about him and his job. Damn. What could he do about it?
He pictured Angela lying in bed. Man, she was beautiful. “I'd be better if you were here.”
Angela sighed. “We've been through this, Jordan. I can't live like that. You're crazy all the time. And what's worse is you don't talk to me about it, we don't share things anymore.”
Jordan nodded. “I know. Listen, can you guys come up for the weekend? I can get off, and we can go see the Warriors.”
“You hate the Warriors.”
“But you like 'em.”
He could hear her smile through the phone. “You can come down,” she said. “Why don't you call later?”
“Okay,” he said. “I love you, Angie.”
“I know you do. Be careful out there, Jordan.”
He heard the click of the phone on her end and set the cell phone on the seat. What the hell was he doing chasing down psychopaths when his marriage was failing and his sons were 500 miles away? To make things worse, his partner was on medical leave, and he hadn't been assigned a new one. So he was working the case alone. His life was shit.
* * *
He stopped at the curb of the crime scene in San Francisco's Mission District. The mouth of the alley was littered with cans and bottles and the remainder of some homeless person's cardboard box home. Jordan didn't move. Instead, he scanned the area for stragglers. The body would wait. No one would touch it. The girl was beyond saving. But if the perp were here, he wouldn't stay long. There were too many people looking around to risk staying and being spotted.
“The sickos love to watch the excitement they've created,” a seasoned inspector had told him years before. “Look for them at the scene, at the site of the body dump, the fire, the robbery, whatever. Look in the crevices and cracks, in the crowds of bystanders watching. That's where they'll be. And that's the best place to catch them. Because they can't stay away.”
At three in the morning, though, this particular scene would be an easy place to spot an outsider. Other than the two local news vans, four cop cars, and an ambulance, the street was deserted.
From the head of the alley, Jordan could tell where the girl's body had been left. The buzz of police surrounded her as dense as vultures around a kill. Thick yellow crime-scene tape blocked off the area, but the reporters constantly pushed forward to test the borders like dogs edging along an invisible fence. Three officers held them at bay. As he passed, the reporters pushed after him.
“Keep 'em back,” Jordan commanded as he moved past the shouting voices. But this crowd was nothing in comparison to the numbers that would show up when the story really got out.
Even after fifteen years on the force, Jordan had never once spoken to the press.
Years ago he thought eventually they would realize he wouldn't comment, but they still sidled up to him, throwing questions like darts at the bull's eye. He had become so proficient at ignoring the clamoring voices, he often missed his own men calling him in the process.
As he approached, the officers moved aside and the girl came into view. In size and stature, the victim could easily have been his own son were it a boy. She even had the same smooth black skin and hazel eyes. Her naked body had been propped against a rusting chain-link fence that lined the back of the alley, an old sheet thrown across her middle. The area beneath the body had been swept clean of trash, broken bottles, and debris that was scattered about the rest of the alley.
Like the last girl's, her arms had been tied with fishing line and attached to different levels of the chain-link fence behind her. With her arms suspended in the air, she looked like a life-size puppet. The fishing line cut into the skin, but it could hold a hundred-pound fish so it worked fine on a little girl's arms.
A piece of duct tape attached her forehead to the fence to keep her head from falling to her chest. Her hands hung limp at her wrists. Her right arm was high as though she was waving good-bye, her left hung low and flat against her chest.
Though not identical, the last girl's position had been similar enough to be recognizable. And like the previous victim, this one wore a pointed party hat. The last hat had been orange; this one was yellow. Maybe there was a pattern here—the rainbow or something. But then the killer wouldn't have skipped red.
The last girl had bled to death. The thought made Jordan sick, and he tightened his gut and forced himself forward. From the look of this victim, he would guess the same. Thankfully, though, it wasn't his job to guess. The medical examiner would deal with cause of death.
The girl's cheeks had been bound with heavy white gauze, the tie hidden beneath her hat. Her cheeks were puffy and swollen, and Jordan could only imagine what torture the child had endured. The best Jordan could hope was that the girl had been dead at the time. But from the bruising that had begun to develop under her eyes, Jordan suspected that the injuries had not been postmortem. There was nothing he could do about the terrifying manner in which this child had died. But he could certainly stop the killer from doing it again to someone else.
The prior victim's injuries had been similar, but her face hadn't been the recipient of the damage. Instead, her killer had dissected her feet, the defense wounds on her arms suggesting that she had been alive throughout the process. The ballerina slippers she was wearing had been hung limply around her neck. Jordan clenched his jaw.
His mind created the image of a half-man, half-monster evil enough to engage in this sort of brutality, especially to children. Jordan forced the image away. He knew how dangerous it was to use that sort of reasoning in imagining the killer. More than likely, the killer would be someone who looked more trustworthy than himself. And someone who was likely more clever. Any disillusions about what the killer should be like would only make it more difficult to find him.
For now, Jordan had work to do. His job on a crime scene was to make sure the evidence was preserved, collected, and documented, and that nothing was overlooked. He glanced up at the graying sky. He would be here four hours, at least. He only hoped it didn't start to rain. He looked back at the girl. Rain or no rain, they were going to catch this son of a bitch.
He took another look at the body and shook his head. It was the same futile gesture he'd seen every cop make when they saw something so revolting. As a new cop, Jordan would have been sick to his stomach, looked away, and then ranted and raved about the perverted fuckers that shared this earth. He remembered reacting that exact way.
But he'd learned that it wouldn't do any good. Nothing would until he had the killer in custody. Then the courts took over. And even then, sometimes it wouldn't do any good. It was suspected anywhere from three hundred and fifty to thousands of serial killers were at large in the United States alone. That didn't even begin to account for those who only killed once and weren't considered serial murderers. At times like this, he wondered if it was worth the sacrifice to even fight the battle.
Two ambulance attendants waited to be dismissed, and Jordan waved them off. They weren't going to be any help.
“Medical examiner's office has been called,” Leroy Thomas, one of the newer patrol officers, reported, his back to the girl.
Jordan nodded. “Anyone touch the scene?”
Thomas shook his head. “A woman from the ninth floor called it in. Said she saw 'another drunk kid' in the alley. Said he looked a little young, and she thought he'd freeze to death out here with no clothes on. So she called us. Guess she couldn't tell it was a girl from up there.”
Jordan removed a notebook from his coat pocket and patted his pockets for a pen. “Shit.”
Leroy handed him one.
Jordan looked up to the ninth floor. “What's the woman's name?”
“Louisa James. Lives here with her daughter.”
Jordan wrote. “Has anyone spoken to her?”
“Just on the call. I came to check it out. When I saw the body, I called you.”
“Good.” Jordan looked up at the surrounding buildings, taking careful count of the potential witnesses. Four buildings had views of the alley—one on each side, one behind and one across the street.
He glanced at his watch and pointed. “Starting at seven a.m., I want guys out to each of these buildings. Talk to everyone you can. If anyone saw so much as a fly, I want to know about it. As for Ms.”—he glanced back down to his pad—”James, I'll speak to her myself.”
Thomas gave a quick nod and disappeared.
The crime scene team arrived like a small parade, marching in line through the alley in their white lab coats. They carried packs of supplies, vials and bags, cameras, a small vacuum cleaner—everything they needed to capture whatever looked like evidence. Their expressions were varying shades of grim as they surveyed the crime scene. Outside crimes were tougher—the actual scene harder to define than inside a living room or a bar.
Here, dispersed among the trash, might be the one clue that allowed the police to pinpoint the killer. And that same clue may have been swept away by a simple breeze, or carried off by a small animal or even a bum looking for food hours before. Thankfully, it hadn't rained—yet. With the heavy rains of this season, the scene's preservation could have been nil. Jordan should have felt lucky, but nothing about the situation felt lucky.
“Interesting setup,” Al Ting, head of the crime scene team, announced as he bent down and pulled a pair of rubber gloves from a box.
Jordan nodded, knowing Ting meant familiar. And familiar in crime scenes was not often coincidence.
As always, Al Ting wore a starched white shirt, buttoned to the collar, and a pair of pressed khakis.
Raised in San Francisco's Chinatown by a couple who ran a local grocery store, Al was meticulous from head to toe. As a young kid, his chore had been to clean his parents' store, and Jordan imagined Ting must have taken the job very seriously. Thin, round, gold wire-frame glasses sat flat to his cheeks.
Each of his lab coats was monogrammed with his initials. It was rumored he did this to prevent the other technicians from picking up his coats. But even without the monogram, it would be easy to tell if they had. Somehow Ting was the only one on the team consistently able to get the bloodstains from messy crime scenes out of his clothes. He always joked that as a Chinaman, it was his heritage to know a good cleaner.
Al had been head of the crime scene investigations group for as long as Jordan had been on the force. While Al didn't seem to have aged a day, the fifteen years made Jordan feel at least thirty years older. Al's meticulous nature and sharp eye made him an invaluable asset. And Jordan was counting on him now more than ever.
Al looked up and started directing. “Let's take it in a grid formation—divide it in sixths, everyone does two and then we rotate. I want each quadrant looked over twice.”
Jordan interrupted. “Also, I think we may have a partial print to the right of the body along the fence.” He pointed to a small patch of mud and the corner of what looked like a tennis shoe track. “Can we get someone to cast that before we step on it?”
Al nodded to one of the technicians. “Deborah, can you handle that one, please.”
The woman nodded and headed back to the van.
Another technician moved around the body, a heavy camera covering his face as he recorded the body's resting spot. Al followed close behind, confirming which shots should be captured.
Normally, it was the supervising inspector's role to direct the evidence technicians and the forensic photographer. But Ting was the best, and Jordan watched him work in silence, adding only a rare request for something Al failed to notice.
“M.E.'s on his way,” Jordan said when the photographer was done, knowing there would be nothing else to do until the medical examiner moved the body. Jordan was praying this crime was a copycat, but he wouldn't know until the evidence was documented and analyzed. Still, he sensed the girl's leg would tell him. The party hat and bandaged head could be the work of a copycat, but only the killer would know his signature.
Just then, Jordan saw Ray Zambotti, the medical examiner, pushing through the crowd. Ray was a short, heavyset man with skin so pale it was almost blue like skim milk. He had been given the nickname “Skim” for this reason.
Ray shook his head, the bluish-purple circles beneath his eyes more enlarged than normal.
“Sorry for the late call.”
“The dead never sleep,” Zambotti said, laughing at his own joke.
Impatient, Jordan crossed his arms and waited as Ray strutted around the body, waving his arms. “Bled to death. Look how pale she is. Paler than regular dead. Just like the other one.”
“We're not making any assumptions,” Jordan said. He didn't want anyone getting the idea that they could or couldn't link the murders until he had evidence. Despite the bodies, that was. Damn if this wasn't getting frustrating.
“We can assume there are some sick fucks, can't we?” Ray said, wearing a full grin.
They returned their attention to the body.
“She was moved, too,” Ray continued. He stood and moved closer to Jordan and added in a hushed whisper, “Just like the other.”
“Hard to say how long she's been dead. Rigor is slowed with the temperature. But, I'd guess less than twelve hours. Smell's still fine.”
That meant she had been killed in the middle of the afternoon. If that was the case, the killer had moved the dead body—just like Ray said. There was no way a little girl had been sitting dead in an alley all afternoon and evening without being noticed. “I'm going to need something more specific.”
Ray put his hands on his hips. “Of course. I'll work with the entomologist and see what the bugs say.”
Jordan pictured the tiny creatures that were already feasting on the girl's tissues.
With gloved hands, Ray lifted the girl's eyelids wider and studied the eyes. Bringing a mini tape recorder to his lips, he spoke into it. “You've got petechial hemorrhage in the conjunctiva,” he said, pointing to the inner eyelids. “Also I can see slight traces of petechiae in the cheeks, confirming strangulation during the process. However, coloring suggests blood loss as means of death.”
He turned the recorder off and pointed to the white gauze wrapped around the girl's head. “And the bandages—looks like more surgical work. Boy, you got a wacko here, Gray.”
“Thanks for the input, Doc. I want the body moved so we can do a thorough search of the area, but let's check the thigh first.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever happened to 'patience is a virtue'?”
Jordan sighed. “It's late, Ray.”
“Technically, Gray, it's early.”
Ray laughed, leaning back with his face to the sky. “The thing I love most about working with the dead is they don't always rush you—rush, rush, rush.”
Ray's assistant squatted beside the body. His sleeves were rolled up, exposing thick, blond curls and strong arms.
Jordan figured Ray had hired someone strong enough to move the bodies. With his gut, Ray could hardly lift a leg.
“Ready?” the assistant interrupted, though his tone wasn't at all impatient.
Ray raised his hands like he was about to conduct an orchestra. “Ready,” he replied. “Let the fun begin.”
Jordan shook his head, wondering if one day Ray Zambotti wouldn't end up on one of his suspect lists. As long as the city kept providing the bodies, maybe not. But he sure seemed to have a penchant for what the killers left behind.
“Here we go.”
Jordan leaned forward, resting his hands on his knees and holding his breath.
Ray started to pull the sheet off the girl's leg, while others around him carefully swept for evidence around his every move. The thin leg was the same size as Will's. The sight reminded Jordan of teaching his son to slide into home plate. Will had slid so hard, he'd come home with bruises all up and down his left side. His little leg black-and-blue, just like this girl's.
Clenching his teeth, Jordan swore to catch this monster if it killed him. And when it was over, he was going to take a long look and try to figure out what the hell he was doing with his life.
Ray turned the body into the light, a thin gasp escaping from his lips as he did.
Jordan shined his flashlight and cringed at the sight. The same as the other's, the mark looked like an uppercase L with touching lowercase Os on either side of the L. Cut with something sharp like a small scalpel, the mark still oozed blood. Pre-mortem, just like the others.
Zambotti pulled a tape measure from his pocket and pulled one end out against the skin. “The middle mark is one and one-eighth inches; each of these ovals on the sides an eighth of an inch high, a quarter inch wide,” Zambotti measured out loud. “I'll check for consistency with the last ones to try again for the type of blade.” His gaze met Jordan's. “Looks like the same thing, though—some sort of signature.”
Jordan raised his head and looked away. “Damn.”
Without lifting her head from the pillow, Casey McKinley snapped up the ringing phone after the machine had picked up twice. “What?” she groaned.
“It's Billy,” came the soft male voice that had been her only contact to the outside world for the six months since her husband and daughter returned to Virginia.
Propping herself on her elbows, she pushed her overgrown bangs off her forehead and looked around the dark room, blinking. “Where are you?”
Billy sighed heavily, and Casey could picture his hand nailed dramatically to one hip. “I'm outside.”
“Well, why the hell don't you use your key?”
“You didn't answer the door. I didn't know if you were dead or something.” He paused and tapped on the phone. “I didn't want to walk in on a dead body.”
“So you called?”
“Well,” he snipped back. “It seemed like a better idea than just barging in.”
“Hardly. Let yourself in, already,” she said, hanging up on him and rolling over in the bed. It was nearly eleven a.m., and she'd been in bed at least twelve hours. Still, Casey was sure that without Billy's visit, she'd have spent all day in bed. Since her release from the hospital, nearly a year ago, zombie had been her role of choice. Hiding under the covers had been her favored pastime. Michael and Amy had fought with her for nearly five months to get off her duff and start living again. She'd refused until she had driven them away. After they left, the job became Billy's.
She looked down at her hands, as though by some miracle she might have regained the use of them during the night. Instead, her fists stared motionless back at her.
Using the forefinger on her left hand, Casey pulled open the drawer in the bedside table and lifted out the picture of her daughter. The image was several years old—Amy holding a soccer ball, posing for a photo at the end of the season.
The picture's edges were tattered and bent. Casey ran a finger over her daughter's face and then closed her eyes, holding the picture to her. What was Amy doing now? What did she look like? Casey heard the front door unlock and returned the photo to the drawer, the ache of guilt sharp in her chest as she rolled herself into a tight ball.
She stared at her lifeless hands. In his savage beating, the killer she called Leonardo had broken nearly every bone in her right hand and almost as many in her left. Over twenty in all. He had also severed a half-dozen tendons and ligaments in her right knee, plus he'd cut into her thigh. She had spent six full days in and out of surgery. And still she couldn't write with her right hand or drive. She was lucky she could feel her hands at all, the doctors had told her. Lucky was the last thing she felt.
She struggled to move the fingers on her right hand. They formed a loose fist as she fought to clench them into a ball. Her hand refused to close. Frustrated, she kicked and flailed at the bedsheets and then collapsed.
“Hello!” Billy called, his voice growing closer.
“I'm not getting up,” Casey yelled.
Billy stopped in the doorway and shook his head. “Oh, so you tell me to let myself in for nothing. Geesh, you can be such a bitch.”
She glanced over, and he caught her eye.
He clicked his tongue to shame her and shook his head again. He wore black jeans, a black turtleneck, and cowboy boots. But today, his short dark hair had been carefully gelled to the side, exposing his bright blue eyes, full of mischief.
Casey pulled herself up onto her elbows, ignoring the difficulty of moving around with useless hands. “You have a date!” she accused.
Without responding, Billy moved past the bed and pulled the shades open. “It's like a cave in here. You need light, woman.”
Casey moaned at the bright light as Billy opened the window. Billy's hair had caught her attention, and the undesirable stream of sunlight became less important. “Who's the lucky guy?”
He ignored her, picking up the discarded clothing and throwing it over his arm as her mother had always done when she was avoiding an issue. “Have you eaten?”
“Not hungry. Tell me about him.”
“You've got five minutes to get dressed and meet me in the kitchen. I'll start coffee.” Billy set the clothes over a chair and then started out the door. “I'll tell you about him while you're eating breakfast.”
Casey smiled, victorious. “Deal.” With the door closed, she sat up and pulled her pajama bottoms off. Finding her jeans, she dropped them to the floor and pushed her feet into the legs. Her hands in fists, she worked the jeans up around her knees, using her fists to move the fabric up over her legs. With the jeans around her knees, she lay on her back to let them shake down around her hips.
Halfway, her teeth clenched, she paused for a breath. Then, with a deep groan, she continued. It was getting easier, but the feeling of helplessness had once come close to drowning her.
Using the pinky of her left hand, she grabbed a belt loop and pulled the left side of the jeans over her hip. The jeans had fit her at one time, but they were much looser now.
Reaching around, she grabbed the belt loop on the other side and heaved it over her other hip. Using a hook and line her husband had made for her right after she'd come home from the hospital, Casey looped the hook through the zipper's hole and tugged the line up with her pinky. Now, just the button remained. Casey sank down on the bed, wishing she had her sweatpants. Michael had bought her sweat suits in four colors to make dressing easier.
But Billy had taken them away, saying they were too close to pajamas and made her lazy. He had also told her that she looked like shit in them. It hadn't been their smoothest day together. But all her husband's love and affection had failed to have even a fraction of the impact Billy did.
Casey glared at the button hole, remembering the first time she'd fastened one after the attack. Concentrating, she set to maneuvering the button through the hole with the knuckle of her index finger.
“What's taking so long?” Billy called from the other room.
Casey snarled at the door. “If it takes too long, bring back my sweats.”
“No chance,” he snapped back.
Another minute passed and she heard two quick knocks. “Your eggs are ready.” The click of Billy unlatching the door was followed by the sound of him padding back to the kitchen.
Casey smiled at the gesture. On one of Billy's first days, right after her husband and daughter had moved back to Virginia, the door had been latched and Casey had been unable to open it. Sobbing, she'd waited nearly an hour before Billy had come to check on her. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Couldn't you hear me?” she'd shouted.
He'd shaken his head slowly.
In response, she had shoved her crippled fists in his face. “I can't open a goddamn door, I can't tie a shoe, or cut a tomato, or brush my teeth, or fasten a belt, or shoot a gun. I can't do anything.”
Billy had been quiet the rest of that day. But afterward he'd never let the door remain latched for long. He also never expressed an ounce of pity for her. Perhaps that was the reason he had been able to motivate her as her husband had been unable to do. She had driven her husband away, unable to cope with his pity.
Looking down at her fists now, Casey opened and closed them in the same slow methodical way Billy had worked with her to do. The left one was better. While she still had trouble controlling the individual fingers, she could spread her palm almost wide enough to hold a large grapefruit. But the right one was still stiff and worthless. Her shooting hand. He'd been sure to destroy that one completely.
“Stop your self-pity,” he said.
She turned to see Billy standing in the doorway. “Lay off,” she snapped.
“Don't give me that bitchy tone. Get in here and eat these eggs.”
Casey shot him a dirty look and pushed past him toward the kitchen. As always, Billy kept it immaculate. Like the rest of her house, the kitchen was sparsely decorated in light pines and whites. Sterile was how some would describe it. No pictures, diplomas, or awards hung on the walls of the living room or den. When Billy had started, she'd had no wall hangings at all. But slowly he had convinced her to buy a couple of Ansel Adams prints. Even those kept the tone of the place cold in their black and white.
She sat hard in the pine chair and stared at her eggs, then raised an eyebrow. “Cheese?”
“Just a little,” Billy replied sharply.
She smiled broadly and stood up. Crossing the kitchen to where Billy stood, she planted a kiss on his cheek.
Billy rolled his eyes. “Don't think that's going to get you more cheese next time.”
Casey smiled and sat back down. Fastidious about what went in his body, Billy thought cheese was like hardened orange gelato. And cheese was the least of it. One of the first things he had done was to empty the house of alcohol, sweets, and most of the cigarettes.
At least Casey had a small stash of cigs hidden away to steal a smoke when Billy wasn't around. But Billy could always tell when she'd been smoking them. He had also refused to buy anything other than skim milk. Now that she was shopping with him, they compromised on 1 percent.
Coffee had been Billy's next intended victim, but she'd threatened to fire him. They had fought on and off for a few days, but in the end she had won. Though he had successfully weeded most of the vices from her life, Casey knew he had accepted that coffee was one he would be powerless to stop.
She drank her coffee slowly now, knowing Billy would make only one cup. Leaning forward on the table, she said, “Tell me about this man.”
Billy stared into his cup, swirling his spoon in the ginseng tea.
“You promised,” she reminded him.
He nodded. “I met him at the hospital. He was visiting a friend with AIDS when I was visiting Mrs. Levinski. She fell in the shower and broke her hip.”
Casey smiled. “Go on.”
“That's it. That's how we met. His name's Kevin. He's incredible. He reads palms—it's so sexy.”
“That's his job?”
Billy shook his head. “That's his art. For work, he's a tax accountant.”
“An accountant who reads palms?” He sounded like a freak.
“You're so closed-minded, Casey.”
“I am not.” Casey wondered what his last name was. She'd have liked to have someone check him out. “You met this guy at the hospital? What do you know about him?”
Billy crossed his arms. “I know plenty.”
“Have you been to his house?”
“Have you met any of his friends?”
Billy scowled. “Don't you dare turn Kevin into one of your suspects. Not everyone is a killer, for God's sake. I really like him, so pretend like you do, too. You've got your head screwed on so tight that you can't even see the good in people anymore. I'm amazed you let me come work for you. Or did you do a background check on me, too?”
Casey shook her head. She had done a background check on Billy—actually, she'd had the FBI do it. And no one was more thorough than the FBI. But he was right. Leonardo was always her first thought. “I'm sorry,” she said. “You're right.”
“I want you to meet him.” Billy broke into a crooked smile. “I like him.” He stared into the distance and then waved her off, ending the conversation. “Go on. Go do something. I'll finish this up, and we'll do your exercises.”
In the months Billy had taken care of her, he had never mentioned dating anyone. As much as she hated the idea of sharing him, she knew it was good that he had found someone. Casey sat at the table and looked around. “Did you bring the paper?”
Billy turned and raised an eyebrow at her.
She shrugged and looked away. “Just curious.”
He returned to the dishes. “I didn't think you'd like today's paper.”
“Why didn't you think I'd like it?” she asked again.
He didn't meet her gaze. “I just didn't.”
“No, Billy. You had a reason. What was it?”
Billy cringed. “Some crazy guy killed another kid.”
“A serial killer?” she asked.
He eyed her again.
“Do they think it's a serial killer?” she pressed.
He gave a curt nod and turned his back, flipping on the radio to end her questions. He tuned to his favorite jazz station and hummed along.
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