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Hunting Fear

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년:
2004
출판사:
Bantam
언어:
english
ISBN 13:
9780553585988
시리즈:
Fear Trilogy 1; Bishop
파일:
EPUB, 246 KB
다운로드 (epub, 246 KB)

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책에 대한 리뷰를 작성하거나 귀하의 독서 경험을 공유할 수 있습니다. 다른 독자들이 귀하가 읽은 책에 대한 의견에 귀를 기울일 것입니다. 개인적으로 책이 마음에 들었거나 그렇지 않았거나 정직하고 상세한 호평은 다른 독자들이 자신에게 적합한 책을 찾는데 도움이 됩니다.
1

Sleeping With Fear

년:
2006
언어:
english
파일:
LIT , 157 KB
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2

Sense of Evil

년:
2003
언어:
english
파일:
EPUB, 253 KB
0 / 0
Fear Trilogy



--1 Hunting Fear (2004)--





A Bantam Book / August 2004



Published by Bantam Dell,



a division of



Random House, Inc.



New York, New York



This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are

the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance

to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



Copyright © 2004 by Kay Hooper



Visit our website atwww.bantamdell.com



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form

or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,

or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission

of the publisher, except where permitted by law.



Bantam Books is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.,

and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.



Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data



Hooper, Kay.



Hunting fear / Kay Hooper.



p. cm.



eISBN: 0-553-90056-0



I. Title.



PS3558.O587 H86 2004



813/.54 22 2004047613





PROLOGUE



Five years ago



Sssshhhh.



Half consciously, she made the sound out loud. “Sssshhhh.” But it was a breath of sound. Less than that.



She had to be quiet.



He might hear.



He might get angry at her.



He might change his mind.



She kept herself very still and tried to make herself very small.Don’t draw his attention. Don’t give him any reason to change his mind.



She’d been lucky so far. Lucky or smart. Because he’d said so, he’d said she was a good girl and so he wouldn’t hurt her. All she had to do was take the medicine and sleep for a while, and then be still and silent for a little bit when she woke up.



Count to five hundred when you wake up, he’d said. Count slowly. And when she was done—



“—and when you’re done, I’ll be gone. You can move then. You can take off the blindfold. But not until then, you understand? If you move or make a sound before then, I’ll know. And I’ll have to hu; rt you.”



It seemed to take forever to count to five hundred, but finally she got there. Hesitated. And counted to six hundred just to be safe. Because she was a good girl.



He’d had her lie down so that her hands were underneath her bottom, her own weight holding them flat and immobile. So he didn’t have to tie them, he’d said. She could put her hands underneath her like a good girl or he could tie her up.



He had a gun.



She thought her hands were probably asleep by now, because she felt the medicine had made her sleep a long time. But she was still afraid to try moving, afraid he was somewhere nearby, watching.



“Are—are you there?” she whispered.



Nothing. Just the sound of her own breathing.



She shivered, not for the first time. It was chilly, a little damp. The air she breathed was stale. And in the tiniest corner of her mind, way back in the dark where a terrified little girl crouched, was an idea she didn’t even want to think about.



No. Not that.



It wasn’t that.



Cautiously, very slowly, she began working her right hand from underneath her. It had gone to sleep, the pins and needles sharp, the sensation as creepy as it always was. She kept her hand alongside her hip and flexed the fingers slowly as the blood returned to them. It made her want to cry or giggle. She worked her left hand free and flexed it as well.



Refusing to admit why she did it, she slid her hands to the tops of her thighs, then up her body, not reaching out, not reaching up naturally. She slid them up herself until she touched the blindfold covering her eyes.



She heard her breath catch in a little sob.



No. It wasn’t that.



Because she was a good girl.



She pushed the cloth up her forehead, keeping her eyes closed. She drew a deep breath, trying not to think about how much more stale and thick the air seemed to be.



Finally, she opened her eyes.



Blackness. A dark so total it had weight, substance.



She blinked, turned her head back and forth, but saw nothing more. Just . . . black.



In the tiniest corner of her mind, that little girl whimpered.



Slowly, fraction of an inch by fraction of an inch, she pushed her hands outward. Her arms were still bent at the elbows when her hands touched something solid. It felt like . . . wood. She pushed against it. Hard. Harder.



It didn’t give at all.



She tried not to panic, but by the time her hands had explored the box in which she lay, the scream was crawling around in the back of her throat. And when the little girl crouching in the tiniest corner of her mind whispered the truth, the scream escaped.



He’s buried you alive.



And nobody knows where you are.





“I’m telling you it’s no goddamned use.” Lieutenant Pete Edgerton had an unusually smooth and gentle voice for a violent-crimes detective, but it was harsh now. And filled with reluctant certainty. “She’s gone.”



“Show me a body.”



“Luke—”



“Until you can show me a body, I am not giving up on that girl.” Lucas Jordan’s voice was quiet, as it always was, but the intensity lurked, as it always did. And when he turned and left the conference room, it was with the quick, springy step of a man in excellent physical shape who possessed enough energy for at least two other men.



Maybe three.



With a sigh, Edgerton turned to the other detectives scattered about the room and shrugged. “The family hired him, and they have the mayor’s backing, so we don’t have the authority to call him off.”



“I doubt anybodycould call him off,” Judy Blake said, her tone half admiring and half wondering. “He won’t stop looking until he finds Meredith Gilbert. Dead or alive.”



Another detective, surveying the stack of files in front of him, shook his head wearily. “Well, whether he’s as gifted as they say or not, he’s independent and he can concentrate on one case at a time for as long as it takes. We don’t have that luxury.”



Edgerton nodded. “We’ve already spent more time than we can afford—and a hell of a lot more manpower—on a single missing-persons case with squat for leads and absolutely no evidence that she was abducted against her will.”



“Her family’s sure she was,” Judy reminded him. “And Luke is sure.”



“I know. I’m sure myself, or at least as sure as I can be with a gut feeling.” Edgerton shrugged again. “But we’ve got cases backed up and I’ve got my orders. The Meredith Gilbert investigation is officially a cold-case file.”



“Is that the federal conclusion as well?” Judy asked, brows lifting as she turned her gaze to a tall, dark man who leaned negligently against a filing cabinet in a position that enabled him to watch everyone in the room.



Special Agent Noah Bishop shook his head once. “The official federal conclusion is that there’s been no federal crime. No evidence of kidnapping—or anything else that would involve the Bureau. And we weren’t asked to officially participate in the investigation.” His voice was cool, like his pale gray sentry eyes. He wore a half smile, but the vivid scar twisting down his left cheek made the expression more dangerous than pleasant.



“Then what are you doing here?” the same weary detective asked mildly.



“He’s interested in Jordan,” Theo Woods said. “That’s it, isn’t it, Bishop? You came to see the so-called psychic’s little dog-and-pony show.” The detective was hostile, and it showed, though it was difficult to tell which he despised more—supposed psychics or federal agents.



Matter-of-fact, the agent replied, “I came because there was the possibility of a kidnapping.”



“And I guess it’s just a coincidence that you’ve been watching Jordan like a hawk.”



With a soft laugh that held no amusement, Bishop said, “There’s no such thing as coincidence.”



“Then you are interested in him.”



“Yes.”



“Because he claims to be psychic?”



“Because he is psychic.”



“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Woods said. “If he really was psychic, we would have found that girl by now.”



“It doesn’t work that way.”



“Oh, right, I forgot. Can’t just flip a switch and get all the answers.”



“No. Unfortunately, not even a genuine and gifted psychic can do that.”



“And you’d know.”



“Yes. I’d know.”



Edgerton, aware both of the simmering frustration in the room and the resentment at least a few of his detectives felt toward the Bureau and its agents, intervened to say calmly, “It’s a moot point, at least as far as we’re concerned. Like I said, the Gilbert investigation is cold. We move on.”



Judy kept her gaze on Bishop. “What about you? Do you move on as well? Go back to Quantico?”



“I,” Bishop said, “do what I came here to do.” He strolled from the room, as seemingly relaxed and unconcerned as Lucas Jordan had been wired and focused.



“I don’t like that guy,” Theo Woods announced unnecessarily. “Those eyes look right through you. Talk about a thousand-yard stare.”



“Think he really is after Luke?” Judy asked the room at large.



Edgerton said, “Maybe. My sources tell me Bishop’s putting together a special unit of investigators, but I can’t find out what’s special about it.”



“Jesus, you don’t think he’s rounding up phony psychics?” Woods demanded incredulously.



“No,” Edgerton replied with a last glance after the federal agent. “I don’t think he’s interested in anything phony.”





Bishop assumed there was speculation behind him as he left the conference room, but beyond making a mental note to add Pete Edgerton to his growing list of cops likely to be receptive to his Special Crimes Unit in the future, he thought no more about it. He went in search of Lucas Jordan, finding him, as expected, in the small, windowless office that had been grudgingly allotted to him.



“I told you I wasn’t interested,” Lucas said as soon as Bishop appeared in the doorway.



Leaning against the jamb, Bishop watched as the other man packed up his copies of the myriad paperwork involved in a missing-persons investigation. “Do you enjoy going it solo that much?” he asked mildly. “Operating alone has its drawbacks. We can offer the sort of support and resources you’re not likely to find anywhere else.”



“Probably. But I hate bureaucracy and red tape,” Lucas replied. “Both of which the FBI has in abundance.”



“I told you, my unit is different.”



“You still report to the Director, don’t you?”



“Yes.”



“Then it’s not that different.”



“I intend to make sure it is.”



Lucas paused, looking at Bishop with a slight frown, more curious than disbelieving. “Yeah? How do you plan to do that?”



“My agents won’t have to deal with the Bureau politics; that’ll be my job. I’ve spent years building my reputation, collecting and calling in favors, and twisting arms to make certain we’ll have as much autonomy as possible in running our investigations.”



Somewhat mockingly, Lucas said, “What, no rules?”



“You know better than that. But reasonable rules, if only to placate the powers that be and convince them we aren’t running a sideshow act. We’ll have to be cautious in the beginning, low-key, at least until we can point to a solid record of successful case resolutions.”



“And you’re so sure there will be successes?”



“I wouldn’t be doing this otherwise.”



“Yeah, well.” Lucas closed his briefcase with a snap. “I wish you luck, Bishop, I really do. But I work best alone.”



“How can you be so sure of that if you’ve never done it any other way?”



“I know myself.”



“What about your ability?”



“What about it?”



Bishop smiled slightly. “How well do you know it? Do you understand what it is, how it works?”



“I understand it well enough to use it.”



Deliberately, Bishop said, “Then why can’t you find Meredith Gilbert?”



Lucas didn’t rise to the bait, though his expression tightened just a bit. “It isn’t that simple, and you know it.”



“Maybe it should be that simple. Maybe all it really takes is the right sort of training and practice for a psychic to be able to control and use his or her abilities more effectively as investigative tools.”



“And maybe you’re full of shit.”



“Prove me wrong.”



“Listen, I don’t have time for this. I have an abduction victim to find.”



“Fair enough.” Bishop barely hesitated before adding, “It’s the fear.”



“What?”



“It’s the fear you pick up on, home in on. The specific electromagnetic-energy signature of fear. The victims’ fear. That’s what your brain is hardwired to sense, telepathically or empathically.”



Lucas was silent.



“Which is it—their thoughts or their emotions?”



Grudgingly, Lucas said, “Both.”



“So you feel their fear and know their thoughts.”



“The fear is stronger. More certain. If I get them at all, the thoughts are just whispers. Words, phrases. Mental static.”



“Like a radio station moving in and out of range.”



“Yeah. Like that.”



“But it’s the fear that first connects you to them.”



Lucas nodded.



“The stronger the fear, the more intense the connection.”



“Generally. People handle their fear in different ways. Some of them bury it, or hold it so tightly reined none of it can get out. Those I have trouble sensing.”



“Is it the fear of being . . . lost?”



Meeting the federal agent’s steady gaze, Lucas shrugged finally and said, “The fear of being alone. Of being caught, trapped. Helpless. Doomed. The fear of dying.”



“And when they stop feeling that?”



Lucas didn’t respond.



“It’s because they’re dead.”



“Sometimes.”



“Be honest.”



“All right. Usually. Usually I stop sensing them because there’s no fear to sense. No thoughts. No life.” Just saying it made Lucas angry, and he didn’t try to hide that.



“The way it is now. With Meredith Gilbert.”



“I will find her.”





“Will you?”



“Yes.”



“In time?”



The question hung there in the air between the two men for a long, still moment, and then Lucas picked up his briefcase and took the two steps necessary to get to the door.



Bishop stepped aside, silent.



Lucas walked past him but turned back before he reached the top of the stairs. Abruptly, he said, “I’m sorry. I can’t find her for you.”



“For me? Meredith Gilbert is—”



“Not her. Miranda. I can’t find Miranda for you.”



Bishop’s expression didn’t change, but the scar twisting down his left cheek whitened so that it was more visible. “I didn’t ask,” he said after a momentary pause.



“You didn’t have to. I pick up on fear, remember?”



Bishop didn’t say another word. He just stood there and looked after the other man until Lucas was gone.





“I almost didn’t call you,” Pete Edgerton said as Bishop joined him on the highway above the ravine. “To be honest, I’m surprised you’re still around. It’s been three weeks since we closed the investigation.”



Without commenting on that, Bishop merely said, “Is he down there?”



“Yeah, with her. Not that there’s a whole lot left.” Edgerton eyed the federal agent. “I have no idea how he found her. Those special gifts of his, I guess.”



“Cause of death?”



“That’s for the ME to say. Like I said, there isn’t a whole lot left. And what is left has been exposed to the elements and predators. I have no idea what killed her, or what she went through before she died.”



“You’re not even sure she was abducted, are you?”



Edgerton shook his head. “From the little we found down there, she could have been walking along the edge of the road here, slipped and fell, maybe hit her head or broke something, couldn’t get back up. Lot of traffic here, but nobody stops; she could have been lying there all this time.”



“You think the ME will be able to determine cause of death?”



“I’d be surprised. From bones, a few shreds of skin, and some hair? We wouldn’t have been able to I.D. her so fast—if at all—if it hadn’t been for the fact that her backpack was still mostly intact and there was plenty of stuff inside with Meredith Gilbert’s name on it. Plus that odd pewter bracelet of hers was found among the bones. The DNA tests will confirm it’s her remains, I’m sure of that.”



“So she wasn’t robbed and her killer didn’t take a trophy.”



“If there was a killer, doesn’t look like he took any of her belongings, no.”



Bishop nodded, then headed toward the wide gap in the guardrail that should have been repaired long before.



“You’ll mess up your nice suit,” Edgerton warned.



Without responding to that, Bishop merely picked his way down the steep slope and deep into the ravine. He passed a few crime-scene investigators but didn’t pause until he joined Lucas Jordan in a boulder-strewn area in the shade of a twisted little tree.



Lucas appeared quite different from the man Bishop had last seen. He was decidedly scruffy, unshaven, thinner, his casual clothing rumpled as though he had slept in it. If he had slept, that is. He stood, hands in the pockets of his denim jacket, and stared down at the rocky ground.



What held his fixed gaze were bits and pieces only experts would have recognized as being human. Bits of bone and scraps of clothing. A tuft of chocolate-brown hair.



“They’ve already taken her backpack,” Lucas said. “Her parents will get it, I guess.”



“Yes,” Bishop said.



“You knew. From the moment you got here, you knew she was dead.”



“Not from the moment I got here.”



“But from the day.”



“Yes.”



Lucas turned his head, staring at Bishop incredulously. “And said nothing?”



“I knew she was dead. I didn’t know where she was. The police would never have believed me. Her family would never have believed me.”



“I might have.”



“You didn’t want to. You had to find her yourself. So I waited for you to do that.”



“Knowing all the time she was dead.”



Bishop nodded.



“Jesus, you’re a ruthless bastard.”



“Sometimes.”



“Don’t say it’s because you have to be.”



“All right. I won’t.”



Lucas grimaced and returned his haunted gaze to the ground and the scattered remains of Meredith Gilbert.



“It ends this way more often than not.” His voice was beyond exhausted. “With a body or what’s left of one. Because I wasn’t fast enough. Wasn’t good enough.”



“She was dead an hour after he got his hands on her,” Bishop said.



“This time, maybe.” Lucas shrugged.



Judging that the time was right, Bishop said, “According to the laws of science, it’s impossible to see the future, to know ahead of time what’s going to happen next. Impossible to have that sort of edge as an investigator. I don’t believe that. I believe that telepathy and empathy, telekinesis and precognition, clairvoyance and all the other so-called paranormal abilities can be tools to give us more than an edge. To make us, maybe, better. To make us faster.”



After a moment, Lucas turned his head and met Bishop’s steady gaze. “Okay. I’m listening.”





Two days later, both looking and feeling considerably better after round-the-clock sleep and a couple of showers, Lucas pushed his plate away, picked up his coffee cup, and said, “You don’t have to baby-sit me, you know. I’m not going to bolt on you. I said I’d give your new unit a try, and I will.”



“I know that.” Bishop sipped his own coffee, then shrugged. “I just figured we might as well get an early start back, since we’re heading east. The jet’s warmed up and waiting for us.”



Brows lifting, Lucas said, “Jet? You rate a Bureau jet?”



Bishop smiled slightly. “It’s a private jet.”



“You rate a private jet?”



Replying seriously, Bishop said, “I’m trying to do more than build a unit with the FBI. I’m also working on building a civilian support structure, a network of people in and out of law enforcement who believe in what we’re trying to accomplish. They’ll help us in different ways, including fast and effective transportation.”



“Hence the jet.”



“Exactly. It’s not overhead for the unit or the Bureau and isn’t a burden on the taxpayers. Merely a generous contribution from a private citizen who wants to help.”



“One of these days,” Lucas said, “you’re going to have to tell me how all this came about. I am, after all, another man who understands obsession.”



“We’ll have plenty of time to talk.”



Lucas set his cup down, murmuring, “But I wonder if we will.”



Bishop didn’t reply to that, merely saying, “If you’re packed and ready, why don’t we go?”



“Before I change my mind?”



“Oh, I don’t think you’re going to do that. As you say, we both understand obsession.”



“Uh-huh. I have a hunch the Bureau doesn’t have a clue what they’re really getting into.”



“Time will tell.”



“And if they close us down once they realize?”



“I won’t let that happen.”



“You know,” Lucas said dryly, “I almost believe you.”



“Good. Shall we?”



The two men left the small diner and within an hour were in Bishop’s rented car on the road to the airport. Not a lot was said at first, and it wasn’t until they were nearly there that Bishop finally asked what he had to.



In a very controlled voice, he asked, “Why can’t you find her for me?”



Lucas replied immediately, obviously expecting the question. “Because she isn’t lost. She’s hiding.”



“Hiding from me?” The question was clearly a difficult one.



“Only indirectly. You know who she’s really hiding from.”



“She’s afraid. You can feel that.”



“Distantly, through you. You two were linked at one time, I gather. Your fear for her is strongest. What I got from her was brief and faint. She’s afraid, but she’s strong. Very strong. In control.”



“She’s safe?”



“As safe as she can be.” Luke glanced at him. “I can’t predict the future. You know that too.”



“Yes,” Bishop said. “I know that. But somewhere out there is someone who can.”



“Then I expect you’ll find them,” Luke said, returning his attention to the road ahead of them. “Just like you found me.”





1



Present day

Thursday, September 20



“Sssshhhh. Be very quiet,” he said.



It was almost impossible, but he managed not to groan or moan or make any other sound behind the duct tape covering his mouth. The blindfold kept him from seeing anything, but he had seen all he’d had to before the blindfold had been tied in place: his abductor had a very big gun and he clearly knew how to handle it.



His instincts were screaming at him to struggle, fight, run if he could.



He couldn’t. The time for even attempting escape, if there had ever been one, was past. His wrists were duct-taped together, like his ankles. If he so much as tried to get up from the chair where he’d been placed, he would fall on his face or on his ass.



He was helpless. That was the worst of it. Not the fear of what might be done to him, but the realization that he couldn’t do a goddamned thing to stop it.



He should have paid attention to the warning, he was sure of that much. Even if ithad sounded like bullshit, he really should have paid attention.



“I’m not going to hurt you,” his abductor said.



He unconsciously tipped his head a bit to one side, his agile mind noting the slight emphasis on the first word.He wasn’t going to hurt him? What did that mean—that someone else would?



“Don’t try to figure it out.” The voice was amused now but still careless as it had been from the beginning.



Mitchell Callahan was no fool; he’d weighed far too many powerful men over the years to be deceived by a quiet voice and seemingly negligent manner. The more ostensibly indifferent a man seemed to be, the more likely he was to blow your balls off, metaphorically.



Or literally.



I can’t even reason with the son of a bitch.



It was truly Callahan’s idea of hell, being helpless and unable to talk his way out of it.



“I’m sure your wife will pay the ransom, and then you can go home.”



Callahan wondered if the duct tape and blindfold hid his reflexive grimace. His wife? His wife, who was on the verge of filing for divorce because she had arrived at his office unexpectedly after hours to find him screwing his secretary on his desk?



Oh, yeah, she really wanted him back. She was undoubtedly just eager as hell to pay major bucks to save her husband’s cheating ass.



“Don’t worry; I asked for a reasonable ransom. Your wife can get her hands on it easily, I imagine.”



Callahan couldn’t stop the strangled sound that escaped him, then felt his face get hot with furious embarrassment when his captor laughed.



“Of course, she may not want to, when that private investigator she’s hired discovers that your secretary is only the latest in a long line of women you’ve enjoyed. You really don’t know how to keep your fly zipped, do you, Mitchell? And she’s such a nice lady, your wife. She deserves better. You really should have been a good and respectful husband to her. It’s not all about being a successful breadwinner, you know. And, after all, why does the world need another cookie-cutter subdivision ruining the view up here?”



Callahan felt a sudden chill. His captor was talking too much. Why give his victim a chance to memorize the sound of his voice? Why betray so much knowledge of Callahan’s life, his business?



Unless you know he’ll never get the chance to tell anyone.



“Unsettling, isn’t it?”



Callahan jumped, because the low voice was right next to his ear now. Soft, cool, menacing without even trying to be.



“To have some stranger dissect your life. To have all your power, all your certainty, taken away. To be absolutely helpless in the knowledge that someone else controls your fate.”



Without meaning to, Callahan made another strangled sound.



“I do, you know. I do control your fate. At least up to a point. After that, it’s in someone else’s hands.”



Callahan was more than a little surprised when the blindfold was suddenly removed and for a minute or two could only blink as his eyes adjusted to the light. Then he looked, saw.



And everything became much clearer.



Oh, Christ.



Monday, September 24



“The ransom was paid.” Wyatt Metcalf, Clayton County Sheriff, sounded as angry as any cop tended to be when the bad guys won one. “The wife kept quiet out of fear, so we didn’t hear anything about it until it was all over with and he hadn’t come home as promised after she left the money.”



“Who found the body?”



“Hiker. It’s a busy area this time of year, with the leaves changing and all. We’re surrounded by national forests and parkland, and we’ll have tourists coming out of our ears for weeks. It’ll be the same all along the Blue Ridge.”



“So he knew the body would be found quickly.”



“If he didn’t, he’s an idiot—or doesn’t know the country around here at all.” Metcalf eyed the tall federal agent, still trying to get his measure. Lucas Jordan was not, he thought, a man who would be quickly or easily assessed. He was obviously athletic, energetic, highly intelligent, both courteous and soft-spoken; every bit as obvious was the focused intensity in his striking blue eyes, something close to ferocity and just as unsettling.



A driven man, clearly.



But driven by what?



“We’re holding the body as requested,” Metcalf told him. “My crime-scene unit was trained by the state crime laband took a few Bureau courses, so they know what they’re doing; what little they found here is waiting for you and your partner back at the station.”



“I assume there was nothing helpful.”



It hadn’t been a question, but Metcalf replied anyway. “If there had been, I wouldn’t have needed to call in this Special Crimes Unit of yours.”



Jordan glanced at him but returned his attention to the rocky ground all around them without comment.





Knowing he’d sounded as frustrated as he felt, Metcalf counted to ten silently before he spoke again. “Mitch Callahan wasn’t a prince, but he didn’t deserve what happened to him. I want to find the son of a bitch who murdered him.”



“I understand, Sheriff.”



Metcalf wondered if he did but didn’t question the statement.



Jordan said almost absently, “This was the third kidnapping reported in the western part of this state this year. All three ransoms paid, all three victims died.”



“The other two were in counties outside my jurisdiction, so I only know the general facts. Aside from being fairly wealthy, the vics had nothing in common. The man was about fifty, white, a widower with one son; the woman was thirty-five, of Asian descent, married, no children. Cause of death for him was asphyxiation; for her it was drowning.”



“And Mitchell Callahan was decapitated.”



“Yeah. Weird as hell. The ME says it was very quick and exceptionally clean; no ax hacking at him, nothing like that. Maybe a machete or sword.” Metcalf was frowning. “You’re not saying they’re related? Those other kidnappings were months ago, and I just figured—”



“That it was a coincidence?” A third person joined them, Jordan’s partner, Special Agent Jaylene Avery. Her smile was a bit wry. “No such thing, if you ask our boss. And he’s usually right.”



“Anything?” Jordan asked her; she had been working her way around the mountainous clearing where Mitchell Callahan’s body had been found.



“Nah. This near a rest and observation spot, a lot of people pass through and by. Far as I can tell, though, nobody paused for long.”



Metcalf took due note of tone and expression as well as posture and body language between the two of them: Jordan was the senior partner, but Avery was entirely comfortable with him and confident in her own right. The sheriff had a hunch they’d been partners for quite a while.



As seemingly relaxed as Jordan was wired, Jaylene Avery was a lovely woman in her early thirties with black hair she wore rather severely pulled back, flawless coffee-with-cream skin, and intelligent brown eyes. A slight Southern drawl said she was probably closer to home here in North Carolina than she was while at Quantico.



Unlike Jordan, whose low, quiet voice was also a bit clipped and rapid, and pegged him as being from some point considerably north of his present location.



“What did you expect to find?” Metcalf asked Avery, not quite able to keep the tension out of his own voice.



She smiled again. “Just trying to get a feel for the place, Sheriff, not look for anything you and your people might have missed. Sometimes just stepping back and looking at the big picture can tell you a lot. For instance, from walking around here where the body was found, I can feel pretty secure in saying that our kidnapper is in excellent physical shape.”



“To get the body out here, you mean.”



“We know the vic wasn’t killed here. Hiking paths crisscross the area, but they’re for dedicated hikers, not Sunday sightseers: steep, rocky trails that are barely visible unless you know what to look for. Just getting here from any of the main trails is enough of a chore, but to carry something heavy and not exactly ergonomically balanced all that way? No marks from any kind of wheel or hoof, no drag marks. And he not only had the body of a larger-than-average man to transport out here, he had the head as well.”



Metcalf had to admit he hadn’t given the matter of transporting the body—and disembodied head—quite so much thought. “I see what you mean. He’d have to be a bull and damned lucky not to fall and break his own neck while he was at it.”



She nodded. “Treacherous terrain. And since we know there was dew found under the body, he must have carried it up here either during the night or very early morning. So he could have been juggling a flashlight as well.”



Jordan said, “Late or early, he brought the body here when there was the least chance of being seen. He was careful. He was damned careful.”



“Maybe he was just lucky,” Avery said to her partner.



Frowning, Jordan said, “I don’t think so. The pattern is too clear, too set. All these people were taken at a point in their day when they were most likely to be alone; all were held forty-eight to seventy-two hours before they were killed; and all were killed, according to the medical evidence,after the ransom was paid. And in every case, the ransom call came in on a Thursday, giving the families time to get their hands on the money and ensuring that banks would have plenty of end-of-the-week payroll cash on hand. He’s never asked too much, just the upper limit of what the relatives can manage. He planned every step, and he kept these people alive and in his control until he was certain the money was his.”



“Cold-blooded,” Metcalf noted.



Understanding exactly what the sheriff meant, Jordan nodded. “It takes an utterly calculating nature and a particular brand of ruthlessness to spend time with someone you know you may have to kill. A nameless, faceless victim is one thing, but if they become individuals with personalities, if you put a human face on that object, then destroying it becomes much, much more difficult.”



It was the sheriff’s turn to frown. “How do we know he spent time with them? I mean, he could have kept them locked in a room or a basement somewhere, tied up, gagged, a bag over their heads. I would have. What makes you believe he actually interacted with them?”



“Call it a hunch.”



“Not good enough.” Metcalf’s frown deepened. “What did we miss?”



Jordan and Avery exchanged glances, and she said, “Youdidn’t miss anything, Sheriff. There’s just some information you weren’t aware of. For the past eighteen months, we’ve been following a series of kidnappings in the East and Southeast.”



“Followingbeing the operative word, since we tend to get there too late to do anything to help the victims,” Jordan said, half under his breath and with more than a little bitterness.



His partner sent him a brief look, then continued to the sheriff, “We believe they’re connected. We believe this kidnapping and the other two in the area are part of that series; as Luke says, they certainly fit the pattern.”



“A serial kidnapper? I’ve never heard of that.”



It was Jordan who responded this time. “Because the vast majority of successful kidnappings for ransom are designed and engineered to be one-shot deals. Whether the victim lives or dies, the kidnapper gets his money, usually enough to live in some kind of style for the rest of his life, and vanishes to do just that. Even when they’re successful, very few try a second time.”



His partner added, “In this day and age, it’s become increasingly difficult for any kidnapping for ransom to be successful, and because of the inherent complications it really isn’t a common crime.”



Thinking of possible complications, Metcalf said, “Electronic security, bodyguards, ordinary surveillance at banks and ATMs, now even on the streets—that sort of thing?”



Jordan nodded. “Exactly. Plus stiff penalties and the sheer logistics of abducting and holding a living person. Many victims end up being killed simply because it’s too much trouble to keep them alive for the time necessary.”



“That isn’t what’s happening with this serial kidnapper, assuming there is one?”



“No. He doesn’t leave anything to chance. Holding his victims securely as long as necessary is just another step in his plan, and one he takes obvious pride in successfully devising.”



“Like interacting with them is another step?”



“We believe so.”



“Why do you believe so?”



Again, Jordan and Avery exchanged glances, and he said, “Because we had one survivor. And according to her, he was very friendly, very chatty. He treated her like a person. Even though it’s at least possible that he intended to kill her from the beginning.”





Carrie Vaughn was not what anyone would have called an easy person to live with, and she was the first to admit it. She was strong-willed, opinionated, extremely self-confident, and very set in her ways after twenty years on her own. Any lover was expected to adapt to her rather than the other way around, and those who hadn’t been able to accept that fact had been no more than a blip on her radar.



Which was probably why she was uninvolved more often than not.



But that was okay. Carrie liked being alone, for the most part. Her career as a software designer was both lucrative and creative, plus it allowed her to work out of her home and to travel when and where she wanted. She had a lovely home she took a great deal of pride in, a passion for jigsaw puzzles and old movies, and the capacity to enjoy herself even when no one else was around.



She was also extremely handy, so when the late September afternoon turned unexpectedly chilly and her heat pump refused to come on, Carrie got her toolbox from the garage and started around back to check it out.



“That’s dangerous, you know.”



Startled, Carrie swung around to find a strange woman standing in her driveway. She was, maybe, ten years younger than Carrie, medium height, slight build, and with the darkest hair and eyes Carrie had ever seen accompany such ultrafair skin. She wasn’t exactly beautiful, but definitely arresting; there was something curiously exotic in her heavy-lidded eyes and sullen mouth.



The bulky sweater she wore was a size too big for her and her jeans were worn to the point of being threadbare, but her straight posture held a kind of simple pride and there was something both cool and confident in her voice.



“Who are you?” Carrie demanded. “And what’s dangerous?”



“I’m Sam.”



“Okay, Sam. What’s dangerous?”



“Your carelessness. No fence, no dog, no security system—and your garage door has been up all afternoon. None of your neighbors is even close enough to hear if you should need help. You’re very vulnerable here.”



“I have a gun inside. Two in fact.” Carrie frowned at her. “And I can take care of myself. Hey, have you been watching me? Just who are you?”



“Somebody who’s worried that you’re vulnerable here.”



“And why the hell should you care?”



For the first time, Sam’s dark gaze faltered, darting away for just an instant, and her mouth twisted a little before it firmed again. “Because I—I don’t want you to end up like that man. Callahan. Mitchell Callahan.”



Carrie felt absolutely no threat coming from this woman and wasn’t in the least frightened of her, but something told her not to laugh or dismiss what she was hearing. “The real estate developer who was kidnapped?”



“And murdered, yes.”



“Why should I end up like him?”



Sam shifted her weight slightly and thrust her hands into the front pockets of her jeans. “There’s no reason you should if—if you’re careful. I’m just saying you should be careful.”



“Look,” Carrie said, uncertain why she was even allowing the conversation to go on, “I’m no target for a kidnapper. I have a little in savings, sure, but—”



“It’s not about money.”



“Kidnappings usually are.”



“Yes. But not this time.”



“Why not this time? And how do you know that?” While the younger woman hesitated, Carrie studied her and had a sudden realization. “Wait a minute, I know you. Sort of. I’ve seen your picture. On a poster.”



Sam’s thin face tightened. “Possibly. Miss Vaughn—”



“You’re with that carnival out at the fairgrounds. You’re supposed to be some kind of fortune-teller.” She heard her own voice rising in indignation and wasn’t surprised. Afortune-teller, for Christ’s sake! On that poster advertising the services ofZarina, All-Knowing Seer and Mystic she’d been wearing a turban.



A purple turban.



“Miss Vaughn, I know you don’t want to take me seriously. Believe me, I’ve seen the reaction before. But if you’ll just—”



“You have got to be kidding me. What, you read the tea leaves and they told you somebody was going to kidnap me? Give me a break.”



Sam drew a breath and spoke rapidly. “Whoever he is, he was at the carnival. I didn’t see him, but he was there. He dropped something, a handkerchief. I picked it up. Sometimes when I touch things, I can see—I saw you. Tied up, gagged, blindfolded. You were in a small, bare room. And you were afraid. Please, I’m just asking you to be careful, to take precautions. I know I’m a stranger, and I know you have no reason to believe me, but would it hurt to just humor me?”



“Okay,” Carrie said. “I’ll humor you. I’ll be careful. Thanks for the warning, Sam. See you around.”



“Miss Vaughn—”



“Bye.” Carrie shifted her toolbox to the other hand and went back into the house, deciding to check the heat pump later. When she looked out a front window just a few minutes afterward, it was to see Sam trudging down the driveway toward the road.



Carrie watched, frowning, until she could no longer see the other woman.



Every ounce of her common sense told Carrie to shrug off the “warning” and go about her business normally. She was rather on the fence when it came to believing in psychic abilities but was definitely skeptical of carnival fortune-tellers and was not at all inclined to believe this one.



But.



It wouldn’t hurt, she thought, to take a few sensible precautions. Lock her doors, be wary. Because Mitch Callahan had, after all, been kidnapped and murdered, and she would never have picked him to be a target for something like that.



So Carrie locked her doors and went on to other things, thinking about the warning for a good hour or two before it faded from her memory.





“I guess you guys see a lot of rooms like this one,” Detective Lindsay Graham said to the two federal agents.



Lucas Jordan glanced around at the functional if uninspiring conference room of the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department, exchanged glances with his partner, then said, “A few, yeah. They always seem to look the same; only the view outside the windows changes. If there is a view.”



This room had no view, since it was central in the building, but it was well-lit and spacious and seemed to contain all the necessary furniture, equipment, and supplies.



“We haven’t generated a whole lot of paperwork on the Callahan investigation so far,” Detective Graham said, indicating the file folders on the big table. “And all of it after the fact, since Mrs. Callahan only called us in when the kidnapper got his ransom and her husband never showed. Statements from her, his coworkers, the hiker who found the body; the medical examiner’s report; our forensics unit’s report.”



“Since you only got word he was missing on Saturday, and the body was found Sunday morning, I’d say you had accomplished quite a bit,” Jaylene Avery said. “I’m Jay, by the way.”



“Thanks, I’m Lindsay.” She barely hesitated. “We don’t have a clue who the kidnapper is, dammit. The boss says you guys believe it could be a serial deal?”



“Could be,” Jordan told her.



“And you’ve been tracking him for a year and a half?”



“Don’t rub it in, please,” Jay requested humorously. “We’ve been one step behind him all the way, and Luke is taking it personally.”



Eyeing the fair and decidedly good-looking Jordan, Lindsay took note of that very intense gaze and said, “Yeah, he looks the type to take it personally. Does he make lists? The sheriff makes lists, and I hate it.”



“He swears he doesn’t, but I don’t believe him.”



“I’m still in the room, ladies,” Jordan said, sitting down at the conference table and selecting a file folder.



“He’s also a workaholic,” Jay confided, ignoring his comment. “In the four years I’ve been his partner, not one vacation. Not one.”



“I went to Canada last year,” Jordan objected mildly.



“That was a law-enforcement seminar, Luke. And you ended up spending nearly a week helping the RCMP locate a missing teenager.”



“They asked for my help. I could hardly say no. And I came back rested, didn’t I?”



“You came back with a broken arm.”



“But rested.”



Jay sighed. “An arguable point.”



Lindsay shook her head. “Does anybody ever ask if you two are an old married couple?”



“Occasionally,” Jay said. “But I always tell them I wouldn’t have him on a platter. In addition to his very irritating perfectionism and workaholic nature, he’s got one of those dark and stormy pasts that would frighten any sensible woman out of her wits.”



Jordan lifted an eyebrow and was clearly about to speak when they all heard Sheriff Metcalf’s voice approaching. He sounded a bit like a bear somebody was poking with a sharp and annoying stick.



“I don’t know why the hell you’ve got the nerve to be surprised I’d want to talk to you again. You came to me last week, remember?”



“For all the good it did.” The woman’s voice wasn’t exactly bitter, but it had an edge to it.



Lindsay happened to be looking at Lucas Jordan’s face, and as the unseen woman spoke, she saw it change. He seemed almost to flinch, a momentary surprise and something much stronger tightening his features. And then he was utterly expressionless.



Interested, Lindsay turned her gaze to the door in time to see Sheriff Metcalf come in, followed by a slender woman of medium height with extremely dark eyes and black hair in a short, no-fuss hairstyle.



She stopped in the doorway, her unreadable dark gaze going immediately to Jordan. As though, Lindsay thought, she was not only not surprised, as he had been, but had fully expected him to be there.



He, however, got in the first jab.



“I see the circus is in town,” he drawled, leaning back in his chair as he looked across the room at her.



Perhaps oddly, she smiled, and her voice was dry when she said, “It’s a carnival, as you well know. Hey, Luke. Long time no see.”



“Samantha.”



Metcalf was the one who was surprised. “You two know each other?”



“Once upon a time,” she replied, her gaze still locked with Jordan’s. “Obviously, he was . . . slumming . . . when we met.”



Jordan was the first to look away, his mouth twisting slightly.



It was his partner who said casually, “Hey, Samantha.”



“Jay.”



“You been in town long?”



“Couple weeks. We’re at the fairgrounds for another two.” Her dark gaze fixed on Lindsay, and she inclined her head politely. “Detective Graham.”



Lindsay nodded but remained silent. She had been with the sheriff when Samantha Burke had shown up here at the station early last week, and her disbelief—like Metcalf’s—had been just this side of hostile. She felt her face heating up now as she remembered that scorn.



Misplaced scorn, as it turned out.



Because the carnival “mystic” had tried to warn them, and they hadn’t listened.



And Mitchell Callahan had died.





2



Metcalf was frowning as he looked from the federal agent to the carnival fortune-teller, and he didn’t try to hide his unhappiness, uncertainty, and frustration with the situation.



She didn’t let it show, but Samantha could sympathize.



To Jordan, his tone not quite questioning, Metcalf said, “She came to us last week and said a man was going to be kidnapped. Didn’t know his name, but gave us a damned good physical description of Mitchell Callahan.”



“Naturally,” Samantha said, “they didn’t believe me. Until his wife called in to report it late Saturday. Then they came straight back to me, of course. Filled with questions and suspicions.”





The sheriff’s frown deepened to a scowl as he stared at her. “And I would have had your ass behind bars if so many of your fellow carnies—who alsoall had alibis—hadn’t sworn by all they supposedly hold dear that you’d been there and in full view virtually all day on Thursday when Callahan disappeared.”



“Miles away and with my car being worked on here in town by your own mechanic,” Samantha reminded him. “I think somebody might have noticed if I’d ridden one of the ponies down Main Street, don’t you think?”



“You’re not the only one of that bunch with a car.”



“Nobody else loaned me a car or found theirs missing,” she reminded him coolly. “I was at the carnival every day until after midnight, from Tuesday afternoon after I left here until you guys showed up there on Saturday to . . . talk . . . to me.”



Obviously trying to be fair and impartial—at least now—Lindsay said, “Golden isn’t a regular stop for the carnival, and we couldn’t find a single connection between any of them and anyone in town. Plus, none of them had been in the area long enough to know Callahan’s habits well enough to pinpoint the best time to grab him, and there wasn’t a sign of the ransom money anywhere near the carnival. There was absolutely no evidence to indicate that either she or any of the other carnies could have been involved.”



“Except,” Metcalf said, “that she knew before it happened there would be a kidnapping. Something I still don’t have a satisfactory explanation for.”



“I’m psychic,” Samantha said, without a trace of defiance or defensiveness in her matter-of-fact tone. She had long ago learned to make that particular declaration calmly and without fanfare. She had also learned to make it without the bells and flourishes necessary in advertising a carnival “act.”



“Yeah, Zarina, all-knowing seer and mystic. I read the signs out there at the carnival and in town.”



“The carnival owner decides how to promote my booth, and his hero is P. T. Barnum. There’s not much I can do about the result.”



“Get a new picture. The purple turban makes you look ridiculous.”



“And made you instantly decide it was all bullshit. That I con people for a living.”



“That’s about the gist,” Metcalf agreed.



“Are you always right, Sheriff?”



“About cons, usually.”



Samantha shrugged. She came into the room and took a chair at the conference table across from Lucas but kept watching the sheriff. And kept her manner calm and relaxed, difficult as that was. “Usually isn’t always. But trying to convince somebody with a closed mind is worse than talking to a post. So let’s keep doing this the hard way. Want to go into one of your tiny little interview rooms and shine a light into my face, or shall we have the next interrogation here where we can all be comfortable?”



He grunted. “You look comfortable enough.”



“There’s more room in here. And I assumed you’d want your new federal friends to participate. I’m sure they have questions too.”



Since Jordan and his partner had been singularly silent, Metcalf wasn’t so sure. And he was tempted to order Samantha Burke into one of the interview rooms just to make it clear who had the upper hand here.



Except he was afraid it was her.



More angry because he knew it showed, he said, “I want to know how you knew about the kidnapping.”



“I told you how. I’m psychic.”



“So the tea leaves told you. Or is it a crystal ball?”



“Neither.” Her voice was measured and calm, as it had been all along. “Last Monday night I was running the sharpshooting booth—”



“Nobody wanted their palms read, huh?”



Samantha ignored that, continuing as though he had not interrupted. “—and when I picked up one of the guns I had a vision.”



“Was it in Technicolor?” Metcalf asked with wonderful politeness.



Lindsay, who had been watching the two federal agents unobtrusively, decided that both of them were uncomfortable, though she couldn’t tell if it was with the questions, the answers, or the antagonistic attitude of the sheriff. Or merely the subject, for that matter.



“They always are,” Samantha replied to the sheriff, her voice dry this time.



“And what did yousee in this vision?”



“I saw a man, sitting in a chair, bound and gagged and blindfolded. In a room I couldn’t see too clearly. But I saw him. His hair was that rare orange-red, like a carrot, and he was wearing a dark blue business suit and a tie with little cars all over it. I think they were Porsches.”



Lindsay said, “Exactly what Callahan was wearing when he was abducted.”



Metcalf kept his eyes on Samantha. “You knew he’d been kidnapped.”



“It seemed fairly obvious. Either that, or he was into some very kinky bondage games. Since he was fully dressed and didn’t look at all happy, I thought kidnapping was probably the more likely explanation.”



“And there was no one near him?”



“No one I saw.”



Lucas finally spoke, asking quiet questions. “Did you hear anything? Smell anything?”



“No,” she replied without looking at him. She wondered if he’d expected a different reaction from her when they met again. If they met again. Had he expected her to be frozen? To lash out at him?



Metcalf said, “You knew Callahan, didn’t you? Maybe he got rooked at that carnival of yours and threatened to sue or something. Was that it?”



“I had never seen Mitchell Callahan—in the flesh, so to speak. As far as I know he never visited the carnival.”



“Really wasn’t his sort of thing,” Lindsay murmured.



But Metcalf wasn’t willing to let go. “He was trying to buy up the fairgrounds for development, everybody knew that. If he had, it would have put your carnival out of business.”



“Hardly. We can fit in a parking lot, Sheriff, and there are plenty of those in Golden.”



“They’d cost you a hell of a lot more.”



“And put us closer to the heavier traffic of town.” She shrugged, trying not to show the impatience she felt. “Probably a financial wash at the end of the day.”



Again, Lindsay spoke up, her tone neutral. “True enough, Sheriff. We’ve got at least two former shopping centers and one strip mall with acres of parking lot going to waste, and I’m sure any of the owners would have loved to make a few bucks hosting a carnival.”



Metcalf sent her a quick look that just missed being a glare, then returned his attention to Samantha. “Trouble follows you carnies, I know that much. Things turn up missing, property gets destroyed, people get cheated with your so-called games ofchance . And how many times haveyou taken money from people only to tell them what you knew they wanted to hear?”



“A few,” she replied calmly, answering the last demand. But she couldn’t resist adding, “Some people don’t want to hear the truth, Sheriff. And others wouldn’t recognize it if it bit them on the ass.”



He drew a breath to launch a retort, but she was going on, her voice still calm, still measured.



“Your views about carnies are a few decades out of date, but never mind that. Whatever you may believe, we run a clean show, from the games to the very well-maintained rides, and our safety record is spotless.”



“I didn’t question that.”



“Not openly. That’s because you checked us out the day we got here and started setting up.”



“I was doing my job.”



“Fine. All of us carry police I.D. cards with our fingerprints, like the one I showed you when I first came to you. Feel free to check out the prints belonging to everyone else in the show, the way you checked out mine. It may surprise you to discover that not one of us has a record, even for something as minor as an unpaid parking ticket. And we have good relationships with the police in every town along our normal seasonal route. This is our first time in Golden, so I suppose you can be forgiven a few doubts as to our honesty, but—”



Lucas interrupted to ask, “If Golden isn’t part of your normal schedule, why are you here?”



Her eyes flicked toward him, but Samantha didn’t turn her head when she answered him.



“The next town on our usual schedule just hosted a circus a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve learned never to follow a big circus into a town. Golden was the best alternative in the general area, especially when we discovered we could rent the fairgrounds for the duration.”



“Aren’t we lucky,” Metcalf muttered.



“Your town seems to be enjoying the rides and games.”



He glared at her. “And I’m charged with protecting my town from people who would abuse their good nature. And take advantage of their gullibility.”



“Prove we’re doing that, and we’ll leave. Peacefully. Happily.”



“And send my best suspect on to another innocent town? I don’t think so.”



“You know goddamned well I didn’t kidnap or kill Mitchell Callahan.”



“You knew about it before it happened. In my book, that says you’re involved.”



Samantha drew a breath, for the first time showing visible restraint, and said, “Believe me, Sheriff, if I have to have them at all, I’d just as soon my visions were restricted to simple things like where somebody lost their grandmother’s ring or whether they’ll meet their perfect mate. But I didn’t get to choose. As much as I’d rather it were otherwise, sometimes I see crimes being committed. Before they’re committed. And my bothersome conscience and inability to ignore what I see drives me to report the visions. To hostile and suspicious people like you.”



“Don’t expect me to apologize,” Metcalf told her.



“Like you, I don’t believe in impossible things.”



Lindsay decided it was past time to intercede. “Okay, Ms. Burke—”



“Samantha. Or Sam.” She shrugged.



“Samantha, then. I’m Lindsay.” It wouldn’t hurt, she thought, to try to establish a less combative relationship; it was just a pity Wyatt couldn’t see that. “Tell us something we don’t know about Mitch Callahan’s kidnapping and murder. Something that might help us catch the person responsible.”



“I wish I could.”



The sheriff said, “But yourvisions don’t work that way. Damned convenient.”



“Not at all convenient,” she retorted.



“Then how am I supposed to believe—”



Lindsay got up and headed for the door. “Sheriff, can I talk to you outside for a minute, please? Excuse us, everyone.”



There really wasn’t much Metcalf could do but follow her, scowling, from the room.



Jaylene said, “Well, that was fun.”



Samantha turned her head and stared at Lucas. “Thank youso much for your support,” she said.





Lindsay didn’t exactly drag her boss into his office, but she got him there quickly and shut the door behind them. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” she demanded.



“Hey, watch the tone,” he snapped right back. “We’re in the office, not at your place or mine, and I damned well outrank you.”



“Then fire my ass if you want to, but stop acting like an idiot,” she told him. “Wyatt, she’s not involved. You know that, and I know that. We wasted a hell of a lot of time yesterday trying to break her alibi, and we couldn’t do it.”



“That doesn’t mean—”



“What? That she isn’t involved?” Lindsay counted off facts on her fingers. “She didn’t know Mitch Callahan. She’s been in Golden barely two weeks. She has absolutely no criminal record. There is no traceanywhere around Samantha Burke or that carnival of the ransom money. Absolutely no forensic evidence ties her to the place where Callahan was grabbed or to his body and where it was dumped. And lastly, in case you hadn’t noticed, she’s not exactly a bodybuilder, and Callahan was a martial-arts expert twice her size. We didn’t find a sign of a gun or other weapon in her possession, remember?”



“She did not see the future,” he said grimly.



“I don’t know what she saw. But I do know she didn’t kidnap or murder Mitch Callahan.”



“You can’tknow that, Lindsay.”



“Yeah, Wyatt, I can know that. Fifteen years as a police officer tells me that. And nearly twenty years as a cop would be telling you the same goddamned thing if you’d just get past this rampant hatred of anybody you perceive as a con artist and look at thefacts .”



The sheriff stared at her.



Lindsay calmed down, but her voice was still flat and certain when she went on. “It’d be easier and a lot less painful to blame something like this on an outsider, and she’s certainly that. She’s an easy target, Wyatt. But, just for the sake of argument, what if you’re wrong? What if she had nothing to do with it?”



“She’s a viable suspect.”



“No, she isn’t. Maybe she was Saturday or yesterday, but we know now she couldn’t have done it. She flat-out couldn’t have. Yet you still had her brought in to answer more questions. And how many reporters are lounging around keeping an eye on the comings and goings here at the station? How many saw her brought in?”



His jaw tightened even more. “A few.”



“Uh-huh. And just what do you think the anxious and worried people of Golden are going to do when they read in the papers that an avowed fortune-teller from a little carnival just passing through town is under suspicion for the kidnapping and murder of a local man?”



Metcalf was beginning to look unhappy, and not just because Lindsay was telling him how he should be doing his job. He was unhappy because she had to tell him. “Shit.”



Quiet now, Lindsay said, “She doesn’t deserve what might happen to her because of this. All she did was try to warn us. We didn’t believe her, and I doubt we could have stopped the kidnapping even if we had. But either way, she doesn’t deserve to have a target painted on her back.”



He struggled with himself for a moment, then said, “It’s not possible to see the future.”



“A hundred years ago, it wasn’t possible to land on the moon. Things change.”



“You’re comparing apples and oranges. Landing on the moon was science. Physics, engineering. Touching something and seeing into the future is . . .”



“Today’s new-age voodoo, yeah, maybe. And maybe tomorrow’s science.” Lindsay sighed. “Look, I’m not saying I believe she did what she says she did. I’m just saying that there’s a hell of a lot more going on in this world than we understand—today. More than science understandstoday . And in the meantime, all our police science and procedure says that lady didn’t have anything to do with the kidnapping, and common decency as well as due process says we let her off the hook unless and until that changes.”



“Christ, I hate it when you’re right.”



She cocked an eyebrow at him. “And I love it when you admit that. The thing is, you have to go back into that conference room with two FBI agents and one maybe-psychic and try to salvage the situation.”



“There’s nothing to salvage. I might have gone overboard, but—”



“Have I ever told you how pigheaded you are?”



“Yes. Look, I am not going to apologize to her.”



Lindsay shrugged. “So don’t. Just move on. Maybe she’ll be the gracious one.”



“You’re pushing it,” he warned her.



Lindsay turned toward the door, saying dryly, “Just trying to make sure you get reelected. I like sleeping with the boss.”





“What did you expect me to do?” Lucas demanded of Samantha, his voice a bit tight.



“Oh, I don’t know. Vouch for me? Confirm that I am, in fact, a genuine psychic, all tested and validated and everything? Maybe say that even the FBI has legitimized psychics, so the good sheriff might want to table his hostility and pay attention.”



It was Jaylene who murmured, “We had pretty much decided not to go into detail about the unit or our abilities.”



“Right. And of course that decision had nothing to do with me showing up.”



“No, it didn’t,” Lucas said.



“Bullshit. There can’t be any taint of carnivals or roadside fortune-tellers to sully your precious unit’sserious reputation; you don’t have to remind me of that.”



“Even you have to admit Metcalf would have taken you a lot more seriously if he hadn’t seen a picture of you in that wild gypsy outfit.”



“I wasn’



t born independently wealthy, Luke; I have to make a living. Please excuse me for using the only skill I have in the only way available to me. At the time, I really didn’t have a whole lot of options.”



“And I don’t have a lot now, dammit. We’re investigating a series of fatal kidnappings, Samantha, and we donot have time to educate every cop we have to work with in the reality of psychic abilities. Sometimes the best we can do is get in, do our jobs, and move on with as little discussion as possible.”



“You’re good at that, as I recall. Moving on without discussion.”



Whatever Lucas might have replied to that cutting comment was lost—at least for the moment—as the sheriff and his detective returned to the room.



“Any progress?” Lindsay asked cheerfully.



Jaylene murmured, “Not so you’d notice.”



Lindsay lifted an eyebrow at her, but said to Samantha, “If there’s nothing else you can tell us, we won’t keep you any longer.”



“Yes, you will.” Samantha sat up straighter in her chair and looked at the sheriff. “You’ll put me in your jail or under house arrest with a couple of watchdogs—or I’ll sit out in your damned lobby where everyone can see me.”



“Why?” he asked warily.



“Because there’s going to be another kidnapping. And considering the way people are beginning to look at me around here, I’d really rather not continue to be a suspect in anybody’s mind.”



Lucas was on his feet immediately. “Another? Christ, why didn’t you say something before now?”



“Because she’s not in danger yet,” Samantha replied.



“How do you know that?”



“The vision. I saw her tied to a chair in what looked like a small, windowless room, and on a desk nearby was a newspaper with this coming Thursday’s date. I think he’ll send a photo of her with the newspaper, to prove she’s alive when he demands the ransom. I think he’ll expect to be doubted, especially after Callahan was found dead.”



“So you know he’ll have her on Thursday,” Lucas said. “What’s to stop him from grabbing her tonight or tomorrow?”



“He never does, does he? Grabs them late on Wednesday or early Thursday, and always makes the ransom demand on Thursday to give the family just enough time to get the money.”



“That’s the pattern,” Lucas said grimly. “Want to tell me how you know about it?”



“Wait a minute,” Metcalf interrupted. “Do you know who she is? What she looks like?”



“This time I made damned sure I found out who she is.”



“How?” Lucas asked.



“In the vision, she was wearing a shirt with the logo of a local softball team on it. Turns out she’s the assistant coach. Carrie Vaughn. She lives out on Highway 221. I tried to warn her a couple of hours ago, but I got the feeling she didn’t believe she could be in any danger.”



“Get somebody out there,” Metcalf said to Lindsay. “I’d rather be embarrassed than sorry later.”



Lindsay nodded and hurried from the conference room.



Lucas said, “Answer the question, Samantha. How did you know what the kidnapper’s pattern has been?”



“Lucky guess?”



“Not funny.”



Samantha’s smile twisted. “Oh, you’re wrong about that. It is funny. In fact, this whole thing is a cosmic joke. You just haven’t heard the punch line yet.”



“How did you know about the pattern?”



She looked at him for a long moment, expressionless, then said, “We’re staying at that little motel near the fairgrounds. If you’ll go there—”



“I thought you people stayed in those campers and RVs,” Metcalf interrupted.



“Usually we do. Sometimes we like hot showers in bathrooms large enough to turn around in. Some of us are at the motel. Okay?”



The sheriff shrugged. “Just wondered.”



“We’ve paid in advance, if you were wondering that.”



“It had crossed my mind.”



“Yeah, I figured it might have.”



Lucas said, “Will you two please stay on the subject and stop sniping at each other? Sam, what’s in your motel room?”



She didn’t let herself react to the shortened version of her name. “Check the top drawer of the nightstand, and you’ll find a handkerchief in a plastic bag. He dropped it at the carnival, probably yesterday. When I picked it up late yesterday afternoon, I had the vision.”



“And?”



“I told you what I saw.”



“What else?”



“Flashes of the others. The other victims. Ten, twelve of them. Men and women, different ages, nothing in common. Except him. I knew what he was doing, what he’s been doing all these months. His pattern. And I knew why.”



“Why?”



“Sure you want to know, Luke?”



“Of course I want to know.”



Samantha shrugged. “Okay. I saw a chessboard. Not a lot of pieces; it was an endgame. Two players. I saw their hands moving the chessmen. And then I saw the face of one of the players.”



“Who was it?”



“It was you, Luke. Get it? Get the joke? You’re here because he wants you to be here. It’s not about the money. It was never about the money. He’s playing a game. He’s matching his skills and his wits against you. You, personally. And he won’t stop until the game has a winner.”



Metcalf said something profane under his breath and then, louder, said, “If you expect us to believe any of this—”



“I don’t expectyou to believe a thing, Sheriff,” she said without taking her eyes off Lucas.



“Why me?” Lucas demanded. “Why would he fix on me?”



“Because you’re the best. The past few years, you’ve really made a name for yourself in solving kidnappings and abductions. And since those crimes tend to be high-profile, you’ve gotten a lot of press, other media. You’ve been very visible. I guess he’s been watching.”



“No,” Lucas said. “I just don’t buy it.”



“Maybe you just don’t want to buy it.” She seemed to hesitate, then said slowly, “Why do you think he kills them?”



“He didn’t kill them all,” Lucas said immediately.



“He didn’t kill the first one,” Samantha agreed. “Let her go once he had the money like a nice little kidnapper, even though she’s convinced he’d planned to kill her. If he had planned to, he must have changed his mind. But I guess he found something lacking in the way that ended, huh? Because he’s been killing them ever since.”



Lucas was silent.



“So what was it, Luke? Why did he start killing them? They never see him. They couldn’t identify him, so they aren’t a threat. He gets his money, or has almost every time. So why does he kill them? Come on, Luke, you’re a natural profiler. What possible reason could he have for slaughtering these people once their ransom is paid?”



Despite his own antagonism, Metcalf found himself watching the federal agent and waiting for his answer.



Lucas sat back down in his chair without looking away from Samantha, and after a moment said slowly, “According to the official profile, he’s not willing to take the risk that they might be able to identify him.”



“What about the unofficial profile? You must have your own ideas. Don’t tell me you and Bishop actually saw eye to eye on this one?”



“It makes sense, Sam.”



“Sure it does. It makes perfect psychological sense. And I don’t have a degree in psychology, so maybe I’m the last person you should listen to. It just seems to me that broken minds don’t work the way they’re supposed to. That’s why they’re broken.”



Jaylene said, “Broken minds. Good description.”



“He wouldn’t be kidnapping and killing people if he didn’t have a few screws loose.”



“We can only hope.”



Lucas said, “The point is that the profile fits what little we know about the kidnapper. It makes sense that he kills them to avoid the risk of identification.”



“But if he knows he’s going to kill them, why bother to keep them blindfolded?”



“We have no proof that he does.”



“I’m telling you. He does. Right up until the moment they find out they’re going to die, he keeps them blindfolded.”



“And we’re supposed to believe you?” Metcalf demanded.



“As I said, Sheriff, I don’t expect you to believe me. But Luke knows I’m telling the truth.”



Eyeing the federal agent, Metcalf said, “You two obviously have a history of some kind.Do you believe her?”



The silence dragged on much longer than was comfortable before Lucas finally replied.



“Yes. I believe we can trust what she knows. What she sees.”



Samantha, hearing the qualifiers, smiled wryly. But all she said was, “So why keep them blindfolded if he knows he’s going to kill them anyway? Why kill them? What could he possibly gain by killing them?”



“You tell me.”



“Points, I guess. In the game. Maybe . . . if he gets his money, he also gets points. If you don’t get to the victims before he gets his money, he wins points. You rescue a live victim, and you get points. Which means he’s ahead on points.”



“Goddammit,” Metcalf muttered.



She glanced at him. “Sorry to sound flippant, Sheriff. See, the thing is, all I really know is that he’s playing a game and Luke is his opponent. Everything else is guesswork.”



“This is insane,” Metcalf said.



“Oh, I agree. He’s probably insane too, the kidnapper. That broken mind we were discussing. Broken and brilliant.”



“Why brilliant?” Lucas asked.



It was Jaylene who replied to that. “Because you’re very good at what you do. Because the odds are always stacked against a successful kidnapping, and this guy has been successful way too many times. Because it isn’t about the money.”



Samantha nodded. “He’s invented a very special game just for the two of you to play. And don’t think he doesn’t know his opponent. The first few kidnappings may well have been test runs, just to lure you in and watch what you did.”



“I can’t believe you’re buying any of this,” Metcalf said to Lucas.



“You don’t know all the background, Sheriff,” Lucas responded, frowning. “The cases going back eighteen months. This . . . theory . . . fits.”



“It’s not a theory, Luke,” Samantha said flatly. “It’s a fact. This is all a game to him.”



“Games have rules.”



“Yes. Which means you have to figure out what his rules are before you have a hope in hell of saving the next victim’s life, catching him—and winning the game.”





3



Tuesday, September 25



“I don’t need watchdogs,” Carrie Vaughn said with a considerable amount of force. “I can take care of myself, and I don’t like people hovering around me.”



“They aren’t hovering, Miss Vaughn. I’ve got a patrol car parked across the highway on that old dirt road; you can barely see them when you look out a window.” Sheriff Metcalf kept his voice as patient as possible. “They’re just keeping an eye on things, is all.”



“Because some gypsy fortune-teller says I’m in danger? Jesus, Sheriff.”



“I have to act on information received, Miss Vaughn, especially when we’ve already had one kidnapping that ended in murder.”



“Information from a fortune-teller?” She didn’t try to hide her disgust. “I hope you aren’t planning on running again at the next election.”



The rest of the conversation was brief, and Metcalf hung up the phone a minute or two later, scowling. He turned to face Lucas, who was on the other side of the conference table, and said, “Tell me again why we’re listening to her.”



Lucas didn’t have to ask which “her” the sheriff was referring to. “She’s genuine, Wyatt.”



“You’re saying you believe she can see the future before it happens.”



“Yes.”



“Because she proved it to you in the past.”



Lucas nodded.



“I’ve never in my life met a gullible cop. You sure you’re a fed?”



“Last time I looked.” Lucas sighed. “I know it’s difficult to accept, especially given her role in a carnival.”



“You can say that again. I think the lack of credibility sort of accompanies the purple turban.”



“She warned you about Callahan.”



“A fluke. A coincidence. The one lucky guess in a thousand tries.”



“And if she’s right about Carrie Vaughn?”



“The second lucky guess.” Metcalf grimaced when Lucas lifted an eyebrow at him. “Okay, so a second lucky guess that specific would be pushing it. But you are not going to convince me that she can see the future.”



Lucas had heard that particular note in someone else’s voice often enough to recognize it: for Wyatt Metcalf, believing that it was possible to see the future before it occurred was a direct challenge to some deep and long-held belief. It would require drastic evidence to convince him, and he would be angry rather than happy if that evidence presented itself.



So all Lucas said was, “Then treat her information the same way you’d treat any anonymous tip; take precautions and check it out.”



“In this case, watch Carrie Vaughn and wait.”



“I’d say so. Unless and until we have another lead or information more useful than this lot.” He gestured toward the files, reports, and photos spread out on the conference table.



“Nothing positive from Quantico?”



“Not so far. Your people are thorough and well-trained, just as you said; they didn’t miss anything. Which means we’re not left with much in the way of evidence.”



“What about that handkerchief Zarina says she got her vision from?”



Lucas cleared his throat. “At Quantico being tested. We should have the results by tomorrow.”



Metcalf eyed him. “Something on your mind?”



“I wouldn’t keep calling her Zarina if I were you.”



“What, she’s going to put a gypsy curse on me?”



“She isn’t a gypsy.”



Metcalf waited, brows raised.



Lucas really didn’t want to get into this with the sheriff, and that reluctance was in his tone when he said, “Look, she doesn’t deserve scorn or ridicule. You don’t believe she



’s a genuine psychic, that’s fine. But don’t treat her like a joke.”



“I can’t get past the turban,” Metcalf admitted.



“Try.”



“I seem to remember you making a crack about the circus being in town.”



“I’m allowed,” Lucas said wryly, even as he wondered if Samantha would agree with that.



“Oh?”



“I don’t think I’ll show you my scars, if it’s all the same to you.”



“Ah, so there is a history.”



“You didn’t need a crystal ball to figure that out,” Lucas muttered, frowning down at the postmortem report on Mitchell Callahan.



“No, it was fairly obvious. And very surprising. I don’t see you as the type to visit carnivals.”



“No.”



“Then she was involved in one of your cases before this?” Metcalf didn’t try to disguise his curiosity.



“Something like that.”



“I gather it ended badly.”



“No, the case ended successfully; we got the guy.”



“It was just the relationship that tanked, huh?”



Lucas was saved from replying when Lindsay spoke from the open doorway.



“Jesus, Wyatt, you’re worse than a woman.”



“I was investigating,” he told her.



“You were being nosy.” She came into the room, shaking her head. “Luke, Jaylene’s on her way in. She says she didn’t get anything new from Mitch Callahan’s wife.”



“Well, we didn’t really expect to,” he said. “But the base had to be covered.”



“So this is what you guys have been doing for a year and a half?” she asked, curious herself now. “Zipping around the country on that private jet of yours as soon as the kidnapping reports come in? Double-checking everything, combing through reports, talking to family and coworkers of the abductees?”



“When we get a case after the fact, yes.” He knew the frustration was in his voice but didn’t try to hide it; after more than twenty-four hours in Golden and working with Wyatt and Lindsay, they knew much more about the serial kidnappings and Lucas felt more comfortable with what they knew.



He had not, however, told them the whole story of the SCU or his own and Jaylene’s abilities, an omission that bothered him less on his and Jay’s account than on Samantha’s.



A sobering realization.



“What about when you get the case right away—after the abduction but before the ransom is paid or a body found?” Lindsay was asking, still curious.



“It’s only happened twice, and both times we were a step behind him all the way.” He hesitated, then added, “In fact, I got the distinct feeling we were being led by the nose.”



“Which,” Lindsay said, “lends weight to Sam’s theory that this guy is playing some kind of game with you, and has been for some time.”



It was Metcalf who said, “You two seem to be getting awfully chummy.”



“You mean just because I don’t treat her like a leper the way the rest of you do? That I might sit down and have a cup of coffee and a conversation with her?”



“I don’t know what you mean.”



“The hell you don’t.” Lindsay shook her head. “She volunteers to stay here at the station, under your and everybody else’s eye for the duration, and you’re still acting like she stole your dog.”



“Dammit, Lindsay, I’m getting a lot of questions and you know it. I can’t hold her here legally, and explaining that she’s here voluntarily just opens up a whole new can of worms.”



“I don’t see why it should,” Lindsay responded. “She has a cot in one of the interview rooms and she’s paying for her own food, so it’s not like the taxpayers have an extra burden. The press certainly understands what she’s trying to do.”



“Oh, yeah,” the sheriff said sardonically, “they had their headlines for today, all right.Gypsy Seeks to Prove Innocence by Remaining in Police Custody. The problem is, the more astute among the media have figured out that the only way she can prove herself innocent doing this is if we have another kidnapping while she’s in custody.”



“Tomorrow’s headline,” Lucas murmured.



Metcalf nodded. “Judging by the questions I’ve been getting. Naturally, they’re wondering how we could expect another kidnapping. As Luke and Jaylene pointed out yesterday, most kidnappers don’t try it twice, and very few even stick around after a successful delivery of the ransom.”



With a grimace, Lindsay said, “I hadn’t thought about that. But of course they would wonder, wouldn’t they?”



“And they aren’t the only ones,” the sheriff told her. “The mayor called, as well as two members of the town council, demanding to know why I believe someone else could be kidnapped and whether I know who it will be.”



“I’m guessing you didn’t tell them.”



“Of course I didn’t tell them. There’s no way I’m going to admit to anyone that the ravings of a lunatic carnival fortune-teller are dictating any part of this investigation.”



Lucas stopped himself from wincing at Metcalf’s vehemence, but it was another reminder that Bishop had been right to take the course he had while forming the unit. As unbelievable as psychic abilities often seemed, people were far more inclined to at least accept the possibility when the ones who claimed to have them worked in “serious” jobs and relied on scientific explanations—even if the science was speculative—to describe and define their abilities.



And having a federal badge didn’t hurt.



“Wyatt, she’s not a lunatic and she hasn’t been raving,” Lindsay objected. “Besides, with all the psychic stuff you see on TV and in the movies these days, people are a lot more open to the idea than you might think. Most people, anyway.”



“If you’re talking about that guy on TV who claims to read minds, all I can say is that you’re a lot more gullible than I ever would have imagined, Lindsay.”



“He’s very convincing.”



“He’s a con artist. It’s called a cold reading, and whatever skill it takes I can promise you isn’t paranormal.”



“You can’t be sure of that,” she said.



“Want to bet?”



The argument might have continued indefinitely if one of the young deputies hadn’t knocked on the doorjamb just then, peering into the conference room with a very anxious look on his face. “Sheriff? If it’s okay, I need to run home for a few minutes. I know I’ve already had my lunch break, but—”



“What’s up, Glen?”



“It’s just . . . I need to make sure Susie and the baby are okay. I called, but didn’t get an answer.”



“Maybe she has the baby outside,” Lindsay offered. “It’s a nice day.”



“Yeah, maybe. But I’d like to be sure.” He smiled nervously. “Maybe it’s just being a new dad, but—”



“Go ahead, take off,” Metcalf told him. “You’ll worry ’til you know for sure.”



“Thanks, Sheriff.”



When the deputy had gone, Lucas didn’t give the other two a chance to resume their argument. At least in his presence. “Since we agreed to split the duty as much as possible, why don’t you two go on to lunch? I’ll wait for Jaylene to get back, and we’ll go later.”



“Suits me,” Metcalf said.



Lindsay agreed with a nod, and the two left.



It was probably five minutes later that Lucas swore under his breath when he realized he’d read the same paragraph three times and still didn’t know what was in it. Instead of trying again, he leaned back in his chair and drummed his fingers on the table, arguing silently with himself.



Finally, however, he admitted defeat just as silently and got up. He left the conference room and made his way to the lower level of the sheriff’s department, which housed the jail cells and interview rooms.



The deputy on duty down there nodded as he passed, then returned to the magazine in his hands. The only occupant of the cells was one very unhappy young man brought in on a destruction-of-property charge, and he was too busy feeling sorry for himself to cause any trouble, so the deputy’s only responsibility was to keep an eye on the cells and on the closed door of Room 3.



Where Samantha Burke was currently staying.



The door wasn’t locked. Lucas hesitated, then knocked once and went in.



The small room was normally spartan, with a table and chairs, a security camera high in one corner, and a small TV high in the opposite one; the addition of a cot and the duffel bag holding Samantha’s things reduced the floor space considerably and did nothing to make her temporary accommodations even appear to be comfortable.



She was sitting at the table, a soft drink and a Styrofoam box containing a partially eaten salad before her.



“Still eating like a rabbit, I see,” he said, mostly for something to say.



“Old habits.” She sipped the drink, eyeing him, then said dryly, “And I doubt interest in my lunch is what brought you down here. What’ve I done now, Luke?”



“That deputy, Champion. He brought you your lunch, didn’t he?”



“Yeah. So?”



“Did he drop something? Did you touch his hand?”



Coolly, she said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”



“I’m talking about him leaving here one breath away from panic to rush home and check on his wife and kid.”



“New dads worry, I’m told.” Her voice was still cool. “And he’s such a proud one. Showed me a picture. Pretty wife, cute kid. He’s right to be proud of them.”



“So that was it. You touched the picture. And?”



She leaned back with a sigh. “And I told him he needed to go home and unplug their clothes dryer until he can get someone to check it. Because it could cause a fire.”



“When?”



“Today.” Samantha smiled wryly. “His wife dries clothes in the afternoon, when the energy demand is lower. Plus the baby likes the sound, it helps her to go to sleep. But drying clothes today wouldn’t be a good idea. So I told him that. And even though he didn’t want to believe me, I expect he went home to unplug that dryer. Just in case.”





He’d been watching her for a while now, so he had her routine down pat. He knew when he would take her, and how. By now, that part of things was almost second nature, so that he could perform on autopilot.



That wasn’t the fun part, not anymore.



This was the fun part, and he was enjoying himself even more knowing that at last all the necessary players were in place and paying attention.



He’d begun to think they would never catch on.



But now . . . now they were finally starting to understand, and all the long months of planning and careful, calculated actions had put all the pieces on the game board.



Really, it was all falling into place so beautifully that it made him wonder if there actually was a God.



He hummed to himself as he checked the seals, making certain there would be no leaks. Going over it meticulously, because he refused to make mistakes.



It wouldn’t be a true test of which one of them was smarter if he made any mistakes.



So he checked every inch, every detail, going over and over the plan until he was absolutely positive there was nothing left out, nothing forgotten, nothing wrong.



He polished the glass and metal until there was no hint of a fingerprint or even a smear, vacuumed the space for the third time, compulsively took apart all the connections so he could wipe down each component individually.



They would find only the signs he wanted them to find.



When he was done this time, he stood back and studied the room, playing out in his head how it would be. She was tough, so he didn’t think she’d be all that scared at first. Which was good for his purposes.



Once he’d figured out it was the fear that drew Jordan, he had chosen his lures even more carefully. He liked the tough ones, the ones that didn’t scare easily. Because that made it all the sweeter when they realized what was going to happen to them and how helpless they were to stop it.



This one, he thought, would be one of the best. When she finally broke, her terror would be extreme. He didn’t know if Jordan could feel it or smell it, but either way it would hit him like a punch to the gut.



To be this close.



To have an innocent taken from beneath his very nose.



To begin to really understand the game.





“Jesus, Sam.”



“What? What was I supposed to do, Luke? Ignore what I saw? Let that lady and her baby die?”



“Of course not.”



“Well, then. I gave him the calmest, most low-key warning I could come up with, spur-of-the-moment. I’m sure you could have done better in disguising the psychic origins of the information, what with all your training and experience in these things, but—”



“Will youstop with that shit? I didn’t make the rules, Sam. I wasn’t the one who decided that anything that smacked of carnivals or sideshows could never be part of what we are. But you know what? For the record, I agree with Bishop on that one. I have had to deal with too many hard-nosed, skeptical cops like Wyatt Metcalf not to have learned that we have to look serious and act serious if we have even a hope of being accepted for what we are andbelieved . So we can do our jobs.”



“Oh, I’m sure you’re right. You usually are, after all.” She closed the take-out box and pushed the salad away. “Lost my appetite. Can’t imagine why.”



Lucas was sorely tempted to turn around and walk out but fought the impulse. Instead, he pulled the other chair out and sat down across from her.



“Please,” she said, “join me.”



“Thanks, I will.” He kept his voice even. “Do you think we can talk like two rational people for a minute?”



“Maybe a minute. Though I wouldn’t bet on it.”



“Jesus, Sam.”



“You already said that.”



What he said then was something he hadn’t wanted or intended to say. “I never meant to hurt you.”



Samantha laughed.



Lucas supposed he deserved that, but it didn’t make it any easier to take. “I didn’t. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s the truth.”



“As a matter of fact, I do believe it. So what?”



He wasn’t a man who was easily knocked off his balance, but he had to admit, at least silently, that Samantha always managed to do just that. “So can we stop fighting?”



“I don’t know. Can we?”



“Christ, you’re a stubborn woman.”



“That’s not even conversation.”



“Do I have to remind you again that I’m in the middle of a serial kidnapping and murder investigation?”



“We’rein the middle. I’m here too, Luke.”



“You being here is just—” He stopped, then slowly finished, “a fluke.”



Samantha didn’t say a word.





“Happenstance. A coincidence.”



She picked up her drink and sipped.



Lucas was aware of a second impulse to get up and walk out of the room, and he very nearly obeyed that one. Instead, he drew a deep breath, let it out slowly, and said, “The carnival isn’t in Golden because the next town on the schedule just hosted a circus. The carnival is in Golden because you wanted it to be here.”



“I didn’twant to be here, Luke, believe me. In fact, I would have gone a long way to avoid being here just now. But we both know some of the things I see simply can’t be changed. And unfortunately for us both, this is one of them. It’s the real punch line of the cosmic joke. In that vision where I saw you playing chess with the kidnapper, I also saw myself standing behind you. You can’t win the game without me.”





Lindsay stretched languidly and yawned. “God. Do we have to go back to the station?”



Metcalf eyed smooth flesh still clinging to its golden summer tan and reached over to touch her. “Somebody might wonder if we never come back from lunch,” he noted absently.



“Ummm. What lunch? I’ve lost ten pounds with theselunches of ours.”



“We can stop for a quick burger on the way back.”



“You always say that, but when it comes down to it neither one of us is hungry.”



“So we lose a few pounds and go back to work relaxed and destressed; I’d call that a good lunch break.”



Lindsay started to reach for him but saw over his shoulder the clock on the nightstand and groaned. “We’ve been gone almost an hour now.”



“I’m the sheriff. I can be late.”



“But—”



“And so can you.”



They were very late in returning to the station, and when absolutely nobody commented, Lindsay wondered for the first time if their “secret” affair was as secret as she’d believed.



People were very studiously not commenting.



They found both Lucas and his partner in the conference room. He was pacing with the wired energy of a caged cat; Jaylene was sitting on the end of the conference table, watching him meditatively.



“Sorry,” Lindsay said as they came in.



Lucas paused and looked at her. “Why?”



“Lunch. We’re late getting back.”



“Oh. That.” He resumed pacing. “I’m not hungry.”



Gesturing to two Styrofoam containers behind her on the table, Jaylene said, “I brought him something, but he’s been a little . . . preoccupied.”



“Has something happened?” Metcalf asked.



“No,” Lucas said. He glanced at Jaylene, then added, “Nothing’s changed.”



Metcalf looked at Lindsay. “Was that a qualified statement? It sounded qualified to me.”



“Don’t ask,” Lucas told him. “You won’t like the answer, believe me.”



“It’s Samantha,” Jaylene said. “She believes she’s meant to be here, to be involved in the investigation. To help Luke win the game.”



“Shit,” Metcalf said.



Lindsay asked, “Help him how?”



“If she even knows, she isn’t saying.”



“I don’t think she knows,” Lucas said. “Just that she’s somehow involved.”



“That’s what I’ve been saying,” the sheriff reminded them.



Lucas stopped pacing and took a chair. “Involved in the investigation. On our side.”



“Your side,” Jaylene murmured.



“Is there a difference?” he demanded.



“Maybe so.”



He gestured slightly as though pushing the comment away, then said, “Whether Sam’s involved doesn’t change the fact that we’ve got nothing to go on. No evidence, nothing to I.D. him or even point us in his direction. If this bastard follows his usual pattern, he’s already in another state and planning his next abduction.”



Lindsay said, “But Sam says his next abduction is here in Golden.” She frowned. “If we assume for a minute that she’s right, why would he change his M.O. now? I mean, why plan two kidnappings in the same area? Isn’t that asking for trouble?”



“Maybe it’s asking for Luke,” Jaylene offered. “Maybe part of the game was to eventually get us in position before the fact. It would be the first time.”



“And really the only way he could do it,” Lucas said slowly. “We’re here investigating his last abduction, so if he wanted us on the scene before his next one, he’d pretty much have to plan it here, while we were here.”



Jaylene looked at the clutter of files and photographs on the table. “So . . . if he got us here before the fact, and it’s part of his game, then it’s at least possible that he has left us a . . . clue, for want of a better word. Something that offers Luke at least a fighting chance against him. Otherwise, the game’s winner is predetermined. And there’s no contest.”



Metcalf scowled. “I hate to admit that Zarina had a point, but that comment about broken minds makes a certain amount of sense. I mean, can we reasonably expect this guy to play by any kind of rules?”



“He’ll play by his rules,” Lucas said slowly. “He has to. Being careful and meticulous has been a point of honor for him, so this will be too. The game has rules. And he will abide by those rules. The trick for us . . . is figuring out what they are.”



Jaylene said, “Which goes back to my point. He can’t reasonably expect you to play his game unless and until the rules are clear. So at some point they have to be. Maybe at this point. And since he didn’t send us a printed list, they have to be here.” She gestured to the paperwork spread out on the table. “Somewhere.”



Metcalf said, “You can’t be serious? It’s the proverbial needle in a haystack.”



“Not much of a haystack,” Lucas reminded him. “Even after eighteen months, we have very little in the way of evidence. We have cause of death; we have crime-scene reports but only from locations where the bodies were found, never where the vics were killed; we have the statement from the single surviving victim, which tells us only that he spoke to her, sounded intelligent and, in her words, ‘scary as hell’; we have statements from friends, family members, and coworkers of the vics; we have some minor trace evidence, hair and fibers that may or may not be connected to the kidnapper; we have ransom notes printed on a very common brand of ink-jet printer—and that’s about it.”



“Lotta paper,” Lindsay said. “But not a very helpful haystack.”



“Yeah, but it has to be,” Jaylene pointed out. “Doesn’t it? He’s here, we’re here. After following him around for a year and a half, we’ve apparently reached the next stage of the game.”



“If Zarina’s right about that,” Metcalf reminded them.



“Her name,” Lucas said, “is Samantha.”



“That’s not what the posters say.”



“Wyatt,” Lindsay murmured.



“Well, it isn’t. She goes by Zarina, right?”



“Only when she’s working,” Lucas said. “Wyatt, please. The problem with assuming about Sam’s prediction—either way—is that we have to wait. We won’t know if the kidnapper is still in this area unless and until he abducts another victim. Now, we can assume he’s already gone and wait for a kidnapping report somewhere in the East, or we can assume he’s still here and about to snatch his next vic—and wait for that to happen.”



“Our part of the game plan sucks,” Metcalf noted.



“Or,” Lucas continued, “we can expect him to grab someone by tomorrow evening or Thursday morning—Carrie Vaughn, if Sam’s right—and we can spend that time looking for his goddamned game rules and watching the potential target very, very closely.”



“We already know one of his rules,” Lindsay said. “When he takes the victims. Sometime between noon on Wednesday and noon on Thursday. Right?”



Jaylene nodded. “Right. Every single victim was snatched during that twenty-four-hour period.”



“Rule number one,” Lucas said. He reached out to draw a file folder close. “Let’s start looking for rule number two.”



Wednesday, September 26



Metcalf came into the conference room, saying briefly, “Carrie Vaughn has a detective in her living room as well as a patrol car in her driveway. She’s safe. She’s not happy, but she’s safe.”



Lucas glanced at his watch. “Just before noon. If he’s still in Golden and has another kidnapping planned so soon, he’ll move by noon tomorrow.”



“If we got that rule right,” Lindsay said.



“Yeah. If.”



Metcalf said, “Just for the record, I locked Zarina in her room.”



Lucas frowned slightly but didn’t look up as he said, “A sensible precaution, from your point of view.”



“I thought so. And she didn’t seem too upset about it.”



“Probably because you didn’t call her Zarina to her face.”



Shrugging, Metcalf sat down at the table. “I’m still surprised all her carnie friends haven’t shown up here.”



“She probably told them what she meant to do and asked them to stay away. They’re a tight group; they’d handle it however she asked them to.”



“You almost sound like you respect them.”



“I do. Most of them have been on their own since they were kids but still managed to carve out a fair living for themselves without breaking a law or hurting others. That puts them in the Decent Human Being column of my book.”



Lindsay noted that her hardheaded lover wasn’t pleased to hear that information; it put human faces on his easy targets and made it more difficult for him to lump them together under a neat label. It also made him aware of what he was trying to do, and that naturally irritated him.



She couldn’t help smiling wryly, but all she said was, “I guess we’re all eating lunch in today. What does everybody want, and I’ll go get it.”



For the remainder of that day, they were all in and out of the room, going over the paperwork again and again, discussing the previous kidnappings and murders. And getting nowhere.



Even what had seemed a promising clue—the handkerchief Samantha had picked up at the carnival—proved to be fairly useless according to the report from Quantico. Mass-produced and sold in any retail store one might name, the handkerchief held a few grains of dirt, undoubtedly acquired when it was dropped onto the ground, but no sign of any human secretions whatsoever.



The lab technician allowed that there was a faint spot containing an oily residue, as yet unidentified, but it would require more time to determine what it might be.



“Ten to one,” Metcalf said, “it’ll turn out to be popcorn oil. And they’ve got—what?—at least two booths selling the stuff?”



“Four on a busy night,” Lucas said with a sigh.



“Dead end,” Jaylene murmured.



There was no good reason for them to remain at the station that night and every reason for them to rest while they could, so they called it a day well before midnight and went to their respective homes or hotel rooms.



Thursday morning proved to be busy, with numerous calls pulling both Metcalf and Lindsay out of the station for a considerable period of time, so Lucas and Jaylene found themselves alone in the conference room more often than not.



“Is it just me,” he said around ten-thirty, “or is time crawling by?”



“It’s definitely dragging.” She glanced up to watch him prowling restlessly back and forth in front of the bulletin boards where they had pinned information and a timeline for the kidnappings and murders. “At the same time, we’re running out of it. If he’s going to act this week . . .”



“I know, I know.” He hesitated, then said, “You talked to Sam this morning.”



“Yeah.”



“And she didn’t have anything else to add?”



“No. But she’s as restless and jumpy as you are.”



Lucas frowned, and returned to his chair at the conference table. “I just hate knowing I’d rather he went ahead and did whatever he’s going to do so we might have something new to work with. I don’t want another victim, and yet—”



“And yet another victim will tell us we’re on the right track. More or less.”



“Yeah, goddammit.”



Metcalf came into the room and sat down with a sigh. “Did everybody go nuts all of a sudden? It’s Thursday, for Christ’s sake, and you’d think it was Saturday night. Fender benders, B&Es, domestic disputes—and some asshole just tried to rob one of our three banks.”



“Unsuccessfully, I gather,” Lucas said.



“Yeah, but not much credit to my people. Guy had a flare gun. Aflare gun. I was ready to shoot him just on general principle. And because he fucked up my morning.”



Jaylene chuckl