675 15th Street NW
“So the dick says to the woman, ‘I got
Karen Vail burst out laughing. Here she was, out on the town
with Detective Mandisa Manette --- just about the unlikeliest of
acquaintances she’d socialize with --- and she was guffawing
at another of Manette’s crass jokes. But she noticed Manette
was not enjoying her own punch line. In fact, Manette’s face
was hard, her gaze fixed. And her hand was slowly reaching inside
her jacket. For her weapon.
“Don’t wanna ruin your evening,” Manette said,
“but there’s a guy packing, and he looks real nervous.
Over your left shoulder.”
Vail turned slowly and casually snatched a glimpse of the man.
Six foot, broad, and as Manette noted, under duress. Sweating, eyes
darting around the street. In a minute, his gaze would land on Vail
and Manette. The guy looks familiar. Why? She watched his
mannerisms and then, as his head turned three quarters toward them,
she got a better look at him and---
Oh, crap. I know who he is. In a few seconds,
he’d probably make them as cops, and then the shit would hit
the fan. The image conjured up a mess --- and that’s what
would no doubt result.
Vail quickly turned away. “Don’t look at him.
Definitely bad news, and stressed as hell. With good reason.
That’s Danny Michael Yates.” Manette’s eyes
widened. “No way. The goddamn cop killer? You
Vail slid her hand down to her Velcro pouch. “Damn sure.
you want to do?”
Manette moved her hand behind her back, no doubt resting it on
her pistol. “Make a call, DC Metro, let ’em know what
we got here. I’m gonna circle around behind him.”
Vail pulled out her phone and made the call. With her back to
Yates, she watched him in the reflection of the Old Ebbitt Grill
storefront. Meantime, she assessed the situation. The sidewalk was
knotted with people waiting for tables, enjoying a drink with
friends, spouses, and business associates. She wished she could
yell, “Everyone down!” so they wouldn’t get hurt.
Because she had an intense feeling that this was going to get very
ugly, very fast.
Vail ended the call and slipped the BlackBerry into her pocket,
her right hand firmly on the Glock 23 that was buried in the pouch
below her abdomen.
She made eye contact with Manette’s reflection in the
window and nodded, then stole a glance at Yates. He looked at Vail
at precisely that moment, and Fuck --- he made me ---
Yates turned and pushed through the clot of people standing
behind him. Vail followed, doing her best to navigate the tumbled
bodies with her still-sore postsurgical knee. Manette, she figured,
was also in pursuit. Manette was tall and thin, and she looked
athletic --- whether she was or not, Vail could only guess --- but
she had to be faster than Vail and her recently repaired leg.
She caught a glimpse of Yates as he turned left on H Street ---
and, yup, there was Manette, pumping away, in close proximity.
Christ, this was not what she had in mind when she suggested they
have a girls’ night out.
Vail turned the corner and picked up Manette as she kept up her
pursuit of Yates. The shine of Manette’s handgun caught the
streetlight’s amber glow and suddenly a bad feeling crept
down Vail’s spine. They were extremely close to the White
House, where Secret Service agents and police outnumbered the
citizens in the immediate vicinity. Snipers were permanently
stationed on the roof, and --- here was a black woman, chasing a
white man, a big gleaming pistol in her right hand. No uniform. No
This was not going to turn out well, and Vail had a sinking
feeling it would have nothing to do with Danny Michael Yates.
Yates veered left, into Lafayette Park, and damn, if the guy
wasn’t a stupid one --- he was headed straight for the
wrought iron of the White House gate. Stupid isn’t quite the
word . . . insane might be more like it. Vail heard Manette yell,
It had no effect on Yates except to have him veer left, parallel
to the iron fence --- which he had to do anyway.
But Vail had her answer: Manette was apparently a superb
athlete, because she was now only fifteen yards behind Yates, who
was moving pretty well himself.
Lights snapped on. An alarm went off.
Vail fumbled to pull her credentials from her purse, then
splayed them open in her left hand, held high above her head, the
Glock in her right hand, bouncing along with her strides. Showing
the snipers she was a federal agent, not a threat to the president.
And hopefully, by association, they’d realize Manette was a
But as she processed that thought, a gunshot stung her ears like
a stab to her heart. And Manette went down. Only it wasn’t a
sniper or diligent Secret Service agent. It was Danny Michael
Yates, who had turned and buried a round in Manette’s groin.
She went down hard and fast.
And she was writhing on the ground. DC Metro police appeared
behind Yates and drew down on him. Half a dozen Secret Service
agents traversed the White House lawn with guns drawn and suit
coats flapping. Snipers on the roof swung their rifles toward the
plaza, their red laser dots dancing on clothing and pavement.
Vail brought up the rear, huffing and puffing, the cold night DC
air burning her throat. She was heaving, sucking oxygen, when a
weak “FBI!” scraped from her throat. She stopped
fifteen feet from Yates, who was inching closer to Manette.
“She’s a cop,” Vail yelled. “She’s
a cop!” She wanted all the law enforcement personnel on scene
to understand what was going on. Manette was on the ground, her
handgun a foot from her hand. But she was in no condition to reach
for it. She was curled into a fetal position.
Yates took a step closer to her, and his gun --- it looked like
a Beretta --- was raised slightly, pointing vaguely toward Manette.
“Stop right there,” Vail yelled. “Take another
step and it’ll be your last!”
“Just kill me now,” Yates said. “Because there
ain’t no way you’re taking me in. I killed a cop, you
think I’ll make it through the night alive in
“I’ll personally guarantee your safety,
Danny.” Vail stood there with her Glock now in both hands,
her credentials case on the ground at her feet, spread open, her
Bureau badge visible for all who cared to look. “I’ll
make sure you get your day in court. I understand the way you
think, I know you didn’t mean to kill that cop.”
“Bullshit. I did mean to kill him! I fucking hate cops,
they raped my mother. You bet I wanted to kill him!”
Damn, he’s a dumb shit. No hope for this one. Served
up a valid defense for his actions and he tells me I’m
“There’s only one way this can end good, Danny. You
put the gun down and let me help my partner there. You got
Yates took another step forward, his Beretta now aimed
point-blank at Manette. Vail brought up her Glock, tritium sights
lined up on the perp’s head.
“Now,” Vail yelled. “Drop the fucking
But Yates’s elbow straightened. His hand muscles
stiffened. Given the angle, no one else could see what she could
see. He didn’t ‘drop the fucking gun,’ so Vail
shot him. Blasted him right in the head. And then she drilled him
in the center mass, to knock him back, make sure he didn’t
accidentally unload on Manette as his brain went flat line. Two
quick shots. Overkill? Maybe. But at the moment, truth be told, she
didn’t really care.
Yates fell to the ground. Vail ran to Manette. Grabbed her,
cradled her. “Manny --- Manny, you okay?”
Manette’s face was drenched with sweat, pain contorted in
the intense creases of her face.
And then Vail lost it. She felt the sudden release, the stress
of the past couple of months hitting her with the force of a
tornado, knocking her back against the lower stonework of the White
Commotion around her, frantic footsteps, shouting, jostling.
Someone in a blue shirt and silver badge knelt in front of her and
pried the Glock from her hand.
DARK-SUITED SECRET SERVICE AGENTS stood in front of the White
House fence, stiff and tense. White, red, and blue Metro Police
cars sat idling fifty yards away. Half a dozen motorcycle cops in
white shirt/black pant uniforms milled about.
Thomas Gifford, the Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge who
oversees the Behavioral Analysis Units, badged the nearby Secret
Service agent and walked to the ambulance backed up against the
short, concrete pillars that sprung from the pavement. Vail sat on
the Metro Medical Response vehicle’s flat bumper, her gaze
fixed somewhere on the cement.
Gifford stopped a couple of feet in front of her and raked a
hand through his hair, as if stalling for time because he
didn’t know what to say. “I thought you had dinner
reservations. You told me when you left
the office you had to leave early.”
“Yeah. I did. And then we saw Yates, and I called it
“Okay,” Gifford said, holding up a hand.
“Forget about all that for now. How are you doing?”
Vail stood up, uncoiled her body, and stretched.
“I’m fine. Any news on Mandisa?”
“Going into surgery. Shattered pelvis. But the round
missed the major arteries, so she’ll be okay. She’ll
need some rehab, but she’s lucky. She’s lucky you were
“With all the snipers and Secret Service and DC police
around? I think she would’ve been fine without me.”
“That’s not what I’m hearing. They were
assessing the situation, moving into position, trying to sort out
what the hell was going on. The snipers weren’t going to act
unless there was a perceived threat to the president. And callous
as it may seem, Danny Michael Yates was only a threat to you and
Detective Manette. After Yates said he’d killed a cop, Metro
started to put it together. But I honestly don’t know if any
of them would’ve shot him before you did. You saved her life,
Vail took a deep, uneven breath. “I had a good angle, I
saw his arm, his hand --- I knew he was going to pull that
Gifford looked away, glancing around at all the on-scene law
enforcement personnel. “You still seeing the
“Good. First thing in the morning, I want you back in his
office. Then get out of town for a while. Clear your head. A couple
months after Dead Eyes, this is the last thing you
A smile teased the ends of her mouth.
“What?” Gifford asked.
“It’s not often we agree on anything. I usually have
some smartass comeback for you. But in this case, I’ve got
Vail realized that had been the punch line of the joke Manette
had told earlier in the evening. It didn’t seem so funny
Vail headed for her car, looking forward to --- finally ---
getting out of town. Where? Didn’t matter. Anywhere but
St. Helena, California
The Napa Valley
The crush of a grape is not unlike life itself: You press and
squeeze until the juice flows from its essence, and it dies a
sudden, pathetic death. Devoid of its lifeblood, its body shrivels
and is then discarded. Scattered about. Used as fertilizer,
returned to the earth. Dust in the wind.
But despite the region in which John Mayfield worked --- the
Napa Valley --- the crush of death wasn’t reserved just for
John Mayfield liked his name. It reminded him of harvest and
He had, however, made one minor modification: His mother
hadn’t given him a middle name, so he chose one himself ---
Wayne. Given his avocation, “John Wayne” implied a
tough guy image with star power. It also was a play on John Wayne
Gacy, a notorious serial killer. And serial killers almost always
were known in the public consciousness by three names. His persona
--- soon to be realized worldwide --- needed to be polished and
Mayfield surveyed the room. He looked down at the woman, no
longer breathing, in short order to resemble the shriveled husk of
a crushed grape. He switched on his camera and made sure the lens
captured the blood draining from her arm, the thirsty soil beneath
her drinking it up as if it had been waiting for centuries to be
nourished. Her fluid pooled a bit, then was slowly sucked beneath
A noise nearby broke his trance. He didn’t have much time.
He could have chosen his kill zone differently, to remove all risk.
But it wasn’t about avoiding detection. There was so much
more to it.
The woman didn’t appreciate his greatness, his power. She
didn’t see him for the unique person that he was. Her
Mayfield wiped the knife of fingerprints and, using the clean
handkerchief, slipped the sharp utensil beneath the dead
woman’s lower back. He stood up, kicked the loose dirt aside
beneath his feet, scattering his footprints, then backed away.
As Karen Vail walked the grounds of the Mountain Crest
Bed & Breakfast, holding the hand of Roberto Enrique Umberto
Hernandez, she stopped at the edge of a neighboring vineyard. She
looked out over the vines, the sun setting a hot orange in the
“You’ve been quiet since we got off the plane. Still
thinking about your application to the Academy?”
“Am I that transparent?” Robby asked.
“Only to a sharp FBI profiler.”
Robby cradled a tangle of vines in his large hand. “Yeah,
I’m thinking about.”
“You’ll get into the Academy, Robby. Maybe not right
away, with the budget cutbacks, but I promise. You’ll make
“Bledsoe said he could get me something with Fairfax
“Really? You didn’t tell me that.”
“I didn’t want to say anything about it. I
don’t really want it. If I
talk about it, it might come true.”
“You don’t really believe that.”
He shrugged a shoulder.
“Fairfax would be a step up over Vienna. It’s a huge
department. Lots more action.”
“I know. It’s just that there’s an eleven-year
wait to become a profiler once I get into the Academy. The longer
it takes to get into the Bureau, the longer I have to
“Why don’t you call Gifford,” Vail asked.
“I thought he owes you. Because of your mother. Because of
“That was Gifford’s perception, not mine. He
promised her he’d look after me.” Robby glanced off a
moment, then said, “He doesn’t owe me anything. And I
don’t want any favors.”
“How about I look into it, quietly, under the radar, when
we get home?”
Robby chewed on that. “Maybe.”
“I can call first thing in the morning, put out a
“No. We’re here on vacation, to get away from all
that stuff. It’ll wait.”
They turned and walked toward their room, The Hot Date, which
was in a separate building off the main house. According to the
information on the website, it was the largest in the facility,
featuring spacious main sleeping quarters, a sitting area with a
private porch and view of the vines, and a jetted tub in the
bathroom. A wooden sign, red with painted flames, hung dead center
on the door.
Vail felt around in her pocket for the key they’d been
given when they checked in fifteen minutes ago. “You
“Absolutely sure. I’m wiping it from my mind right
now. Nothing but fun from here on out. Okay?”
Vail fit the key into the lock and turned it. “Works for
me.” She swung the door open and looked around at the frilly
décor of the room.
She kicked off her shoes, ran forward, and jumped onto the bed,
bouncing up and down like a five-year-old kid. “This could be
fun,” she said with a wink.
Robby stood a few feet away, hands on his hips, grinning
“I’ve never seen you like this.”
“Nothing but fun from here on out, right? Not a worry in
the world? No serial killers dancing around in our heads, no ASACs
or lieutenants ordering us around. No job decisions. And no excess
testosterone floating on the air.”
“The name of this room is The Hot Date, right? That should
be our theme for the week.”
“Count me in.”
“That’s good,” Robby said. “Because a
hot date for one isn’t much fun.”
Vail hopped to the side of the bed, stood up precariously on the
edge, and grabbed Robby’s collar with both hands. She fell
forward into him, but at six foot seven, he easily swept her off
the bed and onto the floor, then kissed her hard.
He leaned back and she looked up at his face. “You
know,” Vail said, “I flew cross-country to Napa for the
fine wine and truffles, but that was pretty freaking good,
“Oh, yeah? That’s just a tasting. If you want the
whole bottle, it’ll cost you.”
As he leaned in for another kiss, her gaze caught sight of the
wall clock. “Oh---” The word rode on his lips and made
him pull away.
“I told you. Don’t you ever listen to me?”
“Uh, yeah, I, uh---”
“The wine cave thing, that tour we booked through your
“The tasting, the dinner in the cave.” He smiled and
raised his brow. “See, I do listen to you.”
“We’ve gotta leave now. It’s about twenty
“You sure?” He nodded behind her. “Bed,
Cabernet, chocolate, sex . . .”
She pushed him away in mock anger. “That’s not fair,
Robby. You know that? We’ve got this appointment, it’s
expensive, like two hundred bucks each, and you just want to blow
“I can think of something else to blow off.”
Vail twisted her lips into a mock frown. “I guess five
minutes won’t hurt.”
“We’ll speed to make up the time. We’re cops,
right? If we’re pulled over, we’ll badge the
Vail placed a finger over his lips. “You’re wasting
They arrived five minutes late. The California Highway Patrol
was not on duty --- at least along the strip of Route 29 they
traversed quite a few miles per hour over the limit --- and they
pulled into the parking lot smelling of chocolate and, well, the
perfume of intimacy.
They sat in the Silver Ridge Estates private tasting room around
a table with a dozen others, listening to a sommelier expound the
virtues of the wines they were about to taste. They learned about
the different climates where the grapes were grown, why the
region’s wind patterns and mix of daytime heat and chilly
evenings provided optimum conditions for growing premium grapes.
Vail played footsie with Robby beneath the table, but Robby kept a
stoic face, refusing to give in to her childish playfulness.
That is, until she realized she was reaching too far and had
been stroking the leg of the graying fifty-something man beside
Robby, whose name tag read “Bill (Oklahoma).” When Bill
from Oklahoma turned to face her with a surprised look on his face,
Vail realized her error and shaded the same red as the Pinot Noir
on the table in front of them.
“Okay,” the sommelier said. “We’re going
to go across the way into our wine cave, where we’ll talk
about the best temperatures for storing our wine. Then we’ll
do a tasting in a special room of the cave and discuss pairings,
what we’re about to eat, with which wine --- and why ---
before dinner is served.”
As they rose from the table, Robby leaned forward to ask the
sommelier a question about the delicate color of the Pinot.
Oklahoma Bill slid beside Vail, but before he could speak, she
said, “My mistake, buddy. Not gonna happen.”
Bill seemed to be mulling his options, planning a counterattack.
But Vail put an end to any further pursuit by cutting him off with
a slow, firm, “Don’t even think about it.”
Bill obviously sensed the tightness in her voice and backed away
as if she had threatened him physically. Judging by the visible
tension in Vail’s forearm muscles, that probably wasn’t
far from the truth.
They shuffled through the breezeway of the winery, their tour
guide explaining the various sculptures that were set back in
alcoves in the walls, and how they had been gathered over the
course of five decades, one from each continent. When they passed
through the mouth of the wine cave, the drop in temperature was
“The cave is a near-constant fifty-five degrees, which is
perfect for storing our reds,” the guide said. The group
crowded into the side room that extended off the main corridor.
“One thing about the way we grow our grapes,” the woman
said. “We plant more vines per square foot than your typical
winery because we believe in stressing our vines, making them
compete for water and nutrients. It forces their roots deeper into
the ground and results in smaller fruit, which gives more skin
surface area compared to the juice. And since the skin is what
gives a red varietal most of its flavor, you can see why our wines
are more complex and flavorful.”
She stopped beside a color-true model of two grapevines that
appeared poised to illustrate her point, but before she could
continue her explanation, a male guide came from a deeper portion
of the cave, ushering another group along toward the exit. He
leaned into the female guide’s ear and said something. Her
eyes widened, then she moved forward, arms splayed wide like an
eagle. “Okay, everyone, we have to go back into the tasting
area for a while.” She swallowed hard and cleared her throat,
as if there was something caught, then said, “I’m
terribly sorry for this interruption, but we’ll make it worth
your while, I promise.”
Vail caught a glimpse of a husky Hispanic worker who was
bringing up the rear. She elbowed Robby and nodded toward the guy.
“Something’s wrong, look at his face.” She moved
against the stream of exiting guests and grabbed the man’s
“What’s going on?” Vail asked.
“Nothing, sigñora, all’s good. Just a... the
power is out, it’s very dark. Please, go back to the tasting
“It’s okay,” Robby said. “We’re
“Something like that.” Vail held up her FBI
credentials and badge. “What’s wrong?”
“Who say there is something wrong?”
“It’s my job to read people. Your face tells a
story, señor. Now---” she motioned with her fingers.
“What’s the deal?”
He looked toward the mouth of cave, where most of the guests had
already exited. “I did not tell you, right?”
“Of course not. Now... tell us, what?”
“A body. A dead body. Back there,” he said,
motioning behind him with a thumb.
“How do you know the person’s dead?”
“Because she cut up bad, señora. Her... uh, los
pechos... her... tits --- are cut off.”
Robby looked over the guy’s shoulder, off into the
darkness. “Are you sure?”
“I found the body, yes, I am sure.”
“What’s your name?”
“You have a flashlight, Miguel?” Vail asked.
The large man rooted out a set of keys from his pocket, pulled
off a small LED light and handed it to her.
“Wait here. Don’t let anyone else past you. You have
security at the winery?”
“Then call them on your cell,” Vail said, as she and
Robby backed away, deeper into the tunnel. “Tell them to shut
this place down tight. No one in or out. No one.”
AS A FEDERAL AGENT, Karen Vail was required to carry her sidearm
wherever she traveled. But Robby, being a state officer,
transported his weapon in a locked box, and it had to remain there;
he was not permitted to carry it on his person. This fact was not
lost on Vail as she removed her sidearm from her Velcro fanny pack.
She reached down to her ankle holster and pulled a smaller Glock 27
and handed it to Robby.
They moved slowly through the dim cave. The walls were roughened
gunite, dirt brown and cold to the touch. The sprayed cement blend
gave the sense of being in a real cave, save for its surface
“You okay in here?” Robby asked.
“Don’t ask. I’m trying not to think about
it.” But she had no choice. Vail had developed claustrophobia
after the recent incident in the Dead Eyes Killer’s lair.
Though she never had experienced such intense anxiety, it was
suddenly a prominent part of her life. Going into certain parking
garages, through commuter tunnels, and even into crammed elevators
became a fretful experience. But it wasn’t consistent.
Sometimes it was worse than others.
Overall, it was inconvenient --- and no fun admitting you had
such an irrational weakness. But she was now afflicted with the
malady and she did her best to control it. Control? Not
exactly. It controlled her. Manage it
was more accurate. Take her mind off it, talk herself through it
until she could move into roomier quarters.
Sometimes, though, she thought she might actually claw through
walls to get out. Getting squeezed into an elevator was the worst.
For some reason, people didn’t mind cramming against you if
the alternative meant waiting another minute or two for the next
Vail slung her purse over her shoulder so it rested on her back,
then moved the weak light around, taking care not to tread on
anything that might constitute evidence.
“Maybe we should call it in,” Robby said. “Let
the locals handle it.”
“The locals? This isn’t exactly Los Angeles, Robby.
I seriously doubt they have a whole lot of murders out here. If the
vic’s been cut like Miguel says, the local cops’ll be
out of their league. They’re going to look at the crime scene
but won’t know what they’re seeing.”
“Beyond the obvious, you mean.”
“The obvious to me and the obvious to a homicide detective
are not the same things, Robby. You know that. When you encounter
something unusual --- no matter what profession you’re
talking about --- would you rather hire someone who’s seen
that unusual thing a thousand times, or someone who’s only
seen it once or twice?”
“If we do find something, we won’t have a choice.
We’ve got no jurisdiction here.”
“Yeah, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to
They turned left down another tunnel, which opened into a large
storage room of approximately a thousand square feet. Hundreds of
French oak barrels sat on their sides, stacked one atop the other,
three rows high and what must’ve been fifty rows long. A few
candelabras with low-output lightbulbs hung from above, providing
dim illumination. The walls and ceiling were constructed of
roughened multicolored brick, with multiple arched ceilings that
rose and plunged and joined one another to form columns every
fifteen feet, giving the feel of a room filled with majestic
A forklift sat dormant on the left, pointing at an opening along
the right wall, where, amidst a break in the barrels, was another
room. They moved toward it, Vail shining the flashlight in a
systematic manner from left to right as they walked. They stepped
carefully, foot by foot, to avoid errant hoses and other objects
like... a mutilated woman’s body.
They entered the anteroom and saw a lump in the darkness on the
Robby said, “That bridge you just mentioned? I think we
just came to it.”
“Shit,” Vail said.
“You didn’t think Miguel was pulling our leg, did
you? He looked pretty freaked out.”
“No, I figured he saw something. I was just hoping it was
a sack of potatoes, and in some kind of wine-induced stupor, he
thought it was a dead woman.”
“With her breasts cut off?”
“Hey, I’m an optimist, okay?”
Robby looked at her. “You’re an optimist?”
As they stood there, Vail couldn’t take her eyes off the
body. She’d come to Napa to relax, to get away from work. Yet
lying on the cold ground a little over twenty feet away was an
all-too-obvious reminder of what she’d come here to
Then she mentally slapped herself. She was pissed at having her
vacation ruined. The woman in front of her had her life ruined.
Vail took a deep breath. “You have cell service? We need
to call this in.” Robby flipped open his phone. “No
“No bars in Napa? Some other time and place, that would be
funny.” She shook her head. “I can’t believe I
just said that.”
“Humor is the best defense mechanism. Honestly, this
sucks, Karen. You needed the time away. It was my idea to come
here. I’m sorry.”
“As our colleague Mandisa Manette is fond of saying,
‘Sometimes life just sucks the big one.’”
Vail’s thoughts momentarily shifted to Manette, how she was
doing in recovery. It didn’t last long, as the snap of
Robby’s phone closing brought her back to the here and
“Okay,” Vail said, “one of us goes, just to
see if she’s alive. We don’t want to totally destroy
the crime scene.”
“Might as well be you,” Robby said. “Get a
close look, see if you see anything worthwhile.”
Vail stood there, but didn’t move. “I already see
stuff that’s worthwhile.” She sighed in resignation,
then stepped forward. “Like you said earlier, nothing but fun
from here on out.”