Joe watched the body wrapped in a dark green tarp being carefully lifted from the grave by the forensic team.
"Thanks for coming, Quinn." Detective Christy Lollack was walking toward him. "I know it's not your case but I needed you. This is a weird one."
"What's weird about it?"
"Look at her." She moved toward the stretcher where the corpse had been placed. "The kids who found her nearly threw up."
He followed her and watched as she drew back the tarp.
There was no face. Only a skull remained. Yet from the neck down the cadaver was only slightly decayed and intact.
"It appears someone didn't want her identified." He looked down at her hands. "He bungled it. He should have taken the hands. We'll be able to get a fingerprint match right away. DNA will take longer, but that will--"
"Look closer. Her fingertips are burned," Christy interrupted. "No prints. Trevor warned me there might not be any."
"Some Scotland Yard inspector. Mark Trevor. He sent an e-mail to the department after he read about the Dorothy Millbruk case in Birmingham and the captain dumped it in my lap. He stated he sent the same e-mail to most of the cities in the Southeast warning them that the perpetrator might be heading into their jurisdictions."
Millbruk . . . It had been a sensational homicide of a prostitute that had taken place four months ago. Joe mentally went over the details he remembered. "The Millbruk case was no connection. It didn't have the same MO. The woman was burned to death and left in a trash disposal."
"But she didn't have a face by the time the fire got through with her."
"No attempt was made to keep the Birmingham police from finding out who she was. They were still able to check prints." He shook his head. "Not the same killer, Christy."
"I'm glad you're so sure" she said sarcastically. "Because I'm not. I don't like this. What if he didn't want us to make a connection? What if he peeled her face off to slow us down so that we wouldn't know he'd moved into the area?"
"Possible." His gaze narrowed on her face. "What do you want from me, Christy? It's not like you to ask for help."
"As soon as forensics gets through with her, I want you to take the skull to Eve to find out what that woman looked like. I don't want to wait until I find out who she is."
It was the answer he'd expected. It wasn't the first time he'd been asked to be a go-between the department and Eve. She was probably the best forensic sculptor in the world and the captain wasn't about to ignore a valuable asset. He shook his head. "No way. She's backlogged and working her ass off right now. I'm not loading anything else on her."
"We need to know, Joe."
"And I don't want her wearing herself out."
"For God's sake, do you think I'd ask you to do this if I didn't think it was urgent? I like Eve. I've known her and Jane for almost as long as I've known you. I'm scared. It's necessary, dammit."
"Because of some nebulous tip from Scotland Yard? What the hell do they have to do with this?"
"Two cases in London. One in Liverpool. One in Brighton. They never caught the killer and they believe he moved from the U.K. to the U.S. three years ago."
"Then they can wait for ID or Eve to get out from under."
Christy shook her head. "Come back to my car and I'll pull up Trevor's e-mail."
"It's not going to change my mind."
"It might." She headed for her car.
He hesitated and then followed her. She opened her laptop and accessed the e-mail.
"There it is. Read it and do what you like." She turned away. "I've got work to finish up here."
He scanned the letter and report and then flipped to the victim's page.
He stiffened with shock. "Holy shit!"
She couldn't breathe.
She would not die, she thought fiercely. She hadn't come this far to lie forever in darkness. She was too young. She had too many things to do and see and be.
Another turn and still no light at the end of the tunnel.
Maybe there was no end.
Maybe this was the end.
It was so hot and there was no air.
She could feel a scream of panic rising in her throat.
Don't give in. Panic was for cowards and she'd never been a coward.
But dear God, it was hot. She couldn't bear--
"Jane." She was being shaken. "For God's sake, wake up, baby. It's only a dream."
Not a dream.
"Dammit, wake up. You're scaring me."
Eve. Mustn't scare Eve. Maybe it was a dream if she said so. She forced her lids open and looked up into Eve's worried face.
The worried frown was replaced by relief. "Whew, that must have been a doozy of a nightmare." Eve's hand stroked Jane's hair back from her face. "Your bedroom door was closed and I still heard you groaning. Okay, now?"
"Fine." She moistened her lips. "Sorry I bothered you." Her heartbeat was steadying and the darkness was gone. Maybe it wouldn't come back. Even if it did, she had to make sure it didn't disturb Eve. "Go back to bed."
"I wasn't in bed. I was working." She turned on the bedside lamp and then grimaced as she looked down at her hands. "And I didn't wipe the clay from my hands before I came in here. You probably have bits of it in your hair."
"That's okay. I have to wash it in the morning anyway. I want to look good for my driver's license photo."
She sighed resignedly. "I told you yesterday that I'd need you or Joe to take me."
"I forgot." She smiled. "Maybe I'm in denial. Getting your first driver's license is sort of a rite of passage. It could be I don't want you to be that independent."
"Yes, you do." She met her gaze. "Ever since we've been together you've made sure that I could take care of myself in every way. You've done everything from giving me karate lessons to having Sarah train Toby as a guard dog. So don't tell me that you don't want me to be independent."
"Well, not independent enough to walk away from Joe and me."
"I'll never do that." She sat up in bed and gave her a quick, awkward kiss. Even after all these years, loving gestures were difficult for her. "You'll have to kick me out. I know when I've got it good. So which one of you is going to take me to the Driver's License Bureau?"
"Probably Joe. I have to finish this skull right away."
"What's the urgency?"
She shrugged. "Search me. Joe brought the skull home from the precinct and asked me to make it top priority. He said it had to do with linking a group of homicides."
Jane was silent a moment. "A kid?"
Eve shook her head. "A woman." Her eyes narrowed on Jane's face. "You thought it might be Bonnie?"
Jane always thought it might be Bonnie, Eve's daughter who had been murdered when she was seven and whose body had never been found. The tragedy had been the impetus that had made Eve study to become a forensic sculptor to identify murder victims and bring closure to other grieving parents. The search for Bonnie and her passion for her career still dominated her life. She shook her head. "If you suspected it was Bonnie's skull you were working on, you wouldn't have even heard my stupid caterwauling." She held up her hand as Eve opened her lips. "I know. I know. You don't love me less than you did Bonnie. It's just different. I've known that all along. From the beginning. She was your child and we're more . . . friends. And that's okay with me." She settled back in bed. "Now, you go back to work and I'll go back to sleep. Thanks for coming in and waking me. Good night, Eve."
Eve didn't answer for a moment. "What was your nightmare about?"
Heat. Panic. Darkness. A night without air or hope. No, there had been hope. . . .
"I don't remember. Has Toby come back yet?"
"Not yet. I'm not sure it's a good idea to let him out at night. He's half wolf."
"That's why I let him roam. Now that he's grown, he has to have more freedom. He has too much golden retriever to be really dangerous to anything but squirrels. Probably not even them. He caught one once and all he wanted to do was play with it." She yawned. "Sarah said it was okay, but I'll stop him if you say the word."
"No, I guess not. Sarah should know." Sarah Logan was Eve's good friend as well as the canine search-and-rescue specialist who had given Toby to Jane. "Just keep an eye on him."
"I will. I'm responsible for him. You know I won't let you down."
"You never have." She stood up. "And we'll have a little celebration when you come home from getting your license."
Jane smiled slyly. "You going to bake a cake?"
"Don't be ugly. I'm not that bad a cook. It would serve you right if I did." She grinned as she headed for the door. "I'll have Joe stop at Dairy Queen and pick up an ice cream cake on the way home."
"Much more sensible."
Eve glanced at her over her shoulder and her expression became troubled. "Maybe too sensible. I wonder if we've made you a little too responsible, Jane."
"Don't be silly." She closed her eyes. "Some people are born responsible. Some people are born to be butterflies. You had nothing to do with it. For Pete's sake, you're not even my mother. Good night, Eve."
"Well, I guess I've been told," Eve murmured. Her gaze was caught by a sketch lying on the window seat. It was a picture of Toby sleeping on his bed by the fireplace. "That's very good. You're getting better all the time."
"Yes, I am. I'm not going to be a Rembrandt but genius isn't what it's cracked up to be. I've always thought being driven by art was for the birds. I want to be in control of any career I choose." She smiled. "Like you, Eve."
"I'm not always in control." She looked from the sketch to Jane. "And I thought you wanted to be a search-and-rescue worker like Sarah."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I guess I'm waiting for a career to choose me."
"Well, you have plenty of time to make up your mind. Although your attitude is a little surprising. You usually know exactly what you're going to do."
"Not always." She smiled impishly. "Maybe it's my adolescent hormones getting in the way."
Eve chuckled. "I doubt it. I can't see you letting anything stand in your way." She opened the door. "Good night, Jane."
"And don't work much longer. You've been pulling too many late nights in the last couple weeks."
"Tell that to Joe. He really wants this reconstruction."
"That's weird. He's always the one who tries to make you get more rest." Her lips tightened. "Don't worry, I'll tell him. Someone's got to look out for you."
Eve smiled as she opened the door. "I'm not worrying. Not with you in my corner."
"Joe's in your corner, too. But he's a guy and they're different. Sometimes things get in the way of their thinking."
"Very profound observation. You must repeat it to Joe."
"I will. He can take it and he likes me to be up-front with him."
"Well, you're certainly that," Eve murmured as she left the room.
Eve's smile faded as she closed the bedroom door behind her. Jane's remarks had been typical of her; fierce, protective, and far beyond her years. Eve had gone into the room to comfort and Jane had given her comfort instead.
"Something wrong?" Joe was standing in the doorway of their bedroom. "Is Jane okay?"
"A nightmare." Eve moved down the hall toward her studio. "But she's not talking about it. She probably thinks nightmares are a sign of weakness and heaven forbid she show any weakness."
"Like someone else I know." Joe followed her. "Want some coffee? I could use a cup right now."
She nodded. "Sounds good." She went back to stand before her easel. "Can you go to the Driver's License Bureau with her tomorrow?"
"Sure. I'd planned on it."
"I forgot." She grimaced. "You're a better parent than I am, Joe."
"You've been working your ass off." He measured coffee into the coffeemaker. "And that's my fault. Besides, Jane never wanted parents when she came to us. She wasn't Orphan Annie. Hell, she may have been only ten, but she was as street smart as a woman of thirty. We've done the best we could to give her a good home."
"But I wanted her to--" She stared blindly at the model. "She's seventeen, Joe. Do you know I've never heard her talk about going out on a date or to the prom or even a football game? She studies, she plays with Toby, and she sketches. It's not enough."
"She has friends. She stayed the night at Patty's last week."
"And how often does that happen?"
"I think she's very well balanced considering her background. You're worrying too much."
"Maybe I should have been worrying before this. It's just that she's always acted so mature that I forget that she's just a kid."
"No, you didn't forget. You just recognize that the two of you are as alike as two peas in a pod. How many proms did you go to when you were a teenager?"
"Yeah, you had a drug addict for a mother instead of growing up in a dozen foster homes."
She made a face. "Okay, so we both had it tough when we were kids, but I wanted something better for Jane."
"But Jane has to want it too. She probably thinks proms are pretty silly. Can you see her in a frilly dress, getting into one of those stretch limos the kids hire these days?"
"She'd be beautiful."
"She is beautiful," Joe said. "And she's strong and smart and I'd want her behind me if I was ever in a tight corner. But she's not frilly, Eve." He poured her a cup of coffee and brought it to her. "So stop trying to force her into the role."
"As if I could. No one forces Jane to do anything she doesn't want to do." She sipped the coffee and then grimaced. "You made it strong enough. You really want to keep me awake to finish this skull, don't you?"
I agree she looks like Jane might in ten years or so." Joe studied the reconstruction. "I was hoping to hell she wouldn't."
"Because this woman looks like Jane and she was murdered." She folded her arms across her chest to ward off the chill. "And you knew what I'd find when I finished this reconstruction. You knew that it would be Jane."
"For God's sake, it's not as if I was trying to keep it from you any longer than I had to," he said roughly. "I did what I had to do." He took the drop cloth on the worktable and threw it over the skull. "Now it's done and we know."
"We don't know anything. At least, I don't." She whirled and went over to the sink and started to wash the clay from her hands. They were shaking. Don't panic. It couldn't happen again. Not twice. Not after Bonnie. "But I'm going to know, Joe. I'm going to know everything. You tell me what's happening."
"I'll tell you what I know now. We'll find out the rest. I promise, Eve." He went across the room to the coffee table and opened his laptop. "The woman was found in a shallow grave outside Calhoun. Her fingers were burned and her face was just a skull. The rest of the body was intact. Christy said that she'd been warned by Scotland Yard that the perpetrator might be moving into this area after allegedly killing a woman in Birmingham."
"It's not exactly the same MO. The woman was burned to death. And no real attempt was made to hide her identity. Except her face was destroyed." He pulled up the case history. "She was a prostitute and an illegal alien and they didn't find a snapshot until a few weeks later when the story was on page five. I had to dig to find it." He swiveled the laptop around toward Eve. "Not as close, but the resemblance is there."
Thinner, lips not as firm, skin not glowing with youth but similar features.
"What is this?" Eve whispered.
He didn't answer, but brought up another screen. "Inspector Mark Trevor's e-mail. Four victims from the U.K."
She knew what she'd see but it still came as a shock. "They all look like Jane."
"Not entirely. They're not identical, but close enough to be sisters."
And they were all dead. She moistened her lips. "Same serial killer?"
He nodded. "In every case he destroyed the face. By fire, by peeling it off, once it was done by some undetermined chemical."
"To hide their identity?"
"That didn't seem the purpose except in the last case."
She drew a shaky breath. "Then he did it because he hated the way they looked. And that's why he's targeting them."
"It seems the logical conclusion."
"Logical? I don't feel logical. I'm scared to death." Her voice was uneven. "Calhoun is just down the highway and if he peeled off her fingerprints he was trying to make it look like the work of a different killer, with a different MO. He didn't want anyone to know he was in this area. Why?"
"Maybe he didn't want the women in this city to be on the alert."
"But not all of them have Jane's face." Her hands clenched into fists. "And that's what that crazy is looking for. He's trying to destroy everyone who looks like Jane."
"He doesn't know about Jane."
"Then someone who looks like an old girlfriend or his mother. Someone with Jane's face."
"It would follow the serial killer profile."
"Oh, yes, I know all about those profiles," she said jerkily. "I did a lot of studying after Bonnie was murdered, until I almost drowned in them. Well, he's not going to substitute Jane in any of his sicko fantasies. That's not going to happen again."
"No, it's not," Joe said quietly. "I won't let it. Do you think you're the only one who cares about Jane?"
No, of course he loved Jane. But he hadn't lost a daughter. He didn't know the constant terror of it happening again.
"I know." Joe was studying her expression. "You should realize I know how you're feeling. Who knows you better?"
No one. And she wasn't being fair. Fear was clouding her judgment. "I'm sorry. You're as worried as I am. Now what do we do?"
"Contact Trevor and find out all we can about what they know about this creep. His e-mail was scanty at best. I called his cell phone at three this afternoon and got his voice mail. I told him to call me back." He glanced at his watch. "It's after midnight. We may not hear from him for a few hours. It's only five a.m. there."
"Call him again. I don't care if we wake him up."
He nodded. "And we do need to know how they knew the killer moved across the Atlantic if they couldn't put a name to him. The Yard has to have some theories if they've been working on this case for the last three years. We have to know reasons before we can anticipate his movements."
"They only have to look at those photos to know why he's doing this." But she didn't want to look at those photos any longer. They frightened her too much. She turned away. "I'm going to check on Jane."
"She's okay, Eve. We're right here in the next room."
"That's probably what those parents of that little girl in California said before that murderer came into their home and took her."
"Jane's not a little girl. She's a tough, smart kid and anyone who messes with her had better look out."
"No one's going to mess with her. No one's going to hurt her," she said fiercely. "I'm not going to let that happen. Not again. You just call that Trevor and pump him dry. We're going to find that bastard before he finds Jane."
Joe had hung up the phone and was pouring coffee from a freshly brewed pot when she came back in the room. "Okay?"
She frowned. "No, she was having another nightmare. I got her a glass of water and talked to her for a few minutes."
"Did she tell you about it?"
She shook her head. "She said it was probably indigestion from too much of that ice cream cake after dinner."
"Well, at least she didn't blame my steaks." Joe handed her the cup and poured one for himself. "Did she settle down?"
"Yes, or pretended she did." She sat down on the couch and glanced down at his notepad. "I gather you got through to Trevor?"
"Actually, he called me back before I started placing the call.
He said he was an early riser and thought since I sounded so urgent
that he'd take a chance on reaching me."
"What did he tell you?"
"Not much. He said that they'd virtually come up with nothing in all these years. That they had no idea of the identity of the killer."
"Then how did they track him here?"
"By following a trail of murders with the same MOs. He said he knew that killings like these were a compulsion that wouldn't stop and there were no more reports in the U.K. . . . So he started monitoring the killings in Europe and on this side of the Atlantic."
"Then he has to know more than we do. Couldn't you get him to talk?"
"I did most of the talking. He zeroed in on Ruth and wouldn't let go. He was very interested in the fact that her fingerprints were obscured."
"You told him about Jane?"
"No, I told him I wanted a complete report on all the victims sent to me immediately."
"Good. When can we expect it?"
"One-thirty this afternoon. He's bringing it himself."
"He's catching the first flight from London. He wants to be here on the scene. He offered his assistance."
"We don't need Scotland Yard."
"But we may need Trevor." He stared thoughtfully down into the coffee. "I caught something in his . . . I think this case may be an obsession with him. Sometimes it happens that way when you devote years to trying to find a killer."
" 'Years' is the key word. Why hasn't Trevor found him before this? Before he came to the U.S.? Before he became a danger to Jane, dammit?"
"I'm sure you'll ask him," Joe said. "As soon as he walks through that door." He took a final swallow of coffee and set his cup down on the coffee table. "But in the meantime I'm going to take that reconstruction back to the precinct and see if we can find out who Ruth is and set the wheels in motion to track down who she might have been with in the days before her death."
"It's nearly four in the morning, Joe."
"I couldn't sleep." He got to his feet. "I called and arranged for a police car to set up a stakeout to watch the cottage. They should be here soon."
"Jane will wonder why they're here when she gets up."
"Then you'll have to think of an explanation. Because they're staying here when I'm not around."
"I'm not arguing. I want all the protection I can get for her." She took her cup and Joe's to the sink. "It was just an observation. And I won't lie. She wouldn't forgive me for not being honest with her." Her lips twisted ruefully. "And she'll probably think I'm stupid for being so terrified. She's braver than I am."
"She only has different experiences." He kissed her lightly on the lips and headed for the door. "No one has more guts than you do."
He glanced over his shoulder and saw her weary expression. He muttered a curse, turned on his heel and came back to her. He gave her a kiss that was definitely not light. It was hard and passionate and completely dizzying. She found her arms sliding around him, pulling him closer.
He lifted his head. "No one has more guts or endurance or beauty and don't you ever forget it." He stepped back. "I'll try to get back in a few hours, but if I don't, I'll be here to lay this Scotland Yard whizbang at your feet this afternoon."
"Okay," she whispered. She didn't want him to go. She wanted to go to bed and forget Ruth and the danger to Jane and everything but the raw, wonderful sex that always bridged every abyss that threatened them.
"Me, too." As usual, Joe had read her thoughts. He touched her lips with his forefinger. "Double. Say the word and I'll call the squad car and say I'm staying here for a few more hours. I probably won't be able to find out much at this hour anyway. I can leave at six."
Her arms tightened around him. Joe . . . He was strength and life, and, Jesus, she needed him.
"Call them," she whispered. "Six is soon enough."
Trevor hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. "That was Quinn. I think he was impressed to find we start work early over here. I leave for Atlanta at nine."
Bartlett smiled. "You said you'd get him. Do you want me to go with you?"
"Not now." He got up and headed for the closet. "I'll call you if I need you. Dig out that file on Quinn and Eve Duncan for me while I pack. I've got to be prepared for them. I need to know them inside out."
Bartlett had already retrieved the file and was glancing through it. "You may have a problem. They're both pretty complicated. Eve Duncan grew up in the slums with a drug addict for a mother. She had an illegitimate daughter as a teenager and it turned her life around. She went to college and worked at straightening out her mother. Her daughter, Bonnie, was taken and presumably killed by a serial killer when she was seven. The body was never found. It was thought that Bonnie was recovered a few years ago, but it was discovered later that it was another child."
"Born of privileged parents and was an FBI agent for a while before becoming a detective for the ATLPD. He owns a lake cottage and extensive acreage near Atlanta. That's where Quinn and Duncan live." He glanced up at Trevor. "He's tough and smart and tenacious as a bulldog."
"Eve Duncan. No doubt about it. He's been with her from the time of her daughter's death and he may have stayed in Atlanta instead of continuing with the FBI to be near her."
"A button to push."
"Not unless you want to set off a chain explosion."
"Sometimes explosions are necessary." Trevor smiled recklessly.
"I'll risk it."
"You always do." Bartlett's smile faded. "They're tough. Both of them. Be careful that explosion doesn't take you out."
Trevor snapped his suitcase shut. "Why, Bartlett, I believe you're worried about me."
"Nonsense. I'm just too lazy to look for a new contact. Are you taking this file with you?"
"Not if you've covered the high points." He set the suitcase on a chair. "I'll just glance at the MacGuire file while you go downstairs and hail me a taxi."
"Again? You should have it memorized by now. There's not much there. Jane MacGuire's only seventeen, grew up in foster homes, and she's been with Duncan and Quinn since she was ten. She's an honor student and never been in trouble. But she's too young to have much experience or history."
"I disagree. Look at her face. She's young, but there's a world of experience in that face. And he'll see it. It will draw him like a magnet." He gazed down at the face of the girl staring boldly out of the photo. "The taxi, Bartlett."
Trevor barely heard the door close behind him. Excitement was soaring through him and he had to suppress it. He had to think coolly and clearly if he was to win this battle. And he would win it, dammit.
His finger delicately touched the cheek of the girl in the photo. She was close. Remarkably, marvelously, close.
"Close enough, Aldo?" he murmured. "Cira?"
"Ruth really looked like me?" Jane gazed in disappointment at the empty pedestal. "I wish I could have seen the reconstruction before Joe whisked it away. May I go down to the precinct and take a --- "
"No, you may not," Eve said firmly. "You can see the photograph. You're sticking close to home for a while."
"Because of that creep?" She shook her head. "I'll stick around here today but I've got a trigonometry test scheduled for Monday and I'm not going to let him stop me from taking it." She went to the doorway and gazed at the patrol car parked down the road. "He'd be crazy to make a move when he can see Joe has me under surveillance."
"He is crazy," Eve said. "Nothing could be clearer. No one goes around killing women just because they remind him of someone else unless they're nuts. So your argument doesn't hold water. And that test isn't worth any risk."
Jane turned to look at her. "You're really scared."
"You're damn right I am. I'm not having anything happen to you even if I have to tie you to your bed."
Jane studied her expression. "You're remembering Bonnie. I'm not Bonnie, Eve. I'm not an innocent little girl who can be lured to her death. I intend to have a long, good life and I'll go for the jugular of anyone who tries to take that away from me."
"You may not get the chance. This man has killed at least six women that we know about. All of them older and more experienced than you."
"And they probably weren't suspecting anything. I'll be suspicious of everyone." She smiled. "You know I'm not the most trusting person in the world."
"Thank God." Eve drew a deep breath. "I'm scared, Jane. Don't make me more scared by defying this monster. Please."
Jane frowned. "I hate letting him keep me from doing what I need to do. Bastards like him shouldn't be able to control us."
"Please," Eve repeated.
Jane sighed. "Okay. If you're really going to worry."
"I am going to worry. Count on it. Thank you."
Jane's eyes twinkled. "Come on, I didn't have much choice. You threatened to tie me down."
Eve smiled. "Only as a last resort."
"How long do you think it's going to take to catch him?"
Eve's smile faded. "I don't know. Soon, I hope."
"I'm not going to hide forever, Eve." She glanced back at the patrol car. "Do you believe in fate?"
"Sometimes. Most of the time I think we're in control of our own destiny."
"So do I. But this is a funny coincidence, isn't it? First Bonnie and then me. What do you think the odds are that you'd be faced with this kind of situation again?"
"Astronomical. But I am."
"Then maybe . . ." She paused, working her way through it. "If there is some kind of fate, this might be a second chance."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe it's like . . . a circle and comes around again and again if it goes wrong the first time."
"You're getting too deep for me. I don't know what the devil you're talking about."
Jane shook her head as if to clear it. "Me, either. It just occurred to me that --- " She started for the door. "All that thinking is giving me a headache. Let's go for a walk."
"I have to be back in time to meet with Trevor." She glanced at her watch. "An hour."
"I don't think he'll leave if you're not on the doorstep. From what you said he wants to cooperate. Besides, he's probably one of those proper, methodical, slow-moving types."
"Just because he's Scotland Yard? They're very efficient, from what I hear."
"They didn't catch Jack the Ripper, did they? Joe would have caught him. He thinks out of the box." She nudged Toby with her foot as she started down the steps. "Come on, lazy. Just because you like to run at night is no reason you get to sleep all day."
Toby yawned and then got to his feet.
"You know those policemen in the car will be trailing us," Eve said as she followed Jane down the steps.
"The exercise will do them good." Jane smiled at Eve over her shoulder. "And it will do you good, too. You've been stuck in the house working on Ruth for days. You need fresh air and a change of scene. The sun's shining and there's not a cloud in the sky."
She was wrong, Eve thought. There was a terrible, dark cloud hovering over them. But Jane's expression was radiant, bold and without fear. Eve felt her own spirits lift as she looked at her. "You're right. It's a great day for a walk." She caught up with her. "But just to the head of the lake. Trevor may not be that eager to see me, but, stiff and proper or not, I'm damn interested in meeting him."
Ms. Duncan? I'm Mark Trevor." He rose to meet her as she came into the cottage. "I'm delighted to meet you." He gestured to Joe, who was standing at the kitchen bar, before moving across the room with hand extended. "Quinn was telling me what a magnificent reconstruction you did. I can't wait to see it."
"You'll have to go down to the precinct. Joe took it in this morning. I didn't even get a chance to take any photos." He had a firm, hard handshake and as he met her eyes, she felt a ripple of shock.
Trevor was obviously courteous but that was as far as Jane's description applied. He couldn't have been more than thirty, was dressed in jeans and olive sweatshirt, and was tall, broad shouldered, and muscular. Every ounce of his body appeared charged with energy. Short, curly dark hair framed an amazingly good looking face dominated by dark eyes that shone with interest and intelligence. His smile exuded a charisma that warmed and flattered at the same time. Good God, he looked more like a male model or actor than a policeman.
"I've already asked him for permission to take a look." Trevor took the cup of coffee Joe handed him. "We have our own forensic sculptors that work with us at the Yard and I'm a great fan. They've done some amazing reconstructions."
"So I've heard." Joe handed Eve her cup. "Where's Jane?"
"Playing with Toby. She'll be along. She was right behind me." Her gaze went to the briefcase on the coffee table. "Case histories?"
Trevor nodded. "But I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. As I told Quinn on the phone, we have nothing concrete." He unfastened the briefcase. "The killings appeared to be random and we didn't make the similar facial connection until he'd moved out of the U.K. . . ." He sat down on the couch. "But please help yourself. You can keep these records if you like. They're copies."
"You have to have found out something," Eve said. "In this age of DNA no crime scene is sterile."
"Oh, we have fiber and DNA, but we have to have a suspect for comparison."
"Witnesses?" Joe asked.
Trevor shook his head. "One night the victims were alive, the next day they were dead. No one saw them with anyone suspicious. Aldo obviously saw them, stalked them, and then moved in when it was safe for him."
Eve stiffened. "Aldo? You have his name?"
Trevor shook his head. "Sorry. I didn't mean to raise your hopes. Aldo is only my name for him. I made it up because after all these years of tracking I couldn't think of him on an impersonal level."
He shrugged. "Why not?"
"I don't care what you call the bastard," Joe said. "I just want to nail him. The woman in Birmingham was burned to death and the medical examiner says that there are signs that Ruth was smothered. No similarity." He gestured to the files. "What about these women?"
"Jean Gaskin was smothered. Ellen Carter was burned to death. He seems to be fond of those two means of killing his targets." He took a sip of coffee. "However, he doesn't limit himself. Julia Brandon died of a lethal poison gas she inhaled."
"Presumably forced to inhale. Unusual."
"Yes." He nodded. "And Peggy Knowles, the woman from Brighton, had water in her lungs. She was drowned." He set his cup down on the coffee table. "Aldo's never in a hurry. He allows himself the time to make his kills in the way he's planned."
"Can't you identify who he's trying to punish by killing these women? Records? Databases?"
"It would be a needle in a haystack, Eve," Joe said.
Trevor nodded. "And unfortunately we don't have any technology that sophisticated. We have no central photographic database. However, we did make the attempt to check all our records and came up with nothing." He paused, his eyes sliding to the window before he brought his attention back to Eve. "However, I have a theory that even if the odds weren't so huge we might not have been able to find him in our records."
"When I was digging for information after the last killing in Brighton, I found records of a killing in Italy and one in Spain before the first murder in London. Both women smothered, both with faces destroyed."
"Christ, we can't even narrow down his country of origin?" Joe asked in disgust. "What about Interpol?"
Trevor shook his head. "Do you think I haven't scanned every bit of info during these last years? If he did kill other women, there's no record I could find."
"And he didn't leave any calling cards as some serial killers do?"
Trevor was silent a moment. "Well, yes, he did."
"What? Why the hell didn't you tell us that to begin with?"
"I thought you might already know." He turned to Joe. "Haven't you received your forensic report on your Jane Doe?"
"Not everything. It's coming in bits and pieces."
"Then they haven't analyzed the ashes yet?"
"Ashes," Eve echoed.
"They found ashes with Ruth's body," Joe said. "We thought it might be evidence she was killed in the woods and the campfire was --- "
"Not wood ashes," Trevor said. "And no cozy little campfire. The report will come back volcanic ash."
"Shit." Joe started to dial his phone. "You're sure?"
"Quite sure. Particles of volcanic ash were found with every body. Your Birmingham police were understandably negligent in having the ashes analyzed in a case where the victim burned to death. They'd naturally assume any ashes were produced by the fire itself."
"Then why didn't you notify them?"
"I'm notifying you now. It's your case." He rose to his feet and moved swiftly toward the window. "Hadn't you better check on her?"
Eve was suddenly aware of Trevor's tension. The easy composure was gone and he was alert, restless, totally focused. She stiffened as she remembered how his gaze had slid to the window moments before. "Jane?"
He nodded curtly. "You said she was right behind you."
She glanced at Joe.
He shook his head and hung up the phone. "I didn't discuss her with him."
Trevor stiffened, his gaze narrowing. "There she is." He turned to Eve. "You shouldn't have left her alone."
"If you'll look a few yards behind her, you'll see that she's not alone." Eve went to stand beside him at the window. Jane was coming up the path with Toby at her heels and the two policemen trying to keep up with her. "I'd never leave her without protection." Her voice was cold. "You can never tell who you can trust in this world. How did you know about Jane?"
He turned to look at her. "I'm sorry. Of course you'd protect her. I spoke impulsively."
"How did you know about Jane?" she repeated.
"Your suspicions are very healthy. I approve. But I'm the last person you should be concerned about. To make sure that she's safe is the reason I'm here." He reached into his wallet and pulled out a creased and faded newspaper clipping. "I've had my assistant scanning all the major city newspapers for some time and lo and behold he came up with this photo of Jane MacGuire."
Eve recognized the photo. It had been taken when Jane had entered Toby in a charity dog show for the Humane Society three months ago. It was a little blurred but Jane's face was clear. Terror iced through Eve.
"He may not have seen it." Trevor was reading her expression.
"I don't know how he picks his victims. Some have to be random. The Millbruk woman in Birmingham. Peggy Knowles in Brighton. She was a prostitute, too. Neither of them had their photos in the newspaper."
"And the others?"
"One had just won a gardening award a week before."
"So he does look at the newspapers."
"Possibly. But he can't be sure of finding his victims by reading the newspapers and, if they were a source, he'd have to limit himself to certain areas because of the sheer magnitude of the task. I'd say he has some other way of targeting."
"Another theory?" She was chilled. "You found her, dammit."
"But the chances were against it. I was really having my colleague
Bartlett doing routine checks to see what he could come up with."
"And you came up with Jane." Joe took the photo from Eve.
"And it's too damn clear. Why didn't you notify me if you thought she was in danger?"
"The e-mail," he reminded him.
"Damn the e-mail. You should have been specific."
"I didn't even know he was in your area until the Millbruk murder and that was two months after this photo was taken. And if he'd seen this photo, it wasn't likely that he'd waste time and effort on any other target. He'd have come straight to her."
"Look at her." Trevor's gaze went to the photo. "She's so vibrant she almost jumps out of the picture. When you compare her to the other victims, they're like counterfeits compared to the real thing."
"All the more reason why you should have let us know."
"There might have been no threat to her."
"You bastard, we should have been told."
"I assure you we've been keeping an eye on her. The moment I saw this photo, I sent Bartlett here to watch her. But I'm sure I would have felt the same way if I were in your shoes."
"You don't know how we would have felt," Eve said fiercely. "You cold son of a bitch. I don't care if you catch your killer. I want to keep Jane safe."
"So do I." He met her gaze. "There's nothing I want more. Believe me."
She did believe him. There could be no doubting either his sincerity or the intensity of his feeling. It didn't lessen her anger.
"And do you mean you've been spying on us without --- "
"I think your policemen are afraid of Toby, Joe." Jane was laughing as she came into the room. "He growled when they came too close behind me and they stopped so short they almost got whiplash. You'd think they'd realize Toby is --- " She stopped as her glance went from Eve to Trevor. She gave a low whistle. "Do I sense a rift in Anglo-American relations?"
Trevor smiled. "Not on my part. I'm solidly in your camp. You're Jane MacGuire, aren't you? I'm Mark Trevor."
Jane was silent, staring at him. "Hello. You're not what I expected."
"You're everything I expected." He crossed the room and took her hand. "And more."
Jane was gazing at him in fascination and Eve could understand why. She had felt the same response to that smile and charisma when she'd first seen him. But that was before she'd realized how cool and ruthless he could be. In the space of minutes he'd changed from an ally into an adversary. She had an impulse to run across the room and jerk Jane away from him. "Mr. Trevor was just leaving."
Trevor didn't look away from Jane. "Yes, I'm afraid I've put myself in their bad books. I blew it." He smiled ruefully. "I was skimming along famously and then I got worried they weren't taking proper care of you and I opened my mouth and let all my hard work go up in smoke."
"What hard work?"
"I want you to explain." She gazed directly into his eyes. "You've been trying to catch that murderer. What have you been doing and how does it affect me?"
He chuckled. "I should have known you'd be like this. You're a delight."
"And you're bullshitting me."
"I'm not, you know." His smile faded. "You want the truth? You're a target and I've known for some time that there was the possibility that you might be under the gun. I watched and waited. And Ms. Duncan and Quinn quite rightly are outraged that I didn't immediately surround you with all the protection you deserve."
"Yes, we are," Eve said. "Because I can think of only one reason why you'd wait. If you had her watched, then you may have wanted to set her up as bait."
"The possibility occurred to me." He looked back at Jane. "But I would never have let anything happen to you. No one's going to hurt you. I promise."
"Which means zilch," Jane said. "I'm responsible for what happens to me. Not you or Eve or Joe. I take care of myself. I don't care if you played some kind of game to trap that creep. As long as you didn't hurt anyone I care about." She took a step back. "But I think you'd better leave now. You've upset Eve."
His brows lifted. "And that's a sin, I take it."
"Yes, it is." She gestured to the door. "Good-bye, Mr. Trevor. If you can catch that creep, good luck to you. But don't come back unless you have a darned good reason."
"And don't upset Eve."
"You've got it." She turned to Joe. "It's suppertime. Do you want me to warm up those leftovers from the steaks you grilled last night?"
"I appear to be dismissed." Trevor smiled and headed for the door. "I'll be in touch, Quinn."
Joe nodded curtly. "Like she said, you better have a good reason."
"The very best. I won't darken your door until I do," Trevor said. "May I commandeer one of your policemen to take me to town?"
Joe nodded again. "He'll drop you at a hotel." He paused. "Or the airport."
Trevor gave a mock shiver. "The welcome mat has definitely been yanked. I can only hope that I can reinstate myself in your good graces."
"You were never in them," Eve said. "We don't know you and now we don't trust you."
He paused at the door. "You can trust me," he said quietly. "If you searched the world over, you wouldn't find anyone who wants to keep Jane safe more than I do." He reached in his pocket, pulled out a card, and placed it on the table by the door. "That's for you, Jane. My cell number. If you need anything, call me. I'll be there for you." The door closed behind him.
"Whew." Jane went to the window and watched him as he moved toward the police car. "He's definitely not stuffy or slow moving, is he?"
"No." Eve's gaze narrowed on her face. "What do you think of him?"
She glanced at Eve. "Why?"
"When you first met him, you couldn't take your eyes off him. He's very good-looking, isn't he?"
"Is he?" She frowned. "I suppose he is. I didn't really notice."
"That's hard to believe. It was pretty clear you were fascinated."
"He reminded me of someone."
"I don't remember. Someone . . ." She saw Eve's expression and she smiled. "You're worried. You think I developed a crush on him in the few minutes he was here? I don't have crushes, Eve. You know that."
Relief surged through her. She smiled. "There's always a first time. I'd be glad to see you have a crush or two. I keep hoping and waiting for a breakthrough." She shook her head. "But pick a rock star or a football player. Not him, Jane."
"Definitely not him." Joe headed for the door. "I think I'll escort him into town myself. Don't bother to heat up the steaks. I'll pick up Chinese on the way back."
Jane giggled as the door closed behind him. "He reminds me of the sheriff in a spaghetti western. Only he'd be running the outlaw out of town, not escorting him to the hotel." She moved over to the door and picked up Trevor's business card on the table. "He really upset both of you. You'd think he was attacking me instead of only doing his job."
"He should have notified us of any threat. That's what any policeman I know would have done."
"Maybe Scotland Yard is different."
"Are you defending him?"
"I suppose I am." She stuffed the card in the pocket of her jeans. "Do you remember when I was little and stole food to feed Mike when he was hiding out in that alley? I didn't want to do it. I knew it was wrong, but Mike was six years old and would have gone hungry if I hadn't found a way to feed him. Sometimes you have to do bad things to keep worse things from happening."
"It's not the same. You were only ten."
"If I couldn't find any other way, I'd do it today. Maybe that's why I understand Trevor."
"You can't understand him," Eve said curtly. "You don't know him."
"I just don't see what all the fuss is about. You told me that Joe thought he was obsessed with this case. I can see why anyone who felt that deeply would be willing to snoop around a bit and see if he could spot anyone suspicious before he let me be surrounded by cops that might scare him off."
"That's more than I can see." Eve's lips tightened grimly. "And why are you keeping his telephone number?"
"Because I believed him when he said he wanted to keep me alive." She met Eve's eyes. "Didn't you?"
Eve wanted to deny it, but it wouldn't have been honest and Jane would have known it. "Yes. But that doesn't mean I'd trust his ways and means."
Jane nodded. "I see what you mean. But sometimes you take what you can get. Trevor may be unconventional but I'd bet he's very good at what he does." She moved toward the bedroom. "Now I'm going to do my homework so that I can enjoy that Chinese food Joe is bringing home."
Eve watched the door shut behind her. Jesus, she wished Jane wasn't so damn smart. From the time she was a child she'd always known her own mind and trusted her judgments.
And her judgments were usually good, better than most adults'. That didn't mean that she was infallible. Trevor was smart and charismatic and both qualities would appeal to a teenager like Jane.
But there weren't any teenagers like Jane. She was an original and her reactions were distinctly her own.
She'd kept his telephone number, dammit.
She sighed. Who knew which way Jane would jump? She might be worrying for nothing.
After all, she'd kicked him out of the house just because he'd upset Eve.
This is the Peachtree Plaza." Joe pulled up before the front entrance.
"I made reservations for you for two days. I didn't think you'd be here any longer."
"And now you hope I won't be." Trevor got out of the car as the doorman opened the door. "My assistance is no longer required."
"I imagine I'll be able to find out all I need from those files you brought. We don't need you."
Trevor smiled. "But you've got me. And how do you know I put everything I know into those files?"
Joe's gaze narrowed on his face. "For instance."
"The volcano that produced those ashes. You'll notice the geologists couldn't come to any conclusion."
"But you know where they originated?"
"I have theories."
"Theories aren't proof."
"But they're a starting point."
"And do you have a theory about why he scatters those ashes?"
"Maybe." Trevor tipped the doorman as he grabbed his duffel. "What's certain is that we could be valuable to each other, Quinn.
And you're coming in late on a case that I've lived and breathed for years."
"Do you think I don't know you're trying to play me?" Joe said coolly. "You're dangling little morsels of information in hopes that I'll forgive all and let you edge back into the investigation. But you haven't given me anything. Zilch."
"Jane used that word too." Trevor smiled. "It's a warm and heartening thing the way families pick up words and traits from each other." He pretended to think. "You're right. I've told you nothing really. Theories are so difficult to substantiate. And you have all the time in the world to formulate your own and then investigate, don't you?" He didn't wait for a reply but turned and walked into the hotel.
Joe sat at the wheel, his gaze fixed on the door. Trevor would take a sly pleasure out of having him run after him. He'd be damned if he'd do it. Even if logic told him he should wring every bit of information Trevor possessed out of the mocking son of a bitch, he'd wait until he was certain that he couldn't get it any other way. Trevor was a force to be reckoned with and he didn't need a wild card spinning the investigation out of Joe's control.
He pressed the accelerator and glided back to the street.
Ashes from a volcano . . .
Weird. Maybe the scientists they had on this side of the Atlantic could come up with an answer. But if they did, they'd have to be damn quick. Trevor's last remark had hit the bull's-eye. They might be running out of time for Jane.
The thought sent a bolt of panic through him and tempted him to turn around and go back to Trevor. To hell with Anglo-American cooperation. There were other ways than persuasion to get information from the son of a bitch. Two could play that game. Trevor had violated his position by not informing him about the danger to ---
His phone rang and he glanced at the ID. Eve.
"I've just dropped him off," he said. "I'll be home in forty-five minutes. Everything okay?"
"No, I don't think it is." Eve's words came hard and fast. "I was sitting here going over these files and something occurred to me. I think everything may be wrong as hell."
Trevor watched Quinn's car disappear around the corner before he turned and moved toward the registration desk.
He'd done all he could. A few tantalizing tidbits and a subtle threat to someone Quinn loved. Either one might do the trick. God, he hoped it would be enough. Today hadn't been his most shining hour. He'd come here prepared to be clever and conquer on all fronts and he'd made a gigantic mistake that was impossible to cover. Maybe if Eve Duncan and Quinn had been less smart, less perceptive, he might have been able to smooth it over, but they were as formidable as Bartlett had told him. He was lucky to have gotten out of there with ---
He stopped short in the marble foyer as the realization sank home.
Perhaps not so lucky.
They were both smart and very, very perceptive. He had the experience to recognize those qualities and he'd seldom met anyone who'd filled him with more wariness.
And that experience was sending out vibrations that were triggering every instinct he possessed. He reached for his phone and dialed Bartlett. "I'm in Atlanta. Are you at the flat?"
"Get out of there. You may have company." He glanced around the lobby and then headed for the restaurant. There was almost always a street entrance to a hotel restaurant. "I blew it."
"I can't believe it." Bartlett chuckled. "All that slickness and you were knocked for six? I would have liked to have been there to see it."
"I'm sure you would," he said dryly. Yes, there was a street door at the back of the restaurant. He headed straight for it. "And I'd deserve to have you give me a hard time. Jesus, I was stupid. I behaved like a stinking amateur. I never expected to have that reaction."
Bartlett was silent a moment. "Jane MacGuire?"
"I'd been waiting too long. I got panicky even before she walked in the room."
"Panic? I've never seen you panic in any situation, you icy son of a bitch."
"Well, you would have seen it today. I was scared to death she'd be lost before I even got a chance at her. And then I saw her and I tried to mend my fences but it was too late."
"Is it her?"
"God, yes. She took my breath away. Even Aldo would be satisfied." He opened the street door and hailed a cab. "But you were right about Quinn and Eve Duncan. It's only a matter of time before they start asking the same questions I would." He settled in the cab. "I'll call you back later. Don't leave anything there. Clean as a whistle."
"You may have behaved like an ass, but I won't, and I value my efficiency. I'll do my job." He hung up.
As he should have done his, Trevor thought in disgust as the cab pulled away from the curb. But who the hell would have expected him to fall apart like that? "Hartsfield Airport," he told the driver.
He should have expected it. It had been too long and every day had seemed a century. He'd thought he was prepared but evidently you couldn't prepare yourself for something like this.
So pick up the pieces and start again.
No, not again. His clumsiness had only caused him to take a step back. Because Jane MacGuire was here, only minutes away. He'd seen her, touched her. He was ahead of the game.
He was ahead of Aldo.
Excerpted from BLIND ALLEY © Copyright 2005 by Iris Johansen. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.