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Excerpt

Excerpt

Deadly Intent The Mindhunters, Book 4

She could hear him breathing.

Icy talons of fear shredded the fabric of sleep and brought
Ellie Mulder instantly awake. Old habits had her keeping her
muscles lax, her eyes still closed as she strained to identify what
had alerted her. When she did, her blood ran as cold as the frigid
Colorado wind beating against the windows.

The sound was the same snuffle snort that warned her whenever he
was coming for her. He’d returned, just like he’d
threatened. He’d snatch her from her bed, from her house and
this time, she’d never get away. Not ever.

Her eyes snapped open, a scream lodged in her throat. The old
terrors were surging, fighting logic, fueled by memory. It took a
moment to see through the veils of the past and notice her familiar
surroundings.

She was home. In her room. In her bed. And Art Cooper
wasn’t here. He would die in prison.

A long sigh of relief shuddered out of her. The bright
illumination of the alarm clock on her bedside table said
one-eighteen A.M. The sleep scene on her computer lit the corner of
the room that held her desk. And the large aquarium on the opposite
wall was awash in a dim glow. She often ‘forgot’ to
turn it off.

The items had been chosen because of the light they afforded.
Her mom and dad had worried when she’d needed doors open and
lights blazing to go to bed at night. But they’d been happy
when she’d casually mentioned wanting a computer. Had
expressed an interest in tropical fish. Had selected things to
decorate her bedroom like the brightly lit alarm clock. Those
things were normal, the psychologist said. And Ellie knew
it was important that she seem normal. Even if it was a lie.

The slight noise sounded again and she tensed, her hand
searching for the scissors she kept on the bedside table. But even
as her fingers gripped the handle, her mind identified the sound.
It was the gurgle of water in the overflow box for the aquarium.
Not Cooper’s asthmatic breathing.

The realization relaxed her, but she didn’t replace the
scissors. She kept them clutched in her hand and brought them close
to her chest, the feel of the small weapon comforting. Learning her
daughter slept with a knife under her pillow had made her mother
cry. So Ellie pretended not to need that anymore.

She had become very good at pretending.

So good that her mom and dad had been thrilled with her new
interest in Kirigami several months ago. She’d heard the
psychologist tell them that the act of creating, of folding and
cutting paper into pretty shapes would be very therapeutic for her.
So there was never any fuss about the constant paper scraps on the
floor. Fresh supplies appeared on her desk without her ever having
to request them.

Only she knew that the new hobby was an excuse to keep a sharp
pair of scissors with her at all times. And the psychologist was
right. That part, at least, was very therapeutic.

The initial flare of panic had ebbed. She listened to the
blizzard howl outside the windows and found the noise oddly
soothing. Bit by bit she felt herself relax. Her eyelids
drooped.

She had the half formed thought that she needed to replace the
scissors before her mom came in the next morning to check on her.
But sleep was sucking her under, and her limbs were
unresponsive

It was then that he pounced.

The weight hit her body, jolting her from exhaustion back to
alarm in the span of seconds. She felt the hand clamped over her
mouth, the prick of a needle in her arm and fear lent her strength
beyond her years. Rearing up in bed, she flailed wildly, trying to
wrest away, trying to strike out. She tasted the stickiness of tape
over her lips. Felt a hood being pulled over her head.

There was a brief flare of triumph when the scissors met
something solid, and a hiss of pain sounded in her ear. But then
her hand was bent back, the weapon dropping from her fingers and
numbness started sliding over her body. She couldn’t move.
The hood prevented her from seeing. A strange buzzing filled her
head.

As she felt herself lifted and carried away, her only thought
was that she was being taken.

Again.

Kell went through the rest of the tax reports before going on to
the next set of folders in the file. No doubt his boss, Adam Raiker
already knew about the man’s marital history. It would have
been in the dossier Stephen Mulder collected on all prospective
employees. He wondered then if the man kept the records of those
prospective candidates he turned down for jobs. He made a mental
note to mention it to Raiker. They’d naturally look at anyone
Mulder had fired in the last few years, but they should look as
carefully at the ones he’d never offered a job to in the
first place. If Mulder was the target, rather than the man's
daughter, revenge might be a primary motivation for hatching this
plot.

“That’s it for the boxes.” Colorado Bureau of
Investigation Agent Travis eyed Kell. “You about done with
the files?”

“Almost.” The last few folders contained the survey
and property assessment for the house, and meticulous records of
maintenance on the man’s vehicle. The final one was thick and
contained records of investments Hubbard had with a well known
company. Kell skimmed it quickly, finding little to quibble about
in the man’s investment holdings. His portfolio showed a fair
balance between assets, if a little on the conservative side. His
own investment counselor would approve. The most current record
showed Hubbard’s holdings worth around eighty thousand. He
shoved them back inside the drawer and did a perfunctory search
beneath and behind it. His fingers slowed when they came in contact
with what felt like a plastic bag attached behind the metal backing
of the drawer.

He wrestled it out of its tracks and eased it out of the cabinet
so he could see what was secreted there. A clear Ziploc bag was
duct taped to the back metal plate. “I’ve got something
here.” He was aware of the immediate interest his words
elicited from his companions even as he gently worked the bag free
of its attachment.

Macy and Travis crowded closer as he opened the bag and
extracted the large folded paper inside it. He handed the bag to
Macy, and unfolded the pages. The three of them stared at what
appeared to be a blueprint of the security schematics of the Mulder
estate.

“Jackpot,” muttered Kell. There was no legal way for
Hubbard to have acquired copies of the blueprint specs of
Mulder’s security. Either he’d somehow gotten them from
the security company that had sold the billionaire the system or
he’d stolen them from Mulder. Either way, their presence was
incriminating.

“Let’s start bagging and tagging evidence,”
suggested Agent Travis. “We’re about done here,
aren’t we?”

“Why don’t you check out the garage first?”
Kell rose, folding the sheets and replacing them in the bag.
“That’s listed on the warrant, right? This place should
have a basement. I’ll look through that. Macy, get pictures
of every room, and especially on every piece of evidence
we’re going to be collecting. Oh, go through the garbage
first. We need to…what?” Belatedly, he noted the looks
he was getting from the other two.

“Nothing,” Macy said with that snippy little tone
that dripped with the Queen’s English. “Perhaps we
could run out and get you coffee, too.”

The suggestion had him trying, and failing to recall when
he’d last eaten. “Not a bad idea, but we really
don’t have time. We can grab a sandwich on our way back,
though.”

“You’re not running this op, Burke.”
Travis’s dry tone succeeded in distracting him from his
stomach. “I think that’s what your partner’s
trying to point out, with more subtlety than I’d
use.”

“Well, Jesus.” Mystified, he put his hands up in
surrender. “You want to check for a basement while I go
outside, I’m fine with that. And you,” he shot Macy a
look. “Go ahead and do whatever the hell it is that you want
to.”

“If I did,” she informed him as she swept by,
“you’d be bleeding.”

He made a what’d-I-do gesture to the agent, who just gave
him a smug smile as he followed her into the hallway.

“I’ll take the garage.”

“Good idea,” he muttered wondering what the hell
that had been about. Okay, so he’d been accused of being less
than diplomatic before, but someone had to take the lead. Sitting
down and negotiating who does what just wasted time and he
hadn’t been kidding about being hungry. He hadn’t eaten
since grabbing something from an all night drive through on the way
to Manassas this morning.

Mood slightly soured, he went to the drawers of the dresser to
check them more thoroughly before heading downstairs. Pretty
unlikely there’d be any more secret info taped behind or
under drawers, but it bore checking out. He’d learned the
value of thoroughness through his long years with Raiker.

Diplomacy was a lesson he’d failed to learn from his boss,
since Raiker was frequently devoid of the quality himself.

He pulled the dresser out a bit from the wall to peer behind it,
found nothing. Certain it was a waste of time, he did the same
thing to the bed so he could look behind the headboard.

“Burke.”

The voice was Macy’s, sounding closer than he’d
expected. She was still somewhere upstairs. “Yeah.”

“Come look at this.

“I will.” He moved toward the door and into the
hallway. “Without complaint, and without getting all bent out
of shape about being told what to do, I’ll willingly follow
your order. 'Cuz that’s the kind of guy I am. That’s
what teamwork is all about.”

There was no response to his gibe, which should have warned him.
But Macy was frequently silent in the face of his remarks because,
he figured, she was more used to dull lifeless guys who talked only
about stocks and the weather. Her response was often easy to read,
though, and he’d be lying if he denied taking a twisted
pleasure in making the color flare in her creamy cheeks.

But the expression on her face when he found her, crouched on
the bathroom floor, had all thoughts of teasing wiped from his
mind.

“I saw this first,” she said without preamble and
shifted slightly so he could crouch beside her. Not much bigger
than a pinhead, it was tough to identify the stain on the tile
without a magnifying glass.

“Blood?”

“I thought it could be. But I didn’t see any more
spots on the floor. So I started looking inside the tub. Check out
the hem of the shower curtain. That’s how I found it. Shut
like that.”

Interest sharpening, he pulled the curtain partly open and
looked first at the tub. It was clean. Far cleaner than it would
have been at his place if he didn’t have a twice monthly
cleaning service because --- although he was handy enough with a
vacuum and dust cloth --- bathrooms grossed him out. Even his
own.

Turning his attention to the inside of the shower curtain, he
opened it wider and stepped inside the tub wearing the shoe covers
he’d donned after taking off his boots inside the door. With
a sweep of his arm he closed the curtain again and began inspecting
it. He saw what she’d discovered at its hem, although if he
hadn’t known what he was looking for it would have taken him
longer.

Again, it would require testing to be sure but it looked like
blood. Flecks of it on the bottom seam. None on the face of the
curtain itself. None on the tile along the three interior walls.
Maybe because someone had done some deliberate cleaning. But to get
to the hem they would have had to turn up the bottom edge and
they’d been too careless or in too much of a hurry to
bother.

Her earlier mention of the neatness of the place took on new
meaning. Dread pooled in his gut. Pulling the curtain open again,
he looked at her, and saw the trepidation he was feeling mirrored
on her face. “We’d better get a call into Raiker. Tell
him to have CBI Assistant Director Whitman send the crime scene
responders over here when they’re done at Mulders.”

Raiker and CBI Assistant Director Whitman and the two CBI agents
were already in the office when Macy and Kell walked in. What
little hair Dobson had was mussed in the back. Someone already had
coffee in pots on the table with a sleeve of Styrofoam cups next to
it. Macy made a beeline for it.

“The message came in twenty minutes ago.” Whitman
looked up as more agents entered behind them. “We’ve
been monitoring the account in the duration. Dobson was on when
this came in.”

Forgetting about coffee for the moment, Macy joined the crowd
around the computer screen. But expecting to see text, she was
shocked to see a picture. She leaned forward for a better look.
“Is that video?”

“Very poor quality. This is as good as I can enhance it
without calling in the techies.” There was an underlying
thread of excitement in Dobson’s usually matter-of-fact
voice.

Poor quality was right. Macy squinted at the screen. From the
distance of the table it would have been impossible to make an
identification. But this close it was impossible to deny. The girl
on the screen was Ellie Mulder.

“Quality’s not good enough to make out the
newspaper’s date.” Whitman came up behind her.
“But that can be verified. And he’s making it easier
for us. But you can see for yourself. “

The video was less than a minute. And Macy found herself looking
at the girl more closely than she listened.

The pajamas she wore were likely the ones she’d worn the
night of the abduction. Her hair hung dull and listless. It was
obvious that she’d suffered in the duration. Her hands,
barely freed enough to hold the paper, had contusions around the
wrists. There was bruising on her face.

But her voice was strong and clear, if emotionless as she read
from the news story.

“I’ve got verification,” Pelton called from
the laptop he was manning at the conference table. For his
audience’s benefit he zoomed in on the screen.
“It’s this morning’s issue of USA Today.
And that story she’s reading from is below the fold, front
page.”

“This is good news, people,” Whitman said. Macy
wondered if he’d gone to bed at all. He was clad in the same
clothes he’d worn earlier that evening. “We can expect
the video to be quickly followed by…”

“We’ve got another message,” Dobson called out
laconically.

This time Macy hung back as Whitman and Raiker peered at the
computer. With a stab of a finger, Dobson had the email printing
out.

“Arrogant son of a bitch,” Whitman muttered.
Straightening, he made a gesture to Dobson, who passed out the
copies he’d just run.

As you can see the girl is alive for now. If you’re
smart she can be back home soon. Be at the bank tomorrow ready to
move the money at three AM. I’m sure it can be arranged.
You’ll be contacted again.

Remember her future is in your hands.

Raiker looked down at the paper in his hand again. “He
recognized that we’d require proof she was alive. This
message was primarily to deliver that. By sending it the day before
the ransom is due he’s trying to guarantee our cooperation,
while still not leaving us any way to discuss or negotiate
it.”

Assistant director Whitman looked over at Dobson, who was still
hunched over the computer. “How fast will you be able to get
the owner of the IP address?

“It’s different from the one used before, but
it’ll be lot quicker than last time, since we placed that
patch on Mr. Mulder’s email account.”

Macy noted answer didn’t seem to pacify the man.
“The sooner we have an owner the sooner I can get a warrant.
Although it’s likely he just cruised another part of time and
found another unsecured network.” His smile was grim.
“At least we know the sender is in the vicinity.”

“Agent Whitman and I have been making plans for the
payoff.” Adam eased his hips on the corner of the conference
table. “The timing of the transfer will be tricky, but with
CBI’s help we can arrange it with the bank. Whitman will have
a team equipped and ready to follow the money if it’s to be a
physical drop. If it’s electronic, I have a system in place
to try and follow the money, possibly even divert it if Ellie at
the last minute.”

“We have to find the girl before three AM tomorrow.”
Kell headed to the table for coffee, his voice grim. “Unless
Dodge has changed his specialty, she’s dead as soon as the
money gets paid.”

Because she was close enough, Macy elbowed him. Hard. The
movement jostled his arm so he spilled some of the steaming liquid
on the table.

He sent her a reproving look. But before he could speak again,
Adam put in, “Paulie Samuels put together a file on Dodge.
Given his talent for information gathering, I suspect it’s at
least as complete as any that that an individual law enforcement
entity has on him. Dodge has a particular set of skills that makes
him attractive for specific jobs, yes. But he’s honed other
skills to make the enactment of his jobs easier. He likes to stalk
his victims, so he has the patience for this sort of
task.”

Kell surprised her by handing her the first cup he’d
poured before filling another for himself. Macy sipped from it
gratefully as Raiker continued. “Some of the jobs attributed
to Dodge had him waiting inside the home of his victims, so
he’s got some talent in circumventing security. He
couldn’t have managed the patch on Mulder’s video feed
himself, and the specs he planted in Hubbard’s house also
indicate he had some help with the security. But Kell is right
about one thing. There was absolutely no reason to pay the price
for an assassin if he wasn’t going to be used in that
capacity.” He looked around the room, his visage grim.
“Ellie Mulder’s chances of being found alive plummet
drastically after the ransom is paid.”

There was the sound of a throat being cleared. But the gravity
of the prediction kept the room silent for long moments.

Whitman finally broke the quiet. “We’ve divided all
agents into teams of two or three and assigned each team a specific
task. We’re going to come at this from as many ways possible,
people. We’ve got less than twenty-four hours.”

“I’ve got one of my men on his way. He’ll go
directly to the bank Mulder will use. He and another investigator
have been working on this from headquarters for a few days.
They’ve developed a dandy little spybot to install on a
designated bank computer if this money goes
electronically.”

“Burke and Agent Travis will follow up with the dog and
trainer. Macy.” Raiker looked at her. “You’ll
want to do another threat assessment. Compare the notes, although
there’s no reason to believe they weren’t generated by
the same person.”

Macy nodded but the entire process would probably only take a
couple hours. If there was a positive match on both notes, there
was no reason to run this newest one against the written
communication samples again. The threat assessment tests always
took the longest.

And she was certain she’d discover the threat implicit in
this note just as real as in the last.

Excerpted from DEADLY INTENT: The Mindhunters, Book 4 ©
Copyright 2011 by Kylie Brant. Reprinted with permission by
Berkley. All rights reserved.

Deadly Intent The Mindhunters, Book 4
by by Kylie Brant