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Out of the Shadows

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Year:
2000
Publisher:
Bantam
Language:
english
Series:
Stealing Shadows 3
File:
EPUB, 298 KB
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Contents

SYNOPSIS

PROLOGUE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

NINE

TEN

ELEVEN

TWELVE

THIRTEEN

FOURTEEN

FIFTEEN

SIXTEEN

SEVENTEEN

EIGHTEEN

NINETEEN

TWENTY

TWENTY-ONE

EPILOGUE





SYNOPSIS




TO CATCH A KILLER, SHE MUST BREAK EVERY RULE AND CROSS EVERY LINE.



A picture-perfect Tennessee town has just become a monster's hunting ground. Two bodies are found tortured to death. A third person goes missing. What little evidence is left behind defies all explanation. Is the terror just beginning? Or have the good citizens of Gladstone harbored a dark secret for a long time?



Sheriff Miranda Knight is determined to make her small town safe once more. And she does what she swore she would never do: involve FBI profiler Noah Bishop. He's the one man who knows about her unique abilities, and that knowledge almost destroyed her and her sister years ago. Now, as Bishop arrives with his team of agents, Miranda must learn to trust him and use her abilities once more. For they're about to go on the hunt for a killer whose madness has no bounds, a killer who knows exactly how to destroy Miranda: by preying on her sister.





PROLOGUE



Wednesday, January 5, 2000



Lynet Grainger had no real reason to feel afraid. Gladstone was a safe town, had always been a safe town. The rest of the world might be going nuts, with students shooting up their schools and disgruntled employees shooting up their workplaces, with cars being jacked and children being stolen, but in Gladstone none of that stuff ever happened.



Ever.



Of course, nothing much else happened either, at least not until recently.



Even before they'd built the new highway bypass last year—which had quite effectively bypassed Gladstone—the little town had been no more than a place where people stopped for gas and an occasional weary night at the Bluebird Lodge out on Main Street, pausing as briefly as possible in their journey through to Nashville. Otherwise, it was just a wide place in the road, not high enough in the mountains;  to offer skiing as a tourist attraction—though the Bluebird Lodge defiantly had as its logo a pair of crossed skis—and not far enough out of the mountains to boast much decent farming or pastureland.



It was just a little valley. The bedrock core of the local economy was a smelly paper mill out on the river where a healthy majority of the town's blue-collar workers toiled. And in town, there were a few small businesses, the sort of car dealerships and real estate offices and stores that dotted all small towns.



Thankfully, Gladstone wasn't so small that absolutely everybody knew the business of their neighbors—but nearly so. Gossip was second only to the video store downtown as a source of entertainment.



So when Kerry Ingram, barely fourteen, seemingly ran away from home a couple of months ago, it was big news. Lots of people were heard to say they'd expected as much, since Kerry's older brother had done the same thing several years before to try his luck as a singer in Nashville (and ended up trying to support a wife and two little kids on a mechanic's pay). It was that sort of family, the gossips said, not the kind to raise up kids loyal to the town.



But there had been uneasiness beneath the confidence even then, even before they found out what had really happened to Kerry, because at about the same time she disappeared there had been something creepy going on hardly more than a hundred miles away, in Concord. Lynet wasn't entirely sure of the details, but it was whispered that a horrible man had been stalking and raping women, and it had only been when a special FBI task force had been called in that he was caught.



Lynet would like to have seen a special FBI task force in action. She was interested in law enforcement, and since the sheriff had patiently answered her questions on Career Day back last spring, that interest had only grown. At least until Kerry Ingram's body had been found, and some of the details had gotten around.



Lynet had felt more than a little sick upon hearing those details. She'd told herself it was only because she had actually known Kerry that the whole thing had upset her, not because she had a weak stomach unsuited for the work of a police officer or, better yet, an FBI agent just like Scully.



No, it was only because she'd known Kerry, been just a year ahead of her in school and ridden on the same school bus. Because she remembered so vividly how Kerry had worn a bright ribbon in her hair every day, and smiled shyly whenever one of the boys tried to talk to her, and had been so proud of making the honor roll because math was difficult for her and she had to try really, really hard in that class.. ..



Lynet shook off the memories and glanced around warily as she walked briskly along the sidewalk. Just about all the stores downtown had closed early as usual on this Wednesday, and now at nine o'clock at night there was almost no traffic and virtually no one about.



Still, Lynet had no real reason to be afraid. The sheriff had said it was likely poor Kerry had slipped and fallen into that nasty ravine where people used to dump their trash and where her bruised body had been found. But Lynet had heard a few whispers about what might have been done to Kerry before she'd died, and even if it was just speculation, it was the kind to make a girl worried about being alone on the streets after dark.



She paused on the corner of Main and Trade streets and briefly considered taking the usual shortcut through the park. Very briefly. Much better, she thought, to stay on the sidewalk under the streetlights, even if it would take an extra fifteen minutes to get home.



So she walked on, wishing she hadn't lingered at the library so late, wishing her sixteenth birthday would come so she could drive her mom's battered Honda instead of having to hoof it everywhere.



"Lynet, what on earth are you doing out so late?"



She nearly jumped out of her skin, and actually put a hand to her breast in an unconsciously dramatic gesture of near heart failure. "Oh, it's you! God, don't scare me like that!"



"I'm sorry—but you shouldn't be out here so late. Why aren't you at home?"



"I had to use the computer at the library—you know I don't have one of my own yet."



"Well, next time have somebody drive you."



"I will." Lynet smiled winningly. "We can walk together as far as the next corner. You're going that way, aren't you?"



"Yes."



"Great. Nobody would bother the two of us."



"No, nobody would bother the two of us."



"I'm surprised you're out here," Lynet said chattily. "Are you just walking? I know some people do, around town to get exercise, but I thought that was just in the summer."



"It's not cold tonight."



"You aren't cold? Oh, I am. Walking fast helps, though. If we hurry—" Lynet took another step, then stopped as she recognized what was being held out toward her. "Oh," she said numbly. "Oh, no. You—"



"You know what this is. And what it can do."



"Yes," Lynet whispered.



"Then you'll come along with me and not make trouble, won't you, Lynet?"



"Don't hurt me. Please, don't—"



"I'm sorry, Lynet. I really am."





ONE




Thursday, January 6



The body had been exposed to the elements for at least two or three days. And before last night's heavy rain had washed them away, the tracks of dozens of paws and claws must have crisscrossed the clearing.



It was shaping up to be a long, cold winter, and the animals were hungry.



Deputy Alex Mayse shivered as he picked his way gingerly past the town's single forensics "expert," a young doctor who'd been elected coroner because nobody else had wanted the job. The doctor was crawling around the clearing on his hands and knees, his nose inches from the wet ground as he found and flagged the scattered bones and other bits the animals had left.



"You don't have to hum to yourself, Doc," Alex muttered sourly. "We all know how happy you are."



Remaining in his crouched position, Dr. Peter Shepherd said cheerfully, "If a murdered teenager made me happy, Alex, I'd be worse than a ghoul. I'm just fascinated by the puzzle, that's all."



Waiting patiently just a few steps behind the doctor, camera in hand as he waited to take pictures of each flagged spot, Deputy Brady Shaw rolled his eyes at Alex.



Alex grimaced in sympathy, but all he said to Shepherd was, "Yeah, yeah. Just find something helpful this time, will you?"



"Do my best," the doctor replied, studying what appeared to be a bleached twig.



Alex walked to the area where most of the body had been found, noticing with a certain amount of sympathy that Sandy Lynch was over behind a tree puking her guts out. She was having a lousy introduction to the job, poor kid. Not that the old hands were handling it any better, really. Carl Tierney had had the misfortune to find Adam Ramsay's mortal remains, and the ten-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department had promptly lost his morning Egg McMuffin.



Alex himself had suffered through a few teeth-grittingly queasy moments during the last couple of hours.



In fact, the only member of the Cox County Sheriff's Department who had shown no signs of being sickened by the gory sight was the sheriff.



There was an irony there somewhere, Alex thought as he joined the sheriff, who was hunkered down several feet from what was left of Adam Ramsay, elbows on knees and fingers steepled. In its entire history, the small town of Gladstone had seldom been troubled by murder. A long line of sheriffs had grown old in their jobs, dealing with petty crime and little else of consequence, needing no more police training than how to load a gun, which would in all likelihood never be fired except at targets or the occasional unlucky rabbit. It was a local saying that all the Cox County sheriff had to be good at was filling out the Santa suit for the annual Christmas parade down Main Street.



Until last year, anyway. The town finally elected a sheriff with an actual law degree and a minor in criminology—and what happened? Damned if they didn't start having real crimes.



But they were blessed in that this particular sheriff had very quickly displayed an almost uncanny ability to get to the bottom of things with a minimum of time wasted.



At least until recently.



"This makes two," Alex said, judging that the silence had gone on long enough.



"Yeah."



"Same killer, d'you think?"



Startling blue eyes slanted him a look. "Hard to tell from the bones."



Alex started to reply that there was a bit of rotting flesh here and there, but kept his mouth shut. There was little remaining on the skeleton of Adam Ramsay, that was true enough, and what was there didn't immediately offer up any evidence as to who had killed him and how. Impossible to tell if the boy's body had borne the same bruises and cuts as they had found on Kerry Ingram. Still, it was a fair guess that two bodies turning up in less than a month had to be connected in some way.



With a sigh, Alex said, "We won't be able to quiet the gossip by suggesting this death was an accident. We might not know how he died yet, but it's a cinch a victim of an accident wouldn't have buried his own body. And you can bet that little fact won't stay out of circulation for long."



"I know."



"So we have a problem. A big problem."



"Shit," the sheriff said quietly after a moment.



Alex wondered if that was guilt he heard. "Announcing that Kerry Ingram had been murdered wouldn't have saved this one," he reminded. "I may not be an expert, but my guess is that Adam died more than a couple of weeks ago."



"Yeah, probably."



"And his own mother didn't report him missing until just before Halloween, even though he'd already been gone for weeks by then."



"Because they'd had a big fight and he'd run off to live with his father in Florida just like he'd done at least twice before—or so she thought."



"My point," Alex said, "is that there's nothing we could have done to save Adam Ramsay."



"Maybe," the sheriff said, still quiet. "But maybe we could have saved Kerry Ingram."



Breaking the ensuing silence, Alex said, "Good thing he was wearing his class ring. And that he had that gold tooth. Otherwise we'd never have been able to identify him. But what kid his age has a gold tooth? I meant to ask before now, but—"



"Not a tooth, just a cap. He had a ring of his father's melted down, and a dentist in the city did the work."



"Why, for God's sake?"



"His mother didn't know or wouldn't say. And we can't ask him now." Still hunkered down, the sheriff added, "I doubt it's important, at least to the question of who killed him and why."



"Yeah, I guess. You have any ideas about that, by the way?"



"No."



Alex sighed. "Me either. The mayor isn't going to like this, Randy."



"Nobody's going to like it, Alex. Especially not Adam Ramsay's mother."



"You know what I mean."



"Yeah. I know." Sheriff Miranda Knight sighed and rose from the crouched position, absently stretching cramped muscles. "Shit," she said again, softly.



Deputy Sandy Lynch, still very pale, ventured a step toward them but kept her gaze studiously away from the remains. "I'm sorry, Sheriff," she said nervously, new enough at the job that she feared losing it.



Miranda looked at her. "Don't worry about it, Sandy. There's nothing you can do here anyway. Go on back to the office and help Grace deal with all the phone calls."



"Okay, Sheriff." She paused. "What should we tell people?"



"Tell them we have no information at this time."



"Yes, ma'am."



As the young deputy retreated to her car in visible relief, Alex said, "That won't hold 'em for long."



"Long enough, with a little luck. I'd like a few more answers before I have to face John with a recommendation."



"Since that flap over in Concord spooked him, you know he'll overreact and declare we have a serial killer on our hands."



"Two murders don't make a serial killer."



"You know that and I know that. His Honor will prefer to err on the side of caution. He likes his job and he wants to keep it. Concord's mayor was practically run out of town for not insisting that task force be called in sooner. John MacBride is not going to make the same mistake."



Miranda nodded, frowning. "I know, I know."



"So get the jump on him. Tell him your recommendation is to call in the task force now."



Her frown deepened. "You read the bulletin, same as I did. The task force was set up to handle unusual crimes with inexplicable elements, crimes ordinary police work can't solve. For all we know, what we have here are two teenage victims of grudges or impulsive violence. Both of them were probably killed by someone they knew, and for depressingly mundane reasons. We don't know there's anything unusual."



"Randy, nobody'd blame you for calling in the feds whether these murders are unusual or not. We're a small-town sheriff's department with little manpower and almost no high-tech toys. Before we found the Ingram girl, the last murder any Cox County sheriff had to investigate was twenty years ago—when a cuckolded husband shot his wife's lover while the man was trying to escape out the bedroom window. Hardly a tricky investigation. The cases you've handled so far were demanding, and God knows you dealt with them well, but what they required was skill, intelligence, and instinct, all of which you certainly have. What you don't have are state-of-the-art crime scene investigation tools, a computer system that isn't five years out of date, enough deputies to effectively cover the county you're responsible for, and a medical examiner whose specialty—not his hobby—is forensics."



"I heard that," Doc Shepherd called out.



Unrepentant, Alex called back, "I meant you to hear it." He returned his attention to Miranda and went on in a lower voice. "Call in the feds, Randy. Nobody'll think less of you. And, goddammit, we need the help."



"They don't help, they take over."



"Then I say let 'em have it."



She shook her head. "I can't say that, Alex. I can't just hand this problem over to somebody else because I'm afraid it might be too difficult for me."



"MacBride can pull rank—and you know he will. Randy, there were just enough doubts about electing a woman sheriff to make him very, very nervous of any criticism from the voters. First sign this department can't handle the investigation, and he'll be yelling for help as loud as he can."



"No," she said. "He won't do that, not publicly."



"Then he'll pressure you to do it."



"Maybe."



"Randy—"



"We don't know there's anything unusual here," Miranda repeated stubbornly. "And just because we've gotten nowhere investigating Kerry Ingram's murder doesn't mean we won't have better luck with this case. One thing I'm sure of is that I'm damned well planning to give it my best shot. I'm not calling in outsiders unless we have no other choice." She lifted one hand and rubbed the nape of her neck, where tension had undoubtedly gathered, and scowled at the remains of Adam Ramsay.



Alex watched her, not bothering to be subtle about it because he had long ago realized that Miranda was never conscious of masculine scrutiny. Not on the job, at any rate. She tended to wear sweaters and jeans, kept her black hair pulled back severely from her face, her nails short and unpolished, and her makeup to a minimum. And none of it mattered one little bit.



Miranda Knight was one of those rare women who would have been beautiful even if you wrapped her in a burlap feed sack and dipped her in mud.



She wasn't in uniform even on duty, a perk she had more or less demanded before taking on the job, and the snug jeans and bulky sweater she wore today did little to hide either the gun on her hip or measurements of true centerfold proportions.



Alex had never been sure which attracted Gladstone's mayor more, the gun or the body, but it was an open secret that John MacBride had had his eye on Miranda long before they'd both been voted into office over a year before.



What Miranda thought of the mayor, on the other hand, was a secret known only to her. She might refer to him casually when speaking to Alex, but in public she was invariably formal, polite, and respectful to His Honor, and if she had so much as allowed him to buy her a cup of coffee she'd managed to drink it where nobody in this very curious town had been able to observe.



Still, Alex couldn't help but wonder if MacBride's determined pursuit of the last few months would change if Miranda refused to ensure the mayor's political safety by handing the investigation over to the feds with all speed.



"We don't know there's anything unusual here," she said again, the emphasis making Alex look at her in sudden awareness.



"Have you noticed something?" he asked.



Obviously conscious of his stare, Miranda nonetheless didn't meet his eyes. "I just said—"



"I know what you said. I also heard how you said it. And I know that sometimes you see things everybody else misses. What do you see that I don't, Randy?"



"Nothing. I see nothing."



Alex thought she was lying to him. But before he could press her, Doc Shepherd came up to them.



"I have a preliminary report," he told Miranda. "I'll write it up as soon as I get back to the office, of course, but if you want to hear what'll be on it while Brady's getting shots of everything—"



"Let's hear it."



"No way to tell if the boy was strangled like the Ingram girl, but there is evidence that a few bones were broken prior to death."



"Could they have been broken in an accidental fall?" Miranda asked.



"Not likely. I'd say his arms were twisted hard enough to snap, which would require considerable, deliberate force. And two bones in his left hand were crushed, probably by a hammer or similar tool."



Alex offered a reluctant question. "Are you saying he was tortured?"



"I wouldn't rule it out, but there isn't enough evidence for me to be absolutely sure."



"What are you sure of?" Miranda asked.



"I'm sure he's been dead at least three or four weeks, possibly longer. I'm sure he was killed somewhere else, then brought here and buried in a shallow grave that didn't protect the body very long from scavenging animals. " Peter Shepherd paused briefly. "Now let me ask you something: Are you sure these are the remains of Adam Ramsay?"



Alex was surprised by the question, but when he looked at Miranda he realized she wasn't.



"We found his class ring here," she said neutrally. "And the gold crown on that front tooth matches our information. Height and estimated weight in the right range. And the patch of scalp still attached to the skull has red hair like Adam Ramsay. We have every reason to believe the I.D. is accurate." It was her turn to pause, and when she went on, she asked what sounded like an unwilling question. "You think it isn't him?"



Clearly enjoying his role, Shepherd said, "I think if it is him, his mother must be a hell of a lot older than she looks. I'll know more after I conduct a few tests, but I'll be surprised if I find out those bones belonged to any man less than forty years old."



Again, Miranda didn't seem surprised, but all she said, in the same dispassionate tone of before, was, "We have complete dental records, so verifying identity—if it is Adam—shouldn't take long."



Bewildered, Alex said, "Adam was seventeen."



"Those bones are older," Shepherd answered with a shrug.



"There's barely enough of him left to put in a shoe-box," Alex objected. "How can you possibly know—"



Miranda lifted a hand to stop Alex. "Why don't we wait until we have a few more facts before we start arguing? Doc, if you'll take the remains back to the morgue, I'll have the dental records sent over."



"I don't know who his family doctor was, but if you could get those records as well..."



"I'll send them along."



Alex followed as Miranda retreated several yards to give the doctor room to work, and said accusingly, "You knew what he was going to say, didn't you?"



"How could I have known that?" Her tone wasn't so much evasive as matter-of-fact. She watched Shepherd work the remains into a black body bag.



"That's what I'm asking you, Randy. How did you know? You been hiding a degree in medicine or forensics?"



"Of course not."



"Well then?"



"I didn't see anything you didn't see, Alex."



"But you knew that skeleton wasn't Adam Ramsay?"



Miranda finally turned her head and looked at Alex. There was something in her face he couldn't quite read and didn't like one bit, a shuttered expression he'd never seen before. For the first time in the nearly five years he'd known her, Alex felt he was looking at a stranger.



"On the contrary," she said quietly. "What I knew— what I know—is that we've found all that's left of Adam Ramsay."



"I don't get it."



"It's Adam Ramsay, Alex. The dental records will prove it."



"But if the bones belonged to an older man—" Alex broke off and made his voice low. "So Doc is wrong about that?"



"I hope so."



Alex didn't make the mistake of thinking Miranda was engaged in a game of one-upmanship with the doctor. Thinking aloud, he mused, "If Doc's right about the age of the bones, it'd mean this victim is someone nobody reported missing. And it would mean we might still find Adam Ramsay's body. If you're right—"



"If I'm right, it would mean something else," Miranda cut in. "It would mean we have a much bigger puzzle than who killed two teenage runaways."



* * *



Liz Hallowell had lived in Gladstone all of her thirty years, which meant she knew just about everybody. And since the bookstore she'd inherited from her parents was centrally located in town and boasted the recent addition of a coffeeshop where people could sit and chat as long as they liked, she tended to know everything that was going on within hours of its happening.



So she knew the latest news on this cold January morning. She knew that a body—or bones, anyway— had been found in the woods just outside town by an off-duty sheriff's deputy trying to get in a little early-morning hunting. She knew it was believed the bones were Adam Ramsay's. And she knew there was something decidedly odd about the whole thing.



Not that murder wasn't odd, of course. But something else was going on, she was certain of it. The leaves in her morning cup of tea had made a chill go through her entire body, and even before that there had been several other unsettling omens. She'd heard a whippoorwill last night and afterward dreamed about riding a horse—which was supposed to be sexual, hardly surprising to Liz given her frustrations of late—and about a door she couldn't open, which wasn't a good sign at all.



She'd been awakened twice by a dog howling, and just before dawn thunder had rumbled even though there was no storm. This morning her neighbor's pet rooster had faced her own front door while crowing, which meant a stranger was coming. She'd spilled salt three times in the last two days, so even doing what she could to immediately negate the bad luck wouldn't get rid of it all.



And a bird had struck the window of her breakfast room, a dove no less, breaking its poor little neck. Since she lived alone, Liz assumed she was the one whom death was hovering near.



Alex would shake his head when she told him, but Liz's grandmother had been Romany and she herself had been born with a caul—and she knew what she knew.



Bad was here, and worse was coming.



So before Liz had ventured out of her house today, she'd made damned sure to put several amulets in the medicine bag that hung around her neck on a black thong: a couple of ash-tree leaves, a clove of garlic, bits of lucky hand root and oak bark, and several small stones—bloodstone, carnelian, cat's eye, garnet, black opal, staurolite, and topaz. She also carried a rabbit's foot in her purse, and her earrings were tiny gold wishbones.



None of which protected her from Justin Marsh, which was a pity.



"This is blasphemy, Elizabeth," he declared, waving a book beneath her nose.



She pushed the book gently back far enough to bring the title into focus, then said mildly, "It's a novel, Justin. A made-up story. I doubt very much if the author is trying to persuade anyone to actually believe that Christ was a woman. But if it makes you feel any better, you're the first one I've seen even pick it up."



His pale brown eyes glittered in his perpetually tanned face. The healthy thatch of white hair and the customary white suit made him look like a televangelist, she thought. He sounded like one too.



"Books like this one should be banned!" he told her stridently.



Liz noted that few of her other early-morning customers even looked up, as accustomed to his tirades as she was herself. "We don't ban books around here, Justin."



"If innocent minds should read this—!"



"Trust me, innocent minds don't venture into that section of the store. They're all three rows over reading stuff about ninjas and how to hack into computer systems."



He missed the irony, just as she had expected.



"Elizabeth, you're responsible for protecting impressionable young minds from corruption such as this." He waved the book under her nose again.



Behind him, a deep voice said dryly, "No, their parents are responsible for that. Liz just runs a bookstore."



"Morning, Alex," she said.



"Hi. Coffee would be heaven, Liz."



"You got it." Leaving Alex to deal with Justin, she went behind the counter to pour a couple of cups of the Swiss-chocolate-flavored coffee Alex had recently become addicted to. By the time she joined him at their customary table near the front window, Justin had vanished.



"If he's over there tearing up another book ..."



"I warned him the next episode would mean a fine and jail time, for all the good it'll do." He blew on the coffee automatically, but began sipping before it had a chance to cool. "I don't know why he can't go away somewhere and start a nice pseudo-religious cult, leave us the hell alone."



"He isn't charismatic enough," Liz said definitely. "Just a not-too-bright kook, and it's obvious. It's Selena I feel sorry for."



Alex grunted. "I never heard she was forced to marry him. Besides, the way she looks at him it's obvious she considers him the Second Coming—if you'll forgive the blasphemy."



"I guess every town has to have at least one Justin Marsh. What else would we have to talk about otherwise?"



"Murder?" he suggested dryly.



Liz looked at his tired, drawn face and said slowly, "I heard it was Adam Ramsay's body this time."



"Sheriff says it is. Doc says it isn't. We'll know for sure when Doc compares the dental records."



"What do you think?"



"I think Randy isn't often wrong." He shrugged, frowning down at his coffee. "But if she's right this time, something very weird is going on, Liz."



Without thinking, Liz said, "The leaves told me that this morning."



Alex looked at her with resignation. "Uh-huh. Did they happen to tell you anything else? Like maybe if we have a vicious killer in this nice little town of ours?"



"You don't think it's one of us?" she exclaimed, genuinely shocked.



He smiled at her with an odd expression she couldn't quite define. "Liz, Gladstone might as well be the town that time forgot. Or at least the town travelers bypass. How many strangers do you notice in any given week?"



"Well... not many."



"Not many?"



"All right, so strangers are rare, especially if you discount insurance salesmen. But that doesn't have to mean one of us is doing these terrible things, Alex."



"I don't like to think it either, you know. But how likely is it that a stranger picked Gladstone as his base of operations to begin killing teenagers?"



"When you put it like that..."



"Yeah."



After a moment of silence, Liz said reluctantly, "Whatever is going on, it isn't over, Alex."



"Tea leaves again?"



"I know what I know." It was her standard response to doubt or disbelief.



"Because your grandmother was a gypsy? Liz—"



"I know you don't believe, but you have to listen to me this time. I've never seen so many dark omens and portents. There's evil here, real, literal evil hanging over this town."



"That much I'll buy. Have you checked your crystal ball lately to see how it'll all turn out?"



"You know I don't have one of those." She hesitated. "But I do know someone's coming. The leaves showed me that. A dark man with a mark on his face. An outsider. He'll come to help, but for some other reason too, a secret reason. And I think ... I know ... he'll give his life to save one of us."





TWO




Miranda let herself into the small, quiet house not far from downtown Gladstone and went directly to the kitchen. It was a bright room most of the time, but last night's rain had left the sky overcast, and not even the airy yellow-and-white color scheme and gleaming white appliances could do much to cheer the room.



Or Miranda.



She went to the coffeemaker and turned it on, warming the remains of last night's pot because there hadn't been time earlier that morning to make fresh, and Mrs. Task was coming in late because of a doctor's appointment. The reheated coffee would be unbearably bitter, she knew.



But it would suit her mood.



Fresh coffee awaited her at the office, but she'd wanted to stop here first, if only for a few precious minutes, away from ringing telephones and anxious deputies and frightened townspeople. She thought Alex had probably detoured as well, though he would have gone to Liz's place rather than his own home.



They all took their comfort where they could.



"Randy?" A girl of about sixteen, her resemblance to Miranda striking, came hesitantly into the room. She was wearing a nightgown and robe even at ten in the morning on a school day, but that was explained when Miranda spoke.



"You shouldn't have gotten up, Bonnie. Doc said sleep would help you more than anything."



"I feel much better, honest. It's only a cold, nothing major." Bonnie watched Miranda pour very black coffee into a cup. "Was it... ?"



Miranda sipped her coffee, then nodded.



"Adam Ramsay? Just like you saw?"



"Just like I saw," Miranda confirmed bitterly.



Bonnie shivered and bit her lip, then walked to the table in the center of the room and sat down. "I didn't really know him. Still ..."



"Still," Miranda agreed.



"It's all going to happen now, isn't it?"



"I'm afraid so."



Bonnie's lip quivered before she bit it again. "Then we'll leave, that's all. We'll just—"



"It wouldn't matter, Bonnie. It wouldn't change anything. Some things have to happen just the way they happen."



"You can't stop it?" Her vivid blue eyes were desperately worried.



"No, I can't stop it." Miranda drew a breath. "Not alone."



"Maybe Alex can—"



"No. Not Alex."



Their eyes met, held, then Bonnie said, "You could ask them to send somebody else."



"I need him." Bitterness had crept back into Miranda's voice, and reluctance, and something that might have been loathing.



"You're sure?"



"Yeah, I'm sure."



"It's been a long time, Randy. Eight years—"



"Eight years, four months, and an odd number of days." Miranda's laugh held no amusement. "I know how long it's been, believe me."



"I only meant that things change, Randy. People change, you know they do. Even he must have changed. It'll be different this time."



"Will it?"



Bonnie hesitated. "You've seen something else, haven't you? What is it? What have you seen?"



Miranda looked down at her coffee, and her mouth twisted. "Inevitability," she said.



Friday, January 7



"I can't explain it," Dr. Shepherd said, his habitual cheery smile replaced by a baffled frown. "The dental records match, without question. What we found are the remains of Adam Ramsay."



"But," Miranda said.



"Yeah—but. The bones show all the signs of belonging to a man at least forty years old. The sutures of the skull were filled in. Calcium deposits and other changes in bone structure also indicate forty to fifty years of life." He paused. "This one's beyond my knowledge, Randy. Obviously someone with more training and experience in forensics, a forensic pathologist or anthropologist, should examine the remains. I must have missed something somehow, misread the results or performed the wrong tests—something."



Miranda looked at him across her desk. "Setting that aside for the moment, maybe we're losing sight of the point. The point is that we found the remains of a seventeen-year-old runaway. Do you know how he died?"



"Enough of the skull was intact to reveal evidence of blunt-force trauma in at least two spots, and I don't believe it was postmortem."



"Not accidental blows?"



"If you're asking for my opinion, I'd say not. For the record, a blow to the head probably killed him. Whether that blow was deliberate or accidental is impossible for me to state with any medical—or legal—certainty."



Miranda made a note on the pad in front of her. "I appreciate you coming into the office to report, Doc."



"No problem. I knew you had your hands full. Any word on Lynet Grainger?"



"Not yet. I've got all my deputies, Simon's bloodhounds, and every volunteer I could get my hands on out searching for her, but no luck so far. She left the library Wednesday night and vanished into thin air." Her mouth tightened. "If her mother hadn't been drunk that night and failed to report Lynet missing until yesterday afternoon, we might have had a better shot at finding her. As it is, with nearly forty-eight hours gone now, the trail is ice-cold."



Shepherd studied her. "You look like hell, if you don't mind me saying so."



"Thanks a lot."



"Did you even go to bed last night, Randy?"



Miranda drew a breath and let it out slowly. "Doc, I've got two teenagers dead and a third one missing, and no evidence to persuade me we're just in the middle of a series of tragic accidents and random disappearances. I also have no evidence pointing me toward the killer—or killers—of the two dead kids, and no clue to help me find Lynet Grainger. I spent half the morning arguing with the mayor and the other half fielding calls from terrified parents. Somebody in my nice, safe little town has apparently decided to start torturing, maiming, and killing teenagers. And I have a sixteen-year-old sister at home. What do you think?"



"I think you didn't go to bed."



She straightened in her chair as if to refute his accusation, then lifted a hand to rub the back of her neck wearily. "Yeah, well, I couldn't have slept anyway. I don't want to find another dead teenager, Peter."



"Do you think you will?"



"Do you?"



He hesitated for a beat. "Honestly? Yes. I don't know what's going on, Randy, or who's behind it, but I think you're right about one thing. Someone is after our teenagers. And that someone has some very strange ... appetites."



In an abrupt turnabout, Miranda shook her head. "We don't know that's what's going on."



"Don't we?"



"No."



"I see. Then I guess you have a reasonable explanation for why Kerry Ingram's body was drained of almost all its blood."



"Don't tell me you think the killer drank it," Miranda objected dryly.



"No—although that sort of thing is more common than most people would like to believe."



"I wonder why."



Ignoring the muttered aside, Shepherd went on, "I believe that the killer had some need for the blood, undoubtedly one a rational person could never understand. And—not that you missed this detail, I'm sure—it's interesting to note that we actually found only a small percentage of Adam Ramsay's bones out there."



"The animals. Scavengers."



"Maybe. Or maybe he wasn't all there to begin with. Maybe the killer took his blood as well as the girl's. And a few bones to go with it. And maybe he took Lynet Grainger because he didn't get all he needed from the first two."



"Speculation," Miranda said firmly. "We don't even know that Kerry and Adam were killed by the same person, and Lynet's disappearance doesn't have to end with us finding her body."



"That's true enough." Shepherd got to his feet. "But here's something just as true: It's not like you to hide your head in the sand, Randy."



"I don't know what you mean."



"I think you do." He smiled faintly. "I also think you're honest enough—maybe especially with yourself—to face up to it sooner rather than later. At least I hope so. I don't read tea leaves like Liz Hallowell, but I don't need to have gypsy blood to know there's something very strange going on in Gladstone."



"Yes. Yes, I know that."



"Nobody will think less of you for calling in help, not when something like this is going on."



"So everyone keeps telling me."



"And they're telling the truth." He paused. "We need to get an expert in to look at those bones, Randy. Tell me who, and I'll make the call."



She looked at him for a long while, then sighed. "No, it's my job. I'll make the call, Doc."



But she didn't pick up the phone after Shepherd left. Instead, she went through the case files one more time, studying every piece of information gathered on Kerry Ingram and Adam Ramsay. She fixed all her will on finding something, some tiny, previously overlooked clue, that would tell her these were ordinary murders, committed in anger or for some other perfectly tragic, perfectly human reason.



But no matter how many times she went over it all, the photos of a young, battered body and skeletal remains, the medical reports and the interviews with relatives and acquaintances, the traced movements of the two teenagers during the last weeks before they disappeared—no matter how many times she went over the information in the files, only the same unalterable, inescapable chilling facts jumped out at her.



Kerry Ingram's exsanguinated body.



The bones missing from Adam Ramsay's remains.



The aged condition of the bones they had found.



Miranda closed the last file and stared across the room at nothing. "Goddammit," she whispered.



Inevitability.



Some people called it fate.



* * *



He watched the girl as she lay in a drugged stupor on the cot where he had placed her. She was pretty. That was a shame. And she'd been trying to improve her lot in life, working hard in school, doing her best to keep her lush of a mother from driving drunk or burning down the house.



Definitely a shame.



But there was nothing he could do to change things.



He hoped Lynet would understand that.



Saturday, January 8



"So when're the feds due in?" Alex asked Miranda. They stood near the top of the hill and watched as half a dozen small boats slowly crisscrossed the lake down in the hollow. The last light of day was shining just over the mountains and painting the lake shimmering silver; another few minutes and they'd have to put up floodlights or stop the search for the night.



"Any time now."



Alex turned to her. "So how come you're out here instead of back at the office waiting for them? Dragging the lake is a good idea—anonymous tip or not—since we haven't found a trace of the Grainger girl anywhere else in the area, but I can call in if we find anything."



Miranda's shoulders moved in an irritable shrug. "They'll have to drive in from Nashville, so it could be late tonight. Anyway, I left Brady on duty at the office with instructions to send them out here if they arrive before I get back."



"Do you have any idea how many are coming? I mean, isn't this crack new unit of theirs supposed to be made up of a dozen or more agents?"



"I don't know for sure. There isn't much information available, even for law enforcement officials. We'll get what we get, I guess." She sounded restless, uneasy.



Alex was about to ask another question when he saw Miranda stiffen. He wasn't sure how he knew, but looking at her he was certain that all her attention, all her being, was suddenly focused elsewhere. She no longer saw the lake or the people below, and wasn't even aware of him standing beside her.



Then he saw her eyes shift to one side, as if she was suddenly, intensely aware of some sound, some thing, behind her and didn't want to turn her head to look.



"Randy?"



She didn't respond, didn't seem to hear him.



Alex looked behind them. At first, all he saw was the hilltop flooded with light because the sun had not yet set. Then there was an abrupt, curiously fluid shifting of the light, and the silhouette of a tall man appeared.



Alex blinked, startled because he hadn't heard a sound. Two more silhouettes appeared on either side of the first, another man and a woman. They paused on the crest of the hill, looking at the activity below, then lost the blinding halo of light as they moved down the slope toward Alex and Miranda.



The man on the left was about six feet tall. He was maybe thirty, on the thin side, with nondescript brown hair. The woman was likely the same age, medium height, slender, and blond. Both were casually dressed in dark pants and bulky sweaters.



But it was the man in the center who caught and held Alex's attention. Dressed as casually as the other two in jeans and a black leather jacket, he was a striking figure, over six feet tall and very dark. His black hair gleamed in the last of the day's light, and a distinct widow's peak crowned his high forehead. He was wide shouldered and moved with the ease and grace of a trained athlete, navigating the rock-strewn slope with far more dexterity than his slipping and sliding companions. As he neared them, Alex saw a vivid scar on the left side of his coldly handsome face.



Liz's dark stranger, Alex thought, with a lack of surprise that would have surprised her.



He looked back at Miranda and saw that her gaze was fixed once more on the lake below. But her breath came quickly through parted, trembling lips, and her face was pale and strained. He was astonished at how vulnerable she looked. For a moment. Just a moment.



Then she closed her eyes, and when she opened them a moment later all the strain was gone. She looked perfectly calm, indifferent even.



Quietly, he said, "Randy, I think the feds are here."



"Are they?" She sounded only mildly interested. She slid her hands into the front pockets of her jeans. "They're early."



"Guess they had a fast car."



"Guess so."



Intrigued, but willing to await events, Alex returned his attention to the approaching agents. When they were close, the tall man in the center spoke, his voice deep and cool but with an undercurrent of tension that was audible.



"Sheriff Knight?" It wasn't quite a question, and his pale, oddly reflective eyes were already fixed on Miranda.



She turned to face the newcomers. "Hello, Bishop."



Bishop's companions didn't seem surprised that this small-town sheriff knew him, so it was left to Alex to ask, "You two know each other?"



"We've met," Miranda said. She introduced Alex, and just as calmly Bishop introduced Special Agents Anthony Harte and Dr. Sharon Edwards. Nobody offered to shake hands, possibly because Miranda and Bishop kept their hands in their pockets the entire time.



"I'm the forensic pathologist you requested," Edwards said cheerfully. Alex thought that Doc Shepherd was about to meet a kindred spirit.



"My specialty is interpretation of data," Harte explained when Miranda's gaze turned questioningly toward him.



"Good," she said. "We have some puzzling data for you to interpret. In the meantime, just to catch you up on events, we're following a tip that our missing teenager might be found here in the lake."



"A tip from whom, Sheriff Knight?" Bishop asked.



"An anonymous tip."



"Phoned in to your office?"



"That's right."



"Male or female?"



Her hesitation was almost unnoticeable. "Female."



"Interesting," he said.



His voice held no accusation, hers no defensiveness, but Alex felt both existed and was even more puzzled. Then he realized something else. "Hey, you're both chess pieces. Knight and Bishop."



Miranda looked at him, one brow rising. "How about that," she said dryly.



Alex cleared his throat. "Well, anyway. We're losing the light down on the lake, Sheriff. Want to call off the search for the day?"



"Might as well." She glanced at the agents. "If you'll excuse me for a few minutes?" Without waiting for a response, she made her way down to the shore where the boats were gathering.



Bishop never took his eyes off Miranda. Alex was curious enough to be nosy, but something in Bishop's face made him stick to professional inquiries. "So what's your specialty, Agent Bishop?"



"Profiler. Who took the anonymous call, Deputy Mayse?"



Alex wasn't sure he liked the question but answered it anyway. "Sheriff Knight." Then he found himself defending where Miranda had refused to. "That's not at all unusual, in case you think it is. The sheriff makes a point of being accessible, so lots of people call her directly if they have information or questions."



Those cool, pale eyes turned to him at last, and Bishop said almost indifferently, "Typical of small towns, in my experience. Tell me, has this area been searched?"



"No. Until we got the tip about the lake, there was no reason to think the Grainger girl would be this far out of town."



"And do you think she's here?"



"The sheriff thinks there's a chance. That's good enough for me."



Bishop continued to gaze at him for a long moment, making Alex uncomfortable. Then the agent nodded, exchanged glances with his two companions, and moved several yards away to a rocky outcropping. From there he could see most of the hollow, the lake, and the surrounding hills.



"What's he doing?" Alex asked, keeping his voice low.



Sharon Edwards answered. "Getting the lay of the land, I guess you'd call it. Looking for ... signs."



"Signs? It's nearly dark already, especially down there; what can he possibly see?"



"You might be surprised," Tony Harte murmured.



Alex wanted to question that, but instead said, "I gather he's in charge?"



"He's the senior agent," Edwards confirmed. "But your sheriff is the one in charge. We're just here to help, to offer our expertise and advice."



"Uh-huh."



She smiled. "Really. We have a mandate never to interfere with local law enforcement. It's the only way we can be truly useful and be certain we're called in when the situation warrants. We're a lot more likely to be contacted when police are confronted with our sort of cases if word gets around that we never ride roughshod over local authorities."



Alex looked at her curiously. "Your sort of cases?"



"I'm sure you saw the bulletin the Bureau sent out."



"I saw it. Like most Bureau bulletins, it didn't tell me a hell of a lot."



Edwards smiled again. "They can be cryptic when they want to be. Basically, we get called in on cases where the evidence just doesn't add up or is nonexistent, or there are details that seem to smack of the paranormal or inexplicable. Often those elements show up only after local law enforcement has exhausted all the usual avenues of investigation."



"So you guys pursue unusual avenues?"



"We ... look for the less likely explanations. And some of the methods we use are more intuitive than scientific. We try to keep things informal."



"Is that why no trench coats?"



She chuckled, honestly amused. "We are considered something of a maverick group within the Bureau, so when it was suggested that we dress more casually, the powers that be gave their permission."



Alex wanted to know more, but Miranda hailed him from the lake and he went down to help the search teams get their gear ashore.



Gazing after him, Tony Harte said, "Think you told him enough?"



"To satisfy him?" Edwards shook her head. "Only for the moment. According to his profile, he's curious and possesses a high tolerance for unconventional methods— probably why he hasn't questioned his sheriff too closely about all the hunches and intuitions since she took office. But he's protective of her, and he's wary of us. He'll be cooperative as long as he's sure we're contributing to the investigation without making Sheriff Knight look bad."



Harte grunted, then glanced at Bishop, still standing several yards away and looking down at the lake. "What about this sheriff? Did you know who she was?"



"I had my suspicions when I went to do a deep background check on her—and found she didn't have one."



"So it is her?"



"I think so."



"No wonder he was in such a hurry to get here. But I've seen warmer greetings between mortal enemies."



"What makes you so sure that isn't what they are— at least from her point of view?"



"Never thought I'd feel sorry for Bishop."



"I imagine he can handle his own problems." Edwards smiled faintly. "In the meantime, there's this little problem we're supposed to be helping with. Are you getting anything?"



"Nope. I was blocked just about the time we topped the hill. You?"



"The same. Remarkable, isn't it?"



Harte watched as Sheriff Knight made her way up the slope. Her lovely face was singularly without expression. "Poor Bishop," he murmured.



If he knew his subordinates were discussing him, Bishop gave no sign, but he joined them only moments before the sheriff and her deputy reached them.



Deputy Mayse said, "Nothing more we can do here tonight, so—"



"We can search for an abandoned well," Bishop said. "There's one nearby."



Mayse stared at him. "How can you possibly know that?"



"He knows," Sheriff Knight said. She looked at her deputy matter-of-factly. "Most of the men are probably exhausted, Alex, but ask for volunteers to search around the lake. The moon will be rising, so we'll have some light."



The deputy clearly wanted to question or argue, but in the end just shook his head and went back down to talk to the searchers.



Harte exchanged looks with Edwards, then said, "The more people we have searching, the quicker we're likely to find something. Our gear's in the car. We'll go change into boots and get our flashlights, some rope— whatever else looks like it might be helpful."



"Better have a compass or two," Sheriff Knight said. "This is tricky terrain. It's easy to get turned around, especially in the dark."



"Understood." Harte glanced at Bishop, who was already wearing boots, then traded another look with Edwards and shrugged. They both turned and trudged back up the slope toward the top and their rental car on the other side.



With one last glance back at the two people standing several feet and a light-year or so apart, Harte muttered, "I guess it could be worse. She could have shot him on sight."



* * *



Bishop knew it would be up to him to break the silence between them, but when it came down to it, all he could think of was an absurdly lame comment. "I never thought you'd be in law enforcement."



"It was a logical choice. With a law degree I couldn't use ... and the right kind of experience."



"And it kept you ... plugged in, didn't it? Connected to all the right sources of information."



"It did that."



He let the silence drag on as long as he could bear, then made one more inadequate comment. "Knight. Another interesting choice."



"I thought it was apt."



He waited for elaboration, but she coolly changed the subject.



"I see your spider-sense is working as well as ever."



She kept her gaze fixed on the lake as if the barely visible movements of the men were fascinating. He wondered what she was thinking but dared not touch her to find out. She had been the first to call it his spider-sense, this ability he had to sharpen and amplify his sight and hearing to the point that he was often able to see and hear far beyond what was considered normal. He wondered if she had any idea that now he seldom thought of this ancillary skill by any other name.



"We'll know that if we find a well," he said finally.



"Oh, there's a well."



He really wished she would look at him. "And a body?"



Miranda nodded. "And a body."



"There was no anonymous tip, was there, Miranda?"



"No."



"You had a vision."



Her shoulders moved in a faint, restless shrug that belied her calm expression. "I had a ... very vivid daydream. I saw this lake. I knew she was here somewhere. I know it now. A well... feels right."



"Still reluctant to call them visions, I see."



"Visions? I'm the elected sheriff of a small, conservative town where the churches actually outnumber the car dealerships. Just how long do you suppose I'd keep my job if word got out that I was seeing visions?"



"Have you been able to hide it that well?"



"It's amazing how many nice, logical reasons one can find for possessing surprising knowledge." She drew a breath and let it out slowly. "I'm intuitive. I have hunches. I'm lucky. I'm very good at my job. I make sure there's evidence to support me. If all else fails, I rely on the traditional anonymous tip. And I'm very, very careful."



After a moment he said, "You have very loyal deputies."



"To take me at my word? I suppose. But I've been right before, and they've learned to trust me."



"Any idea who's behind these killings?"



Miranda's smile was twisted. "If I knew that, you wouldn't be here."



The bitterness in her voice was unmistakable, telling him with certainty for the first time that she was hardly as indifferent as she seemed on the surface. She didn't want him there. She hated him. And the strength of his own reaction to that surprised him.



"I never meant to hurt you," he said abruptly.



The light was going fast, but they could both see Alex Mayse on his way back up toward them.



"Hurting me," Miranda said, "was the least of it." Then she moved to meet her deputy.





THREE




It took less than two hours to find the well.



It took two more to bring up the hideously battered body of Lynet Grainger.



They had rigged several battery-powered lights to illuminate the clearing around the well, and that made it possible for Dr. Edwards to perform a preliminary exam at the scene. While she was doing that, the area was cordoned off and meticulously searched.



"Not that we'll find anything useful," Alex said to Miranda. "It rained again last night, and I'm betting she was dropped in there either before or during the rain. Nice way to wash away all the evidence. Doesn't miss a trick, our guy."



"You think it's the same killer?"



"I think you noticed the same thing I did."



"Yeah."



"Well then?"



She nodded slowly. "I think we have only one killer here. But... there's something different about this victim."



"What?"



"I don't know."



Alex waited a beat. "She's fully clothed, is that it? The other two were naked, or near enough."



"No ... not that. Something else." She met his gaze and grimaced slightly. "Nothing I can explain, obviously. A hunch, I suppose."



"Your hunches are generally pretty sound."



"They haven't helped us much on this case." Miranda rubbed the back of her neck in a characteristic gesture of weariness.



Alex checked his watch. "Nearly ten. You've been out here more than eight hours, Randy. No supper, no lunch—and I'll bet you hardly slept last night."



Her gaze shifted to the other side of the cordoned-off area where Bishop stood talking to Agent Harte, but all she said was, "I'll sleep tonight. Too tired not to."



"Is Mrs. Task staying with Bonnie?"



"Till I get home, yeah. As usual. I don't know what I'd do without her."



"It goes both ways," Alex said. "She would have been in bad shape if you and Bonnie hadn't come here eight years ago. Widowed and left up to her ears in debt by that louse she was married to, no other family, no skills, no friends. Taking care of the two of you gave her a new lease on life."



"If that's the case, she's more than repaid me. I just hate keeping her up all hours waiting for me."



"She doesn't mind. It's not like you make a habit of it—I mean, before the last couple of months."



That was true enough, Miranda admitted silently. Being the sheriff of a small and generally peaceful town was a nine-to-five job for the most part. There were occasional town council meetings and other evening commitments, but she was usually able to spend her nights home with Bonnie.



Even when she'd been a deputy serving under the last sheriff, the hours had been reasonable and the work mostly pleasant and undemanding.



But that was before a killer began stalking Gladstone.



Before the visions had returned.



Before Bishop came back into her life.



She looked at the doctor to avoid the temptation of watching Bishop, and saw Edwards make a subtle gesture toward him. By the time the doctor reached her and Alex, Bishop and Agent Harte had also joined them.



"I have a preliminary report, Sheriff," Edwards said briskly. "I'll know more later, of course, but..."



"Go ahead, Doctor."



"Death occurred approximately twelve to twenty-four hours ago. She's in complete rigor, and judging by the position in which we found the body, she was probably dropped into the well no more than two or three hours after death but certainly well before rigor commenced. In these colder temperatures, of course, rigor would have been retarded for some time."



"Yes," Miranda said. "Go on."



"There are no external signs of rape or other sexual abuse. No signs she was tied up or otherwise bound or physically restrained. No defensive injuries. Nothing under the fingernails. She's been severely beaten by a blunt object, something wooden, possibly a baseball bat. The cause of death, I believe, will prove to be internal injuries caused by the beating. The body's been completely exsanguinated, and by someone who knew what they were doing."



Alex said, "There are people who specialize in draining blood? If anybody mentions vampires, I'll—"



Edwards shook her head, but showed no mockery. "Morticians, doctors, even a vet would know. But it's not just a matter of knowledge. This wasn't done out in a field somewhere. He had to have the right place and the right equipment."



"Running water," Miranda said. "Tubing, drains. Containers for the blood, if he kept it."



"Exactly." Edwards nodded. "He might have read up on the procedures, at least enough to have done a professional job, but we can be sure he had to have enough uninterrupted time and privacy to get the job done."



Miranda gazed steadily at the forensic expert. "Okay. And you're sure she didn't fight him? No defensive injuries, she wasn't restrained, nothing under her fingernails—she just let somebody beat her to death without a struggle?"



"I doubt she knew what was happening. A tox screen will tell us for certain, but I believe she was drugged, possibly to the point of coma, before she was killed."



"Bingo," Alex said quietly, looking at Miranda. "That's what's different."



"We haven't seen the detailed reports of the two other cases yet," Bishop reminded them.



Miranda answered the implicit question. "We don't know about Adam Ramsay, but the tox screen on Kerry Ingram came back negative, and all indications are that she was awake and aware through most of her ordeal. In fact, our medical examiner believes she was repeatedly strangled to the point of unconsciousness and then allowed to revive. A blow to the head finally killed her."



Agent Harte muttered, "I'll interpret that data to mean this guy is a real sicko."



"Amen," Alex agreed.



Edwards said, "I'll be able to test the remains of the Ramsay boy. We should know fairly quickly if he was drugged. And I'll know more about this one after the post."



Miranda said, "You didn't mention her eyes, Doctor."



"Removed, as you obviously noticed. And, again, by someone who knew what they were doing."



"Meaning?"



"Meaning that the eyes weren't hacked out or gouged out. They were very neatly removed from the sockets. Whoever did it was careful not to damage the surrounding tissue. In fact, that was the only injury above her neck."



"I'm no profiler," Alex said, looking at Bishop, "but that sounds significant to me."



"Could be," Bishop said dispassionately, as if he hadn't noticed the direct challenge. "By blinding his victim and yet leaving her face essentially undamaged, he could be telling us she knew him and he felt something for her, possibly even some kind of affection. He took her eyes because she'd seen him, and probably covered her face with something while he was beating her so he could think of her as a nameless, faceless object. On the other hand, though it's comparatively rare for a killer to take a body part as a trophy, that could also be a valid guess."



"I'm sorry I asked," Alex muttered.



"Why did he take her blood?" Miranda asked. "And Kerry Ingram's blood—possibly the blood of all three of them? What does that signify?"



"A ritualistic or cannibalistic obsession, most likely," Bishop answered promptly. "Assuming he kept it and didn't just drain it from the body, he needs the blood or believes he does. Either to drink it or use it some other way in a ritual that's important to him."



"Then maybe," Miranda suggested, "he needed Lynet's eyes as well."



"It is possible," Bishop agreed. "At this point, I barely have enough information to offer a threshold diagnosis, much less a complete profile."



Edwards said, "And I've learned all I can from this body, at least for the moment. Also, in case the rest of you haven't noticed, it's getting damned cold out here. I suggest we bag the body and take it to your autopsy facility, and I'll get started on the post."



"Our autopsy facility," Alex said, "is the morgue of the county hospital. I think they threw out the leeches a year or so ago."



Edwards smiled faintly. "Fieldwork demands accommodations, Deputy. I always bring my own equipment along."



"Wise of you."



Miranda said, "The hearse we've been using to transport the bodies is back with the other vehicles, Doctor. Take as many of my people as you need to help."



"Thank you, Sheriff."



After Edwards and Harte moved away, Alex said, "Randy, why don't you head on back? It's been a hell of a long day, and tomorrow won't be any better."



Very conscious of Bishop's silent attention, Miranda shook her head. "I still have to go tell Teresa Grainger about her daughter, before she hears it from someone else. Besides, we'll be finished up here in another hour."



"A word, Sheriff?" Bishop's tone was impersonal.



Miranda followed him a few feet away, keeping a careful and deliberate distance between them. She didn't have to wait long to hear what he had to say.



"Miranda, if my team's to be of any real use to you, they have to be able to do their jobs."



She stiffened. "I wasn't aware anyone was interfering with them."



"You are."



She opened her mouth to deny it, but he didn't give her a chance.



"You closed down like a steel trap the moment we got here. And whatever else may have changed in eight years, that hasn't. You're blocking them, Miranda. They can't pick up a damned thing, from the body or from the area, as long as you're here."



"You didn't seem to have any trouble." She refused to look away from those pale sentry eyes of his, refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing he could still get under her skin—even if not inside her head.



"And we both know why," he said flatly. "But my team doesn't have the same ... advantage."



It took every ounce of her willpower not to hit him. She couldn't say a word, didn't trust herself to speak at all.



Obviously not suffering from the same paralysis, he said, "Let us do what we came here to do, Miranda. And you do what you have to do. Go tell that kid's mother she won't be coming home. And then get some rest. We'll start fresh in the morning."



She still couldn't say a word, because she knew if she did it would become a torrent of words. Words about betrayal. Words about dishonesty and deception, about hurt and loss and bitterness and rage.



So she didn't say a word. She just turned and headed around the lake to her Jeep. She left Bishop to explain to Alex and the others why she had left so abruptly.



She knew he'd think of something to tell them.



* * *



"My God, we do have a serial killer," the mayor said, horrified.



John MacBride was seated across the desk from Miranda, who wished for the third time that she had gone straight home from Teresa Grainger's place. Instead, she had stopped at the office for what she'd thought would be no more than ten minutes. But MacBride showed up and the ten minutes stretched into twenty.



"We don't know that for sure," she told him patiently.



"With three dead teenagers? What else could it be?"



"They used to call serial killers 'stranger killers,' because they seldom had any connection to or prior knowledge of their victims. I don't believe that's the case here. And given the way we found the bodies, I think the task force will eventually classify these as bizarre murders—killings committed to satisfy the needs of some kind of ritual."



MacBride looked more appalled. He was normally a handsome man, but signs of strain had appeared in recent weeks, and his expression of dismay made the dark circles under his eyes and lines on his face much more evident.



"Ritual killings?" he exclaimed. "Do you mean we're dealing with Satanism or some other kind of occult shit?"



"I don't know, John. But if you're imagining black-robed figures dancing around a fire out in the woods under a full moon, forget it. We have one killer here, and whatever his reasons for killing, whatever his sick rituals are, I believe we'll find he's acting alone."



"That doesn't make me feel any better, dammit! The bastard's done a hell of a lot of damage alone." He brooded for a moment. "It has to be a stranger. Someone who doesn't actually live in Gladstone but just—"



"Just hunts here?" Miranda shrugged. "It's possible. And now, with three killings to reference, at least we should be able to note enough commonalities to ask law enforcement in surrounding counties to check their own unsolved cases for similar killings."



"The publicity," MacBride moaned.



Miranda decided she wasn't up to reassuring a worried mayor tonight; no matter what she said, it would only upset him more. With a sigh, she rose to her feet.



"Look, John, let's not borrow more trouble, all right? We'll do our best to limit publicity. Besides, if this FBI task force is as good as their reputation, chances are we'll have this case solved and the killer in custody very soon."



"And if they're not as good?" He got up too, moving stiffly and frowning. "I've already had a dozen calls tonight, Randy. Panic is spreading quickly."



"Then we'll do what we can to calm everybody down, John. We'll recommend reasonable precautions, and we'll make certain the town knows that every resource we can muster is focused on finding this killer."



"And we should make sure those FBI people are visible. Very visible."



Miranda knew that MacBride was prepared to publicly cast the entire responsibility of capturing the killer onto the broader shoulders of the FBI. That didn't bother Miranda so much for her own sake, but she'd be damned if her own people didn't get the credit they deserved. They had already put in long hours of painstaking work.



But all she said was, "I imagine they'll be visible enough, John. Aside from everything else, we only have one motel in town, and since it's on Main Street and seldom has more than a couple of overnight guests in any given week ..."



He grunted. "Yeah, you're right about that. But look, Randy, I'd appreciate daily reports."



"I'll be sure to keep you informed," she said non-committally.



He sighed, but didn't insist. Instead, he said, "Why don't you let me give you a ride home? You must be exhausted, and I'm parked out front—"



"So am I," she told him. "Besides, I want to get an early start in the morning, so I'd rather drive home tonight. But thanks, John."



He sighed again. "One of these days, you're going to say yes, Randy."



"Good night, John."



* * *



The Bluebird Lodge sucked.



That was Bishop's considered opinion, and not even the "major renovations" in the works, according to the owner/manager, could make the place any better. It boasted two floors but no interior hallways, cramped rooms furnished in decent quality but questionable taste, and unless one chose to visit a restaurant down the street (which closed promptly at 9:00 p.m.), the only options for dining were a couple of vending machines.



Still, at least the place was clean.



It was nearly midnight. Bishop and his team planned to make an early start the following day, and he knew he should sleep. But he was too keyed up.



He unpacked and set his laptop up on the ridiculously small desk near the window. After connecting with Quantico, he downloaded a few potentially useful data files. It was something he usually did long before he was actually on the scene, but in this case ...



He sat back in the none-too-comfortable chair and stared at an uninspired print on the wall. But he was seeing something else.



She had changed in eight years. Still strikingly lovely, of course, but he'd expected that, had braced himself for it. Or thought he had. But the girl he remembered, dazzling though she had been then, had grown in the years since into a woman of uncommon beauty and rare strength.



Her vivid blue eyes didn't gleam with laughter as readily as before, and they had a depth that hid thoughts and secrets. Her beautiful face revealed only what she chose to reveal, and her splendid body moved with fluid grace. Her voice was measured, controlled, a voice one could hardly imagine spitting out shaking curses in grief and rage and pain.



"You ruthless, coldhearted bastard! You'll use anything and anyone you have to, won't you? As long as you get what you want, as long as you win, you don't give a shit what happens to anyone else!"



He wondered if now, under the same circumstances, Miranda would simply shoot him. Not that the circumstances would ever be the same. He never made the same mistake twice.



No, this Miranda, this woman he had faced today across a gulf of eight years and too much pain and loss, was not the girl he remembered. She had perfected her previously erratic control and learned not only to shield herself but to extend that bubble of protection outside herself to enclose others.



He knew why, of course. Because of Bonnie.



The human mind was a remarkable instrument, the human will even more so. Miranda had needed to protect Bonnie, and that intense, desperate need had driven her to hone her extraordinary ability.



He wondered if she had any idea just how extraordinary.



It was ... an unanticipated complication. He was confident of getting through her shields by touch; after all, his spider-sense had, as she had noted, functioned normally despite them. And he did have an advantage over most other people when it came to her. But her strength had surprised him. It told him Miranda would give up nothing against her will.



If he forced his way past her shields, he doubted either of them would emerge from the battle without untold damage.



Bishop allowed himself a moment of grimly amused self-mockery. For eight years, he had focused on the simple need to find her, deluding himself that the wounds he had inflicted could be healed quickly once he was able to face her again, to talk to her. He had imagined that her pain and bitterness had faded with time, making it even easier for him.



But it was not going to be easy to earn Miranda's forgiveness. If it would even be possible.



"Hurting me was the least of it."



She was wrong about that, as far as he was concerned. What he had done could not be undone; the dead could not be brought back to life. For that, he expected no forgiveness, because he would never forgive himself. But he meant to make things right between him and Miranda.



Whatever it cost him.



* * *



Miranda broke the news to her sister and Mrs. Task when she got home, but she kept it brief. Lynet Grainger's body had been found, that's all they needed to know. For now, at least.



Bonnie wasn't surprised; Miranda had told her before she'd gone to the lake that she was certain they would find another body.



The housekeeper was horrified; she'd been saying over and over "that Grainger girl" had just run away, most likely, and would probably come home any day now.



Whistling in the graveyard. Like everyone in town, she didn't want to believe that a monster lurked nearby. A monster that looked human.



"Poor Teresa," Mrs. Task murmured as she put on her coat. "You told her?"



"Yes, before I came home," Miranda said. "And called her sister to come stay with her."



"She wasn't drinking?"



"Not as far as I could tell. In fact, I think she's been cold sober since she woke up to find Lynet gone. It's just a pity she didn't wake up sooner."



"I'll take something over tomorrow." Like many of her generation, Mrs. Task believed life's hurts and death's shocks could be eased with food.



"I'm sure she'd appreciate that," Miranda murmured, sure only that lots of neighbors would bring lots of food to try to fill the terrible void left by the death of a child.



Mrs. Task shook her head as she picked up her purse. "Poor thing. To lose a child ..."



Bonnie waited until after the housekeeper had left, then said, "One of Mrs. Task's friends called and told her the FBI agents had come. Had they?"



Miranda nodded.



"Well? Is it him?"



"Three agents. Naturally, he's the one in charge."



Bonnie looked at her anxiously. "Did you talk to him?"



"About the investigation." Miranda shrugged. "He was entirely professional. So was I."



"But he remembered you."



"Oh, yes. He remembered." Too damned well.



"Did he ask why you'd changed your name?"



"He didn't have to ask."



"Did you tell him what you saw?"



"No. No, of course not. He doesn't need to know about that. Not now. Not yet."



After a moment, Bonnie said, "Why don't you shower and get ready for bed while I heat up supper?"



"I'm not very hungry."



"You have to eat, Randy."



Miranda was too tired to argue. She went upstairs and took a long, hot shower, trying to soothe weary muscles and wash away tension and the stink of death. She did feel better afterward, at least physically. When she returned to the kitchen in robe and slippers she felt a twinge of appetite as she smelled stew.



Automatically, Miranda reached for a coffee cup, but found herself holding a glass of milk instead.



"The last thing you need tonight," Bonnie said, "is more caffeine."



Again, Miranda didn't argue. She drank her milk and ate the stew without tasting it, wondering how long she could delay the conversation her sister undoubtedly wanted to have.



"Has Bishop changed much?"



Not long at all.



"He's older. We're all older."



"Does he look different?"



"Not that I noticed."



"Is he married?"



The question startled Miranda. "No," she said quickly, then added, "I don't know. He isn't wearing a ring."



"And you didn't talk about personal things."



I never meant to hurt you.



"No," Miranda said steadily. "We didn't talk about personal things."



"Because you're all closed up?"



"Because there's no reason for us to discuss personal things, Bonnie. He's here to do a job, and that's all."



"Can he still..."



"What?"



"Can he still get in even when you're all closed up?"



Miranda stared down at her empty milk glass. "I don't know."



"But—"



"We didn't touch."



"Not at all?"



"No."



Bonnie frowned. "You have to find out, Randy. If he can't get in, he won't be able to help you when the time comes."



"I know."



Bonnie hesitated, then said gently, "If he can't get in, you'll have to let him in."



"I know that too."



"Can you do it?"



"You said it. I'll have to."



Bonnie bit her lip. "I know you said leaving wouldn't change anything, but—"



"Even if we could, it's too late." Because Bishop was here now. Because events had been set in motion and there was no stopping them, not until they reached their inevitable conclusion.



Not until it was finally over.





FOUR




Sunday, January 9



The Cox County Sheriff's Department was housed in a building less than twenty years old. And back when it was designed, the city fathers had envisioned continued economic growth along the happy lines of what the town had then been experiencing. Unfortunately, they'd been wrong, but at least their optimism had led to a building with numerous offices and a spacious conference room, which was used mostly for storage.



Miranda had left orders, and by the time she and two of the three FBI agents met there early the following morning, the conference room had been cleared of boxes of old files and supplies, and provided a decent base of operations for the task force. Extra phone lines were already in place, as were fixed blackboards and bulletin boards, and the three large partner desks contained all the usual supplies. There was a conference table big enough to seat six, several pieces of antiquated audiovisual equipment, and one five-year-old desktop computer hastily shifted from one of the outer offices.



The coffeemaker, at least, was new.



Miranda didn't bother to apologize for the inadequacies of her department; since Dr. Edwards had brought her own equipment along, and both Bishop and Harte arrived this morning with the latest thing in laptop computers, she figured they'd expected small-town deficiencies from the get-go.



And if they didn't like it, tough.



She got them settled in the room with all the files on the investigation, assigned a regrettably awed and nervous young deputy to fetch and carry for them, and retreated to her office to handle the morning's duties.



She called the morgue first and was told by Dr. Edwards that the post-mortem on Lynet Grainger was well under way.



"By the way, I've studied Dr. Shepherd's report on the post he performed on Kerry Ingram, and I don't believe there'll be any need to exhume the body."



Kerry was the only victim whose body had been released to the family for burial, and Miranda was intensely grateful that she probably wouldn't have to return to those grieving relatives and ask to dig up their little girl for another session on the autopsy table.



"Dr. Shepherd was quite thorough," Edwards said cheerfully, "and careful in preserving the slides and tissue samples, so there should be no trouble in verifying his findings."



In the background, Peter Shepherd could be heard to say that he appreciated that.



Miranda was relieved yet again by that little aside. Not that she'd expected trouble from him since calling in a more experienced forensics expert had been his suggestion—but you just never knew about professionals, especially doctors. So jealous of their authority.



"Thank you, Doctor," she said to Edwards. "If there's anything you need, please call me here at the office."



"I will, Sheriff, thanks. I should have a written report for you by the end of the day."



Miranda hung up, then turned to the stack of messages that had come in already this morning. She spent considerable time returning calls and soothing, as best she could, the fears and worries of the people who had voted her into office.



Not that there was much she could really say to reassure anyone.



She did try, though, listening patiently to suggestions ranging from a dusk-to-dawn curfew of everyone in town under the age of eighteen to the calling in of the National Guard, and offering her own brand of calm confidence.



They would catch the killer, she was certain of it.



She told no one what else she was certain of—that more teenagers would have to die first. Unless she found a way to frustrate fate.



That was possible. She had done it once before, after all.



By eleven o'clock, Miranda couldn't listen to one more anxious voice, so she went back to the conference room to escape the ceaseless ringing of her telephone.



At least, that's what she told herself.



Bishop and Harte had been busy. Files were lying open or stacked neatly on the conference table, alongside legal pads covered with notes. Their laptops and the old desktop were humming, and an even older printer was laboring in the corner to produce a hard copy of somebody's request.



The big bulletin board on the wall had been divided into three sections, one for each victim, and all the photos of the bodies at the crime scenes were tacked up, along with autopsy reports. Agent Harte was writing a time line on the blackboard, printing in block letters the names and ages of the victims, when and where they'd disappeared, and when and where the bodies had been found.



Bishop, who was half sitting on one end of the conference table and watching Harte, greeted Miranda by saying, "You saw the time pattern, of course."



Miranda wasn't especially flattered that he expected her to see the obvious. "You mean that the disappearances were almost exactly two months apart? Of course. Any ideas as to why that particular amount of time?"



"I wouldn't want to hazard an opinion until we find all the commonalities between the victims and start developing a reasonable profile of the killer."



That made sense and was what Miranda had expected. Still, she had to make a comment. "He does seem to be killing them quicker each time."



Bishop consulted the legal pad beside him. "Your M.E. estimates the Ramsay boy was killed as much as six weeks after he disappeared, the Ingram girl less than four weeks. And since Lynet Grainger disappeared only a few days ago, we know she was killed in a matter of hours."



Tony Harte stepped back to view his work. "So we have several possibilities. He might have drastically stepped up his timetable for some reason important to him and his ritual. He might have discovered soon after he grabbed her that the Grainger girl didn't fit his requirements as he'd expected, and therefore killed her in rage. Killing her quickly might have been part of his ritual, a new step. Or there was something different about Grainger, something that made him treat her unlike the other victims."



Miranda thought those were pretty good possibilities.



"So we don't know if we have two months before he grabs another kid."



Harte shook his head soberly. "Ask me, he could grab another one today or tomorrow. Then again, he could also wait two months or six—or move to a new hunting ground. We don't know enough yet."



Since she was alone with the agents, she said pointblank, "Did any of you pick up anything last night after I left?" She looked at Harte but it was Bishop who answered.



"Tony thinks the killer knew the girl, probably quite well. He got a strong sense of regret, even sadness."



Miranda regarded the agent with genuine interest. "So that's your other specialty, huh? You pick up emotional vibes?"



He laughed softly. "That's as good a definition as any, I guess."



Miranda sat in a chair at the opposite end of the conference table from Bishop. "What about Dr. Edwards? What's her nonmedical specialty?"



"Similar to mine. Only she picks up bits of information rather than feelings, hard facts. Tunes in to the physical vibes, I guess you'd say. We lump both abilities under the heading of 'adept.' "



"I see. And did she pick up any physical vibes out at the well last night?"



"None to speak of. She thinks he lingered only long enough to dump the body. I agree." It was his turn to look at her with interest. "And I must say, it's a nice change to deal with local law enforcement without having to find alternate explanations for how we gather some of our information."



"If you use unconventional methods," Miranda said, "you've got to expect that sort of suspicion and disbelief."



"But not from you."



"No. Not from me." She smiled faintly. "And don't try to tell me you don't know why."



"Because you're pretty good at picking up vibes yourself?"



"Picking up vibes isn't really my strong suit. It's what Bishop used to call an ancillary ability," she said, keeping her gaze fixed on Harte. "Like his spider-sense, only not nearly so focused."



"Ah. One of the rare psychics possessing more than a single skill. And your primary ability?"



"Once upon a time, it was precognition. But I burned that one out pretty thoroughly years ago. The ... visions ... are few and far between these days."



Harte's spaniel-brown eyes widened, and he looked at Bishop with something like wonder. "My God," he said softly. "Three separate abilities?"



"Four," Bishop said. "Aside from being adept, pre-cognitive, and able to project a shield, she's also a pretty fair touch telepath. On our scale ... probably eighth degree."



"Wow," Harte said, again very softly.



Miranda wasn't entirely sure she liked Bishop's frankness, but knew only too well that she herself had opened the door. It just felt odd to be discussing it so openly after so many years of careful silence. She didn't want to admit even to herself that it also felt sort of nice to talk to people who understood and accepted.



But curiosity drove her to ask, "Eighth degree? What the hell kind of scale are we talking about?" Since Harte still appeared a bit stunned, she had no choice but to look, finally, at Bishop.



He gazed at her steadily, his pale eyes unreadable. "A scale we developed at Quantico while putting the program together the last few years."



"Being anal feds," she said dryly, "you just had to weigh, measure, and evaluate even the paranormal, huh?"



"Something like that."



She realized he wasn't going to tell her unless she asked, and it annoyed her. "Okay, I'll bite. So how high does this scale of yours go?"



"To twelve."



"Which, I suppose, is your degree?"



Bishop shook his head. "We have yet to encounter a psychic with any kind of twelfth-degree ability. I rank at a little above ten telepathically."



"How about the spider-sense? What does that rank?"



"Maybe six. On a good day."



"To put things into perspective," Harte murmured, "Sharon and I both come in around three on the scale as adepts. Most of the other members of the unit, in fact, don't go above five. And only one other agent besides Bishop has even an ancillary ability, far less a full-blown secondary ability. This is the first time I've ever met anybody with more than two. In fact, it's the first time I've even heard of it."



"Yeah, well. I come from a long line of overachievers." Miranda wasn't as impressed with herself as Harte was. Familiarity had not bred contempt, but it had bred acceptance; to Miranda, the paranormal was just a part of life.



"Why in hell are you stuck way out here in the boonies instead of playing on our team?" Harte exclaimed, then winced and sent an apologetic look to Bishop. "Yikes. Sorry, boss."



"Tony," Bishop said mildly, "I think the coffeepot is empty. Why don't you go fill it?"



"Hey, you don't have to drop a house on me to get me to go away. I'm psychic—I can take a more subtle hint than that." He grabbed the coffeepot and beat a hasty retreat, closing the door gently behind him.



Miranda didn't know which emotion was stronger, furious embarrassment that her past was not, apparently, as private as she had supposed, or furious pain that Bishop had evidently discussed her with at least one member of his team.



"I'm sorry, Miranda."



She forced herself not to look away, and called on all her self-control to present an indifferent front. "About what? Discussing me with your agents? Should I have expected anything else?"



"I hope so. It isn't what you obviously think."



"Isn't it?"



"Miranda, they're psychics. And even though my walls are fairly solid, I can't project an impenetrable shield the way you can—even around my own mind."



She was glad her shield was firmly in place just then, glad he had no idea of her thoughts and emotions. But all she said was, "So whose idea was this new unit of yours? It doesn't sound at all typical of the Bureau."



For a moment, she thought he would fight her, but finally he answered.



"It isn't. There was a great deal of resistance at first, until it was proved that unconventional methods and abilities could produce tangible results."



"And who proved that? You?"



"Eventually."



"Really? How?"



He drew a breath. "I tracked down the Rosemont Butcher."



Miranda rose to her feet slowly, staring at him. "What?" she whispered.



"Lewis Harrison. I got him, Miranda. Six and a half years ago."



* * *



Alex had been more or less ordered not to come into the office on Sunday. He'd been working nearly three weeks without a break, and Miranda claimed the town council would have her head on a platter if she didn't see to it that he took time off whether he wanted to or not. Overtime was one thing, she said, but he was carrying it to extremes—even if they did have a serial killer to find.



He hated days off. He wasn't a sporting man, so hunting and fishing held no appeal for him. Neither did golf. Watching sports on television was an enjoyable pastime only during baseball season. He ran and worked out to keep in shape, but a man could hardly do that all day.



And then there was the house. It was too big and too damned empty. He should get rid of it, he knew. But Janet had loved the house, had decorated it with painstaking care, and in the year since her death he hadn't been able to face the thought of someone else living in Janet's house.



But living in the house alone had its own kind of pain, and though sleeping there was, finally, possible, Alex could seldom spend much time in it when he was awake.



Unfortunately, Sundays in Gladstone didn't offer a lot in the way of entertainment once church let out. And even less if one wasn't particularly interested in church.



He finally drove to town, resisting the urge to stop by the office and find out what was going on. Instead, he parked near Liz's bookstore and coffeeshop, forced to wait nearly forty-five minutes for Liz to unlock the doors at two o'clock.



"I heard about Lynet," she said.



"Yeah, poor kid." Alex sat at the counter rather than his usual booth, since Liz worked alone on Sundays.



"And I heard the FBI is in town."



"Well, three agents anyway." He smiled. "Your dark man with a mark on his face is one of them. And Randy knows him." Then Alex recalled what Liz had said about the fate of that man, and his smile faded. "You don't still think—"



Liz chewed on her bottom lip. "When I read the leaves again, it was more fuzzy, less definite, but I'm sure it was the same thing, Alex. Does—does Randy like him?"



Alex considered the question. "To be honest, the only thing I'm sure of is that she feels a lot about him. Whether it's like or dislike, positive or negative, I can't tell."



"Maybe I should talk to her about what I saw," Liz suggested hesitantly. "She's never scoffed. Never let me read the leaves for her, but—"



Alex shook his head. "Not right now, Liz. Randy has enough on her plate, I think, without having to worry about something that might not happen."



"I knew it would be a strange year, new millennium and all, but I really don't like all these bad omens, Alex."



"More dogs howling at night?"



Before she could answer, Justin Marsh stormed into the coffeeshop, his thin little wife, Selena, on his heels like a mute shadow.



"Elizabeth, I'm asking you again not to conduct business on the Sabbath!" he thundered as though from a pulpit.



Alex sighed. "Justin, why're you picking on Liz? Half the retail businesses and all the restaurants and cafes open up after church. Afternoon, Selena."



"Hello." She smiled timidly, holding her Bible with both hands as though she feared it would escape any minute. She might have been pretty once, but Selena had been married to Justin Marsh for nearly thirty years and the ordeal had worn her down. She was seldom seen in public without him, and Alex couldn't recall hearing her say much more than hello and goodbye, with an occasional Praise the Lord or Amen thrown in at appropriate pauses in Justin's oratory.



"As a matter of fact," Alex went on, "didn't you use to open up your car lot on Sundays before you retired and sold out?"



"I saw the error of my ways," Justin declared piously, his face reddening. "And now I'm commanded by the Lord to guide the others of his flock toward the light of salvation!"



Alex almost gave that one an Amen himself. He always appreciated a good dramatic performance.



Gravely, Liz said, "Can I get you two some coffee, Justin? Purely on the house, you understand—not a business transaction."



He leaned across the counter, eyes intent on her face. "Elizabeth, I will place your feet upon a godly path. You must not be allowed to follow the evil way. A good woman such as you should have an honored place in the house of our Lord."



Normally Alex was patient with Justin's excesses, but with the memory of poor little Lynet's battered body vivid in his mind, he snapped. "Justin, if you want to seek out evil, you might begin with whoever killed our teenagers. I'd think that would be a damned sight more important to any god than whether Liz should sell coffee and books on Sunday!"



Justin made a choked sound, then turned away. Selena, out of long practice, skipped nimbly aside, then shadowed him faithfully as he stalked out of the store.



"I don't like that man," Alex said.



"But you shouldn't have said that, Alex. You know he'll go straight to the mayor."



"Oh, don't worry about it. Right now, even the mayor has more to worry about than Justin Marsh's ruffled feathers."



* * *



Sharon Edwards stripped off her rubber gloves and looked across the table at Peter Shepherd. "No question about it."



Shepherd grunted. "I don't get it," he said. "What would be the point?"



"We'll add that to our list of questions to ask this lunatic when we catch him. In the meantime, if you'll box up all the slides and tissue samples, I'll get started on the report for the sheriff."





* * *



"Six and a half years ago," Miranda repeated numbly. "But... there was nothing about it on the news."



"Not the national news, no. Coincidentally, a far more famous killer was captured that week—a mass murderer out in Texas—and he got all the national media attention."



"I checked NCIC," Miranda protested. "As soon as I joined the Sheriff's Department here and had access, I checked every month to see if he'd been caught."



"I'm sorry," Bishop said. "Some inside the Bureau were convinced Harrison had a partner, that one man couldn't have done everything he'd confessed to doing. The decision was made to keep the case file open, to list him as at large to make certain any similar crimes would send up a flag."



"But how could they do that unless—" She sat back down in her chair. "He's dead?"



Bishop nodded.



"You?"



"Yes."



She was, on some level, surprised to feel so little about the death of Lewis Harrison. For so long, he had been a part of her life, a continual threat, the monster hiding in the closet ready to spring out when darkness came.



She doubted there had been a single night in the last eight years that she had not thought of him in the instant before she turned off her bedside lamp. As for Bonnie, the poor kid still had nightmares, horrible ones. Not so often now, but it was clear she had forgotten nothing of terror.



Miranda couldn't help but wonder how her life might have been different if she'd known Lewis Harrison could never take anything away from her ever again.



What would have changed?



"I wanted to tell you, Miranda. I tried to find you."



"I didn't want to be found," she murmured.



"That became obvious sooner rather than later. Not even FBI resources can locate an angry psychic if she doesn't want to be found."



Miranda didn't explain the methods she had used to start her life over again, though she knew he was curious. Even with the threat of Harrison gone, she was wary enough to want to protect secrets she might need again someday.



Always assuming she survived the next few weeks.



She looked across the table at Bishop and suddenly a dark, chilling doubt twisted inside her. He was ruthless, always had been. When it came to doing his job, he believed the end justified the means, and he was perfectly capable of doing whatever it took to accomplish his objectives.



God, how well she knew that.



So what were his objectives now? To persuade her to drop her guard, her shields, so he could use her abilities to track down a vicious killer? To convince her there was no threat to her and Bonnie, no reason for her to protect herself and her sister?



Would he lie to convince her?



Even though he certainly couldn't read her thoughts, Miranda saw a change in his face, as if he realized what she was thinking. "I am not lying," he said evenly.



She conjured a brittle smile. "You'll have to forgive me if I don't take your word for that."



Bishop moved slightly, an unconscious shifting of his weight in protest or denial, but all he said, in that same level voice, was, "I'll make sure you're allowed access to the sealed records concerning Harrison."



"You do that," Miranda said.





FIVE




It was after noon when Tony Harte stuck his head cautiously into the conference room. He found Bishop alone, still sitting on the table, still staring at the blackboard. He appeared perfectly calm, but the scar on his face stood out whitely from the tanned flesh surrounding it and Harte took due note of a warning sign he had learned to be wary of.



"Um ... the sheriff left a few minutes ago," Harte offered.



"I know."



"I mean, she left the building."



Bishop looked at him briefly. "Yes. I know."



"She seemed to be in an awful hurry. Couldn't wait to get out of here, was my take."



Bishop kept his gaze on the blackboard.



Harte came in and got a fresh pot of coffee brewing. He debated with himself silently, then sighed and ventured where many before him hadn't dared to tread.



"Back when I joined up, the word was you didn't get official approval for the new unit until you threatened to quit. Even after all the stuff you did unofficially, the years of planning and testing and building the program, after all the fieldwork and a growing list of closed cases, the Bureau still didn't want to openly sanction—or appear to sanction—highly unorthodox investigative methods. Even after you gave them results they couldn't deny. But they didn't want to lose one of their top profilers, so they finally gave the unit their official seal of approval—even if it did make them queasy to do it."



"If you get anywhere near a point, Tony, make it."



Harte didn't let that warning voice dissuade him. "I was just thinking that Sheriff Knight probably has no idea that because of her there are a lot of monsters in cages where they belong."



Bishop didn't respond.



"And I was thinking maybe you should tell her."



"If you think it would even the score," Bishop said, "you're wrong."



"Maybe. But she might feel better knowing something positive came out of tragedy."



"You mean she might hate me a little less?" Bishop's smile was hardly worthy of the name. "Don't count on it."



"If you'll excuse me for saying so, boss, letting things go on the way they are between you is just going to slow us down. If we're going to catch this bastard, we'll need every ace we can pull out of our sleeves—and that includes an incredibly gifted psychic with singular abilities who right now is very much shut inside herself."



"She couldn't sense him before we got here," Bishop argued.



"Probably because of her shield. Because she's had to hide what she can do, had to be careful. And ... because she was hiding here herself. Hiding her sister." Harte paused. "I gather she knows she doesn't have to do that anymore."



"She knows what I've told her. Whether she believes I told her the truth is something else entirely."



"You can prove it's the