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The alarm went off at six-thirty the next morning. Joanna punched it and decided to snooze for just a minute or two more. She woke up when the phone rang. "Are you coming in for the briefing or not?" Dick Voland growled. "With four people dead so far, you can pretty well figure things are a little hot around here this morning."

Joanna turned over and stared at the clock in total disbelief. Nine-thirty. She had slept three hours longer than she had intended. "I'll be right there," she said, scrambling out of bed as she spoke. "And yes, we definitely need that briefing."

Oversleeping was bad enough. Oversleeping when she was the boss was inexcusable.

As she threw on clothes and makeup, nothing went right. The first two pairs of pantyhose she put on both had runs. And no matter what she did in front of the mirror, it was going to be a bad-hair day. On her way to the Blazer, she noticed that Kiddo was in his corral, happily munching oats out of his feed trough. That meant that Clayton Rhodes, her handyman neighbor, had already stopped by that morning to do the chores and feed the animals. Too bad he didn't wake me up at the same time, she thought.

Driving to the justice center, she felt half sick and more than a little disoriented. Too many days in a row with far too much to do and not enough rest had taken their inevitable toll. Her already shaky sense of well-being went even further downhill when she encountered half a dozen media vehicles and out-of-town television remote-broadcasting vans parked in the driveway. Squeezed in among the vans was a small white Nissan bearing the Bisbee Bee's logo.

That's just what I need this morning, Joanna thought grimly, another dose of Marliss Shackleford.

Joanna threaded her way through the vehicles toward the rear parking lot. She pulled into her reserved slot, the one directly in front of the private entrance that opened straight into her corner office. Letting herself in via that solitary door, she felt a debt of gratitude-and not for the first time-to whoever had designed that entryway; it allowed her to come and go at times like this without having to deal with what was sure to be a media mob scene in the lobby.

On an almost daily basis, she tried to remind herself that the media were not the enemy, but saying that didn't necessarily make it so-not on mornings like this.

She picked up the phone as soon as she reached her desk. "Send in Deputies Voland and Montoya," she told Kristin. "And Detectives Carpenter and Carbajal."

"All at the same time?"

"You bet," Joanna said. "There's no reason to go over all this stuff more than once if we don't have to."

It took a few minutes for the four officers to assemble, dragging along both extra chairs and coffee. The mood in the room was grim as Joanna called the meeting to order by turning to Dick Voland. "Did Ruben Ramos turn in a missing-persons report on his son this morning?"

Voland nodded. "I've issued an APR on Frankie Ran and his VW bus."

"Good," Joanna said, turning to the others. "All right then, guys, here's the score-four people dead and one missing. It's time to get a handle on this thing. Where do we stand?"

As lead detective, Ernie Carpenter took the floor. "Jaime and I spent half the night trying to make connections between victims, trying to see where they come together, who knew who, that kind of thing. As far as we can tell, Rebecca Flowers, the girl up near Phoenix, isn't connected to anybody. Maricopa County faxed her autopsy results overnight. She was found weeks after she died, so there's no way tell an exact time of death, but they're estimating mid-April to first of May, two years ago. After that, there's nothing until this summer, when Ashley Brittany disappeared."

"Do we have an exact date on her disappearance?" Joanna asked.

"The last her parents heard from her was on the seta Sunday in July, when she called them at home in Van Nuys, California, and said she was going hiking. They didn't start to worry until the next Sunday came and went and she didn't call. Her camper and pickup were later found abandoned in Redington Pass, so that's where the search for her was concentrated. Because there was no sign of foul play, Pima County treated the incident as a missing hiker. They searched for her for days, but if you remember, that's about the time the rains were getting serious. Pima County finally abandoned the search a week or so later."

"But we do know that she had been working here in Cochise County," Joanna said.

All eyes in the room focused on Joanna. Ernie Carpenter's bushy eyebrows knitted together in a puzzled frown. "We do?" he asked.

Joanna nodded. "I talked to Alton Hosfield yesterday," she said. "I ran into him on the road as I was leaving for Tucson. He called her the oleander lady and said he threw her off the Triple C. He said something about her wanting to chop down his grandmother's seventy-five-year-old oleander."

"All right," Ernie said, scribbling a note to himself. "Alton Hosfield. We'll check that out. If Ashley Brittany had been to the Triple C, chances are she went to the other ranches in the area as well-Rattlesnake Crossing, Martin Scorsby's pecan orchard. Right there along the river, there are a dozen big spreads plus God knows how many individual houses. If Brittany was doing an agricultural survey of some kind, we're going to have to talk to all of 'em. Even with the addition of those two guys from Pima County, that could take weeks."

"You'd better get started, then," Dick Voland told him. "What about using patrol deputies to help out?" Joanna asked. "Can you spare any for this?"

The Chief Deputy for Operations glowered at the Chief Deputy for Administration. "That depends on whether or not Mr. Purse Strings can turn loose some payroll."

Joanna smiled. "You'll find the money, right, Frank?"

"Right," he said.

"Go on, Ernie."

"Chronologically, Clyde Philips is next, but in terms of effort, I think we need to go directly to Katrina Berridge. For one thing, we need to interview all the people who are currently staying at Rattlesnake Crossing. According to Crow Woman, this session ends on Sunday morning. That means most of the visitors who were there on the day the Berridge woman disappeared will soon be heading back home-to Germany, mostly. So if we're going to interview them and find out what they know, we need to do it ASAP. Clyde Philips' neighbors in Pomerene are going to be around for a whole lot longer than the foreigners are."

Joanna nodded. "So you'll do the Rattlesnake Crossing interviews first and the others later."

"Right," Ernie said… "We'll be starting on those first thing this morning."

"Maybe not first thing," Joanna remarked. "Where do you and Jaime stand on paperwork?"

"Look, Sheriff Brady," Ernie said, "Jaime and I have spent the better part of the last two days crawling on our hands and knees all over the San Pedro Valley. When do you think either one of us has had time to finalize our reports? They're done in rough form, but they're not ready to turn in-at least mine's not."

"This is going to be a complicated, high-profile set of cases," Joanna said. "Our work here is going to be in for all kinds of public and judicial scrutiny. I want the reporting process kept up-to-date. I want the last two days' reports completed and on my desk before you leave the department this morning," she concluded.

Ernie Carpenter wasn't accustomed to going head-to-head with Joanna. "With all due respect," he said, "I think it's more important to get on with the interviewing process than it is to finish up a bunch of worthless reports that nobody ever reads."

"Most of the time I'd agree with you, but not this time. You're going to have to humor me on this one, Ernie," Joanna stated firmly. "I said I want those reports, and I mean it."

The two detectives exchanged disgusted glances. "All right," Ernie agreed, leaning back in his chair and folding his massive arms across his chest. He didn't say, "It's on your head." He didn't have to.

"Who's next?" Joanna asked. "Jaime?"

"Well, like Ernie said, Maricopa County sent down the Flowers autopsy. Doc Daly was busy overnight, too." Jaime Carbajal picked up two file folders and waved them in the air. "She faxed us the autopsy results on both Ashley Brittany and Clyde Philips. I imagine she'll get around to Katrina Berridge sometime today. When the doc and I were working the Philips crime scene, she told me that, just from looking at him, she suspected Philips had AIDS."

"That's right," Joanna said, "And since we were operating on a mistaken assumption of suicide, how well did you have the evidence techs go over Clyde Philips' house?" Joanna asked.

"Maybe not all that well," Jaime admitted. "There was a lot going on that day."

"So have them do it today. I want every inch of the house dusted for prints, and the gun shop, too."

"All right," Jaime said.

"We'll also need a search warrant for Frankie Ramos' mobile home. Have the evidence techs go over that one as well." Joanna turned to Frank Montoya. "What's going on with you?"

"One way or another, it looks like we've got a serial-killer feeding frenzy going on in Cochise County. What am I supposed to tell that army of reporters outside in the conference room?"

"Tell them as little as humanly possible," Dick Voland advised.

Frank ignored him. "Do we let them know that we've made definite links with three of the four and tentative links with the fourth? And what about this Frankie Ramos thing? I'm afraid if we let that out, we'll have a case of mass hysteria on our hands. People will be seeing serial killers under every prickly pear."

"Considering the way things are going," Dick Voland observed, "they wouldn't be far from wrong."

Ernie spoke up. "We're sure Ramos is connected?"

Now it was Joanna's turn to provide information. "Clyde Philips owned the mobile home where Frankie Ramos was living. Frankie also helped out in Clyde's gun shop. But I suspect there was more to their relationship than either of those things."

"More?" Ernie asked.

Joanna took a deep breath. "I talked to Belle Philips last night," she said. "She divorced Clyde because he liked boys instead of women."

The room fell absolutely silent. Ernie was the first to speak. "You think the two of them-Clyde and Frankie-were… involved?"

Joanna nodded.

"But didn't Doc Daly's autopsy confirm that Clyde Philips had AIDS?"

Joanna nodded again. "And if Frankie found out about it, or if he had discovered that he, too, was infected, that could certainly provide a powerful motive as far as Clyde's death is concerned."

There were nods all around. Dick Voland frowned. "Jaime, didn't you say that Doc Daly had already figured out the AIDS angle right there at the scene?"

Carbajal nodded.

"How'd she do that?"

"There were lesions on his body that she recognized."

Voland sighed. "I guess the woman's a lot smarter than she sounded the first time I talked to her on the phone. Speaking of Dr. Daly, though, what's the deal with her? Are her charges going to us or to somebody else?"

"Comes out of the medical examiner's budget," Drank Montoya said. "The board of supervisors authorized all that before Doc Winfield ever left town. Of course, at the time, nobody anticipated that there was going to be quite such a rush on her services, but…"

"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that," Voland said. "At least the Patrol budget isn't going to have to take it in the shorts when it comes to paying the bill. That's what I've been worried about."

They all laughed at that, and the mood in the room improved immeasurably. For a change, bickering about budget constraints was a bright spot in the morning's proceedings, rather than a drag. But after that one bit of levity, they came right back to the task at hand.

"Getting back to the press conference…" Frank began.

"Dick's right," Joanna said. "Give them the names and background of each of the victims, but for right now it might be best if you didn't say much more than that. The investigation is continuing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You know the old song and dance."

Frank Montoya grinned. "I'm a whole lot better at it now than I used to be."

Joanna looked around the room. "So, we're all on track for today?" The officers nodded. "Any other unfinished business?"

Voland raised his hand, holding up a fistful of computerized incident reports. "Another would-be naked-lady truck hijacking. It happened about midnight last night over by San Simon. This one was reported by a lady trucker who didn't stop. Once again, though, by the time a deputy showed up, the supposed hitchhiker was long gone. This time she was traveling east to west, just inside the Arizona/New Mexico border. It seems to me, if we're going to catch these guys, maybe the department should lease a truck, have a deputy drive, and have another one in the sleeper. We could have them spend a day or two driving back and forth between Tucson and Lordsburg. Let's say the truck stops for the hitchhiker. Then when the accomplice shows up, the guy in the sleeper is there to arrest him. What do you think?"

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Joanna said.

"Sounds expensive," Frank Montoya said.

On that final note, the meeting broke up. Frank was the last to leave the room. Joanna stopped him before he made it into the reception area. "Pull the door shut again for a minute," she said. "I need you to do something for me."

"What's that?"

"As soon as Ernie and Jaime turn in their reports, I'm going to have Kristin make copies of everything they've given me, including the autopsies. Once I have all that pulled together, I want you to fax it to the profilers at the FBI. But this morning, before you even go talk to the reporters, I want you to contact the Profiling Unit and let them know the stuff will be coming. That way, maybe they can have someone on standby ready to handle it. I also want you to tell them that any further communications about these cases should come directly to me, either by discreet calls on my cell phone or on my private line. I don't want calls from them going through the switchboard."

"How come?" Frank asked. "Surely you don't think someone from the department is involved in this case, do you?"

Joanna shook her head. "No, but I don't want any inadvertent leaks, either. If the press gets wind that the Feds are involved, we'll have a media stampede on our hands and panic besides. As far as I know, we've never had a serial killer loose in Cochise County before. The fact that we're calling in the FBI would scare people to death."

"Gotcha," Frank replied. "I'll get on it right away." He walked as far as the office door, then slopped without opening it. "What about Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms?" he asked. "With that whole shopful of guns gone missing, shouldn't we notify them as well?"

"Check with Dick on that. He was supposed to notify them yesterday. If he did, they aren't exactly beating a path to our door."

Frank shrugged. "It figures," he said.

Once Frank had left the room, Joanna settled down and tried to get a handle on her own paperwork. Since she was a firm believer in her mother's old adage about sauce for both the goose and the gander, Joanna started the process by doing her own contact reports, covering her conversations with Alton Hosfield, Belle Philips, and Sarah Holcomb.

The one with Sarah bothered her. Looking at what she had written, Joanna couldn't help thinking that she had blown that interview. Sarah had become so defensive when she realized that Belle Philips might wind up being a suspect that the flow of information had simply dried up. Maybe I need to take another crack at her, Joanna thought. Maybe that's something I can do while everybody else is out interviewing the people at Rattlesnake Crossing.

She moved from the contact reports directly into the unending stack of daily correspondence. She felt as though she was making great progress until Kristin reappeared with that day's collection. The top item on the stack was a copy of the Bisbee Bee.

"I wouldn't read that if I were you," Kristin warned as Joanna reached for the paper.

"That bad?"

Kristin nodded. "That bad."

Picking up the paper, Joanna turned immediately to Marliss Shackleford's column, "Bisbee Buzzings."

Anyone who's had the misfortune of having to deal with the Cochise County Sheriff's Department, of late probably already knows that's one pant of county government where the word "public servant" has fallen into disuse.

Someone needs to remind Sheriff Joanna Brady that she serves at the direction and will of the people who elected her. She also needs to understand that if a crazed killer is plunked down in their midst, the people have a right to demand to know what's going on.

She needs to understand as well that declaring the entire Triple C Ranch east of Benson as an off-limits crime scene is not the way to conduct an effective investigation. Hello, Ms. Brady. Are you listening? Banning reporters from doing their job is no way for you to do yours.

Joanna tossed the paper in the air. It sailed briefly on the current from the air-conditioning duct. Then, in a move not to be duplicated, it landed directly in the trash. "Good shot," Kristin said. "Looks like you filed it right where it belongs."

"Thanks, Kristin," Joanna said. The secretary started toward the door. "Have Ernie and Jaime dropped off their reports yet?" she asked.

"They just did."

"Good," the sheriff said. "Copy it all-autopsy reports, crime-scene reports, everything-and bring it to me right away."

By eleven-thirty, the whole stack of material landed on Frank Montoya's desk. He was just starting to fax it when Joanna left for lunch. She grabbed a quick combination breakfast/lunch at Daisy's and was back at her desk working and not watching the clock when the phone-her private line-rang at two-thirty.

"Sheriff Brady?" someone asked.


"Monty Brainard here, FBI. Excuse me, but is this a home phone number?"

"No. It's a private line in my office. If you don't mind, I'd rather not have your calls come through the switchboard. I'm trying to downplay this as much as possible. The less attention we call to the idea of a serial killer, the better. If people around here get wind that your office is involved… Well, you know the drill."

"I certainly do," Brainard replied, "although I'm not sure how much help we'll be able to give you. As I told the fellow who called me about this earlier-Mr. Montoya, I believe-we're so slammed here at the moment that I can't promise much more than just a cursory treatment. For more than that, you'll have to go through official channels and get on waiting lists and all that. Since you've sent me the info, however, I can probably give you a quick-and-dirty assessment, although I don't know how helpful it'll be.

"Do you want me to give it to you, or should I pass it along to your lead detective-Mr. Carpenter, I assume?"

"I'm sitting here with pad and paper at the ready," she told him.

"Okay, then," Monty Brainard said. "Here goes. In my opinion, you're dealing with a young white male, late teens, early twenties at the most. He's totally self-absorbed. He has no concept that anyone else actually exists. As far as he's concerned, his reality is the only reality."

"You think he's white?" Joanna asked. "You're sure he's not Hispanic?"

"Maybe," Brainard returned. "Hispanic is possible, I suppose, but my gut instinct says no. This is a loner of a young man with some severe issues when it conies to relating to the adult authority figures in his life. He hates women and men just about equally, but I find the fact that he didn't mutilate the male victim telling. There's probably still a sense of fear or awe about adult males. He's primarily targeting women, but he's doing it to get back at the authority figure. Most likely that's his father, but it could be a stepfather or a grandfather, too. Maybe even a mother's boyfriend, but I doubt it.

"Then there's the burial motif. Let me see… yes, he did the rock-pile trick with two of the victims, both Flowers and Brittany. If your people hadn't found the Berridge woman when they did, he probably would have pulled the same stunt with her. I'm sure there's a message in the burial routine, but right now, on such short notice and with the information available, I can't decode it.

"The other ingredient, of course, is the scalping. Once you find him, you can pretty well count on finding a trophy room as well. It's going to be ugly."

Joanna's lunch turned sour in her stomach while Monty Brainard paused. "Am I going too fast?" he asked.

After one or two false starts, Joanna's years of taking shorthand dictation had come back to her and was serving her in good stead. "No," she said, mastering her queasiness. "I'm fine. Go ahead."

"Okay. From what I can see, there don't seem to be any connections at all among the women. Is that right?"

"That's correct."

"So they're probably crimes of convenience. He killed them for the same reason some people go out of their way to climb mountains-they were there. The rage was building for a long time, but the first victim, the one in Phoenix, was most likely his first real taste of blood. After that, there's a long pause. I suspect he was out of circulation for a time. Maybe even incarcerated. The lack of fingerprints leads me to think that, too. Your perpetrator is wearing gloves. 1'd guess he knows his fingerprints are on record somewhere. He also knows that if your investigators find them at a crime scene, you'll be able to find him, too. Anyway, he was locked up until sometime earlier this year. Probably until just before this new set of killings started.

"Unfortunately, Sheriff Brady, I believe not only are you dealing with a serial killer, your guy is in what we call the subcategory of spree. In other words, now that he's started on his tear, he's not going to stop until he's caught or dead. I don't happen to think he's particularly concerned about getting caught, either. To paraphrase Margaret Mitchell-frankly, my dear, I don't think the son of a bitch gives a damn. Which is why the stolen gun collection scares the hell out of me. Is that true? Does he really have access to a whole arsenal of weapons?"

"Sad but true," Joanna replied. "And unlimited ammunition as well."

"Great. Well, be advised, Sheriff Brady. He's liable to stage one hell of a grand-exit spectacle. He'll probably try taking along as many people as possible, including any he's missed so far-like specific family members, for example. Killing all these other people may just be leading up to the main event. Working up his courage, as it were." Monty paused. "What kind of guns?"

"Some of everything," Joanna said. "Including the possibility of several fifty-calibers."

Monty Brainard whistled. "Boy, oh boy, you'd better watch your guys, then. Don't send anybody up against him who isn't armed with the same kind of firepower."

"Great," Joanna said. "You wouldn't happen to be in a position to lend my department a couple of fifty-calibers, would you?"

"Not personally," Brainard said, "hut I can put your request to the local agent in charge out there and see what he can do. Want me to have him give you a call?"

"Yes, that would be fine. Only give him the same two numbers Frank Montoya gave you."

"Will do. Hope this was a help."

"It is and it isn't," Joanna replied. "I feel like I'm climbing up a really tough cliff. Now I've turned over a rock and come face-to-face with a rattlesnake."

"There's one big difference between the guy you're looking for and your everyday, garden-variety rattlesnake," Monty Brainard told her.

"Oh? What's that?"

"As I understand it, a rattlesnake only kills when it's cornered. This guy is looking for kicks. So good luck, Sheriff Brady. You're going to need it."

"Thanks," Joanna said. "I know."