To everyone’s surprise, just as they reached the college, Wyatt called Jackie Stokes and told them he was on his way. No explanation about where he’d been, no questions about the case, just a few terse words. He was in town and would come straight to the campus to meet them. And he wanted the team all together when he did so.
He obviously had been very close. They had barely opened the boxes of file folders, where the elderly professor in charge said the archived registration forms and book sale receipts should be, when Wyatt showed up.
He had also obviously not been kidding about everyone being together, because he was not alone. As their boss walked into the empty lecture hall they were using, Brandon Cole walked beside him. Their somber expressions said this was bad. Very bad.
Brandon’s hair was disheveled, and he wore faded jeans and an MIT sweatshirt, as though he’d yanked on the first thing he could find. His eyes were suspiciously bright, his shoulders slumped.
Wyatt was in even worse shape. The man’s white dress shirt was wrinkled, untucked, and smeared with dirt. His usually crisp pants actually had a tear, and his shoes were caked with mud.
Worst of all was his demeanor. His boss seemed to have aged a decade since last night. Dark circles ringed his eyes, and his stubbled face was gouged with both anger and grief.
This isn’t just bad.
Rising to ask what had happened, Alec heard his cell phone ring. He glanced at it, saw Sam’s name, but, knowing she was safe at the hospital, didn’t answer. He quickly punched the power button, cutting the noise midring. Because the tension on Wyatt Blackstone’s face said he had something to say and that he wanted to say it only once.
“Oh, no,” he whispered under his breath, suddenly having an awful suspicion.
Wyatt confirmed that suspicion with four baldly spoken words.
“Lily Fletcher is dead.”
Jackie let out a shocked cry; Mulrooney lowered himself onto the seat he’d just vacated. Taggert snapped an obscenity, stalked to a corner of the room, and slammed his palm against the wall.
Alec just stood there. This was painful for him, even after knowing Lily for only a week. For the rest of the team, who had worked with her day in and day out for months? With what he’d gone through in Atlanta, he knew they were in for an awful time.
Wyatt gave everyone a minute to regain focus; then he explained. Since Alec had known about the mission with the other CAT, he didn’t need as much backstory as the others. But when it came to what, exactly, had happened last night, he was all ears.
“Why the fuck wasn’t she protected?” Taggert asked after Wyatt told them about the sting.
“She was supposed to be. The agent in charge assured me she would stay in the surveillance van. Unfortunately, they were all tricked.”
“By?” Alec asked.
“The unsub hired a vagrant to scope out the house while he watched from a few streets away. When he realized it was a trap, he tried to flee the scene. Apparently his accomplice was too smart for him, anticipated a setup of his own, and stole the car keys so he couldn’t be left behind.”
“So the real target panicked,” Brandon said, his voice barely more than a whisper. Having shared an office with Lily, he had probably been the closest to her. “He had no other means of escape.”
And then he spotted the FBI van nearby.
“Apparently Lily and the surveillance specialist assumed everything was under control, the suspect in custody,” Wyatt said. “The other agent stepped out of the van and was shot down immediately.”
“And Lily?” Jackie asked, her voice tremulous and her eyes full of tears. The first time he’d ever seen any sign of weakness in the strong woman. Considering the sheer awfulness of it, he couldn’t blame her.
Wyatt didn’t answer directly. “The agent in charge called me at one o’clock this morning, just as I got back to D.C.” His eyes gleamed with suppressed rage. “Why he waited three hours to call me, I don’t know. I caught a chopper ride down to Williamsburg. They had put out an APB on the van.”
“And Lily?” Jackie repeated, sounding agonized at having to wait for the rest of it.
Wyatt’s head dropped forward. His voice low, he told them the rest. “The van was spotted on Route 17, between Newport News and Yorktown a couple of hours after the ambush, driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic. Police pursued, but the vehicle crashed off the Route 17 bridge into the York River, right at the mouth of the bay.”
Good God. Alec had driven that bridge when stationed in Richmond. It was pretty damn high.
“They were pulling the van up when I hit town,” Wyatt explained.
“Was she… Had she drowned?” Jackie asked.
“They still hadn’t found either body by the time I left. The back door was open; both of them must have washed out. They’re still looking in the river, but they might have been swept into the Chesapeake.” His shoulders slumped and he shook his head, as if processing this whole thing for himself for the first time. “I thought I should fly up here and let you all know what happened before you heard it from someone else.”
Stokes rose shakily to her feet. “If there’s no body, maybe she’s all right. What are we doing here? We should be down there helping with the search!”
Wyatt put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, steadying her, maybe even steadying himself. “Jackie, the interior was soaked with blood.”
“The other agent…”
“No,” he insisted, killing her hopes. All their hopes. “He was shot outside the vehicle, but there was a large blood-stain soaked into the carpet inside, as if someone had been lying there for a long time. It was Lily’s blood type.”
“God,” Taggert whispered. “I can’t believe this.”
“He shot her, carjacked her.” Wyatt’s voice filled with audible, barely controlled rage. “And then he let her bleed to death in the back while he tried to evade the police.”
“Fucking bastard,” Brandon said as he covered his eyes with one hand.
“Even if there were some slim chance she was still alive despite the blood loss, she would never have survived the crash and couldn’t possibly have swum to safety.”
Everyone fell silent, thinking about it. Remembering Lily’s shyness, her sweet smile. The way she always seemed just a little sad.
Emitting a strangled sob, Jackie stalked out of the room, followed by Brandon.
Wyatt watched them go, then blew out a heavy, shaken breath. “I need to go home, shower, and change. Update me by phone if you find anything.” He leveled an even stare on the three of them, Alec, Kyle, and Dean, adding, “We still have a job to do. The Professor isn’t going to take a day off to grieve, and neither can we.”
Message received. After one more moment of silence, all three of them returned to their places around the table and began removing files from the box, one by one.
Without another word, Wyatt Blackstone slipped from the room, leaving them to it.
Sam liked Detective Myers, who had been on the Baltimore PD for two decades. He talked only a little, asked no obtrusive questions, and showed no sign that he resented driving her to the prison. A perfect escort.
She still hadn’t talked to Alec. She had tried him again, leaving a message about her field trip, stressing that she had an armed escort. Hopefully by the time she heard from him, this brief errand would be finished and she would be on her way back to the hospital.
As they neared the prison, Sam remembered she had promised to let them know what she was doing, and dialed the number from which Mr. Carter had called her. A male employee answered. When she asked if the attorney was there, he put her on hold for several long moments.
Finally, the guard came back on the line. “He’s waiting for you,” he said. “We’ll leave word at the gate. When you get here, follow the signs to the administrative parking lot. There’s an entrance directly into the main offices; park there and he’ll meet you at the door.”
Thanking the man, she relayed the directions to Myers.
“You must be a big shot,” he said with a wry grin. “I’ve never been invited to the superspecial parking lot.”
“I’d gladly forgo the privilege if it means I never have to come to this place again.”
They reached the complex probably no more than an hour after Carter’s initial call, the light Sunday-morning traffic helping to shorten the trip. As promised, the guard at the gate had been expecting them and directed them onto a private drive leading to the reserved lot. In it, two cars stood close to a door marked RESTRICTED ACCESS: AUTHORIZED ADMINISTRATIVE PERSONNEL ONLY.
“Guess that’s us,” Myers said as he parked.
Having been here yesterday, in the visitors’ lot, where there was much more activity, Sam found the emptiness strange. Myers apparently felt the same, because he stuck close as he walked her to the thick metal door marked STAFF ENTRANCE.
Though they’d been told Carter would be waiting for them, no one was in sight. Myers tested the handle, to no avail, then glanced at her. “What do we do now?”
She cupped her hands around her eyes, peering through the small, barred window, and saw movement. “There he is.”
The door opened. But to her surprise, they were greeted by the warden, rather than Dale Carter. “Yes?”
“Sorry to disturb you,” she said, still flustered around the man after yesterday. “We’re supposed to be meeting Mr. Carter.”
The unsmiling warden stared at her, then at Myers. His frown deepening, he mumbled, “Who are you?”
He flashed his badge. “Detective Myers, Baltimore PD. I’m escorting Mrs. Dalton.”
“This door is for authorized personnel only.”
Jeez, the guy was a stickler for rules.
“We were told to come this way,” Myers said. He crossed his arms over his chest and raised a brow, as if challenging the warden to make them go around to the public entrance.
“Fine, fine,” Connolly said, not sounding happy about it. He stepped back and ushered them in, quickly shutting the door.
They stood in a small, private alcove just outside the warden’s office. Obviously the man’s job came with perks like an excellent parking place.
Unlike yesterday, when there had been at least some activity, despite the weekend hours, today this part of the building was practically deserted. Their footsteps were the only sounds, and they seemed to echo down the empty corridor, underscoring the feeling of abandonment. Certainly, in other parts of the huge building, there were hundreds of people-guards and inmates. But it appeared the admin staff got Sundays off. At least, everyone except the warden.
“Now, what is this all about?” he asked.
“Dale Carter called me this morning and asked me to come down here to pick up something left for me by Jimmy Flynt.”
The man’s head jerked. “Flynt?”
“Yes. An envelope with my name on it.”
The man’s eyes narrowed; he appeared puzzled. “I’m confused. I thought you no longer wanted to receive mail from Flynt.”
“This isn’t typical mail,” she explained. “Mr. Carter said it was a packet.”
“I knew nothing about it.” Turning abruptly, he said over his shoulder, “We’ll get to the bottom of this. Come with me, please.”
Sam exchanged a look with Myers, realizing he, too, felt like a schoolkid with the principal. But they both followed the man, who led them through a door to his secretary’s office, where Sam had waited out the interview yesterday.
“I apologize for the mess,” he said with an expansive wave of his hand. Furniture had been pushed to the side, plastic covering most of it, and a large drop cloth had been spread across the floor. He gestured toward a brown stain on the ceiling. “We had a leak. I have a man working on it. I’m overseeing, which is why I’m here on a Sunday morning rather than at church.”
“It’s fine,” Sam said. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I just need to sign for the package and we’ll be on our way.”
Again came that frown. “As I said, I am completely unaware of this situation. You say Dale Carter told you to meet him here.”
“Yes. He called me not two hours ago. Said Jimmy Flynt had died, that he’d left me a package, and I should come get it.”
At that, the warden’s jaw dropped in shock. “What? James Flynt is dead?”
Sam froze. How could the warden not know one of his own prisoners had died? Sure, the place was big, but the death of an inmate seemed like something the head guy should know about.
“How dare they not inform me?” The angry man strode through the receptionist’s area into his own office, heading for his phone. He yanked the receiver and began barking at someone, leaving Sam and Myers standing in the reception area, utterly confused.
“This seem normal to you?” the detective asked.
Sam shook her head slowly.
“This lawyer. How well do you know him?”
“Not well,” she murmured.
Not well at all.
Sam gripped the edge of the closest bookcase, shocked by a sudden, awful possibility.
“And he called you directly, this Carter guy. Told you to come here.” Myers unbuttoned his coat, revealing the service pistol strapped to his hip. “I don’t like this.”
“I don’t either,” she whispered, eyeing the door, still open to that long, deserted corridor, where anyone could be lurking. “I need to call Alec.”
She reached for her phone. But she hadn’t even touched it when a muffled pffft sound split the morning.
She didn’t even realize it had been a gunshot until Myers dropped like a stone.
After Wyatt left, Taggert and Mulrooney had buried themselves in the work, each lost in his own thoughts. They’d managed to shove aside their emotional reaction to Lily’s death for a little while, but something like that couldn’t be held at bay for long. Soon they were both muttering worried questions about Lily as well as Jackie and Brandon, needing to know more, needing more than a few minutes to grieve, despite the case.
Assuring them he was fine to continue going through the stack of files-damn this stuffy institution that archived actual paper rather than just keeping a computerized version-Alec waved them off. “Why don’t you take a break? I’ll dig through this last box.”
Taggert nodded; then both men departed to find the others.
It figured that the box they needed would be the last one they looked in. Almost immediately after opening it, Alec spotted the right file and tugged it out. It was thick, stuffed with registration forms filled out by each attendee of the event, and there were at least two hundred.
“Damn it,” he muttered as he thumbed a few pages. This was a waste of time. He needed to bring the folder to the hospital and ask Sam if she remembered any of these guys, anyone who acted strangely, asked a lot of questions, paid her personal attention.
Sam. She had called as Wyatt was walking in and he’d totally forgotten. Turning his phone on, he dialed his voice mail, doodling idly on a yellow legal pad as the call connected. Two messages. Shit.
When he heard the first one, he froze in disbelief. Jimmy Flynt dead? Talk about timing. The guy had looked pretty bad yesterday, but they certainly hadn’t left that hospital thinking he was breathing his final breaths.
“So call me when you get this, would you? I’d like to try to get down there; obviously I can’t go alone.”
He waited for the second message, surprised to hear Sam’s voice again. “It’s me. Look, I’m going to go ahead down to the prison.”
He almost dropped the pen.
“Before you panic, Detective Myers is escorting me.”
So she wasn’t taking chances. He had hoped she’d stay put until he returned, but he did see where she was coming from, especially when she said, “I saw no point in wasting a couple of hours after you return. This way, I’ll be back with the letters close to when you are and we save some time.”
She was right, not that he liked it. Cutting the connection, he quickly dialed her back to find out where she was. And to make sure Myers knew how serious this situation was.
He got no answer. It was possible they hadn’t even left the hospital yet and were in Tricia’s room. Or the phone might not have reception inside the iron fortress of the prison. Both plausible-but he couldn’t deny that a hint of concern crawled through him.
He wanted to hear Sam’s voice.
She’s fine. She’s protected.
Knowing she wouldn’t be there even if he took the file back to the hospital right away, he paused, unable to get Flynt off his mind. The man had known so much, especially if his note was to be believed. But how? How could he have realized Sam was in danger, that someone was using e-mails to “hurt” people? Was it possible the Professor had an accomplice, somebody who was now imprisoned and might have talked? He questioned whether the unsub would trust anyone, but how else could Jimmy know?
Though he thought about it, no answers came to him. He didn’t get that buzz he usually experienced when he was on the right track. And he didn’t have any time to waste.
“All right, enough,” he told himself. Alec shook his head and put his attention back on the task at hand. Glancing at his pad of paper, he realized just how deep in thought he had been. He’d been doodling all over the page and hadn’t even realized it. He’d written Sam’s name, Jimmy’s, the Professor’s, Darwin’s.
Darwin. He’d scratched the letters boldly, in all caps. For some reason, Alec couldn’t stop staring at it.
And just like that, the buzz started. Thoughts clicked in his head, as they often did when he sensed he was on the edge of something important.
He’d called their unsub the Professor for so long, it had been hard adjusting to the name he’d chosen for himself. The killer had never referred to himself that way until Wednesday night, when he’d posted those responses to Sam’s blog. Right there, in black and white, spelling out his motives, his philosophies.
Only… in one of those three posts, he had spelled it differently, hadn’t he?
Darwen. He wrote it down.
A typo? But the Professor didn’t make mistakes. At least, not often. The page from the book was the first, and it was pure luck the man hadn’t realized how that red ink would stand out. So why would he misspell what he considered his own name?
Alec stared at the letters, tracing them again with his pen, digging even harder until the paper tore beneath the pressure.
“Son of a bitch!” he snapped, suddenly seeing a possibility.
His hand moved, almost of its own volition, rearranging the unsub’s chosen name-not the correctly spelled version of it, the other one. And those six letters transformed into another word entirely.
The answer had been right in front of their eyes all along. “Darwen. You bastard.”
Frantic, he leaped to his feet, grabbing the files, knowing he’d need proof but desperate to get on the road. Because Sam was headed to the prison.
Shoving everything into his briefcase, he cursed as one of the slick, glossy brochures for the legal symposium slid out. He grabbed it, spared it a glance. Then glanced again.
Right on the front of it was a paragraph describing the backgrounds of some of the speakers, though not naming them. One stood out. And when he flipped the brochure open to read the name that went with the title, he knew he had just identified the killer for certain.
The Professor had been toying with them.
No, not the Professor; Darwin. Or rather, Darwen.
“My God, what have you done?”
Sam stared in horror at Warden Connolly. He stood in the doorway to his office, a gun in his hand, calm and cool, despite having just cold-bloodedly shot a police officer.
A police officer she truly liked. Sam started to bend down, to check Myers’s pulse, to stanch the blood flowing freely from his chest.
Connolly tsked and shook his head, reading her intent.
“Why?” she asked, unable to form another word.
He made a motion with the gun. “Turn to your right. About five inches.”
She did, until she was nose to nose with the book-laden shelf she had grabbed onto for support a few moments ago. Nose to nose with a copy of her own book. Reaching for it, she was not surprised to see the title page had been torn out.
No, not at all surprised. Sam had realized a few minutes ago that she had been lured here by the very man she had been trying to evade, the killer known as the Professor. She’d just been wrong in thinking he was Dale Carter.
“You were at the law enforcement symposium last winter,” she murmured.
He smiled, delighted. “Ah, you remember! How wonderful.”
She didn’t respond, didn’t let on that he had made a mistake when using that red-inked page. “Is Mr. Carter all right or did you shoot him, too?”
“He’s fine. I sent him away right after he’d played his part with his phone call. I told him you’d called and said you couldn’t come today after all.”
So she could look for no help there.
“Where is your FBI friend? I expected to see him with you and had arranged this whole scenario just to catch his blood on that drop cloth.” Connolly waved his gun toward Myers’s limp form. “I was disappointed to see this fellow instead.”
Sam kept her mouth shut, knowing she had to tread carefully. Saying the wrong thing could set him off.
She did want one question answered. “Is Jimmy really dead?”
“Oh, yes. I’m afraid Jimmy was a bad boy. Writing that note about how someone was using e-mail scams to hurt people. That was supposed to be our little secret.”
Understanding washed through her. “He helped you.”
“Just a bit. And in exchange, I made sure he got the medication he needed.”
Sam’s heart twisted in pity for Jimmy Flynt. A thief he might have been, but his last days couldn’t have been pleasant with this psychopath holding the strings to his failing liver.
“I went to see him last night, to ask him about his interview with the FBI, and saw what he’d been writing. Poor Jimmy ingested a deadly dose of medication shortly thereafter.”
God. This man talked about murder as he would talk about flicking off an ant.
“Too bad, really. Jimmy had a good mind, despite his coarse methods. He took care of another inmate who was giving me trouble, all because I whispered in his ear that the man had done something to hurt you, Samantha.”
She understood immediately. “So the man he attacked had nothing to do with what happened to my grandmother?”
“Of course not. As I said, Jimmy was very helpful.”
“I would think criminals like him would be part of the gene pool you’d want to clean up.”
His eyes widened and his mouth opened in delight. “Oh, my dear, you’ve gotten it, haven’t you? I knew you would understand.”
She wished she had kept quiet. She did not want to be considered his ally.
“Yes, the filthy inmates inside this prison are indeed the ticks on society’s scalp. But they’re sucking from a worthless bloodstream. Their victims are worse-stupid sheep, not merely uneducated, but unwilling to educate themselves. Like the fools who respond to my messages, despite all the warnings not to. The flock must be culled for the good of the future.”
Sam wrapped her arms around herself, wondering how he could sound so normal when spouting such hateful rhetoric. “Tricia is not stupid, and she didn’t deserve what you did to her.”
“She was greedy, thought I was a rich investor looking to buy some expensive property. Plus she was convenient, especially since your mother broke our date,” he said with a smile.
A shiver rolled through her at the confirmation of something she’d already, deep down, known. Her mother had been this monster’s first target last night. Wanting to wipe that smile off, she said, “By the way, your ugly plan didn’t work. Tricia’s fine.”
The lips remained curved up, though his gray eyes hardened. “I don’t believe you.”
“Call St. Joe’s. She’s a little out of it, but otherwise okay. Not even assaulted the way you obviously wanted her to be.”
Staring at her, he thought about it, as if to gauge her honesty. Then he chuckled. “She’s lucky I had no condoms. I thought about breaking her in before I dumped her but didn’t want to leave any evidence. Not to mention risking any diseases from the little whore.”
Sam didn’t think, didn’t plan; she merely reacted with fury, lunging toward the bastard.
He jerked back, but she didn’t surprise him enough to overtake the man. The hand holding the gun came up, and she stopped when the muzzle actually touched her forehead.
“I thought you were a smart woman.”
Sam closed her eyes, shivering at the feel of the cold metal against her skin. Her heart pounded wildly, her breaths rushing as she tried to control her fear. The acrid smell of the recently fired weapon made her sick, as did the scent of blood rising off of the man on the floor behind her.
It was the smell of life slipping away that finally brought her back under control, knowing she was as close to death at this moment as she had ever been.
“Nice and calm now?”
She swallowed, then managed to whisper, “Yes.”
The gun lowered to waist level. “Good. Now come inside my office, over by my desk; that’s a girl.”
Shuffling sideways, never turning her back to him, she did as he ordered. Desperate to find something, a weapon, a second exit she could dash through, she frantically looked around the room. But the office was immaculately kept, no loose, heavy items in sight. The massive executive desk held nothing of use-certainly not a paperweight, or something sharp.
Connolly retrieved a pair of handcuffs from his pocket. “Get on your hands and knees.”
“I know; it’s not very dignified,” he said with a mournful shake of the head. “But I promise it’s only for a few minutes, my love. I have to move our detective friend to the car, and I can’t have you roaming about while I do.”
Sam reluctantly dropped to her knees, so disgusted by his endearment she had to look down lest he see the revulsion in her eyes.
“Lower, now, lean on your elbows. Hands out.”
Again, she obeyed, knowing he would shoot her if she didn’t. Seeing the way he looked at her, the flash of lust as he studied her in the provocative position, Sam forced herself to stay calm. She filed away his sexual interest in her, knowing she might be able to use it to distract him if she had the chance.
Sam wasn’t some old-movie heroine who would rather die than use any means possible to escape. The very thought of having this sick monster’s hands on her was revolting, but if it took letting him think she was compliant to get him to put the gun down, she’d do it in a heartbeat.
“Attach this to one of your wrists,” he said, dropping the cuffs to the floor.
“Please, you don’t have to do this; I won’t do anything stupid.”
“Do it.” Connolly lifted the gun an inch, and lifted one impatient brow as well.
Sam did as he’d ordered, snapping one metal ring in place, not pushing it any farther than she had to in order to engage the clasp.
“Now, loop the cuffs around the foot of the desk and attach the other one.”
Sam slid forward, doing as he asked.
He bent and felt the cuffs, tightening each one until they bit into her skin. Seeing her wince, he patted her hand. “It won’t be for too long, dear, I promise.”
Her hope that she might somehow shift the desk died when she saw him test its weight with his much bigger back and shoulder. It didn’t budge an inch.
“You see? No point in even trying. I promise it will only be for a few minutes.”
He reached out to touch her hair. Sam jerked back, not wanting contact with those brutal hands. Hands that had killed Ryan and his friend, that had brutalized and beaten Tricia.
“You’re upset,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I understand. But don’t worry. You’ll get used to your new circumstances very soon.”
She couldn’t believe this was happening in a building where hundreds of other people, many of them armed guards, went about their business.
“I had planned to kill you immediately, but seeing you here, like this”-his eyes roamed over her again, that dark desire easily visible-“well, I’ve changed my mind. I think I’ll keep you around for a while.”
“Won’t your receptionist notice me chained to your desk?”
He chuckled. “Calm and witty even on your knees. I was right about you: You’re one of a kind.” He produced a roll of duct tape from a nearby shelf. “Come on, now. I can’t have you making any noise.”
“No,” she whispered, knowing he intended to tape her mouth shut. “Nobody’s around to hear me, anyway.”
“I know that. But there’s no point in risking it.”
Swallowing her revulsion, knowing she had very few chances and her voice would be one hell of an asset, she murmured, “I understand the handcuffs, but I’d be very grateful if you didn’t tape my mouth closed.” She forced a note of humility and added, “I’m nauseous. I’m afraid I’ll get sick and choke. Please?”
He studied her face, gauging her sincerity. Sam kept her eyes down, not wanting him to see the hatred there, and finally he murmured, “Very well. But be warned, I specifically scheduled certain events today to ensure nobody would be in this wing. Just as I’m going to ensure the guard shack is unattended when you and I drive out of here in our policeman friend’s vehicle. I control this entire facility. Every guard, every angle of every surveillance camera. I have ensured our privacy. So don’t waste your breath screaming.”
Sam nodded, quickly processing what he’d just said. He planned to drive her out of here, to take her God knew where. Afterward, he could make up any story. He’d make sure he had surveillance footage from one of the towers showing the car departing-though not showing the driver. Connolly could disavow any knowledge of what had happened to her and Myers once they left the property.
Meanwhile, he would have her stashed someplace. Doing whatever he wanted to her. For however long he chose to keep her.
Keep it together.
This wasn’t hopeless. Even now, Alec and the others could be discovering Connolly’s name on the symposium records. She stayed calm. Forcing slow, deep breaths, she watched through the doorway as Connolly rolled Myers’s body in the waterproof tarp, bound it, then dragged it out the door. She had a minute or two and thought frantically, needing an advantage. Suddenly, under the desk, she spotted something shiny. She craned lower, peering into the depths, and realized it was a pen. Not a disposable plastic one, but a finely crafted executive one, hard and sharp.
Twisting around, she pushed her arms forward, but was short by a few inches. “Damn it,” she cried, feeling tears of frustration well.
Sam shifted, pulled her upper body as far from the desk as she could, until her wrists and shoulders screamed with the effort. Scissoring her legs, she managed to get one underneath. After a few tries, she was able to nudge the pen several inches. Enough so that, when she quickly turned back around, she could grasp it in one cuffed hand.
A door slammed. He was coming back.
Jesus, was she insane, thinking she could go up against a vicious killer with a damn pen?
It’s better than nothing.
She slid the thing up under her sweater sleeve, hoping the elastic at the wrist would hold it there. Hoping even more that she had a chance to use it.
Then he was back, sticking his head in the office with a cheery, “Hello, again.”
He didn’t enter, instead busying himself putting the reception area back together, including the furniture. He tore down the plastic, then peered closely at the walls and the baseboards, occasionally spritzing a spot with industrial-strength cleaner and wiping it down.
She didn’t have to pretend she needed to retch.
Finally, when he was satisfied, he returned to the office. Tossing her the keys, he said, “Unlock one cuff, stand up, then reattach it. It’s time to go. And don’t try anything silly, not now that I’ve decided I’d like to keep you alive for a little while.”
A little while. An hour? A day? A week?
Just long enough to rape her?
Sam swallowed, doing as the madman ordered, all the while keeping her sleeve tight against her wrist. Within minutes, they were back in the unmarked police car, Connolly in the driver’s seat, his gloved hand on the wheel. His other was draped across his lap, the gun pointed at her. “Off we go. I’ve got the perfect spot to keep you until I decide whether you’re worth keeping.”
He started the car and backed out of the space. But before he’d even turned it around, he said, “Why did you ask about the symposium?”
Sam didn’t dare tell him the truth about the red ink. No way was she giving him any warning. “When I saw the book on the shelf, I remembered talking with you at the signing. It was several months after we met here when I came to interview Jimmy.” That was a lie; she honestly didn’t recall Connolly being among the hundreds at the signing that day. But he couldn’t know that.
“Yes, it was. How lovely that you remembered me.”
She managed to keep her lips from curling in a tight, grim smile. Got you, bastard.
Alec would come. He’d figure this out, and he’d find her.
And if he didn’t show up in time, Sam would wait for the perfect opportunity, then drive Connolly’s own pen right through his vicious throat.