Before He Needs (A Mackenzie White Mystery—Book 5) - Blake Pierce - ebook
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From Blake Pierce, bestselling author of ONCE GONE (a #1 bestseller with over 900 five star reviews), comes book #5 in the heart-pounding Mackenzie White mystery series.In BEFORE HE NEEDS (A Mackenzie White Mystery—Book 5), FBI special agent Mackenzie White finds herself summoned to crack a case she has never encountered before: the victim is not a man or a woman—but a couple. The third couple found dead in their homes this month.As Mackenzie and the FBI scramble to figure out who would want happily-married couples dead, her search takes her deep into a disturbing world and subculture. She quickly learns that all is not what it seems behind the picket fences of perfectly-suburban homes—and that darkness lurks at the edge of even the happiest-seeming families. As her hunt morphs into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, Mackenzie, still struggling to find her own father’s killer, realizes she may be in too deep—and that the killer she seeks may be the most elusive of all: shockingly normal.A dark psychological thriller with heart-pounding suspense, BEFORE HE NEEDS is book #5 in a riveting new series—with a beloved new character—that will leave you turning pages late into the night. Book #6 in the Mackenzie White Mystery series will be available soon.

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B E F O R E   H E   N E E D S

(A MACKENZIE WHITE MYSTERY—BOOK 5)

B L A K E   P I E R C E

Blake Pierce

Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which includes eight books (and counting). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series, comprising five books (and counting); of the AVERY BLACK mystery series, comprising four books (and counting); and of the new KERI LOCKE mystery series.

An avid reader and lifelong fan of the mystery and thriller genres, Blake loves to hear from you, so please feel free to visit www.blakepierceauthor.com to learn more and stay in touch.

Copyright © 2017  by Blake Pierce. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. Jacket image Copyright Kichigin, used under license from Shutterstock.com.

BOOKS BY BLAKE PIERCE

RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY SERIES

ONCE GONE (Book #1)

ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)

ONCE CRAVED (Book #3)

ONCE LURED (Book #4)

ONCE HUNTED (Book #5)

ONCE PINED (Book #6)

ONCE FORSAKEN (Book #7)

ONCE COLD (Book #8)

ONCE STALKED (Book #9)

MACKENZIE WHITE MYSTERY SERIES

BEFORE HE KILLS (Book #1)

BEFORE HE SEES (Book #2)

BEFORE HE COVETS (Book #3)

BEFORE HE TAKES (Book #4)

BEFORE HE NEEDS (Book #5)

BEFORE HE FEELS (Book #6)

AVERY BLACK MYSTERY SERIES

CAUSE TO KILL (Book #1)

CAUSE TO RUN (Book #2)

CAUSE TO HIDE (Book #3)

CAUSE TO FEAR (Book #4)

KERI LOCKE MYSTERY SERIES

A TRACE OF DEATH (Book #1)

A TRACE OF MUDER (Book #2)

CONTENTS

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

PROLOGUE

Joey Nestler knew that he’d make a good cop one day. His father had been a cop and so had his grandfather. Joey’s grandfather had actually taken a bullet in the chest in 1968, sending him to early retirement. Being a cop was in Joey’s blood and even though he was only twenty-eight years old and was being given crap assignments, he knew that one day he would rise to the top.

Today was not that day, though. They’d assigned him another stupid bait-and-chase task—grunt work. Joey knew he had at least another six months of these bullshit assignments. That was fine with him. Coasting through Miami in a cop car during late spring was a pretty sweet deal. The ladies were eager to try on their skimpy shorts and bathing suits as the weather got nicer, and such things were easier to pay attention to and enjoy when he was tasked with menial duties.

He’d get right back to scanning the streets for such beauties when he was done with his most recent chore. He parked in front of the ritzy townhouses, each new set of homes bordered by a pretentiously well-maintained set of palm trees. He got out of the patrol car in no great hurry, pretty sure he was about to walk into a simple domestic dispute case. Even so, he had to admit that the details of the assignment piqued his curiosity.

A woman had called the precinct earlier that morning, claiming that her sister was not answering phone calls or emails. Usually that would not draw much interest at all, but when they ran the address of the sister, it was directly beside a townhouse that had called with a noise complaint the night before. Apparently a dog had been barking furiously all night. Phone calls and knocks on the door to get the owners to shut up went unanswered. And when the police called the woman back to inquire about her sister, it was confirmed that her sister did indeed have a dog.

And now here I am, Joey thought as he walked up the stairs to the front door.

He’d already stopped by the landlord’s office to retrieve a key, and that in and of itself made the task a little more interesting than his typical busy-body assignments. Still, he felt underused and a little silly as he knocked on the door. Given everything he knew about the case, he didn’t even expect an answer.

He knocked again and again, his hair sweating beneath his cap in the sun.

After two minutes, still no answer. He was not surprised.

Joey took out the key and unlocked the door. He cracked it open a bit and shouted inside.

“Hello? This is Officer Nestler with the Miami PD. I’m entering the house and—”

The barking of a small dog interrupted him as it came rushing toward him. It was a Jack Russell terrier and while it tried its best to intimidate the strange man at the door, it also looked a little scared. Its back legs were trembling.

“Hey, buddy,” Joey said as he stepped inside. “Where’s your mommy and daddy?”

The little dog whined. Joey stepped further into the house. He had made two steps into the small foyer, heading for the living room, when he smelled the awful stench. He looked down to the dog and frowned.

“No one has let you out in a while, have they?”

The dog hung its head, as if it had perfectly understood the question and was ashamed of what it had done.

Joey walked into the living room, still calling out.

“Hello? I’m looking for Mr. or Mrs. Kurtz. Again, this is Officer Nestler of the Miami PD.”

But he got no answer, and he was sure he wouldn’t get one. He made his way through the living room, finding it spotless. He then entered the adjoining kitchen and placed his hand to his face to cover his mouth and nose. The kitchen was where the dog had decided to use the bathroom; puddles of urine were all over the floor and two piles of feces were in front of the fridge.

Empty food and water dishes were on the other side of the kitchen. Feeling bad for the dog, Nestler filled the water bowl with water from the kitchen sink. The dog started to lap at it greedily as Nestler left the kitchen. He then went to the flight of stairs just off of the living room and headed up.

As he came to the hallway at the top, Joey Nestler felt what his father had called a cop’s gut instinct for the first time in his career. He knew right away that something was wrong up here. He knew that he was going to find something bad, something that he had not been expecting.

He drew his gun, feeling a little foolish as he made his way down the hallway. He passed a bathroom (where he found another puddle of the dog’s urine) and a small office space. The office was a bit of a mess but there were no signs of distress or red flags.

At the end of the hall, a third and final door stood open, revealing the master bedroom.

Nestler stopped in the doorway, his blood running cold.

He stared for a full five seconds before stepping inside.

A man and a woman—presumably Mr. and Mrs. Kurtz—lay dead on the bed. He knew they were not sleeping due to the amount of blood on the sheets, walls, and carpet.

Joey took two steps inside but stopped. This was not for him. He needed to call this in before he went any further. Besides, he could see all he needed to from where he stood. Mr. Kurtz had been stabbed in the chest. Mrs. Kurtz had had her throat slit from ear to ear.

Joey had never seen so much blood in his life. It was almost dizzying to look at.

He backed out of the bedroom, not thinking of his father or grandfather, not thinking of the great cop he one day wanted to be.

He stormed outside, got to the bottom of the stairs, and fought against a heavy wave of nausea. As he fumbled for the shoulder mic on his uniform, he saw the Jack Russell come rushing out of the townhouse but didn’t care.

He and the little dog stood in front of the house as Nestler called the scene in, the dog yapping at the sky as if somehow that could change the horrors that lay inside.

CHAPTER ONE

Mackenzie White sat at her cubicle and habitually ran her index finger along the edges of a business card. It was a business card that she had been fixated on for several months now, a card that was somehow linked to her past. Or, more specifically, to the murder of her father.

She came back to it whenever she closed a case, wondering when she would allow herself to take some time off from her actual job as an agent so she could return to Nebraska and view the scene of her father’s death with reinvigorated eyes that were not regulated by an FBI mentality.

Work was burning her out lately and with each case she cracked, the lure of the mystery surrounding her father grew stronger. It was getting so strong that she was feeling less of a sense of accomplishment when she closed a case. The most recent had been bringing in two men that had been masterminding a plot to get cocaine into a Baltimore high school. The job had lasted three days and had gone so smoothly that it hadn’t seemed like work at all.

She’d had more than her fair share of notable cases since coming to Quantico and being pushed through the ranks in a whirlwind of action, back-room dealings, and close calls. She’d lost a partner, managed to piss off just about every supervisor she’d ever had, and made a name for herself.

The one thing she didn’t have was a friend. There was Ellington, sure, but there was some sort of tainted chemistry between them that made forming a friendship difficult. And she’d officially given up on him, anyway. He’d rejected her twice now—for different reasons each time—and she was not going to be made a fool of again. She was fine with their working relationship being the only thread holding them together.

Over the last few weeks, she had also gotten to know her knew partner—a clumsy but eager rookie by the name of Lee Harrison. He was being handed an assortment of paperwork, busy duty, and research, but he was doing a splendid job. She knew that Director McGrath was just seeing how he’d handle being inundated with so much busywork. And so far, Harrison was winning everyone over.

She thought faintly of Harrison as she looked at the business card. She had asked him on a few occasions to research any businesses called Barker Antiques. And while he had come up with more results than anyone else in the last few months, all leads had still come to a dead end.

As she thought about this, she heard soft footsteps approaching her cubicle. Mackenzie slid the business card under a pile of papers beside her laptop and then pretended like she was checking her email.

“Hey, White,” a familiar male voice said.

The guy is so good that he can practically hear me thinking about him, she thought. She swiveled around in her chair and looked at Lee Harrison peering into her cubicle.

“None of this White, stuff,” she said. “It’s Mackenzie. Mac, if you’re feeling really brave.”

He smiled awkwardly. It was clear that Harrison had not yet figured out how to speak to her or, for that matter, how to really even act around her. And that was fine with her. Sometimes she wondered if McGrath had assigned him as her sometimes-partner just to get him accustomed to never being sure where he stood with his coworkers. If so, she thought, it was a genius move.

“Okay then…Mackenzie,” he said. “I just wanted you to know that they’ve just finished processing the dealers from this morning. They want to know if you need any more information from them.”

“Nope. I’m good,” she said.

Harrison nodded but before he left, he gave her a frown that she was starting to think was a trademark of his. “Can I ask you something?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Are you…well, are you feeling all right? You look really tired. Maybe a little flushed.”

She could have easily ribbed him about such a comment and made him very awkward but she decided not to. He was a good agent and she didn’t want to be the sort of agent (really not much more than a rookie herself) that hassled the new guy. So instead, she said: “Yeah, I’m good. Just not sleeping much lately.”

Harrison nodded. “I get that,” he said. “Well…good luck with resting.” He then gave that trademark frown of his and took off, probably on to tackle whatever busybody work McGrath had lined up for him next.

Distracted from the business card and the countless unsolved mysteries it presented, Mackenzie allowed herself to leave it behind. She caught up on her emails and filed away some of the papers that had started collecting on her desk. She did not get many chances to experience these less-than-glamorous moments, and for that, she was thankful.

When her phone rang in the midst of it all, she grabbed for it anxiously. Anything to get away from this desk.

“This is Mackenzie White,” she answered.

“White, it’s McGrath.”

She allowed the briefest of smiles to cross her face. While McGrath was far from her favorite person, she knew that whenever he called her up or even came by her cubicle, it was usually with an assignment of some sort.

It appeared that this was why he was calling. Mackenzie didn’t even have time to say hello before he was speaking again, in his usual rapid-fire way of communicating.

“I need you in my office right away,” he said. “And bring Harrison with you.”

Again, Mackenzie was not given a chance to respond. The line was dead before a single word could bounce from her tongue.

But that was fine with her. Apparently, McGrath had a new case for her. Maybe it would sharpen her mind and give her that one last moment of clarity before she possibly stepped aside for a while to concentrate on matters with her father’s old case.

With a bubbling sort of excitement pushing her, she got up and went off in search of Lee Harrison.

***

Watching the way Harrison behaved in McGrath’s office was a great way for Mackenzie to ground herself. She watched him sitting rigidly at the edge of his seat as McGrath started speaking to them. The younger agent was clearly nervous and eager to please. Mackenzie knew that he was a perfectionist and that he had something very close to a photographic memory. She wondered what his memory was like—if he was perhaps soaking up each word that came out of McGrath’s mouth like a sponge.

He reminds me a little bit of me, she thought as she also focused on McGrath.

“Here’s what I’ve got for the two of you,” McGrath said. “Yesterday morning, the Miami State Police called us up and filled us in on a series of murders down there. In both cases, the murders were of married couples. So that’s four bodies. The murders have been fairly brutal and bloody and so far, there seems to be no obvious connection. The brutal style of the killings, as well as the fact that they were married couples, killed in bed, is making the state PD down there think it’s a serial killer. I personally think it’s too early to make such a claim.”

“You think it could just be coincidence?” Mackenzie asked.

“I think it’s a chance, yes,” he said. “Anyway, they’ve asked for our help and I want to send both of you down. Harrison, this would be a great opportunity for you to get into the field and get your feet wet. White, I expect you to oversee him, but not boss him around. Got it?”

“Yes, sir,” Mackenzie said.

“I’ll have the details and flight arrangements sent your way within the hour. I don’t see this taking any more than a day or two. Any questions?”

Mackenzie shook her head. Harrison gave a brisk “No sir,” and Mackenzie could tell that he was doing his very best to rein in his excitement.

She couldn’t blame him. She felt it, too.

Despite what McGrath thought, she already sensed this case would be far from routine.

Couples.

This was a first for her.

And she could not help but feel that this “routine” little case was going to get far worse.

CHAPTER TWO

While Mackenzie was well aware that a stereotype of the government was that everything moved slowly, she also knew that this was not usually the case with the FBI getting their agents on the scene. Just fourteen hours after being called into McGrath’s office, Mackenzie was pulling a rental car into a parking spot in front of a row of townhouses. She pulled in next to a police cruiser and took note of the officer sitting inside.

Beside her, in the passenger seat, Harrison was going over the notes on the case. He had been mostly quiet during the trip and Mackenzie had nearly started to try to open up the lines of conversation. She couldn’t tell if he was nervous, intimidated, or a bit of both. But rather than force him to start speaking to her, she thought it might be best for his development to come out of his shell on his own—especially if McGrath planned on them working together as partners for the foreseeable future.

Mackenzie took a moment to process everything she knew about the case. She reclined her head back slightly, closed her eyes, and pulled it all forward. Her tendency toward obsessing over the details of case files made it rather easy for her to simply delve into her own mind and rifle through them as if there were a mental filing cabinet within her skull.

A dead couple, which brings a few questions to the surface right away. Why both of them? Why not just one?

Got to keep an eye out for anything that might seem even remotely out of place. If jealousy is driving these killings, it’s likely from someone that envies their lives in some way.

No forced entry; the Kurtz family willingly let the killer inside.

She opened her eyes and then opened the door. She could speculate all she wanted based on what she had seen in the files. But none of that would be as effective as stepping foot into the crime scene and having a look around.

Harrison stepped out of the car alongside her and into the bright Miami sunshine. She could smell the ocean in the air, salty and with just the faintest traces of a fishlike smell that wasn’t necessarily unpleasant.

As she and Harrison closed their doors, the officer in the police car next to them also stepped out. This, Mackenzie assumed, was the officer who had been tasked with meeting them. Forty or so, she looked pretty in a plain sort of way, her short dirty blonde hair catching the shine from the sun.

“Agents White and Harrison?” the officer asked.

“That’s us,” Mackenzie said.

The woman offered her hand as she introduced herself. “I’m Officer Dagney,” she said. “Anything you need, just let me know. The place has, of course, been cleaned up but I’ve got a whole file filled with pictures taken when the scene was fresh.”

“Thanks,” Mackenzie said. “To start off, I think I’d like to take a look inside first.”

“Of course,” Dagney said, walking up the stairs and retrieving a key from her pocket. She unlocked the door and gestured for Mackenzie and Harrison to step inside ahead of her.

Mackenzie smelled bleach or some other sort of cleaner right away. She recalled the report stating that a dog had been trapped inside the house for at least two days and had used the bathroom several times.

“The bleach,” Harrison said. “Is that from cleaning up the dog’s mess?”

“Yes,” Dagney said. “That was done last night. We tried to leave it as it was until you guys arrived but the stench was just—it was bad.”

“That should be fine,” Mackenzie said. “The bedroom is upstairs, correct?”

Dagney nodded and led them up the stairs. “The only thing that’s been changed up here is that the bodies and the top sheet have been removed,” she explained. “The sheet is still there, on the floor and placed on a plastic sheet. It had to be moved, though, just to get the bodies off of the bed. The blood was…well, you’ll see.”

Mackenzie noticed that Harrison slowed his approach a bit, falling safely in behind her. Mackenzie followed Dagney to the bedroom door, noticing that she stayed at the doorway and did everything she could not to look inside.

Once she was inside the room, Mackenzie saw that Dagney had not exaggerated, nor had the reports she had read. There was a lot of blood—much more than she had ever seen at one site.

And for a horrifying moment, she was standing in a room in Nebraska—a room in a house she knew was now abandoned. She was looking at a blood-soaked bed that contained the body of her father.

She shook the image away at the sound of Harrison’s footsteps slowly approaching behind her.

“You good?” she asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, though his voice sounded a bit breathless.

Mackenzie noted that most of the blood was on the bed, as was expected. The sheet that had been removed from the bed and stretched out on the floor had once been an off-white. But now it was mostly covered in dried blood, going a rusty shade of maroon. She slowly approached the bed, pretty sure that there would be no evidence. Even if the killer had accidentally left behind a hair or anything with DNA, it would be buried in all of the blood.

She looked to the splatters on the wall and carpet. She eyed the carpet in particular, looking to see if any of the blood splatter could be the edge of a shoe.

There might be tracks of some kind, she thought. To kill someone in such a way—to have so much blood at the scene—the killer would have to have gotten some on him. So even if there are no tracks, maybe there’s stray blood somewhere within the house, blood he might have accidentally left behind on his way out.

Also, how did the killer get them both while in bed? Killing one, the other would have likely woken up. Either the killer is that fast or he staged the scene with the bodies in bed after committing the murders.

“This is a mess, huh?” Harrison said.

“It is,” Mackenzie said. “Tell me…do you see anything right off hand that you’d consider a lead, a clue, or anything to look deeper into?”

He shook his head, staring at the bed. She nodded in agreement, knowing that all of the blood would make it very hard to find any evidence. She even got down on her hands and knees, peering under the bed to see if there was anything under there. She saw nothing but a pair of slippers and an old photo album. She slid the album out and flipped through it. The first few pages showed a wedding, from the bride walking down the aisle of a large church to the happy couple cutting into their cake.

With a frown, she slid the album back where she had gotten it from. She then turned back to Dagney, still standing at the bedroom door with her back mostly turned. “You said you have files with photos, right?”

“I do. Give me a second and I can bring it all in.” She answered quickly and with a bit of urgency, clearly anxious to get back downstairs.

When Dagney was gone, Harrison walked back out into the hallway. He looked back into the bedroom and sighed deeply. “Have you ever seen a crime scene like this?”

“Not with this much blood,” she answered. “I’ve seen some grisly sites, but this one tops the list for amount of blood.”

Harrison seemed to think hard about this as Mackenzie exited the room. They headed back downstairs together, stepping into the living room just as Dagney came back in the front door. They met at the bar area that separated the kitchen from the living room. Dagney placed the folder on the bar and Mackenzie opened it up. Right away, the first picture showed the same bed upstairs, coated in blood. Only in the picture, there were two bodies—a man and a woman. The Kurtzes.

Both of them were clothed in what Mackenzie assumed was what they wore to bed. Mr. Kurtz (Josh, according to the reports) was wearing a T-shirt and a pair of boxers. Mrs. Kurtz (Julie) was wearing a spaghetti-strapped tank top and a pair of skimpy gym shorts. There were a variety of photographs, some taken so close to the bodies that Mackenzie caught herself cringing a few times. The photo of Mrs. Kurtz’s sliced neck was particularly gruesome.

“I didn’t see any positive ID on the weapon used within the reports,” Mackenzie said.

“That’s because no one had figured it out. Everyone just assumed a knife.”

A very big knife, at that, Mackenzie thought as she tore her eyes away from the body of Mrs. Kurtz.

She saw that apparently, even in death, Mrs. Kurtz had reached out for the comfort of her husband. Her right hand was draped almost lazily across his thigh. There was something very sweet about it but it also broke her heart a little.

“And what about the first couple that was killed?” Mackenzie asked.

“That was the Sterlings,” Dagney said, pulling several pictures and sheets of paper from the back of the folder.

Mackenzie looked at the pictures and saw a scene similar to what she had seen in the previous photos, as well as upstairs. A couple, lying in bed, blood everywhere. The only difference was that the husband in the Sterling photos had either been sleeping in the nude or had had his clothes removed by the killer.

These scenes are far too similar, Mackenzie thought. It’s almost as if they were staged. She looked over the similarities, looking back and forth between the Kurtz and Sterling photos.

The bravery and sheer will to kill two people at once—and in such a brutal way. This guy is incredibly driven. Very motivated. And apparently not opposed to extreme violence.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Mackenzie said, “but the Miami PD are working under the assumption that these were routine home invasions, correct?”

“Well, we were at first,” Dagney said. “But from what we can tell, there are no signs of looting or theft. And since this is the second couple to be killed in the last week, it seems less and less likely they were simple home invasions.”

“I’d agree with that,” she said. “What about links between the two couples?” Mackenzie asked.

“So far nothing has come up, but we’ve got a team working on it.”

“And with the Sterlings, were there any signs of a struggle?”

“No. Nothing.”

Mackenzie again looked back down at the pictures and two similarities jumped out at her at once. One of them in particular made her skin crawl.

Mackenzie glanced back at the Kurtz photos. She saw the wife’s hand resting dead on her husband’s thigh.

And she knew right then: this was indeed the work of a serial killer.

CHAPTER THREE

Mackenzie followed behind Dagney as she led them to the station. On the way, she noticed that Harrison was jotting notes down in the folder he had practically obsessed over during most of the trip from DC to Miami. In the midst of writing, he paused and looked at her quizzically.

“You’ve already got a theory, don’t you?” he asked.

“No. I don’t have a theory, but I did notice a few things in the images that seemed a little odd to me.”

“Want to share?”

“Not just yet,” Mackenzie said. “If I have to go over it now and then again with the police, I’ll reanalyze myself. Give me some time to sort through it all.”

With a grin, Harrison returned to his notes. He did not complain that she was keeping things from him (which she wasn’t) and he didn’t press any further. He was doing his best to stay obedient and effective at the same time and she appreciated that.

On the ride to the precinct, she started to catch peeks of the ocean through some of the buildings they passed. She had never been enamored with the sea the way some people were but she could understand its draw. Even now, on the hunt for a killer, she could feel the sense of freedom it represented. Punctuated by the towering palm trees and flawless sun of a Miami afternoon made it even more beautiful.

Ten minutes later, Mackenzie followed Dagney into the parking lot of a large police building. Like just about everything else in the city, it had a beachy sort of feel. Several huge palm trees stood along the thin strip of lawn in front of the building. The simple architecture also managed to convey a relaxed yet refined feel. It was a welcoming place, a sensation that held up even after Mackenzie and Harrison were inside.

“There are only going to be three people, including myself, on this,” Dagney said as she led them down a spacious hallway. “Now that you guys are here, my supervisor is going to likely take a very hands-off approach.”

Good, Mackenzie thought. The least amount of rebuttals and arguments, the better.

Dagney led them into a small conference room at the end of the hallway. Inside, two men sat down at a table. One of them was hooking a projector up to a MacBook. The other was typing something furiously into a smart pad.

They both looked up when Dagney led them into the room. When they did, Mackenzie got the usual look…one she was getting tired of yet used to. It was a look that seemed to say: Oh, a rather good-looking woman. I wasn’t expecting that.

Dagney made a quick round of introduction as Mackenzie and Harrison sat down at the table. The man with the smart pad was Police Chief Rodriguez, a grizzled old man with deep lines in his tanned face. The other man was a fairly new guy, Joey Nestler. Nestler, as it turned out, was the officer who had discovered the bodies of the Kurtzes. As he was introduced, he finished successfully hooking the monitor to the laptop. The projector shone a bright white light on a small screen attached to the wall in front of the room.

“Thanks for coming out,” Rodriguez said, setting his pad aside. “Look, I’m not going to be that typical local police dick that gets in the way. You tell me what you need and if it’s within reason, you’ll get it. In return, I just ask that you help wrap it up quickly and not turn the city into a circus while you do it.”

“It sounds like we want the same things, then,” Mackenzie said.

“So, Joey here has all of the existing documents we have on this case,” he said. “The coroner’s reports just came in this morning and told us just what we expected. The Kurtzes were cut up and bled out. No drugs in their system. Totally clean. So far we have no discernable links between the two crimes. So if you have any ideas, I’d like to hear them.”

“Officer Nestler,” Mackenzie said, “do you have all of the crime scene photos from both sites?”

“I do,” he said. He reminded Mackenzie a lot of Harrison—anxious, a little nervous, and visibly seeking to please his superiors and coworkers.

“Could you pull up the full body shots side by side and put them on the screen, please?” Mackenzie asked.

He worked quickly and had the images up on the projector screen, side by side, within ten seconds. Seeing the images in such a bright light in a semi-darkened room was eerie. Not wanting to let those in the room dwell on the severity of the pictures and lose focus, Mackenzie got right to the point.