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C A U S E T O K I L L
(AN AVERY BLACK MYSTERY—BOOK 1)
B L A K E P I E R C E
Blake Pierce is author of the bestselling RILEY PAGE mystery series, which include the mystery suspense thrillers ONCE GONE (book #1), ONCE TAKEN (book #2) and ONCE CRAVED (#3). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE 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 © 2016 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 miljko, used under license from iStock.com.
BOOKS BY BLAKE PIERCE
RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY SERIES
ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)
ONCE CRAVED (Book #3)
MACKENZIE WHITE MYSTERY SERIES
BEFORE HE KILLS (Book #1)
AVERY WHITE MYSTERY SERIES
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 ONE
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR
CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT
CHAPTER THIRTY NINE
It was nearly impossible for Cindy Jenkins to leave her sorority’s spring party at the Atrium. The massive penthouse space had been fitted with strobe lights, two stocked bars, and a stellar crystal ball that sparkled down on a dance floor packed with partygoers. Throughout the night, she’d danced with no one and everyone. Partners came and went, and Cindy swung her auburn hair and flashed a perfect smile and sky blue stare at any dancer that happened to appear. This was her night, a celebration not just for Kappa Kappa Gamma pride, but for the many hard years she’d strived to be the best.
Her future, she knew, was assured.
For the last two years, she’d interned at a major accounting firm in town; they recently offered her a position as a junior accountant. The starting salary would be enough to buy a posh new wardrobe and afford an apartment only a few blocks away from work. Her grades? Top of the class. Sure, she could coast until graduation, but Cindy didn’t understand the word “coast.” She was all in, every day, no matter what she was doing. Work hard and play hard, that was her motto; and tonight, she wanted to play.
Another cup of the highly alcoholic “Dreamy Blue Slush,” another Kappa Kappa Gamma cheer, and another dance, and Cindy couldn’t keep the smile off her face. In the strobe lights, she moved in slow motion. Her hair whipped back and her perky nose crinkled at a boy she’d known for years that wanted a kiss. Why not? she thought. Just a peck; nothing serious; nothing to hurt her current relationship, just enough to let everyone at the party know that she wasn’t always a Type-A goodie-goodie that followed the rules.
Friends spotted her and cheered in approval.
Cindy pulled away from the boy. The dancing and alcohol and heat had finally taken its toll. She swooned slightly, still smiling, and held onto the boy’s neck so she wouldn’t fall.
“Do you want to go to my house?” he whispered.
“I have a boyfriend.”
“Where is he?”
That’s right, Cindy thought. Where is Winston? He hated sorority parties. It’s just a bunch of stuck-up girls getting drunk and cheating on their boyfriends, he always said. Well, she thought, I guess I can finally agree! Kissing a boy when she was already committed to another man was probably the raciest thing she’d ever done.
You’re drunk, she reminded herself. Get out of here.
“Gotta go,” she slurred.
“One more dance?”
“No,” she replied, “really, I’ve got to go.”
The boy begrudgingly accepted her terms. Staring lovingly at the popular Harvard senior, he backed away into the crowd and offered a wave goodbye.
Cindy slid a lock of sweaty hair behind her ear and made her way off the dance floor, eyes low, happiness beaming on her face. Her favorite song came on and she spun and swayed to the edge of the crowd.
“Noooo!” her friends moaned, as they saw her trying to leave.
“Where are you going?” one demanded.
“Home,” she insisted.
Her best friend, Rachel, pushed through the group and grabbed Cindy’s hands. A short, stocky brunette, she wasn’t the prettiest or even the smartest of the pack, but her aggressive, sexual nature usually made her the center of attention. She wore a skimpy silver dress, and every time she moved, her body seemed ready to burst out of the garment.
“You can-not-go!” she commanded.
“I’m really drunk,” Cindy pleaded.
“We haven’t even played our April Fool’s prank! That’s the highlight of our party! Please? Just stay a little longer?”
Cindy thought of her boyfriend. They’d been together for two years. That night, they were supposed to have a late-night rendezvous at her apartment. She inwardly groaned at her uncharacteristic dance-floor kiss. How am I supposed to explain that one? she wondered.
“Seriously,” she said, “I have to go,” and, appealing to Rachel’s outrageously erotic nature, she glanced at the boy she’d kissed and humorously added, “If I stay? Who knows what could happen?”
“Oh!” her friends cheered.
“She is out of control!”
Cindy kissed Rachel on the cheek and whispered, “Have a great night. See you tomorrow,” and headed for the door.
Outside, the cool spring air made Cindy take in a deep breath. She wiped the sweat off her face and skipped up Church Street in her short yellow summer dress. The downtown city block was mostly composed of low brick buildings and a few stately houses nestled among trees. A left turn onto Brattle Street and she crossed over and walked southwest.
Streetlamps lit most corners, but a section of Brattle Street was blanketed in darkness. Rather than be worried, Cindy picked up her pace and spread her arms wide, as if the shadows could somehow cleanse her system of alcohol and exhaustion and energize her for the rendezvous with Winston.
A narrow alleyway came up on her left. Instinct told her to be careful; it was, after all, extremely late and she wasn’t oblivious to the seedier side of Boston, but she was also too high to believe anything could possibly stand in the way of her future.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught movement, and too late, she turned.
She felt a sudden sharp pain in her neck, one that made her catch her breath, and she glanced back to see something shimmering in the light.
Her heart plummeted, and her buzz wore off in a single instant.
At the same moment, she felt someone pressing into her back, a single lean arm trapping hers. The body was smaller than her own, but strong. With a yank, she was pulled backwards into the alley.
Any thought that it could be a prank vanished the moment she heard the evil, strong voice.
She tried to kick and scream. For some reason, her voice wouldn’t work, as if something had softened the muscles in her neck. Her legs, too, began to feel like Jell-O, and she could barely keep her feet on the ground.
Do something! she implored herself, knowing if she didn’t she would die.
The arm was around her right-hand side. Cindy turned out of the hold, and at the same time jerked her neck back to head-butt her attacker. The back of her skull smacked into his nose and she could almost hear a “crack.” The man swore under his breath and released her.
Run! Cindy pleaded.
But her body refused to comply. Her legs gave out from beneath her, and she fell hard on the cement.
Cindy lay on her back, legs splayed and arms out at opposite angles, unable to move.
The attacker kneeled down beside her. His face was obscured by a sloppily placed wig, a fake moustache, and thick glasses. The eyes behind the glasses sent a chill through her body: cold and hard. Soulless.
“I love you,” he said.
Cindy tried to scream; a gurgle came out.
The man nearly touched her face; then, as if aware of their surroundings, he quickly stood.
Cindy felt herself gripped by the hands and pulled through the alley.
Her eyes filled with tears.
Someone, she mentally pleaded, help me.Help! She remembered her classmates, her friends, her laughter at the party. Help!
At the end of the path, the small man lifted her up and hugged her tight. Her head flopped on his shoulder. He lovingly stroked her hair.
He grabbed one of her hands and twirled her around like they were lovers.
“It’s all right,” he said loudly, as if it were meant for others, “I’ll get the door.”
Cindy spotted people farther off in the distance. Thinking was difficult. Nothing would move; an effort to speak failed.
The passenger side of a blue minivan was opened. He plopped her inside and carefully closed the door so that her head rested on the window.
On the driver’s side, he entered and placed a soft, pillow-like sack over her head.
“Sleep, my love,” she said, turning the ignition. “Sleep.”
The van pulled away, and as Cindy’s mind faded into darkness, her final thought was of her future, her bright, unbelievable future that had suddenly, horribly been snatched away.
Avery Black stood in the back of the packed conference room, leaning into a wall, deep in thought as she took in the proceedings around her. Over thirty officers packed the small conference room of the Boston Police Department on New Sudbury Street. Two walls were painted yellow; two were glass and looked out upon the department’s second floor. Captain Mike O’Malley, early fifties, a small, powerfully built Boston native with dark eyes and hair, kept moving around behind the podium. He seemed to Avery to be perpetually restless, uncomfortable in his own skin.
“Last but not least,” he said in his thick accent, “I’d like to welcome Avery Black to Homicide Squad.”
A few perfunctory claps filled the room, which otherwise remained embarrassingly silent.
“Now, now,” the captain snapped, “that’s no way to treat a new detective. Black had more arrests than any of you last year, and she nearly singlehandedly took down the West Side Killers. Give her some respect,” he said and nodded toward the back with a noncommittal smile.
Head low, Avery knew her bleached-blond hair hid her features. Dressed more like an attorney than a cop, in her sharp black pantsuit and button-down shirt, her attire, a throwback from her days as a defense lawyer, was yet another reason that most within the police department chose to either shun her or to curse her name behind her back.
“Avery!” The captain raised his arms. “I’m trying to give you some props over here. Wake up!”
She looked around, flustered, at the sea of hostile faces staring back. She was starting to wonder whether coming to Homicide was a good idea after all.
“All right, let’s start the day,” the captain added to the rest of the room. “Avery, you, in my office. Now.” He turned to another cop. “And I want to see you too, and you, Hennessey, get over here. And Charlie, why you running out of here so fast?”
Avery waited for the throng of police officers to leave, then as she began to make her way toward his office, a cop stood in front of her, one she had seen around the department but had never formally greeted. Ramirez was slightly taller than her, lean and sophisticated in appearance, with tan Latin skin. He had short black hair, a shaved face, and although he wore a nice gray suit, there was an ease about his stance and appearance. A sip of coffee and he continued to stare without emotion.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“It’s the other way around,” he said. “I’m the one that’s going to help you.”
He offered a hand; she didn’t take it.
“Just trying to get a bead on the infamous Avery Black. Lot of rumors. Wanted to figure out which ones were true. So far I’ve got: absentminded, acts like she’s too good for the force. Check and check. Two for two. Not bad for a Monday.”
Abuse within the police force was nothing new for Avery. It had started three years ago when she entered as a rookie cop, and it hadn’t let up since. Few in the department were considered friends, and even fewer trusted colleagues.
Avery brushed past him.
“Good luck with the chief,” Ramirez sarcastically called out, “I hear he can be a real asshole.”
A limp, backhanded wave was offered in reply. Over the years, Avery had learned it was better to acknowledge her hostile partners than avoid them completely, just to let them know she was there and wasn’t going away.
The second floor of the A1 police department in central Boston was an expansive, churning engine of activity. Cubicles filled the center of the expansive workspace, and smaller glass offices surrounded the side windows. Cops glared at Avery as she passed.
“Murderer,” someone muttered under his breath.
“Homicide will be perfect for you,” said another.
Avery passed a female Irish cop whom she had saved from the clutches of a gang den; she flashed Avery a quick glance and whispered, “Good luck, Avery. You deserve it.”
Avery smiled. “Thanks.”
Her first kind word of the day gave her a boost of confidence that she took with her into the captain’s office. To her surprise, Ramirez stood only a few feet outside the glass partition. He lifted his coffee and grinned.
“Come on in,” the captain said. “And close the door behind you.”
Avery sat down.
O’Malley was even more formidable close up. The dye job on his hair was noticeable, along with the many wrinkles around his eyes and mouth. He rubbed his temples and sat back.
“You like it here?” he asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this, the A1. Heart of Boston. You’re in the thick of it, here. Big City Dog. You’re a small-town girl, right? Oklahoma?”
“Right, right,” he muttered. “What is it about the A1 you like so much? There are a lot of other departments in Boston. You could have started at Southside, B2, maybe D14 and got a taste of the suburbs. Lots of gangs out there. You only applied here.”
“I like big cities.”
“How did it go?” Ramirez asked, as Avery exited the office.
She lowered her head and kept on walking. Avery hated small talk, and she didn’t trust any of her fellow cops to talk to her without trading barbs.
“Where are we headed?” she replied.
“All business.” Ramirez smiled. “Good to know. All right, Black; we’ve got a dead girl placed on a bench in Lederman Park, by the river. It’s a high-traffic area. Not really a place you’d put a body.”
Officers slapped palms with Ramirez.
“Go get her, tiger!”
“Break her in right, Ramirez.”
Avery shook her head. “Nice,” she said.
Ramirez raised his hands.
“It’s not me.”
“It’s all of you,” she sneered. “I never thought a police station would be worse than a law firm. Secret boys’ club, right? No girls allowed?”
She headed toward the elevators. A few officers cheered at getting under her skin. Usually, Avery was able to ignore it, but something about her new case had already shaken her tough exterior. The words the captain had used weren’t typical of a simple homicide: Don’t know what to make of it. Staged.
And the cocky, aloof air of her new partner wasn’t exactly comforting: Seems cut and dry. Nothing was ever cut and dry.
The elevator door was about to close when Ramirez put his hand through.
“I’m sorry, all right?”
He seemed sincere. Palms up, an apologetic look in his dark eyes. A button was pressed and they moved down.
Avery glanced at him.
“The captain said you were the only one that wanted to work with me. Why?”
“You’re Avery Black,” he replied as if the answer were obvious. “How could I not be curious? Nobody really knows you, but everyone seems to have an opinion: idiot, genius, has-been, up-and-comer, murderer, savior. I wanted to sort out fact from fiction.”
“Why do you care?”
Ramirez flashed an enigmatic smile.
But he said nothing.
* * *
Avery followed Ramirez as he walked easily through the parking garage. He wore no tie and his top two buttons were open.
“I’m over there,” he pointed.
They passed a few uniformed officers that seemed to know him; one waved and flashed a strange look that seemed to ask: What are you doing with her?
He led her to a dusty, crimson Cadillac, old, with torn tan seats on the inside.
“Solid ride,” Avery joked.
“This baby has saved me many times,” he relayed with pride as he lovingly pat the hood. “All I have to do is dress like a pimp or a starving Spaniard and nobody pays me any mind.”
They headed out of the lot.
Lederman Park was only a few miles from the police station. They drove west on Cambridge Street and took a right on Blossom.
“So,” Ramirez said, “I heard you were a lawyer once.”
“Yeah?” Guarded blue eyes flashed him a sidelong glance. “What else did you hear?”
“Criminal defense attorney,” he added, “best of the best. You worked at Goldfinch & Seymour. Not a shabby operation. What made you quit?”
“You don’t know?”
“I know you defended a lot of scumbags. Perfect record, right? You even had a few dirty cops put behind bars. Must have been living the life. Huge salary, an endless stream of success. What kind of person leaves all that behind to join the force?”
Avery remembered the house she’d grown up in, a small farm surrounded by flat land for miles. The solitude had never suited her. Neither had the animals or the smell of the place: feces and fur and feathers. From the beginning she’d wanted to get out. She had: Boston. First the university and then the law school and career.
And now this.
A sigh escaped her lips.
“I guess, sometimes things don’t work out the way we plan.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
In her mind, she saw the smile again, that old, sinister smile from a wrinkled old man with thick glasses. He’d seemed so sincere at first, so humble and smart and honest. All of them had, she realized.
Until their trials were over and they went back to their everyday lives and she was forced to accept that she was no savior of the helpless, no defender of the people, but a pawn, a simple pawn in a game too complex and rooted to change.
“Life is hard,” she mused. “You think you know something one day and then the next day, the veil gets pulled down and everything changes.”
“Howard Randall,” he said, clearly realizing.
The name made her more aware of everything—the cool air in the car, her position on the seat, their location in the city. Nobody had said his name aloud in a long time, especially to her. She felt exposed and vulnerable, and in response she tightened her body and sat taller.
“Sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s fine,” she said.
Only it wasn’t fine. Everything had ended after him. Her life. Her job. Her sanity. Being a defense attorney had been challenging, to say the least, but he was the one that was supposed to make it right again. A genius Harvard professor, respected by all, simple and kind, he’d been charged with murder. Avery’s salvation was supposed to come through his defense. For once, she was supposed to do what she had dreamed about since childhood: defend the innocent and ensure justice prevailed.
But nothing like that happened.
The park had already been closed off to the public.
Two plainclothes officers flagged down Ramirez’s car and quickly waved them away from the main parking lot and over to the left. Among the officers that were obviously from her department, Avery spotted a number of state police.
“Why are the troopers here?” she asked.
“Their home base is right up the street.”
Ramirez pulled over and parked next to a line of police cruisers. Yellow tape had sectioned off a large area of the lot. News vans, reporters, cameras, and a bunch of other runners and park regulars stood by the tape to try to see what was happening.
“Nobody beyond this point,” an officer said.
Avery flashed a badge.
“Homicide,” she said. It was the first time she’d actually acknowledged her new position, and it filled her with pride.
“Where’s Connelly?” Ramirez asked.
An officer pointed toward the trees.
They made their way across the grass, a baseball diamond on their left. More yellow tape met them before a line of trees. Under thick foliage was a walking path that wound its way along the Charles River. A single officer, along with a forensics specialist and a photographer, stood before a bench.
Avery avoided initial contact with those already on the scene. Over the years, she’d come to find that social interactions strained her focus, and too many questions and formalities with others sullied her point of view. Sadly, it was yet another characteristic of hers that had incurred the scorn of her entire department.
The victim was a young girl placed askew on the bench. She was obviously dead, but with the exception of her bluish skin tone, her position and facial expression might have made the average passerby think twice before they wondered if something was wrong.
Like a lover waiting for her paramour, the girl’s hands were placed on the bench-back. Her chin rested on her hands. A mischievous smile curled on her lips. Her body was turned, as if she’d been in a sitting position and had moved to look for someone or breathe out a heavy sigh. She was clothed in a yellow summer dress and white flip-flops, lovely auburn hair flowing over her left shoulder. Her legs were crossed and her toes rested gently on the path.
Only the victim’s eyes gave away her torment. They emanated the pain and disbelief.
Avery heard a voice in her mind, the voice of the old man that haunted her nights and daydreams. In regards to his own victims, he had once asked her: What are they? Only vessels, nameless, faceless vessels—so few among billions—waiting to find their purpose.
Anger rose up in her, anger born at being exposed and humiliated and most of all, from having her entire life shattered.
She moved closer to the body.
As an attorney, she’d been forced to examine endless forensics reports and coroner’s photos and anything else related to her case. Her education had vastly improved as a cop, when she routinely analyzed murder victims in person, and could make more honest assessments.
The dress, she noticed, had been washed, and the victim’s hair cleaned. The nails and toenails were freshly polished, and when she took a deep whiff of skin, she smelled coconut and honey and only the faint hint of formaldehyde.
“You gonna kiss it or what?” someone said.
Avery was bent over the victim’s body, hands behind her back. On the bench was a yellow placard labeled “4.” Beside it, on the girl’s lower waist, was a stiff orange hair, barely perceptible among the yellow of her dress.
Homicide Supervisor Dylan Connelly stood akimbo and waited for an answer. He was tough and rugged, with wavy blond hair and penetrating blue eyes. His chest and arms nearly tore out of his blue shirt. His pants were brown linen, and thick black boots adorned his feet. Avery had noticed him often in the office; he wasn’t exactly her type, but he had an animal ferocity about him that she admired.
“This is a crime scene, Black. Next time, watch where you’re walking. You’re lucky we already dusted for prints and shoes.”
She looked down, baffled; she had been careful where she had walked. She looked up at Connelly’s steely eyes and realized he was just looking for a reason to ride her.
“I didn’t know it was a crime scene,” she said. “Thanks for filling me in.”
Connelly bit down and stepped forward.
“You know why people can’t stand you, Black? It’s not just that you’re an outsider, it’s that when you were on the outside, you had no real respect for cops, and now that you’re on the inside, you have even less respect. Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t like you, I don’t trust you, and I sure as hell didn’t want you on my team.”
He turned to Ramirez.
“Fill her in on what we know. I’m going home to take a shower. I feel sick,” he said. Gloves were removed and thrown to the ground. To Avery, he added: “I expect a full report by the end of the day. Five o’clock sharp. Conference room. You hear me? Don’t be late. And make sure you clean this mess up, too, before you leave. State troopers were kind enough to step aside and let us work. You be kind enough and show them some courtesy.”
Connelly walked away in a huff.
“You have a real way with people,” Ramirez admired.
The forensics specialist on the scene was a shapely young African American named Randy Johnson. She had large eyes and an easy way about herself. Short, dreadlocked hair was only partially hidden behind a white cap.
Avery had worked with her before. They’d formed a fast bond during a domestic violence case. The last time they’d seen each other was over drinks.
Excited to be on another case with Avery, Randy held out a hand, noticed her own glove, blushed, guffawed, and said, “Oops,” followed by a wacky, eek! expression and the proclamation: “I might be contaminated.”
“Good to see you too, Randy.”
“Congrats on Homicide.” Randy bowed. “Moving up in the world.”
“One wacko at a time. What have we got?”
“I’d say someone was in love,” Randy replied. “Cleaned her up pretty good. Opened her up from the back. Drained her body, filled her up so she wouldn’t rot, and stitched her up again. Fresh clothes. Manicure. Careful too. No prints yet. Not much to go on until I get to the lab. Only two wounds I can find. See the mouth? You can either pin this from the inside, or use gel to get a corpse to smile like that. From the puncture wound here,” she pointed at the corner of a lip, “I’d guess injection. There’s another one here,” she noted on the neck. “By the coloring, this came earlier, maybe at the time of abduction. Body has been dead for about forty-eight hours. Found a couple of interesting hairs.”
“How long has she been here?”
“Bikers found her at six,” Ramirez said. “The park is patrolled every night around midnight and three a.m. They didn’t see anything.”
Avery couldn’t stop staring at the dead girl’s eyes. They seemed to be looking at something in the distance, yet close to the shoreline, on their side of the river. She carefully maneuvered to the back of the bench and tried to follow the line of sight. Downriver, there were a bunch of low brick buildings; one of them was short; a white dome rested on its on top.
“What building is that?” she asked. “The large one with the dome?”
“Maybe the Omni Theatre?”
“Can we find out what’s playing?”
“I don’t know, just a hunch.”
Avery stood up.
“Do we know who she is?”
“Yeah,” Ramirez replied and checked his notes. “We think her name is Cindy Jenkins. Harvard senior. Sorority sister. Kappa Kappa Gamma. Went missing two nights ago. Campus police and Cambridge cops put her picture up last night. Connelly had his people check through photos. Hers was a match. We still need confirmation. I’ll call the family.”
“How are we on surveillance?”
“Jones and Thompson are on that now. You know them, right? Great detectives. They’re assigned to us for the day. After that, we’re on our own unless we can prove we need the extra resources. No entrance cameras to the park, but there are some up the highway and across the street. We should know something this afternoon.”
“None so far. The bikers are clean. I can troll around.”
Avery surveyed the surrounding area. Yellow tape encompassed a large swath of the park. Nothing out of the ordinary could be found near the river or on the bike path or grass. She tried to form a mental picture of events. He would have driven in through the main road, parked his car close to the water for easy access to the bench. How did he get the body to the bench without causing suspicion?
She wondered. People might have been watching. He had to prepare for that. Maybe he made it look like she was alive? Avery turned back to the body. It was a definite possibility. The girl was beautiful, even in death, ethereal almost. He had obviously spent a lot of time and planning to ensure she looked perfect. Not a gang kill, she realized. Not a scorned lover. This was different. Avery had seen it before.
Suddenly, she wondered if O’Malley was right. Maybe she wasn’t ready.
“Can I borrow your car?” she asked.
Ramirez cocked a brow.
“What about the crime scene?”
She offered a confident shrug.
“You’re a big boy. Figure it out.”
“Where are you going?”
He sat in an office cubicle—superior, victorious, more powerful than anyone on the planet. A computer screen was open before him. With a deep breath, he closed his eyes, and remembered.
He recalled the cavernous basement of his home, more like a garden nursery. Multiple varieties of poppy flowers lined the main room: red, yellow, and white. Many other psychedelic plants—each one accrued over countless years—had been placed in long troughs; some were alien-like weeds or intriguing flowers; many had a more common appearance that would have been overlooked in any wildlife setting, despite their potent abilities. A timed watering system, temperature gauge, and LED lights kept them thriving.
A long hallway made of wooden beams led to other rooms. On the walls were pictures. Most of the pictures were of animals in various stages of death, and then “rebirth” as they were stuffed and positioned: a tabby cat on its hind legs playing with yarn; a white and black spotted dog, rolled over and waiting for a tummy rub.
Doors came next. He imagined the door on the left opened. There, he saw her again, her naked body laid out on a silver table. Strong fluorescent lighting lit the space. In a glass case were many colorful liquids in clear jars.
He’d felt her skin when he’d rubbed his fingers along the outside of her thigh. Mentally, he reenacted each delicate procedure: her body drained, preserved, cleaned, and stuffed. Throughout the rebirth, he took photos that would later cover more walls saved for his human trophies. Some of the photos had already been placed.
Tremendous, surreal energy flowed through him.
For years, he had avoided humans. They were scary, more violent and uncontrollable than animals. He loved animals. Humans, however, he discovered to be more potent sacrifices for the All Spirit. After the girl’s death, he’d seen the sky open, and the shadowy image of the Great Creator had looked at him and said: More.
His reverie was broken by a snapping voice.
“You daydreaming again?”
A grumbling worker stood overhead with a scowl on his face. He had the face and body of a former football player. A sharp blue suit did little to diminish his ferocity.
Meekly, he lowered his head. His shoulders slightly hunched, and he transformed into a forgettable, diminutive worker.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Peet.”
“I’m tired of the apologies. Get me those figures.”
Inwardly, the killer smiled like a laughing giant. At work, the game was almost as exciting as his private life. No one knew how special he was, how dedicated and essential to the delicate balance of the universe. None of them would receive an honored place in the realm of the Overworld. Their everyday, mundane, earthly tasks: dressing up, having meetings, pushing money around from place to place—were meaningless; it was only meaningful to him because it connected him to the outside world and allowed him to do the Lord’s work.
His boss grumbled and walked away.
Eyes still closed, the killer imagined his Overlord: the shadowy, dark figure that whispered in his dreams and directed his thoughts.
A song of homage formed on his lips, and he sang in a whisper: “Oh Lord, oh Lord, our work is pure. Ask and I give you: More.”
Avery had a name: Cindy Jenkins. She knew the sorority: Kappa Kappa Gamma. And she was fully aware of Harvard University. The ivy league school had rejected her as an incoming freshman, but she’d still found a way to soak in Harvard life throughout her own college career, as she’d dated two boys from the school.
Unlike other colleges, the sororities and fraternities of Harvard weren’t officially acknowledged. No Greek houses existed on or off campus. Partying, however, happened regularly at multiple off-campus houses or apartment complexes under the name of “organizations” or specialized “clubs.” Avery had witnessed firsthand the paradox of college life during her own college tenure. Everyone pretended to be solely focused on grades until the sun went down and they transformed into a bunch of wild, partying animals.
At a red light, Avery performed a quick Internet search to discover that Kappa Kappa Gamma rented two areas on the same block in Cambridge: Church Street. One of the locations was for events, the other for meetings and socializing.
She drove over Longfellow Bridge, past MIT, and hung a right onto Massachusetts Avenue. Harvard Yard appeared on her right with its magnificent red brick buildings set among a forest of trees and paved pathways.
A parking spot opened on Church Street.
Avery parked, locked the car door, and lifted her face to the sun. It was a warm day, with temperatures in the high seventies. She checked the time: ten thirty.
The Kappa building was a long, two-story structure with a brick facade. The first floor housed a number of clothing shops. The second floor, Avery guessed, was reserved for office space and sorority operations. The only designation next to the second-floor buzzer was the blue fleur-de-lis symbol of Harvard; she pressed it.