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“A dynamic story line that grips from the first chapter and doesn't let go.” --Midwest Book Review, Diane Donovan (regarding Once Gone) From #1 bestselling mystery author Blake Pierce comes a new masterpiece of psychological suspense. In CAUSE TO RUN (An Avery Black Mystery—Book 2), a new serial killer is stalking Boston, killing his victims in bizarre ways, taunting the police with mysterious puzzles that reference the stars. As the stakes are upped and the pressure is on, the Boston Police Department is forced to call in its most brilliant—and most controversial—homicide detective: Avery Black.Avery, still reeling from her last case, finds herself up against a rival precinct and a brilliant, cunning killer who is always one step ahead of her. She is forced to enter his dark, twisted mind as he lays clues for his next killing, and forced to look into places in her own mind she would rather not go. She finds herself compelled to seek the counsel of Howard Randall, the twisted serial killer she’d put behind bars years ago, all while her new burgeoning life with Rose and Ramirez is falling apart.And just as things cannot get any worse, she finds out something else: she herself may be the target.In a game of psychological cat and mouse, a frantic race against time leads Avery through a series of shocking and unexpected twists—culminating in climax that even Avery could not imagine. A dark psychological thriller with heart-pounding suspense, CAUSE TO RUN is book #2 of a riveting new series—with a beloved new character—that will leave you turning pages late into the night. Book #3 in the Avery Black series will be available soon. “A masterpiece of thriller and mystery. Pierce did a magnificent job developing characters with a psychological side, so well described that we feel inside their minds, follow their fears and cheer for their success. The plot is very intelligent and will keep you entertained throughout the book. Full of twists, this book will keep you awake until the turn of the last page.” --Books and Movie Reviews, Roberto Mattos (re Once Gone)
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C A U S E T O R U N
(AN AVERY BLACK MYSTERY—BOOK 2)
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), ONCE CRAVED (#3), and ONCE LURED (#4). Blake Pierce is also the author of the MACKENZIE WHITE mystery series and the AVERY BLACK 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.
BOOKS BY BLAKE PIERCE
RILEY PAIGE MYSTERY SERIES
ONCE GONE (Book #1)
ONCE TAKEN (Book #2)
ONCE CRAVED (Book #3)
ONCE LURED (Book #4)
MACKENZIE WHITE MYSTERY SERIES
BEFORE HE KILLS (Book #1)
BEFORE HE SEES (Book #2)
AVERY BLACK MYSTERY SERIES
CAUSE TO KILL (Book #1)
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
CHAPTER FORTY ONE
CHAPTER FORTY TWO
CHAPTER FORTY THREE
CHAPTER FORTY FOUR
CHAPTER FORTY FIVE
CHAPTER FORTY SIX
He lay hidden in the shadows of a parking lot fence and stared up at the three-story brick apartment building across the street. He imagined it was dinnertime for some, an hour where families would gather and laugh and share stories of the day.
Stories. He scoffed. Stories were for the weak.
The whistling shattered his silence. Her whistling. Henrietta Venemeer whistled as she walked. So happy, he thought. So oblivious.
His anger increased at the sight of her, a red, burning rage that bloomed in his entire visual landscape. He closed his eyes and took in a few deep breaths to make it stop. Drugs used to help with his anger. They had calmed him down and kept his mind light and carefree, but lately, even his prescriptions had failed. He needed something bigger to help balance in life.
You know what you have to do, he reminded himself.
She was a slight, older woman with a shock of red hair and a can-do attitude that permeated her every movement: hips swayed like she was dancing to an inner song and there was a noticeable hop in her step. She carried a bag of groceries and headed directly toward the brick building in a forgotten part of East Boston.
Go now, he commanded.
As she reached her building door and was fumbling for her keys, he left his spot and ambled across the street.
She opened her building door and entered.
Before the door shut, he placed his foot inside the opening. The camera that watched the foyer had been disabled earlier; he’d applied a film of clear spray-gel over the lens to obscure any images and yet give the illusion that the camera appeared in working order. The second foyer door had been disabled, too, its lock easy enough to break.
A whistle was still on her lips as she disappeared up a flight of stairs. He walked into the building to follow, giving no thought to the people on the street or other cameras that might have been watching from other buildings. Everything had been investigated earlier, and the timing of his attack had been aligned with the universe.
By the time she reached the third floor to unlock her front door, he was behind her. The door opened and as she walked into her apartment he grabbed her by the chin and clamped her mouth shut with his palm, stifling her screams.
Then he stepped inside and closed the door behind him.
Avery Black drove her flashy new ride, a black four-door Ford undercover cop car she’d bought, off the lot, and she smiled to herself. The smell of the new car and the feel of the wheel beneath her hands gave her a sense of joy, of starting anew. The old, white BMW that she’d bought as a lawyer, which had constantly reminded her of her previous life, was finally gone.
Yay, she inwardly cheered, as she did almost every time she sat behind the wheel. Not only did her new ride have tinted windows, black rims, and leather seats, but it came fully equipped with shotgun holster, computer frame on the dash, and police lights in the grilles, windows, and rearview mirrors. Better yet, when the blue-and-reds were turned off, it looked like any other vehicle on the road.
The envy of cops everywhere, she thought.
She’d picked up her partner, Dan Ramirez, at eight o’clock sharp. As always, he looked the model of perfect: slicked-back black hair, tan skin, dark eyes, decked out in the finest clothes. A canary yellow shirt was under a crimson jacket. He wore crimson slacks, a light-brown belt, and light-brown shoes.
“We should really do something tonight,” he said. “Last night of our shift. Might be a Wednesday but it feels like a Friday.”
He offered a warm smile.
In return, Avery batted her ice-blue eyes and flashed him a quick and loving grin, but then her features turned unreadable. She focused on the road and inwardly wondered what she was going to do about her relationship with Dan Ramirez.
The term “relationship” wasn’t even accurate.
Ever since she’d taken down Edwin Peet, one of the strangest serial killers in recent Boston history, her partner had made his feelings known, and Avery had, in turn, let him know that she might be interested as well. The situation hadn’t escalated much further. They’d had dinner, shared loving looks, held hands.
But Avery was worried about Ramirez. Yes, he was handsome and respectful. He’d saved her life after the Edwin Peet debacle and practically remained by her side the entire time during her recovery. Still, he was her partner. They were around each other five days a week or more, from eight AM to six or seven or later depending on a case. And Avery hadn’t been in a relationship in years. The one time they kissed, it had felt like she was kissing her ex-husband, Jack, and she’d immediately pulled away.
She checked the dashboard clock.
They hadn’t been in the car for five minutes and Ramirez was already talking about dinner. You have to talk to him about this, she realized. Ugh.
As they headed toward the office, Avery listened to the police band radio, as she did every morning. Ramirez suddenly turned on a jazz station, and they drove a few blocks listening to light jazz mixed with a police operator detailing various activities around Boston.
“Seriously?” Avery asked.
“How am I supposed to enjoy the music and listen to the calls? It’s confusing. Why do we have to listen to both at the same time?”
“All right, fine,” he said in mock disappointment, “but I’d better get to listen to my music at some point today. It makes me feel calm and smooth, you know?”
No, Avery thought, I don’t know.
She hated jazz.
Thankfully, a call came on the radio and saved her.
“We have a ten-sixteen, ten-thirty-two in progress on East Fourth Street off Broadway,” said a scratchy female voice. “No shots have been fired. Any cars in the vicinity?”
“Domestic abuse,” Ramirez said, “guy’s got a gun.”
“We’re close,” Avery replied.
“Let’s take it.”
She turned the car around, hit the lights, and picked up her transreceiver.
“This is Detective Black,” she said and offered her badge number. “We’re approximately three minutes away. We’ll take the call.”
“Thank you, Detective Black,” the woman replied before she gave out the address, apartment number, and background information.
One of the many aspects Avery loved about Boston were the houses, small homes, most of them two to three stories high with a uniform structure that gave much of the city its communal feel. She hung a left onto Fourth Street and cruised to their destination.
“This doesn’t mean we’re off the hook on paperwork,” she insisted.
“Nah, of course not.” Ramirez shrugged.
The tone of his voice, however, coupled with his attitude and the unruly piles on his own desk, made Avery wonder if an early-morning drive had been the best decision.
Not much detective work was needed to discover the house in question. One police cruiser, along with a small crowd of people that were all hidden behind something, surrounded a blue stucco house with blue shutters and a black roof.
A Latino man stood on the front lawn in his boxers and a tank top. In one hand, he held the hair of a woman who was on her knees and crying. In his other hand, he simultaneously waved a gun at the crowd, the police, and the woman.
“Get the fuck back!” he yelled. “Every one of you. I see you there.” He pointed his pistol toward a parked car. “Get the fuck away from that car! Stop crying!” he screamed at the woman. “You keep crying, I’m going to blow your head off just for pissing me off.”
Two officers were on either side of the lawn. One had his gun drawn. The other had a hand on his belt and a palm up.
“Sir, please drop your weapon.”
The man aimed at the cop with the pointed pistol.
“What? You wanna go?” he said. “Then shoot me! Shoot me, motherfucker, and see what happens. Shit, I don’t care. We’ll both die.”
“Don’t fire your weapon, Stan!” the other officer shouted. “Everybody just stay calm. Nobody is going to get killed today. Please, sir, just—”
“Stop fucking talking to me!” the man howled. “Just leave me alone. This is my house. This is my wife. You cheating motherfucker,” he simmered and shoved the muzzle of his gun into her cheek. “I should clean out that dirty fuckin’ mouth of yours.”
Avery turned off her sirens and sidled up to the curb.
“Another fucking cop!?” the man seethed. “You guys are like cockroaches. All right,” he said in a calm, determined way. “Someone is going to die today. You’re not taking me back to prison. So you can all either go home, or someone is going to die.”
“Nobody is going to die,” said the first cop, “please. Stan! Put your gun down!”
“No way,” his partner called out.
“God damn it, Stan!”
“Stay here,” Avery said to Ramirez.
“Fuck that!” he stated. “I’m your partner, Avery.”
“All right then, but listen up,” she said. “All we need now is two more cops turning this into a bloodbath. Stay calm and follow my lead.”
“Just follow me.”
Avery hopped out of the car.
“Sir,” she commanded to the drawn officer, “put your gun down.”
“Who the fuck are you?” he said.
“Yeah, who the fuck are you?” the Latino aggressor demanded.
“Both of you step away from the area,” Avery said to the two officers. “I’m Detective Avery Black from the A1. I’ll handle this. You too,” she called to Ramirez.
“You told me to follow your lead!” he yelled.
“This is my lead. Get back in the car. Everyone step away from this scene.”
The drawn officer spit and shook his head.
“Fuckin’ bureaucracy,” he said. “What? Just because you’re in a few papers you think you’re super cop now or something? Well, you know what? I’d love to see how you handle this, super cop.” With his eyes on the perpetrator, he raised his gun and walked backward until he was hidden behind a tree. “Take it away.” His partner followed suit.
Once Ramirez was back in the car and the other officers were safely out of firing distance, Avery stepped forward.
The Latino man smiled.
“Look at that,” he said and pointed his gun. “You’re the serial killer cop, right? Way to go, Black. That guy was fucking crazy. You got him good. Hey!” he yelled at the woman on her knees. “Stop fuckin’ squirming around. Can’t you see I’m trying to have a conversation?”
“What did she do?” Avery asked.
“Fuckin’ bitch fucked my best friend. That’s what she did. Didn’t you, bitch?”
“Damn,” Avery said. “That’s cold. She ever do anything like that before?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “I guess she cheated on her last man with me, but shit, I married the bitch! That’s got to count for something, right?”
“Definitely,” Avery agreed.
He was slight of frame, with a narrow face and missing teeth. He glanced at the growing audience, then looked up at Avery like a guilty child and whispered:
“This don’t look good, right?”
“No,” Avery answered. “It’s not good. Next time, you might want to handle this in the privacy of your own home. And quietly,” she said softly and stepped closer.
“Why you getting so close?” he wondered with a cocked brow.
“It’s my job,” she said as if it were a distasteful chore. “The way I see it? You have two choices. One: You come in quietly. You already screwed up. Too loud, too public, too many witnesses. Worst-case scenario? She presses charges and you have to get a lawyer.”
“She’s not pressing no fucking charges,” he said.
“I won’t, baby. I won’t!” she swore.
“If she doesn’t press charges, then you’re looking at aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and a few other minor infractions.”
“Will I have to serve some time?”
“Have you been arrested before?”
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Five-year stint for attempted manslaughter.”
“What’s your name?”
“You still on parole, Fernando?”
“Nah, parole was up two weeks ago.”
“OK.” She thought for a moment. “Then you’ll probably have to be behind bars until this gets worked out. Maybe a month or two?”
“Or two,” she reiterated. “Come on. Let’s be honest. After five years? That’s nothing. Next time? Keep it private.”
She was right in front of him, close enough to disarm him and free the victim, but he was already calming down. Avery had seen people like him before when dealing with some of the Boston gangs, men who’d been beaten down for so long that the slightest infraction could make them snap. But ultimately, when given a chance to relax and take stock of their situation, their story was always the same: they just wanted to be comforted, helped, and made to feel like they weren’t alone in the world.
“You used to be a lawyer, right?” the man said.
“Yeah.” She shrugged. “But then I made a stupid mistake and my life turned to shit. Don’t be like me,” she warned. “Let’s end this now.”
“What about her?” He pointed at his wife.
“Why would you want to be with someone like her?” Avery asked.
“I love her.”
Avery sucked in her lips and challenged him with a stare.
“Does this look like love?”
The question seemed to genuinely bother him. With a furrowed brow, he glanced from Avery to his wife and back to Avery again.
“No,” he said and lowered his gun. “This ain’t no way to love.”
“I’ll tell you what,” Avery said. “Give me that gun and let these guys take you in quietly and I’ll promise you something.”
“I promise I’ll check in on you and ensure you get treated right. You don’t look like a bad guy to me, Fernando Rodriguez. You just look like you’ve had a rough life.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” he said.
“No,” she agreed. “I don’t.”
She held out a hand.
He let go of his hostage and handed over the gun. Instantly, his wife scrambled across the lawn and ran to safety. The aggressive cop that had been prepared to open fire came forward with a snarling look of thinly veiled jealousy.
“I’ll take it from here,” he sneered.
Avery got in his face.
“Do me a favor,” she whispered. “Stop acting like you’re better than the people you arrest and treat him like a human being. It might help.”
The cop blushed in anger and seemed ready to push past and destroy the tranquil vibe that Avery had created. Thankfully, the second officer reached the Latino man first and handled him with care. “I’m going to cuff you now,” he said softly. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure you get treated right. I have to read you your rights. Is that OK? You have the right to remain silent…”
Avery backed away.
The Latino aggressor glanced up. The two held each other’s gaze for a moment. He offered a nod of thanks, and Avery responded with a nod of her own. “I meant what I said,” she reiterated before she turned to leave.
Ramirez had a big smile on his face.
“Shit, Avery. That was hot.”
The flirtation bothered Avery.
“Makes me sick when cops treat suspects like animals,” she said and turned back to watch the arrest. “I bet half the shootings in Boston could be avoided with a little respect.”
“Maybe if there was a female commissioner like you in charge,” he joked.
“Maybe,” she replied and seriously thought about the implications.
Her walkie-talkie went off.
Captain O’Malley’s voice came over the static.
“Black,” he said. “Black, where are you?”
She picked up.
“I’m here, Cap.”
“Keep your phone turned on from now on,” he said. “How many times do I have to tell you that? And get over to the Boston Harbor Marina off Marginal Street in East Boston. We have a situation here.”
“Isn’t East Boston A7 territory?” she asked.
“Forget about that,” he said. “Drop whatever you’re doing and get over here as fast as you can. We’ve got a murder.”
Avery reached the Boston Harbor & Shipyard by the Callahan Tunnel, which connected the North End to East Boston. The marina was off Marginal Street, right along the water.
The place was crawling with police.
“Holy shit,” Ramirez said. “What the hell happened here?”
Avery took it slow into the marina. Police cars were parked in a haphazard pattern, along with an ambulance. Crowds of people that wanted to use their boats on this bright morning ambled about, wondering what they were supposed to do.
She parked and they both got out and flashed their badges.
Beyond the main gate and building was an expansive dock. Two piers jutted out from the dock in a V shape. Most of the police had clustered around the close end of one dock.
In the distance stood Captain O’Malley, dressed in a dark suit and tie. He was in deep discussion with another man in full police uniform. By the double stripes on his chest, Avery guessed the other guy was captain of the A7, which handled all of East Boston.
“Look at this character.” Ramirez pointed at the man in uniform. “Did he just come from a ceremony or something?”
Officers from the A7 gave them hard stares.
“What’s the A1 doing here?”
“Go back to the North End,” another shouted.
Wind whipped across Avery’s face as she walked down the pier. The air was salty and balmy. She tightened her jacket around her waist so it wouldn’t fly open. Ramirez was having a difficult time with the intense gusts, which kept messing up his perfectly combed hair.
Docks jutted out at perpendicular angles on one side of the pier, and each dock was filled with boats. Boats were also lined on the other side of the pier: motorboats, expensive sailing vessels, and tremendous yachts.
A separate dock formed a T shape with the end of the pier. A single mid-sized white yacht was anchored in the middle of it. O’Malley, the other captain, and two officers talked while a forensics team scoured the boat and took pictures.
O’Malley sported the same gruff look as always: dyed black hair cut short, and a face that looked like he might have been a boxer in a former life, scrunched and wrinkled. Eyes were squinted from the wind and he seemed upset.
“She’s here now,” he said. “Give her a shot.”
The other captain had a regal, stately quality about him: graying hair, lean face, and an imperious glance below a furrowed brow. He stood much taller than O’Malley and appeared slightly befuddled that O’Malley, or anyone outside of his team, would encroach on his territory.
Avery nodded to everyone.
“What’s up, Captain?”
“Is this a party or what?” Ramirez smiled.
“Wipe that smile off your face,” the stately captain spit. “This is a crime scene, young man, and I expect you to treat it as such.”
“Avery, Ramirez, this is Captain Holt of the A7. He was gracious enough to—”
“Gracious my ass!” he snapped. “I don’t know what kind of show the mayor is running, but if he thinks he can just walk all over my division, he has another think coming. I respect you, O’Malley. We’ve known each other a long time, but this is unprecedented and you know it. How would you feel if I walked over to the A1 and started to bark orders?”
“No one is taking over anything,” O’Malley said. “You think I like this? We have enough work on our own side. The mayor called both of us, didn’t he? I had a whole different day planned, Will, so don’t act like this is me trying to make a power play.”
Avery and Ramirez shared a look.
“What’s the situation?” Avery asked.
“Call came in this morning,” Holt said and motioned to the yacht. “Woman found dead on that boat. She’s been identified as a local bookseller. Owns a spiritual bookshop over on Sumner Street and has for the last fifteen years. No record on her. Nothing outwardly suspicious about her.”
“Except for the way she was murdered.” O’Malley took over. “Captain Holt here was having breakfast with the mayor when the call came in. The mayor decided he wanted to come down and see it for himself.”
“The first thing he says is ‘Why don’t we get Avery Black on this case,’” Holt concluded with dagger-eyes at Avery.
O’Malley tried to ease the situation.
“That’s not what you told me, Will. You said your guys came in, they didn’t understand what they were looking at, and so the mayor suggested you ask someone who’s had some experience in this kind of thing.”
“Either way,” Holt snarled and pompously lifted his chin.
“Go take a look,” O’Malley said and pointed to the yacht. “See what you can find. If she comes up empty,” he added to Holt, “we’ll be on our way. Does that seem fair?”
Holt stomped off toward his two other detectives.
“Those two are from his homicide squad,” O’Malley indicated. “Don’t look at them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t ruffle any feathers. This is a very delicate political situation. Just keep your mouth shut and tell me what you see.”
Ramirez practically gushed as they walked up to the large yacht.
“This is one sweet ride,” he said. “Looks like a Sea Ray 58 Sedan Bridge. Double decker. Gives you shade up top, AC inside.”
Avery was impressed.
“How do you know all that?” she asked.
“I like to fish.” He shrugged. “Never fished on anything like this before, but a man can dream, right? I should take you out on my boat sometime.”
Avery had never truly enjoyed the sea. Beaches, sometimes; lakes, absolutely; but sailboats and motor vessels far out on the ocean? Panic attacks. She’d been born and raised on flat land, and the thought of being out on the bobbing, crashing tides, with no idea what might be lurking just beneath the waves, made her mind go to dark places.
As Avery and Ramirez passed by and prepared to board the boat, Holt and his two detectives ignored them. A photographer at the bow snapped one last picture and signaled to Holt. He made his way along the gunwale on the starboard side and wiggled his eyebrows at Avery. “You’ll never look at a yacht the same way again,” he joked.
A silver stepladder led to the ship’s side. Avery climbed up, placed her palms on the black windows, and shimmied toward the front.
A middle-aged, saintly looking woman with wild red hair had been positioned on the front of the ship, just before the bow sidelights. She lay scrunched up on her side, facing east, with her hands gripped to her knees and her head down. If she’d been sitting upright she might have appeared asleep. She was completely naked, and the only visible wound was the dark line around her neck. He snapped it, Avery thought.
What made the victim stand out, beyond the nudity and the public display of her death, was the shadow she cast. The sun was up in the east. Her body was slightly angled upward, and it produced a mirror image of her scrunched form in a long, warped shadow.
“Fuck me,” Ramirez whispered.
As Avery did when she was cleaning surfaces in her home, she got down low and glanced at the ship’s bow. The shadow was either a coincidence or a meaningful sign by the killer, and if he’d left one sign, he might have left another. She moved from one side of the ship to the other.
In the glare of the sun, on the white surface of the ship’s bow, right above the woman’s head, between her body and her shadow, Avery spotted a star. Someone had used their finger to draw a star, either in spit or saltwater.
Ramirez called down to O’Malley.
“What did forensics say?”
“Found some hairs on the body. Could be from a carpet. The other team is still over at the apartment.”
“The woman’s apartment,” O’Malley called up. “We believe she was abducted from there. No prints anywhere. Guy might have been wearing gloves. How he transferred her here, to a very visible dock, without anyone seeing, we don’t know. He blacked out some of the marina cameras here. Must have been done right before the murder. She was possibly killed last night. Body seems unmolested, but the coroner has to give the final say.”
Holt scoffed at nothing.
“This is a waste of our time,” he snapped at O’Malley. “What can that woman possibly offer that my men haven’t already discovered? I don’t care about her last case or her public persona. As far as I’m concerned she’s just a washed-up attorney who got lucky on her first major case because a serial killer, that she defended in court, helpedher!”
Avery stood up, leaned on the railing, and observed Holt, O’Malley, and the two other detectives on the dock. Wind ruffled her jacket and pants.
“Did you see the star?” she asked.
“What star?” Holt called up.
“Her body is angled to the side and up. In the sunlight, it creates a shadow image of her form. Very distinct. Almost looks like two people, back-to-back. Between her body and that shadow, someone drew a star. Could be a coincidence, but the placement is perfect. Maybe we can get lucky if the killer drew it in spit.”
Holt consulted with one of his men.
“Did you see a star?”
“No sir,” replied a lean, blond detective with brown eyes.
The detective shook his head.
“Ridiculous,” Holt mumbled. “A drawn star? A child could have done that. A shadow? Shadows are created by light. There’s nothing special about that, Detective Black.”
“Who owns the yacht?” Avery asked.
“A dead end.” O’Malley shrugged. “Bigshot real estate developer. He’s away in Brazil on business. Been gone for the last month.”
“If the boat’s been cleaned in the last month,” Avery said, “then that star was put there by the killer, and since it’s in perfect placement between the body and the shadow, it has to mean something. I’m not sure what, but something.”
O’Malley glanced at Holt.
“Simms,” he noted to the blond officer, “get forensics back here. See about that star, and the shadow. I’ll call you when we’re finished.”
Miserably, Holt glanced at Avery, then finally, he shook his head.
“Let her see the apartment.”
Avery walked slowly down the hall of the dim apartment building, flanked by Ramirez, her heart pounding with anticipation as it always did when entering a crime scene. At this moment, she wished she was anywhere but here.
She snapped out of it. She put her game face on and forced herself to observe every detail, however minute.
The victim’s apartment door was open. An officer stationed outside moved away and allowed Avery and the others to duck under the crime scene tape and enter.
A narrow hallway led to a living room. A kitchen branched off from the hall. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary anywhere; just someone’s very nice apartment. Walls were painted a light gray. There were bookshelves everywhere. Piles of books were stacked on the ground. Plants hung from the windows. A green couch faced a television set. In the only bedroom, the bed was made and topped with a lacy white blanket.
The only obvious disturbance to the apartment was in the living room, where a central rug was clearly missing. A dusty outline, along with a darker space, had been marked with numerous yellow police tags.
“What did forensics find here?” Avery asked.
“Nothing,” O’Malley said. “No prints. No camera shots. We’re in the dark right now.”
“Anything taken from the apartment?”
“Not that we know. Change jar is full. Her clothes were neatly placed in her hamper. Money and ID were still in the pockets.”
Avery took her time in the apartment.
As was her habit, she moved in small sections and observed every section thoroughly—the walls, the floors and wooden floorboards, any trinkets on shelves. A picture of the victim with two female friends stood out. She made a mental note to learn their names and contact each one. The bookshelves and piles were analyzed. There were stacks of female romance novels. The rest were mostly on spiritual subjects: self-help, religion.
Religion, Avery thought.
The victim had a star above her head.
Star of David?
Having observed the dead body on the boat and the apartment, Avery began to form a picture of the killer in her mind. He would have attacked from the hall. The kill was quick and he left no marks, made no mistakes.The victim’s clothing and effects had been left behind in a neat spot, so as not to disturb the apartment. Only the rug was moved, and it was dusty in that area and around the edges. Something about that harked to anger in the killer. If he was so meticulous in every other way, Avery wondered, why not clean the dust from the rug sides? Why take the rug at all? Why not leave everything in perfect condition? She worked it through: He snapped her neck, undressed her, put the clothing away and left everything in order, but then he rolled her in a rug and carried her out like a savage.
She headed over to the window and stared down at the street. There were a few places where someone could hide and observe the apartment without being noticed. One spot in particular called to her: a dark, narrow alleyway behind a fence. Were you there? she asked herself. Watching? Waiting for the right moment?
“Well?” O’Malley said. “What do you think?”
“We have a serial killer on our hands.”
“The killer is male, and strong,” Avery went on. “He obviously overwhelmed the victim and had to carry her to the dock. Seems like a personal vendetta.”
“How do you know that?” Holt asked.
“Why go through so much trouble with a random victim? Nothing appears to be stolen so it’s not a robbery. He was precise about everything except that rug. If you spend so much time planning a murder, undressing the victim and putting her clothes in a hamper, why take any of her items? Seems like a planned gesture. He wanted to take something. Maybe to show he was powerful? That he could? I don’t know. And leaving her on a boat? Naked and in full view of the harbor? This guy wants to be seen. He wants everyone to know he made this kill. You might have another serial killer on your hands. Whatever decision you’re going to make about who handles this case,” and she glanced at O’Malley, “you might want to make it quick.”
O’Malley turned to Holt.
“You know how I feel about this,” Holt sneered.
“But you’ll go with the call?”
“It’s a mistake.”
“Whatever the mayor wants.”
O’Malley turned to Avery.
“Are you up for this?” he asked. “Be honest with me. You just came off a very high-profile serial murder. The press crucified you every step of the way. Once again, all eyes will be on you, but this time, the mayor is paying special attention. He asked for you specifically.”
Avery’s heart beat faster. Making a difference as a police officer was what she truly loved about her job, but catching serial killers and avenging the dead was what she craved.
“We have a lot of other open cases,” she said. “And a trial.”
“I can give everything to Thompson and Jones. You can oversee their work. If you take this on, this is priority number one.”
Avery turned to Ramirez.
“I’m in.” He nodded in earnest.
“We’ll do it,” she said.
“Good.” O’Malley sighed. “You’re on the case. Captain Holt and his men will deal with the body and the apartment. You’ll have full access to the files and their full cooperation throughout this investigation. Will, who should they go to if they need information?”
“Detective Simms,” he said.
“Simms is the lead detective you saw this morning,” O’Malley relayed, “blond hair, dark eyes, tough all over. The boat and apartment are all being handled by the A7. Simms will contact you directly with any leads on this end. Maybe you should talk with the family for now. See what you can uncover. If you’re right, and this is personal, they may be involved or have some information that can help.”
“We’re on it,” Avery said.
A quick call to Detective Simms and Avery learned that the victim’s parents lived just a bit further north, outside of Boston in the town of Chelsea.
Breaking the news to families was Avery’s second-most loathed part of the job. Although she had a way with people, there was a moment, right after they learned about a death of a loved one, that complex emotions took hold. Psychiatrists called it the five stages of grieving, but Avery thought of it as slow torture. First, there was denial. Friends and relatives wanted to know everything about the body—information that would only make them grieve more, and no matter how much Avery offered, it was always impossible for the loved ones to imagine. Second came anger: at the police, at the world, at everyone. Bargaining came next. “Are you sure they’re dead? Maybe they’re still alive.” These stages could happen all at once, or they could take years, or both. The last two stages usually happened when Avery was somewhere else: depression and acceptance.
“I have to say,” Ramirez mused, “I don’t like finding dead bodies, but this does free us up to work on this case. No more trial and no more paperwork. Feels good, right? We get to do what we want to do and not have to be bogged down in red tape.”
He leaned over to kiss her cheek.
Avery pulled away.
“Not now,” she said.
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