Authors: Iris Johansen
Tags: #Eve Duncan
Rio Grande Forest, Colorado
“YOU’RE RIGHT, I DON’T LIKE
to see Kevin like this.” Doane stared distastefully at the multitude of tiny red markers that looked like swords stabbing his son’s skull. “Kevin wouldn’t like it either. He’d be angry with you.”
“He’s not pretty at the moment, but it’s necessary to complete the process. The measurements have to be exact,” Eve said. “If it bothers you, go away. I certainly don’t want you here. Go talk to Blick on Skype again. Tell him to stay away from my Jane.”
“You’re being too slow.” He grimaced. “I thought you’d be farther along by now.”
“It’s going as fast as it can go. It’s not as if you’re giving me much rest.” She sat back on her stool and gazed critically at the skull. Doane was right, it wasn’t going as smoothly as most reconstructions. Every move she made seemed weighted and slow. “I have to be absolutely sure with the measurements before I can begin the final sculpting. I assure you that I’m not stalling.”
“I don’t believe you’re stalling.” His gaze was narrowed on her face. “I think maybe you’re sick. You’re pale, and you look kind of pinched. You got the flu or something?”
“No.” She quickly looked back at the reconstruction. Little sleep and the nausea from breathing the gas had taken its toll, but she had hoped she could hide it from Doane. “How do you expect me to look? I’m worried about Jane, and I want out of here.”
“I didn’t think you’d wither away. You’re tougher than that.”
“I’m not withering away. I’m working on your damn skull, aren’t I?”
“Not fast enough,” he repeated. “Maybe you should eat more. You only ate a few bites at your last meal.”
Because she’d been afraid she’d throw up as she’d done when she’d gotten up after finally napping before he’d come for her. She’d managed to get to the bathroom before he’d noticed, but she couldn’t expect to be that lucky throughout the day. “I’ll try to eat more later. But it won’t make any difference in how quickly the reconstruction gets done.” She started working again. But she had to slow as the nausea immediately returned. The red markers were blurring before her eyes.
Distract Doane. Don’t let him notice.
“If you’re going to sit there watching, you might as well talk to me. Tell me about Kevin and how he became this horror.”
He flinched. “He’s not a horror. Why are you so unfair to him, when you’re not with those children you reconstruct?”
“Those children are victims.”
“So is Kevin. How can you look at him and not believe that’s true?”
“Tell me. The skull is terribly burned. Was he killed in a fire?”
“No. He was shot with a high-powered rifle, then his body was cremated at a funeral home outside Athens.” His lips were drawn with pain. “But I was able to save his skull. I made the funeral director give it to me.” His words were suddenly charged with anger. “They thought that I didn’t know that my Kevin was a target after he walked out of that courtroom. I’m not stupid. Kevin told me that I had to keep myself safe and let him handle those bastards who were going to go after him.”
He didn’t answer directly. “I didn’t want to hide when they arrested him. But I’d always done what Kevin wanted me to do. He was special.” His voice was hoarse. “So special. And they killed him. But they won’t get away with it.
won’t get away with it.”
“And who is Zander?”
“A monster. He killed my son. I didn’t know that—” He shook his head as if to clear it. “I’m not going to talk about Zander. Stop trying to trick me.”
“Trick you? I asked a question,” she said in frustration. “The only thing I’m trying to do is fight my way through this forest of lies and get myself and Jane out safely. I don’t give a damn about this Zander. How could I?”
“That’s right, you can’t feel anything for him. However, I feel a great deal concerning him.”
“Then go after him and let me go.”
His gaze went to the skull. “Sometimes I wish I could, but that’s not possible.”
She drew a deep breath. “Okay, let me try to sort this out. It’s obvious this has to be about revenge for the death of your son by this Zander. For some reason, I’m being drawn into the mix because I have the skill to do this reconstruction. But if you have the skull, DNA can be extracted even in this damaged condition. My work has value if there’s no clue as to the identity of the victim. Then I can rebuild the face and circulate photos to find out. In this case, I’m not necessary.”
“No one is more necessary.”
“DNA is almost foolproof.”
“And can be faked if you have money and influence.”
“Then demand another test. Demand a dozen tests.”
He shook his head. “I need you, Eve.”
Why was she arguing? It was clear that he was not going to be swayed. Yet she had to make one more attempt. “You obviously had a very close relationship with your son. Do you think that he’d want you to put yourself in danger to exact some kind of revenge? You said he wanted you to keep yourself safe.”
“He’d want me to do exactly what I’m doing. Kevin believed in revenge. I can’t tell you how many times that he’d say, ‘We have to go after that one, Dad. The bad have to be punished. They have to learn that we’re the important ones.’”
Eve felt a chill. “And what did he mean by that?”
“What he said.” He sadly shook his head. “You don’t understand. I’m not explaining it right. Kevin should be here to tell you. It took a little while for me to learn what he meant, but then it was very clear.”
“It doesn’t sound clear. It sounds sick.”
“Are you trying to make me angry?” He got to his feet. “Kevin wasn’t sick. He was brilliant and very special. I’m proud to have him for my son.” He glared at her. “Just as you’re proud to have had Bonnie in your life. You shouldn’t speak badly of my son.”
“If your son was shot, why wasn’t the killer hunted down and captured? It doesn’t sound to me as if Kevin was a victim.”
“He was a victim. They all wanted him dead.”
“Because he was special.”
“You keep saying that. In what way was he special?”
“In every way.”
“You mentioned him walking out of a courtroom. What was he doing in court?”
“I’m through talking about Kevin. You’re not being very understanding.”
“Because you’re not telling me the entire story, are you?”
“I’ll tell you … someday. Right now, it might interfere with what you’re doing.” He turned on his heel. “I’m going out to the truck. I need some air.” He looked over his shoulder as he reached the door. His sudden smile warmed his craggy face. “You’ve been very hard, Eve. You mustn’t make us angry. But I forgive you.” The next instant, he’d deactivated the gas jet at the front door and left the house.
Eve felt herself go limp. She hadn’t known how Doane would respond to that far-from-delicate probing. What she had found out was sketchy at best, but she had gotten a glimpse into a murkiness she didn’t want to explore.
But she had to explore it. Just as she had to dive deep into this reconstruction, which was beginning to cause her to want to run the other way.
Okay, assimilate all he had told her and try to put them in some kind of order. It might not be possible, but at least she would have them fresh in her mind to make the connection when she could do it.
Zander. Who was he? Obviously the murderer of Kevin Doane. Why was Kevin killed? Doane insisted that Kevin was innocent of wrongdoing. But the remark about the courtroom was very suspicious.
And Doane’s words describing his son’s philosophy had been shocking, with shades of egotism or perhaps even schizophrenia. Doane himself was something of a split personality. One moment he appeared everything warm and kind and fatherly, and the next he was talking about revenge and acting out that revenge on the innocent. Jane, Eve, even Toby, the retriever. Which personality would take over in a crucial situation?
She looked up at the gas jets overhead. Another sign of Doane’s twisted character. A method of suppression that would keep her from hurting herself and permit him to use her to do the reconstruction. It was supposed to make her think of him in as kindly a light as possible. Instead, it was casting a macabre swirling haze over his actions. That kindliness was like the painted smile of the Joker in that Batman cartoon. She could see no evil, and yet she knew it must be there.
She mustn’t jump to conclusions. She had to be cool and calmly analytical.
Screw it, she couldn’t be cool about that man. It’s what he wanted from her. He wanted to fool her into thinking there was goodness and question every doubt she had of him. How could he even think that she would be fooled after what he had done to her?
Because he had done it so many times before.
The answer came swiftly out of nowhere. He had played the part and been accepted and smiled and thought that he could do it forever. That warm, guy next door, almost fatherly charisma had become his stock-in-trade. He used it with a skill that was totally disarming. A skill that was all the more dangerous because of what it hid beneath.
Why was she so sure that was the key to Doane when it was only a guess?
Because that guess felt … right.
She felt the muscles of her stomach clench. Don’t be afraid, dammit. He might be more dangerous than she had thought, but he could be handled. He had wanted to talk about his son. He had answered questions. The more she got to know about him, the better chance she had to get out of here.
She glanced at the door. And this might be an opportunity to see what she could find.
She moved quickly to the file case across the room. Locked. She went to the beat-up pine desk next to it.
The middle drawer was unlocked and opened immediately. Paper, pens, nothing of any importance. The drawer on the right was totally empty.
The drawer on the left was locked.
The lock wasn’t complicated. A simple tool could probably jimmy it.
What tool? Doane kept the kitchen utensil drawers locked. She’d have to jimmy that lock to jimmy this one, she thought dryly.
Find another way.
What work tools did she have? Most of them were soft, and bendable to work with the clay. But there could be—
The door of the truck slammed outside in the driveway.
He was coming!
She darted across the room, hopped on the stool, and picked up a red marker as the door opened. “You didn’t stay out there very long.” She lowered her head as she carefully placed the marker beneath the orbital cavity. “Did I run you out, Doane?”
“I came back to say I’m sorry. This is very difficult for you. I realize that you must feel intimidated. You can’t know what a fine boy my Kevin was, and I have to understand that words are the only way you have to fight back.” His voice was gentle. “Just do your work, and I’ll make it easy for you.”
“I am working.” His voice was so sincere she could almost believe him. “And you’re not intimidating me.”
He smiled. “Good.” He turned and headed for the kitchenette. “Now I’ll make us something to eat. At least, our little discord made you a little more lively. You’re not pale any longer. Your cheeks are positively rosy. I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
Eve reached up and touched her cheek. The flush to which he was referring had been caused by panic and running full tilt back to the reconstruction worktable from the desk across the room. She still had a touch of nausea, but she felt alive and active and on the move. “Are you? So am I, Doane.” She smiled back at him. “Very glad.”
“IS IT A GRAVE?” JOE ASKED
as he came toward the mound of mud by which Venable was standing. “I thought you might have an answer by the time I got here.”
“You knew I’d be careful not to disturb the scene. If this is Dukes, I want to nail the son of a bitch who killed him.” Venable’s gaze never left the two men who were carefully digging through the mud. “And he didn’t want Dukes found right away. He took his time. He covered the area with leaves and branches, and he dug deep.”
One of the men stopped digging and looked at Venable. “I’ve hit something. I see a green tarp, and there’s blood on it. Should we go on?”
“Yes, just be careful.” Venable took a step closer. “Draw back the tarp. I want to make sure of his ID. After that, I’ll turn this over to forensics. But I have to know.” He looked down at the tarp and watched them draw back the waterproof plastic.
Joe stepped forward. The dead man was dark-haired, and his gray eyes were wide open and staring into nothingness. His throat was cut from ear to ear. “Dukes?”
Venable nodded and turned on his heel. “Dukes.” He walked away from the mound. “He had a wife and a kid. I’ll have to call them.”
“Very fitting.” Joe fell into step with him. “But it would be more fitting for you to zero in on the man who cut his throat. First things first, Venable.”
“I have my own priorities.” Venable gave him a cold glance. “And I do things my own way.”
“Unless you do them wrong. Putting Eve in jeopardy falls into that category.”
“I didn’t want her hurt. There was a chance she wouldn’t be in jeopardy. I had to be sure.”
“You just dug up evidence that should convince you.”
“Knock it off, Quinn. Nothing you can say is going to influence me more than seeing Dukes with his throat cut. I liked him. He was a good man, and I worked with him for more than four years.”
Joe attacked from another angle. “Why would you think that Eve wouldn’t be in danger?”
“Because he wasn’t the one who—” Venable broke off. “Drop it, Quinn. I’m thinking.” He raised his head as they approached the cottage. “There’s Jane on the porch. She looks like hell.”
“Yes, but I can’t convince her to rest. She won’t stop.” He added deliberately. “She’s not like you. She thinks Eve is in danger. She’s probably going to go after you when she finds out about Dukes.”
“Did she finish the sketch?”
“Yes, she brought a copy with her.” He was climbing the steps. “I wanted you to see it.”
“Joe?” Jane took a step forward. “What about Dukes?”
“Dead. Throat cut.”
“Shit.” She had turned paler. She whirled on Venable, and said fiercely, “It could have been Eve. Damn you, Venable. Joe said that you know more about this than you’re telling him. You talk to us.”