Authors: Kay Hooper
Tags: #General, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Fiction
T WAS THE NIGHTMARE
brought to life, Dani thought.
The smell of blood turned her stomach, the thick, acrid smoke burned her eyes, and what had been for so long a wispy, dreamlike memory was now jarring, throat-clogging reality. For just an instant she was paralyzed.
It was all coming true.
Despite everything she had done, everything she had
to do, despite all the warnings, once again it was all—
“Dani?” Hollis appeared at her side, seemingly out of the smoke, gun drawn, blue eyes sharp even squinted against the stench. “Where is it?”
“I—I can’t. I mean, I don’t think I can—”
“Dani, you’re all we’ve got. You’re all
got. Do you understand that?”
Reaching desperately for strength she wasn’t at all sure she had, Dani said, “If somebody had just listened to me when it mattered—”
“Stop looking back. There’s no sense in it. Now is all that counts. Which way, Dani?”
Impossible as it was, Dani had to force herself to concentrate on the stench of blood she knew neither of the others could smell. A blood trail that was all they had to guide them. She nearly gagged, then pointed. “That way. Toward the back. But…”
“Down. Lower. There’s a basement level.” Stairs. She remembered stairs. Going down them. Down into hell.
“It isn’t on the blueprints.”
“Bad place to get trapped in a burning building,” Hollis noted. “The roof could fall in on us. Easily.”
Bishop appeared out of the smoke as suddenly as Hollis had, weapon in hand, his face stone, eyes haunted. “We have to hurry.”
“Yeah,” Hollis replied, “we get that. Burning building. Maniacal killer. Good seriously outnumbered by evil. Bad situation.” Her words and tone were flippant, but her gaze on his face was anything but, intent and measuring.
“You forgot potential victim in maniacal killer’s hands,” her boss said, not even trying to match her tone.
“Never. Dani, did you see the basement, or are you feeling it?”
“Stairs. I saw them.” The weight on her shoulders felt like the world, so maybe that was what was pressing her down. Or…“And what I feel now…He’s lower. He’s underneath us.”
“Then we look for stairs.”
Dani coughed. She was trying to think, trying to remember. But dreams recalled were such dim, insubstantial things, even vision dreams sometimes, and there was no way for her to be
she was remembering clearly. She was overwhelmingly conscious of precious time passing and looked at her wrist, at the bulky digital watch that told her it was 2:47
on Tuesday, October 28.
Odd. She never wore a watch. Why was she wearing one now? And why a watch that looked so…alien on her thin wrist?
She shook off the momentary confusion. “The stairs. Not where you’d expect them to be,” she managed finally, coughing again. “They’re in a closet or something like that. A small office. Room. Not a hallway. Hallways—”
A flash of endless, featureless hallways, brightly lit…
The image in her mind vanished as quickly as it had come, and Dani dismissed it as unimportant because an absolute certainty had replaced it. “Shit. The basement is divided. By a solid wall. Two big rooms. And accessed from this main level by two different stairways, one at each side of the building, in the back.”
“What kind of crazy-ass design is that?” Hollis demanded.
“If we get out of this alive, you can ask the architect.” The smell of blood was almost overpowering, and Dani’s head was beginning to hurt. Badly.
Hallways. No, not hallways, two separate spaces, distinct sides…
She had never before pushed herself for so long without a break, especially with this level of intensity.
It was Bishop who said, “You don’t know which side they’re in.”
“No. I’m sorry.” She felt as if she’d been apologizing to this man since she met him. Hell, she had been.
Hollis was scowling. To Bishop, she said, “Great. That’s just great. You’re psychically blind, the storm has all my senses scrambled, and we’re in a huge burning building without a freakin’ map.”
“Which is why Dani is here.” Those pale sentry eyes were fixed on her face.
Dani felt wholly inadequate. “I—I don’t—All I know is that he’s down there somewhere.”
The name caused her a queer little shock, and for no more than a heartbeat, Dani had the dizzy sense of something out of place, out of sync somehow. But she had an answer for him. Of sorts. “She isn’t—dead. Yet. She’s bait, you know that. She was always bait, to lure you.”
“And you,” Bishop said.
Dani didn’t want to think about that. Couldn’t, for some reason she was unable to explain, think about that. “We have to go, now. He won’t wait, not this time.”
And he’s not the only one.
The conversation had taken only brief minutes, but even so the smoke was thicker, the crackling roar of the fire louder, and the heat growing ever more intense.
Bitterly, Hollis said, “We’re on
timetable, just like before, like always, carried along without the chance to stop and think.”
Bishop turned and started toward the rear of the building and the south corner. “I’ll go down on this side. You two head for the east corner.”
Dani wondered if instinct was guiding him as well, but all she said, to Hollis, was, “He wouldn’t take the chance if he had it, would he? To stop and think, I mean.”
“If it meant a minute lost in getting to Miranda? No way in hell. That alone would be enough, but on top of that he blames himself for this mess.”
“He couldn’t have known—”
“Yes. He could have. Maybe he even did. That’s why he believes it’s his fault. Come on, let’s go.”
Dani followed but had to ask, “Do you believe it’s his fault?”
Hollis paused for only an instant, looking back over her shoulder, and there was something hard and bright in her eyes. “Yes. I do. He played God one time too many. And we’re paying the price for his arrogance.”
Again, Dani followed the other woman, her throat tighter despite the fact that, as they reached the rear half of the building, the smoke wasn’t nearly as thick. They very quickly discovered, in the back of what might once have been a small office, a door that opened smoothly and silently to reveal a stairwell.
The stairwell was already lighted.
“Bingo,” Hollis breathed.
A part of Dani wanted to suggest that they wait, at least long enough for Bishop to check out the other side of the building, but every instinct as well as the waves of heat at her back told her there simply wasn’t time to wait.
Hollis shifted her weapon to a steady two-handed grip and sent Dani a quick look. “Ready?”
Dani didn’t spare the energy to wonder how anyone on earth could ever be ready for this. Instead, she concentrated on the only weapon she had, the one inside her aching head, and nodded.
Hollis had only taken one step when a thunderous crash sounded behind them and a new wave of almost intolerable heat threatened to shove them bodily into the stairwell.
The roof was falling in.
They exchanged glances and then, without emotion, Hollis said, “Close the door behind us.”
Dani gathered all the courage she could find, and if her response wasn’t as emotionless as the other woman’s, at least it was steady.
“Right,” she said, and closed the door behind them as they began their descent into hell.
Tuesday, October 7
OU HAD THAT
dream again last night, didn’t you?”
Dani kept her gaze fixed on her coffee cup until the silence dragged on a minute longer than it should have, then looked at her sister’s face. “Yeah. I had that dream.”
Paris sat down on the other side of the table, her own cup cradled in both hands. “Same as before?”
the same as before. What was different?”
It was an answer Dani didn’t want to offer, but she knew her sister too well to fight the inevitable; Paris determined was as unstoppable as the tides. “It was placed in time. Two forty-seven in the afternoon, October twenty-eighth.”
Paris turned her head to study the wall calendar stuck to her refrigerator with
character magnets. “The twenty-eighth, huh? This year?”
“That’s three weeks from today.”
“I noticed that.”
Dani nodded. “Same people. Same conversations. Same burning warehouse. Same feeling of doom.”
“Except for the time being fixed, it was exactly the same?”
the same, you know that. Some of it’s probably symbolic, and I have no way of knowing which parts aren’t literal. I only know what I see, and there are always small, sometimes weird changes in that. A word different here or there, a gesture. I think the gun Hollis carried wasn’t the same one as before. And Bishop was wearing a black leather jacket this time; before, it was a dark windbreaker.”
“But they’re always the same. Those two people are always a part of the dream.”
“People you don’t know.”
“People I don’t know—yet.” Dani frowned down at her coffee for a moment, then shook her head and met her sister’s steady gaze again. “In the dream, I feel I know them awfully well. I understand them in a way that’s difficult to explain.”
“Maybe because they’re psychic too.”
Dani hunched her shoulders. “Maybe.”
“And it ended…”
“Just like it always ends. That doesn’t change. I shut the door behind us and we go down the stairs. I know the roof has started collapsing. I know we won’t be able to get out the same way we went in. I know something terrible and evil is waiting for us in that basement, that it’s a trap.”
“But you go down there anyway.”
“I don’t seem to have a choice.”
“Or maybe it’s a choice you made before you ever set foot in that building,” Paris said. “Maybe it’s a choice you’re making now. The date. How did you see it?”
“On you? Neither of us can wear a watch.”
Still reluctant, Dani said, “And it wasn’t the sort of watch I’d wear even if I could wear one.”
“What sort of watch was it?”
“It was…military-looking. Big, black, digital. Lots of buttons, more than one display. Looked like it could give me the time in Beijing and the latitude and longitude as well. Hell, maybe it could translate Sanskrit into English, for all I know.”
“What do you think that means?”
Dani sighed. “One year of psychology under your belt, so naturally everything has to mean something, I guess.”
“When it comes to your dreams, yes, everything means something. We both know that. Come on, Dani. How many times now have you dreamed this same dream?”
“A half dozen times that I know of—and I’m betting you didn’t tell me about it right away.”
“Look, it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve had the dream. It doesn’t matter because it isn’t a premonition.”
“Could have fooled me.”
Dani got up and carried her coffee cup to the sink. “Yeah, well, it wasn’t your dream.”
Paris turned in her chair but remained where she was. “Dani, is that why you came down here, to Venture? Not to offer me a shoulder to cry on while I go through a messy divorce, but because of that dream?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“The hell you don’t.”
“I want the truth. Don’t make me get it for myself.”
Dani turned around, leaning back against the counter as she once again ruefully faced the knowledge that she would never be able to keep the truth from her sister, not for long.
It was partly the twin thing.
Paris wore her burnished copper hair in a shorter style these days—she called it her divorce rebirth—and she was a bit too thin, but otherwise looking at her was like looking into a mirror. Dani had long since grown accustomed to that and in fact viewed it as an advantage; watching the play of emotions across Paris’s expressive face had taught her to hide her own.
At least from everyone except Paris.
“We promised,” her sister reminded her. “To leave each other our personal lives, our own thoughts and feelings. And we’ve gotten very good at keeping that door closed. But I remember how to open it, Dani. We both do.”
It wasn’t unusual, of course, for identical twins to have a special connection, but for Dani and Paris that bond had been, in the words of one childhood friend, “sort of spooky.” It had been more than closeness, more than finishing each other’s sentences or dressing alike or playing the twin game of exchanging identities.
Dani and Paris, especially in early childhood, had felt more like two halves of one person rather than separate individuals. Paris was the sunnier half, quick to laugh and joke, invariably cheerful, open and trusting, the extrovert. Dani was quieter, more still and watchful, even secretive. She was slow to anger and to trust and far more introspective than her sister.
Night and Day, their father had called them—and he hadn’t been the only one to misunderstand what he saw.
Dani and Paris preferred it that way, confiding the truth only to each other. They learned early to hide or disguise the easy mental and emotional link they shared, eventually discovering how to fashion the “door” Paris spoke of.
It gave them the privacy of being alone in their own minds, something most people never learned to value. For the twins, it had finally enabled them to at least begin to experience life as unique individuals rather than two halves of a whole.
Dani missed that former closeness, though. It might now be only a door away—but that door did mostly stay closed these days, with the twins in their early thirties and having chosen very different life paths.
Nodding slowly, Dani said, “Okay. The dream started a few months ago, back in the summer. When the senator’s daughter was murdered by that serial killer in Boston.”
“The one they haven’t caught yet?”
Paris was frowning. “I’m missing the connection.”
“I didn’t think there was one. Absolutely no connection between me and those murders, not with the victims and not with any of the investigators. And I never have visions about anything not involving me or the people in my life. Which is why I didn’t think this dream was a premonition.”
Without pouncing on that admission, her sister said, “Until something changed. What?”
“I saw a news report. The federal agent in charge of the investigation in Boston is the man in my dream. Bishop.”
“I still don’t see—”
“His wife is Miranda Bishop.”
Paris sat up straighter. “Jeez. She’s the one who told us about Haven.”
“Yeah.” It had been in Atlanta nearly a year and a half before. Paris and her husband were one argument away from splitting up, and Dani was between jobs and at loose ends. Neither one of them was interested in becoming a fed, even to join the Special Crimes Unit Miranda Bishop had told them about.
They didn’t want to carry guns, didn’t want to be cops. But working for Haven, a privately run civilian organization of investigators with unique abilities—that had sounded interesting.
Absently, Paris said, “That was the last straw for Danny, you know. When I wanted to use my abilities, when I got a job that actually required them. I saw how creeped-out he was. How could I stay with someone who felt that way about any part of me?”
“Yeah, I know. Been there. Most of the guys I’ve met couldn’t get past the fact that I was an identical twin; having dreams that literally came true hasn’t exactly been seen as a fun bonus.”
“Especially when you dreamed about them?”
“Well, anybody who gets close takes that risk. And since I never dream about sunshine and puppies, most of the guys in my life haven’t stuck around long enough to hear about their own personal-doom scenario.”
“There was one who never ran.”
Dani frowned. “Yeah, well. He would have. Sooner or later.”
“Do you know that, or are you only guessing?”
“Can we get back to the dream, please?”
Since a solemn pact made in girlhood, each of them had been scrupulous about staying out of the other’s love life. And because her own very rocky marriage had recently left her hypersensitive to that, Paris could hardly push. “Okay. Getting back to your dream—are you saying it has something to do with that serial killer?”
“I think so.”
Paris watched her steadily. “What else?”
Dani didn’t want to answer but finally did. “Whatever was down in that basement was—is—evil. A kind of evil I’ve never felt before. A kind that scares the hell out of me. And one thing that has been the same in every single version of my dream is the fact that it has Miranda.”
“She’s a hostage?”
he was my only child.”
“Yes. I know.”
Senator Abe LeMott looked up from the framed photograph he had been studying and directed his attention across the desk to a face that had become, these last months, almost as familiar to him as the one that had belonged to his daughter, Annie.
Special Agent Noah Bishop, Chief of the FBI’s Special Crimes Unit, possessed an unforgettable face anyway, LeMott thought. Because it was an unusually handsome face but, even more, because the pale silver-gray eyes missed nothing, and because the faint but wicked scar twisting down his left cheek was mute evidence of a violent past. Add to that a streak of pure white hair at his left temple, shocking against the jet-black all around it, and you had a man who was not likely to be overlooked, much less easily forgotten.
“You and your wife don’t have children.” LeMott set the photograph aside carefully, in its accustomed place to the right of the blotter.
The senator summoned a smile. “And yet you do. Brothers and sisters, at least. Family. Your unit. Your team.”
“Have you ever lost one of them?”
“No. A few close calls, but no.”
The unspoken hung in the air between them, and LeMott nodded somberly. “Bound to happen. The work you people do, the evil you face. Sooner or later, there’ll be a…an unbearable price demanded. There always is.”
Choosing not to respond to that, Bishop said instead, “As I told you, we lost what faint trail we had near Atlanta. Whether he’s in the city or somewhere nearby, that’s the area. But until he makes a move…”
“Until he kills again, you mean.”
“He’s gone to ground, and he isn’t likely to surface again until he feels less threatened. Less hunted. Or until his needs drive him to act despite that.”
“It’s gotten personal, hasn’t it? Between you and him. The hunter and the hunted.”
“I’m a cop. It’s my job to hunt scum like him.”
LeMott shook his head. “No, it was always more than that for you. I could see it. Hell, anybody could see it. I’m betting he knew it, knew you were hunting him and knew you’d crawled inside his head.”
“Not far enough inside his head,” Bishop said, a tinge of bitterness creeping into his voice. “He was still able to get Annie, he was still able to get at least eleven other young women, and all I know for certain is that he isn’t finished yet.”
“It’s been months. Is it likely that’s why he’s been waiting, for the heat to die down? Is that why he left Boston?”
“I believe that’s at least part of it. It wasn’t the spotlight he was after, the attention. He never wanted to engage the police, to test his skills and will against ours. That’s not the kind of killer he is, not what it’s about for him.”
“What is it about for him?”
“I wish I could answer that with any kind of certainty, but you know I can’t. That’s the hell of hunting serials: The facts come only after we’ve caught him. Until then, we have only speculation and guesswork. So all I
is bits and pieces, and precious few of those. Despite all the bodies, he hasn’t left us much to work with.”
“But you know Annie was a mistake, wasn’t she?”
Bishop hesitated, then nodded. “I think she was. He hunts a type, a physical look, and Annie fit like all the others fit. If he needed to go deeper than looks, needed to know anything else about his targets because knowing more than the surface was important to him, he would have known who she was, known the extreme risks in targeting her. The way she was living, quietly, like any other young woman in Boston, the ordinary surface appearance of her life, didn’t warn him that the response to her disappearance would be so immediate and so intense.”
“That’s why he stopped, after her?”
Bishop was only too aware that the grieving father he was talking to had spent years as a prosecutor in a major city and so knew the horrors men could do, perhaps as well as Bishop himself, but it was still difficult to forget the father and think only of the fellow professional, to discuss this calmly without emotion.
This killer isn’t the only man I’ve been profiling, Senator. I’ve been studying you as well. And I’m very much afraid that you’ll take a hand in this investigation yourself before too much longer.
A deadly hand.
“Bishop? That is why he stopped?”
“I think it was part of the reason, yes. Too many cops, too much media, too much attention. It interfered with his plans, with his ability to hunt. Put his intended prey too much on guard, made them too wary. And it became a distraction for him, one he couldn’t afford, especially not at that stage. He needed to be able to concentrate on what he was doing, because he was practicing, for want of a better word. Exploring and perfecting his ritual. That’s why—”