Authors: Martha Powers
Suspense Novels by Martha Powers
as Martha Jean Powers or Jean Paxton)
The Grey Fox
Copyright © 2006 by Martha Powers
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including
information storage and
retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher,
except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used
Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States by Oceanview
Distributed by Midpoint Trade Books
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printed in the united states of
Thirty-five years. A helluva journey!
To Lorraine Pickard
A great friend who believed in this project.
thanks to Pat and Bob Gussin and to Sue Greger of Oceanview Publishing for your
generous invitation to be involved in such an exciting adventure. To Dave
Wolfram, brother, friend, and critic, who has made me laugh over the years from
the Circus Court to the Christmas wreath. To Joanne Strecker for having a
delightfully devious mind, and for helping me get the medical details right. To
the Shop and Write ladies for all the laughs and advice and for nagging me to
get off the golf course and back to the computer. To everyone at the Vero Beach
Book Center for their support and encouragement and for creating a warm and
knowledgeable atmosphere for both readers and authors. And especially to the
Chicago mother whose tragic loss and hunger for justice was the inspiration for
THE DARK ANGEL
Dark Angel with thine aching lust
To rid the world of penitence:
Malicious Angel, who still dost
My soul such subtile violence!
Because of thee, no thought, no thing
Abides for me undesecrate:
Dark Angel, ever on the wing,
Who never reachest me too late!
When music sounds, then changest thou
Its silvery to a sultry fire:
Nor will thine envious heart allow
Delight untortured by desire.
Through thee, the gracious Muses turn
To Furies, O mine Enemy!
And all the things of beauty burn
With flames of evil ecstasy.
Because of thee, the land of dreams
Becomes a gathering-place of fears:
Until tormented slumber seems
One vehemence of useless tears.
nosed the car into the empty parking lot
and stopped when the tires
touched the concrete curb. His head was motionless, but his eyes flicked along
the bank of evergreens edging the forest preserve. Clenching both hands at the
top of the steering wheel, he straightened his arms and pressed his back
against the seat. The impulse was so strong.
He expelled the air from his lungs in a
slow, steady stream, then opened his door and walked around the front to the
passenger side of the car. Once more he eyed the empty paths leading into the
woods. Aware of danger, his mouth was dry. His hand moved to the door latch.
The sharp click of the car door shattered the afternoon quiet.
The little girl slid out of the car. Her
white sneakers scuffed the gravel and sent up a small cloud of dust. She tilted
her head and squinted up against the glare of the sun.
He held out his hand and smiled. With
one hand she tugged at the strand of black hair alongside her cheek and then,
placed her other hand in his. Turning, they walked into the woods.
Warner opened the door
, flapping the towel to clear the clouds of steam
from the bathroom. She’d raced home after work, looking forward to a long
shower. The air conditioning at the library hadn’t been turned on yet, so it
had been hot and sticky working in the small conference room. She cocked her
head, straining to hear any sound from downstairs. All was quiet. It must not
be as late as she thought.
She dried herself, and turned on the
hair dryer, using her free hand to pull on her canvas shoes. The steady stream
of air blew her ash-brown hair in a cloud around her head and she leaned closer
to the mirror, frowning at the dry skin between her eyebrows. She’d have to
start using a moisturizer. Thirty-one wasn’t too old. She turned sideways,
checking for signs of sagging breasts or buttocks, satisfied that she hadn’t
deteriorated since the last time she’d looked.
Shutting off the dryer, she brushed her
hair away from her face, letting it fall straight, the curled ends grazing her
shoulders. After putting on fresh clothes, she turned off the light and crossed
the bedroom toward the upstairs hall on the way scooping up her watch and
earrings. She slipped the gold hoops into her ears as she started down the
stairs. A quick glance at her watch. Three ten. Five minutes before the school
Richard hadn’t wanted her to take the
job, but for once she had stood her ground. With Jenny in school, the demands
of the household were cut in half and, since he had never approved of her going
out to lunch or doing volunteer work, she was at loose ends. Besides, she felt
as if her brain were atrophying. She hadn’t worked since she was married and
found the part-time job at the library a perfect way to ease back into the
workforce. Helping the senior citizens in the computer training classes was
something she really enjoyed. As she explained to Richard, she would only work
when Jenny was in school.
Opening the front door, she stepped
outside. She shaded her eyes with her hand, squinting down the empty street,
watching for the school bus.
Last year Kate had walked to the corner
to meet the bus, but since her eighth birthday, Jenny had insisted that only babies
had their mothers meet the bus. Richard had agreed that Jenny needed to learn
independence, and what better place than in a small town like Pickard?
Kate sniffed the air. It was already the
middle of May, but this was the first really beautiful day. Illinois had had a
wet and chilly spring. She loved the balmy days before the summer heat and
hoped this weather would continue.
Down the block, the school bus came into
sight, slowing for the stop at the corner. The doors opened and she could see
Jenny in her yellow jacket standing inside on the top step.
The phone rang. Kate waved to Jenny and,
leaving the door open, she walked back through the hall to the kitchen. She
listened to the recorded message announcing that her prescription was ready at
the pharmacy. Hanging up, she returned to the front porch.
The street was empty.
The bus was gone and Jenny was nowhere
Several times Jenny had stopped to play
with one of her friends and Kate had to remind her that she needed to come home
first, just to check in. Being the last house before the cul de sac offered too
much temptation for distraction. Especially when the weather was fine.
“You’re in big trouble, Jennifer
Louise,” Kate muttered.
She left the front door unlocked and
hurried down the stairs. Walking briskly, she checked the yards as she passed
each house but didn’t see anyone outside playing. She reached the corner and
looked both ways. There were several children walking along the sidewalk on the
next block, but she didn’t see Jenny in her yellow jacket. Her chest tightened
as she fought the uneasiness that filled her.
Taking a deep breath, she looked around.
At the corner on the side street, a blue nylon backpack lay on the ground,
pushed under the edge of the hedge that lined the sidewalk. She scooped it up,
ripping open the Velcro flap to check inside. “Jennifer Warner” was written in
block letters on the nametag. Where was Jenny?
“Jenny!” She shouted the name, turning
her head from side to side as she scanned the area. She hurried along the side
street, calling as she went. “Jenny!”
Halfway down the block, Kate saw the
The paper was caught in the hedge. The
wind pinned it against the leafless branches. Across the top, “Spring Is Here”
was printed in bold letters. The contrast between the black letters and the red
watercolor house with the crooked green roof was stark. Beside the house stood
a brown animal, more llama than dog. Jenny always painted her dogs that way.
Even when Kate had shown her how a dog should look, she continued to paint the
llama-like creatures, because they looked funnier.
Snatching up the painting, she stared at
it for a moment, then opened her mouth as she gasped for air. Her heart pounded
enough to break her ribs.
God, where was Jenny?
Kate began to run, holding the backpack
and the picture against her chest as she raced home. Stumbling up the stairs,
she wrenched the door open and shoved it closed before running along the hall
to the kitchen. She placed the picture on the countertop, lined it up against
the edge, and stroked her fingertips across Jenny’s signature.
She bit her lip in indecision. Shouldn’t
she call the neighbors or search outside. A sense of dread invaded her. Jenny
never would have left her picture and backpack. She raised her hand and dialed
“Pickard Police Department.”
She opened her mouth, but the muscles in
her throat refused to work.
“Pickard Police Department,” the voice
“It’s my daughter, J . . . Jenny.”
“Has there been an accident, ma’am?”
“No. Something’s happened to her. I saw
her get off the bus, but she just disappeared.”
“What do you mean, she disappeared?”
“I found her backpack. And her
watercolor. But I can’t find Jenny.” It was an effort to speak. Her mouth
trembled after each syllable, so she tried to keep her answers short in order
to maintain control.
“All right, ma’am. Let me get some
information.” The male voice was firm and reasonable. “Nice and slow now.”
“Oh God, I’m so frightened!” Tears
trickled down her cheeks, but the sheer act of speaking her fears aloud had a
calming effect. She drew a shuddering breath. “Sorry. I’m okay.”
“I understand you’re upset, but you’ll
need to stay calm. Now then, your name and address?”
, Kate begged as she rattled off the information.
“How old is Jenny?”
“Eight. She’ll be nine in September.”
“Would you describe her, please?”
“She has shoulder-length black hair.
It’s straight but it curls at the ends. Her eyes are blue. Her skin is sort of
an ivory color.”
Kate put her hand just below her bosom
in order to measure. Her mouth pulled tight in a grimace as she remembered
Jenny hugging her before she left for school. For a moment she was unable to
speak for the vividness of the little body pressed to her own. Voice hoarse,
she spoke into the receiver. “She’s about three and a half feet. Just little,
“Okay I’ve got that. What was she
Kate closed her eyes, picturing Jenny at
breakfast. “She had on a blue and gray plaid jumper. White short-sleeved blouse
with an appliquéd pink rose on the collar. White sneakers with blue shoelaces
and white knee socks.” She wiped away the tears on her chin with the back of
her hand. “And a yellow nylon jacket. Bright yellow.”
“Was she wearing any jewelry?”
“Yes. A bracelet. Gold links with one
guardian angel charm. The initials
are on the back of the charm.”
“All right, Mrs. Warner. Are you at home
“Yes. I’m here.”
“I’ve already dispatched a car, and in
the meantime we’ll send this information out on the radio. I want you to go
through each room of the house to see if your daughter might have come in while
you were out looking for her. Be sure to check the closets and under the beds.
Attic and basement too, if you have them.”
“And I’ll look outside, too.”
“Just inside, Mrs. Warner,” directed the
steady voice. “I know you want to run around the neighborhood and look, but we
need you near the phone. In case your daughter calls. Do you understand?”
“Yes, but please hurry.”
“Don’t worry, Mrs. Warner. We’ll find
At the last, she heard some warmth in
the voice on the other end of the phone. Kate replaced the receiver and ran her
fingers over the cold plastic surface as though to let go would break the
tenuous bond she had to another person.
She had finished searching the house
when the police arrived.
Kate explained to the two police
officers how she had found Jenny’s watercolor and backpack. Feeling a kinship
with the female officer, she spoke directly to her.
“I know something’s happened to her.”
Kate’s mouth trembled.
Officer Gates nodded in sympathy. “I
know you’re worried sick but believe me, Mrs. Warner, this time of year we
always get a lot of calls. It’s the change in weather. The kids get to playing
outside and lose track of the time.”
Kate turned to the other police officer
for confirmation. His gray hair, potbelly, and ruddy face should have reassured
her, but his expression was closed, giving nothing away. He reached in his
shirt pocket for a pencil, cradled a clipboard in his left arm, and without
meeting her eyes began to ask questions, printing each answer awkwardly, as if
he had just learned to write. At the end he sighed, returned the pencil to his
pocket and asked for a picture of Jenny.
“We have one of those child ID kits,”
Kate said. She opened the desk drawer and reached inside for the folder. Her
hand shook as she handed it to the older officer. “We put a new picture in a
couple months ago when we went to the zoo. It was cold that day so her cheeks
are too red but otherwise she looks the same.”
“This’ll be a big help, Mrs. Warner,”
Officer Gates said.
“She brought the kit home from school.
We didn’t think we’d ever need it, but we kept it up to date anyway.” Kate’s
voice trailed away, and in silence she walked the police officers to the door.
Get out of here!
The words were silent, reverberating
inside his head, but, numb to everything except the horror of his actions, his
body refused to respond. A tremor started in his hands, advancing up his arms
in a wave so strong he stared down to see if there was something traveling
across his skin.
His body shook and a cry started in his
chest, bitten off when he ground his teeth together. The truncated sound broke
through his inertia and he blinked, then turned his head from side to side to
survey the area around the car. The picnic area adjacent to the parking lot of
the forest preserve was empty.
witnesses. Thank God!
Fear of discovery spurred him to action
and with great effort he raised his hand to turn the key. He gripped the
steering wheel with one hand and in slow motion eased the lever into reverse.
The car lurched backward with a squeal of tires. He slammed on the brakes,
choked back a curse and once more changed gears, this time accelerating
slightly. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he struggled to control his speed.
He wanted to mash his foot to the floor and tear away but knew such action
would increase the risk of being seen and remembered.