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Authors: Nancy Bush

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Crime, #Romance, #General, #Contemporary

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BOOK: Nowhere to Hide
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So far the lieutenant had kept her on, with the caveat that September might be reassigned if things got too hot. She had then told her brother to leave it alone and get back on Zuma. He could damn well finish with that.

“But the two cases have overlapped,” Auggie had argued at the time.

“And when we figure out how, maybe you can jump on this one, too,” September stated firmly, holding her ground. As long as she and Sandler were the lead detectives, September didn’t want her brother mucking things up.

But, all that said, she knew Auggie wasn’t wrong. The third suspected victim of Do Unto Others, Glenda Tripp, had turned out to be related to one of the prime suspects in the Zuma case, so there had to be some connection between the two. It was too improbable, impossible really, that it was mere coincidence. Was Do Unto Others some kind of copycat of the Zuma killer? Maybe following that case and grabbing victims peripherally involved for the notoriety . . . or something? That had yet to be determined. It was early days still, and until they had more evidence connecting the three homicides to the Zuma killings and even to each other, they were treading lightly.

“Now,” she said to her brother, “I’ve decided to go to Dad’s house and dig through the attic or basement or both, looking for more of my grade school stuff. I want to see if I can find the rest of it. Wanna join?”

“You’re kidding.”

“You keep saying you want in on this case.”

“I’m not going anywhere near dear old Dad.” He and Braden didn’t talk, didn’t get along, didn’t much like each other.

“Thought I’d ask,” September said.

“But keep me in the loop,” he ordered her.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Auggie hadn’t exactly acquiesced to having September and Gretchen handle Do Unto Others, but he was too busy to really protest much, and though, in reality, September wouldn’t have minded working with him, regardless of what she said to him, Gretchen Sandler was her partner and they were in this together, for better or worse.

“I’m off till after Labor Day . . . kind of a forced vacation,” she admitted now. “D’Annibal wanted me to think about things and decide whether I really wanted to stay on the case.”

“You thinking of quitting?”

“Don’t sound so eager. No. But when I get back to work I’ll give you a call. Maybe we can talk over some stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“I don’t know. About grade school . . . I’ll let you know after I find the rest of my work,” she said, then added, “If I find it.”

“You know I’m always here for you.”

“Oh, bullshit. You just want the case for yourself.”

“I don’t want my little sister involved with a psycho.”

“Six minutes younger does not make me your little sister.”

“Yes it does. Look it up.”

“Bullshit again. Goodnight, Auggie,” she said, switching off the light.

“Goodnight, Nine,” he responded, calling her by her nickname. She was Nine, for the month she was born, a name that had stuck all through her school years and into her adult life.

 

 

The following Thursday she hurried past Guy Urlacher at the Laurelton Police Department’s front desk, flashing him a look at her ID. He couldn’t stop himself from asking everyone for identification no matter how many times they passed his desk. It was protocol, and Guy was all about it.

“Hey!” he called after her, wanting her to stop, but she was having none of it today.

In the squad room, she dropped her purse on her desk

and walked over to stand in front of the bulletin board that held her piece of artwork. Beside it were pictures of Do Unto Others’s suspected three victims: Sheila Dempsey, Emmy Decatur, and Glenda Tripp. They’d been reluctant to confirm they had a serial killer on their hands as they didn’t want the FBI swarming on them until they were sure.

Detective George Thompkins, heavyset and squeaking his swivel chair, and her partner, Gretchen Sandler, who was seated at a desk, a phone at her ear, in the act of making a call, both stopped what they were doing as September plucked the artwork from the board and carried it to her desk. It was something she’d made in her second grade homeroom class. Now, she said to the room at large, “I don’t care if it’s ketchup or red paint or salsa or pomegranate juice, when I first saw it, I thought it was
blood.
” She held it up for Thompkins and Sandler to see again. It had been tested for prints when it arrived but all they found were smudges, and she felt now, since it was hers, it didn’t have to be tacked on the board. “This message came to me. The killer sent it to me.”

“It’s ketchup and something else,” Thompkins responded.

Sandler skewered him with a scorching look. “We know, George. Jesus. Stay on point. It was meant to look like blood. It was meant to scare the shit out of her.” To September, she said, “I still can’t believe you can remember what grade you were in when you did that.”

Sandler was slim and dark-skinned, half-Brazilian, with curly dark hair and slanted blue eyes. She was attractive in a cat-like, predatory way, and she was known by all and sundry as a bitch on wheels. No one wanted to partner with her, but September, being the newest detective at the Laurelton PD, didn’t really have a choice. So far, it had been fine. Gretchen was a good detective, no matter what others thought of her. September had been watching and learning her style over the last four to five months.

Now September gazed down at the artwork, memorizing it yet again. It was made of light blue construction paper with glued-on, cut-out pictures of brown-, orange-, and mustard-colored leaves falling from the sky into a pile that was drawn in at the bottom of the page. An ink-stamped happy face and several gold stars ran across the top of the piece, with a teacher’s handwritten note:
Your birthday cupcakes were terrific! Way to start the school year!

But underneath the teacher’s words, new ones had been added in a bloody scrawl:
DO UNTO OTHERS AS SHE DID TO ME.

“Mrs. Walsh was my teacher, and I really liked her,” September said aloud. “The falling leaves were the first art project of the year, and my mom hung it up on the wall in our kitchen next to the refrigerator for a long time.”

“So, the killer got it from your house,” Gretchen said. Again. They’d been over this territory so many times since the envelope had arrived at the station it was like they were rehearsing for a play.

“Possibly . . .” September murmured.

“You’re scared shitless someone in your family sent it to you.”

This was a new wrinkle. To date, Gretchen had left the Raffertys out of it. “No,” she denied.

“Oh, c’mon,” Gretchen said, but September turned away from her. She wasn’t about to trash her family to her partner even though she had entertained some of those very same thoughts.

It had now been two weeks since she’d received the message at the station. Two weeks since it had arrived addressed to her and wrapped inside a birthday card that read, “Way to go 3-year-old,” where someone had handwritten in a zero beside the 3, making it 30. Two weeks since September had begun delving through the notes, files, and photos associated with the Do Unto Others killer and dealing with the fact that he’d sent this disturbing message specifically to her.

“They know my age,” September had said when the missive first appeared, brought to her at her desk by Candy from administration.

“Jesus, Nine,” Gretchen, had responded on an intake of breath. “It really
does
have to do with you!”

She’d meant the Do Unto Others investigation because over the last several months, almost from the moment September had started as a detective with the Laurelton Police Department, this killer, or killers, had begun their rampage, leaving two of the victims’ bodies in fields around the city of Laurelton and Winslow County and one inside her own apartment. The bodies were discovered in varying states of undress, but each of them had marks across their torso, maybe the beginnings of words, maybe something else, but Emmy Decatur’s torso contained the full
DO UNTO OTHERS AS SHE DID TO ME
message that had later been sent to the station on September’s artwork.

Two weeks ago . . .

At the time, September’s thirtieth birthday had still been looming, so the card’s timing was clear. But who knew the date of her birthday apart from her family? Not many people. And who knew it was her thirtieth? Even fewer. The thought that one of the Rafferty clan had sent it made for a very subdued birthday, and though her sister, July, had made noise about getting together when she called to offer best wishes, September had fobbed her off. She’d fielded calls from her father and her brother, too, though they’d merely said happy birthday and left it at that. Not exactly warm and welcoming were the Raffertys. Not since Kathryn, September’s mother, had died, and then a few years later, her sister, May.

Now she looked up from the artwork and across the room to the board that still held Do Unto Others’s suspected three victims’ pictures. Tripp was the only one found inside her apartment. The prevailing theory was the killer had followed her home and attacked her, but had been scared away before he could fully carve his message into her skin. Since Dempsey and Decatur had been moved to fields, it was assumed he’d been thwarted in getting the body to its eventual “final resting place.” Dempsey and Tripp’s torsos had been carved with markings, but Decatur was the only one with the killer’s Do Unto Others message.

So far . . .

After receiving her own warning, September had gone over every scrap of evidence and report on the case with renewed vigor, but still nothing stood out. They’d gotten back the lab evidence on Tripp, the last victim, but it hadn’t given them anything new, either. There was no trace of DNA at the crime scenes; it was believed the killer had used condoms. He’d raped his victims and strangled them with a thin cord of some kind, but he was careful to take the cord away and it hadn’t left any fibers. So far, they’d been unable to connect the victims apart from the fact that they all had darker hair and similar builds; he was probably going after a type—September’s type, as her own hair was dark auburn and she had a lean, dancer’s build. The killer had been quiet the last few weeks, which, though a good thing, didn’t mean he’d stopped. Maybe he’d set his sights on September as the next victim? Maybe he just wanted to scare her, or play with her?

Whatever the case, she thought,
bring it on
. This waiting was making her edgy and snappish. And D’Annibal, though he was allowing her to stay on for now, was watching. She didn’t want the feds involved until she knew more about how someone had gotten her artwork, but it wasn’t her call, and the clock was ticking. She was lucky that Lieutenant D’Annibal loathed interference from outside agencies, so for the moment, the investigation rested with the Laurelton PD. She hoped to solve this thing before it became a joint task force investigation with the feds, but she was of the firm belief that the killer was one man and all three women were his victims.

How had he gotten her artwork from the
second grade
? Was it from her family home? She didn’t want to think about what
that
meant. Just couldn’t do it. Though she had more than a few issues with her family, she did not believe any of them capable of terrorizing her, let alone the terrible things he’d done to the three victims.

She glanced at the clock. Five
P
.
M
.
She decided that tomorrow she would take it from the top again, start with reinterviewing the friends and families of the victims, see if there was anything else that connected them that they’d overlooked. She headed down the hall from the squad room to her locker to retrieve her purse and she realized Gretchen was hurrying after her. September stopped and half-turned, wondering what was up.

“I’m thinking about stopping by Xavier’s for a drink. Wanna join?”

“Umm . . . I don’t know,” September said. She got along with Sandler okay at work, but the idea of socializing with her was a path she wasn’t sure she wanted to take.

Still, returning to her empty apartment was even less appealing. And going to visit her father at the family home to dig into her own past and see if there was anything there—what she’d told Auggie she was going to do, what she
should
do, what she’d put off for two weeks—was the least appealing choice of the three.

“Well, it is Thursday, almost the weekend . . .” she finally said.

“Meet you there,” Gretchen answered.

An hour later September was twisting a bottle of beer on the tan-and-black zebrawood bar at Xavier’s, watching water condensation slide around beneath the bottom of it. The top of the bar was polished to such a high gloss it reflected like glass and the beaded water shone like diamonds under the lights. Lifting the bottle to her lips, September tried to shut her mind down, but if there was a way to stop the buzz in her head, she had yet to master the trick of it.

Sandler was making chitchat with one of the bartenders who was liking the idea that she was a cop. Idly, September wondered if Gretchen was thinking about going home with him. That would be fine with her. She really just wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over her head for a while.

BOOK: Nowhere to Hide
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