Read Once Taken Online

Authors: Blake Pierce

Once Taken (16 page)

BOOK: Once Taken
6.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Lucy managed to hide her disappointment.

“I would like to take the card,” she said. “It might provide some kind of evidence.”

The florist handed over the card, apologizing for not being more helpful. Lucy thanked her and left the store, bagging the card as she walked away. She tucked it in her notebook and headed toward her car, which was parked a couple of blocks away.

She felt a bit encouraged now. It seemed likely that the buyer of the daisies might have been the murderer himself. The card might yield some fingerprints, and the handwriting might reveal something. And of course she now knew something else.

He stutters,
she thought.
At least that’s something to go on.

She had parked her car a couple of blocks away. As she walked in that direction, she pulled out her phone. She wanted to call Riley, to give her an update and ask her advice.

When she reached the corner and turned to cross the street, she was startled to see a white van moving along slowly very close to her. Sun reflecting off the front window obscured the driver’s face. Lucy stopped on the curb to let it go by.

Suddenly the van accelerated. It careened around a sharp right turn and sped away on the cross street.

Startled, Lucy held up her cell phone and snapped a picture.

What’s wrong with him?
she wondered. The van rounded another corner and was gone.

Lucy felt an urge to call the local police and report a reckless driver. But she told herself that the van hadn’t done any damage. It might not even have been going all that fast. She’d just been startled by the sudden acceleration and turn.

When she crossed the street and reached her car, she sat down and put through the call to BAU.

“This is Special Agent Lucy Vargas,” she said to the female operator. “I’m working the serial case in Reedsport, New York. Please connect me with Agent Riley Paige’s office,” she requested.

“Agent Paige isn’t at BAU right now.”

“That’s okay,” Lucy said. “I’ll call her personal phone.”

The woman’s voice took on a fresh urgency.

“You mustn’t do that, Agent Vargas,” she said. “Agent Paige is not to be disturbed.”

“What’s wrong?” Lucy cried. “Has Riley been hurt?”

“I’m sorry, but that’s all I’m authorized to say.”

“We’re working a case together. I have to know if she’s all right,”

“Hold on a minute.”

After a brief silence, Brent Meredith’s voice came on the line.

“Agent Vargas?”

“Yes. Is Riley all right?”

“She’s all right. Her daughter was kidnapped but it’s all over now.”

“April kidnapped? Oh my god!”

“They got her back. Agents Paige and Jeffreys are on their way here now with the girl.”

Lucy was stunned. “All right,” she sputtered. “Thank you for telling me.”

“You’ll be brought up to date later. Is there anything else?”

“I, uh…” Lucy tried to remember why she had called in the first place. “I do have something that might be evidence in this case.”

“I’ll connect you with the evidence lab.”

“Thank you.”

Lucy was distracted when she talked with the lab technician. “I have a business card with the suspect’s handwriting,” she said. “Possibly prints as well. I’m taking it to the local police right now. They’ll dust it for prints and I’ll send you anything they find.”

“Anything else?” the technician asked.

“The suspect probably has a stutter,” she said.

The lab technician said he’d make a note of that and they ended the call.

Lucy tucked her cell phone back into her handbag without giving another thought to the picture she had just taken.


Chapter 24

As the van driver careened around the corner and sped away, the pile of chains in the passenger seat rattled loudly.

“Be quiet!” he told the chains.

But then came a bump in the road, and the chains rattled again. There was no doubt about it, the chains were calling for his attention. They were demanding that he exert mastery over them—or else they would prove their mastery over him, holding him captive as chains had when he was a child.

“Be patient,” he pleaded.

He forced himself to slow the van down. It wouldn’t do to get caught for a traffic violation now. He needed to make his way out of Reedsport without being noticed.

But he knew the chains were furious. They had expected him to take the FBI agent for them. They had thought he would strike her right there in the street where she was walking. But she had turned and seen him following her in his van. There was no opportunity to strike her by surprise, and he was sure that she had a gun.

“She wasn’t right,” he told them.

The road was bumpy and the chains rattled at him again.

“I know she is an authority,” he argued. “I saw her FBI badge when she pulled it out at the funeral. But she wasn’t wearing a uniform. We do like to see a uniform.”

The rattle of the chains still sounded angry.

“She was too young,” he explained. “She was really nothing like the women we chose before.”

He drove very carefully the rest of the way out of town.

“It would have been foolish to take another woman in this small town,” he told the chains. “We’ll drive north, all the way to Albany. There are lots of uniforms there. Lots of women of the right age and type. I’ll find someone you like.”

The chains quieted down for a while and he thought he had made a convincing argument. As he drove up toward Albany he avoided the interstate and was careful not to exceed the speed limit. He explained to the chains that he didn’t want to attract attention. Even so, they rattled softly from time to time, reminding him that they were there and they were not pleased with him.

He had lost his nerve back there in Reedsport, and he must not do that again.

“I’ll find another one,” he promised the chains again and again. “I’ll find someone soon.”




Chapter 25

“I just read your report, Agent Paige,” Special Agent Meredith said as Riley walked into his office. “Congratulations are in order.” He shook her hand and added, “By the way, you look like hell.”

Riley smiled weakly and sat down. Meredith was right on both counts. She deserved to be congratulated on taking down Peterson at long last. She also felt like hell, although she was trying not to show it. She’d spent the last couple of hours trying to pull herself together.

Bill had taken care of notifying BAU and the D.C. police about Peterson’s death. He had wrapped the wet, muddy, and emotionally shaken Riley and April in blankets and driven them directly to Quantico. Riley and April had clung to each other during the whole ride, crying with desperate relief.

Riley had taken April to the BAU clinic to take care of her many scrapes and cuts, none of which were serious. They had both showered there in the building and put on clean clothes that young Agent Emily Creighton had been kind enough to round up for them. April had settled down in the break area, and Riley had spent a couple of hours writing up her final report on the Peterson case.

Agent Meredith thumbed through the written report.

“I’m impressed,” Meredith said. “This was some pretty amazing work.”

“Thanks, sir,” Riley said. “But he had my daughter. No way was he going to get by with that.” Then she added, “How soon can I get back to Upstate New York?”

Meredith chuckled. “Not so fast. You’re not going anywhere.”

Riley was surprised. “Why not, sir?”

“Have you looked at yourself in a mirror? You’re exhausted—and with good reason. You need a rest. Besides, you’re not needed up there. That case is going nowhere.”

“No clues at all?” Riley asked.

Meredith shrugged. “Not enough to go on. Agent Vargas found a florist’s card that might have the killer’s handwriting. But aside from the florist’s prints and Vargas’s, there was only a partial print that we can’t track down. Vargas is just spinning her wheels up there, and we’ll probably bring her back soon.”

Meredith leaned back in his chair.

“Besides,” he said, “the locals are doing a good job, and if any new leads turn up in Reedsport they’ll let us know. The killer is probably in a completely new area by now. Unfortunately, we might not know where until he strikes again.”

Riley felt strangely deflated.

She began to protest. “But sir—”

“You’re going on leave, Agent Paige. Consider it an order.”

Meredith craned forward and looked at Riley with concern.

“You’ve got a daughter who needs all your attention right now,” he said. “I saw her in the break room. That’s where you should be.”

Riley thanked Meredith again and left his office. She went straight to the break room, where she found April clutching a soft drink can and staring off into space. Riley’s heart ached for her daughter.

She sat down next to April and took her hand.

“I’m so sorry,” she said for what seemed like the thousandth time.

April swallowed hard and said, “He said I was a killer.”

Riley squeezed April’s hand tightly.

was the killer,” she said firmly. “And we took him down. The both of us. You did good back there. Don’t ever forget that.”

A tear rolled down April’s cheek.

“Just don’t make me stay with Dad tonight,” she said. “Don’t make me stay there ever again.”

Riley was startled that such a thing was on April’s mind. But as she thought about it, it made sense. She had phoned Ryan when they’d gotten to Quantico. She’d told him what had happened, but not all the harrowing details. He’d sounded shocked, then relieved, then not terribly interested.

No, Ryan was not who April needed right now.

“Let’s just go home,” Riley said.

“No,” April said with a gasp. “Not yet. Not there either.”

Riley understood this reaction all too well. Their house was where Peterson had stalked both of them. Riley wasn’t eager to rush back there either. She realized that it was a good time to talk about something that had been on her mind for a while.

“April, I’ve been thinking about moving,” she said.

April looked up at her with sudden interest.

Riley continued, “I think I will be able afford to buy a townhouse in Fredericksburg. That way we wouldn’t be so isolated. And you’d be closer to your school and your friends.”

She could see April’s whole body relax a little.

“And I’ve been thinking,” Riley added, “that maybe Gabriela could move in with us. I haven’t asked her yet.”

April smiled. It seemed to Riley that she hadn’t seen that smile in a long time.

“I’ll ask her,” April said. “She’ll do it. I know she’ll do it.”

Riley squeezed her daughter’s hand and smiled too. She felt a flood of relief that maybe she had a good solution to at least one longtime problem. And now she was on leave so she and April could have some time together. But where? They were both exhausted and they both needed a break.

Then a thought came to her.

“April,” she blurted, “let’s go to New York. Let’s just enjoy ourselves for a few days.”

April’s face brightened even more.

“Really? New York City? Do you mean it?”

“Yes. Right now. Bill can drive us to the airport. There’s no need to go back to the house. Let’s just go.”

“But what will I wear?” April cried, looking down at the jeans and shirt that Emily Creighton had loaned her.

Riley laughed with pleasure at the so-typical-teen question.

“Don’t worry about clothes,” she said. “We’ll buy what we need right there. We’ll splurge. Get a nice hotel room and catch a couple of shows.”

“But can we really afford it?” April asked.

Riley shrugged. “No, but I’ll charge it up to all the vacations we haven’t taken. I’ll hit the savings account hard. We deserve it.”

April laughed aloud.

“That sounds just great, Mom!”

April’s laughter was the sweetest sound that Riley could hope to hear.


Later that afternoon, Riley and April stepped out of a cab in front of their Manhattan hotel. April’s expression was positively wonderstruck as she looked around at the bustling traffic, then up at the towering buildings. It did Riley’s heart good to see that look on her daughter’s face.

“Oh, Mom!” April said. “Where do we even start?”

Riley laughed. “First things first,” she said. “I guess we need to do some serious clothes shopping. Do you want to check into our room first?”

“Can we go shopping right now?” April begged. “These things that Emily got for me are kind of embarrassing.”

“Let me think,” Riley said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here.”

The hotel was just a few blocks south of Central Park. Riley led April along Seventh Avenue toward Times Square. She remembered a couple of shops in midtown that didn’t have outrageous prices.

At their first stop, April bought ankle pants and a shirt. Riley picked out a pants suit that challenged her budget, but after all, she did have to wear something decent in the city. At their next stop, Riley had to catch her breath when she saw April in the dress she’d picked out. Her daughter was clearly becoming a young woman rather than a child.

“Please, Mom,” April said. “I love it.”

The dress actually was very pretty and suited April perfectly. They bought it, and they both topped off the shopping spree with shoes and handbags.

Finally, they made their way back to the hotel, laden with bags and laughing happily. They checked in and took the elevator up to their twelfth-floor room.

As they hung up the clothes, Riley could see that April was looking tired. It was no wonder, after all that she’d been through.

“I think we should stay in tonight,” Riley told her. “Order dinner in the room and do our touristy stuff tomorrow.”

“That would be good,” April said. She went into the bathroom.

Riley stared out the hotel window. Their room had a fine view of the city skyline. She started running some plans through her head. Maybe they could catch a Broadway matinee tomorrow. She would check and see what might be available.

Riley sighed. When had she stopped taking her daughter on vacations? When had she forgotten how to enjoy one herself? When April was small, she and Ryan had taken her on vacations. They’d gone to Chincoteague to see the wild ponies and to resorts in the mountains.

BOOK: Once Taken
6.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Gethsemane Hall by David Annandale
The Law of Angels by Cassandra Clark
Stupid Cupid by Melissa Hosack
Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson
The Country Wife by Temple Hogan
Hit by Tara Moss
Dark Salvation by Salidas, Katie
A Crabby Killer by Leighann Dobbs