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Authors: Blake Pierce

Once Taken (2 page)

BOOK: Once Taken
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“Have you got a basement?” the lead officer asked.

“No, just a crawl space,” Riley said.

The officer called outside, “Benson, Pratt, check under the house.”

April was still holding onto her mother for dear life.

“What’s going on, Mom?” she asked.

Riley hesitated. For years she’d avoided telling April much of the ugly truth about her work. But she had recently realized that she’d been overly protective. So she’d told April about her traumatic captivity at Peterson’s hands—or at least as much as she thought she could handle. She’d also confided her doubts that the man was really dead.

But what should she tell April now? She wasn’t sure.

Before Riley could make up her mind, April said, “It’s Peterson, isn’t it?”

Riley hugged her daughter tightly. She nodded back, trying to hide the shiver that ran through her whole body.

“He’s still alive.”

Chapter 2

An hour later, Riley’s house was swarming with people wearing uniforms or FBI labels. Heavily armed Federal agents and an evidence team were working with the police.

“Bag those pebbles on the bed,” Craig Huang called out. “They’ll need to be examined for prints or DNA.”

At first, Riley hadn’t been pleased to see that Huang was in charge. He was very young, and her previous experience working with him hadn’t gone well. But now she saw that he was giving solid orders and organizing the scene effectively. Huang was growing into his job.

The evidence team was already at work combing every inch of the house and dusting for fingerprints. Other agents had disappeared into the darkness behind the house, trying to find vehicle tracks or some hint of a trail through the woods. Now that things seemed to be running smoothly, Huang led Riley away from the others into the kitchen. He and Riley sat down at the table. April joined them there, still badly shaken.

“So what do you think?” Huang asked Riley. “Is there any chance that we’ll still find him?”

Riley sighed with discouragement.

“No, I’m afraid he’s long gone. He must have been here earlier this evening, before my daughter and I got home.”

Just then a Kevlar-clad female agent came in from the back of the house. She had dark hair, dark eyes, and a dark complexion, and she looked even younger than Huang.

“Agent Huang, I found something,” the woman said. “Scratches on the back door lock. It looks like someone picked it open.”

“Good work, Vargas,” Huang said. “Now we know how he got in. Could you stay with Riley and her daughter for a little while?”

The young woman’s face lit up with delight.

“I’ll be glad to,” she said.

She sat at the table, and Huang left the kitchen to rejoin the others.

“Agent Paige, I’m Agent María de la Luz Vargas Ramírez.” Then she grinned. “I know, it’s a mouthful. It’s a Mexican thing. People call me Lucy Vargas.”

“I’m glad you’re here, Agent Vargas,” Riley said.

“Just Lucy, please.”

The young woman fell silent for a moment and just kept gazing at Riley. Finally she said, “Agent Paige, I hope I’m not out of line in saying this, but … it’s a real honor to meet you. I’ve been following your work ever since I went into training. Your whole record is just so amazing.”

“Thank you,” Riley said.

Lucy smiled with admiration. “I mean, the way you wrapped up the Peterson case—the whole story just amazes me.”

Riley shook her head.

“I wish things were that simple,” she said. “He’s not dead. He was the intruder here today.”

Lucy stared back, stunned.

“But everybody says—” Lucy began.

Riley interrupted.

“Someone else thought he was alive. Marie, the woman I rescued. She was sure he was still out there taunting her. She …”

Riley paused, painfully remembering the sight of Marie’s body hanging in her own bedroom.

“She committed suicide,” Riley said.

Lucy looked both horrified and surprised. “I’m sorry,” she said.

Just then, Riley heard a familiar voice call out to her.

“Riley? You okay?”

She turned and saw Bill Jeffreys standing in the kitchen archway, looking anxious. The BAU must have alerted him about the trouble, so he’d driven here on his own.

“I’m okay, Bill,” she said. “So is April. Sit down.”

Bill sat down at the table with Riley, April, and Lucy. Lucy stared at him, apparently in awe to meet Riley’s former partner, yet another FBI legend.

Huang stepped back into the kitchen.

“Nobody’s in the house, or outside either,” he told Riley. “My people have gathered up whatever evidence they can find. They say it won’t be much to go on. It’ll be up to the lab technicians to see what they can make of it.”

“I was afraid of that,” Riley said.

“Looks like it’s time for us to wrap things up for tonight,” Huang said. Then he left the kitchen to give his final orders to the agents.

Riley turned toward her daughter.

“April, you’re going to stay at your father’s house tonight.”

April’s eyes widened.

“I’m not leaving you here,” April said. “And I sure don’t want to stay with Dad.”

“You’ve got to,” Riley said. “You might not be safe here.”

“But Mom—”

Riley interrupted. “April, there are still things I haven’t told you about this man. Terrible things. You’ll be safe with your father. I’ll pick you up tomorrow after your class.”

Before April could protest further, Lucy spoke.

“Your mother’s right, April. Take it from me. In fact, consider it an order from me. I’ll handpick a couple of agents who can drive you there. Agent Paige, with your permission, I’ll call your ex-husband and tell him what’s going on.”

Riley was surprised by Lucy’s offer. She was also pleased. Almost uncannily, Lucy seemed to understand that this would be an awkward call for her to make. Ryan would undoubtedly take this news more seriously from any agent other than Riley. Lucy had also handled April well.

Not only had Lucy had spotted the picked lock, she also demonstrated empathy. Empathy was an excellent quality in a BAU agent, and it was all too often worn away by the stress of the job.

This woman is good,
Riley thought.

“Come on,” Lucy said to April. “Let’s go call your dad.”

April stared daggers at Riley. Even so, she got up from the table and followed Lucy into the living room, where they started making the call.

Riley and Bill were left sitting at the kitchen table alone. Even though there seemed to be nothing left to do, it seemed right to Riley that Bill was there. They had worked together for years and she had always thought of them as something like a matched pair—both were forty with touches of gray showing in dark hair. They were both dedicated to their jobs and troubled in their marriages. Bill was solid in build and temperament.

“It was Peterson,” Riley said. “He was here.”

Bill said nothing. He looked unconvinced.

“You don’t believe me?” Riley said. “There were pebbles in my bed. He must have put them there. They couldn’t have gotten there any other way.”

Bill shook his head.

“Riley, I’m sure there really was an intruder,” he said. “You weren’t imagining that part. But Peterson? I doubt that very much.”

Riley’s anger was rising now.

“Bill, listen to me. I heard rattling against the door one night, and I looked outside, and I found pebbles there. Marie heard someone throw pebbles at her bedroom window. Who else could it be?”

Bill sighed and shook his head.

“Riley, you’re tired,” he said. “And when you’re tired and you get an idea fixed in your head, it’s easy to believe just about anything. It can happen to anybody.”

Riley found herself fighting back tears. In better days, Bill would have trusted her instincts without question. But those days were over. And she knew why. A few nights ago she’d called him drunk and suggested that they act on their mutual attraction and begin an affair. It had been an awful thing to do, and she knew it, and she’d not had a drink since then. Even so, things hadn’t been right between her and Bill after that.

“I know what this is about, Bill,” she said. “It’s because of that stupid phone call. You don’t trust me anymore.”

Now Bill’s voice crackled with anger.

“Damn it, Riley, I’m just trying to be realistic.”

Riley was seething. “Just go, Bill.”

“But Riley—”

“Believe me or don’t believe me. Take your pick. But right now I want you to go.”

With an air of resignation, Bill got up from the table and left.

Through the kitchen doorway, Riley could see that almost everybody had left the house, including April. Lucy came back into the kitchen.

“Agent Huang is leaving a couple of agents here,” she said. “They’ll watch the house from a car for the rest of the night. I’m not sure it’s a good idea for you to be alone inside. I’ll be glad to stay.”

Riley sat and thought for a moment. What she wanted—what she
needed
right now—was for somebody to believe that Peterson wasn’t dead. She doubted that she could convince even Lucy of that. The whole thing seemed hopeless.

“I’ll be all right, Lucy,” Riley said.

Lucy nodded and left the kitchen. Riley heard the sound of the last agents leaving the house and shutting the door behind them. Riley got up and checked both the front door and back door to make sure they were locked. She moved two chairs up against the back door. They would make noise enough if anybody picked the lock again.

Then she stood in the living room and looked all around. The house looked weirdly bright, with every single light burning.

I ought to turn some of them off,
she thought.

But as she reached for the living room light switch, her fingers froze. She just couldn’t do it. She was paralyzed with terror.

Peterson, she knew, was coming for her again.

Chapter 3

Riley hesitated for a moment as she entered the BAU building, wondering if she was really ready to face anyone today. She hadn’t slept all night, and was bone-tired. The sensation of terror that had kept her awake all night had run her adrenaline until there was nothing left. Now, she just felt hollowed out.

Riley took a deep breath.

The only way out is through.

She gathered her resolve and walked into the busy maze of FBI agents, specialists, and support staff. As she wound her way through the open bay area, familiar faces looked up from their computers. Most smiled to see her and several gave her a thumbs-up. Riley slowly felt glad she had decided to come in. She’d needed something to lift to her spirits.

“Way to go with the Dolly Killer,” one young agent said.

It took Riley a couple of seconds to understand what he meant. Then she realized that “Dolly Killer” must be the new nickname for Dirk Monroe, the psychopath she had just taken down. The name made sense.

Riley also noticed that some of the faces looked at her more warily. Doubtless they had heard about the incident at her house last night when a whole team had raced to her frantic call for backup.
They probably wonder if I’m in my right mind,
she thought. As far as she knew, absolutely no one else in the Bureau believed that Peterson was still alive.

Riley stopped by the desk of Sam Flores, a lab technician with black-rimmed glasses, hard at work at his computer.

“What news have you got for me, Sam?” Riley said.

Sam looked up from the screen at her.

“You mean about your break-in, right? I’m just now looking at some preliminary reports. I’m afraid there won’t be much. The lab guys didn’t get anything off the pebbles—no DNA or fibers. No fingerprints, either.”

Riley sighed with discouragement.

“Let me know if anything changes,” she said, patting Flores on the back.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Flores said.

Riley continued on to the area shared by senior agents. As she passed by the small glass-walled offices, she saw that Bill wasn’t in. That was actually a relief, but she knew that sooner or later she would have to clear up the recent awkwardness between them.

When she set foot in her own neat, well-organized office, Riley immediately noticed that she had a phone message. It was from Mike Nevins, the D.C. forensic psychiatrist who sometimes consulted on BAU cases. Over the years, she had found him a source remarkable insight, and not only into cases. Mike had helped Riley through her own bout of PTSD after Peterson had captured and tortured her. She knew he was calling to check up on her, as he often did.

She was about to call him back, when the broad frame of Special Agent Brent Meredith appeared in her doorway. The unit commander’s black, angular features hinted at his tough, no-nonsense personality. Riley felt relieved at the sight of him, always reassured by his presence.

“Welcome back, Agent Paige,” he said.

Riley got up to shake his hand. “Thanks, Agent Meredith.”

“I hear you had another little adventure last night. I hope you’re all right.”

“I’m fine, thanks.”

Meredith looked at her with warm concern, and Riley knew that he was trying to assess her readiness for work.

“Would you like to join me in the break area for some coffee?” he asked.

“Thanks, but there are some files I really need to review. Some other time.”

Meredith nodded and said nothing. Riley knew he was waiting for her to speak. Doubtless he had also heard about her belief that Peterson had been the intruder. He was giving her a chance to voice her opinion. But she was sure that Meredith wouldn’t be any more inclined than anybody else to agree with her about Peterson.

“Well, I’d better be going,” he said. “Let me know whenever you’re up for coffee or lunch.”

“I’ll do that.”

Meredith paused and turned back toward Riley.

Slowly and carefully, he said, “Do be careful, Agent Paige.”

Riley detected a world of meaning in those words. Not long ago, another higher-up in the agency had suspended her for subordination. She’d been reinstated, but her position could be still tenuous. Riley sensed that Meredith was giving her a friendly warning. He didn’t want her to do anything to jeopardize herself. And raising a lot of fuss about Peterson might cause trouble with those who had declared the case closed.

BOOK: Once Taken
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