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Authors: Blake Pierce

Once Taken (8 page)

BOOK: Once Taken
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Blainey looked off into space with a wistful expression, lost for a moment in memories. Lucy spoke gently to bring him back to the present.

“I understand that your wife was a corrections officer,” she said.

“That’s right. In the men’s penitentiary across the river.”

Riley could see that Lucy was thinking hard about how to pose her next question as delicately as possible.

“Mr. Blainey, being a prison guard’s a tough job, even for a man,” Lucy said. “For a woman, it can be brutal. And whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s pretty much impossible not to make enemies. Some of those enemies can be very bad people. And they don’t stay in prison forever.”

Blainey sighed and shook his head, still smiling sadly.

“I know what you’re getting at,” he said. “It was the same five years ago. The police from Albany wanted to know about enemies she’d made there. They were just sure the killer had to be a former inmate with a personal grudge.”

Dwight Slater looked at Lucy and Riley earnestly.

“The thing is, I knew Marla Blainey really well,” Slater said. “She and Craig here were like family to me. And believe me, Marla wasn’t your stereotypical prison guard. You know the type I mean—sadistic, mean, corrupt. The truth is, a lot of people didn’t know what to make of her.”

Blainey nodded in agreement and rose from the chair.

“Come on inside,” he said. “I’ll show you a few things.”

Riley, Lucy, and Slater all followed him into neat, comfortable living room. Blainey invited them to sit and make themselves comfortable. There were plenty of family pictures on the wall—picnics, graduations, births, weddings, school pictures. It was easy to see that Craig Blainey truly had surrounded himself with the best of memories.

As Blainey opened a roll-top desk and shuffled through its contents, Riley’s eyes fell upon a photograph of Marla Blainey in her correction officer’s uniform. The woman was tall like her husband, with a similar strong, determined face. Even so, she had a smile that fairly lit up the living room even five years after her horrible death.

When Blainey found what he’d been looking for, he handed Riley and Lucy each a couple of handwritten letters. Just a glance at the letters was enough to surprise Riley.

They were thank-you messages from former inmates at the prison where Marla had worked. The men wrote to thank her for kindnesses she had showed them during their incarcerations—a word of encouragement, something to read, a bit of useful advice. The men had clearly put their criminal lives behind them. They felt that they owed at least a little of their success in the world outside to Marla.

Blainey talked while they read.

“I don’t want to give the impression that Marla had an easy time with her job, or that everybody liked her. She was surrounded all day long by bad people—liars and manipulators, most of them. She didn’t let herself get drawn into inappropriate friendships. She was a prison guard, and of course some of the prisoners had no use for her, actually hated her. Even so, I don’t think she ever
any real enemies, even there.”

While Blainey spoke, Dwight Slater looked around the room, enjoying his own share of memories. He said, “I talk to the warden from time to time, and he still says she probably did more genuine good there than the social workers on his staff. She was like that with everybody.”

Riley looked at Lucy and saw that she shared her surprise. Who would have thought that a female prison guard would have been such a beloved character? And why on earth had someone chosen to take her life in such a hideous manner?

Blainey’s hospitable smile widened.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve got more questions,” he said. “Would you like something to drink? Maybe some iced tea? I brewed some fresh just a little while ago.”

“That would be nice,” Riley said.

“Yes, please,” Lucy said.

Riley nodded in agreement, but her mind was already elsewhere. She was beginning to feel familiar nudges just beneath her conscious awareness. She knew that her ability to get inside the mind of a murderer was rare, and she also knew that she was usually right about whatever came to her.

That meant there was something else she really needed to see.

Something important.

Chapter 11

A short time later, Riley and Lucy were in their car again, following along behind Slater. As always when approaching a crime scene, Riley felt her senses quicken into sharper alertness.

It hadn’t been easy to persuade Slater to lead them there. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing at all to see—especially after all these years. Even so, Riley was anxious to get a look at the site where Marla Blainey’s body had been left. She knew that photographs couldn’t tell her what actual places sometimes could.

A short distance out of town, the two-lane road crossed the railroad tracks and continued along the edge of the river. Slater pulled onto the shoulder of the road. Riley pulled their car in behind him.

“I think this is where it was,” Slater said, getting out of his car. “It’s hard to remember after all these years.”

“Let me look at those photos again,” Riley said.

Slater handed her the folder full of photos of the Blainey crime scene. Riley peered through the trees at the side of the road. The bank sloped sharply down to the river’s edge, which was only about fifteen feet away.

Riley compared the spot to a photo of the body that had been taken from the road. The underbrush had changed over the years, and for a moment it was hard to see any resemblance between the photo and the actual place.

In the photo, she saw that Marla’s body, bound in chains and a straitjacket, lay in a heap against a fallen tree trunk. Riley stepped into the long grass beside the road. There it was, the same tree trunk down there next to the water’s edge.

“You’re right, this is the place,” she told Slater. “How do you think he got the body down there?”

Slater shrugged. “There wasn’t much to it,” he said. “He pulled his vehicle about where we are right now. Then he just rolled the body down the bank. The grass and brush were mashed down all the way.”

He pointed to the photo Riley was holding.

“You can see just the edge of a tire track right there on the shoulder,” he said. “Probably a van, but we couldn’t track down the vehicle. Nobody noticed the body for several days—not until someone saw buzzards circling.”

As Riley compared the photo and the actual scene, she realized that she was standing on the exact spot where the killer had dumped the body. She gazed down the slope for a long moment, taking in the scene. She began to picture the chained and straitjacketed body rolling down the hill. Then she noticed that Lucy was staring at her intently. It struck her as odd. She returned Lucy’s gaze with quizzical look.

“Oh, I’m sorry for staring,” Lucy said, a bit embarrassed. “It’s just that … well, I’ve heard you’ve got uncanny instincts when you’re at a crime scene. They say it’s like you get right into a killer’s head, feel what he felt, see what he saw, understand exactly what he was thinking.”

Riley didn’t know what to say. She often did, indeed, become deeply absorbed in crime scenes. And her capacity to identify with a killer’s perspective sometimes disturbed even her. It was just her way of doing things, but Lucy was making it sound like an almost legendary skill. It made Riley feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.

In any case, she wasn’t getting any vibes from where she was standing, no sense of the killer’s thoughts. She didn’t know whether that was because the place was too nondescript or because of the other people watching.

“Hold this for a moment,” she told Lucy, handing her the folder.

Then Riley scrambled down the slope, leaving Lucy and Slater watching in surprise.

“You be careful,” Slater called after her.

“Do you want me to come too?” Lucy asked.

“No, I’m okay,” Riley called back. “You stay there.”

The slope was steep and more treacherous than it looked from the roadside. She stumbled down against brush and branches, scraping herself a good bit along the way. The sharp descent was also a stern reminder that she was still hurting from her recent injuries. Muscles that had just started to feel better suddenly began to ache again.

Finally, she reached the bottom of the slope. She stood beside the fallen log, only about a yard away from the water’s edge. This was it—the place where Marla’s body had fallen and stayed until it was discovered. The quiet was interrupted by the noise of a speedboat tearing down the river a short distance away. Its wake of gentle wavelets broke against the log, then died away into stillness.

Drawing upon the memory of the photo, Riley pictured Marla’s body lying at her feet. She could see it clearly. She also realized that, if not for the log, the body would probably have kept right on rolling into the river. It had only gotten caught here by accident. Working in the dark, the killer might not have even realized that the body hadn’t gone all the way into the water.

Judging from the slope, Riley guessed that the water was deep right here. Weighted down with chains, the body might well have sunk without a trace. It might never have been found.

At last, she began to feel a tingle of understanding. This woman’s body, like the place itself, had meant nothing to the killer by the time he dumped it here. It might be discovered or it might not be—it didn’t matter to him one way or the other. The chains and the straitjacket had been solely a matter between him and his victim. They were used to torment the women, and they had some special meaning for the killer. They hadn’t been for public display.

Something drastic had changed between the two killings. Now the killer wanted desperately for everyone to see the full horror of his deed. With the second victim, he was trying to communicate something that he hadn’t cared about the first time.

Riley groaned under her breath. It was likely to mean that the killer was going to accelerate. Whatever was driving him was stronger now. Whatever he’d kept under control for five years was pushing harder at him to show the world his pain.

At that moment, her phone buzzed. She took it out of her pocket. She was surprised to see that it was a text from April.

Hey Mom,
it said simply.

Riley felt deeply startled by the sheer incongruity. Here she was, standing exactly where a corpse had once been abandoned, receiving a text from her daughter who oftentimes wanted nothing to do with her. Should she explain that now was not a good time to exchange texts?

Hi April,
she wrote back.
What’s going on?

The reply came quickly …

School ends tomorrow. I have my last exam in the morning.

Riley typed,
Are you ready?

I dunno,
April replied.

Riley sighed. Her conversation with her daughter had already become perfectly meaningless.

But then April typed:

I want to talk.

Riley’s heart surged with unexpected emotion.

Me too,
she typed.
Could you wait till I get back to my room?

April’s next text took her thoroughly by surprise.

Not on the phone. Right here. Come home and let’s talk.


Chapter 12

Riley came to a stop on the Amtrak platform. She still had doubts about what she was doing, even though she and Lucy had talked it through more than once. They both felt sure that nothing more was going to happen here in Reedsport. The chain killer had struck in two different towns, and whenever he killed again it was likely to be somewhere else.

“I still don’t know about this, Lucy,” Riley said. “I don’t usually leave a case in progress.”

“It’s okay,” Lucy replied with a hint of exasperation. “I know what to do. Interview everybody I can. Go to the funeral in case he’s there. Check out who sends flowers.”

At that moment, the conductor called out, “All aboard!”

Riley said, “If anything important happens, I’ll come right back.”

“Go,” Lucy said firmly.

“Thanks,” Riley replied.

The little BAU jet that had brought them to Reedsport had left almost immediately after their arrival, so it wasn’t a travel option this time. Lucy had offered to drive Riley to Albany to catch a flight home, but Riley had chosen the train instead. It would take her right to Quantico, with just a change in New York City. The trip would give her a chance to go over her files and consider the mind of a killer.

She climbed up into the spacious business class car and took her seat. She had two big chairs to herself, giving her room to spread out as much as she wanted to. She looked out the window as the train started to pull out of the station. Lucy was nowhere in sight. Riley knew that she was headed straight back to work.

She tilted the chair into a reclining position and started to relax. The steady, friendly rumbling and soothing vibration of the train car helped Riley begin to process information with her customary mental skill. To begin with, there was the question of just why the killer had starved both victims. Of course he must have meant to weaken them. Riley also felt pretty sure that he had probably been starved earlier in his own life and felt compelled to inflict the same suffering on others.

But now something else occurred to her. Feeding the women would have meant acknowledging their humanity. In doing that, he might run the risk of feeling sympathy for them. They were of use to him only as objects, as
of whatever had hurt or enraged him in the past.

Riley breathed deeply. Yes, she beginning to feel connected with him—much more than she had at either crime site.

He’s human,
she thought.
He’s all too human.

He was not some cold and unfeeling sociopath. He was likely to be capable of sympathy and even kindness. Those were the very qualities that he feared most about himself, because they might well be his undoing.

Riley closed her eyes. She could feel the staggering effort it took for him to suppress his human qualities. And weak as he was, how long he could handle the strain and effort of being a murderous animal? All he knew was that he had no choice.

BOOK: Once Taken
9.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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