Authors: Iris Johansen
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense
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My daughter, Tamara, is always saying life is good no matter how tough it gets. But it is her strength and resilience and ability to find joy in every moment that makes life good for all of us close to her. She lights our lives in a very special way.
MY SON, ROY, IS A CONSTANT
help and inspiration to me even when we’re not collaborating on a book. Whenever you see that Kendra has done something particularly clever, you can bet Roy has had something to do with it.
Eve was dead.
The words kept drumming in Catherine Ling’s mind as she walked up the gateway to the terminal. No matter how many times she told herself it was true, she still couldn’t believe it. Not Eve Duncan. Not her friend, the woman who had helped to save her son.
“Agent Ling?” A sandy-haired young man was running after Catherine as she headed for baggage. “I’m Brad Linden.” He showed her his CIA credentials. “Agent Venable sent me to pick you up and take you to the memorial service.”
“Then go get your car while I pick up my bag.” Catherine Ling didn’t stop as she strode ahead of him. “And why the hell didn’t Venable come and get me himself? I need to have a few choice words with him.”
“He’s at the service. It’s going on right now. He didn’t want to show disrespect. I’m afraid you’re a little late.”
“Because no one told me that Eve—” She broke off. He was gazing at her warily, and she knew she must be radiating all the ferocity and sadness she was feeling. There was no use ripping at Venable’s errand boy because Venable had left her in ignorance of Eve’s death or the search when she was kidnapped several days ago. He would only try to make excuses for the inexcusable. Yes, she had been undercover in the jungles of Colombia, but that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t have somehow extricated herself and come home to help find Eve. Venable should have gotten word to her. No, she’d had to find out in Miami when she’d retrieved her own computer and been hit in the gut with the news story in
“Just have that car out front and get me to that memorial service ASAP, Linden.”
While she was waiting for her bag, she scanned the story in
again. What did she expect to find? She had practically memorized the damn story on the flight from Miami. She supposed that she was trying to find an answer when there was no answer. The actual story of Eve’s kidnapping and murder was fairly cut-and-dried. The murderer had obviously been unbalanced and ignited explosives at a ghost town in Colorado, where he had been holding Eve captive. Since the details were sparse, they had concentrated on Eve Duncan herself. Her background, her accomplishments, quotes from famous law-enforcement officials who had used her services. All were very worth reading, Catherine thought bitterly. It wasn’t often that the media got a chance to spotlight a genuinely good person. Eve had been an illegitimate child born in the slums who had given birth herself at sixteen to a little girl, Bonnie. The child had changed her life. Eve had finished her education and straightened out her mother, who was on drugs. Then the world had come crashing down when her Bonnie, seven years old, had been kidnapped and killed. Yet Eve hadn’t let it destroy her. She had gone back to school and studied forensic sculpting. Since then, she had become perhaps the most skilled forensic sculptor in the world. She had brought closure to thousands of families whose children would never have been identified without her help.
Never let a good deed go unpunished, Catherine thought. That old adage was too true in Eve’s case.
And, dammit, she was misting up again. She closed her computer and jammed it in her carry-on bag. She grabbed her phone and tried Joe Quinn again. Voice mail. She’d called him from the Miami Airport as soon as she’d read the story about Eve’s memorial service being held today. It had gone to voice mail then, too. She’d left a message, but he hadn’t called back. Maybe he didn’t want to talk to her, she thought. Why should he? He had loved Eve with every ounce of his being, and he thought Catherine hadn’t even cared enough to try to find her when that monster, Doane, had kidnapped her.
I cared, Joe. God, how I care. I would have come.
She wanted to kill Venable.
She might do it if he didn’t have an explanation that she could tolerate.
And she wanted to release the tears that she had been forcing back since she’d read that damn news story. Her friend was dead, and, somehow, she felt as if it was her fault, that if she’d known, she might have been able to stop it. Lord, her eyes were stinging.
Not here. Not now.
When she was alone with her thoughts and memories of Eve and had gotten through this memorial service.
Not even a funeral because that crazy bastard had blown them both to bits.
She wished with all her heart that Doane was still alive and here, so that she could personally send him straight to hell.
But Venable had cheated her out of that pleasure, too, by not bringing her into the picture when Eve needed her most.
She grabbed her bag as it went around the carousel and headed for the door.
* * *
GOD, LING WAS GORGEOUS,
Bradford thought as he pulled his car close to the curb where Catherine Ling was waiting impatiently. She was sleek and sexy, with shoulder-length dark hair and eyes tilted slightly, increasing the exotic magnetism she radiated. He knew she was the illegitimate daughter of an American soldier and a Korean whore who was half-Russian. She’d been born in Saigon but had grown up on the streets of Hong Kong. He’d heard stories about her from other agents, but he’d never met her. The stories had been interesting but very, very lethal. She was sharp and independent and likely to run her own show when she was on a mission. Something Venable definitely didn’t like but evidently tolerated because she got the job done. She’d been CIA since Venable had picked her up in Hong Kong when she was only fourteen. What was she now? Late twenties?
“Got everything?” He leaned over and opened the passenger door for her. “I’ll have you at Quinn’s lake cottage in thirty minutes. I just called Venable, and he said the service had just ended.”
“Dammit, I missed it? I’m surprised you got through to him,” she said sarcastically. “How nice. He’s not been answering my calls.”
Oops. “I’m sure that’s just a technical error. He was very concerned about you.” He hurriedly handed her his computer. “I’ve pulled up the files on Doane and the catastrophe at the ghost town. Venable was sure you’d want to look them over.”
“I would have liked to look them over before the son of a bitch blew her up.” She gazed blindly down at the computer. “You’ve read it. Fill me in.”
“Eve Duncan was kidnapped from her lake cottage home in north Atlanta several days ago. Because she’s one of the foremost forensic sculptors in the world, it was assumed at the time that the kidnapper might be one of the nuts or serial killers she’d targeted by her work.”
“But if Venable is involved, then that’s not why she was killed,” Catherine said grimly. “I’m surprised Eve let him pull her into a CIA mission.”
“She didn’t. James Doane had been in a safe house in Goldfork, Colorado, and slipped away from the agent guarding him. When Venable realized he was gone, he thought there might be a possibility of his heading toward Eve Duncan, but he couldn’t be sure that—”
“Why? Why would he go after Eve?”
“That’s not in the report. You’ll have to ask Venable.”
“You can bet I will. Venable fouled up and didn’t protect Eve. Is that the truth?”
“I’m sure there is an explanation. As I said, he wasn’t sure Eve Duncan would be a target.”
She drew a deep breath. “Let’s go down another path. Why was Jim Doane in that safe house? Was he a foreign agent? A witness?”
He shook his head. “He was the father of Kevin Relling, who was assassinated five years ago. His son was in Special Forces in the Army and turned very dirty. He was working with al-Qaeda in Pakistan and blocking the hunt for Bin Laden. He also indulged his penchant for raping and killing little girls in whatever city he found himself. He killed the five-year-old daughter of General Tarther in Marseilles because the general was trying to zero in on the al-Qaeda group.”
“Very dirty. Scum.”
“The general went crazy and eventually hired a hit man, Lee Zander, to find and go after Doane’s son. Zander killed him and hired a funeral director to cremate the remains. Doane arrived too late to grab anything but his son’s skull from the furnace.”
“Okay, then that would be a reason for his kidnapping Eve. Doane wanted Eve to do a reconstruction on the son’s skull. Right?”
“I understand that she was doing just that while she was his captive.”
“Then why would the crazy bastard kill her? She was smart. If that job was the ransom he wanted, she wouldn’t risk her life by refusing to do a reconstruction.”
“You’ll have to ask Venable,” he said again. “All I know is that Doane took her to a ghost town in the Rio Grande Forest in Colorado. We traced him to an abandoned saloon there. When our units, Quinn, and Jane MacGuire were closing in on him, he set off a charge that blew up the saloon and half the town.” He glanced at her. “You look— Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay. It shouldn’t have happened. Someone should have stopped it. Venable should have stopped it.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “
should have stopped it.”
“Venable said that you were on a very important mission and that you—”
“Screw Venable.” Her gaze shifted to the passing scene out the window. “Anything else? Are they sure she was in that damn saloon?”
“Yes. Everyone saw Doane take her into the place, and, a few minutes later, our infrared scopes confirmed two people inside. They were still on the scopes when the place blew.”
“We’re working on it, but it may take a long while. There wasn’t much left. As I said, the blast practically leveled the town. She was in—”
“I don’t want the details. Not now.”
It appeared that Ling was not as tough as he had heard, Bradford thought. Or maybe she’s just human, like the rest of us. “I hear Eve Duncan was quite a woman. It’s a great loss. Everyone from senators to a dozen police chiefs are at that memorial service.”
“They don’t know how great a loss,” Catherine said. “They know the work, not the woman, not the friend.” She was silent for a while, forcing herself to read the file. Then she looked up, and asked, “How close are we?”
“Five minutes. The service was held outside by the lake at the cottage where she lived with Joe Quinn. He thought she’d like it to be at her home. Pretty place.”
She didn’t speak for a moment. “I know. That’s where I first met Eve. I stayed with her while she worked on a computer age progression on photos of my son.”
That was one of the stories about Ling, too. Her son had been held prisoner by a Russian criminal for nine years, and she had never ceased trying to find him. It was only after Eve Duncan had helped her that she had been able to locate him. “I’m sure you were very grateful.”
“Are you?” She looked at him. “You have no idea.”
He pulled his gaze away with some difficulty. Catherine Ling might be as lethal as a striking panther, but he was suddenly finding himself having visions of ladies in distress and knights in shining armor and himself somewhere in the mix. Crazy. It just went to show how right the stories were about the fascination she effortlessly exerted. “I know you’re upset. If I can help, just call me.” He almost bit his tongue. Venable would not like the idea of his moving into Ling’s camp when she was definitely at odds with him. “Though I’m sure Venable will straighten everything out.”
He swung into the grove that Quinn had designated as a parking area. “Here we are. I’d drive you closer, but there are people milling all over the place.” He quickly got out, ran around, and opened the door for her. “Everyone is around the cottage down toward the lake. Would you like me to go with you?”