Authors: J. T. Ellison
can hear the birds twittering.
They sound so happy. The corner of my lip rises, I realize I’m smiling. Smiling at the birds. Joshua’s birds. I need to put food in the feeder—damn, always forgetting that. Baldwin must have done it, that’s why they’re outside the window. Happy little things. Cardinals, from the sound of them.
I’m awake. It’s time to get up. This is my favorite moment of the day—first rising, the moments when I’m no longer asleep but my eyes are still closed. Listening to the birds. I always linger in the bed for a few moments, just hearing the day begin. Trying to fathom at which exact moment you know you’re awake. Is it when you first comprehend sound? First open your eyes? Or when you realize you’re no longer dreaming, that the fresh scent of clean sheets and the warmth of down are tangible under your cheek? I don’t know, but I think I’ll linger in the moment just a bit longer.
The birds are getting louder. Good grief. They chirp so much. Are they on the sill? Or has one gotten in the room?
I sigh. Nothing to do but open my eyes and see.
I’m fully awake now. Morpheus has been chased away. Goodbye, sweet prince. I’ll see you again tonight.
I love it when I actually sleep. I’ve had horrible insomnia for years, just a few hours helps me feel better. But this, it’s delicious. I feel like I’ve gotten a full night’s rest. I can’t remember the last time I slept this hard.
My eyes are open at last. Good grief, I must have left the blinds open, it’s incredibly bright in here. I shut them against the glare, trying to let them adjust to the light. When I open them again I see a ceiling, not my own. What is it called, when they have those pieces, and holes, like screwed-up cardboard? I have a ceiling like this in my office. Used to have a stain on it—damn, I can’t remember what it’s called.
There’s a television, too, high on the wall. This isn’t my bedroom at home. Oh, it’s a hotel. I start to swivel my head but something is holding me down. Great. Dream within a dream. I do that sometimes, dream I’ve woken up and snuggled back to sleep only to have never woken at all. I’ll just shut my eyes again, let myself go back into the dream.
That stupid cardinal is sitting on my chest. Loud, nasty bird. Go away. Go away, bird.
Mmmm, coffee. That smells good.
Baldwin searched out a cup of coffee from the nurse’s lounge, grabbed the morning’s paper. The nurses had seen him enough in the past couple of weeks to remember to leave it out for him. He had his new routine down pat—call the hospital before he left the house, just to see if there’d been any change. After the first week, when he’d refused to leave her room, they finally kicked him out. Bodily. It had taken two security guards. But he knew in his heart they were right. No one knew
how long it would be until Taylor woke up. If she ever woke up.
The bullet had gone in at a funny angle. It entered her temporal lobe and lodged just inside her skull. It had been a tricky surgery, and she’d seized on the table. They’d kept her in a medically induced coma for a week, the halo in place to make sure she didn’t move her head and undo all their delicate repair work. After a week, they brought her off the drugs. She didn’t wake up.
There was no way to know when she would. If she would. Or what she would be like when she did.
He couldn’t think like that. He had to believe she’d wake up, that she’d be fine.
He dumped two packets of sugar in the coffee. He needed the extra energy these days. There was so much aftermath when a cop gets shot, explanations, excuses.
There was so much aftermath when an FBI agent who was supposed to be in Knoxville interviewing a suspect is instead found in a Nashville hospital, crying over his fiancée, and his gun is a match to the four bullets that were pulled from a corpse in an attic in Belle Meade. Decidedly not Knoxville.
He was feeling almost cheerful today. Taylor was a fighter. He had been exonerated, reinstated. They were calling him a hero. Saying he’d saved Taylor and Sam from the clutches of a madman.
He didn’t disabuse them of the notion. And when the autopsy of Ewan Copeland came back with multiple broken bones and contusions, a collapsed lung in addition to the four bullet holes, he told them Copeland had fought him hard. Marcus backed that story, too.
Taylor needed to be protected now, more than ever. He had no intention of letting anyone know she was the
one who’d inflicted the damage on Copeland. He’d shot and killed him, yes, but before Copeland shot Taylor, she’d kicked the bejesus out of him.
That was his girl.
The information they had on Copeland grew exponentially with each passing day. They found his spare apartment, a town house he’d rented in east Nashville. It was bare except for his laptop, a chair and a battered teapot, with a matching china cup. Why he’d left his laptop behind was anybody’s guess. Baldwin figured he’d done it so he could show them just how prolific he’d really been. He knew he was going to die, probably welcomed the escape it would bring.
There was only one file on the computer, in Word. It was a journal of sorts, with daily entries. Copeland had discussions with himself, decisions to make. Charlaine Shultz had been right about the body dysmorphic disorder—the doctor had confirmed their theories. Copeland was dutiful about his entries. He’d documented almost five years on the computer—his kills, his surgeries, his plans. His growing disenchantment, his anger.
Baldwin assumed that before that, Copeland had kept handwritten journals. They hadn’t found those yet.
Copeland had detailed his displeasure with the pretty cop who’d dissed him four years before, right after he killed Tommy Keck. Every move, every detail was listed. It would take years to unravel, but there were already ten new murder cases that had been solved because Copeland had drawn maps showing where he’d left bodies.
A new ViCAP search linked seventeen rapes together, violent assaults, with one thing in common, cuts to the stomach. Copeland had had his own scars
eradicated, but kept revisiting them, over and over, on the souls of others.
Sam was a recipient of some of those scars. Baldwin had seen her two days before. She was getting back to her old self, sassy and bold, but there was a lingering sadness to her that he’d never seen before. Losing her child had been hell, losing her best friend, too, would make her cave in. Simon had taken her away on a small vacation, just them and the twins. To repair her outside. Inside, she’d never be the same. Copeland had taken care of that.
He walked down the corridor to Taylor’s room. He had a newspaper in his hands, and his new iPad in a backpack. He’d picked three books to read this week. He’d been reading them aloud to Taylor, the classics. They were going to do
today, one of her favorites. He thought briefly of Emma Brighton, a poor, frightened girl, a victim. That poor woman. He thought of Flynn, now an orphan. Like him.
He opened the door.
Something was different.
He saw gray. Twin flashes of gray. Jesus God in heaven, she had her eyes open.
He dropped the coffee and the paper on the floor, ignoring the pain in his leg where the hot liquid scalded through his pants. He leaned over the bed.
“Babe? Taylor? Can you hear me?”
The eyes swiveled to him, and he swore he saw recognition. Without looking away, he depressed the emergency button to summon the nurse. She answered through the intercom with an impatient, “What?”
“Get Dr. Benedict. She’s awake.”
“What?” All the annoyance was gone. “Is she really?”
“Yes, yes. Now get the doctor.” He licked his lips.
Taylor’s gray eyes crinkled, and her lip moved on the left side.
“Oh, God, Taylor. I knew you’d wake up. I knew you would. Welcome back, my love.”
She started to move, but he laid a hand gently on her chest. It was taking all his effort to hold back tears.
“No, no, don’t try to move, you’re in a halo. You got shot, sweetheart. Copeland shot you, in the head. You’ve been asleep for a while. But you’re okay, baby. You’re going to be okay.”
Thanks to my great team: my agent Scott Miller, my editor Adam Wilson, and all the rest who make these books come to life: MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, Megan Lorius, Deborah Kohan, Donna Hayes, Alex Osuszek, Loriana Sacilotto, Craig Swinwood, Valerie Gray, Margaret Marbury, Diane Moggy, Linda McFall, Giselle Regus, Heather Foy, Don Lucey, Michelle Renaud, Adrienne Macintosh, Maureen Stead, Nick Ursino, Tracey Langmuir, Kathy Lodge, Emily Ohanjanians, Karen Queme, Alana Burke, Tara Kelly and Gigi Lau.
Thanks also to friends and writers Laura Benedict, Jeff Abbott, Erica Spindler, Allison Brennan, Toni McGee Causey, Alex Kava, Jeanne Bowerman, Jill Thompson, Del Tinsley and Andy Levy for keeping me sane during the writing of this book. Special thanks to the writers of Murderati, and Detective David Achord, for support in all the right places. Lee Lofland and Ala-fair Burke provided help on the legal bits, Joan Huston and Jill Thompson cast their gimlet eyes on the writing bits. As always, any mistakes are mine, and mine alone.
The real Colleen Keck isn’t a true crime blogger, but
a contest winner who kindly allowed me many liberties with her name. The same goes for Preston Pylant, Richard Cooper and Bill Reiser. Thanks for letting me make you naughty, boys.
Extra love to my parents and family, who are my greatest supporters, and as always, to my husband, Randy, who makes my life complete.
SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH
Copyright © 2011 by J.T. Ellison.
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