Authors: Tara Moss
|Makedde Vanderwall |
Following her ordeal with a serial psychopath in Fetish, femme fatale Makedde Vanderwall picks herself up and heads back to Canada with her father. She returns to her studies in forensic psychology, gets some therapy and thinks her life is back to normal...Then girls start disappearing from her class and her ex from Australia turns up...
In her second U.S. release, Australian crime novelist Moss sends her heroine, model and aspiring forensic psychologist Makedde Vanderwall, to a Vancouver campus, where a psychopath is picking off female students. The campus is also the site of a convention on psychopaths, which has drawn the world's best profilers—including Mak's old flame, Det. Andy Flynn.
It's been a year since the events of Moss's
, in which Flynn saved Mak from a killer, but Mak refuses to reconsider Flynn, even after her current boyfriend begins acting suspiciously. As the body count rises, Flynn (backed by the experts conveniently assembled for the conference) tries to stop the killer before he gets to Mak.
Despite the contrived setup (heard the one about the serial killer at the profiler's convention?), Moss handles her subject easily and expertly, making her novel both immersive and believable. Though readers who haven't read
may be confused by references to the Stiletto Killer and the death of Mak's mother, those with a strong stomach and a taste for violence—and who don't mind the occasional clunker ("Yikes. What's gotten into me?")—should be sucked in by this sexy, smart thriller.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
For my father, Bob
vb 1. to break or cause to break. 2. to separate or be separated from a whole.
∼ See also
split personality, split decision.
Rough hands startled her.
Instinctively, Susan Walker opened her eyes. She saw a dizzying flash of the room around her, a vision of her own flesh showing in patches through torn pantyhose, an unwanted hand on her leg—and quickly she locked her eyes shut again.
She could not bear to look.
The young woman felt the hands move over her body and she recoiled, but her binds were unforgiving. Even the slightest movement brought a sobering bite of pain to her bruised wrists and ankles. So she froze, absorbing the hurt once more, a moan of protest escaping her lips. She had long since accepted that she couldn’t get away.
Susan could hear movement to her left—shuffling, scraping—but she did not open her eyes to see what it was. After what she had seen, she never wanted to open her eyes again.
Then the hands were on her once more and the odour of male—of deviance—filled her nostrils. She contracted, shrunk back, straining against the metal around her ankles and wrists, her flesh crying out in agony. She wanted desperately to disappear, to escape her body, to escape his touch. She didn’t want to feel or hear or smell or taste or see—ever again. Somehow, by blocking out her senses, she prayed to be transported to another place.
God help me…
There was a twinge of relief. Her captor’s hands moved over her torn pantyhose, and with a series of metallic clicks released the cuffs around her ankles.
The suggestion of freedom taunted her.
Will I be freed? Finally?
Her wrists were still tightly secured to the back of the chair, but mercifully, she could now bend her knees. She ached to stretch her legs—to stand, to kick, to massage away the pain—but reflexively she crossed her thighs.
What time is it?
How long had she been bound to that metal chair? Several days? Forty-eight hours? Or only a day and night? Her brain felt foggy and slow. No matter how she urged her mind to focus, she couldn’t remember how she’d got there—or why.
Again…relief. Her arms were freed. But before she had a chance to move, she was shoved forward, her chest driven onto the tops of her knees. She hugged herself,
closing into a tight ball. And still she kept her eyes shut. Her whole being ached from her confinement, and she felt her back stretch, her sore muscles welcoming the release.
But not for long.
Her arms were pulled behind her back—in her weakened state she only had the strength to resist momentarily—and her wrists were handcuffed together again, just as sharply as before.
She was ordered to stand.
Susan didn’t move.
“I won’t tell anyone, I promise. Please let me go,” she begged, mumbling the words into her knees and holding herself protectively. She had lost count of how many times she had pleaded, and in how many ways. She didn’t want to look up. She didn’t want to stand. Susan didn’t even know if she
“Up.” Something cold and hard was jabbed between her shoulderblades. A gun. “Now.”
Hesitantly, she unfolded herself and stood up. Her body cried out as she rose, her knees threatening to buckle. A warm liquid trickled down through her pinched thighs, adding to her humiliation. She felt a fresh wave of revulsion at the sensation.
Oh God, he’s never going to let me go…
“Walk,” came the voice.
She wanted nothing more than to crawl into the corner and collapse, but she obeyed the command.
“Please, let me go—” she said, stepping forward. No blindfold. No masks. She had seen too much and she knew it. “Please…”
She was marched several paces to a door. Floorboards creaked under her feet. She heard the door open and felt the slap of a freezing wind from outside. Only then did she open her eyes. They stung—they were dry and swollen, with salty sleep and the remnants of tears gluing her lashes together. For a moment her vision was blurry.
The sky was black as pitch. It was night. She had no sense of time. Her thoughts scrambled. What would her family think of her absence? They would be panicking by now. Her fiancé, Jason? How could she tell him what she had endured, what she had done? Would he forgive her? What would he do? How could she ever tell her mother?
Her shirt, which had been ripped open, flapped against her chest in the wind, the collar whipping her neck. Goose bumps stood up on her legs beneath the torn nylon. Trembling, cold and scared, Susan stood in the doorway with death aimed at her back. She sobbed with dry eyes, muttering incoherencies.
Was someone out there searching for her right now under that huge night sky?
Thick woods surrounded her in every direction, stretching out into the blackness. Wind blew her hair across her face, leaving strands in her chapped mouth.
She squinted and tried to make out where she was, but all she could see was the vague silhouette of trees in the night. There were no lights in the distance, no search helicopters—not one sign of life—only a forest forming an earthy labyrinth for which she had no map.
“I won’t tell anyone,” she said in a raspy voice she barely recognised. “I can keep quiet. I can keep secrets.” She tried to sound strong, but instead sounded desperate.
The gun stayed pressed to her back as she was pushed down a path. She resisted the urge to look down. She didn’t want to see herself that way—clothes torn, bruised and cut, utterly vulnerable with her wrists cuffed behind her back.
She could barely see a few feet ahead of her, but the gun barrel edged her forward. As the path narrowed, she stumbled on gnarled roots and rocks made slippery with recent rain. She slowed, but the gun just kept nudging her forward. “Walk,” came the voice from behind her, and she did as she was told.
Eventually the path ended. The gun was pulled away from her back. She was in the middle of nowhere, faced with the cold, moist darkness of the forest. She prayed that the worst was over.
She felt a tug at her wrists, and again heard the click of the handcuffs. They were off. Her arms were free. She crossed them tightly over her chest and hugged herself, rubbing her sore wrists against her shoulders and neck.
“Run.” The voice was emotionless. “Now.”
Her body felt heavy and weak. She had no shoes, and the forest floor was sharp and uneven, strewn with rocks and fallen branches. Run where? There was no path, no light to guide her way. She hesitated.
A gunshot rang out.
The blast startled her, the bullet driving into the ground only centimetres from her bare feet. She felt the air move from the blast and pieces of earth hit her legs. She jumped, her ears ringing.
!” came the voice again.
She ran blind, stumbling and crying, the trees reaching out to grab at her with scraggy claws. Branches leapt out of the darkness, snapping and tearing, snagging at her legs, catching on her shirt, scratching and biting her skin. There was no path, but she scrambled as fast as she could, knocking into trees and tripping over slippery roots and sliding on moss.
Susan Walker ran like doomed prey through the woods, knowing that to slow was to die.
Behind her, the gun barrel followed.
She was fair game.
I can’t run fast enough…faster…run! I must go faster but my legs won’t listen, the uniform won’t move quickly enough, the badge weighs me down. My gun is a hunk of useless metal, heavy and cumbersome in my slippery hands, I can barely lift it…QUICK! Before it’s too late! The door is there and finally I reach it, knowing full well what horror awaits on the other side. I hit the door hard—
—and burst straight through. It breaks apart into a million pieces, jagged shards flying all around like asteroids and I see her—my mother—tied to the bed and straining to escape the blade, and the devil looks up, looks straight through my soul with eyes that are flickering red flames. I raise the weapon—it is so heavy, and I struggle to aim between the flames. I squeeze the trigger but it will not give, it is frozen. The devil is smiling with great rotting fangs, he knows I am helpless, and flames leap from his eyes, shooting fire and a great rush of air to knock me down.
He turns back to his prey, his captive—my mother—and he drives the knife down…
A loud noise woke Makedde Vanderwall from her nightmare.
She sat bolt upright and inhaled sharply.
When she realised the noise had come from her own lips, she broke into an embarrassed blush. She had dozed off again and cried out in her sleep. She surveyed her surroundings through puffy eyes, squinting with sleep-heavy lids. A couple of passengers were staring at her. A few feet away, a young man had looked up from his comic book and was smirking.
Makedde looked away and ran clammy hands over her face. She was not steady yet. A deep breath. The strap of her purse was wrapped around her elbow and she untangled it and gathered it to her. She swayed for a moment when she got up from her seat, waiting out a dizzy head spin and adjusting to the roll of the ferry. She wiped the corner of her mouth and it felt wet. With long, slender fingers she pushed a lock of blonde hair behind her ear, then straightened her head. Once she felt she had regained her composure, she made her way towards the doors that led to the outside upper deck of the
Spirit of Tsawassen
Cool sea air hit her with a sobering rush as she pushed the door open. Now fully awake, Makedde walked towards the edge, pitched forward in the wind,
and leaned her forearms on the metal railing. She inhaled the salt air and looked out over the waves. The Gulf Islands stretched out around her as far as she could see—secluded outcrops covered in fir trees and surrounded by deep blue Pacific waters. The picturesque seascape was lit up with the scarlet and orange of a spectacular sunset, the sun a great ball of vermilion slowly dipping below the horizon. Sparks of gold reflected off the waves as they hit the sides of the ship and flew back in bursts of white foam below her.
Makedde had taken this ferry trip between Vancouver Island and the west-coast Canadian mainland countless times throughout her life. At age five, holding her mother’s hand, gripping her colouring book, her mouth and chin covered in chocolate icecream. At ten, begging for more quarters to play Pac-Man and Space Invaders in the arcade room, dressed in acid-wash stretch jeans and a ZZ Top T-shirt. And at fourteen, checking her make-up in a compact, nervously preparing for her first big modelling casting in Vancouver with an agent from Milan.
She grew up fast.
Mak, as she liked to be called, had worked in Milan not long after that first casting, then Paris, London and New York. That was only the beginning. Thanks to the kind of statuesque genes that were currently in vogue, she had for the past decade modelled in cities around the globe. It was a job, and a
pretty good one by most standards. Sometimes it paid well, and she got to travel, but the fabulous, fickle fashion industry never quite grew on her. Somehow she never felt like she fit into that lipsticked world of smoke-and-mirrors glamour.
For the moment she was in neither Paris nor Milan. Mak was relatively close to home again, living and studying in Vancouver. Dreams of a PhD and a life beyond modelling were now almost within her reach, but she still had bills to pay, just like any other student.
She pulled at the false eyelashes that clung stubbornly to her lids. She had washed most of her make-up off after the shoot, but the lashes she kind of liked. Now they were starting to itch. She tugged them free and sent them sailing through the salt air to the waves below, like tiny black insect wings.
Taking the hour and thirty-five minute ferry ride to the island home of her youth had become a bi-weekly ritual in recent months. She wasn’t sure if she made the visits more for herself or for her father—maybe she was trying to make up for years of absence, or perhaps she was grasping to remember a time when things seemed safe and normal. Perhaps she simply enjoyed her father’s company. She thought it was probably all of the above.
Her nightmare had dissolved into something distant and intangible, allowing Mak to turn her thoughts to the most prominent concerns in her waking life—her insomnia, her father and her thesis. She was aware that
there were other subjects bubbling dangerously beneath the surface, but those were things she was not yet prepared to dwell on, no matter what their relevance.
Makedde sensed a presence and looked around to find a man walking behind her on the deck, a little too close, an older man with a dark moustache and a deeply lined face. He quickly turned his attention to the horizon after she saw him, and continued to walk by. She smelled the heavy, lingering scent of tobacco on him. Tense, Mak watched the stranger as he walked the length of the deck and disappeared down the stairs to the main level. His rubber-soled shoes made a dull clanging sound on the ferry’s metal steps as he descended. Once she was sure he was gone, Makedde looked back out to sea.
Dusk was approaching. Swartz Bay terminal was visible across the water, a swarm of lights and bright structures on the shore. The ferry began to shudder and groan as it slowed its passage and prepared to dock. She watched the vessel move into the docking bay before leaving the rail with her hair wild and wind-tossed. Her cheeks were circles of rose, her skin refreshed by the brisk salt air—no longer hot with embarrassment. A line of mascara-stained moisture dipped just below the corners of her blue eyes, and she wiped it away with the palm of her hand.
By the time she made her way to the lower car deck, the
Spirit of Tsawassen
was almost ready to unload.
Deep in thought, Makedde failed to notice the posters tacked up on various community noticeboards around the ferry.
MISSING—HAVE YOU SEEN THIS PERSON?
The placards showed the smiling face of a young woman captured in a moment of pride and excitement. Her auburn hair was professionally styled and her dress formal. She wore a pretty heart-shaped locket around her neck. Bright eyes glowed with youthful optimism. The photo the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had used was a cropped section of a recent engagement portrait. A young man’s hand was partially visible around her waist—her fiancé now cut out of the picture.
Susan Walker had been missing for three weeks.