Authors: R.J. Jagger
Praise for the thrillers of
“The pacing is relentless in this debut, a hard-boiled novel with a shocking ending… The supershort chapters will please those who enjoy a James Patterson-style page-turner.”
“The well-crafted storyline makes this a worthwhile read. Stuffed with gratuitous sex and over-the-top violence, this novel has a riveting plot …”
“A terrifying, gripping cross between James Patterson and John Grisham. Jagger has created a truly killer thriller.”
“Creative and captivating. It features bold characters, witty dialogue, exotic locations, and non-stop action. The pacing is spot-on, a solid combination of intrigue, suspense and eroticism. A first-rate thriller, this book is damnably hard to put down. It’s a tremendous read.”
“Verdict: This fast paced book offers fans of commercial thrillers a twisty, action-packed thrill ride.”
“Part of what makes this thriller thrilling is that you sense there to be connections between all the various subplots. The anticipation of their coming together keeps the pages turning.”
Copyright © R.J. Jagger
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author, except where permitted by law. This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, businesses, companies, entities, places and events in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons (living or dead), businesses, companies, entities, places or events is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Day One - April 16
WITH A CUP OF COFFEE IN HIS LEFT HAND
and an envelope in his right, homicide detective Nick Teffinger followed the attractive young attorney down the spacious corridors of Holland, Roberts & Northway, LLC, a firm with a reputation for power, presence and attitude. They passed a small pencil sketch of a cowboy fighting to stay on a bucking horse, an incredibly good piece that vibrated with life. Teffinger slowed just enough to look at the signature, C.R. He pointed it out to detective Sydney Heatherwood, walking beside him, and said, “That’s an original Charlie Russell.”
She glanced at it without breaking stride.
“Is he somebody?”
“Was, he’s dead now.”
“We’re almost there,” the lawyer—Kelly Ravenfield—said over her shoulder.
She was two steps ahead and speeding up.
Even packaged as she was in an ultra-conservative gray ensemble, Teffinger couldn’t help but notice the sway in her step. She wore her hair down and long, as if she might be someone caught up in a world just a little too stuffy for her basic nature. For some reason he pictured her as one of those pent-up weekend warriors, maybe with a little tattoo of a rose on her ass or shoulder.
Inside the office the women sat down while he stood for a second to get his bearings.
Diplomas, bar admissions and awards jammed the walls, all very sterile and politically correct.
“If it were up to me, I’d take them all down and put up a few good paintings, but they give the clients a sense of security. Please, have a seat. Someone’s dead,” she said. The words had an edge that suggested she’d help if she could but time was money.
TEFFINGER FOUND A MATCHING LEATHER CHAIR
next to Sydney’s, the color of earwax, a real ugly piece, and eased down into it. It felt great, a real surprise, soft but supportive. “Right, sorry,” he apologized. He guessed that the lawyer was twenty-eight or twenty-nine, with a no-nonsense harried look that probably came from billing ungodly hours and kissing too many asses, all in the name of someday getting a partnership vote somewhere above the line, or keeping it if she already had it.
He frowned, then opened the clasp of the envelope that he’d been carrying for the last twenty minutes, pulled out the pictures of D’endra Vaughn’s dead body, and one-by-one neatly placed them on the desk in front of her. He watched the reaction on her face and detected a pause as she processed the information and noted that she made no effort to stack them up or look away.
He waited for her eyes then held them.
“Her name is D’endra Vaughn, twenty-two years old, an elementary school teacher. She was killed Saturday evening, between eight and eleven. We’re trying to find the man who did it and that’s why we’re here.” He placed two more pictures on the desk, depicting a smiling, happy, young woman. “This is what she looks like when she’s not dead.”
The lawyer preempted the obvious question.
“I don’t know this woman. I’ve never seen her before in my life.”
Teffinger studied her voice, found no lies, rose out of his chair, walked over to the window and looked down. On the edge of her desk he spotted a business card holder, took one of her cards, glanced at it, the direct phone number in particular, and wedged it in his front shirt pocket behind the chocolate. He wore jeans, a gray sport coat over a blue cotton shirt and no tie.
“The window’s my favorite part,” Kelly said, looking again at Sydney and then back to him. “It’s real handy in case you get the urge to jump. Everyone in the firm gets one. I don’t know the dead woman, so I’m sitting here wondering what’s going on.”
Teffinger put on a serious face.
“The victim had a cell phone and it’s missing. We’re assuming at this point that the man who killed her took it. All this is confidential, by the way. In any event, it turns out that a call was made from that phone, yesterday, at 3:34 in the afternoon, roughly eighteen hours after the woman’s death. Here, let me show you.” He reached into the envelope, fumbled around, then pulled out a phone log and pointed to the last entry on the second page. “Do you recognize the number?”
“I assume that you know I do.”
She looked at him, obviously confused, waiting for an explanation.
“That’s your direct work number?” He was sure, but wanted her to confirm it anyway, just in case she’d changed offices or something.
“No one else in the firm has that number, correct?”
“No . . . I mean, yes, that’s correct. It’s a direct line to my desk. What’s going on?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out.”
“I don’t . . .”
“Did you get that call yesterday?”
“No, yesterday was Sunday. I didn’t even come in.”
“Not even for a few minutes?”
As if to prove her point, she added, “I almost never work Sundays, there’d be no reason . . .” She screwed up her face in thought. “Yesterday I shopped at Cherry Creek, bought a few books at the Tattered Cover, paid some bills, washed the laundry, and did some other equally earth-shattering stuff.”
“Have you checked your messages this morning?”
“Yes, I always . . .”
“And no messages from Sunday, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
Teffinger moved away from the window and studied one of the diplomas on the wall. “You went to Case Western Reserve in Cleveland,” he said. “I have a friend who went to Ohio State.”
“It’s huge,” she offered.
“That’s what he said.
Lots of women
, I think, were his exact words.”
“Oh, him. We’ve met a few times.”
She smiled, slightly crooked, oddly sexy.
It reminded him a little of the woman in that movie with Al Pacino, what the hell was the name of it? The one where he was a cop, the woman was a blond, a shoe salesman, and her past lover kept killing her new boyfriends. He shook his head; it’d come to him later when he could care less.
He estimated her white blouse to cost fifty dollars, the wool-blend suit three hundred, the shoes one-fifty. She looked like she drove a Lexus and had a standing February reservation in Los Cabos. Economically way out of his league. No wedding ring or pictures of guys on her desk, though. That was worth something.
“So if you didn’t get the call, could someone else have taken it?” he questioned.
She shook her head.
“There’d be no reason to, it wouldn’t be for them. What probably happened is, someone called my office, it rings two or three times, and then transfers over to the voice mail system. Then, they hang up before the beep. Maybe they hung up because they realized they had the wrong number. Have you considered that?”
“But then they’d call the right number and it’d be on the log.”
“Oh, yeah. Right.”
“MAYBE IT WAS A CLIENT OF YOURS,”
he suggested, getting to the point, one of his two main theories in fact. “He’s scared to death at what he did and wants to negotiate a surrender, so he calls you.” He paused, to let it sink in, and then added, “We’d be interested in that, if that’s the case. It’d be in everyone’s best interest. Cooperation can mean a hell of a lot at this stage. Later, you don’t get ten cents on the dollar.”
She shook her head and let out a quick nervous chuckle, as if contemplating the absurdity of the thought. It sounded genuine. “No, sorry. I only do civil law, no criminal work.”
“God, no,” she said, her mouth growing crooked at yet the second absurd thought in a row. “I wouldn’t know a habeas corpus from a café latte.” As an explanation she added, “Most big firms like this one don’t do criminal work. You don’t want a CEO sitting in the lobby next to a car thief.”
“What? The car thief might not come back again?” She laughed, and Teffinger added, “So he’s not a client?”
“If he is . . . no,” she confirmed. Then, as an apparent afterthought, “Even if he was, I wouldn’t exactly have the liberty of blurting out a name. That kind of thing is privileged. Lawyers take that stuff seriously. There are rules.”
She added, “Even calling a lawyer who declines representation is privileged. It’d be a breach of ethics for me to even confirm that a phone call was made, even if I didn’t take the case.”
“We’re not trying to get you in trouble.”
He walked back over to the window and looked down, seeing toy cars, people dots, all moving slowly and rhythmically and even sanely from this far up. “Let’s talk about what this phone call may or may not mean for a moment. First, we were thinking that he might be a client and we could work something out. I’m still not totally convinced that isn’t the case.”
“Like I said . . .”
“What I mean is, you might not even know it yet. It’s possible he could be a friend, or a friend of a friend. Someone who may know you’re not a criminal lawyer, but thinks you can find him one and keep your mouth shut. Maybe even someone you haven’t seen in a long time.”
She thought about it, getting a distant look, then shook her head. “Technically that’s possible, but I just don’t see it, personally. It doesn’t feel right.”
“Do you know someone named Aaron Whitecliff?”
“Ever hear that name before?”
“No, never. Who is he?”
“Maybe from your past?”
“No, I’d remember. It’s one of those names where you get a visual image, white cliffs and all. It would have stuck in my mind.”
“OKAY, WELL THEN, LET’S TALK ABOUT
the second possible explanation for the call,” Teffinger said. “We’re thinking that the phone call may be a message to you, or to us. It may be his way of saying he’s playing a game and you’re in it.”
She laughed, absurd.
He looked at her, waiting.
“Look, on a conceptual level, I can see your reasoning,” she said, “but I don’t know the dead woman, I don’t know any crazy people, I don’t have any enemies, I don’t owe anyone any money, and I floss every night. This whole thing just isn’t me, there’s no way.”
“Well, then, how do you explain the phone call?”
She paused then said, “I don’t know, maybe he tried to call someone else, got a wrong number, then decided to call the right number later from a land line. There’s probably a good explanation, if you look hard enough.”
Teffinger narrowed his eyes.
“Even if you don’t know him, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know you. I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but the sick reality is there are a whole lot of guys out there on the hunt. They pick you out when you’re strolling down the street or sitting in a restaurant. You remind them of their third-grade teacher or they just like the way you wear your hair. They follow you around and find out who you are, where you live, what your routine is. They spend their free time in your shadows and lie awake in bed at night making up little fantasies.”
She looked like a spider just crawled up her leg.
“It sounds like you’re trying to scare me.”
“Has anyone been following you?”
She paused, thinking, and he could tell she was going deep. “No . . .”
“Have you seen the same stranger’s face at more than one place?”
“Not that I can remember.”
“I am. No . . .”
“My advice is, start paying attention.”
She looked at Heatherwood.
“Is he serious?”
Teffinger continued, “Start memorizing faces, look for people who might be watching you. Especially people who look like they’re covering up, people with sunglasses or baseball caps, or people who look away too fast when you turn in their direction.”
Heatherwood said, “I think he is.”
“If you think someone’s following you, and this is important, lead him into an area where there’s a security camera, some place like a hotel lobby or the cash register in a store, something like that. Then call me right away so we can get the tape.”
“I can’t even believe we’re talking about this.”
“If he calls you, get whatever information you can and let me or Detective Heatherwood know right away, but don’t play with him. And if he does turn out to be someone looking for a lawyer, refer him to Jack Cable, that’s C A B L E, he’s in the Legal Directory. He’s a real lawyer, so don’t worry.”
She cocked her head.
“I’m assuming that this Mr. Cable doesn’t exactly read the privilege rules the same way I do.”
THEY SPENT THE NEXT HOUR ASKING HER
pointed questions, with Heatherwood now taking the lead, peeling back her past, looking for a common denominator that might connect her to Saturday night. She cooperated fully, because she actually was scared now. Teffinger could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice.