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By Lisa Gardner
Published by Bantam on 2018-07-31
FICTION / Thrillers
“A suspenseful roller-coaster ride.”—Karin Slaughter • “Lisa Gardner always delivers heart-stopping suspense.”—Harlan Coben
He knows everything about you—including the first place you’ll hide.
On a warm summer night in one of Boston’s working-class neighborhoods, an unthinkable crime has been committed: Four members of a family have been brutally murdered. The father—and possible suspect—now lies clinging to life in the ICU. Murder-suicide? Or something worse? Veteran police detective D. D. Warren is certain of only one thing: There’s more to this case than meets the eye.
Danielle Burton is a survivor, a dedicated nurse whose passion is to help children at a locked-down pediatric psych ward. But she remains haunted by a family tragedy that shattered her life nearly twenty-five years ago. The dark anniversary is approaching, and when D. D. Warren and her partner show up at the facility, Danielle immediately realizes: It has started again.
A devoted mother, Victoria Oliver has a hard time remembering what normalcy is like. But she will do anything to ensure that her troubled son has some semblance of a childhood. She will love him no matter what. Nurture him. Keep him safe. Protect him. Even when the threat comes from within her own house.
The lives of these three women unfold and connect in unexpected ways, as sins from the past emerge—and stunning secrets reveal just how tightly blood ties can bind. Sometimes the most devastating crimes are the ones closest to home.
D. D. Warren is rapidly becoming one of my favorite characters in detective fiction. A veteran Boston police investigator with voracious appetites for food and sex, she gets plenty of one --- without gaining an ounce --- and not nearly enough of the other. As a result, there is a bit of an hysterically funny, smart-alecky edge to her that alone could probably carry each and every book in which Lisa Gardner chooses to feature her. However, as Gardner’s latest work demonstrates, there is much more happening in these pages than bright, snappy dialogue. The storylines that weave their way through Warren’s world are smart, riveting and addictive.
If there is a weakness in LIVE TO TELL, it is that at some points Warren almost seems to be making guest appearances in her own novel. There are a number of interesting characters, including a new love interest for her, one who will no doubt be back in the next installment of the series. Still, Warren is such a unique character that sharing the narrative spotlight does not seem to entirely become her. Nonetheless, the plot is so strong and unforgettable that you may not even notice Warren’s relative absence.
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Praise for the New York Times bestselling novels of LISA GARDNER 'Gardner's characters are fully drawn? .' .' .' her taut story'telling and dizzying plot will appeal to fans of Harlan Coben.' ''Library Journal (starred) 'Gripping'.' .' . jaw-'dropping.' ''Publishers Weekly 'A twisted, spellbinding thriller. Lisa Gardner always delivers heart-'stopping suspense.' ''Harlan Coben 'Gardner keeps the suspense cranked high. Recommend this to fans of Lee Child.' ''Booklist 'Intricate and suspenseful, keeps you on the edge of your seat without a moment's respite.' '''Los Angeles Times Book Review '[A] high-'octane page-'turner'.' .' . With tight plotting, an ear for forensic detail and a dash of romance, this is a truly satisfying sizzler in the tradition of Tess ? Gerritsen and Tami Hoag.' ''Publishers Weekly (starred review) 'Showing a flair for lip-'biting suspense, bestselling ? novelist Gardner combs out a tangled plot to an engrossing ? effect.'.' .' . Riveting action.' ''People (Beach Book of the Week)
'A suspense-laden, ? twist-'filled tale that easily equals the best of Sue Grafton and Kathy Reichs.' ''Providence Journal-'Bulletin 'Riveting, hold-'your-'breath suspense!' ''Iris Johansen 'Gardner deftly probes the psychology of school shootings while developing a cast of complex, compelling characters.' .' .' . A suspenseful, curl-'up winter read, this thriller teems with crisp, realistic dialogue and engaging characters.' ''Publishers Weekly (starred review) '[A] heart-'stopping novel, a story to get under your skin and haunt you. The action and the tension never let up from first page to last. As timely as today's headlines, this is a one-'of-'a-'kind book.' ''Romantic Times 'I loved this book! I was up till 2'a.m. finishing it!' ''Karen Robards 'Nail-'biting suspense'.' .' . a taut roller-'coaster of a story that kept me up very, very late.' ''Kay Hooper
By Lisa Gardner The Perfect Husband The Other Daughter The Third Victim The Next Accident The Survivors Club The Killing Hour I'd Kill for That Alone Gone Hide Say Goodbye The Neighbor Live to Tell Love You More Catch Me Touch & Go Fear Nothing Crash & Burn Find Her Right Behind You Look for Me Bantam Books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotions or corporate use. Special editions, including personalized covers, excerpts of existing books, or books with corporate logos, can be created in large quantities for special needs. For more information, contact Premium Sales at (212) 572-2232 or email email@example.com.
DETECTIVE D. D. WARREN NOVEL LISA GARDNER bantam books? '? new york
Sale of this book without a front cover may be unauthorized. If this book is coverless, it may have been reported to the publisher as 'unsold or destroyed? and neither the author nor the publisher may have received payment for it. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 2018 Bantam Books Mass Market Edition Copyright ? 2010 by Lisa Gardner, Inc. All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. Bantam Books and the House colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, in 2010. ISBN 978-'0-'525-'48647-'3 Ebook ISBN 978-'0-'553-'90769-'8 Cover design: Anna Laytham Cover image: Erik Von Weber/The Image Bank/Getty Images Printed in the United States of America randomhousebooks.com 9? 8? 7? 6? 5? 4? 3? 2? 1 Bantam Books mass market edition: July 2018
PROLOGUE DANIELLE I don't remember that night much anymore. In the beginning, it seems like you'll never forget. But time is a nebulous thing, especially for a child. And year by year, bit by bit, details started to fade from my memory. Coping skills, Dr.'Frank assured me. The natural evolution of my psyche starting to heal. Nothing to feel guilty about. But of course, I do. I remember waking up to a scream. Maybe my mother's, but according to the police report, most likely my sister's. It was dark in my room. I was disoriented, couldn't see. And there was a smell in the air. That's what I remember most clearly after all these years. A smoky odor I thought might be from a fire, but was actually cordite, drifting down the hall. More noises. Things I could hear but not see: pounding footsteps, the thud of a body falling down the stairs. Then my father's voice, booming from outside my bedroom door. 'Oh Danny girl. My pretty, pretty Danny girl.' My door opened. A bright glowing rectangle amidst a
field of black. My father's shadow, looming in the doorway. 'Danny girl,' he sang more brightly. 'My pretty, pretty Danny girl.' Then he tapped the gun against his forehead and pulled the trigger. I'm not sure what happened immediately after that. Did I get out of bed? Did I dial 911? Did I try to revive my mother, or maybe stop the blood pouring from my sister's shattered head or my brother's broken body? I remember another man walking into my room. He spoke in a soothing voice, told me everything was okay now, I was safe. He'picked me up in his arms, though I was nine years old and too big to be'treated like a baby. He told me to close my eyes. He told me not to look. I nodded against his shoulder, but of course I kept my eyes open. I had to see. I had to record. I had to remember. It is the duty of the lone survivor. According to the police report, my father was drunk that night. He'd consumed at least a fifth of whiskey before loading his service revolver. He'd lost his job with the sheriff's department the week before'after being reprimanded twice for showing up for work in a less-thansober state. Sheriff Wayne, the man who carried me out of the house, had hoped the termination would force my father to clean up his act, maybe join AA. I guess my father had other ideas. He started in the bedroom, catching my mother next to her bed. Then he moved on to my thirteen-year-old sister, who'd stuck her head out of her room, probably to see what was going on. My eleven-year-old brother also appeared in the hallway. He tried to run for it. My father
shot him in the back, and Johnny fell down the stairs. It wasn't a clean shot and it took Johnny a while to die. I don't remember this, of course. But I read the official report on my eighteenth birthday. I was looking for an answer that I've never found. My father killed my entire family except me. Did that mean he loved me the most, or hated me the most? 'What do you think'? Dr.'Frank always replied. I think this is the story of my life. I wish I could tell you the color of my mother's eyes. I know logically they were blue, because after my family died, I went to live with Aunt Helen, my mother's sister. Aunt Helen's are blue, and judging by the photos I have left, she and my mother were spitting images of each other. Except that's the problem. Aunt Helen looks so much like my mother that over the years, she's become my mother. I see Aunt Helen's eyes in my mind. I hear her voice, feel her hands tucking me in at night. And I ache because I want my mother back. But she's gone from me, my traitorous memory killing her more effectively than my father did, so that I was driven to look up police reports and crime-scene photos, and now the only image I have of my mom is a curiously slack face staring up at the camera with a hole in the middle of her forehead. I have photos of Natalie and Johnny and me sitting on a porch, our arms around one another. We look very happy, but I can't remember anymore if my siblings teased me or tolerated me. Did they ever guess that one night they would die, while I would get to live? Did they ever imagine, on that sunny afternoon, that none of their dreams would come true? 'Survivor's guilt,' Dr.'Frank would remind me gently. 'None of this is your fault.' The story of my life. *? *? *
Aunt Helen did right by me. She was over forty and childless, a corporate lawyer married to her job, when I came to live with her. She had a one-bedroom condo in downtown Boston, so for the first year, I slept on the couch. That was okay, because for the first year, I didn't sleep anyway, so she and I would stay up all night, watching reruns of I Love Lucy, and trying not to think of what had happened one week ago, then one month ago, then one year ago. It's a kind of countdown, except you never get any closer to a destination. Each day sucks as much as the one before. You simply start to accept the general suckiness. Aunt Helen found Dr.'Frank for me. She enrolled me in a private school where the small class size meant I got constant supervision and lots of one-on-one care. I couldn't read the first two years. I couldn't process letters, couldn't remember how to count. I got out of bed each day, and that took so much energy, I couldn't do much else. I didn't make friends. I didn't look teachers in the eye. I sat, day after day, trying so hard to remember each detail, my mother's eyes, my sister's scream, my brother's goofy grin, I had no room in my head for anything else. Then one day when I was walking down the street, I saw a man lean over and kiss his little girl on top of the head. A random moment of fatherly tenderness. His daughter looked up at him, and her round little face lit into a million-watt smile. And my heart broke, just like that. I started to cry, sobbing incoherently through the streets of Boston as I stumbled my way back to my aunt's condo. When she came home four hours later, I was still weeping on the leather sofa. So she joined me. We spent an entire week crying together on the couch, with Gilligan's Island playing in the backdrop.
'The rat bastard,' she said when we'd finally finished weeping. 'That fucking, fucking rat bastard.' And I wondered if she hated my father for slaughtering her sister, or for saddling her with an unwanted child. The story of my life. I survived. And even if I don't always remember, I do live, the survivor's ultimate responsibility. I grew up. I went to college. I became a pediatric psych nurse. Now I spend my days at a locked-down pediatric psych ward in Boston, working with the six-year-old boy who's already hearing voices, the eight-year-old girl who self-mutilates, the twelve-year-old big brother who absolutely, positively can't be left alone with his younger siblings. We're an acute-'care facility. We don't fix these kids. We stabilize them, using proper medications, a nurturing environment, and whatever other tricks we can pull out of our sleeves. Then we observe. We try to figure out what makes each child tick, and we write up recommendations for the next set of experts who will ultimately deal with these kids, either at a residential program, or a long-term-care institution, or a supervised return to the home environment. Some of our kids make progress. They become the best person they can be, a triumph by anyone's definition. Some of our children commit suicide. Others commit murder. They become that headline you've read in the paper: 'Troubled Youth Opens Fire'; 'Older Brother Slaughters Entire Family.' And people die, whether they had anything to do with it or not. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I took this job to save lost children like me. Or perhaps, even more heroically, I took this job to avert tragedies like the one that happened to my family. I understand what you're thinking. But you don't know me yet.
CHAPTER ONE Thursday night, Sergeant Detective D.'D. Warren was out on a date. It wasn't the worst date she'd ever been on. It wasn't the best date she'd ever been on. It was, however, the only date she'd been on in quite some time, so unless Chip the accountant turned out to be a total loser, she planned on taking him home for a rigorous session of balance-the-ledger. So far, they'd made it through half a loaf of bread soaked in olive oil, and half a cow seared medium rare. Chip had managed not to talk about the prime rib bleeding all over her plate or her need to sop up juices with yet another slice of bread. Most men were taken aback by her appetite. They needed to joke uncomfortably about her ability to tuck away plate after plate of food. Then they felt the need to joke even more uncomfortably that, of course, none of it showed on her girlish figure. Yeah, yeah, she had the appetite of a sumo wrestler but the build of a cover girl. She was nearly forty, for God's sake, and well aware by now of her freakish metabolism. She certainly didn't need any soft-middled desk jockey
pointing it out. Food was her passion. Mostly because her job with Boston PD's homicide unit didn't leave much time for sex. She polished off the prime rib, went to work on the twice-baked potato. Chip was a forensic accountant. They'd been set up by the wife of a friend of a guy in the unit. Yep, it made that much sense to D.D. as well. But here she was, sitting in a coveted booth at the Hilltop Steakhouse, and really, Chip was all right. Little doughy in the middle, little bald on top, but funny. D.D. liked funny. When he smiled, the corners of his deep brown eyes crinkled and that was good enough for her. She was having meat and potatoes for dinner and, if all went as planned, Chip for dessert. So, of course, her pager went off. She scowled, shoved it to the back of her waistband, as if that would make a difference. 'What's that'? Chip asked, catching the chime. 'Birth control,' she muttered. Chip blushed to the roots of his receding brown hair, then in the next minute grinned with such self-'deprecating power she nearly went weak in the knees. Better be good, D.D. thought. Better be a fucking massacre, or I'll be damned if I'm giving up my night. But then she read the call and was sorry she'd ever thought such a thing. Chip the funny accountant got a kiss on the cheek. Then Sergeant Detective D.'D. Warren hit the road. D.D. had been a Boston PD detective for nearly twelve years now. She'd started out investigating traffic fatalities and drug-'related homicides before graduating to such major media events as the discovery of six mum'mified corpses in an underground chamber; then, more recently, the disappearance of a beautiful young schoolteacher from South Boston. Her bosses liked to put her in front
of the camera. Nothing like a pretty blonde detective to mix things up. She didn't mind. D.D. thrived on stress. Enjoyed a good pressure-'cooker case even more than an all-'you-? can-'eat buffet. Only drawback was the toll on her personal life. As a sergeant in the homicide unit, D.D. was the leader of a three-'person squad. It wasn't uncommon for them to spend all day tracking down leads, interviewing informants, or revisiting crime scenes. Then they spent most of the night writing up the resulting interviews, affidavits, and/or warrant requests. Each squad also had to take turns being 'on deck,' meaning they caught the next case called in, keeping them stuck in a permanent vortex of top-'priority active cases, still-? unsolved old cases, and at least one or two fresh call-'outs per week. D.D. didn't sleep much. Or date much. Or really do anything much. Which had been fine until last year, when she'd turned thirty-'eight and watched her ex-'lover get married and start a family. Suddenly, the tough, brash sergeant who considered herself wed to her job found herself studying Good Housekeeping magazine and, even worse, Modern Bride. One day, she picked up Parenting. There was noth'ing more depressing than a nearly forty-'year-'old single, childless homicide detective reading Parenting magazine alone in her North End condo. Especially when she realized some of the articles on dealing with toddlers applied to managing her squad as well. She recycled the magazines, then vowed to go on a date. Which had led to Chip'poor, almost-'got-'his-'brains-? screwed-'out Chip'and now had her on her way to Dorchester. Wasn't even her squad's turn on deck, but the notification had been 'red ball,' meaning something big and bad enough had happened to warrant all hands on deck.
D.D. turned off I-'93, then made her way through the maze of streets to the largely working-'class neighborhood. Among local officers, Dorchester was known for its drugs, shootings, and raucous neighborhood parties that led to more drugs and shootings. BPD's local field district, C-'11, had set up a noise reduction hotline as well as a designated 'Party Car? to patrol on weekends. Five hundred phone tips and numerous preventive arrests later, Dorchester was finally seeing a decline in homicides, rapes, and aggravated assaults. On the other hand, burglaries were way up. Go figure. Under the guidance of her vehicle's navigational system, D.D. ended up on a fairly nice street, double lanes dotted with modest stamps of green lawn and flanked with a long row of tightly nestled three-'story homes, many sporting large front porches and an occasional ? turret. Most of these dwellings had been carved into multiple-? living units over the years, with as many as six to eight in a single house. It was still a nice-'looking area, the lawns neatly mowed, the front-'porch banisters freshly painted. The softer side of Dorchester, she decided, more and more curious. D.D. spotted a pileup of Crown Vics, and slowed to park. It was eight-'thirty on a Thursday night, August sun just starting to fade on the horizon. She could make out the white ME's vehicle straight ahead, as well as the traveling crime lab. The vans were bookended by the usual cluster of media trucks and neighborhood gawkers. When D.D. had first read the location of the call, she'd assumed drugs. Probably a gangland shooting. A bad one, given that the deputy superintendent wanted all eighteen detectives in attendance, so most likely involving collateral damage. Maybe a grandmother caught sitting on her front porch, maybe kids playing on the sidewalk. These things happened, and no, they didn't get
any easier to take. But you handled it, because this was Boston, and that's what a Boston detective did. Now, however, as D.D. climbed out of her car, clipped her credentials to the waistband of her skinny black jeans, and retrieved a plain white shirt to button up over her date cleavage, she was thinking, Not drugs. She was thinking this was something worse. She slung a light jacket over her sidearm, and headed up the sidewalk toward the lion's den. D.D. pushed her way through the first wave of jostling adults and curious children. She did her best to keep focused, but still caught phrases such as 'shots fired'.' .' .' 'heard squealing like a stuck pig'.' .' .' 'Why, I just saw her unloading groceries not four hours before'.' .' .' 'Excuse me, excuse me, pardon me. Police sergeant. Buddy, out of the way.' She broke through, ducking under the yellow tape roping off portions of the sidewalk, and finally arrived at the epicenter of crime-'scene chaos. The house before her was a gray-'painted triple-'decker boasting a broad-'columned front porch and large American flag. Both front doors were wide open, enabling better traffic flow of investigative personnel, as well as the ME's metal gurney. D.D. noted delicate lace curtains framed in bay windows on either side of the front door. In addition to the American flag, the porch contained four cheerful pots of red geraniums, half a dozen blue folding chairs, and a hanging piece of slate that had been painted with more red geraniums and the bright yellow declaration: Welcome. Yep, definitely something worse than gun-'toting, tennis-? shoe-'tossing drug dealers. D.D. sighed, put on her game face, and approached the uniformed officer stationed at the base of the front steps. She rattled off her name and badge number. In turn, the
officer dutifully recorded the info in the murder book, then jerked his head down to the bin at his feet. D.D. obediently fished out booties and a hair covering. So it was that kind of crime scene. She climbed the steps slowly, keeping to one side. They appeared recently stained, a light Cape Cod gray that suited the rest of the house. The porch was homey, well kept. Clean enough that she suspected it had been recently broom swept. Perhaps after unloading groceries, a household member had tidied up? It would've been better if the porch had been dirty, covered in dust. That might have yielded shoe treads. That might have helped catch whoever did the bad thing D.D. was about to find inside. She took another breath right outside the door, inhaled the scent of sawdust and drying blood. She heard a reporter calling for a statement. She heard the snap of a camera, the roar of a media chopper, and white noise all around. Gawkers behind, detectives ahead, reporters above. Chaos: loud, smelly, overwhelming. Her job now was to make it right. She got to it.
CHAPTER TWO VICTORIA 'I'm thirsty,' he says. 'What would you like'? I offer. 'Woman, bring me a drink, or I'll break your fucking face.' He doesn't sound angry. That's how these things often go. Sometimes, the storm arrives quickly. One moment he's watching TV, the next he's tearing apart the living room. Other times, he lingers on the'precipice. Say or do the right thing, and calm will be restored. Say or do the wrong thing, on the other hand'.' .' . I get off the couch. It's Thursday evening, an ungodly hot and humid August night in Boston. The kind of night best spent at a beach or at a giant swimming pool. Of course, neither one is an option for us. We've spent the afternoon inside, watching the History Channel while basking in air-'conditioning. I'd hoped a quiet evening might be soothing for him. Now I don't know. Inside the kitchen, I debate my options. A drink order involves a vast array of land mines: First, guess the proper beverage. Then select the right glass/mug/cup.
Not to mention ice or no ice, straw or no straw, cocktail napkin or coaster. Once, I wouldnt've refused such a belligerent demand. I would've demanded nice words, nice voice. I'm not your servant, I would've reminded him. You will treat me with respect. These things happen, though. Not all at once. But bit by bit, moment by moment, choice by choice. There are pieces of yourself that, once you give away, you can never get back again. I go with the blue mug, a recent favorite, and tap water'less mess when he inevitably tosses the contents into my face. My hands are already shaking. I take several calming breaths. He hasn't gone over the edge yet. Remember, he hasn't gone over the edge. Not yet. I carry the mug into the living room, where I set it on the glass coffee table while watching him beneath my lowered eyelids. If his feet remain flat on the floor, I will continue with appeasement. If he's already twitching, perhaps tapping a foot, or rolling his shoulder in the way that often precedes a sudden, hard-'thrown punch, then I will bolt. Get down the hall, grab the Ativan, and dope him up. I'm telling you, there are pieces of yourself that, once you give away, you can never get back again. He picks up the mug, feet stable, shoulders loose. He takes an experimental sip, pauses.'.' .' . Sets it down again. I have just resumed breathing, when he grabs the plastic mug and slams it against the side of my head. I reel back, not so much from the force of the plastic cup as from the shock of the blow. 'What the fuck is this'? he screams, two inches from my water-'drenched face. 'What the fuck is this'? 'Water,' I reply, stupidly. He tries to club me again, more water spraying the
couch, then we're off and running, me dashing for the medicine cabinet in the downstairs lavette, him determined to wrestle me to the ground so he can beat my head against the hardwood floor, or wrap his fingers around my throat. He catches my ankle at the edge of the family room. I go down hard on my right knee. Reflexively, I kick back. I hear him roar in frustration as I break free and bolt four more steps. He catches me in the side, crashing me against the wainscoting. The chair rail slams into my ribs with bruising force. 'BITCH! Bitch, bitch, bitch.' 'Please,' I whisper. No good reason. Maybe because you have to say something. 'Please, please, please.' He grabs my wrist, squeezing so hard I can feel small bones grinding together. 'Please, sweetheart,' I whisper again, desperately trying to sound soothing. 'Please let go, honey. You're hurting me.' But he doesn't let go. I've read him wrong, missed the signs, and now he's gone to the dark place. I can say anything, do anything'it doesn't matter. He's a feral animal, needing someone to hurt. And I think, as I often think during these times, that I still love him. Love him so much my heart breaks more than any bones, and now, even now, I have to be careful. I don't want to hurt him. Then, in the next instant, I lash out with my foot, connecting behind his kneecap. He goes down just as I wrench my hand free. I race for the bathroom, crashing open the medicine cabinet and scrambling for the orange prescription bottle. 'I'm going to kill you!' he roars in the hallway. 'I'm going to stab you a million times. I'm gonna fucking rip
off your head. I'll eat your heart, I'll drain your blood. I'll kill you, I'll kill you, I'll kill you.' Then the sound I don't want to hear'the whap whap of his bare feet slapping down the hall as he wheels around and runs for the kitchen. Ativan, Ativan, Ativan. Dammit, where's the Ativan? I hit the bottle with the side of my hand. It falls to the floor, rolls across the tiles. I hear another scream, pure unadulterated rage, and know he's just discovered that I locked up the kitchen knives. I did it two weeks ago, in the middle of the night, when he was sleeping. You have to keep one step ahead. You have to. The Ativan has rolled behind the toilet. My fingers are shaking too hard. I can't reach it, can't roll it out. I hear crashing now. Cherry cabinet doors being flung open, cups, plates, serving platters being tossed onto imported Italian tile. I changed everything over to Melamine and plastic years ago, which only pisses him off more. He has to trash the kitchen, does it every time, even as the lack of shattering damage drives him further over the edge. Another loud crash, then silence. I find myself holding my breath, then bend over the toilet, scrabbling for the damn prescription bottle. The quiet stretches on, unnerving me more than the destruction. What's he doing? What has he discovered? What have I missed? Dammit, I need the Ativan now. I force myself to breathe, to steady my strung-'out nerves. Towel, that's the trick. Roll up the towel, poke it behind the toilet, push the prescription bottle out the other side. Got it. Tranquilizer tablets firmly in hand, I creep into the hallway of my now silent home, already terrified of what I might find. One step. Two, three, four'.' .' .
approach the end of the hallway. Expansive family room on the left, followed by formal dining room, leading to the gourmet kitchen to the right, then circling around into the vaulted foyer. I peer behind the dying ficus tree in the corner, then tiptoe into the family room, mindful of the ambush spots behind the L-'shaped sofa, beside the battered entertainment unit, and underneath the tattered silk drapes. What have I missed? What have I failed to consider and what will it cost me? Other images crowd my brain. The time he bolted out of the pantry with a wooden meat tenderizer and cracked two of my ribs before I managed to get away. Or the first time he picked up a meat cleaver, going after my arm, but in his enraged state slicing open his own thigh. I was afraid he'd severed an artery and would bleed out if I ran away, so I stood my ground, eventually wrestling the knife from his grasp. Then I comforted him while he sobbed in pain, and the blood from both of our wounds soaked into the Persian rug in our beautiful vaulted entryway. Can't think of these things now. Must remain focused. Find him. Calm him. Drug him. I creep through the family room, approaching the dining room, taking in all shadowed corners, trying to listen for sounds from behind. The kitchen opens back into the foyer. That makes it easy for him to circle around, attack from the rear. One foot in front of the other. Inch by inch, prescription bottle clutched like pepper spray in my fist. I discover him in the kitchen. He has pulled down his jeans and is now defecating on the rug. He looks up as I approach, an expression of malevolent triumph crossing his face. 'What do you think of your precious rug now'? he sneers. 'What's so fucking special about it now''
approach him steadily, holding out the bottle of Ativan. 'Please, baby. You know I love you. Please.' For his response, he scoops up a pile of excrement and smears it across his bare belly. 'I'm gonna kill you,' he says, calmer now, conversational. I don't say a word, just hold out the bottle of tablets. 'I'm gonna do it in the middle of the night. But I'll wake you up first. I want you to know.' I hold out the tablets. 'You locked up the knives,' he chants. 'You locked up the knives. But did you lock up all the knives? Did you, did you, did you'? He smiles, gleefully, and my gaze goes instinctively to the drying rack, contents now strewn across the kitchen floor. Had there been a knife in that rack? Had I washed one just this morning? I can't'remember, and that's going to cost me. Something is always going to cost me. I twist off the lid of the prescription bottle. 'It's time to rest, sweetheart. You know you'll feel better after you've had a little rest.' I pour a couple of tablets into the palm of my hand, stepping close enough that the heat and stench of his body flood my nostrils. Slowly, I open his mouth with one finger and poke the first quick-'dissolving tablet into the pouch of his cheek. In turn, he cups his stained fingers around my neck and, almost tenderly, rubs the hollow of my neck. 'I will kill you quickly,' he promises me. 'With a knife. I'll slide the blade in. Right here.' His thumb brushes over the pulse beating wildly in my throat, as if he's mentally rehearsing the death blow. Then I can see his facial muscles start to relax as the drug takes effect. His hand falls away, and he smiles again. Sweetly now. A ray of sunshine through the storm, and I want to cry but I don't. I don't.
There are pieces of yourself, so many pieces of yourself, that, once you give away, you cannot get back again. Ten minutes later, I have him in bed. I strip off what remains of his clothes. Wipe down his body with a soapy washcloth, though I know from previous experience that the smell of excrement will linger on his skin. Later, he will ask me questions about that, and I will lie to him with my answers, because that's what I've learned to do. I clean him up. I clean me up. The dishes will go through the dishwasher, then be replaced in the cupboards. The rug will be left on the curb on trash day. But all that can wait. Now, in the silence of the aftermath, I return to his bedroom. In the lamplight, I admire the quiet, still lines of his face. The way his hair curves into one golden cowlick right above his left temple, the way his lips always purse slightly in his sleep, like a baby's. I stroke my fingers across the softness of his cheek. I take his hand, lax now, not hurting, not destroying, and hold it in my own. And I wonder if tonight will be the night he will finally kill me. Meet Evan, my son. He is eight years old.
CHAPTER THREE 'Started in the dining room,' Detective Phil LeBlanc was explaining to Detective D.'D. Warren. Phil wore a pair of chinos and a white-'collared golf shirt with a ketchup stain above the embroidered emblem. Apparently, he'd been at a family barbecue when he'd received the call. Now he pointed to the rectangular table, currently set for six. The plates held traces of a recently consumed dinner, with several empty serving platters in the middle. D.D. counted three empty cans of Bud Light, two at one end of the table, one at the other. The table was old-'looking, a warm-'hued oak. A nice table, she was willing to bet, maybe an antique. The chairs, on the other hand, were more blue folding chairs, companions to the ones on the front porch. So the residents could afford a solid wood table, but not yet the chairs. That fit with the overall feel of the space. Freshly painted, but conspicuously empty. The dishes were thin white Melamine. Simple, but set off against bright red place mats and blue linen napkins. Red, white, and blue again. A theme to the household.
'Maybe they started to argue,' Phil theorized. 'They were eating together, had a few beers, then started to get into it. Maybe she tried to walk away, and that set him off.' D.D. nodded absently, still walking around the table. The hardwood floors appeared recently refinished, buffed to a high gloss that glimmered with hints of her own reflection as she walked across. They'd been working on this space. Sweat equity would be her guess. A working-? class family building a future together, trying to get ahead during tough economic times, until'.' .' . 'Where's Neil'? D.D. asked, referring to the third member of their homicide squad. 'Upstairs. Top two floors are midrenovation. We think the activity was confined to this level, but then again, lots of power tools and sharp objects to account for.' D.D. nodded. Given the red ball call-'out, she'd expected to find the scene crawling with investigators. Instead, it was pretty quiet. But three floors to search, secure, then process, that explained a lot. Plus guys would already be out, canvassing neighbors, tracking down known associates. Crime scenes like this were best worked fresh. Throw a lot of bodies at it, get in, get out, get it done. 'What do we know about the residents'? she asked. 'Single family. Mom, dad, three kids. Second marriage for both, so not sure yet whose kids were whose. Patrick Harrington would be head of household. Date of birth nineteen sixty-'eight. Recently unemployed. Had been working for a local hardware store, but it went out of business.' 'When'? D.D. squatted to study the area rug under the table. Neutral beige; it appeared recently vacuumed. Freshly swept porch, newly vacuumed rug. She added clean freak next to patriotic on her mental list of household traits.
'Couple of weeks or so. Neighbor said the couple bought the whole place at a foreclosure auction eight months ago. They planned on fixing it up, using his skills and employee discount, no doubt, then they'd live in part, rent part. They just got the downstairs completed, however, when, boom, he lost his job. Goodbye, hourly wage. Goodbye, employee discount.' 'Hello giant mortgage with no rental income,' D.D. finished for'him. 'Yep. Had to suck.' 'So couple's stressed.' D.D. straightened up. 'What did she do'? 'Denise Harrington worked as a receptionist at a dentist's office. Mrs.'Nancy Seers, lives across the street, said Denise got off work by three each day so she could meet the kids? bus. That was a priority.' 'Ages'? 'Ummm'.' .' .' Phil flipped through his notes. 'Nine, twelve, and fourteen. Boy, girl, boy.' D.D. nodded, turned away from the table, and headed back into the kitchen. A frying pan remained on the stove. Smelled like olive oil and chicken grease. Next to it was a giant pot, like the kind used for'corn on the cob or pounds of pasta. More signs of meal prep on the count'ers: a half-'used head of lettuce, bag of carrots, partly sliced cucumber. She looked for additional beer cans, finding three more in the trash. She opened the refrigerator, found it fairly loaded'proof of recent grocery shopping''with the usual assortment of bread, eggs, lunch meat, produce, and mystery meals in Tupperware. The refrigerator door yielded two dozen condiments and a half-'consumed bottle of Cavit pinot grigio. No more beer. So, assuming that a six-'pack had been purchased, then all six beers had been consumed. But six cans of Bud split between two grown adults'
Or even mostly consumed by one? Not enough for a drunken rampage. She didn't buy it. Jack McCabe from the ID unit had entered. He looked at the food-'covered counters, sighed heavily. 'It's been photographed'? he asked. 'It's been photographed,' Phil assured him. Jack sighed again. D.D. didn't blame him. Processing this scene would be painstaking and, most likely, unproductive. But you had to do what you had to do. 'Start with the knife,' she told him. 'There isn't a knife,' Jack said, staring at the counter. 'There has to be some kind of knife,' D.D. said, gesturing at the sliced cucumber. 'Oh, there's a knife,' Phil said. 'Ah fuck,' D.D. said, and followed Phil into the hallway. Halfway down the hall, they encountered the first sign of blood spatter. It started midway on the high-'gloss floor, then continued toward the back of the house, presumably toward the bedrooms, in a mix of spots and streaks. A man in a brown suit was standing farther down the hall, next to the blood trail. He appeared to be sketching the marks and the corresponding evidence placards. 'You should see this,' he said, so D.D. and Phil walked over. 'Note that the droplets actually radiate in two different directions, plus the smear marks, here and here'? D.D. crouched down, obediently peered at the spatter. True enough, half the droplets seemed to spray forward, the other half sprayed back, and yes, there were two distinct smear tracks, as if two items had been dragged through the bloody mess. 'He caught her first in the bedroom,' the man was saying conversationally. 'Struck the first blow. She got around him, though, and ran this way. Unfortunately, she didn't make it.'
'He stabbed her again'? D.D. asked, frowning. 'No. That'd give us spray arcing across the wall as well as castoff, most likely on the ceiling, depending on the direction of the blow. He just grabbed her. By the hair maybe. Then dragged her to the back of the house, with the others, where he finished her off. See, first pattern of droplets are from her running toward the door. Second set is from her traveling the opposite direction. While the smears'? 'Heels of her feet,' D.D. murmured. 'Yep. Helluva thing to do to your own stepdaughter.' The man finished up his sketch, stuck out his hand. 'You must be Sergeant Warren. Alex Wilson. I'm Phil's shadow for a month.' D.D. glanced at Phil; he shrugged. 'True, just heard it myself about thirty minutes ago. You know how it is: We're always the last to know.' D.D. took the man's hand, but she was frowning. 'And your affiliation is'.' .' .' '? 'Detective, back in the day. 'Bout eight years ago, I traded in fieldwork for teaching at the Academy. Been feeling a little rusty, however, so I asked permission to shadow a detective off and on for a month. Eight years is a long time in the biz. Between all the advancements in digital photography and digital fingerprinting, I'm starting to feel like a walking, talking dinosaur.' 'You worked for the BPD eight years ago'? 'Nope. Worked out of Amherst. Why'? 'Just making conversation.' D.D. continued to study the man. She pegged his age for early forties, which was uncomfortably close to her own, given that he'd just referred to himself as a dinosaur. He wasn't too tall, maybe five eleven, still relatively trim. His short dark hair was liberally sprinkled with silver, and his blue eyes crinkled at the corners when he frowned. A working man's George Clooney. She could appreciate that.
So, Alex Wilson from Amherst. She'd have to ask around. 'All right, Professor. What else do you have to show us'? 'I think it started with the wife.' Alex led them down the hallway, keeping to one side in order to avoid the blood trail. 'Maybe they started arguing at dinner, dunno. But he followed her into the bedroom, got her from behind. This one was quick. One hard blow, severing the spinal column at the base of the skull. Even if she lived long enough to scream, the blow would've paralyzed her. She went down on her knees, her heart stopping before she bled out.' Alex passed through a doorway on the right. D.D. found herself in'a fairly large bedroom furnished with a king-'size mattress and two mismatched dressers that looked as if they'd been picked up at a rummage sale. The bed was topped with an old flowered quilt. Two pink-'colored sheets served as curtains over the windows. On top of the largest dresser sat an assortment of framed photos, including an eight-'by-'ten of a smiling sandy-'haired bride and grinning dark-'haired groom. On the floor in front of the dresser was a conspicuously large dark stain covering at least a dozen floorboards. What was left of the sandy-'haired bride, presumably. 'Where's the body'? 'You'll see,' Alex said. He led them back into the hall, stepped gingerly over the blood spatter and into the next bedroom. This one was smaller and painted a rich blue. Posters of Tom Brady peppered one wall, while rows of shelving containing signed footballs and various sports trophies covered the others. To the right, a twin mattress bore a Patriots-'themed comforter. Directly ahead stood a card table that appeared to serve as a desk, with a metal chair half pushed
back. Beside the chair, on the floor, loomed another dark stain. 'Oldest son,' Alex supplied. 'Maybe he heard the disturbance in his parents? room. Stood up to take a look. To judge from the trophies, the'kid's athletic and he's a decent size for his age. After the mom, the next logical threat. So the subject entered the room quickly and decisively.'Kid's probably still thinking, What the hell? when the subject catches him in the side, slicing between the ribs, straight into the heart.' 'Single blow again'? D.D. asked sharply. 'These two, yes.' 'First in the back of the neck, then between the ribs. I'm thinking the subject has had some training,' she said. 'I'm guessing special forces. Stabbing's messy business, but this guy has it down to a science.' 'All right,' D.D. said briskly. 'Mom's down. Oldest son is down. Now what'? 'Got two left. Twelve-'year-'old girl, nine-'year-'old boy. Probably hoped to take them one at a time, but turns out both of them are in her room.' Alex vacated the blue room and they proceeded single file down the hallway again. This time the blood spatter turned, leading them through a doorway into a bright pink room bearing purple window valances and half a dozen posters of Hannah Montana and the Jonas Brothers. 'Now things are a little more complicated here, as you can see.' Alex gestured to the floor, which was a dizzying array of spray droplets, blood pools, and yellow evidence placards. 'I'm guessing, purely to judge by the condition of the bodies, that he got the boy first.' 'Why the boy'? 'Single mortal wound. Look at the bed.' D.D. belatedly realized the purple comforter wasn't really purple. It used to be a dark pink, the original color
now skewed by another sizable pool of blood, with a matching spray pattern arcing across the opposite wall. 'The kids knew,' Alex said, more softly now, less academic. 'No closets in the room. So they huddled in the corner. Brother and sister together, taking a last stand. The subject came in. He must've been a sight by then. Covered in back spray from hammering down the first death blow, let alone the second. Kids stood shoulder to shoulder, next to the bed. 'Boy broke first, that's my guess,' Alex continued. 'Tried to get around the subject by springing up onto the bed. Didn't work. Subject sliced open the kid's throat as the boy attempted to bolt past. Game over. Girl's probably screaming by then. But she doesn't freeze, which is interesting. Most people facing such a scene'.' .' .' Alex's voice faded, then he cleared his throat, continued on: 'The girl runs. Takes advantage of her own brother's death to sprint for the? front door. Of all of them, she's the only one who gets a chance. He wounds her. Right here.' Alex pointed with his pencil to a round smeared spot. 'Maybe the subject was aiming for her neck, but got her shoulder instead. The blow knocked her off balance, hence smudge here and smudge there, probably made by her feet, but she keeps on trucking, God bless her. 'Gets halfway down that hallway, running the race of her life. And then'? 'He catches her,' D.D. fills in, then pauses. 'But doesn't kill her? Drags her away'? Alex shrugged. 'Who knows? She's the last one left and he has her incapacitated. Maybe he realized he didn't have to rush. Or maybe he just wanted her to suffer a little more. She got away. That pissed him off.' 'Sexual assault'? D.D. asked. 'Ask the ME. Clothing is intact. Nothing obvious.' 'You think she's the stepdaughter''
'Spitting image of the mom, doesn't look a thing like the dad.' 'So maybe his goal was sexual in nature. Was attracted to her, wanted her for himself.'.' .' .' Alex looked at her. 'Come on, I'll show you the rest.' The back of the house opened onto a screened-'in porch. Kind of place to hang out during the mosquito-'filled summer evenings. This area obviously hadn't been included in the renovations; several screens were ripped, the linoleum floor peeled back at the seams. But that was okay. The ripped floor was now covered in blood, while the lone piece of furniture, a broken-'down futon, had, according to Alex, become the resting place of an entire family. 'He laid them out side by side. First the mom, then the oldest son, then the daughter, then the youngest son.' Alex pointed toward the blood-'soaked mattress, currently buzzing with flies drawn to the scent of fresh kill. 'ME has the bodies'? D.D. asked. 'Yeah. Given the heat and fly activity, body removal was a priority.' 'You're saying the daughter was killed back here, though'? 'On the futon, I think. ME will have to analyze, but it looks like he brought her back here, then strangled her? manual asphyxiation. Patrick's a big guy. It wouldn't have taken him that long.' 'Then he moved all the other bodies'? 'I'm guessing in that order. He'd want her taken care of first, then he'd tend to housekeeping.' D.D. frowned, not liking it. 'You're saying the subject carried three bodies through the house to this one room. Why don't we see more blood? Seems like we should see trails of it everywhere.'
Alex shrugged. 'ME can tell you more, but I'm guessing the bodies had already bled out. Kept the process clean.' D.D. frowned. 'I don't get it. We're talking the dad, right? First he slaughters his family person by person, then he brings them together for one last family reunion'? 'I think he was apologizing.' 'Excuse me'? 'If we assume the father did it, then he's a family annihilator,' Alex stated. 'Now, maybe the event started impulsively'got in a fight with the wife and it went too far. Or maybe it didn't. Maybe this is what he'd planned all along. But think of the nature of a family annihilator: Why do these guys kill'? D.D. looked at him. 'I don't know. Why do these guys kill'? 'Because they think they're doing their family a favor.' 'Yet another reason I'm single, now that you mention it.' Alex smiled wryly. 'Times were hard. I bet when we dig deeper, we'll find the financial picture even bleaker. Maybe they were facing foreclosure, about to be kicked to the curb. The pressure mounts. The father starts thinking he'd be better off dead, but he doesn't want to hurt his family. That gets him thinking that they'd be better off dead. It's too cruel to just kill himself. So he'll do right by them'he'll kill them all.' 'Shit,' D.D. said, staring down at the blood-'churned floor, swatting away another buzzing fly. 'He takes them out one by one. Then he carries each one of them back here and lays them down side by side. Maybe he prays over them then. Or says absolution, or gives them some little speech he's already prepared in his head. I love you, I only want what's best for you, I'll see you soon. Then he picks up the twenty-'two and taps one to the forehead.'
'He shot himself'? Phil spoke up. 'Pussy.' 'True. Especially given that he didn't get the job done.' D.D. did a double take: 'Are you saying'? 'Yep. Father's undergoing surgery now at Mass General. With any luck, they'll save him. Then we can nail his ass.' 'The father's still alive,' D.D. murmured, looking at the blood, waving away the hungry flies. She finally smiled. It was a distinctively wolfish expression on her face. 'I think we're gonna have some fun with this after all.' They were walking back toward the front of the house, past the dining room, when it came to her. She drew up short. Belatedly, Phil and his shadow followed suit. 'Hey, Professor,' she said. 'I got a question for you.' Alex arched a brow, but waited. 'Okay, so father kills the mother, the fourteen-'year-? old boy, the nine-'year-'old boy, and the twelve-'year-'old daughter, then shoots himself in the forehead.' 'Current theory, yes.' 'Based upon blood evidence.' 'Based upon preliminary exam of the blood evidence, yes.' 'It's an impressive analysis,' she told him. 'Very well done. I can tell that you're hell on wheels in the classroom.' Alex didn't say a word, which confirmed that he was as smart as he looked. 'But there's another major piece of evidence.' 'Which is'? 'The dining room.' Alex and Phil turned toward the dining room. Phil asked the question first: 'What about the dining room'? Alex, on the other hand, got it. 'Crap,' he said.
'Yeah, it's always slightly more complicated than we'd like it to be,' D.D. agreed. She looked at Phil. 'We got five bodies, right? Four dead, one in critical condition. Five bodies for five family members.' Phil nodded. D.D. shrugged. 'Then why is the table set for six''
CHAPTER FOUR DANIELLE You want to know what it means to be a pediatric psych nurse? Welcome to the Pediatric Evaluation Clinic of Boston, otherwise known as PECB. Our unit occupies the top floor of the larger Kirkland Medical Center. We like to believe we have some of the best views in Boston, which is only fair as we serve the toughest citizens. Thursday night, I sat in the hallway of the pediatric ward observing our newest charge. Her name was Lucy and she'd been admitted this afternoon. We'd had only twenty-'four hours to prepare for her arrival, which hadn't been enough, but we did our best. Most of our kids shared a double room; Lucy had her own. Most of the rooms included two twin beds, bedside tables, and matching wardrobes. Lucy's room had a mattress and a single blanket, that was it. We'd learned the hard way that the shatterproof glass on our eighth-'story windows didn't always hold up to an enraged child armed with a twenty-'pound nightstand. Lucy was a primal child. That meant she'd been so severely and continuously abused that her humanity had
been stripped from her. She didn't wear clothes, use silver'ware, or tend to basic hygiene. She didn't speak and had never been potty-'trained. According to her file, she had spent most of her life in a disconnected freezer unit with bullet holes for ventilation. Her time out of the freezer had been worse than her time in. The result was a nine-'year-'old girl who existed like a wild animal. And if we weren't careful, she'd train us to treat her like one. First hour she was admitted, Lucy greeted our nurse manager by defecating into her own hand, then eating the feces. Twenty minutes later, a milieu counselor? MC'observed her ripping out the insides of her pillow and stuffing it into various orifices. The pillow was removed; Lucy wouldn't allow us to tend to the stuffing. An hour after that, she scratched open her arm with a fingernail, then drew patterns on the wall with her blood. First observation of our new charge: Any form of attention seemed to trigger a need to debase herself. If Lucy had an audience, she had to hurt. By four in the afternoon, we agreed to confine Lucy to her room and assign one staff member to monitor her. Rather than the five-'minute check system, where an MC accounts for every child's whereabouts every five minutes, one staff member would observe Lucy as discreetly as possible, noting every twenty minutes. Tonight, that was lucky me. It took until eleven for the kids to settle down. Some were sleeping on mattresses in the well-'lit hall; these were the kids who were terrified of the dark. Others could only sleep alone in a pitch-'black room. Others still required music or white noise or, for one child, a ticking clock simulating his lost mother's heartbeat. We set up everyone accordingly. For Lucy's first night, I did nothing special. Just sat with my back to her doorway and read stories to the other children. From time to time, I'd catch Lucy's reflec-
tion in the silver half dome mounted in the ceiling above me. The mirrored half domes dotted the broad hallway at strategic intervals'our version of a security system, as they reflected back activities from inside each patient room. Lucy seemed to be listening to the story. She'd curled up on the floor, waving one hand through the air, the way a cat might study its own paw. If I read faster, her hand moved faster. If I read slower, her rhythm adjusted accordingly. Then, twenty minutes later, she'd disappeared. In the dome's distorted reflection, I'd finally spotted her foot sticking out from beneath the mattress. When she didn't move, I turned around to study her room directly. It appeared that she'd pulled the mattress over her body and had finally gone to sleep. From time to time, her foot would twitch, as if from a dream. I settled in myself, sitting on the floor with my back against the wall. There were over half a dozen other staff members scattered down the hall. Nighttime in the unit was paperwork time. Gotta catch up while you had the chance. None of the kids would sleep for long. Some of the more manic ones required food every three hours, though you'd never know it to judge by their skeletal frames. Others just couldn't sleep. Nighttime meant old terrors and fresh fears. A subconscious buffet of every evil thing ever done to them. Kids woke up crying. Kids woke up screaming. And some woke up primed for battle. Fight or flight. Not everyone was born to run. I flipped open the first patient chart, and felt my eyelids already getting heavy. I'd been working a lot lately. More and more shifts. Less and less sleep. I needed to keep busy, especially this time of year. Four days and counting. Then it would be twenty-'five
years down, and one more to go. Keep on trucking, the duty of the lone survivor. I wondered what Lucy would think, if she knew that for years I'd slept tucked beneath a mattress myself. On my eighteenth birthday, I seduced Sheriff Wayne. I hadn't started out with a plan. I'd run into him in Boston, three days prior. He'd brought his wife, grown daughter, and two grandkids to the Public Garden to see the Swan Boats. The sun was out, a beautiful spring day where tulips waved and children shrieked as they chased ducks and squirrels across the sprawling green grounds. Sheriff Wayne didn't recognize me. I suppose I'd changed in the past nine years. My dark hair was long, cut in a sleek line with overgrown bangs. I wore low-'slung jeans and a yellow-'striped top from Urban Out'fitters. My aunt Helen had turned her white-'trash niece into Boston hip. At least we both liked to think so. I recognized Sheriff Wayne from the back. It wasn't how he looked; it was how he moved. The solid roll of his legs across the pathway as he corralled bouncing grandkids, herding them steadily back to the family fold. Sheriff Wayne noticed me standing a ways off, staring at him. He turned back to the women on either side of him, then it must've hit him. The nagging sense of familiarity clicked and he whirled around, taking me in squarely. 'Danielle,' he said, and the sound of his voice again, after all these years of living in my dreams, the lone whisper of safety amidst so many images of blood and violence, finally released me. I took a step forward. Then another. His wife and daughter had noticed by then. His daughter was confused by my approach. His wife'Sheila was her name'must have remembered me. She held very still, and I could see the quiet sympathy in her eyes.
Sheriff Wayne took over. Shook my hand, made the introductions between myself, his wife, daughter, and grandkids. He smoothed it over, in the way a man who broke up bar fights would know how to do. I might have been the daughter of an old friend, reacquainted after all these years. We made small talk of the sunny day and the beautiful park. He told me of his other child, a grown son who lived in New York. We marveled over his granddaughter, who hid behind her mother's legs, and his grandson, who loved chasing squirrels. I mentioned I would be starting college in the fall. Sheriff Wayne shook my hand again, all quiet approval. Look at me and how I had turned out. Look at me, the lone survivor. They continued with their day, following the curving path down to the Swan Boats. I studied the empty space where they used to stand. And I knew, in that instant, I had to see Sheriff Wayne again. I had to have him. I called the next day. It had been nice to see him in the park. His daughter was lovely, his grandkids adorable. Listen, I had some questions. I didn't want to put him on the spot, but maybe we could get together. Have dinner. Just once. I could hear his reluctance. But he was a decent man, so his decency won out, brought him to me. I gave him the address of the studio apartment I had moved into'that fall, a baby step in my preparations for college. I implied he would pick me up and we'd go out to dinner. I already knew otherwise. I folded up my futon bed. Pulled out the card table and topped it with my favorite floral print. I set a nice table, coordinating red and yellow stoneware plates set against a rich backdrop. A shock of purple flowers in the middle.
Two long white tapered candles in the crystal candlestick holders my mother had once received as a wedding gift and probably opened with a sense of joy and optimism. She couldn't have known. I told myself that all the time. She couldn't have known. I wore low-'rider jeans and a white buttoned top. I left my dark hair down. I liked how it looked, a jolt of dark against the light. Beneath, I wore the world's tiniest champagne-'colored demi-'bra and a lace thong. I'm not the world's biggest-? built girl, but I know how to use what I have. When Sheriff Wayne arrived, I could tell he was dismayed by the'scene. The pretty table in the middle of a very small apartment. The'scent of bubbling spaghetti sauce and cooking pasta. I didn't give him a chance to think about things. Come in, come in, I said at once, all bright smiles and youthful exuberance. Sorry for the small space. It's different living in the city. I took his coat before he had a chance to blink, hung it on the coatrack as I prattled away. I know we'd talked about going out, but I was a little nervous about having our conversation in public, so if he didn't mind, I'd decided to throw together a little pasta and gravy. Not the best cook, still learning, yada yada yada. What could the poor man say? What could the poor man do? He assured me my apartment was very nice. The sauce smelled good. Of course we could eat in. Whatever made me more comfortable. I sat him at the table, poured him a liberal glass of red wine. Nothing for myself; that would've been inappropriate. I added some music. He didn't strike me as a Nine Inch Nails kind of guy, so I went with light jazz. We started with dinner salad. He sat stiffly, not touching his wine, keeping his eyes on his plate. He had aged
well. Squarely built, solid but not fat. Gray hair on top of a broad, mustached face. He moved concisely, with an economy of motion that appealed to me. He asked about my aunt, my schooling, my plans for the future. I painted for him a light overview of my new and improved life. It was what he needed to hear; once, he'd carried me through my father's house, his arms tight around my bony shoulders, his voice a warm whisper in my ear. 'Don't look, honey. You're safe now, you're safe.' I dished up penne pasta. Covered it in red sauce. Then I got serious. I didn't ask about my father. Instead, I dredged from Sheriff Wayne's memory all the bright, shining moments of my mother's laugh and Johnny's mischievous ways and Natalie's compassion for animals. Turns out, my sister had once adopted a wild bunny she'd found struck by a car and nursed it back to health. She wanted to work with animals. I learned that from Sheriff Wayne. And my brother liked to climb to the tops of trees, then call for my mother to come see, so she could raise her hands and shriek in mock horror. The memories got to him, of course. Hurt him even more than me, because these people remained real in his mind, whereas they'd long ago become ghosts to me. The wine went quickly. Who could blame him? He offered to clear the dishes. I watched him move around in my tiny kitchenette, gestures less steady after two hours of intense emotions, plus a full bottle of Chianti. He stacked the dishes in the sink. Rinsed each one. Placed them in a pile to soak. Then the pans. Then his wineglass. Then my water glass. Two forks. Two spoons. Two knives. When he returned to the table, I could see the effects of the eve'ning in the haggard lines of his face. He tried to speak, but I wouldn't let him.
'Shhh,' I said. 'Shhh'.' .' .' I undid the first button of my top, then the second, then the third, exposing, inch by inch, long lines of bare, bronzed skin, a lacy wisp of lingerie. 'Don't,' he said. 'You shouldn't'.' .' . not right'? 'Shhh'.' .' .' I straddled his lap. I let my shirt fall open, rocking my hips gently against his groin. He tried to protest again, his mouth forming faint words that I pretended not to hear. I feathered my hands through his? buzz-'cut hair. I touched the solid lines of his shoulders. And I felt his'body start to respond as my white shirt drifted down to the floor, as I arched my back and offered myself to him. 'Danielle'.' .' .' A last desperate plea. 'Shhh'.' .' .' I led his mouth to my breast. When I felt his lips finally close over my lace-'covered nipple, the need that swept over me, the pure need, cut deeper than any grief ever had. I took him, the man who'd once saved me, and for a brief moment, he was mine. It was only years later, after completing my studies and embarking on a career in the psychiatric field, that I finally understood the damage I'd done to Sheriff Wayne that night. I'd hurt, and I'd branded him with that pain, forcing him to carry the scar of my wounds, a decent man who had to live out his days with his wife, his children, his grandchildren, knowing there was one night he didn't measure up to his standards as a husband, father, protector of the community. Afterward, when I slept at night, I could no longer hear his voice. I was alone with the blood and the cordite. No one carried me out of my father's house anymore. I suppose it was the least I deserved.
CHAPTER FIVE They wrapped the scene at 11:53? p.m. Not that they were done with it, but they were done for now. The detectives returned to HQ for a case conference. An entire unit can start a case, but an entire unit can't end one. For that, they needed the point person, the one detective's head that would rest in the noose if the job didn't get done. D.D. won the honors; it wasn't a big surprise, but she still felt compelled to offer a small acceptance speech: 'On behalf of myself and my entire squad, I graciously accept your faith in our efforts'? Some hooting from the back of the room, a few tossed pieces of balled-'up paper. She picked up the ammo that landed closest and lobbed it back. 'Of course, we fully expect to have this wrapped by morning'? A fresh round of catcalls, then one wiseass's observation that morning would be six minutes from now. D.D. retrieved a fresh ball of crumpled paper, and nailed that detective between the eyes.
'So you all can go back to protecting the fine citizens of Boston,' she concluded over the growing din. 'We got this one covered.' The deputy superintendent rolled his eyes when she sat down, but didn't say a word. It had been a long night in a bad scene; the detectives were entitled to blow off some steam. 'Gotta do a press conference,' was all the boss had to say. 'First thing in the morning,' D.D. assured him. 'What's the party line'? 'Don't know.' She grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair, then gestured to her squadmate, Phil, that it was time to motor. 'Ask me when we get back from the hospital.' Patrick Harrington, former father of three, had been recovering from brain surgery for the past three hours when D.D. and Phil arrived at the hospital. According to the charge nurse, he was in no condition to talk. 'Let us be the judge of that,' D.D. informed the nurse as she and Phil flashed their credentials. The nurse wasn't impressed. 'Sweetheart, the man is in a drug-'induced coma with a manometer attached to his skull to measure intracranial pressure. I don't care if you're packing a pass to the Pearly Gates; man can't talk yet, because the man can't talk.' That stole some of D.D.'s thunder. 'When do you think he'll come around'? The nurse looked D.D. up and down. D.D. returned the scrutiny. Hospitals had policies concerning a patient's right to privacy. For that matter, the legal system had scribbled a line or two on the subject. But take it from a detective'at the end of the day, the world remained a human system. Some head nurses were bulldogs when it came to protecting their patients. Others
were willing to consider the big picture, if things were presented in the right manner. The charge nurse picked up a chart, glanced at the notes. 'In my professional opinion,' she offered up, 'hell if I know.' 'How did the surgery go'? Phil interjected. The nurse glanced at him, noted the ketchup stain on his white shirt, and smiled a little. 'Surgeon removed the foreign body. That should help matters.' D.D. leaned against the nurses? station. Now that the nurse's body language had relaxed slightly, it was time to press the advantage. She'glanced at the woman's name tag. 'So, Terri, did you hear what Patrick did to his family'? 'Some kind of domestic incident.' Nurse Terri regarded them seriously. 'Maybe he didn't like his wife's cooking. If you ask me, we see too much of that around here. More men need to start liking burnt food.' 'Ah, but there was a bit more to it than a spat with the missus. Kids were involved. Three kids. He got 'em all.' Nurse Terri hesitated, showed the first glimmer of interest. 'He killed his own kids'? 'Nine, twelve, and fourteen. All dead.' 'Oh Blessed Mary'.' .' .' 'That's what we think happened. It would be a good thing to know, however. I mean, there's a little difference between four people slaughtered by a family member than, say, by a deranged maniac who's possibly still wandering free. Really, it would be good to dot our 'i's and cross our 't's here. As Patrick's the lone survivor'.' .' .' Nurse Terri sighed heavily, seemed to finally relent. 'Look, I can't make the unconscious conscious, not even for Boston's finest. I can see, however, if Dr.'Poor is still around. He was the admitting doc in the ER. He might have something to offer.'
'Perfect.' 'Might as well make yourselves comfortable. Doctors answer only to God, not charge nurses, so this could take a while.' 'Somehow, I bet you have your ways of making a doctor hustle.' 'Honey, don't I wish.' D.D. and Phil grabbed coffee from the basement cafeteria and made themselves at home. The waiting room chairs were low slung, the kind that were tempting to position three across as a makeshift bed. D.D. focused on her coffee. She'd slept well last night. Apparently, that would be it for a while. She thought briefly of Chip, felt a pang of longing for the great sex she still wasn't going to have, then returned to the matters at hand. 'What did you think of Professor Alex'? she asked Phil. 'You mean my new shadow'? Phil shrugged. 'Seems all right. Smart, keeps out of the way, speaks mostly when he has something useful to say. So far, that puts him ahead of half our unit.' D.D. smiled. 'Have you looked him up'? 'I'll make some calls in the morning.' 'Okay.' They lapsed into silence, Phil blowing experimentally on his coffee, D.D. already sipping hers. 'And your plans tonight'? Phil finally asked. 'Don't ask.' He grinned. 'Hey, wasn't tonight the big date with Charlie's wife's friend'? 'I'm telling you, don't go there.' 'You went to dinner first, didn't you? Come on, D.D., you should know better by now. You get a night off, you
can't be wasting time on fine dining. Cut straight to the chase before the pager finds you.' 'What? Drag a stranger through my door and bang his brains out? Hi, hello, the bedroom is down the hall.' 'Trust me, guys won't complain.' 'Men are pigs.' 'Exactly.' D.D. rolled her eyes. 'You and Betsy have been married, what, ninety years now? What would you know of twenty-'first-'century dating'? 'Oh, but I hear things.' D.D. was spared further heckling as a harried-'looking doctor blasted through the double doors. His hair stood up in brown tufts, and he had both hands shoved deep in the pockets of his white lab coat. 'Detectives,' he called out. 'Dr.'Poor.' D.D. and Phil stood up. He waved at them to follow, so they fell in step as he dashed across the waiting room, through another set of double doors, then made his way through the maze of sterile hallways. 'Gotta get some coffee. You need any more? It's pretty good here. For a hospital and all.' 'We're all set, thanks,' D.D. replied. She and Phil had to work to keep up with the doctor's rapid strides. 'So, Doctor, we have some questions regarding a patient who was admitted to the ER early this evening, a Patrick Harrington'? 'Injury'? 'What'? 'Injury. What was he admitted for? I don't have time for names, just wounds.' 'Uh, small-'caliber gunshot wound to the head.' 'Ah.' The doctor nodded vigorously, taking a left, then a right, then bursting down a flight of steps to the lower-'level cafeteria. 'GSW to the left temple, yes? No exit wound, so I'm guessing a twenty-'two. Bullet mush-