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Authors: Beverly Barton

Don't Cry

BOOK: Don't Cry
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THE NEXT VICTIM

He waited for her.

Taking her from the café parking lot was not advisable. There were too many people in the general vicinity who might suspect something and try to interfere. He had been watching her and studying her routine for days now.

As she drove into the parking area outside her second-floor apartment building, his heartbeat accelerated. Whenever he was this close to bringing her home again—home, where she belonged—the excitement became overwhelming. Just a few more minutes and she would be with him.

He remained in the dark corner of the staircase, waiting and watching patiently. His pulse raced. His heartbeat roared in his ears. His muscles tensed with anticipation.

As if sensing his presence, she paused at the top of the stairs and looked behind her. He pushed himself back against the wall and held his breath.

She hurried toward her apartment door, inserted the key in the lock, and—

He pounced immediately, threw his right arm around her neck, and covered her face with the ether-soaked rag he held in his left hand. After only a token struggle, she slumped unconscious into his arms.

He carried her down the stairs and straight to his car. After glancing around to make sure they weren't being watched, he opened the back door and placed her on the seat.

He hurried into the driver's seat, started the engine, and backed out.

“We're going home…” he told her.

Books by Beverly Barton

AFTER DARK

EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES

WHAT SHE DOESN'T KNOW

THE FIFTH VICTIM

THE LAST TO DIE

AS GOOD AS DEAD

KILLING HER SOFTLY

CLOSE ENOUGH TO KILL

MOST LIKELY TO DIE

THE DYING GAME

THE MURDER GAME

COLD HEARTED

SILENT KILLER

DEAD BY MIDNIGHT

DON'T CRY

Published by Zebra Books

Don't Cry
Beverly Barton

ZEBRA BOOKS

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

To Billy, for a million and one reasons, but most of all
because he loves me

&

In memory of Pelham, Alabama,
Police Officer Philip Davis,
who lost his life in the line of duty, December 4, 2009

Acknowledgments

I owe a special debt of gratitude to Lt. Tim Carroll, Commander Major Crimes Division, Chattanooga Police Department, for his invaluable assistance.

In an effort to help me get my facts straight, Tim answered numerous questions and gave me an officer's view of police work and of the brave men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis to protect the citizens of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Any errors are entirely mine, either because I assumed I knew something that I didn't or because I didn't ask the right questions.

In several instances, I used a writer's prerogative to alter minor facts, but it is my hope that I have written a realistic fictional novel.

Prologue

Thirty years ago

The Humpty-Dumpty night-light cast a soft, honey-white glow over the nursery, from the 5' x 7' Mother Goose rug on the wooden floor to the fluffy clouds painted on the ceiling. A large Raggedy Andy doll, with a mop of red hair and a perpetual smile, sat atop a brightly decorated toy box in the corner. Billowy blue and white gingham curtains covered the double windows that overlooked the backyard, and a matching gingham quilt, neatly folded, lay at the foot of the baby bed in the center of the small room.

Humming quietly, Regina Bennett sat in the white spindle rocking chair, her precious little Cody asleep in her arms. Even in sleep, he still clutched his favorite toy, a little yellow teddy bear. Earlier that evening, he had been terribly fussy, crying incessantly, the sound of his pitiful gulping sobs breaking her heart. But after she had given him his medication, he had gradually quieted and gone to sleep.

But for how long? An hour? Two hours? The medication's effects seemed to wear off more quickly with each passing day. Eventually, the medication wouldn't ease his pain.

She brushed aside his damp blond curls, leaned down, and kissed his warm forehead. Before the chemotherapy treatments, his hair had been thick and shiny, but the new growth was thin and dull. “You won't suffer anymore, my precious darling. Mommy promises.”

Rocking back and forth, she cuddled Cody protectively against her breast. Still humming “Hush Little Baby,” an old Southern lullaby, Regina slid her hand down to the side of the rocker and grasped the small pillow she had placed there earlier that evening.

“Mommy loves her little boy. Mommy's going to do what's best for you.”

Regina lifted the pillow off the floor.

Rocking.

Humming.

Smiling sadly.

Tears misting her eyes.

Singing softly.

“Hush, little baby, don't you cry.”

Regina laid the handmade pillow over her son's nose and mouth. Tears seeped from the corners of her eyes and cascaded down either side of her face. She pressed her hand in the center of the pillow and held it in place until she was certain Cody was at peace. She lifted the pillow, tossed it aside, and looked at her tiny two-year-old son.

No more pain. No more suffering.

Chapter 1

J.D. Cass listened to his breakfast date's end of the telephone conversation and knew it was bad news. In his profession, bad news was the norm, as it was in Holly's, so he wasn't surprised. When a guy was dating an assistant district attorney, even in an on-again/off-again relationship, he became accustomed to their dates being interrupted by business. Of course, it worked both ways. How many times had one of Holly's meticulously planned romantic evenings ended abruptly when he'd gotten an urgent call?

They hadn't managed to get together for the past three weeks, and J.D. was way past horny. So, yeah, his invitation for them to share an early breakfast today was his selfish way of wooing her back into his bed, and the sooner the better. Since he and Holly were both early risers, a 6:30 A.M. breakfast date had seemed the perfect chance to see each other and the least likely time that their professional lives would intrude. So much for great ideas.

“My God!” Holly Johnston's big blue eyes widened and her full lips parted in a silent gasp. “Who found her? Hmm…When? Is the press already there?”

Curious about the identity of the person who had been found and eager to hear the details, J.D. frowned when his own cell phone rang. He checked caller ID and grunted.

He hit the On button. “Cass here. What's up?”

“They found Jill Scott.” His boss, Special Agent in Charge Phil Hayes, had a deep baritone voice made even rougher and throatier from a lifetime of smoking.

“Alive?”

“No.”

“Where?”

“How close are you to Lookout Valley?”

“Why?” J.D. got a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Because we're fixing to get dragged into this mess, so I want you to head on over to the crime scene pronto.”

“Shit! Why is the TBI getting involved?”

“Because the DA wants us to be on standby. It turns out that there is a second missing woman. Debra Gregory, the mayor's wife's cousin, disappeared sometime late last night.”

“Doesn't the mayor think his own police force can handle the investigation? This isn't our—”

“His Honor wants to use every resource available to him,” Phil said. “And that includes us, buddy boy. The mayor called the DA and then Everett Harrelson called me personally fifteen minutes ago. Last night, the Chattanooga PD had two missing persons cases. This morning they have a murder case and a suspected kidnapping case. Since both women fit the same profile, there's a chance the same guy kidnapped Jill and Debra.”

“When I show up at the crime scene, just how official am I?”

“You're unofficial for the time being. We'll ease into this gradually. Tell the investigators you're there in an advisory capacity. Assure them that the TBI isn't taking over their case.”

“Yeah, sure. Like they're going to believe that.”

After J.D. returned his phone to the belt holder, he looked across the table at Holly. She slid her phone into an outer pocket on her shoulder bag and shrugged.

“Bad news?” he asked.

She nodded. “What about you?”

“Yeah. That was Phil. They believe they've found Jill Scott, the woman who's been missing for the past two weeks.”

Scott, a local middle school teacher, beloved by students and parents alike, had mysteriously disappeared two weeks earlier. Her parents, her fiancé, and her friends assured police that Jill would never leave without a word to anyone. They were convinced that she'd been abducted. Thanks to local media coverage, there probably wasn't a man, woman, or child in Hamilton County who didn't know the teacher's name.

“It seems our calls were about the same case,” Holly told him. “Of course, I'm not actually involved with the case, not yet, but—”

“But your nephew was in Jill Scott's seventh-grade class and her murder is semipersonal for you, right?”

Holly nodded. “So, did the TBI get drafted to—?”

“Unofficially at this point,” J.D. said. “But that status can change at any time.” He offered Holly a life-sucks-sometimes frown. “I have to head over to the crime scene.” He stood, pulled out his wallet, and laid down a couple of twenties to pay for their meal, plus a generous tip.

“Mind if I go with you?” she asked.

When he gave her an inquisitive stare, she said, “I'll stay out of the way. I know that I'm nothing more than a concerned citizen.” She smiled. “Okay, a nosy concerned citizen.”

“And I'm a TBI agent sticking my nose in where I may not be wanted and probably won't be welcomed.”

 

Audrey Sherrod swallowed her tears. Although she would never apologize to anyone for her emotional involvement with her clients, she did her best not to let the empathy she experienced override her professionalism. Caring about people was a plus in her business. Allowing her personal feelings to affect a patient's treatment was unacceptable, so she walked an emotional tightrope, balancing the two sides of her personality.

Mary Nell Scott's daughter Jill had been missing for fifteen days. The Scott family was surviving on hopes and prayers. Mary Nell's husband had turned to their parish priest for solace and advice. Jill's sister, Mindy, relied on her best friends for comfort. Mary Nell had chosen to seek the help of a mental health therapist. She had chosen Audrey because several years ago, she had been one of Audrey's first clients. At that time, Mary Nell had been dealing with her husband's infidelity. After months of counseling, she had come to terms with what had happened and realized she wanted to save her marriage.

“I can't bear to hear Father Raymond's voice,” Mary Nell had confessed when she had first arrived at Audrey's office today. “I know the man means well, but my faith isn't strong enough to simply leave everything in God's hands.”

Mary Nell had been raised Presbyterian and converted to Catholicism when she had married Charles Scott. She had brought up both of their daughters in the Catholic faith, but she seldom attended mass and readily admitted that she had doubts about God's existence.

When the one-hour session ended, Mary Nell sat there calmly, with her head bowed and her folded hands resting in her lap. Audrey got up and retrieved a bottle of water from the mini-fridge in her office.

She truly understood the hell Mary Nell and her family were living in right now. Not knowing what had happened to a loved one was heartbreakingly unbearable. And yet they had to bear it. They had no other choice.

But that's not true. Mary Nell does have one other choice. A selfish, unthinkable choice.

Audrey pushed aside the memories from her own past about the choice her stepmother had made when she had found life unbearable. A choice that had destroyed a family already in crisis.

“I don't have another client until regular office hours at nine this morning, so if you'd like to stay longer, you may.” Audrey handed Mary Nell the bottled water. She had come in early to see Mary Nell, who had left her a frantic phone message at five o'clock that morning.

“No, no.” Mary Nell shook her head. “I'm meeting Charlie at seven-thirty and some of our neighbors are going to help us put up new posters all over Hamilton County. We're offering a reward of twenty-five thousand to anyone…” Pausing, her upper teeth biting down into her bottom lip, she closed her eyes as fresh tears trickled down her cheeks.

Suddenly Mary Nell's cell phone rang. When she struggled to open her purse, Audrey eased the leather clutch out of her trembling hands and retrieved the phone for her.

“Want me to answer it?” Audrey asked.

Mary Nell shook her head, and then reached out and took the phone.

“Hello,” Mary Nell said. “What? Yes, I'm still with Audrey. Why? Oh, all right.” She held out her phone. “It's my daughter, Mindy. She wants to speak to you.”

Eying the phone in Mary Nell's outstretched hand, Audrey instinctively knew that whatever Mindy had to say would not be good news.

“Hello, Mindy, this is Audrey Sherrod.”

“Dr. Sherrod, they've found her. They've found Jill. She's dead.”

“Who contacted you with this information?”

“No one, not yet.” Mindy whimpered softly. “It's already on the news, on the TV and the radio. They found a body. The newscasters are saying it's probably Jill, that the woman fits her description and she's wearing a gold cross. Jill always wore the gold cross Daddy gave her for her sixteenth birthday.”

“Don't jump to conclusions.”

“It's her. I know it is. Dad knows it is. I just didn't want Mom to be alone and see it on the news or hear about it on the radio. Dad and I are coming by there to pick up Mom. We're driving out to Lookout Valley where they found the body. They haven't moved her yet. She's still there. Oh, please, Dr. Sherrod, please come with us. Mom's going to need you. We all are.”

“Yes, of course. I'll have my secretary cancel my morning appointments, just in case,” Audrey said.

When she returned the cell phone to Mary Nell, her client looked at her pleadingly. “Don't lie to me. Tell me what Mindy said. It's Jill, isn't it? She's…oh, God, she's dead, isn't she?”

Audrey dropped down on her haunches in front of Mary Nell and grasped the woman's clutched hands. Their gazes met and held.

“The police have found a body that fits Jill's general description,” Audrey explained. “The information is on the TV and radio. Mindy didn't want you to hear it and assume the body is Jill's. She and Charlie are on their way here now. They want me to go with y'all to the crime scene. They want to make sure it isn't Jill.”

Just one little white lie to ease Mary Nell into the situation and allow her a few final moments of hope.

 

When half an hour later, at approximately 7:45 A.M., J.D. and Holly arrived on the scene at 50 Birmingham Highway in the Lookout Valley area, they found semicontrolled bedlam. They had missed the initial frenzy, the first responders' attempt to secure the site, the wail of sirens, and the rush of emergency vehicles. The area around the Cracker Barrel restaurant buzzed with official personnel, the first of many yet to come. Before the end of the day, the scene would be investigated by as many as fifty law enforcement and civilian specialists. The police had roped off the crime scene and strategically placed officers to keep the foot traffic to a minimum. One way in and one way out. News crews, barely held at bay by the uniformed officers, kept cameras zeroed in on the cordoned-off area and reported live to their television audience.

J.D. gained immediate entrance to the sealed area as soon as he flashed his badge. When he glanced back at Holly, she smiled and nodded, letting him know she'd be fine on her own. He'd never doubted it for a minute. Holly was a modern, I-can-take-care-of-myself woman.

Careful not to disrupt the ongoing investigation, J.D. took in the crime scene with a subtle visual inspection. He recognized a lot of the personnel, including the Hamilton County ME, Dr. Peter Tipton, and a couple of members of his team, one taking photos and another talking to two CPD investigators. J.D. knew the guy he assumed was the lead detective. He and Sergeant Garth Hudson had worked a case involving a gang-related murder eleven months ago, shortly after J.D. had been transferred from Memphis to the TBI Chattanooga Field Office. Hudson was a decorated, twenty-five-year veteran of the CPD. A smart guy, a good cop, a little on the cocky side. J.D. didn't know the officer with Hudson, an attractive African American woman with a dark caramel complexion and petite, curvy body. As he approached them, she turned and glowered at him, her coffee brown eyes surveying him from head to toe.

“Who sicced the TBI on us?” Hudson growled the question as he glared at J.D. “The mayor, no doubt.”

“I'm here strictly in an advisory capacity,” J.D. assured him. “This is the CPD's case.” J.D. smiled at the pretty lady with Hudson. “Introduce us.”

Hudson grunted. “Officer Tamara Lovelady, my partner. Tam, meet TBI Special Agent J.D. Cass.”

Tam nodded, her expression neutral.

“So, how about letting me take a look at Jill Scott,” J.D. said, then added, “if it is Jill Scott.”

“There's a good chance it is Ms. Scott's body, but no positive ID. Not yet.” Hudson glanced at his partner. “Tam will go with you. Look all you want, but don't touch.”

J.D. wanted to remind Hudson that he wasn't some rookie who needed instructions, but he kept quiet. For now, he wasn't assigned to this case, and any privileges Hudson afforded him were at his discretion. He had worked with police and sheriffs' departments throughout the state and understood how territorial local law enforcement could be. Trying not to step on any toes was just part of his job. A part he damn well hated. He wasn't known for his diplomatic abilities. He supposed that was one reason he was still a field agent. That and a hot temper he'd been trying to control all of his life.

The TBI's role was to assist local law enforcement in investigating major crimes, the operative word being “assist.”

When Officer Lovelady motioned to J.D., he followed her past the swarm of investigators and onto the restaurant's wide porch.

Peter Tipton spotted J.D. and Tam heading his way. He paused in his examination of the body and moved aside to give J.D. a complete view of the corpse.

The victim—not yet positively identified as Jill Scott—sat upright in one of the numerous rocking chairs on the Cracker Barrel porch. Her eyes were shut and at first glance she seemed to be sleeping. Something swaddled in a delicate blue baby shawl lay nestled in her lap. J.D. strained to get a better look at the object.

He took a step closer, and then stopped.

“We thought at first it was a doll,” Tam told J.D. “But it's not.”

Good God almighty!

“It's real,” J.D. said.

“Oh yeah, it's real all right,” Tipton replied.

BOOK: Don't Cry
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