Authors: Karen Rose
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense
“I’m Felicity Berg,” she said. “I’m with the medical examiner’s office.”
Susannah’s mouth dropped open and the woman quickly patted her arm.
“Nobody’s dead,” Dr. Berg said, then winced. “Well, that’s not true. Lots of people are dead, actually. But not Daniel.” She leaned closer. “And not the girl you saved.”
“How did you know?” Susannah asked. Chase and Luke were keeping the girl’s existence as closely guarded a secret as possible.
“Luke called me, told me what happened this afternoon at the bunker. We’ve had a busy week, with Mack O’Brien’s victims, and now these. They’ll start arriving soon and I won’t have a chance to see you after that. I just wanted to tell you that your brother is a kind man. I’m praying for him. And for you.”
No matter what Daniel had done, and what he had not, that he was a kind person was a fact Susannah could never deny. Her throat tightened and she had to swallow before the words could escape her throat. “Thank you.”
Dr. Berg glanced at the noisy cops. “My mother was here for surgery last year, and the waiting room was one big party with her friends from bingo night and her clogging class.” She made a face. “Let’s not even discuss the friends from Chippendale night.”
Susannah smiled and Dr. Berg smiled back, shyly pleased. “I escaped to the chapel,” Berg confided. “It’s always quiet there.”
Suddenly, that seemed the natural place to be. “Thank you.”
Dr. Berg squeezed her arm. “Take care. And all those loud guys? They’d go to the wall for you, just because you’re Daniel’s sister. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask them. I’d say you could ask me, but . . .” She sobered. “I have a job to do.”
So do I.
It was why she’d boarded a plane that morning. She still needed to give her statement regarding the rapes thirteen years before. Everyone had been so focused on the events of the bunker, there hadn’t been time to discuss events of the past. But before she spoke with the state’s attorney, she needed to call her boss in New York. Her involvement would likely make the news. He deserved to hear about it from her and not CNN. “Your job may be the hardest of all, Dr. Berg.”
“No. Luke’s will be. Once we identify all the victims, he’ll have to tell their families that their daughters are never coming home. The chapel’s on the third floor.”
Friday, February 2, 7:00 p.m.
I have to get out of here.
Ashley Csorka clutched the towel around her body. She was no longer in the concrete hellhole, but this was no better. It was a house, but it was a prison just the same. There were no windows in this room. There weren’t even any air vents, even if she’d been small enough to fit into one, which she wasn’t. The house had to be a hundred years old. The bathtub was old and cracked, but surprisingly clean.
She was clean now, dammit. The woman had forced her to bathe. Ashley’s dad had always told her if she was attacked to throw up on herself—it was one way to deter a would-be rapist. When they’d been shoved into the boat she hadn’t needed to force her stomach to spew—she’d never been able to tolerate boats. Her father had always found that strange, seeing as how she was such a strong swimmer.
Ashley struggled not to cry. Her dad would be looking for her. But he’d never find her here.
I’m sorry, Daddy. I should have listened to you.
All his restrictions and rules now seemed so right. But now it was too late.
They’ll whore me. I’ll die here. No. Don’t give up.
She made herself think of her dad and little brother. They needed her. Her team needed her. A sob rose in her throat.
I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to go to the Olympics.
So find a way out. Any way out.
Someone was looking for them. She’d heard the woman talking to the crazy doctor. Someone named Vartanian had been coming with the state cops.
Please find us.
She had first wakened from that drugged sleep chained to the wall like an animal. But she’d managed to leave something behind, scratched into the metal cot frame at some personal cost. She ran her tongue over her teeth, felt the raw edge of her broken incisor.
Please find my name. Tell my dad I’m still alive. And find me. Find all of us, before it’s too late.
Dutton, Friday, February 2, 7:45 p.m.
uke stood at the door to the bunker, ignoring the reporters’ shouts for a comment. TV news vans parked along the road and a helicopter made sweeps of the area.
Chase Wharton would be giving a press conference in less than an hour in which he’d relate all the events of the day, including the murders of the five dead teenagers and the abductions of the unidentified others. Until then, they’d maintained radio silence on everything but the capture and death of O’Brien, Granville, Mansfield, and Loomis, as well as the unidentified guard Luke had found at the far end of the bunker.
Five dead, guilty men. Five dead innocent girls. His mama would say the numbers were an omen. He wasn’t entirely sure she’d be wrong.
But they’d had some luck, managing to get the helicopter bearing Daniel and the girl off to Atlanta before the first reporter arrived. They hoped to keep the surviving Jane Doe’s existence under wraps until she woke and told them exactly what had happened.
After the press conference, they’d move the bodies of the five teens to the morgue and the media would be like rabid dogs. Luckily Chase was handling the media. Luke always came too close to telling them all to fuck off, and that wouldn’t do.
“You can go in, Agent Papadopoulos,” the officer guarding the door said. He was a state trooper, one of many called in to maintain security.
“Thanks. I’m trying to work up the energy.”
More like the nerve.
They were still in there, waiting. Five dead girls.
You have to face them.
But he didn’t want to.
The trooper’s face creased in sympathy. “Any news on Agent Vartanian?”
“He’s okay.” Alex had called him with the news.
So get in there and get this done.
It had been three hours since he’d first entered the bunker. In that time they’d moved the dead men to the morgue. They’d fielded questions from reporters who still thought the capture and killing of Mack O’Brien was the day’s big story. How little they knew.
Hell. Mack O’Brien was old news by now. But in a twisted way, it was O’Brien who had blown the lid off Granville and his depravity, both now and thirteen years before.
He still stood at the bunker door.
Stop procrastinating, Papa.
Which of course he was. Every time he closed his eyes he could see Angel’s dead eyes staring. He didn’t want to see her again. But rarely did Luke get what he wanted. He’d opened the bunker door when his cell rang. “Papadopoulos,” he said.
“I know,” the familiar voice said dryly. “You said you would call. You never called.”
Luke thought of his mother sitting by the phone, waiting for word on Daniel, who she considered her adopted son. “I’m sorry, Mama. I’ve been a little busy. Daniel’s fine.”
“Well, that I now know, no thanks to you,” she said mildly, and he knew she wasn’t angry. “Demi finally came to get the children and I drove myself to the hospital.”
“You did? On the highway?” His mother was terrified of I-75 during rush hour.
“I did. On the highway,” she affirmed, sounding pleased with herself. “I am sitting in the ICU waiting room with Daniel’s Alex. She’s strong, no? She’ll be good for Daniel.”
“I think so, too. So what did the doctor tell you, exactly?”
“He said Daniel is in the ICU, but stable, and you can visit him tomorrow.”
“That’s good. How will you get home, Mama?” She didn’t drive well at night.
“Your brother will come get me when he closes up his store for the night. You do what you need to do, Luka, and do not worry about your mama. Bye-bye.”
You do what you need to do
. “Wait. Have you seen Daniel’s sister yet?”
“Of course. I met her at her parents’ funeral last week.”
“No, I mean she’s there, right now, in the hospital.”
“She is hurt, too?” his mother asked, alarmed.
“No, Mama. She may be waiting with another patient who was also hurt today.”
“But Daniel is her
,” she said, her ire clearly up now. “She should be
Luke thought of the expression on Susannah’s face when they’d loaded Daniel into the helicopter. She’d looked stricken and conflicted. And so incredibly alone.
“It’s a little more complicated than that, Mama.”
“Complicated! There’s nothing compli— Oh, wait.” Her voice abruptly slid from outraged to approving. “Alex has told me Daniel’s sister is in the chapel. That is good.”
Luke’s brows lifted. Somehow the thought of Susannah Vartanian in a chapel didn’t quite click. “Make sure she knows about Daniel, please.”
“Of course, Lukamou,” she said quietly, and the endearment soothed his soul.
“Thanks, Mama.” Luke straightened his shoulders and entered the bunker. A heavy quiet hung over the place, broken only by an occasional hushed voice. Shadows filled the hallways, but the rooms in which the crime lab teams worked were brighter than day, lit by CSU’s big lights. Ed Randall’s people knew their jobs and did them expertly.
Luke slowly reexamined each cell as he passed, the horror of looking at the five dead teenagers freezing his gut all over again. Their hands and feet had been bagged by the ME, and a body bag sat neatly folded beside each body, waiting to be used.
. But he wouldn’t allow himself to. He hadn’t arrived in time to save them, but the dead still needed him.
Who were they? How did they get here?
Had they been abducted, or like Angel, had they been victims long before arriving in this place?
Luke found the ME tech bagging one of the girls’ hands, his head bent low. In the quiet Luke heard a single muted sob that tore at his own heart.
“Malcolm?” Luke said.
Malcolm Zuckerman stilled, then placed the girl’s hand carefully at her side. When he looked up, the man had tears in his eyes. “I’ve seen a lot of shit on this job, Papa, but this . . . never anything like this. She can’t weigh more than eighty pounds. Her hair came out in my hand,” he whispered harshly. “What kind of animal could do this?”
“I don’t know.” Luke had seen victims just like this, way too many times, and had asked that same question, way too many times. “Have you printed them?”
“Yeah. Trey took the prints up to the lab. He’s driving the five dead guys to the morgue.” Malcolm’s smile was twisted. “He won the toss.”
“Lucky bastard. We’ll run the girls’ prints through NCMEC and cross our fingers that they’re in the system.” The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children kept the prints of missing kids in a database—when prints were available. So many parents meant to get their kids printed, but for various reasons never did. Luke had made sure his sister Demi’s six kids were printed. It was the least he could do to protect his own.
“Fingers crossed. When can we take these victims out of this place?”
“Forty-five minutes. Maybe an hour. After Chase’s press conference.”
Malcolm snorted, back to his old demeanor. “Chase’s gettin’ to be a regular celebrity. This is what . . . his third press conference this week?”
“With all the press conferences on the O’Brien case, this one will be his fourth.”
Malcolm shook his head. “Goddamn crazy week.”
“For all of us. I’ll let you know when it’s okay to take the bodies.”
“Luke?” It was Ed Randall, his voice muffled. “Come here, quick.”
Luke found the head of the crime lab crouched next to an empty cot frame. The mattress sat on the floor on a plastic sheet. “What is it?” Luke asked.
Ed looked up, his eyes sparkling. “A name, part of one anyway. Come see.”
“A name?” Luke crouched next to where Ed was shining his flashlight. The name had been scratched into the metal, barely breaking the rusted surface. “Ashley,” Luke murmured. “Ashley Os—that’s all she wrote. Osborne, Oswald? It’s a start.”
“I think Ashley wanted to hide that she’d done it. The etching was covered with a paste of dirt mixed with something else.”
“Something else?” Luke asked, his brows raised. “What else?”
“I’ll know when I test it,” Ed said, “but probably urine. There were definitely at least three other victims held here, Luke. Their mattresses are soaked with fresh urine.”
Luke’s nose had supplied him with the same information. “Can we get DNA from any of the mattresses or from this dirt paste you scraped off Ashley’s name?”
“Chances are fair. That they’re all postpubescent girls will make it easier.”
“Because the DNA from urine comes from epithelial cells shed by the skin in passing, not from the urine itself. I’ve already sent samples back to the lab for testing.” Ed rocked back on his heels. “Before you ask another question, how is Daniel?”
“He’s okay. We can visit him tomorrow.”
“Thank God. Did Daniel see anything this afternoon, before he was shot?”
“We’ll ask him when he wakes up. What else have you found here? Chase is going into a press conference in thirty minutes and needs an update.”
“A box of prefilled IV bags, a box of syringes, an old gurney, and an IV pole.”
Luke frowned. “This was some kind of hospital? That doesn’t make sense. These girls were held in filth and look like they didn’t have proper nutrition for weeks.”
“Just telling you what I found,” Ed said. “We have eight guns, seven cell phones, two homemade knives, one switchblade, and a kit of wicked-looking scalpels.”
“What about the cell phones?”
“Excepting the phones belonging to Daniel, Alex, and Loomis, all the rest are throwaways. I noted all the calls on the logs, in and out.”
Luke scanned Ed’s notes. “Mansfield and Loomis both got texts from Mack O’Brien.” He looked up. “Luring them here.”
“The only call that stood out was from Granville to a number that doesn’t match any of the others. He made it about a half hour after Mansfield’s text from Mack O’Brien.”
Luke’s eyes narrowed. “He called his partner.”
Ed nodded. “That’s what I thought.”
“This is more than I thought we’d have. I’ll call Chase with the update. After that, I’m going to Granville’s. Pete Haywood’s doing the search of his house as soon as Chloe gets us a signed warrant. Let’s meet in Chase’s conference room at ten tonight.”
“Agent Papadopoulos!” The urgent shout came from the door, echoing in the hall.
Both Luke and Ed ran to the entrance where the state trooper beckoned. “Urgent call from an Agent Haywood. Toby Granville’s house is on fire.”
Atlanta, Friday, February 2, 8:00 p.m.
Sitting alone in the quiet of the chapel, Susannah had finally sorted through her thoughts and knew what she had to do. She’d known since that morning when she’d boarded the flight in New York. She was going to testify, lend her voice to the outcry of the others. She was going to see justice done, no matter how high the cost.
The cost would be very high indeed, but the return had dropped substantially. This morning she’d been prepared to see several men sitting at the defendant’s table. Now, after the dust had settled, there would be only one. Mayor Garth Davis was the sole survivor of Simon’s club. Only one man would face those whose lives he’d ruined.
Only one. But the cost had not dwindled an iota. Her life, her job . . . all would be forever changed. Still, she would testify, for the fifteen other rape victims whose lives might have been spared such pain had she spoken sooner. For the five girls Luke had found dead in that bunker, and for the ones who were still missing. For the Jane Doe who’d looked up at her like she was God.
And for you, too, Susannah?
“Yes,” she murmured. “For me, too.”
For my self-respect. I want my self-respect.
“Excuse me. May I sit here?”
Susannah looked up at a tall woman with dark hair and intense eyes, carrying a purse the size of Susannah’s briefcase. The chapel was empty except for the two of them. There were many other seats. Susannah opened her mouth to say no, but something about the woman’s eyes stopped her.
Perhaps she needs company,
Susannah thought, and silently nodded her assent.
The scent of peaches tickled Susannah’s nose as the woman sat and settled her purse on her lap. She was familiar, somehow.
I’ve met her before
“You are a Catholic?” the woman asked, surprise in her thickly accented voice.
Susannah followed the woman’s gaze to the rosary she clutched in her own hands. “Yes.” Much to her parents’ chagrin, which had been the original point years ago. “I found the rosary up by the podium. I didn’t think anyone would mind if I used it.”
“You’ll take one of mine,” the woman pronounced, digging in her enormous purse. “I have extra.” She was Eastern European. Or . . .
. Okay. Now it made sense.
“You’re Mrs. Papadopoulos,” Susannah murmured. Luke’s mother. “You came to my parents’ funeral.”
“I did.” She took the borrowed rosary from Susannah’s hand and replaced it with her own. “You’ll call me Mama Papa. Everyone does.”
One side of Susannah’s mouth lifted. Somehow she couldn’t see Luke’s mother taking no for an answer on anything. “Thank you.”
“You are welcome.” Mrs. Papadopoulos drew a second rosary from her purse and began to pray. “Do you not pray for your brother?” she asked abruptly.
Susannah dropped her gaze. “Of course.” But she hadn’t been, not really. She’d been praying for the strength to do what needed to be done. No matter what the cost.
“Daniel is out of danger,” Mrs. Papadopoulos told her. “He will be all right.”
Her heart whispered the prayer her mind would not allow. “Thank you,” she murmured to Luke’s mother, still feeling the woman’s probing stare.
“Complicated,” the woman finally muttered. “So why are you really here, Susannah?”
“Because it was quiet. I needed to think.”
She looked up, her eyes cool. “It’s not really your business, Mrs. Papadopoulos.”
She expected the woman to flounce away. Instead she smiled, gently. “I know. I ask anyway. Daniel is my family. You are Daniel’s family.” She shrugged. “So I ask.”